My kids will never believe this, but there was a time when people thought that music was going to save us. Save us from what, I’m not exactly sure, but it was going to save us. Maybe we thought it was going to save us from ourselves. Maybe we thought it was going to save us from society’s love of money. It certainly wasn’t going to save us from sins. Rock music (at least the Blues-oriented stuff) liked sins.
In the days of “Peace and Love”, there was music calling us to more… peace and love for each other. In the days when we all thought we were all one America — men and women, Blacks and Whites, working class and rich people were becoming more and more free — music called us to our best selves.
I remembered that this afternoon when I stopped by Rock 102’s Mayflower Marathon. For those of you that don’t live near here, Rock 102 is an FM station in Springfield, Massachusetts that plays “Classic Rock” — the kind of music I grew up with. It never seems to stray beyond 1980 or so. They have 2 guys who have been on the air for 15 or 20 years now, “Bax and O’Brien”, as their morning “drive-time” DJs. Every year, for the past I-don’t-know-how-many years, they do a radio telethon called the Mayflower Marathon which raises funds and collects food for the local food pantry.
I went over there this afternoon — to see what they looked like, to wish them well, and to drop off my $10.00 donation to the cause that my clients use so often. It wasn’t the excitement or the hype that brought back the feelings of music mattering. In fact it was the non-hype, the sweaty fat guys, the old rockers, the teenagers putting cans away, the trailer that was half full in the middle of the afternoon that reminded me of any number of Youth Group activities or retreat work projects and the days when it all mattered so much.
For kids of this generation, The Beatles were a “fun band” who hit their peak at “Twist and Shout”. For people who were there, The Beatles hit their peak somewhere between Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road and were great visionaries who transcended rock with music as art. So much for pop music. The Moody Blues had performed with the London Symphony Orchestra around the same time, Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” came out and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were doing loud versions of classical music. The two most famous songs in all classic Rock — Stairway to Heaven and Free Bird — aren’t fun, uptempo, dance songs but long, deeply meaningful (to a 15 year old) pieces. I remember going to many concerts in the 1970’s and just standing there watching the band play. I guess it was boring to the next kids to come along, (around the time of the Sex Pistols) but it was meaningful to us. Life had meaning to us and we weren’t really to trying to escape reality as much as widen it in some way. I think maybe it was the folk-influence of music that called us to be more caring, and the “progressive” side of things — Genesis, Pink Floyd, ELO, ELP, Jethro Tull — that called us to be more artistic.
After that, music was about either puking and anger (punk) or having fun (disco). Later, it became about multi-culturalism (“world music”) or violence (gangsta rap). Then, it was “Americana” and patriotism (country). Now we’re here and we’re fighting each other and getting nowhere and music is all-over-the-place. Each type of music reflected the spirit of the times — in German, the “Zeitgiest” — literally “Time Ghost”.
When was the last time that we cared about each other and felt like one? It was during the time of Classic Rock. So, here I was, in a nearly empty parking lot with a guy with a pony tail, another guy who hadn’t slept Bax?), a small group of teenagers, some women in jeans. Somewhere was a guy with jowls (O’Brien) None of us was exceptional or good looking but all of us took the work in stride and felt like we were doing something meaningful. It felt good to be there — and Classic Rock was playing over the speakers. If those other music types reflected the Zeitgeist, and Classic Rock reflects a time which seemed like salvation, then the word for my time growing up would be (in German) “Heilegezeitgeit” — Holy Spirit of the Times. I don’t know if that’s a real word, but that’s how German words are made and I like the sound of it. In any case, I wish that spirit (Spirit?) were everywhere as Thanksgiving approached and we were once again trying to be good to one another and true to our higher selves.
In the meantime, in a parking lot near the Basketball Hall of Fame, Classic Rock plays, the Spirit flows and people get fed because these two DJ’s care. Good for them.
Music is more meaningful and spiritual in some way now, but now I think it’s about the sound that the artist is trying to get, rather than about any wider thing. Which leads me to Bax and O’Brien and Classic Rock as Thanksgiving approaches.