When the Mode of the Music Changes

You can tell a lot about people based on their musical preferences. I borrow my title from a radical group from the ’60s, the Fugs, and one of their old songs:

It would be pretty hard to know me well without knowing when and where I grew up and how I had been influenced by the music of my youth. I assume that the same is true for everyone. The concept has been most fully explored by Morris Massey, who wrote about the three main periods in a person’s maturation process:

The Imprint Period. From birth to about the age of seven: we absorb everything around us and accept much of it as true. We trust our parents, until or unless they demonstrate that they are untrustworthy. We develop most of our major values—both good and bad—during this period. We tend to assume that what we are learning is true for everyone for all time.

The Modeling Period. From about the ages of eight to about thirteen, we learn by imitating others, not only our parents, but also other people, especially older adolescents and accomplished adults. This is an experimental stage: We try things to see how they feel, including beliefs, both political and religious.

The Socialization Period. From about 13 until the early 20s, we are increasingly influenced by our peers. In “olden times,” this influence would have come mainly from older-but-still-young people in our tribe, village, or community. Shared values are, after all, what make the sense of “community” possible. Our sense of “tribe” has expanded in modern times, with the changes in communication technologies.

As we develop as individuals, we look for ways to get away from our earlier programming, we naturally turn to those who seem more like us—part of our “tribe.” Other influences at these ages include the media, especially those aspects that seem to resonate with the values of our peer groups. My mom and dad hit critical stages of their adolescence in the 30s and 40s. My dad loved the popular music of the 30s and 40s; my mom loved my dad. Until about the time I turned 13, I heard a lot of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other greats from the Golden Age of Jazz and the music of the 1940s—World War 2.

I was 13 years old when Bill Haley and the Comets released “Rock Around the Clock”:

That was basically the birth of Rock & Roll, which blended African-American blues and jazz with country music. Elvis Presley became the most loved or hated musician in the country depending on one’s age. In general, young people loved him, and older people—at least older white people—tended to hate him—unless, of course, they were in the music business. The mode of the music had changed….

Although I never mastered music well enough to sing or play an instrument, while I was in college I had a lot of friends who were gifted musicians, performing both so-called “classical” and folk music. Quite a few of them played professionally. Then came the war in Vietnam. And, at about the same time, the mode of the music changed again. Heavy Metal and Acid Rock gained popularity with young people and notoriety with older folks. When I wasn’t slaving away over a typewriter in Vietnam, I put on headphones and listened to Cheap Thrills with Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company and Music from Big Pink, featuring a group called simply, “The Band.”

Just as my father had not been able to make the shift from the music from the ’30s and ’40s to the music of the ’50s and ’60s, I have not made the shift from rock & roll and folk music to rap and hip hop. The mode of the music changed….

This is, of course, a metaphor for the way everything changes. I grew up driving a car with a stick shift (4 on the floor). For the past several years I have been driving cars with automatic transmission. News stories suggest that my next car may drive itself. For most of my driving life, I would have hated the idea. At this point, especially given the traffic on our interstate highways, I would be glad for a car that I could put on “automatic,” lean the seat back, and sleep until needing to exit the highway. I also started political life as an Eisenhower Republican. I lost my enthusiasm for Republican politics with Richard Nixon.

At that point, I became an “almost-Democrat.” I can’t say, “Democrat,” as I have disagreed with a number of positions taken by the Democrats over the years. As Lord Acton famously said, Power Corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Politicians are prone to self-aggrandizement. Politicians, regardless of party, tend to pass laws that benefit themselves and those who curry favor by rewarding them financially. For all practical purposes, there are no poor people in Congress.

History suggests that increasing the divide between rich and poor can cause serious problems: France at the end of the eighteenth century, Russia in the early twentieth-century and China in the 1940s. In each of these cases, the mode of the music changed. And when the mode of the music changes, you can’t be sure what the result will be. What tune would you like to be singing (or listening to) for the next several years? The tune I would prefer is “peace and good, brotherhood”:

Stuff That’s On My Mind

The original impetus for this article was the North Carolina Bathroom Bill. I am writing this from the perspective of a male who has been sharing bathrooms with women all my life—not always at the same time, of course, but most of the time, people use bathrooms one at a time. There are exceptions, of course. Public bathrooms (airports, highway rest stops, restaurants, and other public places). If you have ever flown anywhere with a woman, you know that when people exit the plane, men enter the men’s room, take care of business, and exit. In all likelihood, the female . . . → Read More: Stuff That’s On My Mind

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

The title of this blog comes from a Pete Seeger song:

The lyrics contain a number of metaphors that apply to the current political situation in the States: First, times and circumstances change. What was once safe doesn’t necessarily remain that way. Second, having a “big fool” set direction may not turn out well. Third (and one of my favorite quotations), “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” which was doubtless based on George Santayana’s original: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering history by itself isn’t sufficient. . . . → Read More: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

Content of Character

When Martin Luther King said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (in his I have a dream speech), he was, of course, referring specifically to racial disparities. Unfortunately, racial disparities haven’t disappeared, and perhaps even more unfortunately, our culture has added a variety of other disparities by which we judge people. Like skin color, they are all superficial in nature and say nothing about the content of their character.

The first thing that occurs to me is the bias many hold . . . → Read More: Content of Character

True Colors

One of the TV shows I watch with regularity is Austin City Limits, a PBS show featuring live music. A couple of weeks ago, the featured performer was Cindi Lauper. Although many years have passed since I first heard her sing, she still puts on a good show. One song in particular caught my attention for what it has to say today as we face a future less certain than we have typically known in the past. The song was . . . → Read More: True Colors

A Media Star Is Born

Given the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election, everyone needs read Neil Postman’s 1982 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Reading it won’t change the outcome of the election, of course, but it will provide understanding for how and why it happened the way it did. Postman’s main point is that print encourages logic and reflection. Visual media, and television in particular, encourage the feelings of the moment. To be taken seriously and believed, written documents need to be logical and coherent. To be successful, visual media need to influence feelings. We . . . → Read More: A Media Star Is Born

Not with a Bang But a Whimper

T.S. Eliot ends his poem, . . . → Read More: Not with a Bang But a Whimper

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Coronation

Although all presidential elections in the US are “historic,” our most recent election will probably go down in history as the most historic of all. As most of you already know, the election featured the first woman candidate to be nominated by a major political party, and the first major oligarch who pretended to be the candidate of the people. It also featured more—a lot more—of the usual yelling and screaming—and sometimes punching and shoving—than most US presidential contests.

One of the influencing factors was, of course, accomplishments of President Obama, many resented him because he was the first . . . → Read More: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Coronation

Politics as Usual?

Will Rogers famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” The sense that Republicans are “lock-step” in pursuit of their objectives, while Democrats are no better organized than a herd of cats, has been around since the days of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the frantic search for Communists thought to have infiltrated the US government. Republicans learned how to stick together during the “Cold War,” and it was not long until they had developed what came to be known as the Southern Strategy, which was essentially race-based politics, designed to take advantage of White . . . → Read More: Politics as Usual?

What A Week, Part 2

My last post with the title, “What a Week,” was about racial violence. Although it would be easy to write a new post on all the racial violence that has happened since, I will focus instead on the political mess we (those of us in the States) have created for ourselves. I’ve seen a lot of elections over the years, and I can’t recall any previous election when so many people disliked both candidates. Hold Your Nose and Choose provides a strategy for deciding between the lesser of two evils. One of the jokes making the rounds about the upcoming . . . → Read More: What A Week, Part 2