The contemporary music world and I parted ways quite some time ago. I suppose that’s true for a lot of folks who’ve been Medicare recipients for a while. We really do tend to hang on to so very much of the world as it once was. And, for me, the songs of the 1960s are the ones with which I still can sing along and maintain at least 80 percent lyrical accuracy.
Ordinarily, the songs to which I gravitated and counted as my favorites didn’t really carry deep messages. Many were about the thrill or heartbreak of young love, surfing and fast cars, but occasionally there came a song with a bit more meat on the bone in terms of its message, especially in the far more socially turbulent late 60s.
If you’re on a certain age, you may recall a couple of socially conscious songs released in 1965.
The first was a protest song and achieved far more commercial success, reaching the top slot that year in the Billboard Top 100. It was called “Eve of Destruction” and was sung by Barry McGuire. Because the lyrics, as the song title suggests, presents a very bleak picture of where the country was headed, it was controversial enough to be banned by several radio stations, which didn’t seem to be quite in line with that whole freedom-of-speech tenant which we Americans have long held so dear.
The song disparaged the senseless violence of the Vietnam War, the threat of nuclear war, racism and the hypocrisy of those times when the voting age was 21 yet the age to be drafted into the military was 18, as in “You’re old enough to kill but not for votin’/You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?” Throughout the eight stanzas, other social ills were exposed — ones, when I Googled the lyrics, I thought were quite hard to refute although I’m pretty sure at that time I was far more concerned as to whether Sea Breeze or Clearasil would more effectively address that pimply outbreak on my forehead.
However, a group called The Spokesmen did indeed refute McGuire’s song a short while later, releasing a song entitled “Dawn of Correction,” and its lyrics referred to such positives as the Western World’s collaborative efforts to combat Communism. And if you’re old enough to recall those turbulent times, you surely know what fear the Red Menace struck in the hearts of Americans. Other lyrics countered the claims of McGuire’s song as to the imminence of nuclear war and referred to such positives as the wonders of space exploration, the work of the United Nations, the efforts of the Peace Corps and the formulation of new vaccinations which improved health worldwide.
More than fifty years later as I sit here looking at today’s stories that play out, I wonder whether these times are more representative of McGuire’s world view or The Spokesmen’s. I mean really, are we on the precipice of destruction or watching the sun rise on correcting so many of the issues with which we here in America struggle?
Well, I think so much of which of those two versions are the true picture depends upon which political party has the power. There is such polarization between the two, so much so that the same story has such divergent coverage on CNN and Fox News, that the minority party will see almost nothing as a positive, from the climate that surrounds us to where we obtain the energy we need to sustain our lives to the ways we try to ensure that our big cities are safe, to the ways we try to help those in need while at the same time trying not to rob them of their initiative to do for themselves and on to what we do about our border and its security.
As for that eve of destruction, many would find it hard not to see McGuire’s song as more representative of our current times, what with such intense inflationary concerns and an impending recession, a tanking stock market, the staggering spending deficit and a border in apparent crisis.
However, perhaps there is some reason to be optimistic. While rarely in such politically polarized times, there is agreement, it does indeed happen — recently, during the current administration when there was bipartisan support in passing a bill to enact measures to address infrastructure, which, regardless of party affiliation, benefits all. Additionally, the bipartisan efforts that started under President Trump’s and continued under President Biden’s administrations to protect consumers from massive unexpected medical bills when there is emergency care is such a positive.
Additionally, despite the devastation the pandemic has caused, the combined efforts of our scientists regardless of their political preference brought us vaccines in such a short time, which, I believe, saved countless lives.
So, I suppose nowadays there is some evidence to support either of the views expressed in the lyrics of those two songs from so very long ago. Furthermore, maybe that’s the way it’s been all the way back to our Revolutionary War times.
While I think we all strive for resolution, truth be told, there has been in the past and will, with little doubt, always be so very much irresolution in solving our ills.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]