Why You Shouldn’t Miss Holly Near

From the October 2011 PNL #808

by Allison Clark

Songs have the power to capture our hearts and minds in a way that spoken words often cannot. Holly Near’s music exemplifies this truth. As an activist and entertainer, Near transforms her passion for human dignity into music with a message. Over the past 40 years, she has been an essential player in the movements for social justice. An accomplished performer with an honest voice, Near’s lyrics are clear, strong and inspiring, calling us all to work together for change.

Near’s activism began early in her life. As a child in Potter Valley, California, she listened to her parents discuss current events at the breakfast table. They encouraged Near and her three sisters to chime in with questions and always respected their opinions. Near became more involved with activism in high school, joining several groups that fought for students’ rights on campus. She studied musical theater in college and was cast in a number of theatrical productions as an adult. Among these was the Free The Army show, a series of skits based on the writings of Vietnam veterans. The show’s songs inspired her to write her own, combining her love for activism and passion for singing.


Everything is Connected

“I do not separate my music from my heart, nor do I separate my ideas from my daily life. I open myself up to learning as much as I can about humanity and this mysterious life experience,” Near says. “It is from this personal place that I write my songs.”

Through compelling lyrics, Near encourages us to do the same – to open ourselves up to the challenges we face in today’s world, and take action. The strength and confidence in her voice – accompanied by piano and guitar – makes us want to listen. The sincerity in her voice is a refreshing change, especially in this era of mechanically-generated music. She sings from her heart, and isn’t trying to prove anything; she only hopes that we heed her powerful messages.

Near reminds us why we work so tirelessly for peace: to continue the work of those who came before us. Neglecting to do so dishonors the memories of those who sacrificed for us, and does nothing to improve the lives of future generations. She calls on folks of all ages to make a difference; for children to see more clearly and elders to employ their wisdom. She reminds us that change is never easy, but there is no excuse for losing hope. “I am open and I am willing / To be hopeless would seem so strange,” she sings in “I Am Willing.” The struggle may seem endless, but hopefulness and an open mind can keep us moving forward.


“We’re All in the Same Boat”

But we can’t do this by ourselves. “No group can make it if we go it alone … But if we meet in the middle it’s a powerful start,” she sings in “Meet in the Middle.” We may come from diverse backgrounds and have different ideas, but discovering our common humanity is the first step. She advocates strength in numbers and intellect, rather than violence. By combining our different skills, we can create the building blocks for change.

Near’s songs tackle a wide range of issues from genocide to lesbian rights. In “Somebody’s Jail,” she speaks out against the oppression of women throughout the world. She describes the senseless violence that women encounter on a daily basis “from LA to Gaza.” It is a reminder that the things we hear on the news are more than just stories. Each woman affected is someone’s mother or daughter, and for many, surviving and maintaining one’s pride is a daily struggle.

For Near, life is a “great peace march.” She encourages us never to stop looking for ways to improve the world. Everyone has a voice that needs to be heard, and her songs inspire the listener to begin the journey. “Peace can start with just one heart / From a small step to leaps and bounds / A walk becomes a race for time / And a brave child calls out from the crowd.”

Listeners go away humming her melodies and reflecting on their message. “We will have peace, we will because we must.” Shouldn’t it be that simple? Each of us has the power to bring about change. Her lyrics inspire us to do the impossible – perseverance makes anything possible.

 “And believe it or not, as daring as it may seem / It is not an empty dream.”

Allison, a current SPC intern, is a graphic arts and writing major at Syracuse University. Writing this article convinced her to come hear Holly Near on October 20.