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Hindsight blog

Muse on participatory democracy and the roles of all citizens including students, artists, the media, and of course, politicians. Presented by the Weisman Art Museum with the exhibition "Hindsight is Always 20/20".

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Join the Volunteers of America

In my inaugural post for the Hindsight 20/20 blog, I asked readers to share the art that has made a difference in their lives. I also promised to share the work that’s been inspirational to me. I’ve been massively distracted by that attention-chomping beast, Election 2008, but here goes:

Music lit the spark of social awareness in me when I was a teenager. This is largely due to growing up in a southern Wisconsin industrial town with no museum or theater. Music was my cultural lifeline and the radio waves were alive with possibility. I could listen to stations out of Milwaukee and Chicago and, on a night with good reception, even St. Louis. Whole worlds were dancing in my ears. Commercial radio was “free form? then, shaped by the tastes of real, live DJs – not anonymous corporations – and music fans followed their favorites faithfully.

This was the age of Vietnam and Watergate. The Summer of Love was over and the war continued. An anxious cynicism hovered over the country. Music was at the heart of many young people’s experience of these social realities, especially kids like me, living in small cities and rural towns with limited cultural opportunities.

Tetes Noires at First Avenue.jpg
Tetes Noires, First Avenue, circa mid 1980's. That's me on the far right.

I’ll never forget hearing Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s Ohio for the first time. A riveting response to the National Guard shooting of young anti-war protesters at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970, the song captured the rage that was budding inside me:

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio?

I was also moved by the Jefferson Airplane song Volunteers, with its call to become one of the “volunteers of America? and save the country through a collective and joyful revolutionary zeal. I’d sing along at the top of my lungs, guileless, youthful exuberance buoyed by the bliss of innocence. Change seemed so sweetly possible.

Marvin Gaye was my late night companion. I’d sneak downstairs with my headphones in the wee hours to listen to him on the stereo when the rest of the house was dark. I cried when I first heard Gaye’s monumental LP What’s Going On. Soulful and musically sophisticated, the album is a brilliant examination of war, poverty, racism and the pressures of an urban life I could only imagine.

The score of my formative years was propelled by sensitive souls, topical lyrics, and hallucinogenic hopes. Looking back I still vividly remember the hours spent listening to songs like these, songs that brought the world into my room during troubled times. Songs that would soon lead me to make music of my own.

Next up: Joe the Plumber: Country Star? And a look back at that famous American anti-war protester, Mark Twain.


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