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But the guys in Green Day are pushing 40 now, and the bulk of the rest of the best of today's protest singers are the same guys who sang similar tunes long ago.

On the rock side, there's people like Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and John Fogerty, whose brand-new album Revival shows him to be every bit the original punk rocker he was on "Fortunate Son" in 1969. (For my money, that was the birth of punk right there.) You won't be hearing them on the radio, though, as they are classic rock artists, and the radio consultants will tell you that nobody wants to hear any new music from any of them, thanks very much.

Nor will you be hearing anything like the Legendary K.O.'s "George Bush Don't Like Black People" or any other rap that is not about bitches or bling. The rap radio consultants will tell you that conscious rap doesn't "test well."

As for country, the usual ­suspects like Willie and Steve Earle continue to release solid albums to much critical fanfare and virtually no airplay. Again, those guys are "heritage artists," or some such.

Also, we found out the extent of the irrationality of the post-Dixie Chick landscape in 2005, when Merle Haggard released "Rebuild America First" as a single from his album Chicago Wind, which came out about a month after Katrina, when Bush's ratings were as low as they could possibly go.

Haggard is arguably the greatest living talent in country music, and he was again with a major label with plenty of promotion muscle, and the nation had need of his wisdom.

But such was not to be. This time around, he wasn't toeing the party line by saying he was proud to be an Okie from Muskogee nor threatening those that ran down his country as he did in "Fightin' Side of Me."

This time, he was saying, "Yeah, men in position but backing away, freedom is stuck in reverse, let's get out of Iraq and get back on the track, and let's rebuild America first."

Even after all of the lies about the war had been exposed, even after all of America watched a beloved American city (as we knew it) perish in slow motion, even as Bush's ratings sank to sub-­Nixonian levels, country radio backed away from that song.

"Clear Channel's not gonna play anything that costs them advertising money or goes against the party line or whatever you want to call it," says KPFT's Larry Winters.

And they are still less likely to play something by relatively unknown artists, some of whom have created the very finest music of our times. There's James McMurtry's "We Can't Make It Here," which Collins calls "the first really comprehensive look at what's going on now, not strictly the war, but the whole package." There are also killer songs like the Decemberists' "16 Military Wives" and Todd Snider's "Ballad of the Kingsmen." Nope, you didn't hear those on the radio either. They sounded too jarring when they came up against the Chevy commercials.

Collins says that the situation was not as different back in his youth as people might think today. "There was pretty tight control of what was on the AM radio then, but in '66, '67 and '68, so-called underground radio came around to blossom on FM," he says. "And hell, that was all anybody I knew listened to. I was on a base in California at that time, and we listened to the Doors, Hendrix and the Airplane."

Today, the underground is confined to a few public radio stations in major markets and the Internet, and that's the problem. These days it seems like no two thousand kids are fans of the same band, and then few of those two thousand dig the same songs.

Culturally speaking, we are now an atomized country, sliced and diced into millions of tiny cliques, each of us gorging off our own list of bookmarked MP3 blogs and overstuffed iPods, taking in dozens of new songs a week but absorbing and comprehending almost nothing.

Contrast that to 1968, the year Collins went off to Vietnam: "I think hindsight provides a more homogeneous view of my generation's youth than may be accurate, but there was a huge contingent of white, relatively middle-class kids who constituted what was referred to as the counterculture," Collins says.

As for today? The Buzz is the so-called "new music alternative" on the FM dial, allegedly the home of rock and roll, once the sound track to the rebellion of American youth, the music of the ­counterculture.

On October 28, the station will be hosting its annual BuzzFest, sponsored by Bud Light, McDonald's, Pontiac, Darque Tan and — get this — the good old United States Army.

Somehow I don't think the Army had a corporate tent at Woodstock or Altamont. Real life gets more like The Simpsons every day.

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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