Monday, October 18, 2010

Today's Music - The Anthem of Revolution?

June 3, 1970

Lantern Staff Writer

The decade 1960-1970 has witnessed a revolution in this country that will probably change the course of history. It began in the early '60s and had its full realization in August 1969 at a place called Woodstock.

How could such a momentous event occur with virtually no one aware that a movement existed? The answer lies with the youth. The new generation that was born at Woodstock was part of an evolutionary pattern. It was not simply the change from knee length skirts to mini skirts and bell bottoms or the "sudden" expansion of morals.

It took shape in the music of today's youth which many adults turn off with a disgusted flick of the wrist. They never realize that they are turning out the pulse of a nation and the key to the upcoming generation.

Music has always reflected the thoughts of the country and the present songs are no exception. A "Life" article on the Beatles formulated the following opinion of the new music. "Pop music today is being transformed by the esthetic of pop art. That sounds like tautology but it is the formula for a revolution."

For the most part, the older reviewer of modern music has held a scornful attitude toward his younger counterpart. By ignoring the new beat he seemed to think it would go away. The beginning of this decade was exemplary of this attitude. In the November 1960 issue of "Harper's" magazine, Vergil Thompson made the following statement in his review of music in the 1950s.

"It is as if the whole world of musical creativity had caught the same disease. Music of today is non-committal. No plain or urgent communication peers through its surface. A species known as rock and roll, if you are interested, is on the decline. It is commercialized hillbilly aimed at selling gramophone records to persons between the ages of nine and fourteen."

Music Communicates

If you take this statement apart, you will see that this does not apply to the '60s. The music of today strives to communicate. It is full of creativity and wonder. In the early 1960s it asked questions about society and now it is trying to supply the answers. The world of musical creativity has indeed caught the same disease.

It is true that many of today's lyrics express only crude desires to "get turned on" or "take a trip." Others, however, look for a better time in love, war and civil rights. A minority appear content with the present situation. These distinct trends in musical themes reflect the confusion that exists in the world. To understand how the drastic changes came about, the study of the evolution of the popular singer and the various forms of music is essential.

Songs Hit Social Problems

With the advent of Bob Dylan, performers began to concentrate on words rather than just melody or a good beat. Dylan's "Blowing In The Wind" was typical of the early '60s. This song raised pertinent social questions. The song offers no solutions. The answer is left blowing in the wind.
"How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky? How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? How many deaths must it take till he knows that too many people have died?"
The Beatles were the next step in the musical evolutionary ladder. When the screaming finally calmed down, both adults and teenagers found hard, thought-provoking verse from the pen of John Lennon.

In their songs, the Beatles sing of the problems of the emerging generation. "She's Leaving Home" is a good example of the simplicity with which they state some complex problems of youth. "She's leaving home after living alone for so many years. Fun, fun is the one thing that money can't buy."

One enamored reviewer of "Abbey Road" philosophized,

"Whenever a new Beatles album is released it's generally a critical and social as well as a musical event. . .Some folk poet once said that in ugly times beauty is the only true protest, and, if nothing else, "Abbey Road" bears him out."

Simon and Garfunkel appeared as the next force in popular folk-rock business. Stephan Kanfer synthesized their appeal for "Life." "Their songs are simply laments of celebrations of the ordinary . . . and therein lies their success."

Their message for the youth is to look at the commonplace in life and point out that nothing is commonplace. They specialize in letting their fans take a realistic look at life. Despite the inevitable end, we must live life to the fullest. An excerpt from the "Leaves That Are Green" is highly typical of their style.
I was 21 years when I wrote this song/ I'm 22 now but I won't be for long/ Times hurries on/ And the leaves that are green turn to brown/ And they wither with the wind/ And they crumble in your hand./
After the singer in the 1960s was assured his audience would listen to the words, he began to comment on the situations he found smoldering under the affluent times. The age of social protest was ushered in.

Melody and Lament

The combination of haunting melody and sorrowful lament made an immediate hit of "Society's Child" by 16-year-old Janis Ian. This ballad stirred up the growing controversy over interracial dating. The escalation of the war brought Peter, Paul and Mary to the scene with "The Great Mandella (The Wheel of Life)."

Listening to the radio was in some ways comparable to reading a current magazine. The whole question was finally thrown out when Dione Warwick asked, "What's It All About Alfie?" From that moment on the pop field began concentrating on finding the answer.

One adult supporter of the new rock sarcastically told his critics:

"Rock is subversive not because it seems to authorize sex, dope and cheap thrills but because it encourages its audience to make their own judgments about social taboos."

