We had breakfast with friends Mike and Wendy this week. Like a bunch of aged once-upstarts we were bemoaning the lack in today’s youth, vis-a-vis the activism of the sixties and seventies. Mike is slightly older than me and remembers better that period. He recalled passionately the atmosphere in Washington DC, where he lived. What I recall of that time was the energized sense that something important was going on. It was in the air like a down-wind scent. So, there we were, middle-aged and comfortable, digging into our omelets and shaking our heads, reciting the list: Iraq, financial melt-down, torture, global warming, corporate malfeasance and so on. Pick a subject. There are lots of them. Any one, one would think, should do job, should trigger youthful activism. But nothing seems to energize or move the youth to the streets or the campus halls or the temples of governance. Why, we wondered.
Five days later: the kitchen, making bread (walnut raisin whole-wheat, thank you very much), listening to streaming Pandora. My station consists largely of new music, alternative stuff, but occasionally an oldie will slip in, as it did this morning. Crosby Stills Nash and Neil Young, Ohio, live version. And it hit me. Music. There is no music connecting youth to a movement, like there was in the sixties. “Four dead in Ohio…” I know this is not an orginial thought. Music today is more about marketability, image and style, I think, than message. Music a la American Idol. I know there are exceptions to this. Lots of them. But generally speaking, larger interests, corporations specifically, have usurped the individual interest–in most avenues of modern life, not just music.
Remember Plato’s Republic? Remember where Plato says that one of the first things that must happen in his idyllic kingdom is outlaw and banish the flute players? They have a corrupting influence on the youth, he posited. They gotta go. A flute player here, a flute player there and then next thing you know, there are people in the streets and the Agora is shut down. This always struck me as humorous, true, but funny. Plato recognized the power of music on the youth. And he knew it had the capacity to elevate discourse, as well as emotion. The problem today is, we have no flute players. It didn’t happen like he thought it would, but the result is the same, nonetheless.