So I’m listening to Live and Learn by Joe Public, and the thought hits me: Whatever happened to message music? When I was growing up — insert old man decrying the youth culture joke here 😉 — it seemed that every so often, particularly during times of pressing social issues, that music artists would respond with their particular take on the issues of the day. The problem may be that I don’t listen to nearly as much popular music as I once did. It seems, still, that there is a dearth of music decrying the problems of the world in which we live and/or an insensitivity to these issues.
The culture of “Me”
Could the problem be that we live in a more self-centered society (specifically the USA) than at any other time? I don’t necessarily think that’s the issue. If we look at the 80’s, for example, one of the greatest collection of musical artists ever assembled came together for “We Are the World”, with the proceeds of this recording going to alleviate the starvation and poverty going on in parts of Africa. This was at the height of the “Me” culture of the mid 80’s.
Sensitivity to the issues of those around us
Maybe the problem is that we have lost our sensitivity to the issues in the world around us. There’s unemployment, wars, human trafficking, homelessness, and the list goes on. In today’s culture with our instant access to the latest problem of the day via the 24 hour news cycle, maybe we’re just tired of hearing about it. Maybe we’d rather enter the confines of our comfortable homes without being reminded of what’s going on outside those walls.
Troubled times create message music
If we look at Bridge Over Troubled Water, What’s Going On, People Make the World Go Round, The Message, Self Destruction, We’re All in the Same Gang, Brenda’s Got a Baby…. These songs were created in times in which the artists looked outside their doors and spoke to what was affecting not just them individually, but also the society in which they lived. Were they creating songs that “moved the party?” Yes, but they also had the insight to speak to what was wrong with the world around them.
So What’s the Problem?
Maybe the real question should be “Where is the Love?” Not in an individual sense but in a more global sense. Could it be that we feel we have too much going on in our own lives to be concerned with the issues in the lives of others? It could be because we are in an election cycle. During these times in our “primarily” two-party system, there seems to be a retreating to our own side of the aisle to blame the woes of the day on those who we are running against or ideologically opposed to. “I can’t get elected or get my candidate in office if I’m speaking of WE solutions rather than solutions of ME and MINE. I don’t think that’s it either. We can look at the cultural climate after November, to be sure.
I believe that there’s really a lack of compassion in (specifically American) society. Many times music reflects what is taking place in the society at large. What we see is a “get yours at any cost” ethos that is driving those without to try and get there hands on something…. anything. An “I’m not paying taxes for your ________” ethic that desires to keep what I have as I continue to strive for more. “I don’t have enough for myself, how am I going to give YOU anything.” What we need to realize is that I can achieve and help YOU in the process. My achievement doesn’t come in isolation. There were those who helped me along the way. As I continue to try and improve myself and my circumstances, I can do that AND help you as well. My helping you isn’t going to keep me from succeeding. On the contrary, it will actually help me to succeed. As I make MY streets safer, provide better education for my kids, greater access to social services, etc., I am also improving it for YOU. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. Maybe the music will reflect this… again… someday…