An Anecdote or Antidote for Rage
I am NOT a big picture person. It is excruciating for me to try to grasp the larger workings of the world, and I have known this about myself my whole life. In school, subjects like history, social studies, and political science, etc. would wash over me leaving nothing behind in my mind but ash, dust, and dirt, in particles too small to identify.
Combine that limiting learning capacity with a “calling” so powerful that I began designing how I might save the whole world as early as the 4th grade. Hard to make those two things work together but I finally figured out how to ingest the small pieces, one bite at a time. I learned how to work in the trenches, on the ground floors, and in the small committees for all the things I believed in that answered my thundering CALL.
I so badly wanted to be one of those who would influence the whole planet but knew my specialty was going to be something smaller, attempting to reach one person or save one tree, one small business or one endangered animal at a time.
When the world seemed too dark, I just wasn’t built with the brain chemistry to run out into the great big world to find or bring the BIG light. So, I looked for a candle or pocket flashlight to shine on all the dark things….one at a time.
Luckily, when I was 15 or so, I found a way that worked for me… a way that lit up my little world. Like so many in my “boomer” generation, both blessed and cursed with the determination to change the world, I found the light in music… in the poet/lyricists coming forward in the 1960’s and 70’s.
That shit fired me right up!! I’m talking blinding light, starting with We Shall Overcome while accidentally marching behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Joan Baez!!
Listening to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary…my heart and gut screamed “Follow their lead, they know the way!” I loved that they knew how to banish the dark and lighten up the world without needing to become dark themselves.
Then I heard the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth” and it was all over for me. From that point forward, when I couldn’t understand the mess being made of the world and couldn’t express the deep sadness and frustration I felt at not being able to stop it, I turned to my era’s musicians to teach me, to lead me, to inspire me, to comfort me… and I found out quickly how not to be alone with this brilliant musical light, how to feel part of something huge. Over the next 35 years, I joined every music-inspired movement that crossed my path… Woodstock, We are the World, Live Aid, Hands Across America, Farm Aid, 911 Concerts, and every Bonnie Raitt or Jackson Browne concert or event I could find.
I may have never understood all the political aspects behind some of the protests I joined but I know I was changed on a deep, maybe even cellular level, by sharing these events with so many millions of others. We were all connected to the light together in those moments. We were all connected to the planet, maybe even the universe and no amount of peripheral negativity (Coca-Cola or Bank of America) could dampen that glow.
I was so passionate about the impact music could have on people. When I was a student at Antioch University, I took an amazing class called One World (Antioch University is a fairly “alternative” type higher education). We were to write a paper, not unlike this one, but more of a thesis really, stating our political views. Uh oh. Not my favorite subject, but it was worth half our UN-Grade (another Antioch thing) in the form of a couple of credits.
I wrote mine on the Comparison of Music from the 60’s to Music of the 80’s. I expected to find vast differences, thinking in the 80’s we were still stuck in the mind-numbing disco era, but I was pleased to discover so much music full of protest. The 80’s music may have been much more angry and dark than a poignant, melodic folk song from 20 years earlier touting Peace, but it made its point in a powerful way!
My paper was done in the form of an Audio Presentation, all on cassettes, complete with interviews of local musicians and disc jockeys, various music venue owners (local clubs and concert halls), and, of course, the MUSIC! Starting with “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Dylan and ending with “Rocking in the Free World” by Neil Young. My much older than me professor was so moved, he lobbied with the university for my project to earn 10 credits!! He won, and I did!
When I finally settled into my private practice as a psychotherapist, I figured out that I could pass music on, one hand-picked song at a time. I’d share it at moments when someone needed to feel something, or when they needed inspiration. I assigned “Theme Songs” for clients and encouraged them to find their own. Music simply engages a different part of our brains when we are trying to get motivated or to heal.
And it brings the child-like part of us back into the foreground of our lives. You fire up that little “Kid” part of yourself, and you will bring forth some LIGHT, I’m telling you!! It is the best way I know to chase away the blues.
