The NBT Music Columns: Music and Politics

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Holly Wood aka musician/songwriterFat and Furry writes for NBTsee more of her incredible art and listen to her music here

www.artfangs.com

 Music and Politics 

The use of music to criticize and satirize the society we see around us is an impulse as old as the creation of music and song itself. Even the very first traveling bards and minstrels whose role it was to go from place to place bringing tribesmen and villagers up to date on the happenings in the wider world outside could not refrain from putting  a political spin on the battles and intrigues that they sang about. We see plenty of very graphic political and gossipy graffiti in places like the ruins of Pompeii, and it is not much of a stretch to imagine that there would always have been some wise-ass with a lyre or flute in the bars and tavernas taking pot shots at local political figures.  And of course, the catchier the music, the more people listened, remembered the song, and passed it around. In England and the US at least, our old Mother Goose nursery rhymes  are an historical treasure trove of period political doggerel and street songs; some dating all the way back to the Middle Ages.

 In ancient days bards and minstrels had a kind of immunity because they were carriers of the news that everyone needed to hear, and repositories of the history of a people. they got food and a place to sleep in return for their music. Even today, some ghost of that ancient immunity survives in the relative freedom of expression that musicians have to deal with touchy and inflammatory subjects, especially if it’s done with humor and wit. (but officer, captain, lieutenant, general- It’s just harmless entertainment! Just a silly – little – song!) George Bernard Shaw said “If you’re going  to tell the truth, you’d better make them laugh- Otherwise they’ll kill you.”

 In very repressive circumstances, political statements have had to be carefully couched and concealed in historical parallels, imaginary plots, almost in code. Constantly watched by the steely eye of Stalin, Dimitri Shostakovich said what he needed to say, even though his musical works were mercilessly picked apart word by word, almost note by note, by Stalin personally. He lived and composed in fear of his life, and his health was ruined because of it.

 But humorous or serious, music has a power that the forces of repression haven’t been able to kill. songs have the power to inspire and keep hope alive in a dark place. They have been passed from prisoner to prisoner. Of course, music has always been effectively used by the forces of repression as well. Who can deny the hypnotic power of a fascist anthem being shouted out by thousands of people at a rally (or concert)? However, when respective lyrics are examined, songs that are composed for ideologies of power and domination are empty posturing, designed to close your heart and make it hard. All the truth, beauty, and real inspiration is on the side of songs sung for an ideal. They expand your spirit, open your heart, and make you feel there’s something worth living for.

 All that being said, I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m a fan of drippy, sad-bastard faux-folk protest music. My personal motivational music is more like James Brown, Rammstein, and the one perfect album put out by the Electric Six, “Señor Smoke”.

 

Peace, love, courage- Holly Wood/Fat and Furry  

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