I can’t honestly say that I grew up in the U.S.A.; but by living in a country right next door, I can honestly say that I grew up steeped in the American culture … especially with music. And, other than having a few relatives living there, that came through loud and clear – whether on radio, TV, and film – their ‘pop’ culture was, especially for my ‘Zoomer’ generation, ours! (For me that meant Elvis, Ricky Nelson, the Four Seasons ‘Jersey Boys’ and Chuck Berry … just to mention a few .)
Yet, there was always a difference: somehow, we Canadians didn’t buy into everything ‘Made in America’.
Then came decades of change like the ‘British Invasion’ (with the Beatles leading the way), the Vietnam War, the ‘Cold War’, the Peace movement, environmental groups like ‘Greenpeace’, the women’s movement, Global Warming, the Berlin Wall coming down etc, that changed everything. Suddenly, and for evermore, this was a global thing, where we all grew up and matured – together.
Canada more effectively developed its own voice. This was facilitated by Canadian educator and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who famously summed up our then (and current) situation as “the global village” – due to the increasing speed of the mass age in which we live, it forces us all to be responsible (more critically informed) towards each other. And, because of the World Wide Web which he predicted, the global medium is still speaking to us every day.
And with every twist and turn, the music reflects (and sometimes) leads this awakening – we are all in this together. John Lennon once said, “Don’t put your faith in leaders or parking meters”. It’s also been said that it isn’t people who start wars, its governments.
Some of my favourite Canadian singer / song-writers that have successfully informed the world view include – to mention a few: Gordon Lightfoot’s (Black day in July) … ’In the street of Motor City is a deadly silent sound and the body of a dead youth lies stretched upon the ground / And they really know the reason … And it wasn’t just the season’.
Neil Young’s (‘Keep on rockin’ in the free world) … ‘There’s colours in the street, Red, white and blue, People shufflin’ their feet, People sleepin’ in their shoes’.
Joni Mitchell’s (Big Yellow Taxi) … ‘Hey farmer, farmer, Put away the DDT now, Give spots on my apples, But leave me the birds and the bees, please’.
The Guess Who’s (American Woman) ‘I don’t need your war machines / I don’t need your ghetto scenes’.
And Leonard Cohen’s (‘Democracy) ‘It’s coming to America, the cradle of the best and the worst … and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst … I love the country but I can’t stand the scene. / I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little bouquet / Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.’
(As it turned out later, ‘Democracy’ played a perfect counterpoint to Don McLean’s ‘American Pie’: ‘Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry / Them good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye’.)
Is there reason for hope? I think so. The music plays on with U2 and many others.
Back in the 60’s, John F. Kennedy said, “Let the word go forth … the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans… “. Where are those Americans now?
Still, some of us remember the advice (and hope) of John Lennon’s song Imagine: ‘You may say I’m a dreamer; but I’m not the only one / I hope someday you’ll join us; and the world will live as one. And, from the Beatles song ‘Revolution’: If you want money for minds that hate, all I can tell you brother is you have to wait”.
“Battle lines being drawn / Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.” – Buffalo Springfield
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken…”
So our ‘global village’ in the 21st century has come a long way. Is it enough? Not really. Yet, locally … at the source … people say you can only do what you do; but in our hearts, we know we can do more.
In 1994, Nelson Mandela said, “And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others”.
I’m writing this. You’re reading it.
Fred Parry fredparry.ca 2011
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P.S. I just heard a great song from Steve Earle and Del McCoury Band – ‘Pilgrim’ – on YouTube, that sums it all up perfectly for me: