Monday, November 05, 2018

Listen to the Music

I've been thinking a lot about this great divide, these hideous, ugly cracks that have appeared in the landscape and throughout the minds of the citizens of the United States.

First, I wonder if it's really there - because I have always been able to talk to most people about nearly anything, in my work as a news reporter. Perhaps it was because I was listening and not arguing that I was able to do that. I may have disagreed with the person's words or point of view but it was not my job to judge. I reported what was said and let the public decide if a supervisor or county administrator or judge or whoever was a total idiot or one of the greatest minds ever to walk the grounds of Fincastle.

I think it is there, now, and I think the media is keeping at the forefront. Divide and conquer creates great copy, after all, and makes for excitement. Keeping the public stirred up, fearful, questioning, and confused works for those who crave power, whether that is a politician or a TV executive. The politicians do not help, of course. I will be so glad when the election is over tomorrow. Perhaps for a day we will have some time on TV with no political advertisement. Then they'll start for whatever election is next, I suppose.

Then I wondered how long this divide has been around. Unfortunately, I have determined it has been around for as long as I have been alive. I overlooked it. I missed it. It was right in front of me, staring me in the face, but I didn't see it. Maybe I didn't want to see it. Maybe because I was raised with racism around me, with hatred and bitterness simply a part of the landscape while I escaped to better places in my mind with my books and my own somewhat less angry heart. (I have a depressed and sad heart, always have, but at least it is not an angry one.)

How did I figure out it has always been there? I listened. This time I listened to things I'd been hearing all of my life - certain songs and words in music. And in those songs I find the beginnings of the discord, the great divide, the things that at the time seemed innocent but which ultimately are not.

I grew up listening to country music in my early years. I switched over to pop/Top 40 as soon as I was old enough to do that (let's say 11 or 12) and never looked back. I still don't listen to country music.

But it occurred to me that the divide was going on way back when. Two songs come to mind for me when I think about what we'll call "the right."  Those songs are Okie from Muskogee and Sweet Home Alabama.

The first song, by Merle Haggard, celebrates what I would call small town America. Here are the lyrics:

We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee
We don't take no trips on LSD
We don't burn our draft cards down on Main Street
'Cause like livin' right and bein' free
We don't make a party out of lovin'
But we like holdin' hands and pitchin' woo
We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy
Like the hippies out in San Francisco do
And I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all
Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear
Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen
Football's still the roughest thing on campus
And the kids here still respect the college dean
And I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee
A place where even squares can have a ball
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all
We still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse
And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all
In Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA

I presume everything "they" don't do, then "the left" does. Although I know plenty of folks of all persuasions who've smoked a little marijuana and had long hair, but whatever. This song spells it out about as well as anything. And it dates back to 1969. I was six years old in 1969.

The second song, by Lynard Skynard, is a one I've always liked. It falls more into the Southern Rock category than the first song, which is definitely country.

Big wheels keep on turning
Carry me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the south-land
I miss 'ole' 'bamy once again and I think it's a sin
Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don't need him around anyhow
Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you
In Birmingham they love the Gov'nor, boo-hoo-hoo
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you, tell the truth
Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you, here I come
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they've been known to pick a song or two (yes they do)
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue, now how bout you?
Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you
Sweet home Alabama, oh sweet home
Where the skies are so blue and the governor's true
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you

I always thought it was a song about a trucker going home to Alabama, and maybe it is. But the lines that really caught my attention recently were the ones about Neil Young (a liberal musician) and "Watergate does not bother me."

That stopped me short. Why wouldn't Watergate bother someone? Shouldn't it have bothered everybody? It was a crime, a violation of trust, a break in the sanctity of government, a breach of truth.

I strongly suspect that the same people who weren't bothered by Watergate aren't bothered by the things the 45th president says. I am greatly bothered by them, particularly the lies and the outrageous statements that serve only to create fear, disharmony, and discord.

That song came out in 1974. And from there I really stopped hearing that side of things, because I stopped listening to country music. I began listening to disco and songs that celebrated love. I also started listening to songs like Born in the USA, by Bruce Springsteen, which has a patriotic chorus but is not very flattering to the nation because it's really an indictment of the Vietnam War. And then there were the anti-war songs, in particular War by Edwin Starr (War! Good God, y'all, what is good for? Absolutely nothing.) I also loved White Rabbit byJefferson Airplane (and that has an inappropriate age restricted notice from youtube, I can't even imagine that), Where Have All the Flowers Gone (Peter, Paul, and Mary) and similar songs - mostly anti-war, pro-love, pro-peace, pro-people.

The thing is, had I spent more time listening to different types of music, maybe I would have picked up on the divide. It's rather like the shock I get when I watch something on Fox (which I seldom do but sometimes I feel compelled to check it out). Everything is different about that TV station, even the TV commercials. It's slanted, focused, and pointed at one thing - making sure the viewer knows that change is coming and whatever the change is, it is not good, and the viewer should be afraid.

Change always comes though. Music has evolved since 1969 - we have so many different genres now that it is truly an accurate reflection of the prism of our society, right down from the differences in country music to hip hop to new age to adult contemporary.

I thought I was being open-minded in my music styles, but I wasn't. I listened for a long time to adult contemporary, NPR classical stuff, a little jazz, and oldies music. However, I don't listen to country or hip hop (or reggae or the blues) and in the last two years I have stopped listening to new music for the most part. Mostly now I listen to songs from the 1970s and older albums by Sheryl Crowe and Melissa Etheridge.

I tuned out and turned it off.

I created my own little bubble without realizing that was what I was doing.

Such a fractured, fragile nation, full of bluster and humus and deranged personalities. I don't expect a single day of voting to change the rhetoric or much of anything else.

Only we, the people, can do that. We can come together, or we can continue to tear ourselves apart.

I wonder what we will choose.

1 comment:

  1. I always though it was strange how we change mentality as a people. We banned together and helped one another , cried and held each other when necessary durning the tragedy of 911 but we only did that durning a few weeks. After that it was back to hating and using each other as normal. Patriotism of convience.

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