Message in the Music

If you’re still having difficulty comprehending what those participating in the “Occupy” protests are speaking to, perhaps the lyrics from a couple of tunes will better bring the message home for you.

Music is the art form that fills our personal life and helps connect us to the rest of the world, whether it be a love song, a ballad or a stirring anthem on national pride.  The lyrics of some can inspire us while others give clarity to issues we can’t get from more institutional offerings like the mainstream media and even our educational system.

In the ’60’s and ’70’s, the youth culture of that era began to redefine the value of humanity through their music by suggesting that materialism was robbing us of our essence as flesh and blood people.  Today’s youth culture, many who are represented in the “OccupyWallStreet” movement, are reiterating this message in their music as they seek solace from the growing inequities within a system that places more value on profits than people.

Music of the Woodstock Generation

There are two pieces I have come across recently that resonate a message pertinent to the Occupy Wall Street protests and answers the basic questions of some who are unsure what this grass movement represents.

This first is familiar to most of us and goes back to 1976 with the release of Jackson Browne’s fourth album, The Pretender, whose talent as a writer and musician began pretty much in Greenwich Village and as a part of the The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  The roots his music derived from in this era and culture identified with the everyman.  In The Pretender we have the struggle of a working class man trying to get by in a world that is fraught with challenges and expends perhaps more energy trying to make a living than filling a deeper human need.

“Caught between the longing for love

And the struggle for the legal tender “

Recalling his youth where life seemed more simpler, where church bells rang and “children solemnly waited for the ice cream vendor”, his dreams of life and love have now become too entwined with the economic world of consuming and earning the legal tender.

Where the ads take aim and lay their claim

To the heart and the soul of the spender

And believe in whatever may lie

In those things that money can buy

In his closing lyrics Jackson bemoans what most of us have experienced and how our lives too often fall short of our dreams.  We’re left with the regret that true love was knocked out of contention as our life progressed and we surrendered instead to fulfilling economic ambitions.  It catches us unaware and seems so natural to get a job before we make a life for ourselves, not realizing that our humanity with others takes a back seat and often gets lost in this contemporary rite of passage.  Competing with our heart’s desire is this more self-centered need to be successful and to “get rich”.

The other song that I came across also hit on the effects of the “petty green” but on a more global scale than Jackson’s smaller town setting.  It’s a song by The Decemberists, a group that formed at the beginning of this century out of Oregon.  On their 3rd album, The King is Dead, the lyrics of the “Calamity Song” addresses the “root of all evil” and how people seem obsessed with their habits of consumption as the world around them begins to smother what was once the dominant society of the 20th century.

There are references to Islamic terrorism (Andalusian tribes), and the cheap labor markets of Mexico (Panamanian child) and China, who is waiting in the wings to become the preeminent economic power (Dowager Empress)

The lyrics tap into the thoughtless acts we are a part of consciously or subconsciously as we disrupt cultures to attain the fossil fuels that take lives here and abroad and pay cheaper labor markets in Mexico and China to create the junk we consume and are encouraged by Wall Street to spend our shrinking paychecks on.  Ultimately all that is left will be “the arms of the angels.”

The energies of those who are dedicated to the “Occupy” movements around the country and now the world are bringing to light how the needs of human beings are being overshadowed by the need of corporations and their profit-seeking investors.  This disparity where only a handful benefit as the rest of us are left to surrender to a more destitute life is growing ever larger.  Already many third world nations suffer from severe drought, food and water shortages, disease and health depravations.

Without some profound changes in our economic philosophy that serves only our consumptive self-interests, we too will become susceptible to a world that has limited resources and begins to fight back in the form of rapid and powerful climate change toward those who deplete and contaminate it while the rest of us who are caught up in their unconcern.

I Support OccupyWallStreet

12 responses to “Message in the Music

    • Thanks Angela. I listened to both of these earlier this week while enjoying a cool afternoon, sitting on my small gazebo and watching Millie, my shepherd mix rescue, enjoying it also. Both songs came on the local public broadcast music station here in North Texas, KTX91.7 within minutes of each other and the connection was obvious between some of these lyrics and what was going with this new grass roots movement.

      • This is what I love about blogs. We can listen/read the professional pundits reporting all day long but it is insight and perspective like you write about here that can’t or rarely come from the pros.

  1. These were great songs that truly ring true for today. Music instills and reflects the passion in our hearts. I have a feeling there will be a lot of songs coming out of these protests . Great post!

  2. Jackson Browne was right-on. Can’t wait to see what music defines the OWS movement. I think the Tea Party has country music pretty well nailed down.

    • Can’t wait to see what music defines the OWS movement”

      Me too Hansi. When I think of all the great music during the anti-war period of Vietnam and the denunciation of materialism I’m hopeful that this generation and this movement will generate a similar trove.

  3. Great post, Larry. I hope, sincerely, that the OWS protestors are largely of the mindset that they want a more equitable treatment for our society – rather than wanting or coveting what the 1% have. There’s a huge difference. I’d love to see this country stop worshipping the almighty dollar. I hope that this movement has awakened in at least a lot of us the need to think more about our fellow humans on this decaying planet and that success isn’t all about being the richest people as celebrated by Forbes. I don’t denigrate success at all. But success without compassion, without charity, is no virtue at all.

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