DiSmissive: Mixing pop and politics
Today is Blog Action Day, when online bloggers around the world will come together to publish their thoughts on the issue of poverty.
"On October 15th bloggers everywhere will publish posts that discuss poverty in some way. By all posting on the same day we aim to change the conversation that day, to raise awareness, start a global discussion and add momentum to an important cause"
Which is all well and good, right? All of us want to make a positive difference, whether it's cycling, recycling, doing a sponsored handstand or even something like buying Fair Trade chocolate to ease our conscience. Then there’s championing a political cause or a candidate for office, all part of our democratic rights as citizens.
This is where musicians come in. Rightly or wrongly, there are very few people in the world who have the appeal and influence of pop stars; they create column inches for the print and online press and are easily identifiable to the public. Unfortunately, they often decide to bestow their opinions on us.
If the average Joe from Amersham runs a blog they may get a few thousand hits, but if Bob Geldof puts on a gig or Paul David Hewson (Bono to you, me, and his mum) speaks, half the world and his wife listens to what this self-appointed messiah of our time has to say. The other half is shaking his hand and patting his back. Bono has even been elevated to such a status that everyone's favourite Alaskan "hockey mom", Sarah Palin, was due to meet him last month to discuss world poverty, the day after she met Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
Bob Geldof in action
Across the pond we've had acts like The Beastie Boys, The Mae-Shi, The Black Lips and Vampire Weekend all announcing shows in support of Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama. Are people going to be swayed by this? Is there a voter somewhere in America thinking "I was gonna go for McCain, but now MCA's gunning for Barack there's no choice!"? It'd also be a little more surprising if they were turning out for McCain. Eddie Van Halen got into a bit of a huff recently when John McCain (whose running mate's youngest son's name is Trig Paxson Van Palin - sounds like Van Halen, geddit?) used their 1991 hit 'Right Now' at the Republican National Congress, just as he did when George W. Bush did so four years previously. Rebellion and radicalism has become a predictable part of the rock 'n' roll mentality and it is really no understatement to say that it is more radical today to be a right-wing musician than a left-wing one, and as a result we're often left with musicians trotting out the same old clichéd guff about politics, chirping in with "Fuck Bush!" between songs.
Of course, some people don't take kindly to pop stars shoving the issue of third world hunger down our gullets, especially when the pop stars who are preaching are so bloated on the fruits of their own labours. Many would also prefer not to see musicians use poverty as a vehicle for feeding their own egos rather than the world. Even the thousands who turned up at Live8 weren't exactly united behind one political cause of making poverty history; it was more likely that they fancied a day out and grasped with both wristbanded hands the chance to see 'Bedshaped' live. It'll take a bit more than slogans and singing to impact on global poverty.
Jello Biafra runs for mayor of San Francisco
But whilst there are musicians whose political endeavours are an exercise in self-promotion and ego-inflation, there are also those for whom politics is pretty much the raison d'etre for the music - see Rage Against The Machine. But how bloody boring would they be without the politics? Does this make them any more qualified to comment on politics though? No, and just because there's a bloke from Essex with a guitar singing about the Unions, it doesn't mean he knows any more than the crusty old tramp shouting at you every week outside Sainsburys, and many musicians' attempts are often far more cringeworthy than some drunken fool's.
That's not to say music and politics are always a bad combination. Sometimes music is more than just preaching, and more than 15 year old kids sticking two fingers up to 'the man' and pissing off their parents. Often music is a snapshot of the political climate of the time (see: Punk, rock 'n' roll and countless other genres), and can genuinely tune into the feelings of a group of people or even a nation at a particular time for a particular reason. There's more than just getting up on stage in Hyde Park or appearing in an Amnesty Ad to mixing music with politics.
Maybe there will be a day when we won’t have to put up with the guilt-laced ramblings of failing and failed pop and rock stars trying to "make a difference". But until then, we're just going to have to put up with the pomposity and wait to see if anyone still remembers the words to 'I Don't Like Mondays' in 2025.
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