What popular songs came from dreams

Music and society

Dietrich Helms

To person

Dr. phil. habil., born in 1963; since 1997 research assistant at the Institute for Music and its Didactics at the University of Dortmund, Emil-Figge-Str. 50, 44221 Dortmund.
Email: [email protected] dortmund.de

The attacks of September 11, 2001 also shook the pop music scene. Hundreds of songs were written about the attacks in the months that followed.


Nothing will be the same anymore. "Among the ruins of memories left by the media flood of images after September 11, 2001, this one sentence can be found in all media, at regulars' tables, but also in songs that were written in the days that followed were created: literally in the title and chorus of a track by the German rapper Curse, in variations by Alan Jackson (Where Were You [When The World Stopped Turning]) and in a hardly coincidental resemblance to the German pop singer Christian Anders (The day on which the earth standstill) or Ethan Daniel Davidson, who, however, was not satisfied with the globalization of the catastrophe (The Day the Universe Changed).

Behind the banal wisdom that one could not step into the same river twice even before "9/11" hides another insight: According to the original Greek sense of the word, catastrophes are moments of turning point, of turning back. There are times when you look around, suddenly become aware of the present. Like a film tear, the catapult catapults the observer into another world. The flow of time is interrupted, the look back looks for causes and clues for a likely progression of history. Like the film tear, the catastrophe also directs our attention to the otherwise invisible mechanics that produce the course of history. Some things, as became clear with the collapse of the twin towers, had long before "9/11" no longer worked as people would have liked to assume. You are always wiser afterwards, or, as Fanny van Dannen wrote in his song September 11th: "The social climate has always been much too cool. / Well, even before September 11th, I often felt like shit."

The historical extent of the catastrophe can hardly be measured in terms of the number of victims and the sums of damage. The significance of the catastrophe becomes clearer in the number of areas of life that were actually forced to look back, to reassess or reaffirm the values. In the hundred years before "9/11", only the major global catastrophes affected the field of art and culture: the world wars in particular and the Vietnam war. One of the familiar worldviews that was shaken on September 11, 2001, was the idea, cherished by many, especially older pop fans, that popular music, or at least certain genres, would be committed to peace. The opposite was the case at first.

The call to arms was probably expected best from country music: In September 2001, the Charlie Daniels Band held up the flag with This ain't no rag, it's a flag and announced that the American eagle would soon be on his Knock down enemies. Toby Keith became much clearer in Courtesy of the Red White & Blue: "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way." The verses of the following stanza read almost prophetic, if certainly not entirely in the author's sense, today at least in ancient Europe: "And the eagle will fly, and there's gonna be Hell / When you hear Mother Freedom start ringing her bell!" Not a new note for country music, which had already advocated the defense of freedom by unleashing hell during the Vietnam War.

Good old rock, however, had always been on the other side. For the traditional rock fan, the moment of truth came when Neil Young hit the same line with Let's Roll in November 2001. Ironically, Young, Woodstock veteran and opponent of the Vietnam War, called for armed action indirectly in his music and more clearly in interviews. The dove of peace had long since mutated into a hawk unnoticed: "Let's roll for freedom, / Let's roll for love, / Goin 'after Satan, / On the wings of a dove."

"Are you guys ready? Let's roll." This echoed in these last words, sent to Ground Control by the accountant Todd Beamer, who led the resistance against the hijackers aboard United Airlines 93 and caused the plane to crash not into the White House but into a field somewhere in Pennsylvania Reflecting the idiom of rock 'n' roll. In a dozen or so songs, this echo was propagated, intensified, and made the words a symbol of the resistance to terrorism. For a few weeks the front ranged from country to rock to hip-hop. The spirit of Woodstock, which still haunted many heads, the idea that rock stands for peaceful coexistence, was finally exposed as a distant dream. [1]

If you look at the history of popular music, songs have taken a stand for war at least as often as against it. From the "jingo songs" of the English music halls at the time of the Crimean War (1853 - 1856) to the German marching camps of the years before the two world wars, which reliably indicated that the Berlin air, air, air was getting thicker again, to the many songs from sweet praline soldiers (music: Oscar Straus, 1908) and Treuen Husaren (music: Heinrich Frantzen, 1924) to Freddy's Hundred Men and an Order (1966) and now Young's Let's Roll, one can construct an uninterrupted tradition, even if there is between The empire and the present shifted the motivations.