And when things get BLACK, there is no faster way, for me anyway, to combat that suffocating darkness, be it political or personal, than listening to my favorite music.
Here’s a small sampling of my personal dark fighting, light bringing playlist:
I’ll start with the song that really got me thinking in high school about the rebellion and protesting I was starting to see all around me. And then list several other songs that have really moved me over the years.
–For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Songwriters: Stephen Stills
For What It’s Worth lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
Artist: Buffalo Springfield
Album: Buffalo Springfield
–Compared to What—by Eddie Harris and Les McCann. Don’t let the long intro put you off. Listen to this when you have 8 minutes and need re-energizing. This song is proof that using music to fight the Darkness did not stop with Folk Music. It crossed over into many types of music. Once you get these lyrics, try holding still, and not punching the air with a fist while listening to this treasure at full volume!
Album: Swiss Movement
The President, he’s got his war
Folks don’t know just what it’s for
Nobody gives us rhyme or reason
Have one doubt, they call it treason
We’re chicken-feathers, all without one gut. God damn it!
Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what? (Sock it to me)
Tryin’ to make it real — compared to what?
Written by Gene McDaniels
Vocals: Les McCann
Donald Dean, Leroy Vinegar, Benny Bailey, Eddie Harris
And more recently, another pair of informative, stirring songs by my favorite musical poet,
–Lives in the Balance
(Lyrics are on this video)
And this one is very powerful without damning anyone else…
–I am a Patriot
I was walking with my brother
and he wondered what’s on my mind
I said, What I believe in my soul
ain’t what I see with my eyes
And we can’t turn our backs this time
And I ain’t no Communist and I ain’t no Capitalist
And I ain’t no Socialist and I ain’t no Imperialist
And I ain’t no Democrat so I ain’t no Republican
I only know one party and it is freedom
I am, I am, I am
I am a patriot and I love my country
Because my county is all I know
Written by Steven Van Zandt • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group
If this Simon and Garfunkel song did not WAKE YOU UP back in 1965, listen to it again, this time by Disturbed. Another one best heard with patience and at full volume, maybe the first time through, with your eyes closed as the video, some may find distracting.
Sound of Silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence
Then there is a whole category of music to fight personal darkness and regain one’s power. Here are just two that I use for inspiring escape from domestic violence.
– Walk On (All that you can’t Leave Behind) by U2
Sample of the Lyrics
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no – be strong
Walk on – walk on
What you got, they can’t steal it
No, they can’t even feel it
Walk on – walk on
Stay safe tonight
You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
Walk on – walk on
What you got, they can’t deny it
Can’t sell it or buy it
Walk on – walk on
You stay safe tonight
Leave it behind
You’ve got to leave it behind
–Dog Days are Over by Florence and the Machine Listen to her lyrics in a political context. Lines like
Happiness hit her like a bullet in the back
Struck from a great height
By someone who should know better than that
And it would not be a music post from me without some “power” songs from Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around by Joan Baez
I Ain’t Gonna Let you Break my Heart Again by Bonnie Raitt
I Will Not be Broken by Bonnie Raitt
And last, but certainly not least, the most inspirational song of my life, both personally and politically…
–Imagine by John Lennon
I kinda hope you don’t even need these lyrics…
Just in case, you are enough of a left brained type that you would appreciate the science behind things, watch this absolutely amazing news clip about a documentary called Alive Inside. It is on the discovery of the therapeutic use of music to contact the elderly who are almost “gone” from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
I’d love to hear about what songs inspire you!
Me in 1971 and 2014
I am inseparable from my title of Gramma. But I also have important stories to share so I write. I don’t even want the title of Writer. I hate writing but am driven, reluctantly answering the damn CALL to write. So to be clear, I’m not a Writer. I just write. Need more clarification? Ask me to sing a song. I sing all the time but am NOT a singer. One tune from me and you’ll get the distinction right away.
Written for Rage Against the Machine Month. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here. But first, leave a comment and let Kathie know what you think about what she shared, and be sure to visit her over at Chosen Perspectives when you’re done.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons