Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Musings on Great Songs —and on early Quakers’ Rejection of Music-Art

Musings, while spending hours in the new year listening to music, (instead of focusing only on opposing-lamenting current immoral, false political-social claims and actions).

1 What is the difference between spiritual songs versus ones that harm and even are destructive?
2 Songs that are sung by empty rote versus songs that fill us with Light?
3 How do we tell the difference?
4 What are some of the best songs of the last 60 years?

In no particular order:

Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence…”

The first time I heard this powerful reflection on the superficial nature of most human speaking--the woeful lack of deep communication-communion among us, I was driving through the night in a white wonder of a snowstorm down Van Dorn Avenue in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1966. Huge flakes of snow were silently hitting the wind shield, and Simon was talking to the darkness...

‘And the sign said, "The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence"

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Paul Simon
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

This verse is almost bizarre! Because, usually, written words in subways, etc. are obscene, superficial, or shallow false slogans...
How is this graffiti at at all prophetic compared to the superficial miscomunication of humans?
"Sounds" has amazing powerful poetry with an expert rhyme scheme (because it isn’t sing-songy nor does it draw attention to itself like most such couplet rhyming does). --

Colored People by DC Talk
“Pardon me, your epidermis is showing, sir
I couldn't help but note your shade of melanin (shade of melanin)
I tip my hat to the colorful arrangement
'Cause I see the beauty in the tones of our skin

We've gotta come together (come together)
And thank the Maker of us all

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace

One, one, one, one
Two, two, two, two...

A piece of canvas is only the beginning for
It takes on character with every loving stroke
This thing of beauty is the passion of an artist's heart
By God's design, we are a skin kaleidoscope

We've gotta come together (come together)
Aren't we all human after all?

We're colored people and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace

Ignorance has wronged some races
And vengeance is the Lord's
If we aspire to share this space
Repentance is the cure, oh yeah

Well, just a day in the shoes of a colorblind man
Should make it easy for you to see
That these diverse tones do more than cover our bones
As a part of our anatomy

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
We're colored people, and they call us the human race
We've got a history so full of mistakes
And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace

We're colored people, and they call us the human race
(Oh, colored people)
We're colored people and we all gotta share this space
(Yeah, we've got to come together somehow)

We're colored people, and we live in a tainted world
(Red and yellow, black and white)
We're colored people, every man, woman, boy, and girl
(Colored people, colored people, colored people, colored people, yeah)

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Toby Mckeehan / George C. Cocchini
Colored People lyrics © Achtober Songs

A transcendent morally real wonder of truth. Opposed to white supremacy and to BLMer WOKE-false narrative against all whites, the nuclear family, and police. INSTEAD of white "colored' racism or Black-victimhood, celebrate the wonder of the HUMAN RACE--in all its variations--so COLORFUL! --

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
And where have you been, my darling young one?
I've stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I've walked and I crawled on six crooked highways
I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I've been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard

And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept dripping
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleeding
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten-thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children..."
Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

That startling lament against nuclear weapons and other forms of mass slaughter by Dylan is fairly easy to understand despite some of the very strange images. However, many of the best modern song lyrics are far more difficult to ascertain as to what their central meaning is.

While I like to write complex, imaged esoteric lyrics and listen to those difficult sorts of lyrics, many ambiguous literary lyrics often open up many possible contradictory meanings, even though they draw one deep into the lyrics’ allusions, archetypes and symbols.

Too many listeners will end up with wrong meanings--often immoral and destructive ones.

Consider the very famous rock song "(Don't Fear) the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult:

All our times have come
Here but now they're gone
Seasons don't fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
We can be like they are

Come on, baby (don't fear the reaper)
Baby, take my hand (don't fear the reaper)
We'll be able to fly (don't fear the reaper)
Baby, I'm your man

La, la, la, la, la
La, la, la, la, la

Valentine is done
Here but now they're gone
Romeo and Juliet
Are together in eternity (Romeo and Juliet)
40, 000 men and women everyday (like Romeo and Juliet)
40, 000 men and women everyday (redefine happiness)
Another 40, 000 coming everyday (we can be like they are)

Come on, baby (don't fear the reaper)
Baby, take my hand (don't fear the reaper)
We'll be able to fly (don't fear the reaper)
Baby, I'm your man...

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Donald Roeser
© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

When I first studied the lyrics, “Don’t Fear…” appeared to be a pro-suicide rock lament. But some commentators have stated, they don’t think that is true.
While the song is a lament it is affirming that life should be accepted, not fearing everyone’s eventual deaths.

Even the author of the lyrics, Buck Dharma, stated,
"I felt that I had just achieved some kind of resonance with the psychology of people when I came up with that, I was actually kind of appalled when I first realized that some people were seeing it as an advertisement for suicide or something that was not my intention at all. It is, like, not to be afraid of [death] (as opposed to actively bring it about). It's basically a love song where the love transcends the actual physical existence of the partners."
— Buck Dharma, lead singer
Lien, James (November 6, 1995). "Buck Dharma interview". College Music Journal. New York City: CMJ. And on Wikipedia.

