Since the founding of our Republic, musicians and entertainers have reflected America’s complex and ever-changing culture. They hold up a mirror that inspires us and evokes pride in our accomplishments as a nation, and they help us heal in the midst of national sorrows. They also can serve to challenge us to change course about aspects of our society that we’re less proud of. A recent example of this has been the rapid ascent of the #metoo movement, and the passionate calls for change which could be seen on full display at this week’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony.
Using art and entertainment as an cudgel to promote the cause of social justice is nothing new. I remember like it was yesterday the inspiring folk anthems sung by artists like Pete Seeger, Arlo and Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and others. And, from that period, one of the most important songs for me will always be Joan Baez’s haunting rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I first heard her remarkable voice in 1960, as an isolated 13-year-old girl growing up in far West Texas. It was a sad period in my life, and like many adolescents, I was struggling to find my place in the world.
One of the highlights during those years was when Mother and my brother surprised me at Christmas with the gift of a hi-fi record player and two record albums. One of the albums was The Kingston Trio, and the second was of Joan Baez. I put it on and was immediately overpowered at power of the lyrics, performed beautifully by that sweet, true voice. I listened over and over again to “All My Trials Lord” and “Girl of Constant Sorrow;” Joan’s singing of those heartfelt lyrics spoke deeply to me. The loss of my father had left a huge void in my life that the music helped to fill. It was like she was alone with me, singing directly to me, as a friend who could understand my plight. The music became my companion in pain, and the words connected with how I felt.
Ever since then, I have continued to lean on music for comfort and friendship. During the ‘60s, folk music became the constant anthem of young people protesting, marching and calling for an end to the Vietnam War, greater rights for students and the advancement of Civil Rights. To this day, I find that music is a powerful antidote to feelings of anxiety or even depression. It comforts me when I feel down.
Sometimes it’s the song, and sometimes the artist. But in the case of “Blowin’ in the Wind”, it will always be the combination of the two for me.
© Tyra Manning 2018