Ohio Wesleyan University professor Sean Kay got the opportunity to meet one of his music idols.
He and his daughter visited American singer-songwriter David Crosby, a founding member of both the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, in California.
“This is a guy who you know I actually have a poster of Crosby Stills, Nash and Young in my dorm room wall in college,” Kay said.
“Now I’m in his house, sitting in his kitchen … that was pretty cool,” he said.
But not as cool when Crosby offered to play some new songs at the time for Kay. The OWU professor thought Crosby would play a recording, but was surprised when the singer came in with a couple guitars.
Crosby played “three brand new unrecorded songs (at the time) just for me, my daughter and his dog,” Kay said.
Crosby was among the nearly 60 people from the rock and roll artistic community that Kay interviewed for his new book “Rockin’ the Free World!: How the Rock & Roll Revolution Changed America and the World.” Other artists include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Cameron Sears, former manager of the Grateful Dead; and Serj Tankian, lead vocalist for System of a Down.
“It’s a neat mix,” Kay said.
He will discuss his book at a reception and signing from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at OWU’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.
The book, which took three years to complete, Kay said, focuses on how music has amplified American values of freedom, equality, human rights and peace.
“It was through listening to these artists that I formed the narrative for the book,” he said.
While some songs are for made for fun, Kay said there are songs that have story to tell and deal with issues such as racial justice, gender equality, political revolution and anti-war activism.
One modern example is “Same Love,” a song by American hip hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert, which focused on LGBTQ rights. The song was released about three years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must recognize same-sex marriages.
“I’m not trying to say these are casual things,” he said. “For example, The Beatles didn’t end the Soviet Union.”
But people internalized the songs and their message, he said, and shared those with others.
Rock and Roll continues the anti-establishment tradition in some parts of the world with bands as The Muckers, who have secret performances in Iran because dancing is prohibited, and P—y Riot, a Russian feminist band with lyrical themes that include opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“That’s going on today,” Kay said.
But in America, the music industry has become more corporate and top-down, he said, with only six companies that own 90 percent of radio stations.
Artists now have a harder time to break through, Kay said.
Streaming services such as Spotify don’t compensate artists enough, he added, while concert tickets have become less available to fans because of costs.
Kay said he heard how there was no cohesiveness to bring the Occupy Wall Street movement together, while activists from prior decades had a collection of songs sung during their demonstrations.
The OWU professor is concerned about recent reports that President Donald J. Trump’s administration may cut the National Endowment for the Arts.
“We need to invest in the arts because the arts are the things that remind us about the values that make us great as a nation,” he said. “We’re not supporting ourselves.”
Artists essentially hold a mirror up to society, Kay said. Some examples include the Dixie Chicks’ opposition to the Iraq War, a risk at the time, even though public opinion has now shifted to their position.
But he pointed out Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Trump for the presidency was in spite of having celebrity artists such as Beyonce perform at some of her rallies. Kay said it may have demonstrated the lack of enthusiasm for her as a candidate if people attended the rallies just to see Beyonce and other artists to perform.
And he mentioned the backlash against actress Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech during the Golden Globes. Although artists are still citizens with rights, Kay said, some people don’t like to be preached from the stage and expect artists to “shut up” and perform.
Kay has been a member of the OWU’s 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.
Kay has played guitar in local bands at venues such as the Backstretch for more than 15 years. He said it will be an interesting time over the next four years.
“And Rock and Roll is going to be a big part of that,” he said.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.