In my last post, I mused on the importance of the Artist’s voice. Today I want to specifically talk about the awesome power of the Musician’s voice. The Musician’s voice is indeed POWERFUL. More powerful than any other Art form. I would be willing to debate the role of Film and Literature in this contest, but I think Music would win every time. Here’s why: While a film or a book can be so powerful in changing minds that governments will ban the viewing of such spectacles, most of us will only see or read the scandalous piece once while a song is played several times over and over and over again. You can’t help but be affected by it. It gets in you whether you like it or not. The melody and the words repeat in your head over and over again long after the song is finished.
In the 60’s, music played a major role in changing the culture of the Western world. Rock and Roll had this way of getting under your skin in a way no other style had before. Jazz got close, but nothing affected the youth culture like Rock and Roll. When Rock and Roll hit the scene, teenagers all of sudden found their voice! The rebellious overtones in the lyrics and the primitive drum beats and guitar riffs reached inside and made everyone stand up and dance as if no one was watching. The music was created by black musicians, and the admiration and love from the white suburban kids surely played a role in the early days of the Civil Rights movement. If a musician can make you feel good, you don’t care what color their skin is, and these kids were not afraid to tell their racist parents about it either. As the fans grew older, they started their own bands, unarguably ripping off the black music they so enjoyed, and the rebellious nature took on a more confrontational tone that pointed the finger at segregationists and war mongers. This music is what propelled the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. The music was played on the radio over and over again, and it hit an emotional nerve you could not ignore.
In 2003, I wondered how music would affect us in our beliefs surrounding the Iraq invasion. I listened to the radio and waited. And waited. Nothing revolutionary came on. Musicians had an opportunity to use their power and missed it. We were all too scared to say anything, but to be fair to my musical colleagues, even if someone had written a protest song, it would not have been played. In 2001 post 9-11, Clear Channel posted a memorandum to 1,200 radio stations across the U.S. which banned 165 “lyrically questionable” songs. Songs like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and “Stairway to Heaven” were deemed too heavy for a nation grieving the terrorist attacks. We were in this hyper-sensitive shock mode where everyone had to stuff their feelings inside. What if we had been able to listen to “Wonderful World” (also on the list) and think about the 9-11 victims and just let ourselves cry? What would have been wrong with that? If a radio station couldn’t play a song about dying, they certainly wouldn’t be allowed to play an anti-war song. And we all remember what happened to the Dixie Chicks….
Now we are in a different era. Musicians need to own up to their power and realize that their voices are important. As awful as I find the censorship, the fact is that Clear Channel was smart. They knew music is powerful enough to influence our emotions, and they acted swiftly. In a so-called “free country” we should have the right to express our feelings through music. Censorship became a form of validation to me. The leaders of our country knew that music could change the culture’s mind and were quick to act. I don’t know how confident the musicians themselves are about this.
Being a musician means being cursed with ego problems. Our egos are fragile and often depend on the validation of an audience. Most of us never learn to become our own biggest fans, and therefore we are always living at the will of others. This has to stop. We have to realize that our voices hold tremendous power. If you really believe in what you are doing, criticism has to roll off your back. For myself, I have only one person in my life I listen to when it comes to criticism. Everyone else can say whatever they like, and I will not take it personally. I have come to realize that if I count on everyone’s opinion, I will never get anywhere, because everyone is so extremely different in their opinions about music.
I’ve battled my ego for too long, and I am finally starting to realize that I have something to say with my music. It’s impossible to please everyone, but for those who want to listen, I know I make an impact. Do you feel that way about yourself? Do you sing fearlessly? Dance freely? Play your instrument with soul? Speak your truth?
Maybe it’s time to start.