Music has been a driving force behind cultural and philosophical changes in this country for at least the last 150 years. The “Song of the South” wasn’t just the name of a Disney movie. The music of the Confederacy and the Union were a driving source of inspiration during the Civil War. The cultural affect of the music of the slaves during this era is well documented. The music of the Roaring 20’s helped bring the nation out of the emotional doldrums of the “War to End All Wars”. Big Band music led us out of the Great Depression and was the soundtrack of WWII. The patriotic songs of the 40’s kept the nation engaged in the war effort and helped feed the nationalistic movement that saved the world from tyranny. There is no question that The Beatles changed the world culturally. But it was the protest music of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez and others that led the anti-war movement.
Right now our nation and the world is facing its most difficult challenge in the last 75 years and there is NO VOICE. To my thinking Hip-Hop doesn’t address the issues. It does give urban youth hope, when they see that folks like Jay-Z, Diddy and Kanye can become superstars. But the Hip-hop culture seems more financially motivated than culturally. These artist got in the business to become rich. They display their wealth for all to see. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen had no such intentions when they began their careers. They had something to say that they thought could make a difference. I might be wrong, but I don’t know of any artists in the Hip-hop world that are successful and so motivated. It is a more self-centered environment.
Many Americans, even democrats are disappointed with the leadership of our current administration. Certainly the Republicans have no answer. The United States is facing a leadership crisis. Our politicians, like our rappers seemed to be motivated by money. They want to get elected, not to do service to the nation, but to get rich and to acquire more wealth and power. Our government is led by multi-millionaires. Certainly, this is not what Jefferson, Adams, Washington and the rest of our founding fathers had in mind. If the United States was ever ripe for a revolution, it is now.
Bruce Springsteen is addressing the problem in the way he knows best. By singing about it. His new album “Wrecking Ball” may not be his best album, but it is certainly his most political. The problem is no one is listening. Pop music rules the day and Bruce is not a pop artists. His audience is a niche audience. His reign as the #1 selling album in the country will not last long. As usual, his fans bought the album immediately upon release, but within two or three weeks he will be far out of the Top 10. The single “We Take Care of Our Own” is predictably being misunderstood. Just as “Born in the USA” was misinterpreted as a patriotic anthem, people think “We Take Care of Our Own” as an optimistic look at the fate of the downtrodden. Instead it is a sarcastic slap in the face to our government. Songs like “Jack of All Trades” and “Shackled and Drawn” show the hope as well as the frustration of the under and the unemployed. In a different era, when people turned to music for something more than entertainment, this album would be the marching orders for the population to force change.
But, music has been replaced by the internet as a force in changing our culture. Imagine how the world would be different if Mark Rudd and the Columbia University protesters of 1968, would have had the internet to spread the word. What would an internet savvy Bobby Seale have been able to do to motivate his supporters? What if Eugene McCarthy or Bobby Kennedy, or even George Wallace had world class internet marketers on their staffs? 1968 might have been the year that we saw a full fledged revolution in this country. Those of us who lived through that summer certainly felt it wasn’t out of the question. The riots and the turmoil of the summer of 1968, gave birth to the Summer of Love in 1970. Wow, those were kinder and gentler times. We have seen the role social media can play in starting a revolution. The Egyptian Spring would not have happened had it not been for Facebook. All of the uprisings in the Middle East owe a debt to the internet.
In the past we have had artists carrying the torch and suggesting change in society. For the most part these folks are pacifists and want to see change through peaceful means. Now, charismatic leaders, regardless of their agenda will be able to get the attention of the public. I don’t know about you, but I felt much safer when our artists were doing the talking for us.
So our leaders certainly have a difficult task. They are being scrutinized as never before. Our satisfaction or dissatisfaction can be registered with a click of a mouse. But where are our new leaders going to come from? So as positive affect the music of our protest singers had on “Baby Boomers”, it will have nearly zero affect on our kids. They don’t listen Springsteen et al. For the most part, the artists that are most popular now are singing about typical things like love. It is alright to show your bling and your Bentley and let people know how great your life is. But for the time being at least the protest movement is coming from the internet. When Dylan sang “The Times They are a Changing”, he had no idea they would start changing so quickly.