Songwriting as an Act of Courage

I strive to keep my politics separate from my music, but fugeddaboutit. Now this planet is REALLY spinning out of control.

Back when I was coming up, in an earlier period of upheaval, an astounding array of great songwriters awakened the political consciousness. Bob Dylan assured us that the answer was Blowin’ in the Wind, Joni Mitchell pointed out how They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, Marvin Gaye clued us in to What’s Goin’ On, Otis Redding demanded Respect, and John Lennon urged us to Give Peace a Chance.

That era’s songs inspired decisive action: marches, community-building and legislation. (Not to mention lots of groovy clothing and hairstyles.) And some aspects of our lives improved, for a while anyway. Environmental protections, the social safety net, and civil rights were strengthened, and for a moment we even gave peace a chance.

Today we’re at another dramatic turning point — so fundamentally divided that we’ve forgotten one essential truth: that on a spiritual level there’s only one of us here. I realize that sounds terribly glib. In fact, “You might say I’m a dreamer…” Guilty as charged.

A great song has the power to remind us of our shared humanity, our essential “oneness.” Its melody and lyrics strike us simultaneously in the heart, head, body and soul, and we are transformed. Our disagreements fall away for a few brief shining moments, and we… yeah… come together — in all our crazy, cacophonous diversity.

So after Charlottesville, after Barcelona, after North Korea, after Las Vegas…what’s a songwriter to DO?

Sometimes it seems futile to write one more song, hoping that someone… anyone… will hear it and be moved to take action, take comfort, or find inspiration. But isn’t that why we wake up every morning and do this?

We want our songs to make a difference, and the first person we need to make a difference to is ourselves. Digging that deep can be terrifying — and the most fulfilling act on the planet. It truly is an act of courage.

And not to get TOO preachy, but what the hell. Let’s write songs that scare us because they’re so personal, so revealing, so close to the bone. Songs that take strong stands, and venture out on the skinny branches. Songs that reveal our own, unique voices as writers. And just maybe we can turn this world around.