Music is a Bridge

by Eric Feuer, SUNY Cortland, May 20, 2010

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People disagree on a lot of things, especially which genre of music is the best. But everyone agrees that music is a wonderful thing, after all have you ever met anyone that doesn't like music? That's because music has no limits. It can unite people across the world, or polarize them. Music can help you through the lows by bringing you back to the highs, or it can help you forget something all together by taking you away to another world. Music is many things, but perhaps most importantly music is universal.

Now you might be saying, "Well movies or television shows can be shown around the world as well," and this is true except for one little fact: when a band or performer tours around the world, they don't have to translate based on where they are performing that night. How else can you explain that U2, The Rolling Stones, or Pearl Jam can go around the world and have the audience sing right along with them, regardless of where they are? The crowd can sing the songs word for word and not even know what they are saying.

Even better than one band touring the world is when a collection of bands takes the stage for a music festival. There is something to be said for a festival such as Roskilde, which takes place in Denmark and boasts a global lineup featuring popular European acts and well known bands such as Them Crooked Vultures, Muse, Motorhead, and Alice in Chains. Concerts can even help a larger cause, such as Live Aid or Farm Aid back in the 80's. Even if people don't know every band at a festival, music is about experimenting with new sound, for both the artist and the fan.

Some movies like Avatar have box office success worldwide, but many times movies struggle to catch on outside of the country in which they were released. Music, however, has no borders. Look at bands like the Beatles, or Led Zeppelin, both of who left England and captivated fans across the world before caching on at home. Kings of Leon caught on overseas well before they worked their way up the charts here in America. If music appeals to people, it makes no difference where it comes from.

Maybe fifty years ago a band knew certain people would be listening to them, and certain people wouldn't. When Elvis first gyrated onto the scene, he captured the hearts and screams of girls across the country. Their parents did not share the same enthusiasm, and some even deemed Elvis' music immoral. The Grateful Dead knew they had a core group of followers, and the Ramones pretty much knew who was listening to them, but today it can be next to impossible to look at someone and figure out what music they listen to.

My dad has great taste in music, but the other day he bought a Sade album. I think I've even seen Christina Aguilera on his iPod. My roommate is a diehard Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, with every CD they ever released in his possession. But when Kesha comes blasting out of the speakers on the weekends, he doesn't hesitate to sing along. Another one of my friends attended Catholic high school, played three sports and is known as "the golden boy", but he'll listen to Lil' Wayne until the day he dies. And I'll be honest, I think Lady Gaga is a lot more talented and entertaining than people giver her credit for. So I guess you can't judge a book by its cover.

But music can also bridge a generation gap. My dad and I agree on our fair share of things, but we also butt heads from time to time. We are both a product of the times we were raised in, and while I may not dress like him or act like him, we can always find common ground in music. In fact, it was my dad who introduced me to The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads, U2, heck even the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Of course, I went on to discover bands on my own and he might be into some bands that I don't listen to, but we can still talk for hours about Pink Floyd, Hendrix, or Nirvana. And in a twist of fate, the teacher became the student when I turned my dad onto Pearl Jam.

In addition to joining the past and present, music has also played a large role in breaking down the color barrier. Elvis took what was widely considered as black music, and brought it to the mainstream. He made rhythm and blues cool, for both whites and blacks. He also helped pave the way for countless black performers who could now take their music to the public. If there was no Elvis, would hip hop be as popular as it is today? Would there even be hip hop?

While some movies are timeless, many are cheesy and outdated shortly after being released. But music can stand the test of time, no matter how many years have passed since its release. While a bad movie is best left in the past, one hit wonders are timeless music classics. Who can forget "Macarena" by Los del Rio, "I'm Too Sexy" by Right Said Fred, or "Mickey" by Toni Basil? It can be hard to sit through an old movie, but everyone loves to dance to an old tune, even if it's from the Backstreet Boys.

People still adore Elvis and his music, even though he's been "dead" for thirty three years. Bob Dylan seems to come out with a new album every year or so and while his old songs don't carry as much weight as they used to, they are still timeless classics. Led Zeppelin has done little since John Bonham's death in 1980, but their music is just as popular as it was in its heyday. And with every new generation, there are young ears waiting to discover the music of the past.

No matter what these new listeners take a liking to, they will undoubtedly become a part of something. Music allows people to become part of a community that is bigger than them. Even when you feel alone, you aren't as long as you have music. Sometimes a group of fans even takes on a nickname, as handed down by the artist they love. Slipknot refers to their fans as "maggots", maybe not the most endearing monicker, but a true fan revels in being a maggot. Lady Gaga affectionately calls her fans "little monsters". If you are a Dead-head or a maggot, listening to your favorite band is always better in the company of those who share your passion.

Sometimes music can unite a group when you least expect it. During soccer matches it's common to hear the crowds singing or chanting in unison, trying to will their teams to victory. The terrace chants as they are known can be as old as the team itself, or a reworked popular tune such as "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash, or "All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles. The chants can capture a wide range of emotions from devotion to hate, but no matter the tune everyone sings along.

Pete Townshend once wrote, "I hope I die before I get old." Pete wanted to play his music and leave his mark, before going out in a flaming inferno before he got old and rich. Townshend never got that wish, thankfully, but today he and the remaining member of the Who, Roger Daltry are still playing for packed audiences. Their Super Bowl performance showed that if your music can connect with someone, you not only have the power to stick around, but you can make music until the day you die. Music doesn't have a face, or a name, it's just music. And that is why everyone loves it.

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