Music has an uncanny ability to provide an escape from the worries and woes of the world. A good song can transport you. It can momentarily free you from the tyranny of your immediate surroundings.
But music also has the ability to do just the opposite. It can drive us deeper into the messiness of reality and force us to confront the troubled times in which we live. Although some songs allow us to escape, others prevent us from escaping. They pry our eyes open and force us to look at something we’d rather not see.
This week’s featured track from the Drive-By Truckers does just that.
In the wake of numerous episodes of racially-charged violence, this band from the heart of the South put out a song last year that probably turned some of their fans against them. After all, it’s not exactly subtle in its message. But in a compelling (if uncomfortable) way, it highlights music’s potential to offer timely social commentary through provocative artistic expression. In many ways, “What It Means” reminds me of the protest songs from the ’60s and ’70s. One need not agree with its every nuance to appreciate the way that it invites the listener to ask hard questions and explore new answers. Some resent the “preachiness” of songs like this, but I welcome the intellectual and emotional challenge that they present.
Give it a listen and see what you think.
(Disclaimer: There’s at least one instance in this song of language that might be considered “adult.” Be advised.)