Music · Politics · Protest · society

Musicians Used to Unite by Playing in Protest. Times are Changing

I really enjoy concerts. Sometimes, we luck out and manage to be in the presence of an idol.

Last week, Paul McCartney opened his North American tour in Fresno, CA.  My brother noted it. My mom’s birthday was just a week or so before. Wouldn’t it be nice to get my mom tickets to the show? Paul McCartney? He would be my dad had my mom’s plans worked out.  My mom would happily travel  few hours to get there.

My mom is, as she describes, “just to the right of the John Birch Society.” Devout Catholic. All-American. Meat lover.  Compare to Paul McCartney. Probably couldn’t be more different.

And yet, I see my mother. She is excited. Jumpy. I can’t imagine a high schooler being more nervous about going to the prom.  But yet, there she is. It’s Paul McCartney.

Paul McCartney Performs At Save Mart Center
FRESNO, CA – APRIL 13: Sir Paul McCartney unites the hell out of people

Sure, the Central Valley is the dairy capital of the world.  Cowschwitz is right down the road. There are chicken farms, hog farms, you name it. Paul is a devoted animal rights activist.

I took a look at the reports after the show.  Sure, my mom and her friend were beaming afterward. But the entirety of Fresno seemed to be UNITED in their beaming. It didn’t matter who it was. Young or old. Right or left. Black or white. McCartney put on a show and there were thousands of people of all different creeds and beliefs having  religious experience together at the revival at Save Mart Center.

It was a big moment for Fresno. According to many, it was bigger than when Fresno State won the College World Series.  Sir Paul did not divide. He doesn’t care who you are.  He loves you and you love him. He is there to bring people together in good feelings and, as Ringo himself would say, in “peace and love.”

Sir Paul did it. The whole damned city was collectively stoked. The wonders that can happen when a legend shows up to do nothing more than entertain. But he is a Beatle and knows more about protesting and anti-establishment leanings than anyone alive.

All you need it love.

Things are different now. As opposed to playing a show in a hostile place to send a message, musicians now refuse to play in order to send  political message. Whereas Springsteen once united, he now helps to further divide.

Springsteen and Others Will Not Tolerate Intolerance – At Least Not in the U.S. 

Bruce Springsteen has a different message for people. “You aren’t worthy of me.” Pearl Jam? Same thing.  Even such luminaries as Bryan Adams canceled a concert in Mississippi to protest the State’s new law allowing private entities to refuse service to gays.

Of course, Bryan Adams played a show last month in Egypt. I don’t know whether the Summer of 69er is aware of it, but the human rights record in Egypt isn’t that great. Where homosexuality is punished by death.

bathroom rules are strictly enforced
The Sphinx is Male in Egypt but Female in Greece?  Maybe Tiresias can explain it. 

It is inescapable – the idea that Bryan Adams is just being bandwagoning. That he would play Egypt but not Mississippi? It is not something that can seemingly be reconciled, though I would love to see an explanation. Maybe there is something to it. Is Bryan dams denying a service on the basis of his own conscience?

Springsteen Lost a Chance to Unite

Springsteen isn’t just a musician. Like McCartney, he is almost religion. Springsteen has fans from all walks of life. But he has now decided to go with what I call the “Tom Morello” school of thought – there are some fans that are beneath him and should be viewed with open disdain.

Now, Bruce Springsteen has a history of this kind of thing. Chris Christie has been outspoken in his love of Springsteen.  And how has Springsteen treated his celebrity superfan?

By snubbing him at every chance.  Now, I have no problem with his snubbing of Christie the individual. Or even Christie the governor.  I have my own issues with Christie, much like I do with Springsteen.  But I never got the idea that Springsteen has ever held it against New Jersey that it popularly elected governor had different politics than him. Heck, his whole “Jersey Shore” bit is as much his trademark as John Mellencamp’s farm boy spiel.

I’m sure that Springsteen is more than aware of his home state’s history of de facto segregation of schools. Of New Jersey’s claims of enlightenment while being “not so friendly” to minorities and gays. New Jersey’s segregation goes on. But it is also something kept pretty under-the-radar.

Does Springsteen boycott New Jersey because of its governor? No way would he do that. He can see the difference between the Governor and the governed in his home state. But does he see that difference in North Carolina?

Springsteen is Too Good for Some Fans

Go back to McCartney.  Everywhere he goes, fans hang on his every word. Again, McCartney has his personal beliefs. He is no less hardcore a vegan than Morrisey or Weird Al Yankovic. But picture in your mind entertainers than can unit people. McCartney doesn’t mind hot dogs being sold t his venues.  Morrisey?  He has developed an amazing reputation of being holier than thou.

