Wednesday, February 18

A Sad Song

The great Scottish literary historian, Thomas Carlyle, once said, “Sing me the songs of a generation and I’ll tell you the soul of the times.” Alas, we would have a hard time taking Carlyle up on his proposition. The fact is, much of our popular music is simply not singable. Not only is it often without recognizable tune, pitch, cadence, or tenor--and even without melody, harmony, or regular rhythm--it is also so profane that it is unrepeatable. Many rap and rock songs have gone far beyond the mere bounds of pornography to vile brutality, scatological filth, sadistic nihilism, blasphemous irreverence, and provocative decadence.

Pop music has almost always been sentimental, sappy, and insubstantial. In the forties it tended to be romantic. In the fifties it was silly. In the sixties it was psychedelic. In the seventies it was carnal. In the eighties it was sensual. But it the last decade and a half it became nightmarishly barbaric. With the advent of grunge rock, neo-punk, industrial rock, hip hop, goth rock, death metal, gangsta rap, rage rock, metal frenzy, rave rock, and speed metal, a new wave of wildly angry music--with minimal melody lines or hooks, harsh and distorted electronics, incessant syncopations, and vile lyrics--has swept on to center stage. While outrage over the Super Bowl halftime show focused on Janet and Justin's perverse little stunt, it should have taken note of the fact that the entire production was a brawling subversion of everything good and right and true.

Steeped in a hopeless worldview of suicide, occultism, sexual abuse, self-mutilation, brutal sadism, nefarious defecation, lascivious indulgence, and concupiscent excess a vast proportion of popular music today is depressing, dark, and deleterious. High volume, deliberately disgusting, and forthrightly offensive “shock jocks” profile the music and its irreverent lifestyle, its devil-may-care worldview, and its slovenly fashion sense in music videos and over FM radio stations.

I rather think that even Nietzsche would be shocked.

During one six week period a couple of years ago, the lyrics of the top twenty best-selling alternative rock, hip hop, and rap disks were examined. Researchers listened to every song on each of the disks. They found that 100 percent of the disks features songs that celebrated illicit sex or drug abuse. Almost 89 percent openly portrayed suicide as a viable option. About 77 percent mocked authority figures. Almost 61 percent profiled violent acts, including, murder, rape, and molestation. Nearly 42 percent advocated anarchy. And 28 percent denigrated traditional religion. One disk alone had 243 uses of the “f-word,” 121 explicit terms for male or female genitalia, 92 allusions to or descriptions of oral sex, 64 graphic descriptions of bodily elimination or discharge, 43 ethnic slurs, 24 allusions to assaulting or killing police officers, and 188 pronouncements of cursing, anathema, or damnation. Amazingly, since the study, things have gotten even worse.

According to Michael Bywater, “The music industry has somehow reduced humanity’s greatest achievement--a near universal language of pure transcendence—into a knuckle-dragging sub-pidgin of grunts and snarls, capable of fully expressing only the more pointless forms of violence and the more brutal forms of sex.”

A steady diet of that kind of music is likely to have a profound effect on anyone--but it especially impacts impressionable adolescents. And teens have more than a steady diet of it: between the seventh and twelfth grades, the average American teen listens to 10, 500 hours of rock music, just slightly less than the total number of hours spent in the classroom from kindergarten to graduation.

According to the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association, “Over the past decade the messages portrayed by certain types of rock music may well present a real threat to the physical health and well-being of especially vulnerable children and adolescents. Lyrics promoting drug and alcohol abuse, sexual exploitation, bigotry, and racism are combined with rythms and intensities that appeal to youth. Physicians should know about these potentially destructive themes.”

Indeed, we should all know about them.


“In politics, all that glitters is sold as gold.” Ogden Nash

“At a time when liberty is under attack, decency is under assault, the family is under siege, and life itself is threatened, the good will arise in truth; they will arise in truth with the very essence and substance of their lives; they will arise in truth though they face opposition by fierce subverters; they will arise in truth never shying from the Standard of truth, never shirking from the Author of truth.” Henry Laurens

“The greatest political storm flutters only a fringe of humanity.” G.K. Chesterton

“They say you may praise a fool till you make him useful: I don't know much about that, but I do know that if I get a bad knife I generally cut my finger, and a blunt axe is far more trouble than profit. A handsaw is a good thing--but not to shave with. A pig's tail will never make a good arrow; nor will his ear make a silk purse. You can't catch rabbits with drums or pigeons with plums. A good thing is not good out of its place.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“Some talk in quarto volumes and act in pamphlets.” John Pym

“Fifty years ago it would have seemed quite impossible in America that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose but simply for the satisfaction of his whims. The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless. It is time to defend, not so much human rights, as human obligations.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Political advertising is the modern substitute for argument; its function is to make the worse appear the better.” George Santayana


It has been a little over a year since Federal District Judge William Young sentenced shoe bomber Richard C. Reid for his attempted suicide terrorist attack. Given the angry political rhetoric currently being bandied about in the Democratic primaries, Judge Young’s words are worth recalling:

“In the case of the United States v. Reid: Mr. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court imposes upon you. On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in the custody of the United States Attorney General. On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7, the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the sentence on each count to run consecutive with the other. That's 80 years. On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years consecutive to the 80 years just imposed. The Court imposes upon you each of the eight counts a fine of $250,000 for the aggregate fine of $2 million. The Court accepts the government's recommendation with respect to restitution and orders restitution in the amount of $298.17 to Andre Bousquet and $5,784 to American Airlines. The Court imposes upon you the $800 special assessment. The Court imposes upon you five years supervised release simply because the law requires it. But the life sentences are real life sentences so I need go no further."

"This is the sentence that is provided for by our statutes. It is a fair and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence. Let me explain this to you. We are not afraid of any of your terrorist coconspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court, where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice, you are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature."

"Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice."

"So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow. But you are not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders. In a very real sense Trooper Santiago had it right when you first were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and he said you're no big deal. You're no big deal."

"What your counsel, what your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing. And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record it comes as close to understanding as I know. It seems to me you hate the one thing that is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, and to believe or not believe as we individually choose."

"Here, in this society, the very winds carry freedom. They carry it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom. So that everyone can see, truly see that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely. It is for freedom's sake that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will go on in their, their representation of you before other judges. We are about it. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties. Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden, pay any price, to preserve our freedoms."

"Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day after tomorrow it will be forgotten. But this, however, will long endure. Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done."

"The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged, and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice."

"See that flag Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America. That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag stands for freedom. You know it always will."

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