Category Archives: pop

Fooled Again After All: The Mind Numbing Ideological Homogeneity in Rock Music

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I was smitten by a number of rock music’s many virtues.  I loved the iron studded defiance and operatic individualism in Judas Priest. I could relate to the dreamy eyed idealism and romantic yearning in Journey.  I was amused by the tongue in cheek irony and theatrical absurdity of Devo. I was captivated by the pissed off mechanized malevolence of Metallica. I was swept away by the fantastical imagery and instrumental virtuosity of Led Zeppelin. I was enthralled by the decadent spectacle and the militant rebellion of The Who. I was hypnotized by the melancholy ruminations and brooding sonics of Pink Floyd. Most importantly, I was moved by the message of unity and human universalism in Sly and the Family Stone. Even though I found the music cheesy and maudlin, I could also appreciate the good intentions behind supergroups like Artists United Against Apartheid and USA for Africa.  I figured if rock megastars could help bring about positive change in world, then perhaps this art form holds the potential for something more than fame and money. 

Rock and pop music with social and political commentary is certainly not new. It definitely didn’t start out that way, but by the time you get to the 1960’s, rock moved further away from escapism and non-conformity and increasingly towards raising social and political awareness. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course. Art and music can be vessels for humanity’s highest aspirations and ideals, so it follows that artists would attempt to recreate the spiritual role that infused the gospel and R&B roots of rock in the secular sphere. Not only did rock stake a permanent claim on being the kingdom of freaks, weirdos, decadents and contrarians, it also positioned itself as the de facto moral conscience for a global secular congregation.

But rock is no longer a scrappy upstart art form chafing at the edges of social acceptance. It’s the establishment. What began as music designed to piss off your parents is now the music of your parents. Or maybe even your grandparents. It has ensconced itself into every corner of consumer culture but has carefully tended to its outsider mythology. Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of the political editorial in pop, rock and folk throughout the 20th century belongs to the radical Left. From Pete Seeger’s odes to Stalin to the pro-Sandinista raveups of the Clash, the soundtrack to the struggle of the underdog has been monopolized by the Left. The upheavals of the 60’s and 70’s that gave rock its sense of urgency and purpose have since been absorbed into the social, political, commercial and academic bloodstream. To the degree that the rock of yesteryear had a sense of moral purpose, today’s rock has devolved into a zombified corpse feasting from the carcass of its bygone glories. Desperately seeking the conscience which ignited the Flower Power generation, today’s artists try to maintain a pretense of youthful rebellion and relevance. Devoid of the sweeping narrative of intergenerational change that animated the Boomers, the idealism of all subsequent generations of rockers and pop artists has increasingly metastasized into rote nostrums of the progressive political and academic intelligentsia. 

Sly Stone wanted to take you higher, but Macklemore wants to telegraph the tortured solipsism of his alleged “white privilege”. The Dead Kennedys righteously lampooned the pampered collegiate class while Green Day seem content to confirm their biases. The Sex Pistols snarled out anthems for anarchy, but Rage Against the Machine would have you believe that recycled Marxist angst is an edgy and fresh perspective. Whether it’s Beyonce’s excruciating feminist infomercials or the psychic trauma of Le Tigre’s shrieking Hillary Clinton propaganda, these would-be progressive ministrations sound less like the organic rallying cries of a voiceless underclass and more like the hackneyed script of lazy, entitled royalists. 

We’ll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

The spirit of contrarianism that once defined rock has given way to an insufferable smug preachiness and an unhinged militancy in the wake of the Trump election. Pete Townsend may have been cheering the dissolution of the moral order of his parents’ generation in his anthems of rebellion, but he may not have anticipated that the children at his feet would construct a new moral order that would happily see him censored. The examples are numerous, but there are a few worth highlighting.

In his latest piece in the Observer, Tim Sommer lambasts Roger Waters for peddling impotent middle-aged angst without providing a mechanism for political action. He expresses his openness to “another” political viewpoint, but only in ironic scare quotes dusted off with a distinct whiff of elitist condescension. He also discusses what he regards as “four freedoms promised in January of 1941 by President Roosevelt” which include “freedom from want”. Anyone who has a rudimentary grasp of political philosophy knows this is a reference to positive rights. The US Constitution makes no reference to “freedom from want” nor does the General Welfare Clause justify the creation of a welfare state. You will never be free from want and the list of human wants is infinite. It’s fine to advocate for voluntary charity, but making this a political objective is a recipe for catastrophe.

