Music plays a very important part in my life, beginning in elementary school way back in the Sixties. One of my favorite bands was Steppenwolf, being able to sing all their songs and seeing them in concert when I was 10 or 11. (Thanks, Mom.)
One aspect of their music that has stayed with me, besides just being some great power rock, is the incredible political bent of so many of their songs, songs such as “Monster,” which railed against the corruption and negatives of society. What made their songs even more powerful and honest was discovering that John Kay, the leader of the band, when he was just a child had escaped from East Germany with his mother, an escape detailed in the song “Renegade” from the album Steppenwolf 7.
Knowing the back story can provide understanding to a band’s music, making clear what might just seem to be ranting or criticizing. Knowing this back story can make lyrics so applicable to many situations, including the horrid present state of political discourse and alleged discussion.
I got to thinking of some songs which I believe are very pertinent and relevant. For example, when Stephen Stills sings “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” from “For What It’s Worth,” he could be singing about all the talk shows, the talking heads, the alleged experts, the analysts who analyze, the pollsters (who are then analyzed by the analyzers), everyone who will, without hesitation or volume control, tell anyone and everyone exactly what is right. As a friend of mine from years ago would express so well, “that’s my opinion and you’re welcome to it.” A close second favorite was, “when I want your opinion I’ll give it to you.” Surely a candidate for the talks shows if there ever was one.
Complete lack of listening to others, listening to understand not just to reply, is lamented by Missing Persons in a great song “Words.” I love the phrase “what are words for, when no one listens what are words for, when no one listens it’s no use talking at all.” Written in 1982 but still so incredibly powerful. People have forgotten that we have two ears, one mouth, that listening is such a forgotten and crucial part of life, of debate, of discussion. When we listen merely to respond, not to comprehend or to consider, then all we are doing is telling that other person that their opinion, their perspective, their ideas, are no good, that whatever sentiment being expressed is irrelevant, for it is only MY opinion that matters. So rude, so inconsiderate, so dismissive.
Julian Cope expresses this disdain and dissatisfaction so admirably in “World Shut Your Mouth,” telling the world to “put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.” Well said, Julian, well said indeed. Sometimes don’t we just feel like shouting this to the world? “Make the world go away."
A major problem I see today is the lack of personal accountability, personal responsibility. Nothing seems to be the fault of anyone, always someone else is to blame. Well, just listen to Dire Straits when they admonish “when you point your finger cause your plan fell through, you got three more fingers pointing back at you”. Great lyrics from a great song called “Solid Rock.” Yes, at times, we must accept the blame or the consequences of our actions.
Perhaps my favorite, especially at election time, is John Prine lamenting “it don’t make much sense that common sense don’t make no sense no more." Yes, that song would be called “Common Sense.” Can be put no plainer than that.
Oh well, this could go on forever. So, I will simply end with a quote from that great philosopher, Jimmy Buffett, “if we weren’t all crazy we would go insane.”
As always, slow down and grill.
David Kelley lives in Fort Smith. He is founder, and sole member, of The Grill Party, is a Kansas City Chiefs season ticket holder and is the Official Grill Master for his regular tailgating crew at Arrowhead Stadium. He holds a degree in rhetoric/creative writing from UAFS. To participate as a columnist in the Times Record’s Community Matters series, email Executive Editor Mardi Taylor, email@example.com.