We received a message today from a house concert host who's decided to end his concert series due to "music becoming too divisive." He said he just can't have artists bringing that kind of "negativity and conflict" into his home anymore. This was sad, and frankly, quite surprising to hear! It made me wonder what kinds of brawls were going on at this place?! People tend to smile a lot and maybe shake hands with their neighbors for the first time at the house concerts Dan Frechette and I have played...
The world in general seems pretty divisive these days of course, but music?! Surpassing the intellect, crossing the borders of countries, faiths, beliefs, and languages, I kind of think music may be one of the few things which might still be able bring people together!
But even if music is dividing people, this message made me really start to worry about where we might be heading. Music has to be a living, breathing art, and the purpose of art is to give form to what is formless - feelings, thoughts, memories, etc.. Folk icons, like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger shared songs about life, even when life wasn't pretty. They expressed hopes and fears, and documented some important moments in history through song. Many of these songs made a lasting impression and are still relevant today. Even when topics might be controversial, these songs had the power to bring people together with a common voice, inspiration, and shared important reminders and truths in hope that history might not repeat itself.
The saying goes, we should write what we know. So what kinds of artists would we be if we forced ourselves, during a cultural revolution, a political upheaval, or after witnessing an injustice, to only write about love, flowers, and baby animals (perfectly valid topics too, if that's what you're inspired by, and no offense to these songs and songwriters!)?
Of course, I can also totally understand an audience not wanting to be force fed an artist's personal or political ideas. I can respect an audience wanting to hear lighter material and hoping to be transported away from life's dramas for an hour or two.
It's a fine line maybe, but I wonder, is there really a place for musicians actually writing about the times anymore? With media channels in our face every moment, unlike the past where it might have been just a daily or weekly paper, or a traveling bard passing through occasionally with some news from the neighboring village, should modern Folk artists just give everyone a break and stick to easier, simpler topics?
I know for myself that it's definitely scary to write about, let alone perform, anything remotely political or controversial, and I've been careful to always add a neutral, positive message, because, really, even if it's only for my ears, that's why I'm writing it - to empower and feel some hope. I have found the courage a few times to record or perform these types of songs, and it feels quite real and raw to do so. It feels wrong to me for artists to edit themselves and shelve songs which could be vehicles for growth as a policy, in pursuit of only the safer topics. Of course, playing music for a living isn't exactly the easiest career choice and I think most of us walk on eggshells with the fear of offending anyone, burning bridges, and ruining our chances to keep performing. I'm curious what thoughts others might have out there? Feel free to send me your thoughts!