The other day, I went to see one of my favorite bands, Super Furry Animals, a Welsh group. Before their closing song, an audio loop of an anonymous, disembodied voice began decrying modern culture with its rapacious consumerism. Behind the band, a movie screen displayed a collage of images. George W. Bush’s image, notably, elicited a few boos from the crowd. The voice’s words appeared on the screen, so we wouldn’t miss them: “All governments are liars and murderers.” The message was repeated and chopped up — remixed, if you will. Then the band quietly began playing their 1996 single: “The Man Don’t Give a F—.”
The song makes vague political statements (“keep the masses from majority”) while avoiding proselytizing or arriving at any specific conclusions, which is in keeping with most of their music. Its mellow verses serve to lull the listener before the vulgar chorus chant kicks in. What struck me during the prelude was that this is what the majority of the audience is perfectly willing to believe — that all governments are liars and murderers — yet they continually vote to enlarge and expand government.
It’s unwise to be too hard on the Super Furry Animals about this. Though political, they have never been ideological. Their game is in pairing history and post-modernism, the obscure and the pop. But it’s safe to say they lean left. After all, they had, in their surrealist pastiche of high and low culture, just compared Albert Einstein to Che Guevara in their song “Hermann Loves Pauline” (both, you see, were asthmatics). Their most recent record contains a song inspired by their visit to a Marxist village in Columbia several years ago. Their 1999 album Guerilla had the slogan “Non-Violent Direct Action” emblazoned across the cover.
Rather, I realized as I unstuck my shoes from the floor, the feeling that the government is lying to us, cheating us, and doing nefarious deeds under cover of night is so widely accepted (at least in the rock ‘n’ roll idiom) that it’s become cliché.
EARLIER THAT DAY, I interviewed a musician friend for an article. He called himself a socialist but cited example after example of problems created by government subsidies. “Don’t you realize that under socialism everything is controlled by the government?” I asked. Ahh, he explained with a wave, the socialism he envisions is but a dream.
My friend, like the Super Furries, is no doctrinaire socialist. Still, the evidence suggests that the rock ‘n’ roll youth culture recognizes the problem (the big bad government) yet refuses to do anything about it. Weirder still is that rock, with its inherent anti-authoritarianism, would inspire audience and bands alike to say “The government’s screwing us!” and also, “Let’s make it bigger!”
(Exhibit B: the Beastie Boys’ anti-war single from last year “In a World Gone Mad.” In it, the Beasties take a moment away from equivocating George W. Bush with Saddam Hussein to plead for national health care. Like most rock stars, they don’t hate The Man, just The Right-Wing Man.)
PunxforDean.com, PunkVoter.com, Rock the Vote — not to mention MTV, Rolling Stone, MaximumRockNRoll, Spin, Punk Planet and all the rest — are eager to harness the unifying power of music for political action. Yet they direct that power right into back into the authoritarian, nannyish hands of the status quo.
Rock’s political lemmings continually ignore evidence that smaller government secures individual rights, allows greater artistic freedom, and generally stays out off of your cloud. Concerned with the spying and warring powers of the government, rock ‘n’ roll statists have never realized that a smaller government would be easier to keep an eye on.
Sadly, the rock ‘n’ rollers would rather live in a collective dystopia where an enormous government shares and cares with them. Maybe all rockers have mommy issues. Maybe the self-destruction that accompanies rock leads them to believe that only government-provided assistance will keep them from burning out. Maybe it has never occurred to them that the policies they favor restrict the freedoms of others — the same accusation angrily they level at “fascist” conservatives.