Resonance of Resistance
It’s been an extraordinarily long two weeks.
As Executive Orders, and #AlternativeFacts wiz by at a breakneck pace, I’m a bit overwhelmed. I know many of you are, too. The environment is noxious with a tense and divisive political dynamic and there is no end in sight. The anxiety is palpable.
After experiencing the Women’s March on Washington D.C., I feel more hopeful. I’m seeing people coming together to support one another and find solutions through shared values, belongingness, and community. I’m making amazing, inspiring new friends and I’m reconnecting with like-minded people who have been absent from my life for far too long. And, instead of going dark and returning to the land of apathy, as is largely our custom following a political election, millions of people are paying attention, engaged, participating in discourse, and taking action for change.
My interest in social change and, specifically, social movements did not begin with the devastating plot twist of the 2016 presidential election, or even with my participation in the Women’s March on Washington D.C.
Quite a few years back I wrestled with what, exactly, my topic of study would be for the culmination of my graduate work in Community Psychology and Social Change. I found my inspiration at the intersection of critical theory and the revolutionary sounds of civil unrest in the 1960s. It was clear to me that the music of the 1960s inspired a generation of social change makers and moved them to action; however, in the early 2000s, I was not observing the same phenomenon. In fact, there seemed to be a dearth of protest music at this time (accompanied by a frustrating dearth of research on the same), which coincided with the last time Americans to the left of center came out in strong protest of a Republican president (who coincidentally also happened to lose the popular vote). I wondered why. I wondered where I might find the music which would inspire my generation to rise up from its perceived apathy, dissent, and resist.
These questions sent me on a wild, crooked journey which lasted far too long and detoured down the rabbit hole more times than I’d like to admit.
Where Has All The Protest Music Gone?
For quite some time after the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, political and social protest music, as a form, was seemingly at a standstill. Many had once hoped that popular protest music would change the world but, perhaps they misunderstood it’s value. As Dorian Lynskey notes in 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day, perhaps the value of popular protest music was not to send the world as we know it spinning on it’s axis. Perhaps the value of popular protest music is simply its ability to critique society, make a statement about the world in which we live, change opinions and perspectives, and make connections from our histories to the present day. The music of the past did, and still does speak powerfully to the current moment, yet with all of the reasons people had to be angry, fearful, critical, or hopeful, the angst simply wasn’t translating into a meaningful popular artform — or perhaps it was.
Among the challengers hoping to keep the X Factor winner Matt Cardle from topping the charts last Christmas were a new…www.theguardian.com
In songs like these, he writes, "the political content is not an obstacle to greatness, but the source of it." He adds…www.nytimes.com
In my research, I found that the genre labeled protest music hadn’t completely disappeared; it just wasn’t as easy to find as it was in the 1960s. When Barry McGuire took his genre-defining tune, Eve of Destruction, to the top of the Billboard Charts in 1965, protest music was simultaneously popular music. Music with a political message was softer, kinder, gentler, more proper, and more straightforward than it is today, despite its powerful social critique. In the early 2000s and today, political protest music is something we typically must seek with intention. This is no different than the protest tunes of the 1930s, even prior to Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit.
Anthems of protest today are seldom found at the top of Billboard charts. They are often produced by independent labels and, thus, outside of the mainstream, popular music box. You aren’t likely to hear this music on popular radio stations. The songs are unique, artistic, sometimes loud or angry and the sentiments of the song are often expressed with mature language, which cannot be broadcast over public airwaves. Some protest music shocks the conscience — as it is intended. More subversive types of protest music may have a shot at public broadcast because the message is masked by metaphor. Only a true music lover takes time and expends the mental energy to analyze a song this closely during a morning commute. The result is that many are singing along to Green Day, U2, Indigo Girls, and the like without really knowing the genre of the song. Further, many popular songs carry a hidden context to which a majority of listeners are deaf and blind.
I once thought if we asked people the “right” questions about political protest music, they would think more critically about social issues and as a result, be more likely to engage in civic action — much like we often think asking the “right” series of challenging questions in the classroom will scaffold our students to success. However, my research didn’t support this hypothesis. I learned, in both my research and my classroom, discovery is the key. When people engage with music that is political or critical of society AND they explore — navigating their own path, making their own connections along the way, they are far more likely to think more critically about the music and its message, develop empathy, and discuss social issues in a way that leads to deeper understanding, investment, and, possibly, activism.
The rise of Donald Trump to the White House is inspiring a new interest in both producing and consuming political protest music; however, with or without Donald Trump, I still believe music can be a powerful force in the fight for social justice. And I believe music can be a tool to help all people cope, maintain sanity, and continue to find equilibrium in a world that feels more than a little toxic and off-balance. When I seek refuge and inspiration in popular protest music, I look to the past and the present; to the obvious and the obfuscated. You’ll see this reflected in the music I am listening to right now because I want to share it with you!
For me, music is a gift — especially now. And we’re all looking for small things we can do each day to have an impact and put some good out into the world. This playlist is a way I can share one of my most powerful motivators and coping strategies with you. I encourage you to come along on this journey with me. Listen. Be curious. Ask questions. Interpret. Have conversations. Simultaneously, let the music move you, motivate you, empower you, comfort you . . .and more. Most importantly, Enjoy! And please pass it on ❤
This playlist is available for you to enjoy on two different mediums: YouTube and Spotify. You’ll notice that each of the songs is accompanied by a link to Genius, where you will find a bit about the artist, the background and / or inspiration for the piece, and the lyrics to the song — but that’s not where it ends. Genius offers a crowdsourced, line-by-line annotation of the song as a cultural text. The lyrics become living documents, which are “constantly-improving distillations of the combined wisdom of potentially dozens of scholars.” The annotations are informative and playful, resembling a rich conversation or debate you might have with your friends around a text, a piece of music, a work of art, a film — or any cultural or scholarly work. You can earn points as you participate and, if you are lucky, you might stumble onto a text where the author / artist engages in the conversation and makes personal annotations (see Hamilton: An American Musical, with Lin Manuel Miranda).
I encourage you to use Genius to explore the artists’ muses and engage in a deeper analysis of the lyrics as a meaningful and sometimes profoundly symbolic cultural text. And I challenge you to offer your own interpretation of the lyrics as the layers of meaning fall away and the songs reveal themselves to you.
Do you have songs you rely on to help you survive Trump? What music resonates with you and moves you to action?
I’d love to hear about the music inspiring and sustaining you, the beats and lyrics motivating you to take action, and the sounds that give you solace and peace. Please comment and let me know what you’re listening to in the age of Trump.
The Full Playlist
Playlist Archives: ICYMI
Miss a playlist post? No worries! Each post is archived here!