May 2008

When John Lennon sang, “Just give me some truth,” it was a far different era, and one populated with different demons. But, today, the truth is perhaps even harder to distinguish from fairy tales. Blogging, Twittering, and other social-networking practices are genius engines for both communication and misinformation. As an old punk, I love the onslaught of anarchy that allows any boho with a beef to leap onto a virtual soapbox and blather views. Who needs clueless, corporate broadcast networks?
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The glorious upside of social networking is that it leapfrogs over censorship. It’s near impossible for government agencies or the media to chill reports on Iraq or Darfur or North Korea or whether we’ve got it all wrong and Britney is actually a responsible mom. The downside is that no one vets the explosion of data to separate bitchy (or certifiably insane) fictions and sophomoric “humor” from actual facts. Do you trust Wikipedia? Should you? What about possibly arrogant, self-satisfied schmoes who launch out of their friend communities to blog so-called news?

It happened at the keynote interview at the SXSW Interactive Festival in March, and, shame on much of the “professional” media, it bit on the story from the attendees—who were Twittering incisive comments such as “this sucks”—and zapped it all over cyberspace, calling the keynote “a train wreck.” Now, if you watch the SXSW video of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg being interviewed by BusinessWeek’s Sarah Lacy, you’ll likely come away thinking that Zuckerberg is rather laconic, drinks his own Kool Aid, and doesn’t have much of a world view. You might feel that Lacy was only engaged when she was talking, or sharing her “smarts,” or making statements rather than asking questions. And you know what? This is any different than the far-less-than-comprehensive, get-the-sound-bites-out-before-the-Chevy-commercial style of network news that passes for journalism these days? I don’t think so. And I think that Zuckerberg and Lacy got a raw deal simply because the crowd wanted to be hip and talk smack about something that, these days, isn’t all that scandalous or lame or even amusing. But, you know, I’m talking like a grandpa who still bows to the temple of Edward R. Murrow, has no sense of edgy humor, and knows nothing about young people or interactive media. (By the way, to catch Darrin Fox’s interactive report on SXSW, click to

So what’s a musician to do? Well, we kind of get a pass, because we write songs that are obviously creative opinions, rather than facts. I mean, no one listening to Shirley Temple sing “The Good Ship Lollipop” would actually believe she was filing a news report on “bon bons playing on the sunny beach of Peppermint Bay.” But visionaries such as Mr. Lennon were able to get people to think by sharing their cultural ideals in songs, and perhaps it’s once again time we did the same. Keep writing the love and sex and death tunes if that’s your thing, but consider making one or two songs a year with cultural or political themes. It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative—a circus of disparate ideas that foments discussion is the goal. In an interactive riot where core truths are almost indefinable, musicians should do their part to get people pissed off, engaged, and using their brains.