Monday, September 7, 2009

"It's going to take a lot of things", or: A response to some random naysayery

I'm lucky enough to have a few really cool friends who read and support my blog. A few weeks ago my dear friend Jackie went so far as to post a link to my post on Rock Camp songs on her facebook wall. I was so grateful and flattered, but the warm fuzzies I was feeling were tarnished by the following comment from one of her facebook friends:

"I think this is great, but we're not going to dismantle this dumb system with rock songs. We will by forming DIY community banks."

It was the classic 'progressive guy' condescension. Just in case you don't speak Sexism, I'll translate for you: First, you have the pat on the head ('I think this is great...'). Then you have the brush off ('we're not going to dismantle this dumb system with rock songs'). Finally, you get the solution ('DIY community banks'?) In other words, this is cute and all sweetie, but music and art don't really 'count' -- only male-identified arenas like socioeconomic and political institutions count.

I was upset by this comment, at first because of its sexist undertone, and then later because I was forced to consider what it said. What if that guy is right? I've spent the last few weeds wondering, what if rock songs won't dismantle the system? What if what I'm talking about is totally stupid, and totally irrelevant, and he's right to be condescending?

Here's the thing though: this guy is NOT right. To start with, he's wrong to argue that rock songs won't bring down The System because I never said they would. I'm idealistic about music and art, but I'm not delusional. I know that songs don't have the power to stop armies in their tracks, or pass legislation, or regulate financial institutions.

But music is a powerful and unique means of uniting people. Music is a unique medium for the transmission of new ideas to a large audience. And a good, pithy pop song breaks those ideas down into manageable, memorable pieces, using straightforward and familiar language that sticks in your mind, and that becomes part of your consciousness.

I listened to the Beatles a lot as a kid, I like to think that their pro-peace, pro-love ideas became a part of my consciousness early on.

When music opens up your mind like that, and gets you thinking about bigger ideas, and maybe even gets you talking with your friends about these ideas and how they make you feel -- that's when music has the power to change things. Music does have the ability to stimulate critical thought, and critical thought can lead to resistance.

This is one of my new favorites -- Swedish punk upstarts Refused knew how to bring the classic punk resistance to shitty/mindless popular music!

(If you don't believe me, just ask all the Latin American dictators of the '70s who banned pop music, assassinated outspoken musicians, and sent their military police to rock concerts with tear gas and grenades. They seemed pretty worried that music about human rights would get the young people to resist the military government.)

This guy, Victor Jara, was tortured, beaten, and killed by the Chilean military because he sang about political activism and human rights.

More to the point of this blog, popular music has become bigger than just songs and albums. Song itself can transmit positive ideas, and it can also transmit negative ideas. And since music is not just the music itself, but also the performers, their politics, their style of dress, and the way they present themselves, popular music also transmits ideas about men, women, sex and gender -- whether it means to or not. I've seen this for myself. I've experienced it for myself, I've seen it with my friends, I've seen it with the campers at Rock Camp.

An all time favorite: my beloved Sleater-Kinney singing in feminist protest of the corporate war machine

I've always assumed that most of us are sort of familiar with this phenomenon, and that most of us can appreciate what a positive influence music can have on your day-to-day life. (Don't a lot of us go through a phase during our teenage years where we just want to shut ourselves up in our rooms with our favorite records, and where we only want to talk to friends who are doing the same thing? Or maybe that was just me....)

I guess maybe my critic didn't go through this phase, and if that's the case, I probably can't say anything that will convince him of the power of music. All I can say to a person like him is, man, you must be listening to the wrong stuff.

This post is dedicated to Jackie, for her support, and to all of my friends who keep encouraging me to write, and to keep speaking up.

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