Music in Uncertain Times

    Essay Option: Music in Uncertain Times

    I was born in 1949, a member of the generation known as the baby-boomers. I came of age in the fabled 1960s. The decade opened with the inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Camelot era. Everyone was beguiled by Kennedy and his optimism as well as by his charming familyhis wife Jacqueline or Jackie as she was popularly known and his daughter Caroline. In his now iconic inaugural address, he begins by asserting that his election victory is not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom–symbolizing an end as well as a beginning–signifying renewal as well as change.  He continues by reaffirming Americas commitment to survival and the success of liberty.  He continues with some words for allies old and new. For America at the time this speech was truly a new beginning. The Kennedy charisma and vision gave hope to a world still trying to heal itself from the tragedies of the Second World War and the nervous stalemate of the Cold War that followed it.  It was a hope that was short lived. As we all know, the realities of history intervened.

                In November of 1963, JFK was assassinated, and the Camelot illusion was brutally dispelled. At the same time, the American involvement in Viet Nam, a country divided since the French defeat and withdrawal in 1954, was beginning to escalate. And at home, the Civil Rights movement had begun in earnest, pointing out that the commitment to survival and the success of liberty needed to begin at home. It was a time of uncertainty that left many people questioning the accepted norms of the establishment.

                This was particularly true of the baby boomers.  Many of them rebelled. They preferred to tune in, turn on and drop out and live outside the mainstream society, forming a counter-culture of their own. The new sensation, Rock & roll, ceased to be just music for teenagers phenomenon but became a way of expressing the hopes, fears and spirit of many in that generation.

                In the late 50s and the early 60s, folk music began to rival rock n roll.  The folk scene in New York Citys Greenwich Village was booming lead by artists like Joan Baez and Pete Seegar.  The subjects of these songs were often a bit more serious than the usual popular music fare. In that fatal year of 1963, the young Bob Dylan, an up and comer in the new folk scene, recorded a song Blowin In The Wind that became an example of what became known as protest songs.  It doesnt actually protest much but it does make some wry observations on the paradoxical nature of life:

                How many roads must a man walk down

    Before you call him a man?

    Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail

    Before she sleeps in the sand?

    Yes, n how many times must the cannonballs fly

    Before theyre forever banned?

    The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind

    The answer is blowin in the wind

    How many years can a mountain exist

    Before its washed to the sea?

    Yes, n how many years can some people exist

    Before theyre allowed to be free?

    Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head

    Pretending he just doesnt see?

    The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind

    The answer is blowin in the wind

    How many times must a man look up

    Before he can see the sky?

    Yes, n how many ears must one man have

    Before he can hear people cry?

    Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows

    That too many people have died?

    The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind

    The answer is blowin in the wind

    Copyright 1962 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1990 by Special Rider Music

                This song reflected the questioning attitude of many people, especially among the youth of the nation. It was in many ways the defining song of that generation. Listen to it here:

    Dylan on TV Blowin in the wind:

                In a similar way, the old Negro Spirituals played a big part in energizing the civil rights activists. Here is a link to a great essay on the importance of music in those times. (There are also some links at the end of this article to similar articles on these turbulent times.)

          We live in similarly uncertain times and the recent virus pandemic has made it all the worse. Has music helped in any coping with virus scare? But more importantly, Im interested to know is what music do you think has expresses the mood of young people today and how it has helped you cope with the world you live in but did not necessarily create?  The current social isolation is a good time to do a little soul searching.

              1000 words in length and include a complete bibliography as well as proper footnotes for all sources consulted. It is due by the end of the day on May 1st. It must be formatted as MS Word file or some compatible type of word processing program.

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