This week American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer and actor Prince Rogers Nelson died at his home/office in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
As news and social media were bathed in tributes to him and his legacy, this quote came to mind…
Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.
It is an oft attributed quote to the 18th century Scottish writer and politician Andrew Fletcher. What he actually wrote is this…
I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher’s sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation, and we find that most of the ancient legislators thought that they could not well reform the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, and sometimes of a dramatic poet.
What was Andrew Fletcher addressing with this statement? Well, a safe inference is this… He seems to be positing that lawmakers effort to govern society by creating laws that will obstruct the devices and effects of moral decline (lying, cheating, stealing, debauchery and so on). Then in similar manner legislate to reform areas of society that have fallen into decay; however, it is the artist and musicians whose actions have more impact on moving the culture than those of the lawmakers.
What does this have to do with the artist known as Prince? Simply this…Prince’s demise wrung out of society an outpouring of tributes and love for him and his music. From conservative to liberal persons and everywhere in between, people wrote, posted, tweeted, sang and otherwise blathered on about the loss of a “great” person. It is no doubt that this man possessed great skill and unquestionable artistry, but what seems to be missed is the lyrics and concepts he championed are of questionable good for society. The only part of society they are “good” for is the segment that believes living life the way of his lyrics is good and noble and right.
This is precisely how society worldviews and values shift like great tectonic plates. When our collective sensibilities are fogged by sultry rhythms, sounds and visuals of artists–whose worldview we may not share–causing us to soften our stance on deeply held convictions, in favor of popular culture.
There is no doubt that Prince was gifted in the arts, and uncompromising in his belief of freedom, but what is in doubt is the truth and goodness of his lyrics, and the worldview and lifestyle he endorsed by his actions and words.