When I went from writing about news to music, I had no idea what I was about to experience. And that was strange.
I understood how much music meant to me and my crowd. Almost every memory for us was hinged on a song. Friends, weekends, who you dated, where you stood between classes … what you were going to be when you grew up. All that was as much about the music who liked than anything else. I was very lucky in that my first six or seven years on the planet came during what I believe was the richest creative period in modern music history (1967 to 1973 or ’74). The only thing I wanted to do was be a rock star, and I made the first major decision of my life based on that notion.
But when I became a full-time music writer in 1999, I just finished four or five years writing about news. I became a news convert after going to college to become a sports journalist. Then I discovered how big the world was about the same time I was covering my community college’s male tennis team, the members of which talked down to me like I was a piece of old gum they were trying to scrape off their shoe.
Suddenly the clouds opened up and I wanted to cover … everything. I thought there were more important things than covering a sport for which I didn’t care much (if you’ve seen me try to play tennis, you’d understand). I thought–and still think–real life news was very important.
But readers taught me where their priorities were. And I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Working in news, I’d occasionally hear from someone complaining about what I believed was real life: local politics, crime, education, people overcoming hardship—things that affected everyday lives.
I was stunned at how many more people suddenly cared so desperately about things I wasn’t sure were even real. I heard threats from music fans. One guy threatened to bomb my newspaper. Another called my editor to ask how big I was. Another told me I’d have a problem if he ever caught up with me in public.
This was about something as trivial as my taste in music.
And this was before the technological tsunami of social media, guaranteeing anyone can be a media star if they’re willing to go to extremes, which completely diminishes the overall priority of the common good.
That, unfortunately, takes me to the past four years, and why I wasn’t all that surprised that a fascist, shallow blowhard who lives for the sound of his own name, converted so many to his self-aggrandizing cause.
I’m not even sure what else his cause could be, except to fight for the people who already have all the power. That is nutty to me.
That said, now is a good time to breathe.
People want to believe in themselves, while simultaneously believing in something bigger. Linking the two is empowering. Donald Trump gave people like him an absolute pass to do so. The problem is they didn’t necessarily need empowering, because power was already theirs for the taking.
When none of this makes sense, it’s probably good to remember that we all want the same thing. Our diversity–which is supposed to be our strength–makes our paths to getting there different. That is OK. But we’re flawed by nature, so when we see someone doing it differently, we question ourselves. And lash out.
Very little comes from divisiveness; same for blind loyalty. For the past four years, we’ve seen cult-like behavior in this country from people whose anger was validated by an election.
Something that does make sense about music is that it can be a wonderful force of unity. We can talk music–and sports (though maybe not tennis)–and feel some cohesion between humans from otherwise alien points of view. Times of great social strife, like right now, historically becomes fertile ground for great music that brings people together. And we need bringing together, after the anger, fear and isolation of 2020.
It may sound hokey and clichéd, but now should be a great time for music. We said this in 2016. We still mean it. And we need to prioritize music that brings us together and offers hope. We need hope.
Follow music critic Tony Hicks at Twitter.com/TonyBaloney1967.