ISIS. Killer cops. Cops killers. Hate crimes. Mass shootings. School closings. It sounds like a song from the '70s. In fact this list has a similar cadence to the lyric of The Temptations' "Ball Of Confusion." There is so much craziness going on in the world right now. Where are the pop songs that reflect it--the modern day versions of "What's Going On"? Lord knows we have plenty of material from which to draw.
Is it because songs that reflect the human condition outside the realm of romantic love, celebrating, and hooking up aren't sexy?
Is it because they aren't amusing? Entertaining? Is it because we can't dance to them?
Have we gotten numb? Desensitized? Immune to the chaos?
Are songwriters reluctant to take a stand? Are recording artists nervous about having a point of view that won't sit right with half their fanbase? Would it wreak havoc on their Facebook Pages and concert ticket sales?
Bob Dylan was definitely not thinking about Google analytics or Shazam algorithms when he wrote "Blowin' in the Wind." He just wrote it. Because he had no choice. And it struck a chord. We bought it because we related. Our souls needed it.
The song I'm thinking about doesn't have to be polarizing or political. Take for example idealistic fantasies such as "Get Together," "Love Train," "Crystal Blue Persuasion." Three minute songs have been known to change minds. And hearts. If they don't, they are at the very least cathartic, therapeutic, important.
Hey, look at me calling the kettle black. I'm just as remiss. This is business, I think to myself. I want to write what I believe people want to hear--and what there's a market for because that's how I make my living. But is that audience out there? Do they exist any more? And if not, why bother? :(
But wait. Songwriting hasn't always been strictly business for me. It didn't start that way anyway. When did I turn a corner? Where is that girl?
Ok...so let's say I decided to write that song? Here's where my mind goes: who would write it with me? Where would we start? Who would sing it?
Perhaps Macklemore's "Same Love" became the sensation that it was not only because it was so right on the money but also because he and Ryan Lewis (and Mary Lambert) had the spine to put it out there. And we the people ate it up. Someone finally said what needed to be said and we were hungry for it because it was necessary.
Last year, shortly after the Eric Garner fiasco--or was it Freddy Gray? Or Michael Brown? Sadly, I can't keep track any more--I took part in a WriteGirl conference. A teenage participant came up with a stunning lyric that she called, "I Can't Breath"--Eric Garner's last words while he was caught in a inescapable choke hold which resulted in the end of his life. The young lady's poignant narrative was put to music by a mentor. Later they performed it for everyone in the room.
"I Can't Breath" not ironically, took everyone's breath away. It was uncomfortable, artful, articulate, chilling, soulful, haunting and...hooky. (No sin to be hooky, even for a song about a tragedy. In fact, hooky is a must whatever the subject.) I would have liked to hear that song on the radio. And I sincerely believe you would have too.
Of course "I Can't Breath" was of the moment and it lost its shelf life quickly. But it got me wondering...and I'm still wondering.
Now, I realize it isn't easy getting anything recorded these days, much less a song about a man dying in a choke hold at the hands of misguided cops, especially if a recording artist didn't write the song him/herself. It's just that this song was so powerful I believed its essence would propel it. Silly me. I kept telling myself that if I had been a part of its conception I wouldn't have slept until I'd found it a home. I might have gotten very, very tired.
This year, I'm going to walk back around that corner and try to write that song. In the meantime, Merry Christmas my friends. May (the) peace be with you.