Where were you when the towers fell? When the wall came down? The moon landing? JFK? Or wider out: Were you part of the Civil Rights movement? Did the Gulf War affect you? How about the last three years? Everything that’s going on now feels a little comparable to what was happening in the Woodstock generation, from the race relations to the political turmoil, but I wasn’t there and can only say that from a place of historical research.
I’ve been thinking about now, and what it’s going to look like in the future. With as much that’s happened with police killings, mass killings, terrorism, Trump and gun control, I expect that it will be a time we look back on with a magnifying glass much in the same way we do with the counterculture days of the ’60s, or the excess years of the ’80s. But what will be my story if someone were to ask? I haven’t participated in any marches. I haven’t gone to any rallies. No sit-ins. No protests. For sure, I’ve been part of many conversations and have taken my side, and argued on Facebook and at the dinner table, but I don’t expect that anything I’ve said will be part of any history books — no photos of me in the pages of Time magazine. And that’s probably true for many of you as well. In fact, if I were to ask a few random people over the age of 50 what it was like back in the day of Martin Luther King Jr., most of them would admit that they felt it all for certain, but they watched from afar. That’s fair, because we can’t all be in the middle of the action. As chance as those moments can be, they’re reserved for a few who then go on to tell the much bigger story. I have definitely felt the pain and sadness of our modern-day turmoil. I have cried, argued, thrown my hands up in disgust and dropped my head in defeat. But without being an active activist, I’ve let others do the real fighting.
Unsurprisingly though, I have found my own time-stamps within the music that’s been released. With the freedom that artists have these days, it’s usually only a matter of hours after a crisis that we get a song to reflect, memorialize or simply recount the incident. I have found my anger matched within certain lyrics, and I have found other broken hearts intertwined in a melody. And I find that with my eyes closed that I can let the songs permeate my own being to the point where I feel the connection to the moment as powerful as if I were actually there, for better and worse. It’s that power-of-music thing that we talk about from time to time, and it’s real. And it’s important — the tie that binds us to history beyond the books, to the heart of it all.
I may have not been around in the ’30s, ’50s or even the ’70s, but I’ve felt those years, and, as much as I can, I’ve understood those moments. How can you not with a song like “Gimme Shelter,” or “Ohio,” especially when those songs, unfortunately, still ring true today? Go out to the poorest part of your city and put on Woody Guthrie. Listen close and keep looking and you’ll feel it, too. Those songs don’t just bridge the eras, they can be a full-functioning time machine.
When I concentrate on the songs that are currently being produced, I don’t hear the same emotions from those of the past. More than not, right now I hear bewilderment, frustration and grasping at hope. Hoping for hope. It’s not the most positive, but it certainly reflects the look in my neighbor’s eyes, and the sound in their voice. My own hope, possibly for humanity’s sake, is that those songs eventually turn into battle cries, for goodness, for overcoming and for peace, and, then eventually, they turn back into love songs. When I look back to the first piece I ever wrote for LEO, I cynically asked the question, whether the world needed any more silly little love songs. If I had only known then what I know now, because if music truly is the reflection of our time, then the answer is a resounding yes.