War, Peace, and Music


In an attempt to stay on track with Lionel and Poison’s theme of the month, I shall relate war and peace, and the trends of music through history. I am speaking strictly from a “Western” perspective, so, let’s get this started!

After World War One, there was a general optimism and basically business was BOOMING during the roaring twenties. What was happening during this era was that North America was just coming out of the first major World War, and hopefully the last. Notice that I use the word hopefully in that sentence. So along with distracting themselves from the horrors and inequity that had happened during the first World War, the people of North America also had hope that things will get better and that there will be no more war, look at all the precautions that the “winning nations” were taking to prevent it! Hence if you look at the music of the time, it is this bright, happy, dance music. What is this music called? JAZZ BABY. No, not Frank Sinatra (he’s great, but he does not do the genre justice because he is too classically trained), but people like Bix Biederbecke, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, and the Original Dixieland jazz band. A good example of the music of the time is this.

Though now that I think about it, this might not be the best example because Louis Armstrong was the person that led the transition to swing.

I could get into the technical aspects of the music and analyze the rhythm and other such things that isn’t really the point of this entry.

After jazz there was swing, which was a continuation, and personally, I freaking LOVE swing. Swing again, was something to distract themselves from the fact that the economy crashed and that there was strife and hardship everywhere. People had to budget and conserve on everything, everywhere. Keep this in mind because it will make sense later. But if we were to take a look at the music, and the practices of the time. The dance, and the instrumentation was pretty outrageous for the time. Mind you, don’t compare this with any of the heavy, black, and whatever different types of metal that have arisen after that. That is after, it does not apply to that time period. But…let us look at some of the dancing of the time.

Please ignore the year of the video, because you have to realize that things don’t die off as soon as something major comes. Look at…oh I don’t know, racism after Abraham Lincoln or whoever it was who made the anti-racism laws in he U.S. But hell, if that type of dancing isn’t a distraction, then I don’t know what Lady Gaga’s outfits are (I also just lost the game).

Then World War Two happened. Music during this time was conservative and quiet, mainly because there was no budget for recreation. After World War Two, the ones that came back from the war, did not want to hear loud raucous music. It sounded too much like bombs, like conflict. People at the time did not want to hear conflict. Keep in mind, they had just endured two world wars, AND a depression. So, along with the softer music, there was an emphasis towards “normal” in every sense of the word (part of the reason why racism also persisted so long, it was the “norm” of the time). I can demonstrate this through music as well.

Notice the round tone of his voice, and compare it to the voice of Louis Armstrong in the previous video. There are no “gruff” tones in this music. It is light, airy, and rhythmically predictable. But that was also the point of the music. It is supposed to be soft and airy and relaxing. They don’t want anything extreme, sexual, or violent in any sense of the word. People of this generation were simply tired of all the war, poverty, that they had to endure through those years.

Then comes the baby boomer generation. What was also happening roughly around this time was the Cold War. So now imagine. The largest demographic of people right now, is the teenage populace. Enter Elvis.

Now Elvis at the time represented the epitome of everything that their parents did not approve of. Elvis, although he is not 100% representation of black that Eminem originally was at the beginning of his career, he was still “black enough” in his musical practices that it deterred most of the adult population of the time away from him. Hence why he was so popular amongst the teen population. He was just “so damn sexy” for the teen population with the way he shook his hips and danced. He was the voice and venting point for all the sexual and emotional frustration that the teens were feeling at the time. The teens themselves did not feel for the Cold War in the same way that their parents did. The Cold War was inevitable, bombs could drop down from any moment from Russia, and what did they care? What could the teen population do to change it? Almost nothing. Hence they embraced every “abnormality” that their parents had rejected. There was also the rise of rights for the coloured groups of the nation. i.e. African Americans. With the introduction of Elvis who did his rock and roll style of covers of other great songs by African Americans, he led the white population to some pretty great and amazing African American artists like Little Richard, Ray Charles, and Chuck Berry. Then the dreamer, Martin Luther King Jr. died. And hence, a time of conflict and near civil war, along with black people simply asserting themselves, their nationality, their race, their personality, quite forcefully.

Although it is comparatively nothing now, at the time this was very forward and rhythmically driven. If you look at some of the music reviews of when this first came out, replace the word “funk” with “rap” then you have a very good idea of what people thought of when James Brown first came out with this. But because that Martin Luther King died, there were many black advocate groups arose, and took the opposite method of what Martin Luther King first intended. What King wanted was to promote black rights through peaceful methods, during this time you have groups like the Black Panthers showing up, and trying to force people to listen to their views. Although this in and of itself is not war outright, I am including the Black Panthers in this entry because at this point, it looked like the U.S was on the brink of civil war. But if anything, there were quite a few people who had something to say about that.

The point of interest I’m trying to make is at the two minute mark. Uniting the world through song and using song to bring about more peaceful methods of unity between white and black people. I mean, look at the band. There are both white and black members in the band. That was simply unheard of at the time! But now a new problem arises, and this problem is known as the Vietnam War. And a whole lot of shit and ass flew around at that time most definitely. The same attitude that arose during the Cold War does not apply here. They are not trying to distract themselves from the fact that bombs might drop on their heads at any moment, they know that they are going to. The teenage and young adult population were the ones being sent off to Vietnam War for basically the problems that the older generation were not able to solve during World War Two and the aftermath. Everyone thought that war would be over right now, and to be shipped to Vietnam, to die for somebody else’s cause, to loose friends for a war that was not their problem to begin with, and to die for something that the teen and young adult population did not believe in was both a bitch slap and a nut-punt. And during this time, you get a lot of music that although was not hard-hitting in terms of the way it sounds per se, they often contained very strong messages. The examples that most people are familiar with is probably the following two:

And this one:

But my personal favourite song about the stupidity of war and how much it really sucks but how much it really can’t be avoided is this one:

(WHAT’S THAT SPELL? WHAT’S THAT SPELL? LOOOVE IT!) This song is just so bitingly sarcastic because it is written in the style of Tin Pan Alley (look it up, because I’m just realizing how long this post is) which is also known as, “The Man” of music in layman’s terms. But after that period of time, we get a period of general peace, and it is during this time that Jimi Hendrix introduces blues-based rock and roll back to North America. Which is really aggressive music for this time because it is a time of peace. Rise of heavy metal at this time, and the violent messages of misogyny are portrayed. This was popular at the time because there was a slight recession around the time heavy metal came out, and it was an escape from reality. Heavy metal is also a form of males trying to assert their dominance over the female populace, due to the rise of feminine rights and woman’s rights movement. This shift from the normal resulted in a harsh backlash from the male portion of the population. I can go on about this to include Greenday and Lady Gaga (I lost the game again), but I think I will end it here.

Basically to sum it up, music is usually very rhythm based and “hard-hitting” during times of peace. Why? In short, we are human and we are animals. We recognize that life and death, war and peace are related and we need something to break the monotony of life and we need something to speak to our violent tendencies within us during times of peace. During times of war, music is softer and mellower because we are basically fed up with violence and have a…just, “don’t want to deal with that crap right now” mentality. War and peace cannot be one without the other, and for some reason, it seems to be represented in music in an inverse manner.

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