Racial Injustice and Televised War Creates Counterculture Rock Zeitgeist, Again

If history repeats itself then the next big rock and roll movement will be here soon. It will be very short lived, powerful and strong, and its popularity will not be denied. It may have already started and we just haven’t realized it yet. No telling where it will come from or what it will sound like when it gets here. But it’s coming.

Fads move faster than ever in recent years. This includes movements in art, music, or pop culture. What is here today may literally be gone tomorrow. Certain things seem to stick around and become part of our cultural fabric while others quickly vanish into the oblivion and show up on VH1. It has been a while since rock music has seen an intense movement, but the ingredients are here, and the temperature is right, and we’ve had just the right amount of time; 25 years.

The first great movement in Rock and Roll was in the early 1960’s.  Although the first rock and roll song was credited to 1951’s “Rocket 88”, Rock and Roll wouldn’t take on the form that we know it to be today; free, strong, moving, powerful, until the middle 1960’s brought to us via the British invasion. The second great movement came through underground bands in the 1980’s but exploded on MTV in the early 1990’s as Seattle grunge sound.  It is unclear whether the ingredients brought together the perfect meal or whether the public was so hungry they would have eaten anything.  But regardless, both major, important, and popular rock movement has been preceded by two awful things that seep into the public conscious, poisoning our collective well, and splitting the public; racial injustice and televised war.

The accounts of racial injustice to people of color throughout early American history have been many. But a few incidents around the mid 1950’s seem to stick out as a throbbing beacon of inequality.  Around this same time the Vietnam War was officially started and America’s involvement would increase in Vietnam and similarly here in the states the war on racial justice was slowly reaching its acme.  Resentment towards the government grew for being involved with the war, towards conscription, and with inaction towards the ethical treatment of all people.

In recent news the sign that commemorated the life of Emmet Till was shown to have been punctured several times with bullet holes.  The story of 14 year old Emmet Till is a brutally sad and sadistic one. Till was murdered in Mississippi for talking “familiar” with a shop keeper while visiting cousins from his home town of Chicago.  The two men charged with the crime were acquitted by an all-white jury after only 1 hour of deliberation.  An investigation 7 years later found that most jurors believed that the 2 men who faced the charges were guilty, but didn’t want to convict them because life imprisonment for killing a black boy seemed unjust and only months later the killers would confess their crime in a story run in LOOK magazine. The killers were paid $4000 each for the story.

The year Emmet Till died was 1955, just one year after the Vietnam War was officially started.  Stories of injustice were often worded strongly in favor of white supremacy.  War and death, domestic injustice and perceived international justice were plastered across the newspapers and televisions and radios around the country.  People started to become divided; those who supported the war and those who didn’t and those who supported desegregation and those who didn’t. The public was inundated with horrifying stories of young men dying for their cause, whether in a fight overseas for war or a fight here on our own soil for segregation, and sides continued to mount. The racial divides would come to their acme with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.

The British invasion and rock music exploded at nearly the same time the civil rights act was passed in 1965.  The timing may have been coincidence, but it could have just as well have been alchemy.  The people had spoken and the war was beginning to end, segregation was beginning to end, and a feeling of freedom left the public feeling liberated.  1969 was the summer of love and what was started in the 1950’s with the Beat Generation had culminated into liberation at a high (no pun intended) and deep level. Woodstock was anti war, pro unity and all about the music and love.  The consciousness had changed and the nation was ready to accept the proliferation of rock, social awareness, and a peaceful, incorporated ideology. What was once counterculture was now accepted American culture.

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The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Unfortunately that feeling wouldn’t last long. The 70’s ushered out a feeling of freedom and love as the 80’s brought in a “normalcy” and “prosperity” period. Although this piece is directed towards rock and roll and its two major movements in particular, failure to mention Punk Rock and Hip Hop here would be an epic failure. Both sounds were invented in the underground, paralleling general American sentiment at the time with a counter culture from the packaged 80’s pop music that dominated the airwaves. Punk and Hip Hop were sown from deep emotions from real people without the white wash (pun intended) of corporate America. The movement was strong yet largely ignored by the mainstream for years. Turns out punk and rap did more than just invent music; they both respectively spawned variations of their sound and generated billions of dollars in revenue and actually helped to shape the landscape of American vernacular. Although this music wasn’t considered rock music, rock had its deep roots in both form and cultural aesthetic.

