Sunday, July 30, 2006

Meet the new boss, the same as the old boss

SINCE we're talking about The Who...

Did you hear this story from (I can't believe I'm going to link to it) The National Review? Ostensibly the 50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs, as compiled by someone with the appropriately tight-assed white-male name John J. Miller, it's really more of a wishful-thinking list. He takes lyrics that are so vague as to be almost uninterpretable (i.e., Jesus Jones' "Right Here, Right Now" lyrics "I was alive and I waited for this...watching the world wake up from history.") and somehow construes them to be paens to the conservative cause. (Apparently that song is about the end of Communism - who knew?) It's almost worth reading just for the hilarious ways he twists the songs' lyrics to fit his mindset.

First of all - Jesus Jones? I mean, come on! A one-hit wonder from 1991 (and don't get me wrong, I have that album, I love that album, it's like the soundtrack to my entire high school career) is your Number 14 greatest conservative rock song of all time? Ranking higher than the Clash, the Kinks and Led Zepplin? That really makes me want to change my voter registration to Republican. Also on the list are those sure-to-go-down-in-the-Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame artists The Georgia Satellites, After the Fire, and Kid Rock.

Second of all, have you ever heard of artistic license, Mr. Miller? That's when an artist, whether it be a musician, a playwright, a poet, whoever, takes an idea or issue and examines it from a number of different perspectives, putting themselves in the characters' minds and trying to imagine what it must be like to be that person, to live that life. It doesn't for one second mean that the artist endorses that particular viewpoint or espouses that particular ideology him or herself. It just means that they're trying to put themselves in someone else's shoes and see what it might be like to think that way or feel that way or be that person. So taking a song's lyrics and shoehorning them into your little closed-minded right-wing puckered-asshole view of the world is kind of like taking one line from the Bible (like "an eye for an eye") and claiming it is the literal truth while ignoring all the other things in the Bible that directly contradict it (like "turn the other cheek") just because it happens to be what you want to believe. But then I guess that's something conservatives are pretty good at.

Third of all, and this is what really chaps my hide, you can't have The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" as your Number One Conservative rock song. I'm sorry, I just won't allow it. (You can keep the Eagles and Blink 182, however). Claiming "Won't Get Fooled Again" for the conservative cause would be like liberals claiming the sky for the Democrats because it happens to be blue. It's rock and roll, man, it doesn't belong to any particular party. Miller says that because the song "swears off naive idealism once and for all" it must somehow be conservative. As if jaded cynicism was only the province of the right. As if there isn't a president who claims to be a conservative sitting in office right now saying, "You can trust me, I've got our nation's best interests at heart" while he spies on us citizens and lies to us about it.

What I especially love is how Miller uses a quote from Johnny Cash to argue that politics has no place in music (Hey! We agree on that!) and then says, oh, but wait, some songs really ARE conservative. So, as long as he agrees with what he thinks the song is about, it's okay for the song to have a political viewpoint.

(My favorite looney justification for a song's inclusion on the list? It's Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun," which apparently is about how the right to bear arms can protect women from sexual predators. Can I just say ha, ha, and again, ha?)

KB and I watched the movie "Brazil" again a few weeks ago, and I was really struck by some of the similarities between Terry Gilliam's made-up crypto-fascist beaurocracy and our country today. At one point Jonathan Pryce, the hero, is taking a ride on mass transit (where none of the men in ties will give up a seat to a pregnant one-legged woman) and in the background there's a poster that says "Mind that package, you could save a life." (If you haven't seen it, and you should, part of the plot of the movie revolves around terrorists setting off bombs.)

So what do the posters on the T here in Boston say? They show concerned-looking citizens talking on cell phones and have slogans like, "If you see something, say something." and "Sometimes peace means having to speak up." In other words, please report any brown-skinned men with backpacks you see riding the T to your nearest policeman. Let's all fear and suspect each other and be constantly vigilant, or the terrorists have already won.

I know I'm not the first person to quote Ben Franklin on this issue, but it bears repeating: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Amen, brother.

Thanks for reading.

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