March 2010

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Haiti, Politics and Rock and Roll


By David Marx


Just as that which supposedly glitters isn’t necessarily always gold, so too does the same apply to politics within the parameters of rock’n’roll.  


It’s one thing to sing about cars’n’girls’n’all the whipped creamed, frenzied delights they supposedly entail.  It’s quite another to sing about the Ballot Box Blues, especially amid today’s climate of guns’n’poses’n’Sarah Palin’s (ghastly) myopic morality.  Reason being, in this day’n’beige age of uber-celebrity and misanthropic misfits, ‘tis becoming increasingly harder to tell the difference between what ought to be politically acceptable and what ought not. 


That Rush Limbaugh can purport to belong to humanity, whilst openly admitting he’d sooner Haitian earthquake victims be allowed to die - lest he be coerced into parting with yet more tax deductible dollars - is a mighty quintessential travesty of both justice and understanding.   Clearly not in his CD collection will one find a copy of Stevie Wonder‘s ‘Heaven Help Us All,’ in which Wonder emphatically states: ‘’Heaven help the man who kicks the man who has to crawl.’’ 




Yet in the eyes of the less informed and the less inclined, many might consider Limbaugh’s conduct acceptable and Wonder’s words idealistic baloney.  Thing is, who or what’s gonna tip the balance? 


Capitol Hill?  Paris Hilton? 


At the height of the Vietnam War, rock’n’roll was trashing hotel rooms whilst inexorably and belligerently banging on closed doors in support of their brothers in coked-up arms and combat.  The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix bequeathed the world with ‘Revolution,’ ‘Street Fighting Man’ and ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’  The latter of which was an acute, anguish anchored, anti-solipsistic, guitar instrumental of pain drenched, elongated frustration.  A frustration wrought by a government, more concerned with the revoking of John Lennon’s Green Card than with the daily death toll of American teenagers (both in Vietnam and the US itself).  


At the vanguard of said frustration was Neil Young, whose bitterness and utter contempt was brought to bear in ‘Ohio’ where he pointedly sang:


Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,

We’re finally on our own

This summer I hear the drumming,

Four dead in Ohio


In and of itself, one cannot help but wonder whether such revolutionary rhetoric, and that espoused by the likes Woody Guthrie (‘This Land Is Your Land’), Pete Seeger (‘We Shall Overcome’) Bob Dylan (‘Masters Of War,’ ‘Chimes Of Freedom,’ ‘Desolation Row’), Pete Townshend (‘My Generation,’ ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’), John Lennon (‘Working Class Hero,’ ‘Imagine’), Elvis Costello (‘Shipbuilding,’ ‘Goon Squad,’ ‘Oliver’s Army’) and U2 (‘In The Name Of Love,’ ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’), will ever again find a place amid the great influential pantheon of rock’n’roll.


For right NOW, who has the commitment and the courage to sing about the futility and ugliness of the War in Iraq?  Or the War Against Terrorism?  Or the War in Afghanistan? 



Justin Timberlake? 

An assortment of death metal clinicians?


Herein lies the erstwhile, unforgivable behaviour of a junked up society, so high on celebrity’n’cleavage’n’all such other contagious distraction, that it’s hardly surprising the likes of Beyonce and Justin Trousersnake have evolved unto being today’s mystical messenger equivalents of The Clash.


Please forgive them Joe, for they know not what vacuous and vapid manure they bestow. 


That said, the powers that be know all too well. 


The huge corporations know all too well, that it’s far, far easier to deal with Britney carping on about how hard her life is, than it is to deal with the likes of Steve Earl singing about hypocrisy and greed in ‘Rich Man’s War’:


Jimmy joined the army ‘cause he had no place to go

There ain’t nobody hirin’ ‘round here since all the jobs went down to Mexico

Reckoned that he’d learn himself a trade maybe see the world

Move to the city someday and marry a black haired girl

Somebody somewhere had another plan

Now he’s got a rifle in his hand

Rollin’ into Baghdad wonderin’ how he got this far

Just another poor boy off to fight a rich man’s war


Unlike the Parisian students of sixty-eight, there’s no way the powerful with the chequebooks are ever going to barter at the barricades with such gung-ho, socialist s(l) inging, country artists as Steve Earl.  This explains why he, along with (the possible exception of) Bruce Springsteen - who in ‘Badlands’ sang: ‘’Poor man want to be rich/rich man want to be king/And a king isn’t satisfied/till he rules everything’’ - appear to be the ONLY artists left, telling it as it sincerely ought to be told. 


Makes you think.


Aren’t there any young bucks out there, armed with nothing other than a guitar, three chords and the truth? 


Obviously not. 


It is thus hardly startling; that the likes of Limbaugh and the equally vile Pat Robertson, can so readily subscribe to an ideology of blatant bellicose.  There’s no one new around to remind them of their folly.  No one that is, who’s prepared to jump on a table, shake their Eddie Cochran induced arse, and from the bottom of their heart to the top of their lungs: SCREAM THE TRUTH. 


That’s right folks; rock’n’roll (like Times Square) appears to have devolved into nothing other but a sterile commodity akin to milk, MasterCard and Madonna.  And anyone who tells you otherwise, is either a) lying, b) deluded, or c) Simon Cowell.  Even Roger Daltrey, who once sang: ‘’We’ll be fighting in the streets/With our children at our feet/And the morals that they worship will be gone,’’ now resides amid the trajectory of The Who’s former dogma.  This was substantiated when the band performed during the intermission of this year’s Super Bowl at the Sun Life Stadium in Miami. 


So who fundamentally cares if a bunch of strangers in Port-au-Prince continue to needlessly perish amid the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake?  At the end of the day, what really matters is the fact that Mariah Carey lent her more than obsequious self to the overtly saccharine rendition of REM’s ‘Everybody Hurts.’ 

A beautiful song, normally associated with pathos and power, but which has now, as a result of its sticky showbiz, feel good factor, been reduced to trite and inane, disposable, candy cancer.