Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Politics of Rock N' Roll

"Isn't it cheaper and smarter to make friends out of potential enemies than to defend yourself against them later?” If you had to guess what public figure made this statement, you might say something like Barak Obama. But what if the next quote went something like this? “I'm a lippy Irish rock star, and I'm more used to putting my foot in my mouth than my fist. So occasionally I'm just going to talk about it." That’s right. It’s Bono of U2 fame in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Every other day the media is airing or writing about some social issue plaguing our society: the war in Iraq, Save Darfur, legalize marijuana. So what makes aging rock stars the authority on global warming or female genital mutilation? And is it ‘good for business’?

As we all know, the constitution gives us (arguably) the right to free speech in any forum. So as people, rock and rollers have the right to say anything they want. However, whether they like it or not, this doesn’t come without consequences being as they are in the public eye. Bruce Springsteen has been known to be an advocate for the ‘working man’ in the U.S. You couldn’t ask for a better anthem than Born in the U.S.A., and through The Boss’ almost 30 years of making music, he has cultivated a fan base of upper class WASPs, middle class blue collar workers, and everyone in between. So after the horrific events of September 11th, Bruce used his outlet of music to create his album The Rising to express all the emotions that came from such a disaster. Millions of citizens around the globe were trying to find a way to handle all the confusion, anger, forgiveness, and patriotism as well, and many found it through the words and songs of The Rising. Others saw it as arrogant and ‘left wing’. Regardless, Bruce Springsteen had earned the respect of man and woman alike. Those who disagree with him politically, are still buying front row tickets to his concerts and making sure he keeps selling platinum records.

Now, some artists have put a little muscle behind their words. Bono, for example has been a spokesman and delegate for several world issues, including schools in Africa, and the crisis in Darfur. This type of commitment and passion offers a bit more credibility than the pop star who wears their LiveStrong bracelet out to NYC’s hottest club. Bono has done his research. He has lived in the African huts, and seen the children affected by malaria and AIDS first hand, not just on CNN. It is a fine line to walk, political advocacy. As a celebrity, you can run the risk of looking pompous and cliché. But Bono’s soft-spoken but concrete actions start turning the wheels of change. He doesn’t need to hold a press conference so the general public knows what good work he’s doing for the world. He is meeting with world leaders in private, and establishing charity groups which he advertises during HIS OWN shows. Like Springsteen, U2 will continue to sell out shows and stay the music legend they always have been.

Some bands take a riskier approach to their cause. It is hip right now to take a stand against something. An easy target is the war in Iraq and the U.S. president. So when Linkin Park released their third original studio album Minutes to Midnight, it was surprisingly angry and sent a strong message about the government. The band is relatively green and even though they exploded with their first album in 2001, have a massive following of young and old alike. So to push the boundaries of the norm and create songs that attack the president, Hurricane Katrina, and Iraq could have blown up in their screaming into the microphone face. With lines like ‘Have respect for a leader so nervous in an obvious way/ stuttering and mumbling for nightly new to replay/ and the rest of the world watching at the end of the day/ in their living room laughing like what did he say’ it leaves no doubt what where their intentions lie. So why was this one of the greatest albums of 2007, both critically and in sales? It was a risky move, and in true Linkin Park fashion the band said ‘screw it’ and made the album anyway. I guess it goes to show, you really do have to play big to win big. And win big they did, with a multi-platinum record. The Dixie Chicks were not so lucky with their statement about George W. Bush. Concerts had to be cancelled and CD’s were publicly burned. Again, it just goes to show that sometimes, it’s just a crap shoot.

While the 60’s and 70’s were a simultaneous musical and political revolution, today’s ‘P.C.’ society is unable to handle such turmoil. Artists today cannot make a living with anti-war and peace/love guitar chords. It’s more business than pleasure, more contracts than handshakes. So musicians today better be able put their money where their mouth is, or the recording label will drop them, and pretty soon the only thing they’ll be singing is ‘Would you like fries with that?’

But that's just This Girl talking...


jennyshields7 said...

It doesn't bother me for musicians to be political in their does bother me when they say things or make claims about things they are completely un-educated about.

Thats why I love Bono, he doesn't waste time talking shit or blaming Bush for everything that goes wrong...he just DOES STUFF!

-josh said...

what's a WASP?

i concur with jennyshields7. at least bono does something. artists can blast away at whatever they want in their lyrics. it's one sided. president bush doesn't get to hold a press conference to rebut the latest linkin park song.

i think the difference between linkin park and the dixie chicks is that the dixie chicks were too stupid to realize who their fanbase was. country music fans are god fearing, I love America, kick ass and take names type people. trashing bush, and in essence trashing america, wasn't going to appeal to their fans.

maybe linkin park knows the majority of their fans would be anti-bush, so producing an album like that would only boost sales even more. maybe it was a conscience business decision.

either way, your article sounds like something that would actually be in magazine. i think that's a compliment.