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What the music tells us

By Joseph Bass

One difficulty in developing successful corrective actions to overcome problems is how we attempt to study the social sciences. We study them in fragments: history, political science, economics, psychology, anthropology and so on. The challenge with this approach is that society functions as an interrelated whole, not in fragments.

Some ask about the value of considering such things as music as being helpful in understanding social problems. One of the answers to these questions is that works of music, literature and art represent a reflection of a society when they are created.

A cautionary note is that this is not about liking a particular type of music. It involves what we can detect about society by hearing and seeing video performances from different periods of history.

Consider the difference in music that appealed to teenagers and young adults in the late 1950s and early ’60s as compared to today. What do videos of live performances tell us about progress made, or not made, during the last 60 years? Are we better off today, or have we created many new problems that did not exist earlier?

For example, look at videos of The Shirelles singing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and the Paris Sisters singing “Dream Lover.”

A number of clues about society can be seen. One group is made up of black teenagers and one is white, but there are videos of both groups performing before mixed-race audiences. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, America was making progress toward voluntary integration, not through government-forced integration.

The content of the songs involves personal relationships between couples. The envisioned, teenage dream is ongoing, long-term togetherness. This is before the beginning of the negative social trend of single parents raising children or grandparents raising their grandchildren.

The effortless singing of the words by both group is typical of the era. The girls are simply dressed in what might be considered casual business attire or the type worn to a very nice party. And, most importantly, the performances focus on the positive messages communicated without distractions from other factors.

Consider the music of the late ’50s and early ’60s and today’s gangsta rap. The list of negative social issues communicated in rap is long, including crime, killings, violence, profanity, addiction, gangs, vandalism and so on.

For example, do an internet search on “gangsta rap videos live.” Results should include a New Life performance at the Pyramid Club in NYC on Oct. 26, 2008. Watch the performance and listen to the words. The performers are letting us know about their life experiences. They are doing a good job of telling “how it is.”

Does looking at the differences between the videos from the ’50s and ’60s as opposed to the gangsta rap video indicate we have gone seriously wrong in attempts to resolve social challenges during the last 60 years? Maybe we should re-examine the programs initiated in the early 1960s that were supposed to improve our lives and obviously didn’t. Maybe this is something we should all think and talk about.

 

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety@aol.com.