MALVINA REYNOLDS SINGS THE TRUTH: U.S. SOCIOPOLITICAL THEMES IN 1967 AND THEIR VARIATIONS IN THE POST-TRUTH ERA
“Little Boxes,” from the album Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth (1967), formed the theme song for the first season of the Showtime program, Weeds (2005-2012). Coining the phrase “ticky tacky,” the song represented a protest against the pedantic conformity and predictable nature of suburban society and its infiltration of American youth. Weeds utilized cover versions of the song, a new one for each episode, performed in a wide variety of styles by different artists. As such, the song’s versions formed a theme and variations across the corpus of the show.
This paper explores this theme and variations and expands the notion across Reynolds’s entire album to demonstrate larger-scale variations on sociopolitical topics, variations addressing recurring themes from the 1960s still resoundingly important today, such as climate change, systemic and individual racism, anti-intellectualism, and religious extremism. An exploration of issues and the cultural barometer of anxiety in the U.S. in the years surrounding 1967 reveals the uncanny prominence of present-day issues still relevant 53 years later. This paper correlates these topics from Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth with current events, demonstrating continued relevancy and the sometimes-shocking repetitions present in history.
Finally, this paper addresses the album’s title, “…Sings the Truth,” and the murky meaning of truth within the post-truth era of Trumpian politics. It looks at the meaning of truth and truth-telling in the work of Foucault and Chomsky from the 1960s and more recent writings, showing the importance of Malvina Reynolds Sings the Truth as an act of truth-telling and a political album as relevant today as it was in 1967.
Nathan Fleshner (Ph.D., Eastman) is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Tennessee. His research focuses on mental illness, trauma, and the psychoanalytic process in music, but also includes popular music and the use of iPad apps for both theory pedagogy and music cognition. His research has been published in multiple journals and the edited volumes, Music Video Games: Performance, Politics, and Play and The Oxford Handbook of Hip Hop Studies. He also writes on music and the medical humanities for the website, The Polyphony, associated with the Institute for the Medical Humanities at Durham University, UK.