(Note from the blog administrator: This is the third in our series looking back on the English Graduate Organization’s annual conference. The first two entries in the series can be found in the archives, and the fourth will post later this afternoon. Today we are proud to feature two responses to the keynote by Dr. Richard Flynn, both written by undergraduates at the University of Florida.)
By Paul Krebs
Dr. Richard Flynn’s address was entitled “My Folk Revival: Childhood, Politics, and Popular Music” and it did a brilliant job on examining the intersection of music and politics in the 60’s and 70’s. In all honesty, there were parts of this speech that were over my head, in large part because some of his examples and references involved having an extensive knowledge of people and the ideas of that generation.
Nevertheless, Dr. Flynn’s speech was influential and left me thinking after its conclusion. Flynn argued that children’s texts invite children to view their life in a nostalgic way, creating a sort of “double consciousness” that he says reminds him of how he felt during his childhood. In fact, a large part of his speech incorporates his life story, growing up in a rural town in Illinois and then moving to the DC area. Music was a large part of his life, and his experiences writing and playing songs at a local coffee shop influenced him greatly. Even in his early teen years, he would write songs about his lost youth and nostalgia, and he parallels this to the messages in children’s literature. He references artists like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Phil Ochs as being “icons” to him at the time because of their message and topical songs such as “Blowing in the Wind” and “Times They Are A Changin’”. As a teenager growing up in these times of political strife with the JFK/MLK assassination, Vietnam War, and March on Washington, folk music helped him channel his anger about what was happening in the country and lead to social outlets. He explained how he would regularly play his guitar by the “peace cross” outside his Catholic school and he developed a group of friends sharing his views and beliefs. He described his social group as “passionate individuals, loving of politics and drama who were brought together by music”
In his brief musical interlude, he played a song entitled “Little Boxes”. Even though he never really elaborated on the creation of this song, based on the lyrics it is clear what the meaning was about. The basis of the song is about conformity, serving as a commentary on how people simply grow up and are placed in “little boxes that are all the same”. This contrasts with the youth movement and the message of folk music at the time. As I was listening to Dr. Flynn speak, a song by Phil Ochs popped into my head that represented the opposite of the “Little Boxes” song. It is entitled “Another Age” and in the sing Ochs sings how “We were born in a revolution and we died in a wasted war.” The war is a reference to Vietnam and I believe this is the message that Flynn was attempting to bring across.
All in all, Dr. Flynn’s memoir did a wonderful job of examining the relationship of folk, politics, and youth, and it made me appreciate even more the music that I have always grown up listening to. It made me realize that I have never really understood the social context and meaning of the lyrics to the extent that I do now.
Paul Krebs is a freshman at the University of Florida, currently registered as an exploratory major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He wrote this response for Casey Wilson’s section of ENC1102: Rhetoric and Academic Research. It is shared by permission of the author.