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I Must Protest!

Living in a (musically) political world.

by Dr. Spin
March 24, 2003

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I Must Protest!_Dr. Spin-Living in a (musically) political world. Dr. Spin,

With the Dixie Chicks getting flack for recent Anti-Bush comments, what is your opinion of musical artists and political activism? Do they deserve the attention they get?

Not Whistlin' Dixie


Dear Not,

One of the strange phenomenons of fame is that people pay attention to every detail of your life. This includes everything from how much you tip the busboy to what your views on politics and religion are. Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks and Joan Baez all have the right as American citizens to criticize Bush, the war on Iraq, and whatever else they feel like. But just because a person is famous does not mean his or her opinion is any more (or less) educated or valuable than anyone else’s.

We as a society have a tendency to emulate our stars. We want to know their opinions because we want to be more like them, and we want them to be more like us. Any star with a moral conscious realizes his or her influence on an audience and uses that influence to persuade his or her fans to causes he or she finds just. Bono, of U2, is a good example; he has used his influence to the causes of Amnesty International, and the AIDS crisis in Africa. Bono is also one of the few stars that researches his causes before spouting off opinions.

Not all stars create as informed opinions as Bono. However, because we give stars an elevated status, we give them and their opinions more weight, perhaps more than we should. Do they deserve this attention? All I have to say is if you think the war in Iraq is wrong because you saw Sheryl Crow wearing a “No Blood For Oil” t-shirt, you’re getting exactly what you deserve.

Finally, on protest songs, I heard a radio program where to music critics argued about protest music. The point they made is valid; regardless of the content, a protest song first has to be a good song before it can have any influence. Musicians are first and foremost musicians; they’re job is to entertain us with catchy and innovative tunes. If they happen to have political ideas and values that we agree with, that’s just a bonus.


Dear Dr. Spin,

What's the difference between "pop" and "rock?"

Sincerely,
Grammy


Dear Gram,

“Pop” comes from the word popular, so what is “popular” music becomes pop. This is the strict definition. In reality, Pop is a little different. Pop music is generally considered “radio friendly” music. Pop is what fills the Top 40 charts. “Rock” is a very gray area, much in thanks to the Beatles and their peers. At it’s core, Rock is generally music written in 4/4 time, has a steady backbeat and usually comprises of a bass, drums, and guitar(s). Rock is generally the most popular form of music, especially in the last four decades, however not all Rock is Pop and not all Pop is Rock. While Brittany Spears and N*SYNC have Rock elements in their music, I would not consider them “Rock.” Grammy winner Nora Jones is popular and may be considered “Pop,” but she is definitely more jazz-oriented, certainly not Rock. This is not to say Jazz does not have a place in Rock; certainly artists such as Sting have dabbled with jazz influences, yet are still considered “Rock” stars.

Since the ‘60’s when Rock ‘n’ Roll became “Rock,” Rock has been evolving and adapting to the influence of other styles of music; this is why “Rock” is somewhat hard to define. Rock ‘n’ Roll itself was a hybrid of Blues and Country. Rock can and has adapted Jazz, folk and even Eastern music into its genre. Yet at its core, Rock still harkens back to its roots, a sped-up Blues offshoot, with Country influences.

Rock has been the most popular form of contemporary music since the later half of the 20th century, and because of this and Rock’s ability to incorporate many other styles, the lines between Pop and rock are often blurred. However, for Rock purists, Pop is generally the “lighter” side of Rock. It is ear candy, “feel good” music. Rock is generally more “heavy,” louder and angrier. There are “pop/rock” bands, bands that sort of straddle the two genres. The Beatles and most of the great Rock bands fall into the “pop/rock” classification. That is why their music is still heard on so many radio stations today.

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