Hogwarts on the Mississippi
Magic: The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces
As children’s entertainment the movie was great. But I left the theater feeling frustrated that magic is presented as something that is almost unattainable, especially if you’re an ordinary mugwump of a muggle. Also, I think most moviegoers would believe that magic is just a special effect or a simple trick.
Magic is here. It is not in the hands of magicians but in the minds of musicians and specifically songwriters. Recently I was told the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a musician who had a couple of albums out during the 60’s and was basically considered a has-been. The records he penned though resonated with people and unbeknownst to him were picked up by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Several of his songs became anthems that literally united the movement that brought down the regime. He didn’t even know that he had platinum recordsuntil his daughter came across a website set up by ardent South African fans to find out what had happened to him. Had he never known his belated fame, it would not have mattered, for the result was the same. Sixto, an ordinary muggle, created magic.
Of course, this magic has happened before. Julia Ward Howe is a name that most people have never heard, yet she created magic that changed the face of America. During the Civil War, Howe heard a melody that was being sung by the Union Troops. The melody was Canaan’s Happy Shore turned into a parody called John Brown’s Body. Ward heard a division of soldiers singing the tune as they were tramping by her home in Kentucky. She went to bed and during the early morning, she awakened and, according to her book Reminiscences, said that she started to write a song. She realized that she had to get up and put it on paper “lest I fall asleep again and forget them. I sprang out of bed and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before.” She wrote down one of the most influential songs of that era and the Civil Rights era, The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The power to change life as we know it exists in each of us. If magic is using the means of channeling mysterious or supernatural forces to create change, then the songwriter is more of a magician than any Harry Potter.
And it doesn’t have to be an anthem to change the world either. “Heartbreak Hotel” was written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axten. The lyrics were based on a true story of a young man who killed himself over a lost love. It took one Elvis Presley to sing it, true, but it was the song itself that launched a whole new era of Rock n’ Roll. A young man listening to that song on Radio Luxembourg was so transfixed that he started penning songs to influence other people. His name was John Lennon.
Some magicians are lighthearted Merlins. Their magic-making is just as important for bringing joy into the world. When a hip hop musician who goes by the name Baauer released a song called Harlem Shake, it went viral on the internet. As far as lyrics go? Well, growling lions and samplings of lyrics from other songs, which by themselves are as nonsensical as a Bob Dylan tune. But it is now a meme on the internet, with people doing various renditions of the song and dancing to it. A crew of Australian miners was actually fired for doing their version several hundred feet underground. Baauer’s magic brought people around the world just that much closer. He magically transformed everyday adults back into children. Powerful stuff.
Songwriting is magic. It is an art in which one channels the power necessary to change life as we know it. That magic resides in each of us. And each of us needs to get that magic working. That is why each April we have, for muggles everywhere, the Songwriters Weekend at our own Hogwarts on the Mississippi, the the Four Mounds Estate. Our magic wands? Guitars, computers, pens, paper, harmonicas, zithers, and our voices.