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Music and conventions 

This week's cover story has brought out a veritable playlist in my head

I am a pop-music obsessive. Almost every thought that comes to my mind immediately translates in some way to a song or an album or an artist. It's a part of me that I've just come to accept. A co-worker mentions what he likes about a certain person and the Romantics' "What I Like About You" will be stuck in my head until someone else talks about going to her hairstylist — then it's "Devil's Haircut." Even instrumental stuff goes on repeat in my music-obsessed brain: I get off a plane at JFK in New York and I'm whistling "Take the 'A' Train" by the time I get to the Howard Beach subway station. (Just writing the word "whistling" already has me thinking of that annoying Flo Rida song.)

Working on issues of Creative Loafing is no different. When we put a recent story about the Mint Museum's Thornton Dial art exhibit on the cover with big, bold letters spelling out "Trouble in Mind," Nina Simone's version of that blues standard of the same name was on my mind for days.

This issue's cover story — "The Whole World is Watching ... Still" — has brought out a veritable playlist in my head. I was only 8 when protests at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention were televised to the world, and I don't remember specifically watching them. Back then, we were inundated with TV images of everything from violence against civil rights protesters to snipers in Vietnam to men landing on the moon. To me, I suppose, the footage of police beating up student demonstrators in Chicago was just more of the same.

I do, however, remember when the significance of Chicago '68 hit me. It was the next year. I was listening to my mom's copy of the debut album from a new band called Chicago Transit Authority when a scratchy sample of the Chicago DNC protest chant, "The whole world is watching," served as a 58-second prologue to the band's song "Someday." That song — with the lyrics "Would you look around you now and tell me what you see / Faces full of hate and fear, faces full of me" — has been on my mind for days. So has the Graham Nash song "Chicago," the Phil Ochs song "Where Were You in Chicago?" and Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys' "What I Did Last Summer." And so have a few later songs which hearkened back to that dark year in American history: The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion," Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?"

The 1968 DNC was a world-changing event on multiple levels. It was a time when this nation's (and the world's) collective heart and spirit were broken. The Vietnam War had become hugely unpopular even to everyday middle Americans who earlier had proclaimed "America, right or wrong." We'd suffered two massive blows with the back-to-back assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy. The anti-war and Black Power movements were at their zeniths. Just days before the Chicago DNC, Soviet troops had stormed Czechoslovakia, resulting in the suppression of the Prague Spring uprising. And within two months, the government of Mexico would attack its own protesting citizens in a bloody massacre at Mexico City's Tlatelolco Square. What made all these events even more poignant, but particularly the one in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention, is that we watched them — the whole world was watching — or heard about them on the still-relatively-new medium of television.

I don't presume to suggest that our country and world are in the same place today as we were in 1968, but this year (and late last year) we have seen much political discontent with the Arab Spring and Occupy uprisings, as well as the Tea Party movement. People are not happy. Not only that, but the world now has another relatively new form of media delivery — smartphones — which, combined with the Internet and ever-more-sophisticated social networking possibilities, means the fine details of news get to more people much more quickly. The time is ripe for protest, and the two upcoming political conventions — the RNC in Tampa and the DNC here in Charlotte — are the logical places for discontented groups to air their grievances. Which reminds me of another song, this one by the Rolling Stones: "Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy / 'Cause summer's here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy."

Let's hope that law enforcement agencies and demonstrators keep things as relatively civil as possible in Tampa and Charlotte over the next few weeks. Because the whole world will be watching, and posting, and sharing, and texting.

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