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David Bowie as the Right Wing Artist

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The death of David Bowie has resulted in an understandable outpouring of adulation for the man’s life and work. I never was a huge fan of his, but I count many of his releases in my vinyl library, and have been captivated by a handful (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Station to Station being some of my favorites).

Along with discussions on the caliber and impact of his music, a few have touched upon Bowie’s flirtations with a slew of different political traditions during the course of his life. He has been celebrated for his role as an LGBT icon and for championing black musicians, but few will include his embrace of fascism in their reflections.

Conservatives have long lamented the lack of right wing voices in the entertainment industry. When explaining why conservatives were underrepresented in comedy and the creative arts, Oliver Morrison argued in The Atlantic:

One explanation is simply that proportionately fewer people with broadly conservative sensibilities choose to become comedians. Just as liberals dominate academia, journalism, and other writing professions, there are nearly three times as many liberal- as conservative-minded people in the creative arts according to a recent study. Alison Dagnes, a professor of political science at Shippensburg University, argues that the same personality traits that shape political preferences also guide the choice of professions. These tendencies just get more pronounced in the case of comedy, which usually requires years of irregular income, late hours, and travel, as well as a certain tolerance for crudeness and heckling.

It is likely the case that a naturally inclined conservative individual is less likely to enter a field that requires constant change as its guiding professional mantra. But there has been a long history of right-wing artists gaining prominence and influence. The American right simply doesn’t understand why artists are influential. When discussing music and politics with a conservative friend a few years back, he mourned the fact that there never was a “conservative Beatles” to push back against the perverse influence of the 60s counter-culture. While it is true that no such band gained prominence during that period, this comrade failed to see why McCartney and Lennon were influential culturally.

Reflecting on the The Beatles musical output, you are hard-pressed to find overtly leftist jargon or arguments present. Sure, there are unconcealed references to love and veiled allusions to drug use, but the political nature of their lives was generally absent from the music (in fact, some of their most political songs were counter-revolutionary in character).

The Beatles were influential because they made something beautiful. Even those standing in opposition to hippies and the political left would be hard pressed not to name a Beatles song they couldn’t sing from memory while adorning a joyous smile. Any influence the band had on the culture was predicated on their ability to craft art that was enchanting and picturesque. Songs that are designated as “conservative” are almost always terrible. Few beyond those in ideological agreement will find anything to appreciate in said music and these works will rightfully be regulated to the artistic ghetto of propaganda.

Enter David Bowie. The man wore more than one guise (literally and figuratively) throughout the course of his career. This willingness to embrace characters crafted to deliver records allowed Bowie to dismiss criticisms of specific songs and statements made during that period as unreflective of his true thoughts and beliefs. This professional inauthenticity has been copied by many musicians since (I have been known to partake in this exercise from time to time) and forces critics to take Bowie’s statements via various incarnations with a grain of salt.

With that in mind, Bowie did have a controversial period in his career that saw him flirting with fascism and the right. In the mid 70s, Bowie embraced a persona titled The Thin White Duke. In both stage performances and interviews, Bowie expressed an admiration for right-wing figures and authoritarianism. In an NME interview with Anthony O’Gradey in 1975, David lamented the moral decline in society:

I think the morals should be straightened up for a start. They’re disgusting. This whole particular period of civilisation … it’s not even decadent. We’ve never had true decadence yet. It borders on Philistine, really.

He then went on to advocate for a dictatorship of the right.

There will be a political figure in the not too distant future who’ll sweep this part of the world like early rock and roll did.

You’ve got to have an extreme right front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up. Then you can get a new form of liberalism.

There’s some form of ghost force liberalism permeating the air in America, but it’s got to go, because it’s got no foundation at all, apart from a set of laws that were established way back in the bloody ’50s and early ’60s and have no bearing at all in the ’70s. (The Supreme Court in America was at its most liberal in the late ’50s, early ’60s.)

So the best thing that can happen is for an extreme right Government to come. It’ll do something positive at least to the cause commotion in people and they’ll either accept the dictatorship or get rid of it.

Shocking to be sure, but not beyond the pale for a contrarian musician. Perhaps this was whole period was just a publicity stunt intended to garner attention (Bowie did later reject these comments and blamed his excessive use of cocaine as a contributing factor). But it was this observation earlier in the interview that was the most telling:

Like the original aim of rock and roll when it first came out was to establish an alternative media speak voice for people who had neither the power nor advantage to infiltrate any other media or carry any weight and cornily enough, people really needed rock and roll.

And what we said was that we were only using rock and roll to express our vehement arguments against the conditions we find ourselves in, and we promise that we will do something to change the world from how it was. We will use rock and roll as a springboard.

