Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Art Vs. Life Vs. Art

      I've been listening to the radio again, something I had just stopped doing for awhile, opting instead to listen to music I had purchased from itunes.  I remembered why I stopped listening to the radio today as I found myself driving along shaking my head at what I was hearing.  The tunes that are coming out?  Catchy.  Not brilliant, but catchy.  The words, however?  I found myself wondering if we truly had sunk this low.  And then I remembered what is going on in our culture, and I thought about how life and art really do tend to reflect one another.
     25 years ago the words that were being written in many of our popular songs were truly thought provoking, artistic, deep words.  To give you some examples (and if you can name who all these artists are, I'll take you to lunch) of some of the incredible, thought provoking lyrics that were being written:
    "To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean
To ride on the crest of a wild raging storm
To work in the service of life and the living
In search of the answers to questions unknown
To be part of the movement and part of the growing
Part of beginning to understand...
To be true as the tide and free as a wind swell
Joyful and loving in letting it be"

"Oh my mama told me
'Cause she say she learned the hard way
Say she wanna spare the children
She say don't give or sell your soul away
'Cause all that you have is your soul
Don't be tempted by the shiny apple
Don't you eat of a bitter fruit
Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth
'Cause all that you have is your soul"

"I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine."

"How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too..."

"One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man he resist
One man washed on an empty beach.
One man betrayed with a kiss
In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love"

"In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
'I am leaving! I am leaving!'
But the fighter still remains"

And of course...
"Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one"

       Each of these artists has written many, many songs and many of them are deep and full of words that not only touch us but move us to think, to consider, and possibly even to grow and to change. That is what art should do.  It should challenge us to think, to grow, to be moved and even changed by the art, to become better than we are.  It would be unkind and unfair to say that these are no longer being written.  There still are some deep, thoughtful artists out there writing words that move and change us, that reflect back to us both who we are and who we want to be.  But the music on the radio?  The popular music?  It has become amazingly shallow.  I listened to three songs during my short drive this morning. The first was all about how the singer was so awesome that all her old boyfriends regretted losing her. The second was about revenge and damaging property because her partner had cheated on her.  And the third was a man saying he might continue to drink and therefore would no doubt cheat on his partner that evening.  And I just sat there amazed.  Are these really the deepest things we can consider right now, that we think deserve our time and attention, that we want to spend our life contemplating in our music? Conceit?  Revenge?  Casual and hurtful and trust breaking liaisons with the excuse of being drunk?  And if so, is it any wonder that we are living in a culture that is so equally self-focused, set on revenge and hate, and so unworthy of trust in our individual as well as community and world relationships?  The art we celebrate and honor mirrors the values we hold.  The values we hold become incorporated in the art we honor and celebrate.  A sexy body, a sultry smile, raunchy lyrics should not be enough to define what we value in our music.  But the fact that it does says a lot about what we value in life.  
     It's not enough for me.
     So the radio will go back off for awhile, with the hope that maybe, someday, our popular music will once again reflect the values that I hold dear and which I believe can make our world a better place: love, grace, forgiveness, gratitude, justice, peace, trust, beauty, and truth.  Until then, here is a beautiful song written by Carrie Newcomer for all of you that I hope will inspire you as it does me: