The idea of music advancing social change isn’t just part of a rock ’n’ roll fantasy, says Sean Kay, Ph.D., Ohio Wesleyan University professor of politics and government.
In his new book, “Rockin’ the Free World!: How the Rock & Roll Revolution Changed America and the World,” Kay explores how music has influenced issues ranging from racial justice and gender equality to political revolution and anti-war activism.
The book “takes readers inside ‘Bob Dylan’s America’ and shows how this vision linked the rock and roll revolution to American values of freedom, equality, human rights, and peace while tracing how those values have spread globally,” states publisher Rowman & Littlefield. “ ‘Rockin’ the Free World’ then shows how artists have engaged in advancing change via opportunity and education; domestic and international issue advocacy; and within the recording and broader communications industry.”
The book includes interviews with musicians, industry insiders, journalists, and activists including two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Graham Nash, recognized by the hall as a member of both Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Hollies.
“I have children. I have grandchildren,” Nash told Kay. “I’ve got to remain positive. I’ve got to think that I can help make the world a better place for myself and my family and my friends. Everything starts inside, doesn’t it? How far can the ripples go once you throw that stone into the pool.”
Cameron Sears, former manager of the Grateful Dead, also shared thoughts on rock music’s impact on society.
“You can get kind of philosophical about it,” said Sears, who now directs a nonprofit organization dedicated to building stronger communities, “but when you look at the intersection of what society was going through – music, alternative viewpoints, social change, environmental awareness – I mean what did Rachel Carson and the Grateful Dead have in common? More than you might think.”
Serj Tankian, lead vocalist for System of a Down, told Kay that it’s important to remain optimistic.
“Ultimately, you can call things as they are – be they realpolitik, realist, and whatnot – and, in the end, depress everyone to death,” Tankian said. “But without telling them, ‘Look, this is a choice’ – that’s very important – giving them the optimism to make that choice and saying that, ‘…it doesn’t have to be this way: War is Over!’ ”
Kay has said one of the greatest impacts of rock music and rock musicians is their ability to spread memorable messages.
“I’m not trying to say that rock and roll causes change, like rock and roll ended the Cold War,” Kay said. “But I am trying to show how it became part of a major sort of mass communication, amplifying ideas.
“This book has been a genuine pleasure, indeed an honor, to work on,” Kay said. “Getting to interview nearly 60 major artists and people in the rock and roll artistic community, accompanied by major secondary sources, from across various generations was a tremendous opportunity. I am very appreciative to Ohio Wesleyan University for being the kind of place that allows for this kind of creative endeavor — the colleagues and students I get to work with daily rock.”
Kay will discuss his book at a reception and book signing from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 27 Ohio Wesleyan’s Richard M. Ross Art Museum, 60 S. Sandusky St., Delaware. Books will be available for purchase during the event, which is free and open to the public.
At Ohio Wesleyan, Kay has been a member of the Department of Politics and Government since 1999. He also is an associate of the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State University and a fellow at the Eisenhower Institute in Washington, D.C. He earned his doctorate in international relations from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
His other books include “NATO and the Future of European Security”; “Celtic Revival: The Rise, Fall, and Renewal of Global Ireland”; “America’s Search for Security: The Triumph of Idealism and the Return of Realism”; and “Global Security in the Twenty-first Century: The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace.”
Learn more about Kay and his background at www.owu.edu/seankay. Read more about “Rockin’ the Free World!: How the Rock & Roll Revolution Changed America and the World,” at https://rowman.com.