Sound Bites: What Do We Pay You Idiots For?

 
 

In light of the American Presidential election, Stephen Connolly asks why musicians feel the need to get all political

There comes a time in a popular musician’s career when they suddenly open their mouth and not a lyric belches forth, but an opinion. You can see how it happens: crowds of people before you are twisting in your direction like a bucket of maggots to a sausage to hear your words; why not sate them between album releases with a few off-the-cuff remarks? Surely these people will be glad to hear every thought that popped into your head as you, like them, chewed over the Sunday paper? And virtually all of them they will want to hear it. Some however will wish they simply hadn’t.

From when the first pop stars slid naked out of the vat and onto the laboratory floor, and coughed up the last glob lime green artificial amniotic fluid to the rapturous applause and hurled knickers of lab technicians, their impressions of life have been both their sustenance and their bane. Their music, whether folk protest songs against a war, or rock music advocating psychedelia and the drugs implied or celebrations of androgyny cultivated a specific fan base from the off, with those of a different ethos steering well clear. Those that purge such leanings from their lyrics access a wide fanbase, at the expense of potency, it would seem.

What ruins it all then is when, sufficiently buggered on encouragement in a cosy interview session, the musician sees fit to deviate from their area of expertise and venture into uncharted waters, only to be reduced to brown-red haze of blood and viscera by saw-toothed journalists of the deep.

It is at this moment that an audience, at least those that can be described as such any longer, is suddenly fragmented into numerous groups of varying alienation, no matter what the remark. Bryan Ferry’s championing of fox hunting, Axl Rose’s various homophobic and racist rants and Bowie’s bizarre public flirtation with fascism have all at some stage been deleterious to their success, as did Dylan’s agonising Christian conversion. Even lending your support to a side in a presidential or general election, unless having long made it known through your music or background as being affiliated or sympathetic to a particular political cause, serves to leave a bitter taste with thousands of your followers (followers to whom you can attribute your success and possession of such a podium in the first place) and you risk losing them, whether you want them or not.

Indeed, my three and a half readers, many of these opinions will be apparently benign, relating to such seemingly ubiquitous, robust ideologies as ‘Vote for Obama, he’s the cool one’ and ‘Tories are rubbish and possibly a bit evil’ but they risk alienating anyone who believes otherwise, many of whom will be fans. David Cameron for example, regardless of whatever negative superlatives befit him is, it would appear, an enthusiastic Smiths fan but in recent years, he was personally forbidden by Johnny Marr from listening to their music.

While he ought to have found some clues in Morrissey’s lyrics over the intervening years to suggest that his fanship was not their priority (the song ‘Margaret on The Guillotine’ is a notable example), Cameron was, presumably, not a staunch authoritarian conservative when he was in his mid teens- and was surely stung sorely by the remark. It’s unlikely he was alone.

If there’s one tragedy most befitting of being documented in a Smiths song, it’s the Caligula-esque fall from grace that Morrissey has suffered, in stuttering slow-motion over the past 15 years. If it weren’t for his professed asexuality, you’d suspect syphilis. Part of this is attributable due to the utter liquidation of his once mighty lyrical ability in recent years, but most is, I’d wager, down to the parade of truculent, curmudgeonly gaffes that vacate his jaws with increasing frequency of late, leaving even his most ardent enthusiasts hiding their reddened cheeks with their vinyl copies of Louder Than Bombs; such finery as his recent equation of 2011’s Norway massacres to fast food chain’s cooking of meat, various clumsy comments on Britain’s immigration policy and most recently, blundering declarations about the true ownership of the Falkland islands- to an Argentinian crowd. Chances are if you believe that your favourite artists sharing the entirety of their beliefs with you poses no threat to their careers, their indiscretions have yet to offend you. Musicians, next when about to tweet your thoughts on the US election just think: What do we pay you for?

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