And there is the infamous rock ballad by the heavy metal band Led Zeppelin:

Stairway to Heaven

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to Heaven

When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for

Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to Heaven

There's a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings

In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, makes me wonder

There's a feeling I get when I look to the West
And my spirit is crying for leaving

In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking

Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, really makes me wonder

And it's whispered that soon if we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason

And a new day will dawn for those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter


If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now
It's just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on...

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Jimmy Page / Robert Anthony Plant
© Succubus Music Ltd., Sons Of Einion Publishing, Flames Of Albion Music, Inc.

This very unusual rock song with many religious symbols and images including biblical ones. It is unique and amazing, unlike any other music in the last 60 years..

But there have been contradictory commentaries written about the lyrics, some saying it is an anti-spiritual song, others disagreeing.
What do you think?

3. For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield

There's something happening here
But what it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop
Children, what's that sound?
Everybody look, what's going down?

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It's time we stop
Hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look, what's going down?

What a field day for the heat (Ooh ooh ooh)
A thousand people in the street (Ooh ooh ooh)
Singing songs and they carrying signs (Ooh ooh ooh)
Mostly say, "Hooray for our side" (Ooh ooh ooh)

It's time we stop
Hey, what's that sound?
Everybody look, what's going down?...

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Stephen Stills
© Cotillion Music Inc., Springalo Toones, Ten East Music, Richie Furay Music

What a distinctive seminal creative song! One's like "For What..." come once or twice in a generation. Its haunting lyrics somehow defined the protest movement.
In the fall of 1966, we used to go down to Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. As college students, we didn’t have money for concerts, but we hung out at coffee shops and philosophized and chatted, spoke against the Vietnam War and for civil rights and of our favorite music groups.

The song appeared shortly after the Sunset Curfew Riot, which we somehow missed. Maybe we Long Beach State students no longer hitchhiked or drove down to Hollywood because of the new 10 PM curfew.

How ironic--but very 60's contradictory--that allegedly nonviolent=promoting teens would riot!

Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) by Alan Jackson

One of the very best poetic laments against war ever written.

Chimes of Freedom (Dylan) by The Byrds

It’s a lyric extoling human rights, justice, kindness, but the tragedy of how often goodness and the truth lose out to intolerance and persecution.

Monday Morning Church (Brent Baxter and Erin Enderlin) by Alan Jackson

Deeply sorrowful dirge with an incredible chorused metaphor. Sung by one of my favorite country ballad singers.

What If I Stumble by DC Talk

Very spiritual song of conscience and care; deeply spiritual, moral, and emotional-- without being formally religious

Desperado by the Eagles

Another example of lucid ballad poetry set to music; in this case the brief story of a Wild West gunman who is being
counseled by the singer through playing card imagery that love is the best choice, not killing and money.

The Gates of Eden by Bob Dylan

60’s folk song filled with surrealistic images and metaphors of protest.

Woodstock (Join Mitchell) by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

Paean to the most famous rock concert of all time.
Though the famous event led to countless immoral, unjust, and destructive future actions. How tragic for a concert whose music was fabulous, creative, often morally positive.

Gods of Men by Randy Stonehill

Spiritual satire against the finite idols that too many of us humans ‘worship’ instead of the Good, the True, the Just.

The Universal Soldier (Buffy St. Marie) by Donovan

An anti-war song that covers human history. While not excusing militarist leaders, the lyrics instead focus on how each of us as individual humans are responsible for war.

8 Miles High by The Byrds
The instrumentation in this rocker is amazing, though, correctly or not, many have claimed it is about drugs.

See My Life by Seals and Croft
Philosophical, reflective early song from these two Bahai's.

Somebody Must Be Praying for Me (Frank Vinci, Bob Mould, Kris Bergsnes) by Tim McGraw

A very meaningful spiritual song of how sometimes problems and loss of dreams if considered from a spiritual point can open up other possibilities including love.

Cats in the Cradle by Sandy Gaston and Harry Chapin

Poem and song filled with allusions and metaphoric images which warns the severe and tragic consequences of a father who is too busy succeeding in his career for his family.

Old Man's Rubble (Brown Bannister) by Amy Grant

Probably the best ever song of the danger of living contrary to what one sincerely believes.

Celebrate this Heartbeat by Randy Stonehill

Everything I Own by Bread

Written and sung for his father who died tragically young.


Since I am a poet/wannbe-songwriter, artist, and lover of music, (of all kinds except rap and opera), it was difficult (and still is) for me to understand the thinking of early Quakers.

