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This place matters

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rock and roll can save the world... and the chicks are great

Last night my friend was telling me about the group Public Enemy and their 1990 song 911 is a Joke. The song referred to the fact that in inner-city New York, along with many other inner cities, emergency responders took far longer to arrive after a 911 call than in nicer areas of the city. I think Tony said, and I can't corroborate this because apparently the Internets don't remember back that far, but Tony said that the average response time for a 911 call in inner-city New York was something like twice that of nicer neighborhoods, and I wouldn't be at all surprised. I remember hearing stories about it being that way in parts of Cleveland too.
The not-quite ghetto I called home
At any rate, this song sparked a huge controversy, as did every rapper back then who wasn't singing about how they became the prince of a town called Bel Air. The cops are doing their best, gangs and thugs blah blah blah... but fairly quickly after the song dropped, 911 response times in the inner city quickened. Tony said that with that one song, Public Enemy saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives.
I don't think he's being dramatic. I remember my mind being blown back when Gangsta Rap showed up on the scene. Not blown in a good way, mind you, I was scandalized. Scandalized, honestly, because I was pissed off at the anti-white rhetoric and hatred some of these guys got away with. Now I understand that songs like NWA's Fuck the Police and Ice T's Cop Killer reflected a rage, a fear, a desperation that was a daily reality that gripped people who felt like they were trapped in the ghetto for life. Even though I didn't exactly grow up in Bel Air myself, the reality experienced by people living in the sort of ghettos that artists like NWA, Public Enemy, and Ice T is something I'd never experienced, and likely never will. This music, think of it what you will, brought America's attention to stuff we'd been quite willfully ignoring for ages. Movies like Boyz n the Hood happened. Eyes opened. People started caring. And maybe a few things started getting better. You know that kid who acts out because he's being abused at home and just needs someone to understand? That kid's a lot more likely, in my experience, to have authorities intervene than the kid who just raises her hand and tells her story. Seems that way to me, anyway.

So anyway, Tony got me thinking - what other songs have saved lives? I mean We Are the World and other Band Aid-ish songs like that, I guess. We Are the World was certainly the first time I remember being aware of starvation in Ethiopia. Then again, I was six. Previous to that, I'd been aware that Legos aren't something you eat.
REM hoped to talk people out of suicide with the song Everybody Hurts. Honestly, I know the lyrics are kind of cheesy and stuff, but I don't think there's ever been a time so dark that Everybody Hurts couldn't reach me at least a little bit, give me some hope. Rumor has it that Kurt Cobain was listening to the song right before he died, so maybe it's not 100% effective.
Jeremy reminded me about the Underground Railroad code songs that helped lead people to safety, and before that, the spirituals that gave people hope and helped them hold on.
Religious music, perhaps, some of it. Some religious music has sparked decidedly not life-saving acts.
Can you think of anything? 


Drew said...

Tori. Not only is she open about surviving rape, she sings about it and she is one of the Co-founders of RAINN - the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. I wouldn't be here without her. And I know I'm not the only one.

Things to Do said...

This is such a great topic. I'm not sure if this is what you are looking for but I found it kind of cool. Yesterday, I was watching The Office where they're learning CPR and they do the procedure to the beat of the Bee Gee's song Staying Alive. I googled it and apparently that song has been shown to help people maintain the proper count and perform CPR correctly. Not sure if it's saved a life, but I like to think it has.