Sunday, March 21, 2004

Rock 'n the Vote

It always grieves me to hear a politician resort to radio anthems in an attempt to infuse a little energy into a limp campaign, but recent news of Stephen Harper's fondness for "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC truly saps me of my zeal for the steel. It's bad enough watching Mick Jagger reach the same age as my late grandmother, then dress like my grandmother, and chicken-strut to the cheers of thousands - now we're being asked to envision the recently elected leader of the Canadian Conservatives, a rather pedestrian (even by Canadian standards) bourgeois number-cruncher striding about in his green room, flailing his fist to the howls of Brian and Angus, all in aid of getting the pump for the stump. Ah, Rock & Roll - the harlot of Babylon!

(I hope it's not too late, but please don't click on that last link unless you're willing to be truly freaked out.)

I remember William Greider chortling during an interview with the newly-elected Bill Clinton that the "a-ha" moment for him (Greider) had been when Bill & Hillary had joined hands while Fleetwood Mac exhorted one and all, "Don't ... stop ... thinkin' about tomorrow." It was a divisive moment for me, because to that point I had rather enjoyed the deceptively light-weight stylings of Fleetwood Mac. I thought that, when contrasted to the bland offerings of airwave competitors like The Eagles, FM gave a serious, blues-like attempt at dealing with issues of love gone sour, abandonment, psychic-&-emotional addiction. But rock 'n roll doth make fools of us all - today's "Karma Cameleon" is tomorrow's "Crying Game".

Ambiguous anthems are the signpost of successful rock & roll, of course. U2 has made a career out of them, but they're hardly the first. Who can make sense out of "Stairway To Heaven" or, for that matter, "Helter Skelter" - either one of which is said to have inspired a homicide or two. Bono declaring "we're stealing (Helter Skelter) back" is all par for the course. George W. Bush or Stephen Harper or Whisky Prajer could do the same - the music is a malleable means to the end.

Personally, I'm for the sort of music/lyric that leans toward the culpable. "Thunderstruck" can spit forth, "I looked 'round, and I knew, there was no help, no help from you!" and inspire anyone from the self-styled political outlaw to the penny-drained divorcee. Eyeh, fine - the music amounts to a mood.

But if a politician were to get his pump from something like, say, Leonard Cohen's Here It Is, he'd be dealing with lyrical ambiguities like:

Here is your crown
Your seal and your rings;
Here is your love
For all things.

Here is your cart.
And your cardboard and piss;
Here is your love
For all of this.

What, exactly, is the appeal here? The appeal, I think, is in the acknowledgment that we're all one step removed from the truly pitiable. Ronald Reagan cannot be seen in public, thanks to Alzheimers. Pierre Trudeau, as he succumbed to cancer, took his deepest comfort from daily visits with his priest.

It's pathetic. But the degree to which we can connect with this, is the degree to which we can be truly effective human beings.

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