American countercultures are the underlying movements in this country whose values differ substantially from mainstream society. These movements oftentimes falter out due to government crackdowns and lack of guidance. Fortunately, other movements have left a permanent mark on society. Prominent moments include the civil rights movement, hippie movement, Anti-Vietnam Protests and the LGBT Liberation. All of these subcultures succeeded in some way and transformed social equality. One common element to all countercultures is the use of music.
Music is used to spread ideas both sacred and secular. It brings people together through vocals and recognizable tunes. Many subcultures are built on music. Hippies formulated through the popularity of folk and psychedelic rock music; punk music corresponds with the 80s and 90s anti-establishment movement and rap music speaks about the hip-hop subculture.
The hippie movement was a 1960s youth movement that counteracted the idea of a normal American lifestyle. Hippies expressed love, nature, activism and acceptance of all people. Hippies popularized everything liberal. Folk and rock music of the 60s sang about all of these aspects including antiwar protests. Punk music spoke to angry youths who were irritated by the rules and regulations imposed by the government. Punks rejected everything mainstream. It promoted individual freedom under the Reagan and Bush regime. The hip-hop subculture was created in urban settings, mostly African American communities. Rap lyrics mix politics with gang violence and police brutality. These lyrics are angry and honest.
One similarity between these three subcultures is the idea of non-conformity. Not conforming to American mainstream ideals terrifies conservatives, the government and the elder generations. Conformity and conservation refuse to allow social justice, the social justice that the majority of our youthful generation today strives for. Music is used to personify the ideas of a counterculture. A number of musicians famous and unheard of are known as leaders of their subcultures.
Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Ramones, Grandmaster Flash, NWA, Fugazi, Nas, Nirvana, The Strokes and Kendrick Lamar are just a selection of musicians who are icons to their respected subcultures.
Pete Seeger’s popularization of the song, “We Shall Overcome,” is an anthem to the civil right’s movement. A general American history class would fail to include this fact. “We Shall Overcome,” brought people of all colors together. Seeger also wrote, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” a plea for world peace, a major influence on the hippie movement.
NWA’s debut album, “Straight Outta Compton,” brought to life the reality of living in areas like Compton, Calif. The album ticked off the government to a point where the FBI and Secret Service sent Ruthless Records a letter stating they did not like the message the album portrayed. In 1991, hardcore punks Fugazi played a show in front of the White House protesting the Gulf War. Everybody today knows NWA for the popularity of their music, but Fugazi gained no musical success.
In history, we study moments. We are taught history the way that conservative white men want us to remember them. History books are the selections of what is decided to be most important segments of history. These musicians are history. They are part of a timeline of modern culture. Culture is the distinction of who we are as a country. The study of American culture needs to be more prevalent in the next generation. Musical activists shall be remembered for the cultural compositions they created.