[Look for your weekly fix from the one and only Henry Rollins right here on West Coast Sound every Thursday, and come back tomorrow for the awesomely annotated playlist for his Saturday KCRW broadcast.]
Does music have the power to cause real change? Several times in my life I have been asked this question. In a feeble effort to be humorous, I answered that if music had the power to stop a war, then the music of Bob Marley and Bob Dylan would have prevented all mass conflicts.
Thinking about it further, I came to the conclusion that music might not be able to stop a war, but that it is more than capable of causing change. In fact, it has, on a massive, global scale.
Rock & roll and hip-hop come to mind immediately. They are with us to stay, and their imprint on culture cannot be denied. For myself and countless others all over the world, it was punk rock that opened my eyes and jolted me into such a state of alertness that I count the years before I heard this music as all but irrelevant.
For me, the revolution was personal and total. In those days, I met many people who were discovering and reinventing themselves, exploding outward from the effects of this music. It was as if we had been living in a daydream for years, and all of a sudden were in the real world.
I dwell on these thoughts right now because recently I have been to a few Occupy sites across America: Wall Street, Chicago, Seattle and Portland, Ore. All of them were different, all of them were intense and real.
At the Seattle site, an intense young man came up to me and started asking me questions about what I thought of the protests, what the sustainability challenges would be, etc. He then asked me about the Federal Reserve and Ron Paul, if I thought Paul was going to be president. He pulled out a video camera and started filming me. I told him that I thought there was no way that was going to happen. He asked if it was because the powers that be wouldn't let Paul near the presidency and I said no, it was because he says too much crazy stuff. He said, “That's a pretty bold statement.” I told him it was as bold as saying the next day was going to be Friday, which it was. I then asked him why he was filming me. His answer was fantastic — it is the reason I travel and stay outside a lot. “For my own protection.” Wow. They broke the mold on this guy.
I am wondering if there will be a band or bands who will be a musical voice to this rapidly growing gathering of citizens. So far I have heard people playing drums and other percussion instruments but have yet to hear of one band or artist attaching to the Occupy protests on a national level.
Perhaps this speaks of the leaderless, truly grassroots nature of Occupy. It also could be that larger bands feel they have something to lose if the Occupy show folds up and goes home. It could very well be that they are afraid of offending their audience and don't want to bite the hand that feeds them. To each their own. Personally, I have never been able to restrain myself from withholding much of anything I wanted to say to an audience.
Whenever I feel a twinge of cowardice coming on, I say the words “Bill Hicks” to myself and let it rip.
Will music have a substantive role or place in the Occupy movement? This is what I have been wondering since the whole thing picked up size and speed. Is music still a viable medium to inspire and motivate? Or has it been drowned out by myriad options offered to anyone with a cellphone or Internet connection? Hell, I don't know, but I did watch some television last month in some of the hotel rooms I stayed in. I actually watched a little more than half a minute of Jersey Shore. I came to the conclusion that America is probably headed for a large jar of formaldehyde with a lid screwed tightly on top. I want to be wrong about that.
I might be overreaching with this, but I feel it to be the case. In the summer of 1991, I was on the first Lollapalooza tour. Nightly, I would watch Jane's Addiction singer Perry Farrell go out in front of a sea of people and within minutes have all of them in the palm of his hand. I have never seen anything like it since. When he spoke — and he said some consistently amazing stuff night to night — the entire audience leaned in and listened. I remember watching from the side of the stage, thinking that this could be the start of something truly historic. It was as terrifying as it was exhilarating.
Certainly, there are huge, multiplatinum bands whose singers command their audience's attention. Sadly, much of the time they have little to say. Next summer, I would like to see some festivals based around the Occupy movement happen all over the world. I would like to see millions of people all over the world get up for a global downstroke. Time to get the mother ship fully operational.