Sometimes, when I re-read a favorite book or re-watch a good movie or even when I’m just listening to a great song from the past, I discover a new meaning that I never before realized was intended, implied or possible.
So when I read Chuck Pinkey’s June 1-2 column a while back, where he injected memories of a beloved song into a politically partisan point of view about the trials and tribulations of Trump and his administration, I thought, perhaps I had missed something in the ’60s, along with just about all my friends, when I was listening to Buffalo Springfield, learning the group’s songs on guitar, and memorizing the lyrics. Pinkey’s slant on the song in his column neither jibed with my recollections of its genesis nor the import of its message. Maybe, in my naïve idealism I had misunderstood the lyrics. Maybe... well I thought I should look into it.
Though that song soon became an anthem of the early anti-Vietnam protest movement, “For what it’s worth” (otherwise known as “There’s something happening here”) was not written about the Vietnam War — as so many people then and now still believe.
In 1966, while on his way into Hollywood to hear live music on the Sunset Strip, Stills encountered a rally of hundreds of kids protesting the imminent closing of a popular club, Pandora’s Box. In a 1971 interview, recounting that episode Stills said: “A bunch of kids got together on a street corner and said we aren’t moving. (Included in that group of about 1,000 protesters were future celebrities Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda who was arrested at the scene) About three busloads of Los Angeles police showed up, who looked very much like storm troopers. … And I looked at it and said, ‘Jesus, America is in great danger.’”
What Stills witnessed that day was what inspired his classic hit.
But you didn’t have to be a yippie (a person identified with a politically active group of hippies to continue to “hear that sound” all around you in the turbulent last years of the ’60s. Young people of all flavors were “speaking their minds” then, especially young men who were eligible for the draft, their loved ones and anyone else who was otherwise conscious of “battle lines being drawn” and the growing number of innocent lives being sacrificed in a senseless war by an ill-advised and ego driven foreign policy.
According to Rolling Stone, “For What It’s Worth” transcended its origin story to become a sort of “We Shall Overcome” of its time. Its references to police, guns and paranoia have remained continually relevant and it has become one of pop music’s most-covered protest songs.
I tried imagining anyone in the Trump administration — or any of his supporters for that matter — breaking out in a chorus of “We Shall Overcome” to defend, support or demonstrate their solidarity with Trump in his fight with “The Deep State”... It made me chuckle.)
There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear...
In ordinary times the moonlight requisitioning of a beloved protest anthem in an attempt to bolster a political argument devoid of facts and reason from the right, and, in defense of a many times proven corrupt president to boot, along with his many obsequious and equally corrupt henchmen (women?) would be outright laughable. But these aren’t ordinary times.
For anyone wondering what Stills himself would have to say about Trump... In 2016, just before the election, he was interviewed by Steve Baltin of Forbes Magazine about his political views among other things. “I don’t want to be doing this song after Trump’s gone away,” he said, “which he never will now, thanks to the frustration of the other half of the country.”
The song he was referring to is, “Look Each Other in the Eye” — a song he was inspired to write about the upcoming presidential election... a song that rails against Republican candidate Donald Trump’s vanity and hatred.
In the interview Baltin asked Stills, “Was there one particular moment that inspired (that song)?” “I think it was when I broke one of my false teeth (laughs). I found bite marks on the table. It’s basically the disease you get if you’re kind of doing a lay about for a few months and spend too much time watching after dinner TV during an election cycle.”
As Henry Carrigan wrote on Nov. 1, 2016, in his review of Stills’ song in No Depression, the quarterly journal of roots music: “The readiness to see anyone unlike ourselves as a hated other, and the hatred bred by the fear of others gave Stills fertile ground to write (his then) new single.
“‘Look each other in the eye’ means seeing the real person, not the illusion created by hateful rhetoric, and, seeing the common humanity we share with that person, which makes it harder to dehumanize the other...
“Halloween/irony is fitting/
“finally we know what we’ll be getting/
“not you clown/because we need a statesman.”
So I will close with this thought. When quoting from a cultural hero’s work to add some “je ne sais quoi” to your argument, New York Times bestselling author Austin Kleon has some good advice:
“You don’t want to look like your heroes. You want to see like your heroes.”
Dan Gomes is a resident of Schenevus. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star or CNHI.