"The soldier, the soldier / is the most beautiful man in the state. / That's why the girls also rave about / for the dear, dear, dear military." The modern warrior has long since ceased to be as sexy in popular music as in the song Der Soldate from the "patriotic folk piece" Immer Solid Druff (1914), set to music by Walter Kollo. In Germany, in Eine Handvoll Reis (1966), Freddy set the course for the topic of war as a political necessity in popular music after 1945: "We fought in our column / for freedom and democracy." The fact that Freddy remained the only interpreter who took up the topic in German hits shows how much the warrior had lost in eroticism after 1945. However, the lack of war songs is far from being an expression of a peace movement, but only a sign of repression. The industrialized slaughter of the two world wars had made it very clear that the warrior was no longer suitable for a social model.

With peace it is exactly the opposite. In the war and pre-war periods, which made up a large part of the first half of the 20th century, the word about peace had the nasty odor of the political. The search for appropriate pieces in the repertoire of German popular music remains rather unsuccessful. Significant: the lyricist Willy Pager wrote the refrain of his hit song Everything comes once again (music: Rudolf Nelson, 1915) and the line "One sings peace songs first". After all, the stanzas are only about the "battle music and again crash music" giving way as soon as possible to the more entertaining, apolitical sounds of peacetime, the tango, the polka, "the lafulana". Political peace might not be a question when it came to the fact that soon "jubilant fanfares / Germany are blowing ahead in the world": What is dreaming Berlin was the name of the revue in which the song was sung by K├Ąthe Erlholz.

In the first years after the Second World War the word "peace" appears occasionally in hit texts, for example in the last stanza of Zarah Leanders When God Will "... then there will be peace forever" (Michael Jary, 1950), whereby the will God seems too modest with the little peace of a snowy winter night and a bear sleeping in a tree. The 1952 carnival hit by Jupp Schmitz "We all go to heaven" is a little clearer. In his verses, copywriter Kurt Feltz closes the book of history with its ugly chapters. Who did what is no longer important, everyone is good, everyone goes to heaven. Peace is when one forgets: "When one learns the lessons from the song. / Then friend and enemy are united, / until one day the sun of peace shines." Otherwise, the hit is mostly about the "after-work peace" (Alte Lieder, traute Weisen, 1952), about the escapist, unworldly Be satisfied (Lukas-Trio, 1957), the peace of the uninvolved, the unaffected, which one achieves when one surrenders, gives up, switches off, forgets everything around you. This kind of peace, however, is a matter of course for popular music as well as for all other entertainment media. A good song, a good film, an exciting book want exactly that and nothing else: the total attention of the consumers, which transports them to a parallel world that has nothing in common with their everyday life and has no consequences for reality other than the life spent.

In the second half of the sixties, however, this attitude was seriously challenged - also in and with popular music. All of a sudden, terms appeared in the lyrics of successful songs that would have previously made the song a sure-fire hit: peace, freedom, equality. The (I can get no) satisfaction (Rolling Stones, 1965) replaced the satisfaction of forgotten, comfortable consumption for a few years. The paradoxes that emerged shape rock history to this day. The cry of longing for contentment inevitably sparked strife. The demand for peace became a declaration of war, and flight from the world in entertainment and intoxication became a political statement.

Even if the hit would have liked it that way: After the Second World War, you couldn't just pick up where you left off. When the big tidying up was over, voices of social groups suddenly became audible, also musically, whose existence one had hardly noticed before. In the United States, African Americans came together in the Civil Rights Movement. In all western industrialized countries, a social group that had previously only existed as an age group began to delimit itself: the youth. Growing prosperity and longer training periods provided the youth with money and free time. Soon an entire industry was busy helping the newly discovered teens out to find an identity with the blue jeans off the rack and the mass hit on single records. New social groups always arise through conflicts in which they distance themselves from the rest of society. The struggle for what defines youth was waged in the field of leisure time, leisure activities (provocation "Gammeln"), casual clothing (provocation "Bluejeans"), leisure music (provocation "Rock 'n' Roll"). Technological development made it possible for the first time to produce popular music that was provocative. The provocation could only happen through the sound: not through unfamiliar harmony or melody, but through the screaming, stuttering, pecking of the singer, the whipping of the bass, the screeching of the guitars, the hammering of the drums or even completely extra-musical through the personality of the Performers - and all of this with a brilliance and immediacy that only the latest media and the latest recording methods have made possible. Rock 'n' Roll was the first popular music to compel attention. The compulsion to pay attention provokes the statement: you have to love or hate them. Popular music became a weapon in the generation conflict, but it did not make it political.

