Every week, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 36-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
As a culture, we seem to be getting close to accepting that people, ideas and art that is “old” is irrelevant or bad, yet frequently political art from the past is relevant in irregular cyclical patterns. Some anti-war protest songs from the ’60s still resonate and others resonate again after some sort of break we’ve lost track of. Old songs pop into our awareness when their idiosyncratic content offers a voice for current situations. All of these things happen.
In this instance, the very specific details of Neil Young’s 1970 song about four young people being shot at Kent State University in Ohio would relegate it to the past as a current-events piece, but the opposite is true. The song fortifies a politically charged perspective to a similar degree as the Plastic Ono Bands’ very general “Give Peace A Chance,” with both songs achieving unique positions beyond the status of iconic in terms of historic longevity. They both move people. Emotionally and politically within the powerful entanglement that only art can, and of all the art forms, songs are less fraught with the violence Hollywood is determined to convince us is normal. The punches, the shots fired, the blood, the dead. The visceral nature of cinema perpetuates destruction where songs are from the heart, and the heart is about love.
“Vacant Night Sky” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):