I am a music nut, and history has always been one of my favorite subjects. However, I don’t usually explore the two topics together. So, when I saw the History of Rock and Roll with Dr. Naylor was being offered this semester (finally!), I jumped at the chance to take it.
It is amazing how influential music has been — and continues to be — on our culture and society. I listen to a lot of music, and I’ve read biographies on some big names like The Beatles and Frank Sinatra, but I had no idea how far reaching the impact of music was until taking this class.
On the surface, music is around for our entertainment. People pay for concert tickets in the hopes of seeing and sharing a memorable experience with their friends. But when you dig a little deeper and look at what type of music is popular, what instruments are used, what lyrics are written and what each demographic is listening to, you begin to realize music has a greater function beyond mere entertainment.
In the days when Jim Crow laws were the norm, blues singer and guitarist Robert Johnson was singing about surviving as a black man in a deeply racist American South. He is viewed by many musicians as the most influential blues artist in history, and his style and lyrics are a direct reflection of the tense society he lived in.
In the 1950s, Elvis Presley exploded into a cultural icon with his sound that transcended the color line and dance moves that promoted more liberal social behavior. Presley not only encouraged different races to come together through music, but he was responding to a need in the music industry for someone who could represent the interests of whites and blacks, youth and adults.
Then, in the 1960s, folk sensation Bob Dylan emerged. Dylan came into the mainstream at one of the most tumultuous times in United States history. Civil rights, women’s rights and the Vietnam War were all hot-button issues, and music was a pivotal tool in expressing public dissent.
Early Dylan sang about an ideal, progressive America, fueled with hope by John F. Kennedy. As the decade wore on, his sound grew into one of frustration and deep disappointment in the dark days of assassinations and race riots.
Dr. Naylor’s class has expanded my appreciation for music and opened my eyes to its power. The main thing I have learned so far is that music influences society just as much as society influences music.
This class has made me wonder who the influential musicians of our generation are, and what elements of our culture are changing based solely off the exposure musicians bring them. Lupe Fiasco sings about his support for Obama, Rage Against the Machine is overtly anti-war, dozens of artists have performed at Occupy Wall Street rallies across the country — and that’s just scraping the surface.
It’s a good thing music has a history of stirring things up, and I don’t think it’s going to quit anytime soon.