Of course, subjectivity is a big part of it. It’s Dylan’s right to play the music he wants to, but it’s hard not to question the decision Dylan made when he sheathed his anti-establishment sword. After all, he brandished it so effectively in helping to push the oppressed and the outraged to challenge the status quo in its opposition and neglect of civil rights and free speech. Thus, Dylan’s changing attitude mirrored the massive disenfranchisement that infiltrated and ultimately crushed the liberating social movements of the late ’60s. It was his newfound apathy that symbolically became the detriment of the freedom-minded for whom he was the voice.
When listeners are bombarded with the same handful of meaningless tunes over and over and over and over, you have to ask where the artistic merit has gone. What is the message? What is actually being communicated? Better yet, because we are all by nature impressionable, what does it encourage in us to value and celebrate? Being impressionable is a part of all of us that doesn’t simply stop in our twenties; look at the differing narratives of world news that we all seem to lend legitimacy to just by listening and using them as crafters of the context for everything outside of the day-to-day bubble that we experience directly. We all refer to different combinations of news media outlets, and each tells a completely different story about the world, yet at some point, we all decide that what we’ve chosen to expose ourselves to must be the only rational forum of information.
So, in musical expression, we see the potential for great social change, but also the potential for harm. Taylor Swift is not a lone example, and there are many artists in her position who are far more complicit, and either manipulative or manipulated. They, as individuals, fail to understand the way in which they themselves are simply another form of provider of the “opiate of the masses”, as Karl Marx famously said of religion. Where religion has also sought to take the importance of faith and homogenize it into a preached belief system for large groups of people in order to control them, music too has been co-opted as an art form by way of clever marketing strategies as tools for distracting and trivializing public discourse. It leaves many wondering why artists like Rodriguez might be ignored — and many like him are probably in the same boat today – decades or lifetimes away from ever being noticed or heard, if at all. Meanwhile, the trashier the message, the more superficial the structure of the song, the more successful it is.
Why bother switching on the radio anymore? Wander the streets by day and seek out the real people among the masses. Seek out stories of meaning, which challenge you and make you rethink life and your place in it. Look for the music that is ever-changing, and yet relentless in its passion and fortitude in the face of an apathetic world.
Joseph Moore is Music Editor for the magazine.