By MARC McDONALD
Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.
I recently read where Maureen Tucker, drummer for the legendary band, The Velvet Underground, has embraced the Tea Bagger movement. When I first read the news, I thought it must be a joke.
But when I read her comments in detail, it was clear that Tucker had indeed drunk the wingnut Kool-Aid. Anyone who was expecting a subversive or "hip" take on Tea Bagger politics from Tucker was indeed disappointed. Indeed, it just seems like she regurgitated Rush Limbaugh's stale, turgid talking points.
I'll be writing more about this in detail in a future post. But suffice it to say, it was a disappointment to me. Since the Golden Era of progressive/left-field music pretty much petered out in the mid-1980s, it's been all downhill.
The late, great Bill Hicks once decried the music of the late 1980s as a "Republican wet dream." And things are even worse now.
Not only does today's music suck, it is incredibly conservative, politically. Few bands have any message at all, besides: "Be a Good Little Consumer."
Either that, or it's the self-aggrandizing and the worship of bling-bling in hip-hop culture (which has gotten rather tiresome after nearly three decades). Rap-wise, we've gone a long ways downhill since the golden era of Public Enemy.
Of course, there are exceptions to today's sanitized, conservative music scene (like Britain's underrated Manic Street Preachers). But by and large, today's music artists have nothing to say. And when they do say something, it's often shockingly reactionary (as were Tucker's idiotic remarks).
But I'd given up on the Velvets years ago, anyway. For me, their mystique and credibility pretty much vanished when they opted to do a cash-in reunion tour in the 1990s.
One band that you'll never see reuniting, or selling out, is Britain's Crass. The 1979 Crass song, "Reality Asylum," (which I posted above) is the sort of daring, defiantly uncommercial, left-field music that simply isn't being created by anyone these days. Nobody has the balls.
It's a shame, because we need challenging music like this more than ever, in an era of corporate propaganda. Indeed, things are vastly worse today that they were when Crass were around, three decades ago. After all, back then, there was no Fox News or Rush Limbaugh.
A take-no-prisoners tirade against religion, "Reality Asylum" no doubt will be deeply offensive to "Christians" (whatever that term means). But like it or loath it, you've gotta admit that it's a song with a message that makes you think. Not like today's music, which is designed (as Elvis Costello once noted), to "anesthetize the way that you feel."
A few days ago, after reading Tucker's idiotic, pro-Tea Bagger comments, I felt a bit depressed. I reached for some of my old vinyl records, to cheer myself up. And listening to the likes of "Reality Asylum," made me even more despondent, when I realized that nothing like this music is being created today.
It's not just that today's music scene is full of brainless idiots. It's that Tucker has been hailed as a genius and canonized as a giant of 20th century music. And meanwhile, Crass's Eve Libertine is one of those truly deserving and brilliant musicians who has toiled her career away in relative obscurity. For my money, she is vastly more talented than Tucker, or today's pop mediocrities like Lady Gaga.
Libertine is a brave artist who never backed down from attacking the rich and the powerful. And in today's post-Bush/Cheney era, we need the likes of Crass more than ever. But instead we get banal, mediocre pop from the likes of Lady Gaga and Paris Hilton.
Years ago, a "Spin" magazine article noted that challenging and controversial music was no longer being created. Today's young people were unshockable, the article claimed. It said that Americans had become so jaded that it had become impossible for any rock band to create a controversial song and shake up society like the Sex Pistols did in the late 1970s. In fact, the "Spin" article blamed this state of affairs on the Pistols themselves, and claimed that the band had killed the idea of "controversy" in music. "Fuck you, Johnny Rotten," the article sneered.
To this, I say: bullshit. People today are as shockable as ever. The problem lies with our safe-as-milk, cowardly pop artists, who are afraid to rock the boat. We saw this during the Iraq War and during the whole nightmarish eight years of the Bush/Cheney era. Virtually no rock star spoke out against the madness (much less penned a protest song). There were a few exceptions (like Neil Young). But by and large, the music establishment was silent.
Actually, I think "Reality Asylum" would still shock a lot of people, were it released today. And were Crass American instead of British, I'd suspect they'd get death threats from right-wing religious crazies. After all, the band got a lot of grief over this song in relatively secular Britain. Imagine what the outcry would have been in the Bible Belt had the song been released in the U.S. (it wasn't).
"Spin" magazine was wrong. The problem isn't that Americans are too jaded to be shocked. Rather, it's that our cowardly musicians today are too timid (and lacking in imagination) to make any radical statements, or "dangerous" music.
It's a shame, because that's precisely what our society needs these days. We're a smug, self-satisfied, sleep-walking society that needs to be jolted out of our corporate-media-induced apathy. That's what real Free Speech is all about.
God knows, today's American society has no shortage of sacred cows that need to be challenged and attacked. Mindless, blind flag-waving patriotism. Stupid, pointless wars. Downright evil politicians. An immoral economic system that steals from the working class and gives to the rich. And right-wing politicians who cynically use "Christianity" and twist around the Bible's words to make gullible working people vote against their own interests.