Then there is Weird Al.  When asked once how he can play the fair circuit and be a vegan he responded that it’s the same way he can play the college circuit even though he graduated. Weird Al does his thing.

McCartney and Weird Al have something in common: they unite people in their art. Are you a meat lover?  You are welcome to a Weird Al show! Compare with Morrisey.  Animal products are banned from his venues.

There are people that Morrisey disdains as fans.  Tom Morello HATES that Paul Ryan is a Rage Against the Machine fan. Heck, I am a fan of RATM. However, I am not a fan of the politics (anybody who has a Che Guevara image (he was a racist, despotic murderer) on his gear will get my resentment) but that doesn’t matter.  Morello doesn’t want me as a fan? That is fine. It’s not his choice, though, whether I dig his playing.  If you are reading this, Mr. Morello, I think your artistry is amazing. But I also think you take yourself and your image WAY too seriously.

This is like Sinatra.  Yes, he was a thug. But he was to me the greatest singer of all time (along with Orbison and Karen Carpenter). Did Sinatra ever tell fans they weren’t wanted? Not in the least.

Springsteen Could Have United People. He Chose to Divide

Bruce – do you seriously think that everyone in North Carolina is a bigot? Because the message you have sent is that everyone who bought a ticket to see you play is a bigot. North Carolina is a bigoted state?  I have friends there and I assure you they are not bigots.

Of course, I stand behind your right to boycott. It’s your concert. It’s your show. It’s you.  You, Bruce, can do what you want.

On the other hand, you had a venue. With thousands of people hanging on your every syllable. You chose not to confront people with this. Rather, you chose to back out.

Springsteen could have brought people together. He chose the opposite. He chose to divide. Springsteen’s statement is the essence of us versus them generalities. Again, it’s his right to cancel. I have no problem with him exercising his rights. It just seems disingenuous that a guy with a concert rider where security is a whole page of a 22 page rider.

Bruce: I will NEVER be in the same bathroom as you. You ensure security is there to clear out an entire arena for a sound check. If you need to take a leak during a sound check, rest assured there will be nobody else in that stall. This is a condition of your performance. You have that certain status to enable you absolute privacy in all you do.

Could you have taken ten minutes in your show to explain your thoughts on this to the crowd?  Couldn’t Bruce have said, “I really disagree with this law. But I still love my fans. If I could ask you all to write your legislators. Or to go vote them out.” Bruce could have spoken from his heart.

He missed a chance. Springsteen could have used his massive bully pulpit and influence to rally people. He did not. He boycotted a state. He could have done something. He chose to do nothing.

Boycotting North Carolina is Not Likely to Succeed

We are coming on the heels of the end of a boycott that has lasted into its sixth decade. The President broke some serious ground in visiting Cuba.

Boycotting political entities doesn’t really have a strong history of success. Part of it is that boycotts don’t necessarily have a large effect on the business bottom line. PayPal is boycotting North Carolina, which is costing NC about 400 jobs. What is most at stake in boycotts is the loss of brand value. Good will for a brand is worth much more than the loss of revenue.

States, however, don’t have this problem. When the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980, did it hurt the Soviets? How much harm came to America when the USSR boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984?  These actions probably hurt the athletes more than anybody.

Musicians Can Unite

Boycotts against political bodies, it is usually the people that suffer. The President is looking to open up relations with Cuba because it’s the Cuban people – and not the government – that suffered as a result. And history has shown that musicians entering such hostile places can be seen as breaking additional ground on the road to detente.

elton russia

This picture is of Elton John in 1979.  In that year he went to the Soviet Union and played a series of shows.

It used to be that musicians went to somewhat hostile places BECAUSE they are hostile. Musicians and other artists go to spread their ideas. Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Joel and Motley Crue played behind the Iron Curtain. They went there because it was the Iron Curtain.

Today we have a different circumstance. Self-important musicians spread their messages through their performances and through their music. They had a message. It will be uncomfortable but they want you to hear it.

Today? I think that activism is too much work. Springsteen might have been disappointed to see a friendly crowd. Eddie Vedder himself would be in North Carolina proselytizing about the unfairness of the North Carolina law to massive applause.

In this circumstance, I think these musicians are showing themselves to be more about garnering buzz than about putting out a message.

McCartney opened his tour in Fresno.  Fresno? Because he is out there spreading good feelings to anyone who wants to hear it.

Spread your message through unity.

Rock on.




3 thoughts on “Musicians Used to Unite by Playing in Protest. Times are Changing

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