Saturday, 15 September 2012

A cultural boycott. In America.


A Republican Party party wouldn’t be much fun. At the convention in Tampa, Florida, the GOP wheeled in a couple of brass bands, which doubled as a means of providing music whilst getting some American minorities inside a blindingly white convention hall. Up in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democrats have lost the voice of hip-hop superstar, Jay-Z, since 2008, but still retain the services of Dave Grohl, who closed out the convention with his Foofighters. Grohl is a little less famous than Jay-Z, but with hip-hop drowning in consumerism and misogyny, you might say the music of the former Nirvana drummer is better suited anyway.

At about the same time, Michael Stipe prohibited the Fox network using REM’s ‘Losing my Religion’ in its convention coverage. In a statement through Warner-Tamerlane Music the singer said, “We have little or no respect for their puff adder brand of reportage. Our music does not belong there.”

The Republican candidate for vice president, Paul Ryan, is an anti-women’s rights Christian fundamentalist, a rabid free market dogmatist, and has lied about everything from factory closures to his personal best time for a marathon. Confusingly, he has also said that Rage Against the Machine are his favourite band, despite admitting apparently not listening to the lyrics (worrying in a politician). Tom Morello, Rage Against the Machine’s guitarist, and a vocal backer of the Occupy movement, wrote a Rolling Stone editorial on the subject. “Charles Manson loved The Beatles but didn’t understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen and doesn’t understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favourite band, Rage Against the Machine.”

Bruce Springsteen refuses to acknowledge communications from Chris Christie, the arch conservative, union-busting and budget slashing governor in his home state of New Jersey. The Boss won’t be any stranger to being misunderstood, ever since Ronald Reagan used Born in the USA as a campaign song, Springsteen has unwittingly provided US nationalists with a keynote anthem. Ryan’s disinterest in lyrics is obviously not unique amongst conservatives; Born in the USA was an anti-war song about Vietnam, complete with a refrain of, “Sent me off to a foreign land/ To go and kill the yellow man.”

Watching the GOP convention it’s hard not to feel that fanatics have hijacked the Republican Party. Their politics is an embarrassment to Eisenhower, to Roosevelt, to Lincoln, and to the Republicans who battled for worker’s rights and unions in what was a better day for politics. Fanatics need anthems, only in their stubborn single-mindedness they lack the respect for the world’s uncertainty, and the questioning, critical spirit that underpins all good art and music. As a result, their music is made by those who oppose their ideologies. The party conventions in America demonstrated the depth of the rift between the parties in US politics... if they’re ever to be brought back together it will require people to be delicate with their criticisms. I have some sympathy for the Tea Party Republican base, people who feel let down by their country, and who will not be won-round by liberals who wish only to cast them aside as white, racist bumpkins. It’s hard to afford their leaders the same compassion, and it seems that musicians are not about to.

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