March 29, 2008

The Revolution That Wasn’t: The Low-Down on College Music

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The world’s colleges and universities have a reputation for fostering some of the most liberal thinkers in the country. Not only are many students simply open-minded and free-spirited, but, no matter what their passions may be, there is also always a “posse” of others to back them up. But despite this vast array of ideas and innovations that permeate adults aged 18 to 22, the all-inclusive term “college music” still exists.
During the 1960’s and the Vietnam War, college music came to symbolize what it still means today – “I’m young, I’m proud, and I’ve got something to say.” In rallies like the Human Be-In, the Summer of Love, and Woodstock (pardon the cliché), bands like Jefferson Airplane sang about what college-aged kids were dealing with on a day-to-day basis. The band called for young adults to “feed [their] heads,” claiming that “one pill makes you larger/and one pill makes you small/and the ones that mother gives you/don’t do anything at all.” The band really connected with the college world, because Jefferson Airplane, too, was going through the same social strife. Students were dealing with the drug culture of the era, and the music reflected it – it’s all relatively logical.

The first semester of my freshman year, a wise professor of mine said something along the lines of, “The worst movement, edition, or regime of any area of interest is always the one going on right now. We are always in the worst of times…until the next movement, edition, or regime comes out, when we will undoubtedly romanticize and yearn for the previous one.” The 1960s are idealized by today’s culture as a time of political and social movement. They were, but let’s be honest with ourselves: the music reflected the times, which is exactly what today’s music does, too.
It is important to look at every band holistically. It’s impossible to ignore that some of the members of Jefferson Airplane went on to create the band Starship, which released “We Built This City” in 1985. For some reason, though, this band (also a large part of the college music scene) never got the same reputation as Jefferson Airplane, even though its synthesized vocals and keyboards spoke to the babies of the ‘80s. Generation X was looking for something by which to define itself, and Starship said, “Hey! Why not Rock and Roll?” And so the song and the mindset were born.

Further on down the musical timeline, we stumble upon the flannel shirt epidemic that was the 1990s. No, I’m not just talking about Nirvana (that’s far too easy), but those bands that don’t have such great reputations. We all love “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but the band that spawned the song, Deep Blue Something, never got the status it deserved. Let’s face it – the college world in the ‘90s was a little boring. Sure, I love the music, but it’s not surprising that it reflected that same nonchalant, lackadaisical tone exemplified by lackluster guitar solos in songs like Tal Bachman’s “She’s So High” and Mr. Big’s “To Be With You.” Conversely, there were those bands, such as Pearl Jam, that were angry at the complacency of the era, choosing to combat the utter grayness of the time with hard rock. But again, the music, no matter what genre, reflected the attitudes of those who listened to it.
And now moving on to today’s music…On Sunday, April 6th, O.A.R. (Of A Revolution) will grace our fair Barton Hall for its second performance at Cornell, in a celebration of all things collegiate. A peculiar blend of Patty Magee Band-guitar stylings and harsh vocals that resemble those of Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish, O.A.R. is your stereotypical college band for this generation.
O.A.R. released its first album in 1997, after coming together at Ohio State University. These guys are “bros,” and it shows; and if they went to a “CEOs and Corporate Hoes” mixer at any Cornell fraternity, I don’t think people would bat an eye (please pardon the rhymes). What I’m getting at is that these guys are normal and probably would be happy to go out drinking with any college kids who invited them. We couldn’t be happier about it.

Of A Revolution’s lyrics are just as unsophisticated as your average amateur college band’s. In songs like “I Feel Home,” the band sings, “I feel home/when I see the faces that remember my home/I feel home/when I’m chillin’ outside with the people I know.” If that’s not college mentality for this age demographic, then I just don’t know what is. The lyrics are simple, but it somehow works.

Anyone who has listened to enough O.A.R. cannot help but notice that the band is either very into self-promotion, or just loves its name. In countless songs, the lines “of a revolution” make multiple appearances. In “That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,”perhaps the band’s most famous number, lead singer Marc Roberge screams, “I say of/you say a/I say revolution/and you say Jah!”— only to be repeated in “Someone in the Road” by “I heard the loud/marching sound/of a revolution coming through.” These repetitions speak to the band’s simplicity, making their messages very easy to digest.
Finally, O.A.R. appeals to college students in 2008 because it’s a band full of activists. On the band’s website, Roberge writes in his bio, “We are lucky. Period. It’s September 7, 2005 and I am sitting in my living room watching telethons and thinking how lucky we are. I don’t care when you read this…it could be a year from now…people will need help. Send your money.” With that kind of humility, they’ve got students eating out of the palms of their hands.
The college music scene has certainly changed, but its themes have remained remarkably constant. Bands today won’t be appreciated in full until another generation looks back, with a little more perspective, and wishes they grew up in the beginning of the millennium. So before we start bashing what’s going on right now, I recommend we take a step back, drink in our only chance to be fully immersed in college music (you know, when we’re actually in college), and do what O.A.R. says: “take it slow.”