If a man does not keep pace with his companions,
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Henry David Thoreau - Walden, 18, Conclusion
I like to listen to the flowers when I'm sad,
They have a song you know...
Ayako Komeso, Okinawa - 1970
MUSIC IN THE MEADOWA change in musical tastes has often heralded the dawn of a new age. Like the lead marching band at the front of a parade, it sets the pace for all that follows.
Listening to the Flowers Growing
From martial tunes that stir patriotism, to classical works that soothe the nerves, to folk songs that remind us of our heritage, to golden oldies that revive old memories of lost loves, music has a way of moving the spirit as well as the feet.
Ancient warriors from Rhodes to Africa to Britain and the New World have used percussion and wind instruments to keep time on the march, rally the troops and to announce their presence.
Some historians even suggest the original purpose of the bagpipes was to frighten or intimidate the enemy. In the same way that what I have heard described as the screams of farm animals or demons in pain may have terrified brave combatants facing Scot or Indian troops for the first time, so also did the dawn of rock music scare the bejesus out of the parents, educators, statesmen and clergy of the post-Korean War era.
First the Nazis, next the communists, then Elvis...what Godless, mindless, subversive plague would next be thrust upon good Christians by the dark forces of Satan?
As any parent watching Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show could foresee, nothing good would come from those senseless lyrics and heathen gyrations. It was the work of the devil and if it wasn't nipped in the bud, it would continue to grow and all sorts of pagan pleasure-seeking was certain to follow.
I wasn't all that crazy about Elvis myself, although I did enjoy several of his records. But then my own tastes have always been rather eclectic.
I liked the big bands of the '30s and '40s, Jimmy Rodgers, Al Jolson, the Four Aces, Lawrence Welk, the Shangri-Las and the Lennon Sisters.
Later on I enjoyed the Beatles, the Stones, the Blues Magoos, and most of the strangely named groups that seemed to proliferate on the pop music scene.
Then came the folk music explosion.
In the past, groups like the Brothers Four or the Kingston Trio had had an occasional hit with tunes like "Greenfields" or "Tom Dooley", but now the kids were listening to new artists like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie (both of whom were older than our parents and had been around just as long) and Joan Baez.
This was out and out rebellion!
They were gaining popularity and touching on "dangerous subjects" like civil rights, questioning authority, freedom of expression and even civil disobedience.
If it continued, we could expect to be overrun by democracy-hating, atheistic communists at any time. Folk music was certain to lead to the downfall of Christian values and the subsequent death of democracy.
Why didn't it happen?
Well, some would argue that it has, but the truth is that democracy is its own reward. If handled properly it continues to perpetuate itself, curing its own ills and attracting new devotees.
Democracy was the basis of the Bill of Rights and despite regular infractions by some who believe they have a corner on accurate interpretation of the Constitution, observance of the Bill of Rights has been the force that has protected us and kept us strong since 1776.
Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, John Lennon and Harry Chapin, Barry Sadler and Kate Smith, all affected the spirit of the times with their music.
They made us think and they made us feel. They said what was on their minds and by doing that they forced us to re-examine our traditional values.
And whether or not we adjusted those values it was still a good thing.
Every now and then, as civilization trudges laboriously along from point A to point B, it is helpful to stop and take a look around, to see where we've been and make sure we haven't missed anything.
If we choose to plod ahead with blinders on, we miss many of the pleasures of simple experience. We may avoid some pain and unpleasantness, but we might never know the joys that might have been.
It is unlikely that even a legion of composers and lyricists could ever destroy a way of life, but their work, when listened to with an open mind, might hold part of the answer to the questions that taunt each of us making this journey.
One thing I learned during the '60s is to listen.
Listen to what everyone has to say and accept what you find credible and relevant to your own goals and values. We all have the freedom to reject those views we find alien, but if we don't listen, we limit our own range of choice. Music is a gift to be experienced as much as it is to be enjoyed.
However, as an enlightened Baby Boomer, I do have some serious reservations about the future of the free world if Rap and Heavy Metal are allowed to continue to influence and subvert today's youth.
Hey...Was that me? Or was that my Dad talking?