famous punk songs about climate change and optimization

At a conference this summer, one of my blog readers expressed disappointment about my blog’s lack of punk rock coverage and my lack of a serious punk look, complete with tattoos. I won’t fix the latter, but today I will address the former.

The Wall Street Journal reports that The Clash’s song “London Calling” written in 1979 was about global warming.

The initial inspiration for the song “London Calling” wasn’t British politics. It was our fear of drowning. In 1979 we saw a headline on the front of the London Evening Standard warning that the North Sea might rise and push up the Thames, flooding the city. We flipped. To us, the headline was just another example of how everything was coming undone.

If you’ve listened to “London Calling” before, this may not be a surprise. What may be more surprising was that The Clash’s fascination with optimization inspired another song. In “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, The Clash poses an optimization problem with a single binary decision variable: going (1) or staying (0). Both choices are feasible. Going is naturally always feasible. Staying is likewise feasible as noted by the lyrics:

If you say that you are mine

I’ll be here til the end of time

However, the chorus encourages the punk rocker to work through the simple mathematical details and correctly conclude that going is the optimal solution.

Should I stay or should I go now?

If I go there will be trouble

And if I stay it will be double

For more reading:

Thanks @iamreddave for posting the optimization joke ages ago as a comment on this blog. It was definitely my inspiration here.

7 responses to “famous punk songs about climate change and optimization

  • iamreddave

    Efficiency and progress is ours once more
    Now that we have the neutron bomb

  • iamreddave

    Panic by the Smiths is about the Chernobyl disaster

    ‘Marr and Morrissey were listening to BBC Radio One when a news report announced the Chernobyl disaster. Straight afterwards, disc jockey Steve Wright played the song “I’m Your Man” by pop duo Wham!. “I remember actually saying, ‘What the fuck does this got to do with people’s lives?'” Marr recalled. “We hear about Chernobyl, then, seconds later, we’re expected to jump around to ‘I’m Your Man'”. ‘
    Not exactly punk rock though

  • Alex Fuller

    I’d recommend widening the options – but of course, that isn’t as catchy of lyrics

  • David K Smith

    Not exactly punk rock, but the 1960s UK group “Hedgehopper Anonymous” had a hit with “It’s good news week” (http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/h/hedgehoppers_anonymous/its_good_news_week.html) which included:
    It’s good news week
    Someone’s dropped a bomb somewhere
    Contaminating atmosphere
    And blackening the sky

    It’s good news week
    Doctors finding many ways
    Of wrapping brains on metal trays
    To keep us from the heat

    and with relevance to the zombies who pop up here from time to time, there is a verse:
    It’s good news week
    Someone’s found a way to give
    The rotting dead a will to live
    Go on and never die

  • Jim Ostrowski

    I am surprised that you wrote about punk rock and optimization without touching on the anti-simplex songs that were, and are still, popular in the punk rock community. The best example of this is “To Have and to Have Not” by punk rock folk singer Billy Bragg (punk is a state of mind, not necessarily a music genre). Bragg, one of the leaders in the anti-simplex movement, criticized the simplex method’s dividing problem variables in to classes (basic and non-basic), and assigning value only to the chosen class. This song, (uber punk-ified by Lars Frederiksen) is written from the perspective of a variable leaving the basis. You can feel the anger hurt of the variable; it once had a promising future, only to be heartlessly discarded when something better comes along. The emotional “just because you are better than me, doesn’t mean I am lazy” forces the listener to have compassion on the “have not” non-basic variables. It should come as no surprise to know that Bragg is a strong advocate of interior point methods, where this institutionalized inequality does not exist.

  • OR, djent music and regular polytopes

    […] both Laura McLay and Paul A. Rubin pointed out earlier this year, there are plenty of songs, lyrics and even band […]

  • Warren Senders

    Make no mistake, the climate crisis directly affects the lives of musicians in a great many ways. Extreme weather and infrastructural disruption will mean more canceled gigs. Agricultural damage will drive up food prices — which means people will have less disposable income to spend on concerts/clubs/events, to say nothing of the fact that musicians gotta eat, too.

    As some of the very few people with access to microphones and audiences in a world dominated by corporate media, musicians and performers have an extra responsibility to address climate change in their public appearances.

    http://theclimatemessage.com/ is committed to making this process easier for musicians all over the world.

    Thanks for your interesting and informative post!

    Warren Senders

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