What Bowie failed to recognize here was the real reason art is capable of changing society: it is persuasive because it is beautiful and transmittable, acting as wedge to enter the minds of the masses. If Bowie’s work had been overtly political in nature, it would have limited its appeal and audience. It was only after he had your attention with his tunes that he was able to begin introducing radical ideas, but the art came first.

The right could learn a lot from Bowie. As far as one can tell, he didn’t suffer significant professional consequences for his flirtation with the far right; the glowing eulogies scattered throughout the media today is a testament to that. Bowie understood that he needed to continuously change and push his art into new territories if he was to remain influential in the culture at large, a tactic few “conservative” musical acts are willing to embrace.

David Bowie is a refutation to the habitual complaint made by conservative commentators that artists of the right will be punished professionally and financially for their personal views. If your art is truly great, people will overlook just about any of your beliefs. They may even listen to your ideas, even if they are overtly fascist in nature and violate polite opinion.

(Image: David Bowie as The Thin White Duke – Wikicommons)


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Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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120 thoughts on “David Bowie as the Right Wing Artist

  1. I have read about Bowie’s right wing statements before. Mainly in Dominic’s Sandbrook’s history of 1970s Britain.

    The big thing is that Bowie’s various stage personas give him plausible deniability for everything. We don’t know what is sincere and what is part of a character. So he can be all things to all people.

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  2. I’m curious about how you imagine this post would be received by the American right. Did you think it run something like this?

    “Hey, Bowie was a fascist…. so I guess I can learn from him. We’ve got so much in common!”

    If so, permit me to be skeptical that it will be so received.

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    • I doubt many conservatives will say “Bowie advocated for fascism and we should too.” But the fact that Bowie embraced such a controversial and fringe position of the right and did not suffer professional consequences for those statements should empower conservatives to embrace their own beliefs.

      They just have to make sure their art is great first.

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      • The question is whether he embraced it sincerely. Our right wing would be appalled by the various things Bowie did proudly including all the cocaine. Also how many people were really paying attention or convinced? Did people say “man Bowie really has it right with this fascist stuff!!!” I think not.

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      • No. More like: “Bowie advocated for fascism and we are close enough to fascism that we can learn something from him.”

        That’s pretty darn insulting when you think about it, no? You are offering the right a poisoned gift here, because if they ever accept it, they condemn themselves.

        (For the record, I think Bowie was no more a fascist than Roger Waters. I think he was playing a character, just like Roger Waters did for Pink Floyd in The Wall.)

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        • I think Bowie was no more a fascist than Roger Waters

          If there’s one thing I’ve learned about fascists, it’s that they can’t get enough of androgynous bisexual guys in makeup.

          Next you’ll be telling me Madonna wasn’t really having sex with her dancers on stage!

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  3. The biggest selling recording artist in US since 1991 (called the Soundscan era) is Garth Brooks. Overall in the US market, he is second overall to the Beatles, beating Elvis Presley. He isn’t conservative? He doesn’t address a conservative audience? I think he does. Also, Elvis doesn’t seem all that liberal when you come right down to it.

    But, like you say, he lets the art come first.

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    • Brooks isn’t conservative. He tries to be non-partisan, but his personal leanings appear to be to the left. Whether his music (and country music more generally) counts as conservative is a tighter question (on which liberals disagree with liberals, and conservatives with conservatives).

      Having said that, I tend to count country music as being conservative and an example of the commercial success that conservative art can have. And if I’m thinking of ways in which either (a) the deck is stacked against art with conservative messaging or (b) conservatives fail at art (I think both A and B are true), I think music is pretty much the last thing that comes to mind. That’s where they have their own sandbox where conservative themes are welcome, and conservative artists actually do pretty well with broader audiences.

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      • The thing about country is that it seems to exist in a niche. But almost all of culture in the U.S. can be a niche and wildly popular because of population size.

        With the exception of movies, mass culture might be largely dead. A hit on TV can only have a few million viewers and still be a gold mine. Music tastes are largely done by region and group identity. Top 40 and Country are the last two genres where record sales are still a big thing.

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        • Listen to some Creedence Clearwater Revival. It’s almost pure country, but it’s definitely liberal. Those days are long behind us. These days if you want to do country but you’re liberal you call it “bluegrass”.

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          • Don’t you think that’s a function of commercial pop radio? There’s a lot of very good country music that doesn’t get played on pop radio and artists who don’t appear at the Grammy’s that isn’t conservative (or liberal, for that matter). Just life stuff. You know, like old timey country music.

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          • That’s not entirely true. There’s also Alt-Country!

