Have you ever had a birthday that you don’t feel like celebrating? One year ago today I decided to finally write that blog I’d always dreamed of, one that spoke about music as a living force and not just a conveyor belt of the ‘new’. I should be happy, I should be elated that I’ve actually stuck at something for so long. Instead I’m angry and frustrated – my year as a writer has shown me that, when all is said and done, it doesn’t matter. You can expend all your energies finding and championing a song or artist only for your well edited piece to sink beneath the social media waves. This sense of hopelessness is heightened by the simple fact that there are far, far bigger things happening in the world right now than the latest Everything Everything album. The cheques are being cashed for the preceding decade’s military excursionism whilst the world looks on as if it doesn’t concern them. I am, obviously, talking about Syria. As I said last week, this is a music blog and I try and keep political agendas out of it. That said, I know that we can do more; I know that we can do better. So it was a glad heart that I saw ‘Help is Coming’ by Crowded House re-released to raise funds for Save the Children. Not just funds; awareness. For this is a situation we need to stay aware of.
I have mixed feelings about charity songs. Growing up in a post Live Aid atmosphere made me aware of the power that they could exert. Then again, living after it made me see this power used time and time again to varying success (Live 8 being phenomenal) and diminishing returns (woe betide Band Aid 30). I came to question whether the artists involved truly cared about the cause involved or whether it was just good PR? The career boost that Live Aid gave U2 must have been noted by savvy management types. ‘Help is Coming’ is different, it has a completely different story and serves a completely different purpose. It wasn’t explicitly written for a charitable purpose (originally being an unreleased studio track recorded in 1995) but such is the songwriting skill of Neil Finn that it has matured into a totem we can all gather round. But that’s barely half the story; it took Pete Paphides, former chief Rock critic to The Times and highly respected journalist, to build this song into a movement. The song becoming the medium but not the end; a rallying call for the conscious and a means of doing. This is the power of music.
Finn’s ode to the Europeans arriving in America in search of a better life resonates sharply with the current situation. Those wishing to seek asylum are not seeking to undermine ‘our’ society or steal ‘our’ jobs or raid ‘our’ benefits. They are people like you and me. Albeit people forced against their will to leave the country they undoubtedly love to seek shelter in the safest geographical area they can. Of the options available, Europe will undoubtedly be appealing to some, and I use ‘some’ pointedly; only 10% of those displaced by the war have actually arrived here. But those that have do so to seek a better life, a safer life, and it is up to us to help and accommodate in any way we can. This is why I have nothing but respect for Pete Paphides; he used this restrictive medium to make something practical. He turned his words into deeds, something few (if any) music journalists have been able to do. Because the reality is that the Arts are selfish. We musicians have our inspiration and agendas, often concocting something sterile and self-serving to fill the content voids of Twitter and Facebook. Throwaway pop has a purpose, for sure, but the wider movement is still wallowing in the confused insecurity of the 20th Century. Art, sadly, isn’t brave enough to confront the now; and by that I mean the living, practical now and not some ideological patina that may or may not be there. Music in particular is becoming increasingly disposable as groups look back to the past (in genre and theme) instead of carving an image all their own. It saddens me. Yet all this worry sheds in the face of humble pro-activity. ‘Help is Coming‘ shows that music can have noble power again. Music can have meaning. Music can aid a vital cause. For this reason alone should we all get behind it.
If anything, share the #helpiscoming hashtag and help make a practical difference.