Are Christians Alert to a New Avenue of Witness?
Suddenly rock ’n’ roll is not just an obnoxious noise coming out of too many transistor radios; it is a sound wedded to our way of life. Madison Avenue sells soda pop with it. Jackie Kennedy dances to it. Time does a cover story on it. And the Beatles make millions from it. It’s with us, and it’s going to stay.
If it is true that you can learn more about a nation from its songs than from its laws, then pop music, especially the newly emerged “message music,” is the pulse of the coming America.
Message music is not a style of music, like rhythm and blues or swing. It is a song in any style that speaks directly or indirectly to a basic problem of mankind. Not all rock ’n’ roll songs are message songs. Most of them are about the traditional topics of popular songwriters: love desired, love fought for, love gained, and love lost. But there are songs that are far more serious. They speak of fear, anxiety, war, loneliness, hope, and the difficulties and contradictions of life in the twentieth century. These are the message songs. They started with the folk-music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and they are a measure of American life.
One of the outstanding features of folk music was its honesty in dealing with the problems and frustrations of man. The words stung:
But I’ve learned to accept it,
Accept it with pride;
For you don’t count the dead
When God’s on your side.
“If I Had a Hammer” became a byword in the civil-rights marches and demonstrations. The folk artists decried public apathy:
How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see?
After a while the folk-music surge subsided, but it left in its wake a group of writers and performers who had seen ...1
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