Only years later did the demand for self-determined leisure time become a political issue. Different developments came together. From the beginning, rock 'n' roll was both a culture to define youth and a product to open up new markets. Once the avalanche rolled in, even the riots in cinemas and concert halls were always marketing too. Especially intellectual youth soon turned against the sellout and the external determination of "youthfulness". Young people continued to define themselves as a leisure culture, but the politicization of leisure time made it possible to break the link between leisure time and the market - for a short time. They set themselves apart by appropriating the music of the marginalized: the folk and workers songs of the white underprivileged and the blues, jazz and gospel of the Afro-American minority. The proportions of "commercial" light music were (and still are) written out of rock history. With the new awareness of the new "roots" came the understanding of leisure activities as a socio-political activity. By listening to music you could set yourself apart, show solidarity with the excluded or make a statement against the exclusion. Folk and rock 'n' roll merged into a new unit when Bob Dylan, previously the great young hope of the folk revival, took the stage at the Newport Festival with electric guitar and rock band on July 25, 1965. For the folk community this was a signal of their commercialization, for rock a signal of a departure against commercialization. Texts with a claim and statement were then mandatory. Even megastars like the Beatles could no longer say "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" keep going.

The Vietnam War, which escalated in 1965 with massive US military intervention, provided a suitable subject that was both political and could serve as a tool to differentiate itself from the adult world. In rock, the Vietnam War was reinterpreted as the war of the old against the youth in their own country. "You're old enough to kill, but not for voting / You don't believe in war, but what's that gun your're toting?" sang Barry McGuire in Eve of Destruction (1965), the greatest folk rock hit of the early war years. In the same year Bob Dylan added in I Ain't Marching Anymore (1965): "It's always the old, to lead us to war / And always the young to fall." On May 3, 1970, National Guard soldiers violently broke up a student demonstration against the expansion of the Vietnam War to Cambodia at Kent State University, Ohio. Four protesters were killed. A presidential commission of inquiry later found that the nation had been forced "to use the weapons of war upon its youth" [2]. A little later, Neil Young's song Ohio, sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, reached the American Top 40: "Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming / We're finally on our own / This summer I hear the drumming / Four dead in Ohio. "

Despite all the political involvement, the protests against the Vietnam War were always forums for defining youthfulness. And so the songs could be heard both by the warriors for peace at the demonstrations at home and on the battlefields in Vietnam. Jimi Hendrix 'dedication of his piece Machine Gun can also be understood without irony: "I'd like to dedicate this one to the draggin' scene that's goin 'on - all the soldiers that are fightin' in Chicago, Milwaukee and New York - oh yes, and all the soldiers fightin 'in Vietnam. "

Rock history has named the Woodstock Festival the climax and endpoint of the three-year "Summer of Love". The vision of peace, however, as the embodiment of which the "three days of peace and music" from August 15th to 18th, 1969 are still celebrated today, was ultimately just a freaky version of Schlager satisfaction. Woodstock was perfect entertainment, moving a rain-soaked field in upstate New York with 450,000 people into a parallel universe in which the laws of the everyday world did not apply: intoxication, dreams, music and maybe even a little "free" love. Woodstock had a lot less to do with political engagement than the cinematic documentation, which created Woodstock's image, suggests. When the cry of the black singer Richie Havens for freedom rang out at the beginning of the festival, most visitors longed for a free parking space or free travel on the New York State Thruway. When the festival ended at 9 a.m., a day later than planned, Jimie Hendrix's dismantling of the American national hyme Star Spangled Banner went similarly unheard of. Those who had not yet left were stuck deep in the swamp of the rain-softened field, the organizational chaos or their own hangover. Woodstock was peaceful because the outside world stayed outside.

With the escalation of violence at the demonstrations and the flight into the underground or into a psychedelic, worldly inwardness, the coalition of the political youth movement and rock disintegrated. Popular music split up into more and more styles, no longer defining "youth", but only fan groups. Punk was the last attempt to bring the fiction of music into everyday life, to live music. The "Summer of hate" 1976 was also propagated as a reaction to the worldly distance of the youth culture of this time and especially the hippies. However, their relationship to the everyday world was very similar. The "no future" and provocation for the sake of provocation meant nothing more than renouncing any attempt at social influence.That Malcolm MacLaren of all people, one of the central figures of British punk, celebrates the appearance of a settlement with the commerce and artificiality of popular music as his wonderfully successful business idea and a deliberate deception on the listener when The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle ( Film by Julien Temple, 1980), is characteristic of the mirror cabinet that arises when the boundaries between fiction and reality are broken, when the "no future" of young people without professional and social perspective is reflected in the lack of perspective and futility of entertainment .

In Germany, the NATO double resolution of 1979 once again had a significant impact on popular music. Once again there was a peace movement that needed music for their rallies. But her music looked back more to the sixties, to the great times of movement, than to the present or even the future. The songwriters' guild was in its final bloom, and all the moving hits of the Woodstock era were sung again. Of the newly composed "peace" songs, only the proletarian fun rock hit Seven Days (1980) by the Dutch group bots and Nicole's A Little Peace (1982), which was ennobled by the Grand Prix, remained in memory: successful entertainment, in the first case even with serious political intention. As such, however, it makes it easy for listeners to adapt political references to their own worldview at will, or even to overlook them completely. In the case of specific inquiries, the authors can always feel misunderstood and secretly enjoy the publicity that a suspicion of political opinion brings.

