Blog 6: Music is a powerful influence

Music is such a large part of my life and always has been. And I’m having difficulty corralling it all into one blog post. I haven’t really thought about all the music that has influenced me in terms of this media literacy formula before. I mean, on some level I already knew which artists are independent and to what degree, but not as a matter of how honest, independent musicians and lyrics can make me a better ancestor. I also can see music as detrimental and productive, but have never analyzed my interests within these criteria.

Many different musicians have influenced me over the years. When I was really young I was into the commercially produced bands of the 50’s that my dad exposed me to, the Christian kids albums from my mom, and bands like the Bangles, the Cure, and Depeche Mode from the neighborhood kids. One of the most impactful artists of my youth was Tori Amos. I was in love with how honest she was. She said some things that I sometimes think would be censored if it were today, but I’m surprised at what is not censored these days. She sang about pain, love, judgment, and questioning the religion of her father. She sang openly about her father, self-righteous, beautiful, christian boys, how vicious sexism can feel sometimes, and the stifling effects growing up in an organized religion had on her.

I think that is when I really started to really get into lyrics and I realized what a lot of songs meant, and I realized I hadn’t been listening to content very well. Lyrical content is how I determine usefulness or productivity of a musician or song. Content can be used to determine if a song or an artist is useful in influencing society in harmful or beneficial ways.

Tori Amos was useful to me when I was a changing and growing teenager, but I’m not sure I would call her useful in terms of productivity. And although she has the honesty part down, she barely got away with it as she was not as independent as she may have been had she not been on a major label.  She influenced my changes and growth along with so many other artists and people and maybe I am a “better ancestor” for it, but looking back it was a stepping stone. Music continues to be vital to my existence. Tori, although we are still on a first name basis, does not have influence or impact in my life now, but many new artists have taken her place in the decades since. For a few of my younger days it was artists like the Beatles (not the early pop shit, but the White Album, Magical Mystery Tour, and Abbey Road), Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Cat Stevens, Sly and the Family Stone, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Doors that had my ear.

In Deidre Pike’s piece titled Don’t Stop Believing, she states that “If a single song doesn’t instigate sexual activity – or provoke suicide or mass murder, then a single song won’t instigate global social change.” I really believe its possible for one song to be powerful and influential to an individual or a group, but no one song ever induced a revolution. If one song could, so many would have by now. Bob Dylan delivered so many words that should instigate a riot or a revolution. (Hurricane). Still, I know music does have some power to influence beliefs and culture because I feel so influenced by things I learned in lyrics. And as Diedre goes on to ask that we imagine “a world without the soothing, challenging, reinforcing, satiating influence of music?” But I don’t want to imagine that because I don’t know that I could be soothed, challenged, reinforced, and satiated by anything else the way I am by music. And I have to agree when she suggests that children would not grow up to be better ancestors without having had music to live with and by. Music goes back as far as forever, probably to imitations of birdsong.

The artists I listen to now that do seem to have the ability to challenge and sooth are mostly (not all) hip hop artists speaking out about social justice and moving away from capitalistic ideals, including major label marketability. There are many that I think exist to collectively make us all better ancestors. And while they are all honest and productive, they have varying degrees of independence from bias and commercial they are all more or less independent, a few that come to mind include Ani Difranco, KRS-One, Talib Kweli, A Tribe called Red, Immortal Technique, the 1491’s and so many others.

  • Ani Difranco sings about how to be a better ancestor in many of her songs.

and here is a video in which she stops in the middle to let everyone know that this is a peoples song so if you feel like singing:

so are we just consumers
or are we citizens
are we gonna make more garbage
or are we gonna make amends

are you part of the solution
or are you part of the con?
which side are you on now
which side are you on?

  • KRS-One

Yo, I’m strictly about skills and dope lyrical coastin’
Relying on talent, not marketing and promotion
If a dope lyrical flow is a must
You gots to go with a name you can quickly trust
I’m not sayin I’m number one, uhh I’m sorry, I lied
I’m number one, two, three, four and five
Stop wastin’ your money on marketing schemes
And pretty packages pushin dreams to the beams
A dope MC is a dope MC
With or without a record deal, all can see
And that’s who KRS be son
I’m not the run of mill, cause for the mill I don’t run

  • Talib Kweli

Life is a beautiful struggle

People search through the rubble for a suitable hustle
Some people usin’ the noodle, some people usin’ the muscle
Some people put it all together, make it fit like a puzzle

  • A Tribe Called Red takes negative images and sound clips (from songs and movies), and news events important to Native peoples, and mix them to recreate ironic or more positive, and powerful tracks. ATCR is known, in part, for their electric pow wows (which really are supremely awesome) they host, which bring together natives and non-natives. At these electric pow wows, neon videos (created by DJ Bear Witness) that are both political and sometimes humorous play on big screens. These videos incorporate film and pop culture references to natives and are used to reclaim their image.

No corporate sponsor telling me what to do. Asking me to tone it down during the interview. Trying to minimize the issuem but I’m keeping it large. I love the place we live, but I hate the people in charge.

  • The 1491s are an American Indian comedy sketch group. Members of the 1491s create myriad sketches making fun of stereotypes of natives. The 1491s also create various forms of art (poetry, photography, graphic art), speak on college campuses, are involved in political movements through media, and do workshops with native youth to help give them a voice.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of this topic. I could go on for months adding to this, but it’s a weekly blog, maybe I will elaborate in another post…



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2 responses to “Blog 6: Music is a powerful influence

  1. When you stated “I realized I hadn’t been listening to content very well” I could completely relate.There are songs that I have listened to, then decided to look up the lyrics and then I’ve been shocked. Just recently I looked up some Black Eyed Peas lyrics. Not what I thought. So if I don’t really know the lyrics, can I be sure the song is honest and independent or even aligns with my values? At the same time, if I’m not the only person who doesn’t understand the lyrics how productive could it be? Good thing I only sing in the car.

  2. Wow! So many good artists! I’ve always heard Immortal Technique is good, but I had never listened to him before. I had a stupid grin on my face the whole time. Soo good! I kept it simple and only highlighted one song for my blog post, but I’m really glad you posted a bunch! And now that I’m done posting comments on blogs tonight, it’s time to start “acquiring” some new music 😉

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