            But seriously, there are also some “Two Penny Vengeance” types of songs that have a fair amount of currency:

            One can argue that’s more populist than liberal, but it’s anti-war and anti-banker. I mention that because I’ve heard it covered at least a dozen times over the years by different people. (I’ve also seen Hamilton play as an opening act. The song became way bigger than he did.)

            But more seriously, there are liberal country musicians. They formed a club last decade called Music Row Democrats. A fair number of recognizable names. However, that they formed a club (like conservatives in Hollywood did) indicates that they are the exception rather than the rule. I think that the record execs and such would prefer apolitical, but if you’re going to go there, one direction is easier than the other for sure.

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      • Here’s another point of comparison. I’m a big fan of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour – Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Ingvall, Larry the Cable Guy, and Ron White. I think we can say that they play to a conservative audience. Are they conservative? They are very careful to stay away from overt politics, and I think that’s appropriate.

        I have my secret theory about how they are liberal, but I also think that might just be wish fulfillment. For instance, whenever I read David Frum, I wonder “why isn’t this guy a Democrat and left-of-center? He sounds like he should be” He isn’t.

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        • For what it’s worth: Foxworthy and Ingvall are conservative. I assume Larry the Cable guy is, but don’t know. White is a libertarian (who used to be a right-leaning libertarian but seems to have drifted to left-leaning libertarianism). All of them but White keep it out of their routine, though, for the most part.

          Frum is an interesting case. I have the framework of a post on him (though it’ll probably go to Hit Coffee rather than here) and his ideological journey. The short version is that I think he tried liberalism, wanted to like it (his cadence and gait a better match for it), but found that it just didn’t fit.

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  4. “blamed his excessive use of cocaine as a contributing factor”

    Hoo boy, and how.

    Also, I don’t see those comments as advocacy for a dictatorship of the right, not exactly.

    I’ve seen similar notions from punk rockers claiming that the punk/hardcore music in the eighties was better, because they had a Thatcher and a Reagan to rebel against.

    But they don’t actually want the right-wing govt. itself, except in some notional romantic fantasy way, as a backdrop. They just want their rock and roll to feel vital and alive again.

    You can probably also find conservatives who think we were at our best when facing down the Big Bad USSR – but they don’t truly advocate for the USSR’s return.

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    • You can probably also find conservatives who think we were at our best when facing down the Big Bad USSR – but they don’t truly advocate for the USSR’s return.

      But they do try to make Putin into the same threat to the Free World that the USSR was, in between daydreaming about having an American president with that kind of balls.

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  5. It might look like David Bowie is echoing rightist talking points but he is really expressing mainstream opinion regarding the liberalization of the 1960s. Most average British citizens opposed things like the abolition of the death penalty, the legalization of abortion or homosexuality, and the relaxation of censorship laws regardless of their age, political affiliation or class. All of the Permissive Society bills were passed with the support and opposition of both the Labour and Conservative members of Parliament and initiated as private member bills. The three big people in Labour During the 1960s and 1970s, Wilson, Brown, and Callaghan, were what we would call Evangelical Protestants in the United States with all that implies towards traditional morality. Thatcher and Enoch Powell, of anti-immigration fame, voted for the Permissive Society, bills. What really happened was that the British parliament was liberalizing the law against the desires of the British public.

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  6. I think you are looking at way too many different rights and thinking the alt-right is bigger than they are.

    The right-wing does make the complaints you mention but they tend to be Fox News conservatives and mainstream as these things go. They are more like that guy who paints pictures of Jesus weaping as Obama and those dreaded Donkeys shred the Constitution. They are the Federalist and NRO complaining about liberal Hollywood.

    I doubt they can learn from Bowie.

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    • I think you nailed it. This article didn’t make sense to me before I read your comment. It conflates the right (which exists) with the alt right (which doesn’t).

      As for right-wing artists, I have to go with Andrew Klavan’s observations. They tend to be less political. A right-wing artist is more interested in describing reality than articulating his politics. It goes back to an impulse on the right to treat politics as a part of life, not its center.

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      • I recognize the different elements of “the right” as we define it. Saul is right to say that the “guy who paints pictures of Jesus weaping as Obama and those dreaded Donkeys shred the Constitution” are not the same as the far right. Having said that, the “moderate right” (NRO/Federalist crowd) still requires the energies of its fringe to help animate its ideas. Bowie’s example, as noted above, presents a challenge to what mainstream conservatism thinks is necessary for ideas of the right to be discussed in popular culture. As long as they think that making an artistic piece that celebrates the dominate paradigm is valuable, their “art” will fall short and find few interested in it.

