A Global Army of Veteran Rockers
Years ago, when defending rock against charges that's its sexual and violent lyrics were affecting people's behavior, Frank Zappa quipped: "There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we'd all love one another."
I think about how John Lennon's Imagine is so widely revered, and yet so few people actually live their lives in accordance with its lyrics. Or how all the protest songs never seem to change the fact that war is usually government's first answer to international problems -- invariably with the complete support of the populace...many of whom have libraries filled with old Bob Dylan records.
So what do you think? Can music really change people's behavior in any meaningful way, or do meaning-laden lyrics just go in one ear and out the other?
Music has the capacity to uplift you, certainly - but only in the short term. The best example I can give you is how when I'm feeling out of sorts I will play the entire Beatles catalog from beginning to end, and it will at first cheer me up, then exhilarate and invigorate me all over again. Or simply playing a truly transcendent album, like London Calling, or Raw Power, or Roxy Music's first album, or Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It's an aural panacea, but it doesn't last long.
You can write the most meaningful lyrics of all, but few aside from the easily-led are truly going to be changed by them. The words may give you pause to think, but frankly, you're listening to someone else's agenda, no matter how well-intended (i.e., Lennon), and being preached to ought to offend your intelligence almost as much as being sung down to through a lot modern "music" of all styles that often addresses only the lowest-common-denominators in our lives. Which goes to show that music also has the arguably stronger capacity to bring you down, too, which is an easier path for a lot of people, apparently.
Music can fall into the same category as religion or (sound principles). People generally don't like being preached to as they are too self absorbed and think they can do it all and don't need any help or advice.
I think especially when you're a kid it can shape your attitude, but isn't that what art is all about? Conveying something in a way that makes people look at things differently or expresses the artist's experience or insights? I certainly remember wanting to be a vegetarian like the Morrissey and thinking "something or another" about the troubles in Ireland due to U2. As a teen music definitely shaped my perspectives about the world and I found 'deep messages' in the most shallow of lyrics.
Likely as you get older you gravitate to songs you already agree with the sentiments of - finding yourself trotting down street singing "Survivor" by EnVogue and what not.
I think it depends on whether the kid is presidposed to it, or has other factors in his/her life that are leading in that direction. I listened to plenty of metal and punk with disturbing lyrics when I was a kid, but I was able to view it for what it was. But yes, a troubled kid + violent images (whether from music, video games, TV, comics or the internet) is a recipe for trouble.
OTOH, an argument can be made that listening to angry music is actually a release valve for anger. And knowing that other people feel the way you do inside may actually be a salve to a troubled mind.
I guess what I was referring to, though, are lyrics that actually try to sway listeners to believe one thing or another. On that count, I'm really not so certain of whether that ever works for the long term.
I saw a great TV documentary about metal and one of the quotes was how people who listen to metal are looking for something to make them feel strong and full of life. The arguement was that metal often appeals to people who feel powerless and it helps to make them feel strong, safe, and understood rather than depressed, alone, and hopeless.
A crappy life, mental illness, and poor connections with family and friends I would venture would be a much stronger determiner of a kid, or anybody, snapping to violence. In my experience it is the effed up song that attracts the effed up person, not the effed up song that makes a good person go bad. If music was that powerful, wouldn't they play happy happy love love love songs all day in prisons to fix the inmates?
Agreed... factors like economics/intelligence/health/social ties go a lot farther to shape people. But those same factors may also determine what music appeals to them: music marketing people spend a lot of time working out the demographic appeal of big pop stars. Ideally, they'd have all artists with universal appeal, but it rarely works out that way.
This topic immediately made me think of the cult around ICP: a truly horrid (sorry, Juggalos) act with a rabid following that's built a lifestyle around them. Even early on in Detroit, they had this strange hold on on their fans, who were universally dim and disenfranchised. The appeal seems to be that it's ok to be dim and disenfranchised if you identify as an ICP fan-- even if no other youth cult will take you!
Probably depends a lot on the person. Some are more suggestible than others. I used to date a guy (a musician and listener with broad tastes) who claimed he never listened to lyrics. It kind of mystified and disappointed me, but I don't think it's that unusual. He's driven by the sound -- a lot of people are like that: more interested in the sound and styling rather than the content. People will gloss over a lot of questionable content if they feel the sound or attitude of the artist overall appeals to them.
Lyrics are great but, I have certainly dug foreign language artists like Pizzicato Five (Japan) or Tip Top (Germany) and I love Hindi Bhangra and I have no idea what they are talking about!
I strongly support the First Amendement and oppose censorship. However, I don't think there's any question that young people are impressionable and that they imitate those they perceive as their role models. Especially in cases when they may not have other strong role models in the family to counterbalance them.
For example, just look at the homicide statistics for any major U.S. city today and how many of the victims and perpetrators are teens or young adults. Obviously it's a complex issue and there are other drivers also at work, but I think it's naive to think there is no correlation whatsoever between the messages in popular forms of music (such as gangsta rap) and the behavior of the kids who listen to it and look up to those artists. Popular culture IS culture and everyone wants to establish cred to be accepted by their in-group.
Gangsta rap is just one example. How many kids have been influenced to experiment with drugs based on the lifestyles of their rock and roll idols? I know I certainly was. Ultimately, it was my choice and I don't have any regrets, but it probably wouldn't even have occurred to me if the people I looked up to hadn't set a precedent.
Words have power and, unfortunately, the price we pay for free speech is that some people will say things that are irresponsible and, in some cases, potentially destructive. And, of course, music also has the power to influence us in positive ways. To put it in Star Wars terms, I guess I just see a stronger influence coming from "the dark side of the force" these days.