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“For What It’s Worth”

Posted by purplemary54 on September 6, 2012

In 1966, Los Angeles passed a curfew of 10:00 pm on city streets.  The curfew was favored by business owners and residents near the Sunset Strip who were a little sick and tired of all those hippies/hooligans/delinquents/druggies/teenagers hanging out on the streets near the clubs.  The young people who went to the clubs were against it.  A protest was planned in early November, leaflets were handed out and an announcement was made on a radio station (thanks Wikipedia).  Reports said that there was over a thousand people on the Strip that night, and things got out of hand.  Windows were smashed, protesters arrested, but no one died.  Really, it was pretty tame by even 60s standards.  The only difference between this and any other protests/riots going on was a guy who lived on an apartment overlooking the Strip.

Stephen Stills watched the riots that night.  He wrote a song about it.

This is one of the great protest songs, but not that many people know what inspired it, which is why I started this post with a little history lesson.  Of course, the lack of specificity is what makes it such a classic and (sadly) still relevant song today.  It is not weighted down by topical references that date it.  It really could be about almost any conflict of the time. Most people think of it as an anti-Vietnam song; turns out it’s really an anti-curfew song.

But what makes “For What It’s Worth” really resonate, what makes it matter, is that it isn’t blindly for or against anything except ignorance.  “Stop, children, what’s that sound?  Everybody look what’s going down.”  Stills was a young musician; his band Buffalo Springfield had been installed as the house band at The Whiskey (a legendary club on the Strip).  He was probably on the side of the protesters.  But he didn’t seem to think they were doing all that much good smashing up things and getting hit with billy clubs.  He sings, astutely, “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”  The call of “For What It’s Worth” is for peace and understanding.  For listening to each other instead of shouting slogans and declarations.  Pay attention, this song says, and you just might learn something.  In a time when no one on either side of the political spectrum is listening to each other, this sounds like a pretty good idea.

Stop, children, what’s that sound?

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4 Responses to ““For What It’s Worth””

  1. Never knew the background to this song – nice article…

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