by Martha Grover
The Romans conquered with fight set to music, rhythms designed for men carrying sixty pounds of oil and flour and weapons on their back. Centuries later, Napoleon’s soldiers, without packs of food to weigh them down, light as feathers for the marching plunder, marched to the beat of a different drummer, one faster and more efficient. Soldiers may have minded, but their feet and their stomachs crawled on.
Contemporaries said these men were hypnotized; heart beat in sync with boot fall and drum. Minds pendulummed. They knew music gave the soldiers courage. In fact, the music was courage. Look, you know the drill- left right left. We chant until we are enchanted.
But music doesn’t kill people; people kill people …. So you must remember: the freedom singers that walked with Reverend King, cross before them – no turning back, faced dogs and death and sneering white faces, broken bones and their own paralyzing fear. Woodie Guthrie’s guitar. Miriam Makeba in South Africa.
Music makes us brave enough to praise a god we do not see, to dance when we are weak, and to fuck when we are too tired to love. Music has been the oppressor, the hero, and the high-jacker.
But then there are so many other things that are like music: becoming aroused at porn, or frozen near deep water. We jump at snake-like shadows across the trail. We sneeze, and yawn. We have sweaty palms and a stomachache and even George W. ducked a shoe at the podium before he even thought to catch it.
So that’s why this Autumn when you sit in the living room, around the table with your friends and the “rapey” song comes on the radio, you all have to talk about it for the one hundredth time. You’ve groaned and eye-rolled at every party, wedding and dance night this summer. You think it’s dance music set to misogyny. Someone wonders aloud why people got so mad about the lyrics, after all, there have been plenty of other songs about rape and murder and all the rest. “Have they listened to pop music, like ever?” says your friend. You have to laugh bitterly, thinking of the foreboding of down by the river, the whiny insistence of delilah, the catchy obsolescence of under my thumb. But you do secretly hate the song, the slime and creep of it, the moral outrage you feel – you hate that too.
But there it is: your foot jumping up and down beneath the table. Someone finishes their wine, rises from the table and turns the song up. And without thinking, you all get up and dance. Your bodies move to the beat, unwillingly, but joyously. And you all laugh and smile. You are all enchanted, ravished even. The song isn’t about rape, it is rape.