The Mamas and the Papas rephrased his reply. "You gotta go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do, with whomever you wanna do it."

Musicals Follow the Trend

The broad world of music, however, does not limit itself to the discs. In the last decade there have been scores of popular musicals on Broadway which also reflect current trends. Two of the more popular shows, "Camelot" and "Hair" represent both ends of the continuum.

The successful Camelot, recently revived in movie form, first appeared in 1960. The success of such a moralistic play at the beginning of the decade indicated that the new era was searching for something to cling to.

Musicals are integral parts of the song world. Through his lyrics, the songwriter echoes the plot of the story. The plot is kept alive and recalled as the song is heard. A "Newsweek" reviewer described that play as "a potentially noble expression of noble ideas transmitted through Arthurian legend."

The fact that Camelot was so popular is this trouble period of our history is no surprise. The soliloquy by King Arthur adeptly poses some questions which are puzzling the newly animated generation.

"Could it possible be civilized to destroy what I love? Could it possibly be civilized to love myself above all? Violence is not strength and compassion is not weakness. We are civilized!"

Birth of Love Generation

The last segment of the swinging '60s heralded the true birth of the "love" generation. Like Spiro Agnew, hippie, LSD, and Haight-Ashbury became household words having various conotations depending on your point of view.

The musical "Hair" summed the whole hippie business up with hard beat and rather crude but penetrating lyrics. In the plot, nothing but love and youth are projected as sacred. A Newsweek article defends the lack of substantial script.

"What it quite properly tries to do is present the hippie phenomenon as the mixed up but inescapably alive eruption of energy that it is. Hair ignites the key images and issues of the lost and found generation."

This show became the pulse of a revolution that would take place a year later. For once, adults garnered a little insight from listening to the album. The music clearly reflects the mixture of insolence for the old ways and deep concern for each other that the new philosophy includes.

One of the spirit songs from the play sings of the Utopia that should exist. "How can people be so heartless? / How can people be so cruel? / Easy to be hard, Easy to be cold."

New Peace at Woodstock

The crescendo of thought and emotion rose and the overflow poured into a field called Woodstock. This celebration of the birth of the newest force in society took place at Bethel, New York between August 15 and 17, 1969. More than 400,000 of the "turned on" between the ages of 16 and 30 witnessed the event while thousands more were turned away.

There were no fights, rapes or stealing in the closely packed field. Clothes, food and drugs were shared freely with strangers. One astounded observer commented, "Young people created a kind of peace in a situation where none should have existed."

A cameraman who lensed the event provided some clues as to what took place and why.

"There was a feeling about Woodstock . . . The music was the reason for the whole thing. That's what music is. It's the thing that talks to everybody that gives everyone a common bond. All other methods are owned by the Establishment. That's why music has the fantastic drawing ability today."

The originator of Woodstock, 24-year-old Michael Lang, spoke on the far reaching effects of the art fair. "This is not just music but a conglomeration of everything involved in the new culture."

The festival appears to be the "shot heard round the world" for music lovers. Posters bearing the legend "Woodstock Music & Art Fair - Aquarian Exposition - 3 Days of Peace & Music" are selling in stores across the nation.

An essay in Time magazine dissected the musical event and concluded that it was "music that is not just a particular form of pop but the anthem of revolution . . . Rock is one long symphony of protest . . . The revolution it preaches is basically moral; it is a proclamation of a new set of values as much as it is the rejection of an old system."

Is this a true indication of a trend for the '70s? How can we guarantee that our values are not changed by the momentum of society?

Chicken or the Egg?

One freshman stated the dilemma: "On the question of music's influence on society one is faced with the elemental question: which comes first the chicken or the egg? i.e. Does music influence society or does society influence music?"

In a poll taken in a college dorm the consensus was that music dictates many facets of an individual's life. A typical comment from a sophomore pinpoints the reaction of the group. "Music is an expression of the type of life that people are living."

This presents quite a different outlook from the sardonic comments of Thompson on music in the '50s. The experimental sounds of today mirror our confused and searching society.

In the 1970s, the Fifth Dimension have formally announced the Declaration of Independence for a new generation.

We are in the midst of a social and cultural revolution. We don't know where we are going. We are so deeply involved in our world we must leave it to another time to judge the real worth and direction of our music.

Bob Dylan warns in song, "The order is rapidly changing. Get out of the new, if you can't lend a hand. The times they are a-changin.'"

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