As these genres gained popularity and current pop music was starting to meet its demise in the late 1980’s, a new sound started to emerge. Again, this new sound seemed to be enveloped in racial injustice and a televised war overseas. The sound was raw and powerful and had integrated lyrics to match the noise. It brought on a different type of social awareness, one that seemed more forceful and boisterous than the last one in the late 1960’s. This one was more morose, slightly more deafening, and its messages of peace, love, and understanding were backed by anger first before acceptance.

The Grunge movement in rock and roll could have started with The Replacements and Husker Du in the 80’s or just as easily with the Pixies or arguably REM depending on the critic. But its sound was made most famous by the explosion that was known as the Seattle sound; Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots just to name a few were the bands that made the sound the most famous and took over the airwaves.  Grunge’s peak of popularity happened to again coincide with racial tensions here in America and a war overseas.  Oddly, the culmination was eerily similar and exactly 25 years apart.

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Layne Staley of Alice in Chains

Again racial injustice started to build years before any major event would capture the nations attention. On December 20th, 1986 23 year old Michael Griffith and two of his friends were chased down by a group of white teens in Howard Beach, New York and brutally beaten. Griffith, while trying to flee, ran into oncoming traffic and was struck and killed. Griffith’s friend, Cedric Sandiford, continued to withstand the onslaught even as his friend lay dying near him. He survived. Although the case would eventually receive interference by Governor Cuomo, the initial charge for the teens was reckless endangerment. The teens eventually faced stiffer sentences.

On August 23rd, 1989 a similar occurrence deepened the ruts of racial injustice when 16 year old Yusef Hawkins and some friends were walking through Brooklyn when a group of 30 white kids of similar age gathered around them with bats and clenched fists. One of the boys was apparently upset as his love interest would not date him because she had a current boyfriend who happened to be black. These particular teens had no connection but the mob set upon them anyway. One of the kids in the mob had a gun and Hawkins was shot twice. He passed away at a nearby hospital. Justice did not come swift for the man with the gun, and over a year later he received his sentence.

These two mob mentality stories are cleverly forgotten as 1991 brought us one of the most memorable scenes of our lifetime. March 3rd of that year, Rodney King did not pull over for Los Angeles Police and led them on a short high speed chase. After the officers got King out of the car and subdued him, they beat him relentlessly. The entire thing was captured on camera and released upon the world. Racial tensions flared across the country, people gathered over a line in the sand and again took sides. The Gulf War was brief but officially had ended only days before on February 28th. The images of US Military intervening and winning plastered heavily over the news. Sometimes the stories ran back to back on the evening news expertly intertwining perceived moral obligations while clashing with human rights. A year later the cops involved were found not guilty and Los Angeles was enveloped in riots.

August 27th of the same year the icon Grunge band Nirvana released their most popular single and one that would become synonymous with the Seattle Grunge sound forever “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It is to this day a dystopian anthem that blends a dark and foreboding sound with the perfect blend of pop. It’s opening line a requiem for the country and the world at that time “Load up on guns / Bring your friends”. It sang to both sides of the spectrum. As the “Alternative Sound” grew so did its popularity and it could be argued that Woodstock was brought back to capitalize on the moment and line pockets or that 25 years later that feeling of freedom had returned, ushered in by war and racial divides and then played out through guitars, melodies, and emotion.

Now to our present date; the cusp of 2017, 23 years later from that 1994 Woodstock and a movement that shaped and changed our mainstream pop culture, fashion, and vernacular. Our conflicts in the Middle East have now been present on our television screen and personal devices steady since 2001. The war has been alive for 15 years and counting and not a moment has gone by that we aren’t reminded of it. Racial tensions have again flared, this time over countless senseless acts of violence from police from around the world. Again the line has been drawn and the public stands on one side or the other. From kneeling for the national anthem to Donald Trump the lines have been drawn and there isn’t much middle ground. Nobody wants to be a little bit right or a little bit wrong. It is all or nothing. It looks as if the perceived moral obligations abroad have nestled into our everyday thinking. You are either with us or against us and there isn’t much else in between.

