I was doing coffee yesterday with two of my colleagues, and somehow the topic got onto music. One of my colleagues, being a Western Australian by upbringing, once owned a rare busker tape by the dreadlocked John Butler, which he sold for a handsome sum. He also owns two copies of some rare vinyl pressing of John Butler’s music, which had been limited edition and sold out within a day.
Given that I have no love for the cacophony which is the whiny lefty sound which is John Butler and his trio (although I believe that contrary to his dreadlocked hippy demeanour, Mr Butler is actually a very good capitalist and aggressively defends his intellectual property against music piracy, as well as enjoying making millions from those poor misguided souls who like listening to his noise in concert) I suggested that my friend sell his rare records so that they no longer contaminate his music collection. There are many good things that he could do with the money – buy fine wine, a start on deposit on a Ford Mustang, a small chip off the mortgage, or even add to his already large collection of guitars.
I then was accused of agreeing with Andrew Bolt, the conservative columnist and commentator in the Murdoch Press. Apparently he once wrote a piece attacking the music of John Butler for having some sort of anti-civilisation or anti-life or anti-capitalist or pro-Satanic (that bit I am making up, I think…) theme to it.
That does sting me to the quick. Much as I share a lot of views that are not far off those of Mr Bolt, I get the general feeling that he is rather lacking in either authenticity or sincerity. (I promise you, this blog of mine is nothing if not authentic and sincere in my beliefs and my unique view on the world.) I also tend to see Mr Bolt as unnecessarily dogmatic and polemical, and also, occasionally, as a bit of a killjoy, especially where he decides to share his views about music.
So I pointed out to my colleagues that I enjoy the 1990s band Live (I own most of their albums on CD), and I also enjoyed Ultravox (ie Vienna – I once played one of their post-punk and pre-new-Romantic albums and considered it to be an undecipherable mess). That I like both is very material to this conversation as Mr Bolt had gone to the extent of devoting a column once upon a time to each of these bands where he expounded in great detail why he thought they were worse than awful – they had terrible values!
At which point, my other colleague chipped in with: “I bet he likes Bing Crosby!”
That, in itself, is a pretty good put down on which I might end this posting, except that I deliberately misnamed my blog ‘Lost for words’.
The question begs to be asked as to at what point do you criticise music on the basis of political motives?
Plato, whose political philosophy (which was derived from his epistemology) could be described as proto-totalitarian, wanted to either ban or highly regulate music, as all life, within his Republic, was to be regulated. Actual totalitarians of the past century, able to put their ideas into practice rather than leave them on parchment, have done something along those lines, particularly in the time of Stalinism. Such examples are extreme, but do need to be kept in mind.
After all, music (apart from to the artists who make their living or their riches from it, Ed Sheeran probably being the only busker in the world wealthier than John Butler) does not provide economic or material benefit. It does not result in the growth of food, or production of shelter, or clothing. Nor does it cure cancer. Nor does art or sport. And we do have Killjoys out there, particularly joyless people, who spend much of their time pontificating that we spend too much time celebrating our sporting events, or reviling the vulgar excesses of rock stars, whilst we face problems such as starvation and climate change.
But what music does provide us with, as with sport, literature and art, is joy. What is life like without joy, whether it comes from enjoying the music that fits your tastes, or the thrill of your team winning a sporting victory, or the resonance of a great poem, or gaping at an amazing piece of art, or from something else (love for example)? You can have material sufficiency, in a technocratic and mechanistic and over-regulated sense, and have a totally meaningless and miserable life. Such was the world Orwell presented to us in 1984.
Which takes me back to the issue of overly criticising the lyrics or lifestyles or beliefs of musicians. It is OK to disagree with a musician’s beliefs, or to find their music whiny or annoying or cacophony, or dislike their appearance (although I suppose, if dreadlocks are an issue, I still dislike the music of John Butler whilst I enjoy that of Adam Duritz, even if Counting Crows are way too retro these days). But to do a sanctimonious criticism of musicians based on the filter on one’s political perspective, well, that is a bridge too far, a step more than should be taken on the path to censorship and totalitarianism.
The only way we can function as a society (and indeed as individuals) is to respect our differences and disagreements. We do all need to get along.
And as an example of where I probably disagree with the political viewpoint of a music act, but appreciate their wicked humour and humanity and general creativity, how about you go onto You Tube and find the music video for Kisschasy’s song ‘Opinions Won’t Keep You Warm At Night’. (I bet you were expecting me to recommend any of the songs from Bob Roberts.)