Friday, 12 December 2014

What if Hitler Liked Your Music?

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Like most magazine accounts that I follow on Twitter (@keggerhammond), I generally skip over NME tweets as they're prone to cycle the same articles throughout the week, or promote shameless pageview bait like slideshows and listicles. They're also tabloidy in their treatment of music news, in that they will wildly quote musicians out of context, completely misrepresent an interview, or blatantly mislead readers with inaccurate article titles and ledes in the hopes of gaining more clicks. However, despite my general apathy towards the NME account, I still continue to follow it (mostly to get the UK perspective). A while ago I  noticed that they were soliciting fan mail for their next issue. After scrolling past some of the more innocuous questions, I came across this tweet from the NME account:

For those who need clarification, they are referring to UK Prime Minister David Cameron (Tory) and MP Tom Watson (Labour), and their love for hip "indie" bands Haim and Drenge, respectively. I'm not too sure what they mean by "Is this getting too much", but I am assuming that they are asking people if the fact that these "square" politicians liking "cool" music is starting to be a little grating. I'm not sure how one would answer such a query. "Yes, it's too much. The music sounds much shittier now that I know this". Unless the NME wasn't looking for serious answers at all, and was just trolling their easily excitable readers.

Nonetheless, it got me thinking of reactions to politicians claiming their love for modern rock music. Musicians (and their fans, who are basically just following their every word in lock-step) get pretty worked up when politicians/political figures like the music they've created or the music they enjoy. On one hand, I can see the reasoning. The spirit of the music that these politicians embrace generally stands for an ethos that runs counter to establishment politics. Most modern rockers despise stuffy politicians (regardless of party affiliation) and the cogs that turn the corrupt political machine. On the other hand, it seems completely ridiculous. Why does it fucking matter? They are consumers, like all of us. They don't have a part in creating the music and never will. I suppose for a young music fan that hates authority, the thought of David Cameron liking what you like would make you squirm worse than seeing your parents show up at a party you were invited to. However, for grown-ass men and women - people that are supposed to have some semblance of perspective - liking the same band as a Junior Senator should not be seen as an indictment of your taste. Yet artists and fans alike get all uppity and angry when some square in a suit takes a liking for "cool" music.

Take David Cameron for example. The conservative PM has proclaimed his love for indie music, including The Smiths. After hearing this, Johnny Marr forbid Cameron to like his music. That's right, the former Smiths guitarist told him that he is NOT PERMITTED to like The Smiths. You may see this "prohibition" as a little tongue-in-cheek - and perhaps it is - but it should be noted that both Morrissey and Marr have, in the past, continually stated how truly disappointed they are that the Prime Minister enjoys their music.

Or there's Muse, who are apparently a favourite band of political talking head/professional crying blowhard Glenn Beck. Beck admires Muse's stance against oppressive governments, particularly in the song "Uprising" from the 2009 album Resistance. He likes it so much that he believes it aligns perfectly with the anti-government bile effused by his beloved Tea Party. In reaction, Muse actually asked Beck to retract his statement that he liked them.

I've never fully understood this reaction by artists. The joy of music is that it transcends race, background, political affiliation, religion, and the like. That your music has the capability to appeal to someone with a completely differing world view should be seen as an accomplishment, in my opinion.

That being said, I can understand why Muse or Morrissey may be upset by certain people misconstruing their lyrics or the themes of their songs. If I'm advocating peace and love and Hitler 2.0 comes along and gives me a ringing endorsement, it's probably a little unsettling. Not only that, people may begin to associate the two of us simply because they found out about my music through Fuhrer Jr.

But the fact that they're too stupid to understand the meaning of your music doesn't mean that it's lost its validity or profoundness. Do you think Springsteen gets upset when rich, entitled frat bros scream the chorus to "Born in the U.S.A." at the top of their lungs, then mumble their way through the verses decrying America's treatment of its Vietnam veterans? Maybe a little. Does he really care? Probably not.

After all, it's not the frat bros that Bruce is trying to reach. He's not going to change their minds or make them more concerned with the welfare of the poor and the disenfranchised. And if he did, he'd be pretty naive to think that his music is "changing the world" in some way. Yes, music can cross ideological boundaries; but just like the jihadist wearing Old Navy, the ideology is more than skin deep. Listening to "Meat is Murder" won't make David Cameron stop hunting otters. For the artist, the lyrical content of these songs will only really resonate with a certain percentage of their listening audience. The other portion of their audience will listen and admire the musicality. And yet another portion will hear nothing but a series of coordinated sounds melded into a three and half minute long mp3. This is a typical audience cross-section for all popular bands.

As politicians become closer in age to people like me and my generation, this will continue to happen. It's time for musicians and fans to understand that the music they love is not meant for only certain people. Music is the voice of the people - even if the listener doesn't give a shit - or fully understand - what the voice is saying.

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