Canaries and Patriots

July 12, 2011

I love music. During my cardio workouts, I put my iPod on random shuffle… and before long, with heart pounding and endorphins firing, the elliptical machine transports me into another dimension. In this dimension, aided by a vast music collection, my brain is free to explore uncharted territories and occasionally make new connections. That’s what happened today when the song Monster by Steppenwolf started playing. I had forgotten the many memories connected to this song. By the time it ended, the past had merged with the present and left me focusing on the future… America’s future.

At one point, Monster returned me to my sophomore year of college. To a time when my nerves were shot… I was confused, sleep deprived and directionless. When you’re attending college full-time while simultaneously working to pay for it, there’s little time for sleep or contemplation. Picking the right path (major) under such conditions can seem impossible. I had always been drawn to the arts… but needing to make a living, practicality was important, too. Uncertain, I decided to enroll in Preston Jackson‘s basic design class. (A few years later, I earned a degree in design/visual communications.) In addition to being a renowned artist, Preston is also a great instructor… and a kind, sensitive and insightful person to boot. One day, as Preston was musing, he said something I’ve never forgotten. “Regardless of what you do in life, be a student of history. But don’t limit yourself to history books. Study the music, art, and literature of particular time periods. Learn everything you can, from every perspective. The past provides meaning to the present… and sheds light on the future.”

When Monster was released, the U.S. was engaged in the Vietnam conflict, Richard Nixon was president, and civil unrest was rampant. To many citizens, especially those from the “older” generation, bands like Steppenwolf were unwelcome messengers—radical groups of unpatriotic, hippie misfits. Students of history know that demonizing the perceived enemy is nothing new. Wait! The enemy? Did you read the lyrics? (see below) They’re lucid, insightful… even prophetic. Unpatriotic? Steppenwolf sounds like a band of patriots! That’s from today’s perspective. When Monster was released, these lyrics challenged America’s ideology with reality. They violated many citizens’ perceptions of themselves by contrasting symbolic representations with facts. The map is not the territory. For many, this concept is difficult to grasp. Read more