Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Other Hippies

About once a year I get the Oldies Station Urge, and will listen to one for a week solid. A new cultural oddity jumps out at me every time this happens. This year's revelation:

I had always thought the most vacuous of the antiwar lyrics came from earnest but misguided middle-class white hippie wannabees. Perhaps this is because I was an earnest but misguided middle-class white hippie wannabee myself, and I certainly wrote my share of achingly embarrassing antiwar lyrics. For the record, my 8th-grade summer church camp hit "I like Napalm" may have been the low point of the antiwar movement. But both that and my other venture "Soldier Soldier Man" were not so much vacuous as simply shallow, stupid, and self-righteous. I shall include no lyrics. Wild horses...

But this week I kept hearing black groups, R & B artists, singing airheaded antiwar songs.

It's not just that they were antiwar songs, and I now disagree with that, so I find it airheaded. I don't think Richie Havens's "Handsome Johnny" was airheaded. Overwrought, perhaps. And Edwin Starr's "War" at least had some vocal styling to redeem it, even if "War! huh-yeah What is it good for? Absolutely nothing Uh-huh" it isn't poetry by Dryden (I mean John, not Spencer, Dryden).

But what are we to make of Marvin Gaye singing What's Goin On?
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today

or even worse, the Ojays singing Love Train?
People all over the world, join hands
Start a love train, love train
People all over the world, join hands
Join a love train, love train

The next stop that we make will be England
Tell all the folks in Russia and China too
Don't you know that it's time to get on board
And let this train keep on riding, riding on through

It got me wondering - did these bands really believe this "All We Need Is Love" nonsense, or were they just hoping to sell some crossover records to white kids? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Either way, it's just embarrassing to listen to now.

1 comment:

Ben Wyman said...

That's a silly question, of course. In music, no one is looking for thoughtfulness or an real, tangible cause. In music, love is a cause, a political group that you can join and believe in.

Music has always been about social change and conscience without thought or reasonable cause. It doesn't go any deeper because it doesn't have to: if you hang your hat on "love," you always have the moral high ground, which is so much easier and satisfying than the intellectual one.