Rites of Spring and the Political Without Politics

Music can be political without being expressly political.  Sometimes the sheer vitality of it can be a force for change.  It can shake you, wake you up, make you want to do something different than you were doing before you heard it.  This has definitely been true, from even the earliest moments, of rock n roll.  Once rock n roll was unleashed it couldn’t help but have an affect on race relations, sexual mores, youth culture, and so on, just because of where it came from and the sheer energy involved, even before it dealt with any of those things in an explicit way.

I’ve mentioned lately that I have been diving into the punk, post-punk, and hardcore bands of the 80’s Washington D.C. scene. Rites of Spring, which featured members that went on to join Fugazi, among other bands, were different from many of the acts of even that time period.  Their songs were more melodic and their lyrics were more personal in nature, despite channeling the energy of punk and hardcore.  Their lyrics also have a more poetic and interpretive nature than many of their peers.  Although I grew up listening to all of the Ian MacKaye bands, MacKaye is a founder of Dischord Records and also went on to be a member of Fugazi, I had never heard Rites of Spring until recently.  But listening to their music, one can’t help but feel that something is going on.  It possesses a feeling of dissatisfaction, but not of hopelessness.  It sounds like people striving to reach someplace new.  It is full of passion and self-discovery.  Singer and guitar player Guy Picciotto sounds fully committed.  Even if none of these things translate into any particular political cause, this is the sound of people becoming engaged with the world.  And engagement is the most important ingredient in any kind of social change.

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