Forty years ago, music took a front seat, in the revolution of culture. Over the course of the next 10 years, musicians and songwriters openly spoke out about their political, social and sexual thoughts, we awoke and we applauded. We welcomed the change from the ridged, and repressive social expressions of the 40s and 50s. We were ready for a change, and a change gonna come.
Thirty years ago, music gave us color, style and dimension. It was all about our gang - with our clothes, our wheels, our drugs and our music. We fought the law and we won. We didn't care who heard us. We knew the power was in the people. We understood we created change.
Twenty years ago, girls just wanna have fun. MTV came on air, and it was a visual revolution. We were glued to our TVs, and finally a channel was speaking our language. We watched, and became voyeurs of the lives we wanted.
Ten years ago, we stopped watching. We drank Starbucks coffee and reminisced about days gone by. We listened to artists creating new music from old songs. Our revolution was played on golf courses. We drove expensive cars. We watched our investments. We became passive and less free. Now we had so much to lose.
And now, in the wake of the new millennium, we sit in front of our televisions as the whole country reacts to a naked breast. It's clear to me that our reactions are completely out of balance. We may be troubled by the war, by joblessness and by injustice, but I don't think we're ready for a change. You see, I know we'll be ready, when musicians are openly singing about what's going on as music has always been an important instrument of social change.
So where have all the flowers gone?
Being outspoken on an unpopular subject is just not good business anymore, and the music business is all about investing in good business. Let's face it - The Dixie Chicks came out against the war and the Sony Corporation lost a lot of money. Meanwhile, Janet Jackson's dress tears on national television, and the country goes ballistic. On the night of the Grammy's, the entertainers looked terrified. Though the live performances on the show were finer than they had been in years, the fact remains, the artists didn't really say anything. Though we gave awards posthumously to outspoken songwriters like George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Warren Zevon and John Lennon, the profound music they brought to us as artists was not echoed in the songwriting of the musicians performing that evening. In fact, no one really said anything, with the rare exception of The Black Eyed Peas.
It seems to me that we must be careful. We're dangerously close to apathy and boredom in our culture. How did we let political correctness get so incorrect and how did we go from letting our artists freely speak, to keeping our musicians mum?
The American culture is built on a core foundation of freedom of expression. Imagine a world without the seering guitar politics of Jimi Hendrix, the revolutionary seduction by Marvin Gaye, Bruce Springsteen's songs of freedom for the common man, or even Ray Charles, who delivers America The Beautiful in its full glory. Regardless of the songwriter or the song, our musicians and entertainers have a right and a responsibility to their place in this culture, which means to speaking the truth. Good art is always honest. If we accept less from our cultural leaders, then we are accepting far less for the next generation.
This is Celia Hirschman With KCRW for On The Beat.