In an interview to the Daily Mail, the ever controversial Noel Gallagher had this to say about the good old Margaret Thatcher times:
‘We were brought up under Thatcher. There was a work ethic – if you were unemployed, the obsession was to find work.’
'Now, these kids brought up under the Labour Party and whatever this Coalition thing is, it’s like, “Forget that, I’m not interested. I wanna be on TV.” It was a different mindset back then.’
‘Under Thatcher, who ruled us with an iron rod, great art was made. Amazing designers and musicians. Acid house was born. Very colourful and progressive.
'Now, no one’s got anything to say. Write a song? No thanks, I’ll say it on Twitter. It’s a sad state when more people retweet than buy records.’
Despite the fact that he was misquoted in other places, I agree with what he says, his declaration was not pro-Thatcher, he just meant that great art needs oppression to exist, and that with more liberty people are more relaxed and let themselves go, so are less creative. And this made me think, is he right? Do people need to be oppressed to make great art?
It is not a mystery that misery, adversity and oppression have always triggered great art and music in particular, if you look at black music the evidence is overwhelming: just consider the music coming from slavery, from Negro spirituals to Reggae with Bob Marley, the music coming from South Africa under the Apartheid (from Miriam Makeba to Hugh Masekela), a lot of great African music (Fela Kuti comes to mind) is born from political conflicts, colonialism oppression, exile and personal suffering.
There is a whole category in music called protest songs for a reason, and isn’t it the origin of punk music? The emergence of songs with anti-establishment, political and anti-authoritarian lyrics, an attack on the British monarchy and nationalism in the UK?
All this is recalls the old romantic idea of the artist unable to create when he does not suffer, the old adage that all creation has to be born out of tears and blood. Great art made under oppression? We should rather consider what great art was not made under oppression,… well, yes and no.
I stumbled on an article about Burma, a place known for political oppression and poverty currently under a military dictatorship, the perfect place for creation according to this idea. However, according to the US Daily, ‘The pop music scene is producing national celebrities and Burmese versions of hits by Western artists such as Shakira, Celine Dion and Snoop Dogg, according to ethnomusicologist and Burmese culture expert Heather MacLachlan’
The Burmese music is extremely similar to American and British top-40 hits, sometimes Burmese artists even exactly copy the American music and rewrite the lyrics in their language. But surprise, if the lyrics are sometimes pro-democracy, the message is diluted because of the threat of censorship, and rather focus on love, friendship and family! I am sure it is probably possible to find some underground music more rebellious than a rewritten Celine Dion’s song, but still, this is the proof that not all oppression will create great art.
And what about music in one of the worst political regime, North Korean? The problem is that music like other arts are so controlled by the government that nothing seems to happen over there. In a country where listening to any other music than the authorized crap is regarded as a crime, not too many people are going to take the risk to create and innovate.
And on the other hand, there are tons of sacred music regarded as masterpiece which were composed for religious use, and not under oppression. Bach wrote his best work without any coercion.
So I don’t know if oppression is the optimal condition for great music, it definitively is sometimes, but extreme oppression is not necessarily a good environment for creation because of the lack of liberty. What triggers creation remains a real mystery, and may be much more complex to explain than the product of some stressful circumstances.
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