Thursday, July 5, 2007

Impeach Political Music! (A Laughless Opinion Piece)

I can't wait for Bush to leave office and be replaced by an extreme Left administration, just so the great musicians of our day can stop writing bumper-sticker music.

We've come to a sad place when lyrically oblique art rock bands like Radiohead and Elbow�British bands, by the way, residents of the U.K, not the U.S--are trading in their abstract poetics for blunt attacks on George Bush. Is it just me or does this trivialize the music? If Conor Oberst writes an album about time, history, and human mortality (Digital Ash in a Digital Urn) that's timeless stuff. I can relate to that at any time, and so will people 30 years from now. If he writes a political album attacking U.S policy and American culture (Casadega) or songs directly addressed to George Bush, ("When the President Talks to God") then that's valid for about a year and then it expires. One of my favorite bands, the above-mentioned Elbow, writes an album called Leaders of the Free World, and it's almost comical to think of the amount of heart and craft, blood sweat and tears, that went into writing an epic musical suite whose topic is the current president of this one particular country, right now, in 2007, who will be gone in a year. It's just such a waste of musical energy. If you want to pair your gorgeous music with temporary, superficial, and ultimately meaningless subject matter, why not write an album about last night's episode of American Idol?

Here's my beef with "political music". Politics is probably one of the most complex subjects in existence. Every political issue has two or three or ten sides to it. Points, counterpoints, background, context. It's complicated, ok? These issues are complicated. They are nuanced. To me it's ridiculous for musicians to try to "weigh in" on these issues through song. If two very smart people can argue about something on NPR for 30 minutes, that issue can't be boiled down to a single line on a bumper sticker or a clever couplet in a song. Attempting to distill years worth of political debate and discourse into a few lines of melody is absurd. Just because your political views rhyme doesn't make them any more correct.

Politics is not an artistic medium. It shouldn't be connected with emotions and feelings, it should be viewed dispassionately and objectively, based on facts and reason. I can't think of a more inappropriate arena for musicians to be inserting themselves. Would you ask a Congressman to draft a piece of legislation about heartbreak and lost love? Would you expect Initiative-598 to move you to tears? Then why expect a young dude singing and playing a guitar to provide useful ideas on foreign policy and the economy?

There's an annoying pattern of musicians starting out writing about things like love, sadness, personal struggles, triumphs, their own lives and the lives of other people, ideas, dreams� Real things, things that they actually know. But then a few albums later, when they've been elevated to the world stage and all eyes are on them, they feel like these subjects are no longer "important" enough, so they shift their focus to those two old standards�attacking the government, and attacking American society. (See Bright Eyes Casadega, Elbow Leaders of the Free World, Arcade Fire Neon Bible, and to some extent, Radiohead Hail to the Thief, among many others) Why is this necessary? Just because these issues are on a global or at least national scale, does that make them more important than the basic human issues that have been affecting us since the dawn of civilization? Is it just a ploy for attention by artists wanting to be taken seriously? Being "current", being "relevant"?
Please, guys, just relax, will you? We love because you're you, not because you watched CNN last night.

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