        The same can be said of the left, although the mainstream or center-left positions have a life of their own in the arts that is disconnected from the boundary-pushing fringe.

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        • I don’t know if I would call the NRO/Federalist crowd moderate right just because of the existence of the alt-right and people farther to the right. The NRO and Federalist are plenty right-wing down to sneering at liberals for preferring a transgendered child over a deep-sea welder (which feels live a fever dream) and sneering at liberals over signalling and pronunciations of Islam.

          The guy with the Jesus weeps picture is patently dominionist in his own Mormon way and that is rather right-wing. He plainly does not see liberals as ever being legitimate or American.

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      • I think this is about right. A person’s disposition, while not determinative is inherently related to their politics. It’s how you end up with Johnny Ramone playing guitar on Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.

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        • Well, Johnny got voted down on that song. Plus it was at the point that he probably wasn’t actually playing on most of the recorded songs (although still credited, same with Dee Dee). Now, he definitely was not an overtly political artist, but as for his disposition, I’ve never met anyone who worked with him or dealt with Johnny in any way who didn’t say he was a complete bastard, which always comes to mind when websites will talk about him as a ‘conservative punk rocker’.

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          • All fair points F. I guess my main thought is only that art (even of a radical variety) isn’t necessarily incompatible with conservatism, but maybe there’s something to a conservative disposition that makes a person less likely to be politically outspoken in their art or which makes certain strains of art unappealing to conservative audiences? I’m open to persuasion on the subject.

            A tougher example to deal with might be someone like Ian Mackaye/Minor Threat. No one would ever associate them with Fox News style conservatism and even Mackaye would almost certainly push back on the characterization I’m about to make, but his music (in some instances) and lifestyle choices do have a profoundly conservative element.

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      • The alt-right exists but not in numbers to really be a thing. They are an on-line simpering.

        Your second paragraph strikes me as being potentially off. I think I need proof before buying a claim that right-wing artists are less political. That seems like an unsupported assertion from the right itself. Something the right likes to tell itself but does not reflect my observations and reality.

        The problem with right-wing art like the Jesus painting guy is that it often makes the classic mistake of showing, not telling. Didactism is hard. Maybe Brecht was the only one who really got it right and he did so by being kind of like Bowie. His plays are dark, dangerous, and entertaining. His songs are catchy.

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        • “Didactism is hard.”

          Good point, and one of the reasons why the mainstream right should be as interested in culture as the “alt-right” appears to be. Many mainstream conservatives are philistines when it comes to culture; they are not interested in the intellectual or critical discussions on art, music, film, etc. and have thus handed over the entire field to the left. If there was a greater interest in the arts as a study on the right, I think you would see less confusion from mainstream conservative pundits as to why the world does not care for its attempts at “art.”

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          • I’ve found a lot of conservatives to be very passionate about the arts, and a lot of artists to be very conservative. There’s a difference between being uncredentialed and being a philistine. Also, I think you’re ignoring religious art, which has a sizable following.

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            • But a lot of conservative complaints on the arts is that they are being ignored by the critical establishment, the urban galleries and museums, the New Yorker magazine crowd, etc.

              Yes religious art sells and Left Behind made tons of money but the conservatives seem to really dislike that secular and Jewish urban art lovers are not interested in stuff focused on Christianity especially evangelical Christianity. It doesn’t take much of a rocket scientist to figure out that liberal Jews are not going to be interested in stuff that implies or outright states they are burning in hell for bring liberals and Jews.

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              • Some do, though others enjoy the segregation. Where a lot of frustration occurs is when a lot more attention is devoted to things with a much smaller following. And when studios and producers take their cues from this.

                Urban cultural forces are under no obligation to pay attention to things they aren’t interested it, of course, but the disconnect is noticeable. Definitely an “our type” and “your type” vibe.

                (Which to a larger degree than not, my interests are aligned with the urbans. I think Touched By an Angel was utter dreck and like a lot of the cable dramas with small viewership and outsized attention.)

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                • The New York Review of Books speaks to an urban audience. The issue seems to be that the urban elites have the money and therefore dominate the cultural coverage.

                  I think this is changing somewhat. Millennial liberals especially on-line writers like Rosenberg are more interested in pop culture than high culture. Internet journalism demands the coverage of things easily available.

                  But the urban class is still going to like yves Klein over Kinkade and Leftovers over Left Behind. Nothing is going to change this.

                  There is also a strange obsession with numbers that I don’t understand. Popularity does not equal artistry.

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                  • Part of the disconnect is that most outlets, cultural or media, serve urban audiences. It’s not the New Yorker as the New York Times. And that most influential newspapers come from certain kinds of places.

                    Numbers are important except when they’re not. It’s the decision as to which is the case when that is interesting.

