Nov 4 2016

Where Have All The Protest Songs Gone

(In which Moe uses lots of italics to convey his irritation).

This blog will seem like its about something else for a few paragraphs but I assure you, this is not about the upcoming US election.

Not long ago, I was in a restaurant, sitting at the bar having dinner alone. To my left were two gentlemen, talking politics over beers. Their conversation was one you are hearing all the time right now, (Fall 2016). The gist was, the two candidates for president of the United States, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are, equally bad.

It doesn’t take much to find flaws in Mr. Trump, whether you are for or against him. And Secretary Clinton has some issues that have dogged her campaign. But I was curious as to why they thought Mrs. Clinton was equally bad. Notice, not an undesirable candidate or, has her own problems or flaws but, equally bad. From what I was able to infer from the tone and substance of the conversation, they thought she was equally bad because…. someone else had said that. They didn’t bring up anything in particular about her but just said she was bad. I also got a sense from their tone that, part of it was that she was a woman and there were things about the way she looked and acted in terms of how women look and act that made her equally bad.

I should say now that it was cheap wine night at the restaurant and I was fully engaged in that. And, possibly because of that, became more and more irritated by how moronic the conversation was. So I drunk Facebooked something about it. My post was admittedly a bit harsh. I got a fair amount of response to it. The majority of it was very supportive and a bit of it was not. That is to be expected when you say anything remotely political on Facebook. And it might have seemed out of character as I rarely post anything political on my page.

Some people took great offense, which I felt a bit bad about. I’m fairly moderate, politically speaking. I get that some people see the world differently than I do. And in hindsight, I regret the post and have deleted it. I don’t necessarily regret the sentiment but it was directed at the guys at the bar and not necessarily at anyone who might be reading. Which wasn’t obvious.

But there was a particular type of asshole who responded that I want to mention and this will get us to the heart of this piece.

Moe, you’re good at music but not very good at this. Stick to music.
Moe, you’re just not informed. If you were more informed, you wouldn’t post this.
Which always means, if I was informed, I’d agree with their opinion.

I checked these guys out to see if maybe they were journalists who worked the US political beat or maybe professors of American Politics. No, they were just Joe Average fuckwits. Which is to say, no more informed than I and possibly a good deal less so. I’ve had an amateur interest in politics for most of my adult life. I went through a phase where I read ferociously about politics, especially US politics. I must admit, it was a bit of a journey, I held some strange and immature views and it took decades to get to the point where I felt reasonably comfortable in my political skin. In my old age, I’ve become quite a bit less interested in the whole thing.

This is neither here nor there. What was so offensive was the implication that my obvious ignorance stemmed from the fact that I was a musician and that being good at music somehow meant that I wasn’t able to acquire knowledge about anything else, especially politics. This is an idea that has some legs. Regularly, I hear people call out any rock star or famous person who dares to express their political opinion as though the only people who are allowed to speak about politics are, the not famous people. (I guess the only famous people who can speak about politics are radio and television commentators.)

If I’m being honest, in the past, I may have thought this myself. But I have realized that little is gained for any famous person who speaks out about pretty much anything. And often, there is much to lose. And certainly, some famous people probably don’t know what they are taking about. Which would make them, as a group, about the same as any other group in society. Except that the risk involved in speaking out might make them more careful about what they say, so it’s possible that the percentage of idiotic and irresponsible opinions and statements by famous people might actually be lower than in the general population.

Some people think artists shouldn’t use their fame to expose political beliefs. What is it about being an artist that means they can’t participate in democracy? And one should know that, historically, artists have loudly spoken out and written about the state of the world.

In the sixties and into the seventies, every artist was saying something about the world around them. The term folk music was almost interchangeable with protest music. Even a group like Grand Funk, who many thought of as the One Direction of the time, promoted activism and wrote almost exclusively about environmental concerns and their opposition to war. This was pretty much standard with big artists as like the Jefferson Airplane, Stevie Wonder, even Chicago!! In the R&B community there were plenty of voices of activism and protest, The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye and, wait-it’s ridiculous to name artists as almost everyone had at least one political song in their repertoire. Then punk rock and hip hop came along, fueled by protest.

However, in the ’80’s, the so-called Me Decade, we started to see a lot less of this. Sure there was U2 and Midnight Oil, Sting and, occasionally Bruce Springsteen but largely we were being asked to pour some sugar on our artists and, into the ’90’s, to hit them one more time. Hip hop all but abandoned politics for consumerism and fantasy. And that’s okay, really. I don’t need to hear a steady diet of serious issues lyrics. But how about an occasionally protest ditty, especially when the times call for it?

Recently, when the anti-LGBTQ laws were being passed, the silence from the artistic community was, as they say, deafening. You heard plenty of noise from corporations who weren’t going to do business with States that enacted these laws but not a peep from our artists. This was one of the most confounding situations I have ever witnessed. The game had been dumped on its head. The traditional bad guys, the corporations, were now the good guys and the traditional agents of social change, artists, were cowering. The exceptions were Bruce Springsteen and someone else who I now forget. Two people.

No one helped Pearl Jam in their fight against Ticketmaster, admittedly not a political protest but certainly a populist one.

Having said all of that and based on the reaction to my post, it may be that the fault for this lies with the popular culture audience. We don’t want to hear it. And because of that, there is great risk involved with artists who speak out. Certainly the Dixie Chicks had excrement raining down on them for an off hand comment about George Bush. And I read a horrific story about the abuse singer Tim Mcgraw got for playing a Sandy Hook benefit to raise money for the protection of children from gun violence. He never even said he was against the Second Amendment, just wanted to help out people who had been through the most unspeakable terror. (a member of his band had a friend who lost a child in the Sandy Hook massacre). Even his own musical community publicly called him out. Coward and B list singer, Billy Currington who was touring with Mcgraw, dropped out of the concert. Mcgraw’s Twitter account was in flames with outraged NRA-inspired vitriol. In other news, supermodel, Chrissy Tegan’s Twitter account had to be closed down after she was attacked by these same people when she expressed her thoughts about the epidemic of mass shootings in the US.

So why would you want to bring that on yourself? And why would I want to set myself up for insult by a bunch of shit for brains know-it-alls whose mom bought them a PC?

Sad, really.