Saturday, February 6, 2016

Musical Antidotes to Collective Evil

The last few weeks have seen many important musicians head off to that great jam session in the sky.  A few weeks ago, the death of David Bowie took us all by surprise.  Then it was the death of Glenn Frey of the Eagles.  And this week, the death of Maurice White, of Earth, Wind, and Fire.

I remember those first Earth, Wind, and Fire albums that I got, the amazing cover art that seemed to promise revelations from ancient cultures.  And indeed, Maurice White was fascinated by these cultures, as this story on the radio program The World explained.

And this essay takes these thoughts even further, exploring how Earth, Wind, and Fire was revolutionary in so many ways:  "On slickly-produced tunes like 1974's Sly-influenced 'Shining Star,' EWF strove for an effervescent rhythm and blues that was a clever combination of Vietnam War-era counter-optimism, Black Arts movement-influenced Afrocentricity and Holiness Church messianism."

The article explores the ways that Earth, Wind, and Fire worked towards transcendence, the ways they were so successful: 

"White concocted music that meant to shield us from a world constantly threatening to harden us and turn our hearts cold — a post-civil rights America defined by the Nixon administration's terror tactics against anti-establishment activists, by the devastating influx of heroin in inner cities and by the ugliness of organized white resistance to busing.

In retrospect, Maurice White's clever idea in forming EWF was to power forward with an ethical black music that could force us to keep our heads up to the sky when it mattered most. It was as if through the EWF concept he wanted to offer a therapeutic public sphere, where we could all find collective peace of mind, where we could ward off the evil running through our brains. Today, the violence inflicted on black lives and trans lives and women's lives and Syrian lives forces us to question whether all lives really do matter to all of us; as a result, EWF's most politically explicit songs, like 1987's 'System of Survival' are relevant as ever."

I am not as familiar with today's musicians as I am with the musicians of my youth, so perhaps there's still a thriving musical culture/counterculture still attempting to do what Earth, Wind, and Fire did so successfully.  If so, I'd like to know about that music.  With the various aspects of our culture turning so vitriolic (here I'm thinking about the most recent Democratic debate), it would be wonderful to have an antidote.

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