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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

I just want to hear some rhythm: the timelessness of political music

< preface, I’ll state that I love almost all music. Though I was once an exclusively rock n’ roll, folk and grunge lover, Carleton, as well as my roommate who listens to hip-hop and R&B, opened my eyes to a much broader world of music of which I can’t get enough. Yet there is definitely some music that “lasts” longer, music that transcends the limits of its genre and time. I think there are many kinds of timelessness that can be found in music—timelessness in a lyrical voice, or timelessness in a simple tune, or in its dance beats, or in a groundbreaking musical idea. But I think that one of the most prominent ways that artists linger in our minds across generations and time periods is through social and political expression. Musicians like Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, The Clash and Pete Seeger, to name just a varied few—artists and bands that come from times of turmoil—are timeless because they shook up the world with words and ideas that last longer than those who first spoke and conceived of them.

When I think about the kind of people who are singing about politics right now, I think primarily of people like Springsteen—people who have already been singing about it for years. I can’t argue that there aren’t any artists composing anti-war songs and the like today, because of course there are. Yet I still have a harder time coming up with artists who are just now beginning to leave their mark on people with social commentary in a way that is constant, hugely impacting, and self-defining. Even artists like Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine, whom we may consider to be more contemporary to our time, have (or had, in the case of RATM) been around for more than a decade.

In times like these, I think we are well aware of the power of music. And we know that there is much that can be discovered about a society by studying the kinds of music that they produce. But I think its use as a social and political tool is underestimated. Where is the thunder in our music today that will rev up even the most apathetic? To use music creatively and effectively is, and should be even more, a serious means of campaigning for issues, ideas, and people—not because musicians necessarily have more insight into the plight of our country than other people, but simply because of the spirited horsepower that one modest song can carry.

People are saying to get up from the couch, to get involved, to make our voices heard. Little inspires me to do this more than a song that, literally and figuratively, brings me to my feet. Moreover, music is one of the best ways to bring people together: listening to it is a communal activity, and there is enough of it to go around. But when I want to feel inspired, I find myself turning back to the music of many years ago—much of which was created before I was even born—and I personally long for something that will speak to my own generation. Channeling messages through music reaches everyone; it might be the only intermediary that it accessible to all. I think if we use music to our advantage—if we can start using music to have a real conversation with people, using it as an energizer, an inspiration, a stimulation—we will have a lot more leverage to get things done, since we will be backed by people united in timeless melody.

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