Saturday, February 2, 2008

Can Rock Music Make A Difference?

Perhaps a better question would be, “Should rock music try to make a difference?”
God knows it tries.
Is it, though, out of guilt? Are millionaire rock stars like Bono simply feeling guilty about taking so much from society and feel the need to give back, or is it simply a prime example of ego run amok?
There is no doubt in my mind that rock music has shaped/ changed my life. From the friends I acquired (and still keep in touch with) through mutual appreciation for certain bands and albums to my still percolating desire to question authority at every available opportunity. As ridiculous as it sounds, I learned a great deal about politics and morals from listening to John Lennon, Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra. At least they got me thinking in the right direction. Yes, I may be a ‘corporate stooge’ to a degree, and I do work very hard for a publicly traded media company, but I think I have still retained my rebel attitude, albeit slightly watered down, over the years.

Here’s a little sermon from Jimmy Swaggart, or as I like to call him, Beelzebub.

“What is the truth about rock music? Music is a powerful, and perhaps the most powerful medium in the world. Music. Plato says when the music of a society changes, the whole society will change. Aristotle, a contemporary of Plato’s, says when music changes there should be laws to govern the nature and the character of that music. Lenin says that the best and the quickest way to undermine any society is through its music…Music, ladies and gentleman, is the gift of God. It was given to man to offer praises to God and to lift us up to him and to exalt Him to touch the tender recesses of our hearts and of our minds. Satan has taken music and he has counterfeited it, convoluted it, twisted it, exploited it and now he’s using it to hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer a message into the minds and the lifestyles of this generation.” (Jimmy Swaggart, sampled on PWEI’s Cure For Sanity album, 1990)

I totally agree. The religious right should be frightened.

From the folk music in the 60’s (“We Shall Overcome”, which Pete Seeger popularized, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, etc), to the punk movement in the 70’s (Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag) to the (self?) righteous Live Aid in the 80’s, rock musicians have at least attempted to make a difference. And perhaps, to some degree, they succeeded. Were the folkies of the 60’s at least partly responsible for ending the Vietnam war? They got people to take to the streets in protest, didn‘t they? So, maybe.
How about those punkers? Although I don’t really believe they changed anything, politically speaking, in a dramatic way (come on, Reagan was elected twice!), I think they got a lot of young people thinking about the direction of the country. Plus, props to them for shaking the music industry out of it’s corporate-controlled doldrums.
And the Live Aid folks, well they generated almost 240 million dollars for famine relief in Ethiopia, right? Good for them.

What about today? Well, you’re pretty much stuck with Bono and his self righteous pontificating. I really believe his heart’s in the right place, but he’s so damn earnest about it. Too damn earnest about it. My opinion is that he’s become somewhat of a self parody nowadays.
It’s also affected U2’s music, and not in a positive way. But that’s just my opinion.
And Jann Wenner, Publisher, who's always used Rolling Stone magazine to bolster the positions of the Left.

Hey, I totally realize that this is a rant, by the way.

To get back on track, why should the Swaggarts of the world be frightened? Because rock music exposes their hypocrisies, that’s why. These preachers preach, and that’s about it. Then they, for the most part, go back to their mansions, beat their kids and cheat on their wives. No real action and no real accountability. Totally self-serving and scared out of their ever-lovin’ wits that kids who listen to rock music will rise up and expose them for what they truly are. Hippocrates to the nth degree.
Unfortunately, I don’t see much action on the part of kids today. One theory is the fact that there is no draft. Faced/ forced with getting killed for a war you don’t believe in would be enough to get me to take to the streets.

And God bless folks like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, who are still plugging away trying to get the apathetic youth of today to take some damn action. Unfortunately, for all of us, it’s fallen on deaf ears.

So go burn your bras, eat the rich and peace love and eternal grooviness, y’all!

UPDATE, Sunday, Feb 3rd: One of R & R's greatest political bands, Gang Of Four, is set to release an album of new material in 2008. Dave Allen, the groups bassist, says,

"I recently looked around the music landscape, and there's no one out there doing anything about issues. What I'm really getting at is that we have on our hands a global conflict. Rock music has lost its way. People used to be speaking out in the arts ... but in the last 15 years, all the artists have become pro-everything. Rock ceded our voice to underground hip-hop, speaking out about social issues and American hegemony, but now even that's gone."--Can't wait for the new release!


Greg Pate said...

Damn, Uncle E, I almost feel inspired! Don't worry about your status as a sorta-corporate-stooge. You've got the heart of a rebel, and they can never take that away from you.

P.S. Please call me. I'm in the book. Let's play some chess!

Phil Fountain said...

This is a subject that I've thought about a great deal. I cut my teeth on music that was, if not politically aware, was at least giving voice to the common man.
You mention Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Folkies of the '60s. Don't forget Leadbelly, Howlin' Wolf, The Weavers and even The Carter Family. They all touched on social issues of their time.
We could theorize ad nauseum on what happened. I think, like with much of our culture, we can trace the popularity of Ronald Reagan to the demise of not only "The Left" but of politically conscious music.
Reagan made the word "Liberal" into a dirty word. He made it OK the ridicule dissenters. He achieved what the less savory Nixons and McCarthys had failed to do. He made it fun to hate. He made fear our friend. Who could argue with a jelly bean munching cowboy grandpa?
He co-opted Springsteen's "Born In The USA" as his theme song. NOBODY GOT THE IRONY!!! The Left feared the backlash of attacking the old goat. He effectively neutered his opposition.
Dubya is mining the same ground. He was elected twice as well. You'd think we'd learn. Maybe our brains are rotted by rock and roll.

Uncle E said...

Greg, I will do that! You'll no doubt kick my chess playin' wannabe ass all over the place, but at least we'll have some good discussions!