Art imitates life. That feeling of drawing a line and taking a stand is a very raw emotion and one that brings courage and deserves valor. We are again approaching the 25 year mark and the ingredients are again available. Will 2019 provide us again with ground breaking music? 1994 was the epitome of the alternative and grunge movement. 1969 was the epitome of the Rock and Roll movement (now considered “Classic Rock”). 25 years before 1969 we had 1944 with the beginning of the end of WWII and Miles Davis moving to New York City to find Charlie Parker and the beginning of the wild “Bop” era in Jazz music. All the ingredients are here and the timing is almost right.

25 years, war, and racial divide are here again and who can know where it will lead.

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

Dear America Part 2

Dear America,

I am wondering today why are you so angry?  Most of the people that say they are voting for the hate monger on a pedestal, angry about Muslims and angry about Mexicans, are white, middle class suburban folks who say they are very angry with the government, angry with Obama, Obama Care, and big business run government.  And so the answer is yet another big business? What are you so angry about?  I drive over 3000 miles every month through the suburbs of the North East and most of the homes and cars that I see are in pretty good shape.  People seem to be dressed in relatively nice clothes, or at least in designer sweat pants with colorful emblems displayed across their backsides.  I generally see suburbia doing pretty well.  But still you are angry, America.  I fear it is contagious.  I fear that I am turning angry, too.

Sure there’s things to be angry about.  Like top level executives making dump trucks full of money while their employees make a tiny fraction.  That maybe true, but those executives have to live and breathe their jobs, usually and statistically making their home lives suck, their life much shorter, and their social life a lie.  Nobody could possibly want that, unless you’re so shallow that money really does mean everything to you.  Maybe suburbia is steaming angry about illegal immigrants taking jobs at less than five dollars per hour cash under the table?  It seems that the anger is misguided and misplaced and should be placed squarely on the shoulders of your neighbor who owns the company who is hiring these poor folks to avoid taxes everyday while simultaneously complaining about his taxes.  I’m not sure that it does much good to be mad at the people who walked thousands of miles just to get a meal, who are only doing what they think is best to survive, and who can’t understand the language you are yelling at them in.

I guess I’m just confused as to what could make you so angry, America?  Do you think you are due more? I see you with your cable TV, new flat screens, smart phones, nice new cars, and I can’t imagine what you could be so angry about?  Where does the deep anger come from?  Are you upset because you think you deserve more?  For doing what?  What have you done lately for your country?  What have you done lately for your neighbor?  For your wife?  Your kids?  Besides complain about politics every four years and scratch your nails mindlessly down the chalkboard of life impatiently waiting for the next presidential election so you can align yourself with who you think to be the winner and then gloat.  This isn’t football you know.

I don’t vote.  Probably never will.   Where I think voting makes more of a difference is at the local level, your house seats, your mayor, your city council.  Bring your voice there, where it can directly effect the community you live in, where your voice starts small and builds as it gets closer to the nations capital.  I’m not sure that you can show up to a booth once every four years to pull a lever, guess on the other names on the ballot, proudly display your sticker like a grade school gold star, and call yourself an American for exercising your “right”.  It’s bigger than that, it’s badder than than, its more intense than that, and it is simply not that easy.  Every election year when the subject is broached and I say I don’t vote people always tell me I’m giving up my American right.  I always ask them when was the last time they voted, and the most common answer is the last presidential election.  But doesn’t this mean that you are giving up your American right too?  I knowingly give up my right to vote, but are you knowingly only voting in the presidential elections?  Making a difference in your community and your government starts at the local level.  And just not enough people participate at that level to make a difference.

Voting for Trump certainly is not the answer.  Then again, maybe voting for Hillary, or Bernie isn’t either.  You might as well vote for your cat.  “Fluffy for President!” I can see the taglines and hashtags now.  “Fluffy would make the Purr-fect President!  #FurMoreYears.  Its all the same, they are just politicians, fat cats vying for power, respect, money and attention.  It’s all big business.  Most of the Trump supporters tell me I should vote for Trump because he is not run by big business.  And I agree, he is not.  He can’t be.  Because he IS big business.  You would just be replacing multiple big business with one big business.  That’s called a monopoly and it is not supposed to be very American.