Trent Reznor’s latest bromide against Trump in Vulture refers to him as a “fucking vulgarian”; a remarkably strange sentiment coming from the guy who immortalized “fuck you like an animal” in a song lyric. Is Reznor’s political philosophy so shallow that he’s evaluating political policy and politicians on a scale of “vulgarity”? Sure, Trump has broken some taboos and violated expectations around what a POTUS can or cannot say, but the discussion should be centered on actual policy and political philosophy. The fact that Reznor makes no attempt to discuss Trump’s policy ideas in contrast with his own political philosophy makes this an especially inane and counterproductive criticism. His comments in a recent Village Voice interview are only slightly more nuanced and reveal more explicitly the Manichean worldview that defines the progressive mindset. 

“Look, I don’t think he’s a good guy. Some people do,” he told his son. “I don’t think he believes in science and I don’t think he believes people should be treated decently and I don’t think he tells the truth. That’s why I don’t like him.”

Good people on one side and bad people on the other. It’s not about whether you like him, Trent. The question is over what, if any, role the federal government should play in science, healthcare, immigration policy or anything else. Science is not democratic nor does it require belief.  It does require testable hypotheses, transparent methodologies, and ethical data collection. When government money is funding science, the likelihood that we’ll see any results that might falsify the hypothesis and derail the political agenda behind it is greatly diminished. Furthermore, political policy never determines how people treat one another; it only delineates the sphere of action that’s subject to criminal or civil punishment. This points to the distinction between society and State to which Thomas Paine referred, but has since been collapsed by progressives. Obviously, Reznor is making a veiled reference to immigrants, minorities and transgender people, but political policy does not nor should not form the basis of how one comports oneself in the company of others. Political policy does not shape the opinions people hold about other people. Political policy is not a substitute for having a sound moral philosophy. The quest for political protection for the so-called transgender community is taking on an increasingly absurd and totalitarian aura. And very few politicians have good truth telling records. The Democrats certainly don’t have a lock on veracity. What’s perhaps most disconcerting is Reznor’s silence on the ongoing war for free speech versus political correctness. It would have been useful to hear a public position on the matter since his material is more than ripe for social justice jihad. Considering that Reznor has written a vulgar lyric or two and touched on some rather controversial subject matter, his silence as well as the dismissive crack he made about Gamergate says more than a little about his true priorities and biases. 

The walking billboard for the DNC formerly known as Katy Perry fares no better in her increasingly hamfisted proselytizing for the Church of Identity Politics and #DIVERSITY. Positioning herself as the torchbearer of mass market #WOKE pop, Perry’s pleas for “unity” in the wake of the Manchester terrorist bombing sound especially hollow and tone deaf.  For a pop star who has cashed in so handsomely on sugar coated pop confections and girly coquettishness, her recent turn towards #SocialJustice pandering is a disappointing downgrade. 

In what is thus far the most cringe inducing bit of Trump Derangement Syndrome, second generation nu metal shitstains, Stray From the Path, literally committed their autistic screeching to tape with a bit of prefab agitprop, “Goodnight Alt-Right”.  Filled to the brim with manufactured outrage and the deranged justifications for initiating violence against people who deviate from progressive orthodoxy, it reveals quite a bit about how leftists deal with people who stray from their path. Way to go, edgelords. So contrarian. 

Speech is “free” but it comes with a price
And if you’re speaking out some bullshit I’ll give you advice

Hit ’em with a left a left and a right

Got ’em dropping like flies with the stars in their eyes

So fuck them and fuck you too and appreciate

That if you preach hate, then expect hate

Needless to say, blasphemy against the Church of Progressivism has been met with the customary acts of censure, vindictiveness and retribution. None other than Johnny Rotten himself came out in favor of #Brexit and Trump to the dismay of many fans.  In what is thus far the biggest shitstorm in the ever widening culture war over political correctness, the little known band, The Dream Machine, were dropped from their label for committing blasphemy making “ugly” remarks about immigration and feminism. That’s right, folks. Shit on Christians, Trump, white people and conservatives all you want. That’s #EDGY because they’re privileged and shit. But if you say even one mean word about immigrants or feminists, brace yourself. Hell hath no fury like a social justice warrior triggered. 

As someone who entered the world of rock precisely because of its spirit of individualism and contrarianism, nothing disheartens me more than seeing rock musicians and rock culture breeding the worst kind of conformity; conformity of political thought.  Artists are generally an empathetic and well intentioned bunch who, like many others, want to maximize goodwill and global harmony. I suspect there’s more than a few people who set out to change the world with three chords and the truth. But what most artists fail to grasp is that government policy is not meant to be the vessel through which compassion, love, and brotherhood flow. It is a very dangerous institution whose power should not be extended to satisfy your altruistic urges. If you believe it should do something not specifically enumerated in the Constitution and for which provision can be made through voluntary means, then you bear the burden of justifying the application of its coercive powers to your fellow citizens. And if you genuinely feel justified in advocating for these policies without having to make the case to your fellow citizens, then consider the possibility that you are the one who was fooled again after all.  

