Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rock My Logic

A man I used to know always made fun of the way people take rock musicians seriously. Especially when it came to politics, society, and the environment. My argument was this: Who else are grungy, surly kids going to listen to? And aren't all these messages important, no matter who is delivering them? His argument was this: Rock musicians are idiots. He was an artist, so I guess that made him a genius.

Today I won't talk about rock musicians' positions on the environment or hostile takeover of nations. But I would like to talk about their philosophies.

I don't take rock music seriously, for the most part, but I think it is a very down to earth kind of poetry that can be understood by most anyone who is willing to listen closely. Most songs don't say much -- they are about sensory experiences, love, revenge. But anyone can appreciate poetry on these topics. I find it funny and intriguing, however, when philisophical ideas creep into the catalogs of artists like Pink Floyd, Rush, and even Supertramp!

At the end of my last semester I was feverishly trying to compose my final paper for my "Problems of Philosophy" class in my head -- I was so very busy that my working on papers consisted of thinking aloud in the car and falling asleep reading before bed. For a solid week it seems I would burst out laughing at least once a day because of the songs that came on the radio. My mind was so full of philisophical nomenclature that words barely held their common meaning anymore. It was probably a little bit of that and a little bit of my obsession with rock lyrics that led to me adopting a few seemingly unrelated songs as my "Philosophy Mix Tape."

I think his hair has some Free Will of its own.

Rush "Free Will" -- Rush argues against those who belive that we exist in "the worst of all possible worlds." The world is governed by chance and by our own free will. We do not "dance on the strings of powers we cannot perceive" but we can choose our path, choose our guide, or choose not to do anything about life. But, as the band astuteley observes, "if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice." Rush establishes their philosophy on free will and a preordained future, and at the same time points out a paradox presented by free will.

Michael McDonald -- Can't understand a

word the man says, but he sure can sing.

Doobie Brothers "What a Fool Believes" -- This one really cracks me up. Michael McDonald croons about how fools get walked all over in love. But he says more than that. The Doobie Brothers present their skeptical philosophy that reason cannot help a person who is in pain or blinded by emotion. No matter what a wise person may tell a fool, he will still believe "what seems to be." The Doobies have a point there. Philosophy does wonders for solving problems of phenomenology and perception in many cases, but not where love is involved. "What a fool believes he sees...No wise man has the power to reason away." The girl also gives an "apology."

Billy Joel "Only the Good Die Young" -- This statement would be hard to prove, but we won't put the burden of a proof on Billy Joel. He has enough problems. I think the song is really about how Catholicism, and by extension all religion, stifles life. Joel thinks we should live for worldly pleasures, that moderation and abstinence from everything that's fun only leads to an unhappy existence. And if we die young, what have we experienced and what have we left behind? The essense of life is in the experience, not in the contemplation of it. Hence, his drug problems. He believes in fate, however, so I guess he and coke were meant to be. There are some clever lines in the lyrics, like "That stained glass curtain you're hiding behind never lets in the sun ."

I didn't look up a picture of Billy Joel, because I don't think he's cute. Not even in the 70s.

Supertramp -- My favorite Transcendentalists.

The one in the middle has a Jesus look going on.

God, I love the 70s.

Supertramp "Logical Song" -- Also hilarious, and one of my favorite songs. The whole thing is a gem. It's really about the messed up education system and what "they" think we should learn about life. Supertramp remembers the days when they were young and life was magical, because everything was new and they did not have any explanation for anything. Children are sent away from this "magical" world where birds sing "joyfully," and taught to be "logical, responisble, practical." By high school they are "cynical." By college and adulthood, hopefully they've become "acceptable, presentable, a vegetable." Looks like Supertramp would prefer to live the unexamined life, because too much examining leads to turning everything into a fact that needs to be learned -- at least in the western system of education.

Supertramp cautions near the end of the song to "Watch what you say, they'll be calling you a radical, fanatical, liberal, criminal." I think they are right with their idea that school teaches us to think about things in one way, rather than ask questions we'd like to know the answers to, or to look inside ourselves for answers. And this kind of education doesn't do anything for the soul. At the end of the song they demand, "Please tell me who I am." As if that information is just another fact the teacher has written down in her book of answers.

Pink Floyd - Empiricists? Nah.

Finally, there are too many Pink Floyd songs offering up theories of everything (money, time, school...) but my favorite stab at education, to continue with Supertramp's beef, comes in the form of "Brick in the Wall Part 2." According to Mr. Floyd, teachers train children to be bricks in the wall of society, and ridicule them when they don't behave logically and clinically. Also, they are not allowed pudding unless they eat their meat.

I just read Woody Allen's short story "Mr. Big," so I'll have more on serious philosphy business tomorrow.


  1. About Supertramp: "the one in the middle" is Roger Hodgson, lead vocalist and author of the best songs (period 1972-1983). Great band! Long live 70s. :)

  2. I agree on the logical song. That was about right wing people controling the education system.. Now we see a full tilt with the left clearly in charge of the education system and pushing a far left agenda.


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