Maybe we should all vote for the guy on the monopoly game.  He seems OK.  He steadily increases rent as more homes are built.  The nicer the area, the higher the rent.  I guess that makes sense.  “One Nation, Under one Monopoly, for all!”  Is that an oxymoron?  Does that make any sense, America?  If it does, please write me back and explain. Maybe the monopoly guy is just as good at running a business as Trump.  At least we are just as familiar with him.  And no hair is better than bad hair, monocle and all.

And I hear this one a lot.  “Trump should be president because he knows how to run a business!”  That’s fantastic.  But running a country is not running a business.  Our president should be extremely compassionate to all who are living in it, wealthy, poor, immigrants, natives, healthy, sick. The people that live in this country are not assets.  They are humans.  We need to have more compassion for other humans.  We need to have someone represent us that has a lot of compassion for all.  It is difficult to run a big business and maintain compassion for people at the same time.  “You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet!”  Big business makes difficult decisions everyday that sometimes burn people, displace people, anger people, derail and deride people.  That isn’t very compassionate.  And I don’t consider that to be very presidential.  Do you America?

A democracy doesn’t mean that everybody wins all the time.  There are certainly going to be people who aren’t happy with the results.  But it shouldn’t be hate filled anger spewing violently from their guts.  It shouldn’t be Forty-nine percent on one side and Fifty-one percent on the other.  Not everything can be divided so evenly into right or wrong, win or lose.  This isn’t football, you know.  We are human beings, and that which separates us from the animals is reason.  We should be able to work together to blur the lines and find a place where everyone can live harmoniously, compassionately, and with great care for other fellow humans.  Isn’t America all about letting everyone getting a say, living in peace, and having their slice of apple pie?  Well, America?  Are you?

Maybe we should go the opposite route and stay angry.  Who is angrier?  We can let social media set the divisions.  Are angry Twitter followers angrier than angry Instagram followers?  It could be a new reality television show.  We can call it “Make America Angry Again!”  Hey, you never know. Maybe we can get Donald Trump to star in that one, too.

Sincerely,

Anthony Norman White

 

Anthony N. White is a writer currently living in Rochester, NY.

He can be heckled on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @Ruthieshusband

Or on Facebook, of course.

 

 

Trump: An Invaluable Tool

Every good story needs a bad guy.  Brash, rich, taunting, bullying, and eccentric are all good bad guy qualities.  Trump, in some circles, is that guy.  He encompasses those qualities with a rare charm, a dinner party wit, an engrossing enigmatic radiance that comes off as intelligence.  His rhetoric, spark, and flatulent ejaculations have made this presidential race, if nothing else, a memorable one.  The ‘Year that Trump ran for president’ is a funny earmark to a normally chaotic life imbued only in redundancy.  He has successfully split the GOP and divided the country into two teams.  There are signs made for front lawns that look like campaign support signs from a distance, but upon closer inspection read “I don’t know…Not Trump!”

No matter what side of the Trump wall you stand on the sentiment is polarizing.  One side feels passionate about him, while the other side passionately hates him.   But, instead of choosing to hate the hate monger, maybe we should embrace him, hug him, love him even, because he has done us all a gigantic favor.  He has successfully pinpointed what is wrong with America with just 3 lonely, desolate words. Never has a candidate so successfully pinned all of what’s wrong in our enormous, prosperous, and diverse country into a simple phrase that resonates with everyone so easily, so simply, so perfectly that every American can feel Trump’s presence without him actually taking the presidency.  It so simple it’s surprising how many people missed it.

We should not be surprised at the uproar.  The public is a balloon that if pushed in one spot lets out in another. Trump has pushed in here or there and out the supporters and protestors rang.  It’s nice to see America fervent about politics again.  Casual conversation has pursued political tones over the last few months proving that our average citizen is finally tuning out the next Idol, and tuning in to the mind we want behind the wheel of our great country.  It’s almost like Trump did make America great again, already, by simply being, by simply running for presidency, by simply being on television.  He did more with his 3 little words to America than any other recent politician or businessman.

