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Why Songs Matter



There is no way you can put yourself into the world, authentically, and not take risks. And art, all by itself, is risky and revolutionary. Pete Seeger said many times in general and a couple of times to me in particular, “A song does not need to be about the revolution to be revolutionary.” That is to say, if what is needed is a lullaby, or a love song, that too is part of the

evolution and revolution of that moment. Making art by hand, composing music of our own

lives and for our own communities, is a powerful statement of the value of human beings in a

world that increasingly wants us to shut up and be good consumers. Making art, making music,

making food from scratch, gardening, and sharing all of the above in community is economic

disobedience. And it is a beautiful thing. Valuing the work of our hands - not as elite artisan

aristocrats, but as people simply choosing to be creative by any means - this is a kind of

resistance I think the world very much needs. It’s good for us too, as the makers and doers.


I was bound up for a long time in trying to make art that meant something. Pete invited me to

consider that making art already means something. As does making a great pot of soup - and so

does chopping wood, driving a truck, pushing a broom, reading a book to someone, or rocking a

child to sleep. It is by relational engagements and personal connections that we build

community. And it is in community that most of the really marvelous things happen. The work

of the individual must be celebrated, but collaboration in its many and frequently messy forms

is the process by which we create something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes the thing that is

bigger than ourselves is a family, a potluck, a work of art, or a house. Sometimes that thing is a

movement. And by each offering what we can uniquely give, we help build that movement.


Frequently I am defined by others as an Artist-activist. And, I am active at many things. But I

think of myself more as an organizer through the arts. To the best of my ability I try to help

people see their commonality. In songwriting – I try to lift up stories that I have come across in

the world and in my travels – things that made me smile, touched my heart, made me think, or

that just seem relevant to others. I use songwriting as a form of journalism at times – to share

stories that need to be shared.


Art is a powerful vehicle for ideas. A famous philosopher said once that if you want to see

yourself, look in a mirror. If you want to see your soul, look at art. I think songs - as another

form of art, have the same capacity. Songs slip past the gate-keepers of the left brain, the liner,

the logical brain. And they land squarely in the heart. It is my truest hope that anyone who

comes to a concert of mine will leave the room at the end of the night being a little more

whole, a little more grounded, and with a heart that is nourished and more attentive than when

they arrived. From this awareness springs compassion. And I think we need more of that in the

world. In the world as it is presently, I think compassion and empathy, kindness and sincere

graciousness are a little bit revolutionary.


-- Joe Jencks

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