                    Anyway, there are a lot of reasons things are what they are. Some of it is raw capitalism. Some of it is the cultural affectations of the decision-makers. Some of it is the decision of conservatives and Evangelicals in one way or another (retreating into their own cultural enclaves, for example). Some of it is chicken and egg.

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        • Pinky kind of has a point. A lot of the great conservative or rightist artists like Chesterton or DH Lawrence were less explicit about making their politics the center of their work than leftist artists. DH Lawrence was a profoundly conservative man or possibly even a fascist but you would never pick this up from readings Sons & Lovers or Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Chesterton’s worldview is deeply imbued with his Catholic traditionalism. Its much easier to pick this up in his work than Lawrence’s conservatism but you can also ignore it rather safely like the BBC did when they remade Father Brown but also made more forgiving for modern sensibilities. Same with CS Lewis’ devote Anglican Tory cosmology. Lots of people read the Chronicles of Narnia without realizing it was a work of Christian apologia.

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  7. There are great conservative rock songs in the sense of having conservative values. E.g.

    This is my street, and I’m never gonna to leave it,
    And I’m always gonna to stay here
    If I live to be ninety-nine,
    ‘Cause all the people I meet
    Seem to come from my street
    And I can’t get away,
    Because it’s calling me, (come on home)
    Hear it calling me, (come on home)

    And that was from the right erato be the “conservative Beatles”.

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    • Oh, there surely is conservatism in rock music. I have a piece on the small-c conservatism of The Kinks in the works that should address that point. They did, however, put the catchy tune before politics.

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      • Both the Beatles and the Kinks incorporated a lot of traditional English pop music traditions like music hall into their work. They also expressed more than a little nostalgia for the type of British culture that existed between 1890 and 1945. That leads to more than a little conservatism in the small c sense.

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        • And then there were the guys who were a tad less nostalgic:


          People try and put us down
          Just because we get around
          Things they do look awful cold
          Hope I die before I get old

          But that was rebellion and nihilism, not liberalism. In fact, when they first came to the US they did some ads for the military, during Vietnam no less, with no idea that any of their fans would object.

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          • “We won’t get fooled again.”
            The beards have grown longer overnight.
            The scorpion sang about the winds of change, but I sincerely doubt this was the change our countries were expecting.

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            • You know, you’re really starting to make me think about composing a song about the trolling in Oregon… (or at least writing the lyrics… I don’t write music well, but words I can do)

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                • Yessss… trolling. Whole thing’s been turned into a giant psychological experiment.

                  And every idiot there is getting tagged by the birders (who have better tech than the FBI, I shit you not), who rather take exception to these type of folks. [These are the same birders who turn in folks growing weed on federal lands, so you know they’re pretty quiet in the woods].

                  Organized trolling is something to be feared.

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                  • Tagged? Who gives a rats about being tagged in this day and age. Hell it’s not like these guys are being secretive or covert about it.

                    And when was the last time birdies rolled up in a tank anyway?

                    Concern trolling maybe? Whatevs gets the distraction from Cologne bum rushing.

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                    • The idiots will, if they take one step out of line. We’re talking civil suits here, but the fools ain’t exactly wealthy. Fact is, they’re too poor to afford to go home (some of their vehicles broke down while they were there, and they can’t afford to fix ’em), and they’re clinging to their dignity by trying to pretend they don’t want to go home.

                      I didn’t say the birders had tanks. I said Sony had tanks (yes, different thread). The birders have really sweet cameras.

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                      • Considering where these ‘fools’ are, it would take miles of a step to get out of line.

                        This is going into the same rinse repeat model the feds applied for the Montana freemen. Get negotiators in jeans, don’t show military presence, talk the language of ‘radicals’ in negotiating.

                        Kinda funny that model, studying the behaviors, language and dress of local populations? It’s like we have heard about training in that area recently eh? At the time it made no sense, now it’s common knowledge.

                        It doesn’t matter anyway, just semantics about how far we are down which rabbit hole at any given time.

                        Who’ll stop the rain?

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                            • In Georgia? The south is one of the places that’s been least affected by global warming — and Georgia’s too populous to really swing that lawless, despite it’s particular ancestry.

                              I thought you’d be the first one to get this…

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                                • This isn’t a global warming thing. Good call on Alaska though, other than the oil companies would get sorta annoyed… So find a state without such big industry. (yeah, that rules out North Dakota too)

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                                • Correct answer’s Idaho. Combination of depopulization of rural areas, whackos moving in and forming “communities” (probably held together by the internet more than anything else, if they had to interact in person there’d be more real fights and less organization), and lack of anyplace populous (read: Portland or somesuch) to balance out the poverty.

