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Testing the Limits of Music

Monday, July 14, 2008

Blaring loud music has become a standard interrogation technique in prisons from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo. Now, some musicians are speaking out about the practice. We look at the use of music as a weapon of war. We're joined by Chloe Davies from the UK human rights organization Reprieve, and Justine Sharrock,, who wrote about the subject for Mother Jones magazine.

Our blog: John Schaefer on music and torture.

The Torture Playlist from Mother Jones

"F*ck Your God" - Deicide
"Die MF Die" - Dope
"Take Your Best Shot" - Dope
"White American" - Eminem
"Kim" - Eminem
"Barney Theme Song" - Barney
"Bodies" - Drowing Pool
"Enter Sandman" - Metallica
"TV Commercials-Meow Meow Me" - Meow Mix
"Sesame Street Theme" - Sesame Street
"Babylon" - David Gray
"Born in the U.S.A." - Bruce Springsteen
"Shoot to Thrill" - AC/DC
"Stayin Alive" - Bee Gees
"All Eyez On Me" - 2Pac
"Dirrty" - Christina Aguilera ft. Redman
"America" - Neil Diamond
"Bulls on Parade" - Rage Against the Machine
"American Pie" - Don McLean
"Click Click Boom" - Saliva
"Cold" - Matchbox 20
"Swan Dive" - Hed P.E.
"Rasberry Beret" - Prince


Chloe Davies and Justine Sharrock,

Comments [14]

Gary from Port Washington

I am disappointed that "music experts" would describe "Born in the USA" as a "patriotic" song. If anyone should understand irony, it should be people familiar with Bruce Springsteen's music. In the segment you described the song as pro-American. Rather, "Born in the USA" condemns America for it's horrible treatment of the Vietnam Vets and working people. The original version was done as a blues song. Bruce did it this way when he was on the Charlie Rose show at the end of the segment. Go to to find it. Here is the link to the lyrics on Bruce's site:
The song tells the story of a working class man who is born with limited opportunity and gets drafted and ends up in Vietnam. After the war he comes back to no opportunity and gets "screwed". The story is about the experience Bruce had and what he saw happening to all his friends from his hometown. That is why he has been so active and supportive of Vietnam Veterans organizations. The refrain "Born in the USA" is sarcastic and was written or finished in the face of Reagan's propaganda about how great things were. The song is Bruce Springsteen speaking truth to power. It is the greatest protest song of the 1980's and as we see what is happening to the injured Iraqi war veterans, we see that it is a song that messages we should continue to acknowledge, and not as a pro-American song, but rather for what is wrong with America and needs to be fixed.

Jul. 14 2008 03:27 PM
blee from ny

It's always interesting to see which 'artist's' speak out....or don't.

Jul. 14 2008 02:58 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

Holy Ronald Reagan! "Born In The USA" is supposed to be a negative critique of America.

Jul. 14 2008 02:40 PM
Freddy Jenkins

I heard about all this in a book called The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson--it documents the pretty creepy evolution of what started off as a flakey new mode of thinking about war-fighting became a twisted strategy in fighting the so-called War on Terror.
some of the artists on the list have pretty liberal bents--surprised some aren't making a big stink about their material being used in this way.

Jul. 14 2008 02:38 PM
Leon Freilich from Park Slope

Alfred Hitchcock, of all people, may have pioneered the notion of music torture. In his 1939 "Foreign Correspondent," he has an elderly Dutch diplomat kidnapped by Nazi-like thugs trying to pry secret plans out of him.

He resists, so the thugs force him to listen to multiple plays of a recording of Bennie Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing." The diplomat's face writhes with pain but he bites down hard on his will and despite the pain keeps silent.

In 1939, at least for Hitchcock, swing may have been the equivalent of today's hip-hop.

For me, the most painful form of sonic toxicity is early-morning BBC news-free features.

Jul. 14 2008 02:32 PM
Dan from NYC

The other day on another WNYC show they were talking about the all day Saturday drumming that has taken place in Marcus Garvey Park for 25 years. The discussion was veiled in talk of racism and rights. Today, music is a torture instrument. The reality can't change because of who or what's involved.

Jul. 14 2008 02:32 PM
Laurie Spiegel from Ground Zero

Wouldn't the use of a piece of music for torture be a violation of copyright law? Sure there must be a copy of the music made by the torturers for it to be played over and over and over. Under what law would a copying be authorized for that form of use? None that I can think of.

If the artist were to sue the government for copyright violation they might be able to get an injunction barring further use pending a trial and the payment of damages to the artist, some of which could go to the victims and/or human rights organizations.

Jul. 14 2008 02:32 PM
al oof from brooklyn

isn't this technically an unauthorized public performance of this music? i mean, radio stations have to pay royalties. is there some way for the music industry to sue the government this way?

Jul. 14 2008 02:32 PM
Lloyd from Manhattan

In the film "Ghost" Patrick Swayze sang "I'm Henry the Eighth I Am" to Whoopi Goldberg over and over until she capitulated.

Jul. 14 2008 02:29 PM
Terri from Bed Stuy

Don't forget 'A Clockwork Orange.'

Jul. 14 2008 02:24 PM
Sir Yes Sir from Brooklyn

Ok, this is a strange story; Back in college, when i was pledgeing my fraternity, my pledge class was locked in a room for a hours with "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson blasting on repeat. My whole pledge class gets phisically ill when we here the song, still 10+ years later.
no joke.

Jul. 14 2008 02:24 PM
Jim from Manhattan

Not to make light of the situation, but if you locked me in a room and blasted Broadway show-tunes, I think it might kill me!


Jul. 14 2008 02:19 PM
Steve (the other one) from Manhattan

Not to make light of torture, but I know what would break me ... John Tesh, Michael Bolton, Yanni, Kenny G played at deafening volume. Or Barry Manilow ... terrible.

Jul. 14 2008 02:17 PM
mk from rockaway

This could make Carrie Underwood our most lethal asset...

Jul. 14 2008 02:12 PM

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