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“Its only Rock and Roll, but I Like it”

“Its only Rock and Roll, but I Like it”

Reflections by a Yuma in Cuba on the Rolling Stones Concert in Havana, March 25, 2016

by Joanne Clarkson

If, as someone once told me, life is politics and politics is life, why couldn’t music be politics and politics be music? That belief dates back to the days when, as a twenty-something-old crazy about Rock ‘n Roll, I thought (and hoped) that by the time I was sixty-something, I and others of my generation would have changed the world, eliminated imperialism and were spending our golden years living in a socialist paradise where we and our children and grandchildren would be assured good living according to our needs.

As the decades passed, the political hopes suffered ups and downs along with a changing musical background score. Latin America went from dictatorship to dictatorship with the grand exception of Cuba, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream still has not taken place for the majority of black Americans, Europe seems to be reverting to isolationism and xenophobia and the United States embarks on war after war, spending their capitalist earnings on new weapons instead of the welfare of their people. Even worse, as evidenced by Obama’s statements on his recent visit to Cuba, the official American view of the world is still as blinkered as it ever was, practically rewriting history to suit themselves and, unfortunately, believing it all. American politicians are still convinced that the “American Way of Life” is what we should all be living and most of them don’t see the huge discrepancies present in their own society. Not even “democracy” is what they think it is.

While history see-sawed and at times travelled backwards, Rock ‘n Roll survived despite attacks from disco, hip-hop and rap. The groups themselves came and went, some of them suffering from the toll of their accelerated frenetic lifestyles. The Beatles broke up; Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died young, even The Rolling Stones made necessary adjustments in their membership.

Living in Canada as a teenager, I didn’t suffer from any national prohibitions on listening to “that kind of music” as did my Cuban and some other Latin American contemporaries but I had to live with a “family censor” in the figure of my mother who decried anything that was not “classical” as degenerate and intellect-numbing; but there was always some way to buy “those” records, listen to rock music stations and go to Friday night dances in the basement of the local YMCA. Nevertheless, attending the first Woodstock music festival was forbidden to me.

Music is after all a universal language; it speaks to the soul and mirrors the times. After seeing Miloš Forman’s excellent bio-pic “Amadeus,” I remember thinking that “Wolfie” Amadeus Mozart had probably been regarded as a sort of “rock star” because he broke a lot of his day’s musical boundaries and he often acted irreverently towards authority figures. But in the long run, his music spoke to the changes going on during his historical period, just as rock music speaks to the changes in ours. And both survived.

In another miracle of survival, after over 50 years, both the Cuban Revolution and The Rolling Stones have survived. And given the coincidences of time and place, I, the Cuban Revolution and The Stones converged in a field behind a sports stadium in Havana on March 25, 2016. There was no way I wasn’t going to attend.

Besides the significance the occasion held for me, I was impressed by a number of elements. First of all, it was amazing how half a million people were able to peacefully enjoy that free concert. Unlike similar events in “North” countries, the police presence was barely noticeable, alcohol consumption was at a very low level as far as I could see (except for a few rowdy German tourists) and as people walked past me, it was normal to hear them saying con permiso …excuse me. And Mick Jagger, the flamboyant front man for the group, demonstrated wonderful tact and eloquence as he spoke “Cuban-Spanish” to his audience on repeated occasions and made accurate “political” assessments about the times. Yes, Bob, the times really are a-changin’. I remembered that Jagger had done a short stint at the London School of Economics as a young man, thinking he was going to be an economist or a politician one day. Well, he sounded like a politician on March 25th. Maybe being a rock star and a politician are the same thing, as he once observed.

And so I am brought around full circle. It only took fifty years. And I still love rock music and hope for a better world for all. And without appearing to be irreverent, I would broach the thesis that the two representative survivors of political and musical ups and downs, Fidel and Jagger, both hold the key. They use different ways of communicating but in the end they both give us the same message, one of peace and love.