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                                  • I won’t speak to the northern parts of the state. Try any of that stuff within a hundred miles of the Idaho National Laboratory and all the nuclear things there, though, and the response will be very different than what’s happening in Oregon.

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                                    • With ten years to pull it off (and bearing in mind that it’s a 1 in 30 chance, which isn’t terribly high…), you could see INL moving out of the state… (Particularly since it’s probably there as a sop to a Senator… just the way the nuclear facility is down in Tennessee. One nun sneaking up to the nukes (again!) and some major press from a hostile congress could get the labs moved in a hurry).

                                      Some things are “going to happen, just a matter of time”… this isn’t.

                                      (Even officially planned genocide on the books in multiple First World Nations isn’t actually a 100% thing… might call it a 75% thing, with escalating probabilities as you get closer to the incipient disasters (some of which are demographic))

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                                      • Who would take it? DoE is doing it’s unfortunately common foot dragging on the clean-up. Within the last six months the State of Idaho invoked its 1995 agreement with DoE and the US Navy to block a research project that would have brought 100 pounds of spent nuclear fuel from the East Coast to INL. To paraphrase from the Congressional committee meeting where a political decision was made that only Yucca Mountain could be considered for a commercial waste repository, which western state gets screwed this time?

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                          • What are you talking about? Rule by law was deployed over 150 years ago, all america is subject of lawlessness of some degree. How many felonies have you committed today?

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    • Let me tell you how it will be
      There’s one for you, nineteen for me
      Cos I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
      Should five per cent appear too small
      Be thankful I don’t take it all
      Cos I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman
      If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street
      If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat
      If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat
      If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet
      Taxman!
      Cos I’m the taxman, yeah I’m the taxman
      Don’t ask me what I want it for (Aahh Mr. Wilson)
      If you don’t want to pay some more (Aahh Mr. Heath)
      Cos I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
      Now my advice for those who die
      Declare the pennies on your eyes
      Cos I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman
      And you’re working for no one but me
      Taxman!

      That could be a tea party anthem (and I believe it was, in some places)

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  8. Well, there was Rock Against Racism, right? I remember the big inspiration being Eric Clapton and Elvis Costello saying drunken nonsense, but Bowie’s Hitler love played some part there too.

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  9. I am going to say you missed it entirely. To equate the right with facism is to miss the lefts love affair with the Castros, the Chavez’, the Kirchners etc. Right now the electorate is pretty evenly divided, hence both sides wanting a strong man to come in and sweep away the doubters and disenters and lead us to a new era of Progessive/Conservative glory.

    nails it above. Punks and hippys, artists of all sorts want something worth while (seemingly) to rail against and about. And Bowie is right, to get a strong left wing gov’t you would need something for the population to rail against and a strong conservative gov’t would be it. As long as people were unhappy, otherwise you get Bush, GHW. And after that you get conservatives, like a cycle of life (political life.)

    We always call the enemy facist, couse we all know they were bad. And its great for picking fights. Facists aren’t especially conservative, but not especially liberal either. Strongmen, that discribes them best.

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  10. If modern Conservatives wish to adopt the “Thin White Duke” persona, they need to put a little less effort into “White” and “Duke” and lean a lot harder on becoming Conservatives you wouldn’t mind seeing shirtless, am I right?

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  11. While none of these issues are unique to rap/hip-hop, the genre has no shortage of homophobic, misogynistic, and gun references. This makes many songs and artists antithetical to liberal ideals. That doesn’t necessarily make it conservative but it creates a weird place wherein the fan base is likely dominated by liberals — many of whom have to pinch their nose when these issues crop up — and many of the genre’s most ardent critics are conservatives, though if it was a different group of artists I’d think they’d instead criticize the “political correctness” of these criticisms.

    So, yea, politics and art is weird.

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    • it creates a weird place wherein the fan base is likely dominated by liberals — many of whom have to pinch their nose when these issues crop up — and many of the genre’s most ardent critics are conservatives

      Totally inexplicable. It’s not like conservatives have a problem with young black men in general.

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      • Conservatives in the eighties had similar issues with some of whiter-than-white hair metal’s attitudes regarding women-as-objects, mindless glorification of flamboyant wealth/consumption, and general lyrical violence and nihilism: three characteristics that a lot of mainstream rap shares in abundance (and then metal had Satanic panic thrown in for additional good measure).

        The complaint remains the same: that the youth are being corrupted. Rap simply occupies a much larger cultural space than metal now does, so it’s got the target on it now.

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        • That is an excellent point, .

          And yet, I think things have shifted in such a way that if a musical genre with a largely white fan base was being criticized for homophobic, mysoginistic, and/or gun-laden messaging, segments of the right would rally in the name of anti-political correctness. Obviously, that is a hypothetical so it is hard to say with any definitiveness.

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          • I am sure that’d be true. There’s got to be a country example.

            And to be fair, when I say “eighties conservatives” above, I mean them…and ALSO Tipper Gore et al, in the P.M.R.C.

            Which is interesting, because it means that back then, white liberals had no problem criticizing both white and black artists for purported ‘obscenity’ (2 Live Crew were in the crosshairs, right next to W.A.S.P.*)

            But for a white liberal to make those sorts of criticisms now would be to mark themselves as, at best, hopelessly-square and unhip, and at worst a censorious racist.

            *heh, W.A.S.P.

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            • “But for a white liberal to make those sorts of criticisms now would be to mark themselves as, at best, hopelessly-square and unhip, and at worst a censorious racist.”

              I’m not sure this is true. I’ve seen legitimate conversation about the issues of misogyny, homophobia, and violence among white fans of the genre. But I think being a fan is a pretty important part. We’ve — well, probably mostly — have touched on it from time to time, even just so far as acknowledging the presence of those issues and the potential for offense and noting that endorsement of a musician or musical act is not necessarily an endorsement of all views contained therein.

              And from what I’ve heard/read in a few places, there is much discussion among Black fans — at least those inclined to delve into the interplay of art and politics — of these issues, but often in such a way as to maintain an ‘in group’ conversation. As if to say, “WE are going to talk about real issues in an art form we love. But we are NOT going to entertain the demonization by outsides of a genre that is hardly unique in containing these issues.”

              I believe Sam wrote a scathing post a few years back about the issue of commercially supporting something that lines the pockets of a bigot. In my head, I wrote a response wherein I encouraged Sam to cast his focus on me because I am an unabashed fan of Lil’ Wayne despite the often vile nature of his lyrics. It would have delved into these waters somewhat while (I think?) avoiding me being labeled a square (and not just because my general stance is that shaking your ass to offensive music is neither the act of a saint nor a devil but somewhere in between).

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            • It seems relevant that the last rapper I really heard these arguments against was Eminem. Not sure whether it’s because he was such a big name at the time, or just on account of his race. (Harder still is that he likely owed at least some of his success to his race.)

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              • I think it’s a little of both – he was huge, so he was easy to talk about, and he was white, so you could talk about the alleged misogyny in his lyrics without appearing to be criticizing black people or culture.

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              • He crossed over in a number of ways that made him known in a concrete way that most other rappers were only known in an abstract way to much of older, white America. Like, my mom probably knew who Eminem was but no other rapper.

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              • Oprah went after Jay Z, particularly for the the n- and b-words, and that’s the last time I remember a high profile discussion of misogyny in hip hop. It’s discussed pretty much constantly among feminists of all colors, and many fans, in less high profile ways, though. And I think there’s been some movement away from the worst forms of the homophobia (the frequent use of the f-word as an insult, or “no homo”, e.g.) and sexism, but it’s been slow and slight. I suspect that the next several years will see some fairly dramatic changes, though.

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                • It strikes me as a conversation that is hard to have in a high profile manner because of how many people will (disingenuously) use it to criticize all things Black, urban, hip-hop, liberal, etc.

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                • One thing that I’ve wondered about is whether or not the rap equivalent of a Nirvana will ever kind of decimate the “money/women/bad-ass posing/excess” set in rap.

                  I mean, post-Nirvana, the hair-metal-type excesses pretty much ONLY appear in the descendants of Spinal Tap – parodies of that time. The hair-metal bands had ruled, then they were gone.

                  Is anything ever going to make rap fans say “you know, some of those tropes are pretty silly and over-the-top?” Rap has already had its Spinal Tap (more than one, in CB4 and Fear of a Black Hat). But musically/thematically it still seems to be the dominant mode.

                  (Actually, the book I am reading right now, Retromania, talks about how big shifts in music and pop culture are no longer occurring with any frequency due to the omnipresence/availability of the past’s pop-culture, which started with recorded music, then accelerated exponentially when the internet hit; I suppose one corollary to Reynolds’ thesis that new major musical genres and movements aren’t being invented anymore, might be that the existing ones don’t “die” either).

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                  • Well, lots of early mainstream rap was downright giddy in nature. I mean, you have Will Smith on “Summer Time” and the Sugar Hill Gang on “Rapper’s Delight” with lyrics that’ll give you cavities.

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                    • Yeah, I kind of switched gears. I’m not really talking specifically now about the “hard” aspect of it (though that’s part of it), more the “excess” portion of it. This idea that everything needs to be more-more-more. A rapper’s latest production with 400 guests might as well be “November Rain”; dude, you’ve gotten a little carried away, and if all the rockers needed was for the Pistols to recycle some old Chuck Berry riffs, all you should need is two turntables and a microphone.

                      I suppose there’s no reason that hip-hop should follow the same paths as rock did, but it’s just something I wonder about.

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                      • I suppose there’s no reason that hip-hop should follow the same paths as mainstream rock did, but it’s just something I wonder about.

                        If it does follow that path, I’m not looking forward to the yacht rap period.

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                      • Ah yes.

                        It will also be interesting to see if individual acts do something akin to the Chili Peppers, wherein every album sounded dramatically different than the prior one and was either emblematic of and/or ushering in the ‘new sound’. Kanye might be closest in terms of the transition he made with Yesus but I’m not quite sure.

                        There is also an extent to which we see ‘hip hop’ as more monolithic than ‘rock’.

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                        • we see ‘hip hop’ as more monolithic than ‘rock’.

                          Musically at least, I’d almost think that has to be the case though, right? Granted that there are a lot of hip-hop crossovers with people singing, but in general there are fewer vocal melodies, and more rapping. Reduced emphasis on vocal melodies alone would seem bound to reduce overall variation (conceded that there can be many styles of rapping though).

                          Same goes for rhythms; you can mess with hip-hop rhythms some, but if you make them too fast, too slow, or too fractured/complicated it’s going to be harder to rap over them (whereas a vocal melody line can be shortened or elongated where needed, allowing for more variation of the rhythmic bed, from countryish shuffles to metal blast beats).

                          Rock also can have rhythms that don’t “swing” at all (as in krautrock), whereas hip-hop almost always needs that “boom-bap” and bounce, or it’s not hip-hop.

                          Basically, I consider both Neu! and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, broadly, “rock”; but they don’t really have a ton in common, to the point that they are far enough apart that even a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan might not consider Neu! “rock”.

                          Are there any two hip-hop artists that far apart musically, to where they wouldn’t even feel they were both in the same basic genre? I mean, each might think the other was terrible, but they’d still agree they were under the same umbrella, right?

                          I don’t know, I’m just spitballing, as someone not all that familiar with hip-hop today; I know Chris has written before about regional hip-hop variants and scenes, but at least to an outsider like me, those look more like minor tweaks or variations on a relatively-rigid musical theme. “Rock and roll” was a hybrid form to begin with, and has been remarkably promiscuous over the years, allowing the form to be stretched and bastardized, until it’s now a pretty stylistically-broad term.

                          And yes, this is a lot of words that can be reductively and snidely boiled down to “a lot of it all sounds the same to me”, but I’m at least trying to articulate why that might be so.

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                          • And to clarify, my comments about hip-hop’s rhythmic rigidity, apply equally to other genres like country and reggae/ska. There’s only so much you can do to the rhythm before it’s not country or reggae/ska anymore, which inherently means the genre is less broad, from a musical standpoint (though obviously there’s no theoretical limit on lyrical or conceptual themes).

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                  • I think the tropes in hip hop are going to change in large part because the number of young people who can’t stand them but love hip hop is significantly greater than the number of older people who can’t stand them but love hip hop.

                    And because the internet has influenced music in a different way. There has always been “underground” and “alt” and “indie” hip hop that has shied away, eschewed entirely, or even mocked the mainstream hip hop tropes of money, guns, and objectified women, but it was mostly underground, alt, or indie, and got little radio play or other exposure. With the internet to add to the outlets for exposure, a lot of what would once have been under/alt/indie is now as mainstream as just about anything short of the Drake/Jay Z/Kanye/Kendrick/Lil Wayne level, as are the attitudes that were more common in that corner of hip hop culture.

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                    • One other point the books I’ve been reading have reiterated is that capitalism, by its nature, requires novelty and will happily absorb the nastiest hairball that art can throw up and turn it into part of the canon, preferably with a legacy-edition album to sell.

                      So the Sex Pistols, who once seemed like the end of the world, can be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (though to their credit, they flipped the bird to the whole idea), now just part of rock’s rich tapestry, next to the beloved Boomer bands. Commerce always wins in the end, but art does at least put up a struggle.

                      Expanding on this thought, is it possible that hip-hop’s extremely-comfortable relationship with commerce and capitalism from the start, protects it even more against those who would blow it up from inside and shift the riverbed?

                      Public Enemy and N.W.A. were kind of already rap’s “Sex Pistols and Nirvana”, and yet it seemingly just keeps chugging along, in the main undisturbed.

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