Trump has successfully proven that a candidate in the 2016 can still run on simple terms.  Not wrapped up in complications of why the Trans Pacific Partnership can’t work, but just that it can’t work.  Trump has made clear that ISIS can easily be defeated by 20,000 troops, and that it “won’t take long” as he has been told by “someone”.  It’s too bad our myriads of politicians, foreign policy administers, and military war generals can’t understand this.  The war could have been over by now!  He also states that bringing back manufacturing jobs to the US will help not only the middle class, but also the upper middle class creating jobs for unskilled laborers and creating middle management jobs for others.   I’m shocked that more politicians haven’t bolstered this simple fix, proving that 25 years of outsourcing can be quickly fixed in a single presidential term.  He seems to contain all the answers, while conveniently entertaining the crowd with whimsical epithets about the sizes of other candidate’s penises.

Trump has successfully won over a portion of the American public with a slick campaign speech and 3 words that sum up his attitude, posture, and philosophy.  “Build a wall.”  Those 3 words have proven why Trump is such an invaluable tool.  He has drawn the line and shown who stands together; who is for America, and who, in this country is just a blatant racist.  He wants to build up a wall to stop all people from south of our border from entering illegally.  He wants to stop all Muslims from coming into this country.  He wants to separate America from the rest of the world due to fear, misunderstanding, rhetoric, ignorance, and the typical American fast fix.  Despite no facts backing Trumps claims, and no scholarly political or financial pundits agreeing with him, Trump marches on, shouting his cry at every rally.  “We are going to build a wall!”  The crowd loves it, their fears of being randomly attacked by an Islamic extremist and their job being stolen by a poor South American fade, as a rich guy taunts incessantly ranting about his braggadocio and his Scrooge McDuck like money.

Supporters shout about Trump completing his candidacy success without the financial backing of Wall Street, other billionaires, and Super PACs.  This proves that he is doing it for the American people and not the money; it proves he isn’t taking slush funds from huge corporations that “help” run this country.  It proves that he doesn’t need the help of others to make decisions.  We will have only Congress and the Judicial System for checks and balances, the way it was intended to work.  But if the Republicans and the Democrats both can’t get along with Donald, then how will anything pass?  If his bravado and ego get in the way of compromise, how will we ever fix what he says is broken?  He is still just another billionaire running the country.  He didn’t take money from many corporations, he’s taking money from his own corporation.

Building a wall may be an answer.  But it is becoming apparent that it is not THE answer.  The same folks that stand at the border with picket sign and fire power screaming at people who don’t speak the same language are seemingly never in front of the people who do the illegal hiring.  Is the problem that people from ravaged countries take our jobs?  Or is that when they get here there are business owners lined up willing to pay these poor folk illegally to avoid taxes and insurance?

To make American great again we need to knock the walls down, bring everyone together and have people contribute to community as evenly as possible.  Building walls only separates us further, creating unbeatable barriers that drive stakes in the hearts of too many people.  Unrest, confusion, fear and hate cannot make the country great again, this country is great and what makes it so great is all the different and wonderful people who reside in it.  Instead of dividing everyone up into neat packages, let’s break down the walls and find the roots of these problems, let’s find ways to bring harmony to our communities, end xenophobia, fear, and hate mongering.  No more fighting with each other about who is right and who is wrong.  If the individuals who feel America needs to be made great again truly cared about this country, the world, and all of the people in it, they would use understanding and knowledge to help solve the problems that we face, end fear and racism, and work together to build a strong future.

But it is easier to be impressed by a thousand dollar suit.  It’s easier to hate something you don’t really understand.  But what Trump did for this nation is prove that we are a scared group of people, nervously awaiting the other shoe to drop, blaming everyone but ourselves.  Those Trump bumper stickers and campaign signs in front yards have illuminated something more dreadful than Donald Trump becoming president; that we’ll remain separate forever.  Let this be the wakeup call, America and don’t forget to thank The Donald for being an invaluable tool.

 

(The picture for this article was borrowed from http://kulturaliberalna.pl/)