Rock & Roll Reflections, 2021

By Ken Giglio, Principal of Mindful Leadership Consulting

2021 has begun with events beyond our imagining, with Covid-19 taking so many more loved ones and fear treading on our US democracy, but only temporarily. Democracy prevailed! How do we make sense of what’s happening in the world? How do we calm and ground ourselves and connect with each other? How do we reflect, learn, and remain resilient?

During these times of high stress and strain, building resilience can come in many forms. I believe we can reflect and learn from all aspects of our lives and have some release and enjoyment in the process. We ended 2020 with silence; I say we start 2021 with music as a way to reflect and help make sense of our turbulent environment.

Back in the day, when I had hair and didn’t care about leadership, there was rock & roll. With my hair, I also had a Telecaster guitar and amp. I played loud enough to annoy my parents, but not well enough to get any gigs beyond high school parties.

Rock & roll has taught me a lot about myself through every phase of my life. Certain songs hold specific memories, while others evoke emotions that are real to me now—sadness, anger, fear, hope, excitement, empathy. This article is not about “boring stories of … glory days,” as Bruce Springsteen would say. Here, we’ll look at how music speaks to who we are at this moment in our history.

Below I offer five songs, with videos, from rock & rock hall-of-fame icons, for your reflective practice and simple enjoyment.

Under Pressure

Queen & David Bowie

Featuring the most recognizable bass guitar riff in rock music, “Under Pressure” was born from the improvisation of musical geniuses David Bowie and Freddie Mercury & Queen. Creative tension, and pressure, it is said, made for a difficult experience in the recording studio between these exacting musicians. From their competitive collaboration a song was born that gives us a visceral experience in the bass notes of numbing pressure “pushing down on me; pushing down on you.” We are all under pressure right now for different reasons, and yet, as in the closing lyrics, there is hope when we dare ourselves to care for others and ourselves.

How do we stay engaged and care for ourselves and others when under pressure?

How can we transform the energy of stress and pressure into creative collaboration?

Here are two versions, the first a concert in which Mercury and Bowie trade classic vocals, and the second featuring Bowie’s band, with an exceptional performance by bassist Gail Ann Dorsey.

Times Like These                                                                    

Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl, the lead singer of the Foo Fighters, wrote “Times Like These,” as he recalls, “on the back of a napkin when I was going through a hard time.” His memorable refrain, “It’s times like these you learn to live again…,” asks us to dig deep, not just to carry on, but to connect with others. Grohl captures our conflicted feelings during times like ours when so much is upended and in turmoil – “I am a little divided; Do I stay or run away and leave it all behind.”

After all that has happened, what will it take for us to learn to live and love again?

How will we give and give again to renew ourselves, others, and the world?

The cover version by the highly diverse, star-studded ‘Live Lounge Allstars’ with Dave Grohl was released in March of 2020 by BBC Radio at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis to raise funds for charities such as Children in Need. The second version featuring the Foo Fighters was recorded on November 7, 2020 on Saturday Night Live the day after the presidential election.

Here is a bonus cover of Foo Fighter’s “Everlong,” by Nandi Bushell, a drumming phenom. Nandi’s energy is truly contagious and guaranteed to lift your resilience!

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

The Beatles

From the serious Beatle, George, a reflection on suffering and change that he wrote after the band returned from their spiritual quest in India. Harrison had a copy of I Ching (Book of Changes) and a guitar, and the result was a great rock song. His close friend, Eric Clapton, played lead guitar on the track. For me, this song looks out through compassionate eyes on all the pain and messiness in the world. Much damage is done when we don’t stop to learn from our experiences – “with every mistake, we must surely be learning – still my guitar gently weeps.” The mournful guitar and poignant lyrics invite us to wake up to “a love there that’s sleeping” so we can renew our hurting world.

Now, more than ever, what can we learn from our missteps and mistakes and those of others and institutions?

What are we noticing in this turning world that we want to change, and what part will we play?

The first video is of Harrison and Clapton with an all-star cast, including Ringo. The second performance is from a memorial for George, with his son among rock legends and a show-stopping guitar solo by Prince. The third is a remix of the original.

My Back Pages

Bob Dylan

Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan, will be 80 this year. At 23, he wrote “My Back Pages” because he was disillusioned and questioning his musical direction and artistic expression. Dylan’s poetic lyrics challenge us to examine our ways of thinking about ourselves and the world. The leaders who I find most effective in this current environment courageously let go of old mindsets and experiment with “being younger.” “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

To meet our current reality, how willing are we to question our thinking and shift the way that we show up?

The first version is from the 30th anniversary concert in Dylan’s honor at Madison Square Garden in 1992. The cast of rock legends include Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison. The second is the original 1964 recording.

(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding

The Attractions

Written by Nick Lowe, this song was made into a hit by The Attractions, featuring front-man Elvis Costello. As a call for peace and unity in a troubled world, it is as relevant today as it was when written in 1973. The driving drums and chord progression create an urgency we can feel pushing us forward. The lyrics ask who will stand up to this critical historical moment – “where are the strong; who are the trusted; where is the harmony, sweet harmony.” And, finally, the refrain “What’s so funny ‘bout…” challenges us to see peace, love, and understanding as a reality to be embraced versus an illusion or joke.

The first version features Elvis Costello and The Attractions, and the second video presents an all-star cast including Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt, Eddie Vedder, and Dixie Chicks among others.


Song Lyrics

Under Pressure

Times Like These

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

My Back Pages

(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding