A musical education: Finding answers in the words

October, 2018 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

carl-sampsonI was the world’s worst hippie. Yes, I had long hair – I looked like the world’s ugliest girl – but I didn’t do drugs or any of that stuff. In fact, I was, and still am, pretty darn conservative.

But, boy howdy, did I love that music. Name a singer or band from the ‘60s and I was a fan. Every weekend I’d round up a batch of friends to go to a concert. Hendrix, Joplin, Allman Brothers… You get the idea.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading and writing, trying to make sense of this world we live in. But it’s the
music of the ‘60s that has given me the most insight, and pleasure.

I can’t sing, and I can’t play a musical instrument. Those facts didn’t stop me from being in rock bands in the 1960s. We’d get together and make noise – lots of it – and we made good money playing at dances and parties.

It was lots of fun!

But it also gave me a love of music and the messages it so soulfully delivers to each of us. Especially during the 1960s, music meant something. Whether is was Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs or the Beatles or any of dozens of other singers or bands, they all had something to say, about life, about each other, about war and about peace. Civil rights, the Cold War, politics all threatened to throw us and our nation off its course.

Through music, though, we were able to right the ship. Anthems such as Blowin’ in the Wind and The Times They are a-Changin’ asked questions we all had about our lives and our country. Outside of a Small Circle of Friends poked fun at the world we were living in, and Pete Seeger’s Little Boxes – “Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky…” asked what it was all about.

You remember those songs.

These and hundreds of other songs asked the questions that needed to be asked, and many times answered those questions. Richie Havens’ version of Handsome Johnny spoke of the call to war young men had heeded over the centuries, Country Joe and the Fish and their Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag asked the most important about Vietnam: “It’s one-two-three-four what are fightin’ for? Does me ‘cause I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.”

Fifty years later, those words and the words of others seem extraordinary, since Vietnam is now seen as an ally. Afghanistan has replaced Vietnam as the longest U.S. war, and questions about the current president have replaced those about John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

In many ways the questions remain, it’s the people who have changed.

But it was the music that delivered this messages.

As I write this I wonder which musicians are speaking for this generation. Who is providing the answers, or even asking the questions?

Carl Sampson is a writer and editor. He lives in Stayton.

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