Starting Point: Beyond Lyrics to the Meaning of Music


This article originally appeared in Issue# 34

Since David danced before the ark of the Lord (and scandalized at least some of the elders of Israel?) religious people have been debating the dangers and opportunities presented by music's ability to stir the blood and increase the heartbeat.

And possibly the first "lyrics problem" in the Western tradition was faced by the editors of "The Songs of Songs," who managed to reinterpret its salacious-sounding lyrics into the story of God's relationship with humankind.

Last fall, we witnessed a later skirmish in this long battle. Following a Congressional hearing and the determined action of a few people with a lot of publicity and contacts in the right places, the recording industry took some steps to defuse a controversy and avoid more comprehensive regulations

Twenty-four recording companies agreed to take steps to make records and cassettes with objectionable lyrics more easily identifiable. Companies entering the agreement will either print "explicit lyrics" on the cover or provide copies of the lyrics themselves. Cassette tapes will refer purchasers to the original LP record. Record producers themselves will decide the meaning of "explicit," but targeted songs are generally those glorifying sex, drug use and violence.

Although Media&Values recognizes the importance of this controversy in helping to clarify standards and provide guidelines for concerned parents, teachers and youth leaders, we believe it simply spotlights a whole range of issues regarding the role of popular music in our society.

So in this issue we decided to delve beyond the lyrics controversy into the meaning of music, especially rock music, as a values definer, consumer icon and unconscious ritual tool. We hope the articles start you thinking about the role of music in your own life, and that of young people. With a little thought and mutual appreciation, perhaps it can become a rite of passage the generations can share, instead of a divisive vehicle for rebellion.