And here's a quote
from one early Friend, an outstanding musician before abandoning his career in music to become a Quaker:
Early Friend Solomon Eccles:
From A Musick Lector
"a QUAKER (so called) being formerly of that Art, doth give his Judgment and Sentence against it; but yet approves of the Musick that pleaseth God."
Written by SOLOMON ECCLES, 1667

"So I see, that Musick pleases well that which is for destruction, and grieves that which God doth highly esteem and honour; Isa. 42.21.
Modern Friend Jon Watts:
“Solomon Eccles rejected his upper-class, baroque music profession, and took all of his instruments and manuscripts and burned them in a public demonstration of leveling. The early Friends were rejecting the social class system, which they deemed unjust and ungodly. How could I possibly hear about that and not write a song about it?"

Friends threw out anything that was formulaic. The idea was experiential—to have your own experience of the Spirit, to have the Living Spirit speak through you. If you’re going to be baptized, let the Spirit baptize you. If you’re going to take communion, take it because the Spirit is leading you to, not because it’s just a thing you do every Sunday.

If you’re going to sing, don’t let someone else write it for you. Sing it! So Quakers were the first jazz musicians, always improvising. The Spirit was their muse.

So when I’m playing a song I try to listen to the Spirit the same way one does in a meeting for worship when preparing to give vocal ministry. I wait until I’m quaking to write a song down. I wait until a song is streaming out of me, until it’s not me anymore. It’s as if I’m watching the song get written.”

Jon Watts, Quaker Musician, songwriter, and movement leader
from an interview in the Friends Journal, May, 2013

And from A Musick Lector by Solomon Eccles:

"To obey the Lord, is better than to give all my goods to the poor, and my body to be burned; yet to let thee know the Truth of this thing; when I came to be convinced of this everlasting truth, I saw my Calling would not stand before it; I went, but not in the Counsel of the Lord, and sold most of my instruments;

"howbeit that would not cover me, for the Lord met with me; and as I was learning to sew, for I had formerly some insight of a Tailors Trade, but I was too high to bow to it, till the Truth came, and that is of power to make the strong man bow, and I sitting alone, with my mind turned in, the Voice of the Lord said, Go thy way, and buy those Instruments again thou lately soldest, and carry them and the rest thou hast in thy house to Tower Hill, and burn them there, as a Testimony against that Calling."

"So I obeyed the Lord, and bought them again, and carried them, and all I had in my house, to Tower Hill, and burnt them there, according to the uprightness of my heart before the Lord; which Books and Instruments did amount to more than four and twenty pound; and I had great peace. Glory be to God for ever. Amen."

"That Heaven will be shaken, and thy Song will be turned into howling; for such Musick and Singing was never set up of God, but of men; and it takes with that part in man that serves not God aright, but is for wrath and judgement, Heb. 12.26. 1 Cor. 2.24."

"But what effects hath Musick brought forth, that men so highly esteem it? What fruit did Nebuchadnezzars Musick bring forth in his day, was it not to murder? But the three servants of the Lord would not bow to his Image at the sound of his Pipes and his Fiddles, though others did.

"And how did Musick and Dancing take the heart of the foolish King Herod, by means whereof he committed murder, and caused John Baptists's Head to be cut off, who was a blessed man, approved of God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and was greater than the prophets; and because he reproved him for having his Brothers Wife, rankor lay in the heart of the Damsels Mother, and when the Fidlers did strike up, and the Wench began to dance, his affectionate love began to be enflamed to the Girle, that he killed the Lords servant in coole blood. O ye Fidlers and Dancing- Masters, let this President break you off from your filthy practice;"

"Why do you dance without the Ark? Where is your Ark? What President have you in Scripture for your Dancing? You set up the Devils Kingdom by your proud Calling: You set their Bodies in postures to enflame and take with the lustful Nature in men, and with proud Apparrel, and Spots on their Faces. Woe to the Crown of Pride."

"What account will ye give to the Lord, ye Dancing- masters, from whence came ye, where is your Ark? David danced before the Ark. O repent ye shameless men, will you not blush at your doings? If my Calling was unlawful, much more is yours; O do not provoke the Lord any more; haste, haste, and leave off your practice before it leave you, for what thank will it be to you then, when you shall break off sinning because you can sin no more?"
--Quaker Heritage Press

BUT, why can't good music be creatively planned?

Why must songs always be only, allegedly, spontaneous from the Divine?
Surely, the Light has also given humans the amazing ability to think rationally, morally, mathematically, scientifically...
To create not only via inspiration but through carefully engaged creativity.
This negation of the arts, especially music shows how lopsided the early Friends were when trying to get rid of hypocrisy, formalism without reality, and destructive

But early Quakers didn’t get rid of business, medicine, science, new technology,

No, on the contrary, Quakers excelled in the sciences and in business, neither any more holy or spiritual than music or any other art.
In fact, business probably is far more an occasion to err, even to destroy than music ever has been.

Do you have a suggestion of a song to add to Great Music?

Quaker rock to rock;-).

In Light,

Daniel Wilcox