During these highly politicized and dividing times, I see more and more people trying to compartmentalize music and politics, some say they don’t even want to mention anything political on their Facebook page, and if music is at the core of many conversations, some try to separate music from politics. I even heard and read about people criticizing Roger Waters for getting too political during his shows, ‘This was not the place,’ I overheard during a show. Even Madonna and Meryl Streep were told to shut up lately, because they were just artists and should not have talked about politics. What?
Isn’t it the role of the artist to speak up, denounce and be engaged? If art reflects life, art reflects the time the artist is living in, and of course the artist is going to express the current turmoil in his or her art! Art is inseparable from time and valuable art has to be more than a simple expression of the artist’s internal anguish, good art transcends a personal feeling to make it universal, good art transcends the individual to confront the human condition and its injustice, and you tell me this is not about politics?
‘You say you want a revolution’, sang the Beatles, ‘Rebel, Rebel,’ sang David Bowie… there is a considerable amount of songs dealing with revolution and rebellion and if rebellion is born from injustice, rebellion should not die anytime soon.
‘To be an artist is to be “dysfunctional”, once said Bowie during an interview, being an artist is not a normal job, it is not even a job, many artists are not paid to do what they do, but they don’t care and do it anyway because it is a necessity, a way to survive the chaos of life. So if an artist is outside of the system, an artist is a challenge to society, who also questions and awakens it, there is not other way to put it. Artists who do not challenge the world, don’t leave their name in history and human consciousness, who remembers about Salieri when there was Mozart? Who remembers about conformity when there is rebellion and authority-challenging work?
Is it even possible to create art without being political? If any song is obviously more or less political, if not every songwriter isn’t obviously Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, MC5, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Rage Against the Machine, the Clash, Refused, or Public Enemy (to only cite a few), putting a piece of yourself in the world is being political one way or another, … Creation is rebellion, and who wouldn’t find many sources of rebellion at this moment?
That’s why I find people, who engage themselves into discussions about music while avoiding political discussions, way too precautious and politically correct. They probably want to avoid any discussion in fear of losing an argument or endlessly fighting against others, but at the same time, they are completely avoiding the purpose of art. Art is part of the texture of our society and times, and how can you listen to Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’, Billy Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’, Neil Young’s ‘Ohio’, Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’…. without listening to the lyrics?
Separating music from politics is presumptuous and failing to recognize the true purpose of art. An artist must be a rebel and a hero, showing defiance and confrontation, and eliminating politics from the picture is reducing art to harmless entertainment. It’s boring and pointless, it’s a misappropriation of art’s most noble purpose. Roger Waters offended people with his Fuck-Trump-pig balloons? Good for him! And Waters should never, never apologize.
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – August 1986 (Volume 17, Number 12)
“I used to read CREEM like the stuff in it was really gospel. Lester Bangs and all that stuff. And it was so important.”
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Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – June 1986 (Volume 17, Number 10)
Nobody understood the world of music journalism better than David Lee Roth
Great article and so true…