The times may be a’ changing, but not quite fast enough.
Before Green Day won Grammies for singing of an American idiot, and Rage Against the Machine urged us to take the power back, The Clash wrote intricate songs about isolation, poverty, utilitarianism, and cultural upheaval. Before Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize for Literature, his songs were recited and replayed over and over at picket lines across the United States when citizens took to the streets to protest the Vietnam War. Before Dr. Dre was selling his headphones to Apple and being treated like hip hop’s elder statesman and Ice Cube was making movies about barbershops and Jump Street, the “Niggaz With Attitude” were challenging police corruption and slapping us unapologetic-ally with a lyrical portrait of their realities in South Central, Los Angeles.
Music has always been the soundtrack for change. Whether it was “Baba O’Reilly” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “White America,” politics is infused with music culture because it is infused with free thought and creative expression.
Some people listen to music to “Jump Around” or be a “Rockstar,” but many of the most influential artists never got a lot of airtime on rock radio. Their lyrics weren’t always squeaky clean, their concepts not always clear, and their marketability was their controversy, not their chorus hook. And I appeal to the would-be writers of those very songs to suit up. Revisit those records. Let those stories inspire you. Turn your internal protest march into a literal one.
Right now is a scary time for a lot of people. New regulations that are currently being administered by superpowers could and likely will have untold impacts on families, generations of youth, and on how the world views western civilization. Let them know that it’s not okay to demonize entire cultures of people, that those people can sit with you, and that you will stand with them if sitting is too ineffectual.
I myself, have never been a fan or proponent of violence in the name of peace. I have never agreed with the idea of throwing rocks through windows because you are upset with your government who were freely elected by a system that you as citizens control. I say put the rock down and pick up a guitar. Play in a shitty punk band. Tell the world how you feel. Peaceful protest doesn’t have to look like flowers and peace signs. Be loud. Be brash. Be real, and remember that other people are counting on you to not be like “them.”
It’s can be hard to be peaceful when your neighbourhood turns against you. And we have all read those tragic stories about hate crimes and unjust altercations that often end in pain or loss. And for some, no doubt “Straight Outta Compton” or “White Man in Hammerstein Palais” doesn’t sound like a snapshot of history but rather a Facebook newsfeed from Ferguson (or insert tragedy here, and decorate it with a hashtag). I get it. If it was my family or my neighbourhood being targeted, I don’t know how I would react, but today it isn’t my family. It isn’t even my backyard…but it could be. We are all brothers and sisters under the same sun.
David Bowie wrote a song about the guards shooting bullets above the heads of citizens in East Berlin. The characters (inspired by real people in a real moment) “kissed as though nothing could fall.” The moral of the story is that love wins. It makes us feel invincible. It gives us courage. It holds our hand. And great songs are the sounds of those feelings. Four chords and the truth.
We are lucky enough that we here in the west don’t live in a society where we can be arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against our governments. Pussy Riot does, but they spoke up anyways. It takes courage to challenge a tyrant. But just remember that while we go back to that “not in my backyard” mentality, we would be wise to realise that someday it could be. The seeds of that influence are already being sewn when we throw people in need under the bus and wash our hands clean.
When others hurt and we allow them to without speaking up, our hands are never clean.
Love isn’t always clean. My appeal to you is to use your words. Don’t ignore the darkness. Instead tell it a story about a “bloody Sunday.” Tell it how you Goddamned Vietnam or “fought the powers that be.” Don’t be afraid to say “I’m wide awake, it’s morning.”
It’s took a long time to get here. A lot of great songs got left on the floor because someone was afraid to piss somebody off. However, today is a great day to piss somebody off. Back before Laura Jane Grace was a “True Trans Soul Rebel,” David Bowie sang about an androgynous “Rebel Rebel” and gave generations of youth hope and belief that they could be whoever the Hell they wanted to be.
A society that’s rich in diversity is a society that’s rich in culture. A rich culture has a powerful soundtrack. We have the tools at our disposal and the megaphones to ask the questions with. If “we can be heroes” then what are we waiting for? Music saved my life more than once. Words have power. A call to arms is always a last resort to fight inequity. Use your art as a weapon for change, and do it for somebody who might not be strong enough or have the tools to do it for themselves.
Marilyn Manson once sang “it was never the one true God that I hated. It was the God of all the people that I hated.” Truer words are seldom spoken. It’s never the ideal that makes people suffer. It’s the medium of the message that perverts and twists and extrapolates a narrative that suits their needs. After misinformed rhetoric becomes history, and after people get pushed out, and left behind to hurt, we will need to ask ourselves if we justified their misgivings or if we said “f**k you, I won’t do what ya told me.”
You can sit with me, and I will sing for you, as long as we stand together.