For nearly three weeks now there have been decentralized protests in Canada. The main focus however has been on Ottawa. It started as a convoy of transport trucks driving east from my current home province of British Columbia. This convoy’s destination was Parliament Hill in Ottawa and as it approached it picked up new vehicles, growing in size. Like a tsunami wave that is nothing significant until it arrives at shore.
The convoy was well supported by people in the towns along the route which perhaps emboldened new truckers to join in. This convoy grew so large that it was split into multiple convoys, the longest of which was estimated to stretch 120 kilometers. More convoys formed East from Quebec and the Maritime provinces and went West to Ottawa. There have since been other convoys converging at Coutts border, Ambassador Bridge, Winnipeg city and Victoria, BC. Dozens of countries worldwide have formed their own convoys in solidarity. Many of these convoys are designed to be semi-permanent protests. They intend to stay at the site of the protests until the reason for the protests is acknowledged and addressed. Supplies were brought on site and local supporters are providing additional supplies. There is so much surplus that a number of pop up shelters were created to feed the homeless and provide respite from the cold. The protests are there for the long haul. How long? Given the Canadian Prime Minister’s tone deaf posture, it could be very long.
There’s been much hemming and hawing about how many trucks actually arrived at their Ottawa destination. Let’s estimate. A single transport truck tractor measures approximately 6 meters. Let’s assume that there was an average of 6-10 lengths between trucks. That gives us about 16 trucks per kilometer. So that one convoy of 120 kilometers would comfortably fit 2000 trucks in it. This does not include regular pickup trucks and cars joining in support. So we can be reasonably certain there are thousands of trucks in Ottawa. This is corroborated by on the ground reporting estimating approximately 10 000. It is no wonder then, that Freedom Convoy 2022 inspired other protests in other cities and other countries and why we saw an innumerable crowd of foot protesters in support. The cold providing no disincentive. All the people I know who were on site report that there were higher numbers of Freedom Convoy 2022 protesters at Parliament Hill than there were pre-covid “Greta” Protesters and pre-covid Canada Day celebrations.
This is a major world event. There’s been a lot of chatter about the politics. But I’m not a politician. I’m a musician. I see Freedom Convoy 2022 as a musical event. Here’s why.
First, there is the obvious. People there are putting on concerts of various types. DJ’s, rappers, singers, drummers and so forth have participated and created a festive, joyful spirit. All of this is easily findable via the many livestreams on youtube. You’ll need to go there to see it because CBC, CTV, Global is telling a story that is reality divergent. But having music at such an event is hardly reason to define the event itself as musical. There needs to be more substance to the argument. There is.
The convoy became notorious for its honking. This started early on. The days preceding the convoy’s arrival in Ottawa, the public could listen in to the truckers’ radio chatter in real time. This radio communication was used to co-ordinate the convoy. There are logistical details to be managed in such a large undertaking. Refueling stops, road detours, traffic jams, all have to be navigated on the fly. It was quite fascinating to have an insider perspective. But most interestingly, the radio chatter was opened up to the general public so that they could talk back. Thousands of voice messages flooded in expressing encouragement, hope and support. Many children sent in messages, most requesting honks.
Growing up in rural Canada this brought back memories of life on route 134. Playing in the yard I could hear traffic come up the hill. I knew when a diesel engine was approaching. I’d run up to the end of the driveway and pump my fist. This gesture imitates pulling the chain of an air horn. This is the customary gesture of honk petitioning. My father taught me this trick and most of the time it worked. It was exhilarating to hear a loud trumpet over the already impressive rumble of diesel engines. I became so excited about this hobby that when I’d have friends over, we would not only petition trucks for honks, we’d petition every single vehicle.
This memory got me looking into the world of air horns. There is no shortage of youtubers doing air horn reviews and installation tutorials. I found one youtuber who speculates that the air horn designs have gradually been wussified over the years. Perhaps due to the preponderance of kids petitioning them.
I found that I prefer the dual air horns. Triple or higher is overkill, but single isn’t musical enough. Two notes is a chord and I find the sound pleasing.
The horn is a musical instrument that is installed on all motor vehicles. It is used to alert others of danger, express disagreement, and to get that guy you know on the sidewalk to wave at you and smile. This modern “get your attention” use of the horn is the same as its ancient use as a means of communicating the call to battle or to alert of enemies at the horizon. Exactly the same use was demonstrated in Ottawa. This is the second way in which the protests are a musical event.
Regular listeners of the podcast will be familiar with a regular concern that comes up in discussions. How can the west re-integrate music in its communities? The top down music distribution model has had its day. We have had musical priests liturgizing their concerts long enough. I crave integration. Like the African medicine man walking the edge of the campfire with shakers on his ankles, keeping time as the tribe sings. That’s musical integration.
Honking as used at the protests is the usage of the horn returning to its origins. And it is integrated in community. In fact, the whole point of honking is because a danger to the community is discovered. A warning is sounded. Advanced scouts see the enemy bearing down. You can’t sleep through the sounding of an alarm. That’s the point! A horn is meant to wrench you out of your real or figurative slumber.
The only tarot card that depicts a musical instrument demonstrates this symbolic fact. Judgement is an angel blowing a horn right up in your face; so loud as to awaken you from even the deepest sleep. The horn is the pivot point indicating sudden shift to a new reality. From sleep, to fully awake in an instant. The trucker music in Ottawa is meant to awaken you. Trudeau refusing to face this music tells you everything you need to know about what he’s up to.
One seldom celebrated good thing coming from all this is the memes. Many of them relate to the honking which has now become emblematic of this moment. Here are a few choice examples.
And my personal favorite.
Then this one emerged. It’s not a meme… yet. But it’s an intriguing germ of one. It suggests yet another level of musical analysis to Freedom Convoy 2022.
There is an 1961 Alan Ginsberg essay (that I just can not find to read) titled “When the Mode of the Music Changes, the Walls of the City Shake.” This is a paraphrasing of Plato who said: “When modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state always change with them.” It is not difficult to make a case for the entanglement of musical movements with cultural changes. I present as exhibit A, the Sixties. But it is a failure of our compartmentalized modern life to think that the music industry would be an oracle of politics. As if the music industry isn’t itself a column of the very establishment that is crumbling. Music isn’t a segregated thing, like a hobby or a business. That old world of albums, music videos and concerts is fading away along with the rest of the west. No one in the establishment music industry is there for you. Neil Young’s not going to rock you in the free world. The horns are calling you to awaken to a new mode. Music is now an embedded phenomenon. Trucks blow the horn of judgement and a sombre rhythm is beat on jerry cans.
The mode of the Music changed, and the walls of the city shook. Already this is reverberating with province after province, nation after nation answering the call by lifting covid related restrictions. And the song isn’t over yet.
I am calling for musicians to understand how this is as much your moment as it is anyone else’s. Does it seem far fetched to think music is of central importance to this moment? Those who would have this movement squashed know its importance. Arguably the strongest and most effective blow landed against the protesters has been a court injunction against the honking of horns. Why? Because it is this sound which blares the judgement. It is the trumpets that awaken us to their shenanigans. The Powers That Be hit the snooze button. But it’s too late for them. The alarm is sounded. We are awake.
UPDATE: I find it relevant that when the police came to make some arrests at one of the protests, the protesters linked arms and sand “Lean on Me”.
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One response to “Freedom Convoy 2022 is a Musical Event”
It’s interesting how your association with the sound of truck horns alters with the context. On the freeway (a symbolic word in itself) they’re pretty annoying. In protest they become more ‘literally’ musical and tolerable (for the protestors and those in solidarity).