Every so often, the ground shakes beneath your feet. Usually it’s just a little tremble, testing your ability to stand upright while all that surrounds you shakes. But every once in a while, your entire world is shaken to its very foundations. All that has been built over last few decades, maybe even centuries could be uprooted, shaken, and crumble to the ground. During the 1960’s the world that had been established by generations previous — a perfect little world with definitive lines to divide right and wrong — experienced a violent earthquake that shattered the validity of previous belief systems.
Go With the Flow or Fight the Current?
In every society, there are certain topics that are considered unfit for discussion. Certain things are to be accepted as societal norms and questions are to be kept to yourself. When you are told something, you are expected to believe and agree with it. According to this theory, if people listen to the authorities then society runs smoothly. But what happens when what the people in charge say doesn’t make sense? Sure, we can put up with something that may not seem right and continue to just “go with the flow”, but if you are floating down a river that is destined to run straight over a cliff, you are going to go right over the falls and land at the bottom in the sharp jagged rocks. Much the same, people could not continue to discriminate people because of the color of their skin, their gender, or sexuality, industrializing at the cost of countless ecosystems, or using war as a means of proving a point without there being any consequences.
People who ask questions and protest against what they think is wrong are branded as troublemakers by the upper echelons of society. But it is these people, the public offenders, the nuisances, the crazies, and the delinquents that forge ahead, shaking society so that those false illusions come tumbling down. It was during the 60’s that protests as we know them really began to take shape. Protests on college campuses became widespread, in the civil rights movement the black population rallied behind Martin Luther King and his Ghandian nonviolence methods, and the most revolutionary of all, music became a way to speak out against injustices and call for reform.
It was in the 60’s that the protest song first appeared. With the media firmly established as a major influence on the world’s population, music became one of the most powerful forms of protest. Alongside footage of the devastation of the Vietnam War and youth counterculture, there was music to express how the people were feeling. And not only that, but when feelings are expressed in music, someone is bound to listen. Music has a way of evoking people’s emotions and shaking their souls in a way that the spoken word alone often can’t. When you hear someone talk about a subject, you may nod your head in agreement but rarely does a speaker have the passion and conviction to make you want to rise up and take action. There is something about the combination of the artistry in a melody and the conviction of a person’s ideals and political stance together that makes people want to rally in the streets, speak up, and bring change to the world. When the Who said, “People try to put us down”, the people stood up. When Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a-changin'”, the people embraced it. When Lennon said, “We all want to change the world”, the people did. The people heard the music, they felt its vibrations shaking the ground beneath them and they took action.
Every movement that took place in 60’s was backed up by music. The African-American civil rights movement was supported by black artists such as James Brown with “Say It Loud: I’m Black and Proud” and Ray Charles with his cover of “Georgia on My Mind” after refusing to play to a segregated audience in Georgia. Music became a champion for peace with songs like the Youngblood’s “Get Together”, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, the Doors’ “Unknown Soldier”, Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”, and John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance”. The Velvet Underground became one of the early advocates for LGBT rights with “Some Kinda Love”, “Candy Says”, and “Sweet Jane”. And, of course, there were songs that expressed the desire of the youth to have a say in how the world that they lived in would be run. The desire to no longer be censored, to be able to speak their minds, and to be given the chance to bring the changes in the world that they wished to see. Just because they were young didn’t mean that they didn’t have a political opinion or an idea of how they wanted their society run. But alas, they were still hardly more than children so they obviously had no idea what they were talking about. The angst felt by the population of youths whose voices would not be heard was expressed by the likes of the Animals in “It’s My Life” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” and “Gimme Shelter”, and the Who in “My Generation”. If the authorities weren’t going to hear what they had to say, then they were going to have to listen to their screaming vocals, their bashing drums, and their wailing guitars hooked up to heavily distorted amplifiers and feel the ground shudder with waves of vibration and the stomping of feet as they marched to the contagious beat of revolution.
If you shake the ground hard enough, the illusions that have been built up over the years will come crashing down. An earthquake will decimate the buildings with weak foundations and structural flaws, leaving behind an empty landscape from which you can rebuild. From the destruction of the old there comes the hope for the building of a better future. The great thing about humans is that we will eventually learn from our mistakes. After experiencing the devastation of earthquakes, we have learned that it is the building with greater flexibility rather than the stiff, rigid structures that can better withstand a quake. As the follies of racism, prejudice, and hate tumble to the ground, there makes room to reconstruct with tolerance, love, and peace. Once again, the world operates in cycles. The human race has had all sorts of revolutions — French, Industrial, Agricultural, and Scientific — and it is these revolutions that allow us to progress as a species. So for now, we wait. We enjoy the quiet before the storm, but keeping in mind that change is inevitable. Someday, somewhere, someone will sound the drums of revolution and we will shake the ground with the stomping of our feet and the songs that we sing to bring about the changes in the world that will make it a better place.