There’s been a discussion running at PJ Media and then Instapundit, about music and the end of the Cold War – which we should be celebrating throughout this year, but won’t be very much, perhaps in part because the long struggle between freedom and communism (including its peaceful and positive resolution), have never figured much in popular culture, with the exception of the spy novel and film genres.
‘RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW:’ We’ve Forgotten Why We Won The Cold War. “The Cold War was about defeating all that for the sake of human freedom. 2019 marks 30 years since communism cracked up. Thirty years on, are we really going to forget what we won, and why? Will the world wake up in time?”
It says something about the limitations of rock music that while there was an entire oeuvre of Vietnam War protest songs in the late sixties and early seventies, there were infinitely fewer songs focusing on the Cold War. The ones that come to mind are David Bowie’s 1977 slice of life in divided Berlin, “Heroes,” and those written after the Wall fell in 1989: the aforementioned “Right Here Right Now” by Jesus Jones, German hard rockers The Scorpions’ “Winds of Change” and Pink Floyd’s “A Great Day for Freedom.” Were there any others?
As the readers of Ed Driscoll’s post point out, there are actually more Cold War songs out there, including Sting’s cloying “Russians”, which one commenter calls “a classic expression of phony moral equivalence”. And so you can divide the Cold War pop into two categories: equivocal or obscure.
This is not really surprising, since popular musicians if at all political (which most of them are not) tend to be overwhelmingly on the left, ranging from middle of the road progressivism to outright Marxism. This goes for all the creative people, not just musicians, of course. There is something in the artistic sensibility that finds kinship with the ideas and ideals of the left, from the more positive visions of egalitarianism and communitarianism to the more violent anti-establishment and revolutionary tendencies.
Certainly throughout the modernity, artists have increasingly considered themselves outsiders and therefore rebels against the prevailing order, which struck them as conservative, unimaginative and stifling.
There is also the resentment against capitalism, which values commerce and materialism more than the artistic creativity and rewards them – or doesn’t, as the case may be – accordingly. Hence the starving artists stereotype, which is proverbial because it’s true.
All this means that while there is a whole catalogue of protest songs, anti-war songs and songs otherwise pointing out the failings of our developed societies, there are preciously few well known songs that celebrate freedom, democracy, free enterprise, technological progress, the struggle against tyranny, traditional values or middle class sensibilities.
It’s not just the end of the Cold War that failed to inspire musicians, but just about any other aspect of our common story that finds favour with the right.
The only musical genres where exceptions occasionally occur are country music and metal/hardcore; the former because of its association with small town and rural America, the latter probably on the account of its inherent “toxic masculinity”. There is also Christian rock, with its anthems against abortion, divorce, free love and general libertinism and social malaise.
In the wider world of popular music interestingly some of the most commonly identified “right-wing” songs have been written by artists who haven’t been right wing in their broader outlook. See, for example, the Beatles with their sarky anti-Harold Wilson Labour “Taxman” (“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street/If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat/If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat / If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.”) or the world-weary “Revolution” (“You say you want a revolution/Well you know/We all want to change the world … But when you talk about destruction/ Don’t you know you can count me out? …. If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow”) or The Who’s explosive “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (“There’s nothing in the streets/Looks any different to me/And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye … Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss”).
On the other hand, there are a not an insignificant number of musicians and bands who while personally supportive of various strands of the right rarely if ever allow their political and social beliefs to influence and inspire their creative output. I’m talking Elvis Presley, Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Johnny Ramone, Geri Halliwell (Spice Girls), Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet), Ian Curtis (Joy Division), Moe Tucker (the Velvet Underground), Kate Bush, 50 Cent, Kanye West, Gary Barlow (Take That), Gene Simmons, Meat Loaf, Morrissey and others.
The explanation at least in part must lie in the reluctance to be too vocal (no pun intended) about one’s beliefs so as not to self-blacklist in an overwhelmingly left-wing industry. Then there is probably the reluctance to preach and mix politics with entertainment, something that never stops the left, for whom everything, including art, is a political weapon.
The end result is that there just aren’t that many “songs of freedom” out there in the ether. This is both a pity as well as dangerous. Culture matters; it reaches and influences people more than political speeches and learned essays.
It’s a lesson that the left has learned very well through its years in counter-culture and which they continue to be very mindful of as they have become to new cultural establishment. Small government bards, we need you.
Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where this piece also appears.
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