“If lyrics make people do things, how come we don’t love each other?” — Frank Zappa
And yet, for hundreds of years, musicians have been writing songs designed to change your mind about something: war, poverty, racial inequality, women’s rights, religion. Music is Power, contends author Brad Schreiber. No argument there. But as the mother of Mothers so eloquently asked, is it really that transformative?
In a series of chapters that chronologically account for many of the best “woke” songs ever written, Schreiber looks at the inspiration and impact in the context of the times. It’s a fast and interesting read, a good reminder that those with talent can make a difference. But how much?
Certainly the ‘60s were a time of enormous social and political change and the music reflected that. Half a million strong at Woodstock. But here we are 50 years later still fighting the good fight. Like everything else, social consciousness seems to be a fleeting concept for many people. Hell, the majority of hippies were just trying to piss of their parents by rejecting suburbia as loudly as they could with copious amounts of sex, drugs, and rock n roll, only to become, well, their parents.
That’s not to say that the musicians featured in Music is Power didn’t and don’t have influence. There will never be another band like The Beatles. Never. Hendrix, The Dead Kennedys, Grandmaster Flash – the fathers of many a movement. But there are countless others not profiled. Schreiber could probably pen an encyclopedia on this subject. The more I read, the more I thought, I wonder why he didn’t write about fill in the blank. A lot of women out there, like Madonna, with a lot to say about the world she lives in, certainly get our attention. For all I know, there’s a sequel coming.
Which shows there is no shortage of material (insert the last four years) from which to draw. And musicians will keep pleading for social justice as long as there are humans on this planet. Zappa’s comment, ironically mentioned in the chapter about him toward the conclusion of the book, certainly gave me food for thought. In this capitalistic society we inhabit, driven by the instant gratification of social media, does music really have that much power?
Maybe it’s just that as the clock ticks, the power diffuses, and its effects are more subtle. Time will certainly tell. As will the music.