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Le Tigre and Feminism’s Cult of Government Worship


In case you still harbored the delusion that feminism was some kind of edgy, contrarian ideology, the original purveyors of 90’s Riot Grrrl feminist electroclash, Le Tigre, have returned from the dead to destroy all doubt. In this sad attempt at cultural relevance, these would-be “rebels” become full throated propagandists for corporatist, neocon-approved Hillary Clinton. 

That’s right. Apparently, cheerleading for the woman who has voted for wars which have killed tens of thousands, taken money from Islamic regimes, and actively undermined her husband’s rape accusers is super feminist and like totally empowering. She’s a Democrat, she has a vagina, and she’ll be the first womyn in the Oval Office, so set aside all those petty right-wing conspiracy theories, PYGS!

If you can even make it past the knife-to-the-skull intro, the song is nothing more than a moronic and childish pander-fest. Filled to the brim with idiotic clichés, feminist straw men, obligatory talking points, and canned Trump hate, the song achieves new heights in cringe.  

Apparently, neither Le Tigre or Pitchfork are all that interested in feedback on this song because the voting buttons and comments have been disabled.  

Way to stand behind those feminist convictions, SYSTERS.  

Live Aid: The Terrible Truth

Live Aid: The Terrible Truth

If you haven’t yet read Spin magazine’s stunning exposé of the true legacy of Live Aid, you owe it to yourself to give it a read.  Just like the other well-intentioned social justice musical venture whose legacy is equally dubious, Artists United Against Apartheid, this story proves that there is a vast difference between virtue signalling and being a champion for the expansion of human freedom and market economics. 

There isn’t much that needs to be added to this story other than to emphasize that Marxism creates misery and oppression everywhere it travels, and that the progressive narrative of an all-encompassing white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy is once again exposed for the pathetic, childish farce that it is. 

What Happened to the 80’s Anti-Apartheid Dream?

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You got to say I, I, I
Ain’t gonna play Sun City
I, I, I ain’t gonna play Sun City

Steven Van Zandt and a multiracial supergroup, Artists United Against Apartheid, created the anti-apartheid rallying cry heard around the world. It played a significant role in turning public opinion against South Africa’s regime of racial segregation and towards full political enfranchisement for the black majority of South Africa. 

Artists United Against Apartheid was Van Zandt’s brainchild, and followed the pattern of other star-studded affairs by attracting industry heavyweights from across the music spectrum. It also distinguished itself by being tilted ever so slightly towards the edgier end of the pop spectrum by including jazz, rap and punk rockers.

As much as I might be inclined to view Macklemore’s loathsome preachiness as a phenomenon unique to our Age of Multiculturalism and Social Justice, he pales in comparison to the stadium level, globe spanning virtue signalling which occurred throughout the 80’s.  Pop music has always been a vehicle for political protest and social commentary, but the particular brand of “racial justice” grandstanding which is Macklemore’s stock in trade definitely had antecedents in the glossy megaconglomerations of the 1980’s.

Though USA for Africa, Band Aid and Live Aid captured the attention of the masses and drew widespread attention to the plight of starvation in Africa, Artists United Against Apartheid was unique in that it was a protest against the de Klerk regime. It was also an organized boycott of the Sun City resort and a call for economic sanctions against South Africa.  While I can appreciate that the track and the project was animated by a genuine spirit of human goodwill and brotherhood, I think it’s worth taking a look of the song’s allegedly “apolitical” message and the quality of life for post-apartheid South Africans in light of recent current events in South Africa.

On the surface, the political situation in South Africa cried out for change and justice.  The repressions and abuses of the South African National Party and the facts behind the construction of the Sun City resort created a perfect subject for a protest track. State enforced segregation, violent crackdowns, and mass relocations were among the list of human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime.  Add Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement”, and the standard narrative of the white supremacist conspiracy of capitalist state power writes itself. 

What’s more difficult to appreciate and less frequently discussed is that there was a sharp competition of economic ideas between the nascent ANC and the various militant African nationalist factions vying for political power and the minority National Party.

By his own account, Van Zandt sought the cooperation of militant group, AZAPO; a group which not only espoused socialist political beliefs, but were willing to use violence to achieve their political ambitions.  Van Zandt apparently had to dissuade them from targeting Paul Simon for assassination.

Listen, this is not gonna help anybody if you knock off Paul Simon. Trust me on this, alright? Let’s put that aside for the moment. Give me a year or so, you know, six months.

Van Zandt goes on to recount his disagreement with Simon over Mandela’s own political views. Van Zandt displays a typical leftist bellicosity towards Simon and dismisses his allegation simply because he cited Henry Kissinger as the source of his information.  But neither Kissinger’s or Simon’s claim was without foundations in fact. Mandela may not have been a communist, but he sure sounds like one.  

Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part from Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organization of early African societies in this country.