At the same time, it was not the peace movement or its parasites that wrote pop history, but the Neue Deutsche Welle and its epoch-making regression into infantileism. Music no longer had to manifest the young people's claim to a genuine culture; one could ally oneself in games with children and in hits with adults. Nenas 99 Luftballons (1983) cause a destructive war in the text, but also enable a little escape from reality as the colorful balloon with which Alda Noni escaped the destruction of the war in 1944 (buy yourself a colorful balloon).

The idea that music can change the world is no longer supported by any musician, although some songs written against the war were even successful. Ten years after the end of the Vietnam War, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA (1984) and Paul Hartcastles 19 (1985) were created. The fate of the first song in particular is telling: its success prompted President Ronald Reagan to highlight Springsteen in campaign speeches in 1984 as the embodiment of the same patriotism that he criticized as hypocritical in his songs. The pathetic sound of Born in the USA and the ambiguous, often repeated title line of the chorus apparently drowned out any author's intention in the verses. Anyway: Who thinks of the religious war in Northern Ireland when they hear U2's Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1982) hungover on Sunday morning? Who thinks of the threats of nuclear war when he dances to the songs of the Reagan era - to Culture Clubs The War Song (1984), to Franky Goes To Hollywoods Two Tribes (1984), to Stings Russians (1985) - dreams , vacuum or drive a car?

Instead of arguing for the realization of the vision of a better life in everyday life, the pop industry is working to transport everyday life into fiction. Not only when shopping and at work, even in the dentist's chair, small escapes with the help of gentle elevator music are offered. On television (almost) everyone can take their skin to the market and swap their own nothingness for a few days for the role of the Germany-wide sought-after superstar. No wonder the music industry's response to "9/11" was initially a global consideration. In an effort not to tear listeners out of their dreams, some radio stations even went so far that they deleted a whole series of songs by critical (or even just Muslim) musicians from their programs. The list of 150 "lyrically questionable" songs that the largest radio network in the world, Clear Channel Communications with over 1,200 stations in the USA, stopped playing after September 11th does not only contain tracks with titles that have suddenly become macabre, such as In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins), Another One Bites the Dust (Queen) or Knockin 'On Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan), but also classics of the peace movement such as John Lennon's Imagine, Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction and Blowin' In The Wind Peter, Paul & Mary.

A rogue who thinks something to popular music. Of course, Freddy wasn't in favor of wars as such, and Neil Young may never really be against it. Of course, Always Firm Druff is not to blame for the first and buying a colorful balloon is not to blame for the duration of the Second World War. Of course, Bob Dylan's just always wanted to make good music, and Nicole had a message. Of course, Woodstock has something to do with Vietnam and Imagine has nothing to do with "9/11". Popular music and its meanings are a difficult subject. After all, thanks to Adorno's dwindling influence on music education, we can enjoy it today without remorse, without having to ask for a statement. The production of meaning is getting harder and harder anyway. It is noticeable, for example, that the World Peace Music Awards, which were founded after "9/11" and organize an annual concert and an award ceremony, almost exclusively honor the old warriors of the Woodstock era when it comes to critical voices from the United States and Europe goes.

The new global media make contact between musicians and their listeners more and more difficult. How can Eminem or Marilyn Manson prevent a quiet, calm boy from misunderstanding their texts and becoming a gunman? What control do musicians still have over the meaning of their lyrics when an assassination attempt in New York makes Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da a song about Osama Bin Ladin (OB Ladi) over 30 years after the recording (at least in the ears) the radio maker of the Clear Channel Network)? The production of meaning is increasingly becoming the task of the individual.

In the blissful times when rock was still the music of youth, when there was - in general terms - only the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, everyone was involved in creating meaning, debating the authenticity of the statements made by Revolution and Street Fighting Man. In those years a song had to have a message, to provide material for conversation, in order not to be suspected of being commercial. Since then, the number of currently accessible titles and styles has grown explosively. Now every band embodies its own genre, and soon every listener will be his own fan club. Music from 50 years of rock history and from every country in the world can be downloaded from the Internet. What are other meanings of that interest?

Meanings are not permanently cemented in the material of the music, they are made: in the communication between musicians and listeners, between listeners and other listeners. If this communication, this controlling feedback, becomes more and more improbable, it can happen that a song means more and more, so much that meaning finally becomes arbitrary and a song can mean one thing, but also its completely opposite. For every listener, the song becomes a commentary on their own individual situation, a soundtrack of memories of the stages of their own little life. This makes music meaningless, harmless and generally: peaceful for society.