Does rock ‘n’ roll have a conscience? Should it? Does it even matter? While there are many who like to keep their politics and their music separate, rock ‘n’ roll has spawned dozens of artists who used the medium of music to promote and advance their political views and causes, mainly those of the progressive/left variety.
The Clash are an obvious example of a band that proved there isn’t much that’s more rock ‘n’ roll than harnessing your revolutionary zeal to the electric guitar, however contrived they may have been; three chords and the truth? You better believe it. Stiff Little Fingers, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Crass, New Model Army, Manic Street Preachers, Queensryche, Elvis Costello and The Jam, to name just a few, produced their very best music when they were political; when they were angry, full of fire and youthful passion. Even the bleak apolitical nihilism of extreme metal is to be welcomed. At least it’s genuine and has something to say about the world in which we live.
There are countless other examples of artists donating chunks of their earnings; appearance fees, royalties and the like, in the pursuit of their chosen causes and that’s cool, too. Put your money where your chorus is. What’s not to admire? There’s a credible argument that an artist’s job is to express him or herself honestly and if the form of that expression is political then so be it. In fact, we might go further; rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be anti-establishment, it’s supposed to be the music of outsiders and it’s supposed to want to change the world for the better. It’s at its most thrilling, visceral and vital when it’s passionate and suggests that such a change might just be possible.
Maybe, though, the debate shouldn’t be about artists who are overtly political. Maybe the debate should be about those who preach one thing via their art but act quite otherwise offstage. Musicians as prone to hypocrisy as normal mortals? There’s a shocker, eh? Every now and again, though, one encounters an example that truly sickens.
Take Iron Maiden frontman, Bruce Dickinson. While Dickinson has never been overtly political in his music, one could hazard a reasonably educated guess as to where, on the political spectrum, his sympathies might be located. The singer, from an entrepreneurial middle-class family, has extensive business interests and he recently gave an interview to the Ice Live Business Forum explaining some of his views and talking about his background and various ventures. Given all that, it would hardly drop jaws were the ‘aspirational’ musician revealed to be a Tory. While many might find it disgusting that Dickinson could be a supporter of a party engaged in a deliberate and conscious campaign to impoverish a large segment of his band’s traditionally working-class base, he’s as entitled as anyone else to support whomsoever he wishes.
On a whole other level of inexcusable cynicism and greed, however, is Dickinson’s recent acceptance from the US military of a contract to manufacture ‘lighter-than-air’ Drones. The contract is believed to be worth anything up to $500,000,000, according to Conference Speakers International.
As most will know, Drones, or Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV), have been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths and has seen the USA condemned by a growing number of countries around the world. Frankly, their use in the ‘War on Terror’ is unquestionably immoral as is the ‘War on Terror’ itself. Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Minister of the Interior, has said, “Drone missiles cause collateral damage. A few militants are killed, but the majority of victims are innocent citizens.” Quite. Even a conservative estimate of the number of deaths along the Pakistanborder has been pegged at around 3,500.
In addition, the FBI has recently confirmed that surveillance Drones are being used to spy on America’s civilian population. Adding to the controversy of the US Government’s illegal and unethical partnership with business interests to invade the privacy and smash the civil liberties of its citizens.
It’s quite a feat to end up even more morally reprehensible than unhinged neocon lunatic Ted Nugent but, with this contract, Dickinson has accomplished it with ease. Fans may wish to consider that a proportion of the cash they spend on Iron Maiden/Bruce Dickinson product might well end up in the pockets of a man who, however one spins the facts is, at the very least, indirectly engaged in the slaughter of poverty-stricken families of Pakistani civilians.
Next time Maiden fans are treated to the in-concert spectacle of the band’s singer, decked out in his trademark red guardsman uniform, singing of the horrors of Paschendale, they might wish to ponder his revolting hypocrisy. Similarly, it will require a robust constitution to avoid vomiting when next Dickinson treats fans to a rendition of 2 Minutes To Midnight.
“The body bags and little rags of children torn in two
And the jellied brains of those who remain to put the finger right on you.
As the madmen play on words and make us all dance to their song,
To the tune of starving millions to make a better kind of gun.”
You said it, Bruce…
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Any rebuttal by Mr Dickinson or those acting on his behalf will be given the same respect as Mr Paterson’s on receipt and will of course be published.