When I did a deep dive into Bob Dylan and Neil Young as a young guitar student, my sense of social justice was ignited by their ability to take news headlines, add music, and make people feel.
I was also fascinated by their ability to draw on the history of the folk musicians and social organizations that came before them.
Recently, a question came to mind.
Should I fact check a folk maven like Bob Dylan when he writes a song like Hurricane?
Then again, who fact checks Bob Dylan?
Woody Guthrie? Pete Seeger? Bobbie Gentry?
They were supposed to do all the research for us before they expressed themselves... right?
In an effort to think for ourselves, it is argued that we should make a timely effort to question everything. However, if we trust the character of the original dispenser of information, we need efficiency somewhere in our development, and therefore “trust” is an overlooked method for streamlining learning.
In other words, I’ve never fact-checked Bob Dylan.
But he’s made me think. A lot.
Something else has made me think a lot lately though - a couple of major slip ups made by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
He made some major historical errors while writing his famous poem Paul Revere's Ride. Paul Revere never finished his ride. He never made it to Concord.
As a popular poet, Longfellow effectively cemented a different version of history into the minds of his readers.
The poem was beautiful, but lines 101 -130 are a complete lie.
You know who deserved a poem like that? Sybil Ludington.
The Power of True Stories
Songs with true stories pack a special power for capturing the imagination. Topical songs, as they are often called, comment on real-time social and political happenings. In typical fashion, I like a lot of topical songs written around the 1960s. Therefore I seek out songs that are actually functioning to teach me about the past.
Obviously, topical songs aren’t new to the modern era of recorded music. Songs were an efficient early method for passing around information, combining learning with entertainment almost at conception. (Have you ever listened to one of the first songs written down around 3,300 years ago? You can take a listen here.)
When I Use a Link
As you can see, lately I rely on historical gems found on the internet as I create my own original works. Like a lot of people, I experience the simultaneous mind-expanding and ignorance inducing powers of modern research online.
Can I trust the above link to really show me the first song ever written? It came up first when I searched, but what does that even mean when what rises to the top is what is popular?
Who is checking to see if it is true?
Leading me to think...
How Should I Cite My Work?
After force-fitting thousands of words into songs, it’s apparent that telling a story with a song is very different from regular article writing by the very nature of the rhythmic demands (for example, when it comes to the number of syllables and specific rhyme schemes).
Sometimes you want to say “head” but you have to say “mind” because “mind” force-rhymes with “time”… situations like that.
Do this over and over again with a topical story, and you may have slanted the facts.
I’m very mindful about the possibility of this slow deviation while conveying true stories in songs. In addition, I don’t think an audience wants me to rattle off every website, book, or magazine I used to write a song before or after I play it. And I don’t think they are interested in my little deviations. They are interested in a story. A big picture. Something novel.
That being said, I never want to be a force for sloppy thinking - either in person or on the internet.
I don’t have enough funds (or the energy) to hire a fact-checker (for the songs or for this blog). However, I want to reference history and modern-day statistics frequently.
Which Method Sounds Best For Blogging?
- Should I cite the sources I use by creating a direct link when I mention the information? (Or will you click on the links and be disappointed if you are taken away from this site?)
- Should I link to books when necessary but not get so specific as to mention the page numbers?
- Should I create a full-fledged bibliography in small print at the end of each historically-themed post?
- Should I not worry about citations at this time because I run a small-scale blog and anyone can fact check an item by simply Googling it themselves really quick?
Concerning the last point, if someone posts something on social media and you can't verify it within three to five clicks on the broader internet, there's a high probability it isn't true.
(Quick thought - What did Sufjan Stevens do when he wrote those albums about Michigan and Illinois? I’ll pull out the album linear notes after writing this and look into it. If he has a gigantic bibliography, I’ll know what to do.)
When I played a live show at Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, MN a few years ago, I played a song I wrote about the Panama Canal. Someone in the audience walked up to me afterward to say he studied the Panama Canal while obtaining his Ph.D.
He said I did a nice job, but I’ll really need to “know my stuff” in the future if more people pay attention to me.
(I think I scrambled John Wallace and John Stevens while telling about the Panama Canal’s engineers.)
Luckily, some of my best fact-checkers are audience members.
What do you think? How do you handle citations? What’s the role of citations at this point in your writing?
DISCLAIMER: AS ALWAYS, IF YOU NEED PSYCHOLOGICAL OR FINANCIAL ADVICE PLEASE SEEK A PROFESSIONAL FOR YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION.