Friday, June 09, 2006

Music + Politics =

Author's note: I wrote this as a general rant for anybody to read, even if they're not nearly as familiar with heavy metal as we are.

Some people like to bitch and moan when artists make politically driven music, or make statements in interviews that are fairly unpopular with fans, but I'd like you to honestly evaluate the impact of politics in music.

First, let me declare that if you hate politics in music, then you can go ahead and throw away all your Pink Floyd, Beatles, Metallica, Rush, Nine Inch Nails, Megadeth, Alice in Chains, Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, Radiohead, Sex Pistols, Black Flag, Pearl Jam, A Perfect Cirlce, Ministry, U2, Pennywise, Hank III, and Dave Matthews Band albums for starters. I could ramble on and quadrouple the size of that list in minutes, but I think you get the point. I don't know much about pop country and pop/rap, but I know there's plenty of politically-driven music in those genres as well.

It's true when detractors of government-critisizing artists say that musicians are rarely educated in the science of government and politics, but there's something about the human experience that you don't need a liberal arts degree to recognize. When people have their sacred freedoms taken away in the form of censorship or some other manner, artists find more clever ways to voice their dissent that even the loudest pundit on cable news.

In many instances music has changed the course of history. The Vietnam war is a prime example of a conflict that saw ever-increasing public dissent unified by the sound of an influx of peaceful and unifying music. The free world got their introduction to the crimes against native tribal people of the Amazon committed by the Brasilian government in the early 1990's when thrash metallers Sepultura unleashed their viscous 1991 classic, "Arise". The video for the title track was banned from MTV for its graphic depiction of violence, which actually caused more interest in the forbidden video than it would have without the act of censorship. The influx of western attention forced greater accountability from the Brasilian government in dealing with the native tribes.

Political messages and inspirations are certainly more acceptable within certain genres. In country music, Texas' Dixie Chicks were practically excommunicated for voicing their dissent for President George W. Bush, whereas in heavy metal, the band Ministry just released an album called "Rio Grande Blood"- which critisizes Washington for everything from planning the events of September 11, 2001 ( -read about it, it's not such a radical theory) to sending US soldiers to war for private business gains- and it was met with widespread praise and high marks from critics.

Political messages in music can be as timeless or as dated as the artist intends. The pop/punk band Green Day wrote songs specifically for the 2004 November Presidential election. As of 2006, these songs are already obsolete and serve as my primary example of the short-sightedness of the artist. In contrast, Pink Floyd's 1979 classic, "The Wall" is a timeless rejection of government's attempt to control the thought and behavior of its citizens. The title track is an extremely pointed message that has relevancy to any generation. For the sake of brevity, I'll encourage further examples to be discussed as comments below.

Maybe your favorite band's lead singer is a crazy drug addict. Maybe you'd learn something if you consider what he's saying. Just remember that some of the greatest and most memorable songs in history were done in the spirit of protest. What do you think?


Lefty Metalhead said...

The conception of heavy metal was based on the premise that music too can be used to protest. If we go back to Black Sabbath and songs such as "War Pigs", we will see clear political themes. I can argue that a sizeable portion of metal bands pursue some kind of socio-political discourse, whether it be tacit or aggressive. Beyond metal, rock n roll was the ultimate protest music. The difference here is that rock n roll rebelled against social inequities and pre-conceived social roles. Metal, on the other hand, quickly adopted strong political messages.

People who criticize outspoken musicians may not know the definition of "politics". I think they believe politics is all about political parties, elections, and the government. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Politics are defined by who gets what, when, where, how, and why? It is a battle over resources and the ideas and initiatives which direct how such resources are distributed. Therefore, politics are general-enough for everyone to have some sort of political tendency.

When musicians speak up about current world affairs, or the national political climate, they are uncovering a particular facet of their "politicalness", or the extent to which they are political. Since words such as "president", "congress", "war", and "policy" could automatically trigger political thought, many critics assume the musician is jumping on the political bandwagon. The truth is, one need not be formally educated to be political. I would argue that human nature makes us all political.

Political discourse, therefore, isn't solely for politicians or those involved in political affairs. Since everyone is political to some degree, musicians possess the inherent right to promote their opinions.

Being a politician is a profession. Being a musician is also a profession. Politicans can enjoy and have opinions about music. Why would we deny musicians the reverse idea? For musicians are also affected by political decisions. In other words, politics aren't reserved only for politicians. Politics are reserved for the people. Denying a certain profession the right to speak upon the decisions that affect their lives is both ignorant and damned un-American! Some metalheads don't want their favorite bands to talk about politics.'re listening to the wrong music then buddy!

Great post Axe!

BigNewsDay said...


Excellent post Axe, and great comments Lefty! We need more of these types of posts on our blogs.

As far as protest in in music, this is nothing new. J.S. Bach used his music to protest against the Catholic Church. At a time when ALL music (at least in Europe) was done using the Major scale, Bach began to write music using the minor scale. This did not sit well with the Catholic church, but he helpe start the trend of protest along with John Calvin (founder of the Protest-ant Church) and Martin Luther (founder of the Lutheran Church).

In the 1800's, slaves here in America would often sing songs of protest that would tell their stories of hardship.

In the 1900's folk singers such as Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, and later Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Jan Baez used their style of music to discuss social issues.

This type of music needs to be embraced for it truly displays the spirit of this great country.

Goremaster said...

great post. war pigs is an 30+ year old song but it sure as hell sounds relevant today.

BlackLabelAxe said...

Yeap, War Pigs I think is becoming the anthem of the 21st Century. Actually, it's the anthem of the 20th too. Now that I think about it, it's pretty much the anthem of all time.

BlackLabelAxe said...

Fellas, I watched a documentary movie last night that may actually change the course of history.

The thought of the government staging the "terrorist" attacks of 9/11 is so taboo that most people immediately think you're crazy if you say one word about it. The facts cannot be ignored any longer. I'm a Civil/Structural engineer by profession and academic course of study, and I've always had a problem with official explanaition- because it's scientifically impossible.

Please get a copy of this video somehow and watch it. If you're like me and the new Ministry album has been kicking your ass for the past month or so, you'll figure out where those sound clips came from in "Fear is Big Business".

If "Loose Change" doesn't piss you off then nothing will.

I would like to post an entry about the facts of 9/11, but I'm too mad right now to be objective.

Great comments guys, I think we're on the same page with our metallic political rage!

BlackLabelAxe said...

I know that "Loose Change" isn't necessarily the most bulletproof presentation of facts, but it asks the questions that nobody in Washington will answer. Besides, its popularity alone is vital in getting people to start asking these questions.

BigNewsDay said...

Be careful Axe. People are going to start thinking that you are one of us damn crazy liberals.

I will have to check this movie out. It sounds quite compelling.

BlackLabelAxe said...

I know, you immediately get labeled as a liberal if you walk that road. This works well for me, because people know where I stand. The people I talk to take these rumors very seriously when they hear it from me, because I'm not a liberal arts college sophomore, and I'm not a Michael Moore supporter. It's not really a liberal or conservative issue, it's something that we have to demand answers to as a free people.

I'm sick of people profitting from our collective fear (OPEC, et. al.), and I'm getting VERY sick of burying friends over something that may or may not have been a Machiavellian cash grab. It's too early to assign blame, but we need answers, and the answers we've been given are unacceptable.

BlackLabelAxe said...

...but I do have to give credit to all my liberal friends here for introducing me to ideas that are traditionally "blasphemous" that actually serve the cause of freedom.

It's time for me to go drink some Shiner beer, so I'm out for today!

BigNewsDay said...

Cool, some good Texas beer. You Shiner used to be considered "cheap" beer, and now it is a trendy beer. When I lived in Austin, Shiner Bock was our main choice of beverages.

BigNewsDay said...

Mrs. NewsDay just made some killer frozen mango 'ritas. We're going to take it easy and play some board games with LittleNewsDay. Family nights are important when you can make the time for them.

Lefty Metalhead said...

Axe, it's clear you have shifted at least a few inches toward the left, at least in political terms. I think you're just as concerned about the truth as many of us on the left are. Sadly, most right wingers today dare not ask the questions you are asking. You're a true American and I admire you more for it everyday. I'm very glad that our sharing of ideas has opened our eyes and convinced us to negate our previous assumptions and stereotypes of those "on the other side". I thank you too for your ideas. Keep them coming bro'!

Big, you just got me thirsty! I'm drinking a Negra Modelo as I type. As soon as I'm done, I'm going to shake me up some margaritas with this kick-ass tequila a friend of mine brought me from Mexico. Tomorrow is my nephew's birthday party, so I'll be able to spend time with both him and my niece. I hope I have kids someday! Meanwhile, I'll get started on the margaritas and possibly catch the documentary Axe recommended. Cheers!

Lefty Metalhead said...

By the way Axe, O'Reilly would likely ask you right now, "why do you hate America?". Oh, the attacks we get from people like that on both sides!

BigNewsDay said...

Lefty, you gotta try the 'ritas with fresh mangos. Fuckin' awesome!

I love my wife! (when she's not bitchin')

B.L. Sabob: now "completely heterosexual" said...

Art in and of itself is political

BTW, I saw Loose Change. The way I look at it, if even 10% of what was in that film is true, we are looking at the biggest scandal in world history

B.L. Sabob: now "completely heterosexual" said...

“Music is always a commentary on society.”
Frank Zappa