By MARC McDONALD
Welcome to another edition of Progressive Music Classics.
The late, great Bill Hicks once lamented the decline of intellectualism in the U.S. This dumbing-down of America, he noted, started around the time Ronald Reagan was first elected. Hicks also savaged the pop music of the Reagan era and the increasing tendency of music stars to sell out to the highest corporate bidder (i.e. Madonna shilling for Pepsi, George Michael shilling for Coke).
"What kind of Reagan wet dream do we live in today?" Hicks once asked, in slamming the gutless, money-grubbing pop stars who sold out in the 1980s.
One wonders what Hicks would have thought about today's pop performers. After all, the situation is now far worse than it ever was back in the 1980s. Not only do today's pop stars have no problems whatsoever whoring themselves out to corporate America---but "selling out" rarely even generates much negative publicity these days. At least the likes of Madonna and George Michaels had Hicks around to condemn them back in the 1980s. Today, nobody seems to care.
And if all this wasn't bad enough, today's pop scene is as banal as it has ever been, thanks to the corrosive effect of the likes of Simon Cowell and the whole "American Idol" conveyor belt of soulless mediocrity that clogs up today's airwaves.
Despite Hicks' contempt for much of the music of the 1980s, I get the feeling that he might have liked a band like Britain's Shriekback. Not only did Shriekback never sell out, but their heady, intoxicating music was full of thought-provoking challenging ideas.
One of my favorite Shriekback songs is "Everything That Rises Must Converge" from the band's fine 1985 album, Oil and Gold. The album features phenomenal playing from bassist Dave Allen (whose skills powered the Marxist funk of his previous band, The Gang of Four).
"Everything That Rises Must Converge" is inspired by the 1965 short story of author Flannery O'Connor that addresses the racism of the 1960s in the American South. (O'Connor, in turn, was inspired by French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who, as Wikipedia notes, described "evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity, culminating in the unification of consciousness.")
In recent times, Teilhard's ideas have been expanded upon by futurist Ray Kurzweil, who wrote the 2005 bestseller, The Singularity Is Near.
"Everything That Rises Must Converge" makes for a powerful, thought-provoking Shriekback song of the type that is sorely lacking in today's dumbed-down music scene. Today's music artists don't seem to have much to say beyond: "Be an obedient worker and a good little consumer, and don't question authority."
Incidentally, Shriekback are still an active band to this day. Their 2010 album, Life in the Loading Bay offers some of the finest music of their career.