His association with the South African Communist Party wasn’t exactly a secret either.  While it wasn’t necessarily a carbon copy of the Communist Manifesto, the Freedom Charter was a solidly socialist program and became the guiding document of the ANC.  In his legendary 1964 Rivonia Trial speech, Mandela himself acknowledges as much.

Under the Freedom Charter, nationalization would take place in an economy based on private enterprise.

So what does this have to do with the “Sun City” track itself?

When Rolling Stone ranked “Sun City” as 100th greatest song of the 1980’s, Bono describes the message of the track in the following manner.

This is apolitical. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on — this is common sense.

See? It’s just “common sense.” But the lyrics are pretty explicit about the nature of the injustice in South Africa.

23 million can’t vote
‘Cause they’re black
We’re stabbing our brothers
And sisters in the back

Van Zandt was equally explicit about the call for economic boycott.

I thought in order to change the system, we need to enforce this cultural boycott as a means of getting to the economic boycott, which is really where the action is.

Despite winning the battle of public opinion, witnessing the release and election of Nelson Mandela, Van Zandt affected a phony posture of humility and declined to attend his inauguration and directs blame towards the Reagan administration for their alleged support of the de Klerk regime. 

Social justice warriors, artists and politicians alike agitated for economic sanctions, congratulated themselves for their moral righteousness, and went on to systematically ignore the consequences of these policies on South Africa’s already fragile economy. An economic contraction that would affect tax revenues and purchasing power for a population which depended heavily on redistribution.

One effect of this capital outflow has been a dramatic decline in the international exchange rate of the rand.  This means that imports are increasingly expensive.  It has also helped fuel South Africa’s inflation rate, which at 12-15% per year, is much higher than its major trading partners.

All of which brings us to the present. 

Longtime ANC veteran and current president, Jacob Zuma was charged with raiding the public treasury to fund improvements to his home to the tune of 246 million rand, or about $16.7 million at current exchange rates.

Where is the international condemnation of Zuma from artists?

Van Zandt and countless others agitated for universal suffrage and equal representation in the South African government, but has this made a material difference on the quality of life in South Africa?

By any objective measure, the results are negligible and have perhaps deteriorated further since the demise of apartheid.

Unemployment has remained stuck above 20% for years and certainly hasn’t improved since Mandela and the ANC came to power.  Few black children are raised by both parentsEducational performance is consistently dismalViolent crime persists, and a minority of taxpayers are subsidizing one of the world’s biggest welfare states.  Loose monetary policy has fueled the same speculative bubble in South Africa as it has throughout the developed world.  Politically motivated violence is a common feature of post-apartheid South Africa.

Everyone involved in AUAA was apparently so focused on the attainment of political power, but placed no emphasis on the necessity of economic development.  Even Bono has acknowledged that recently

But their hearts were in the right place, so why get so incensed over a pop track?

Perhaps. I would feel a little bit more charitable towards this effort if it was a one-time phenomenon, but this type of “racial justice” activism was at the very least, an early template for virtually every social justice campaign you can name.

Nowadays, if there anythng done or said that has the slightest perceived hint of a discriminatory attitude, the calls for retribution and censure from the social justice crowd is swift and immediate. With an equal disregard for economic consequences.  All that apparently matters is that egos are satiated by upholding the virtues of Social Justice prescribed by its self-appointed gatekeepers. 

But what about the track itself?

It’s pretty good.  It’s a stylistic hybrid that is a reflection of the people who recorded it; a hip-hop/Afropop flavored rave up with a fist pumping chorus.  It is propelled by its sense of righteous indignation so effectively, you can almost ignore its guilt tripping preachiness.  It doesn’t even get sunk the pretentious affectation of Lou Reed’s laughable cameo. 

I do not doubt that Steve Van Zandt and the artists who contributed to the AUAA project had the best of intentions.  Unfortunately, we now live in a world where good intentions are often all that’s required with little or no attention given to the political consequences of good intentions. 

The standard narrative that the Reagan administration’s support for the de Klerk regime was animated by racism doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. Not that anyone on the Left would be that charitable towards a conservative, but anti-communist sentiment was white hot during the 80’s, and even if the fears of communist global expansion were exaggerated, I don’t begrudge Reagan for fearing the rise of another socialist regime in South Africa.  Besides, if that criticism is going to be levelled at Reagan, then it should be made of his predecessors as well.

I also do not begrudge AUAA for making a bold political statement.  In fact, I would prefer to see more artists express their political convictions with such fervor.  Of all the realms of real economic cooperation, music and art is perhaps the one sphere of human activity which allows us to experience and appreciate our shared humanity and sense of purpose.  But if you are going to make a political statement like “Sun City”, don’t turn a blind eye to the consequences of your advocacy. Most of all, make sure you’re applying your criticism consistently and directing a comparable level of indignation towards the black politicians who abused their hard won political power.