Tales from the Jugular

A Heavy Metal Non-Republican's Rebuttal

By: Vinaya Saksena
Published: Monday, October 4, 2004
In a recent “Tales from the Jugular” column (link), one of my Maximum Metal colleagues, Jonah Haze, went “on record as a heavy metal Republican.” While I respect Jonah’s views, I respectfully disagree on a few key points, and therefore, would like to go on record as a heavy metal, er.... non-Republican (Democrat would be kind of misleading, since I’m not registered as such). I have no quarrel with Jonah or anyone else personally; I simply feel that a balancing of opinions is in order if any discourse we have on the subject is to be truly meaningful. I’m not here to preach to you a myriad of reasons to vote Dubuyah out of office on November 2. This is a music site, not a political one, and besides, there are plenty of sites out there (i.e., www.bushoccupation.com) already providing literally thousands (I kid you not- see www.thousandreasons.org) of reasons for the man’s removal.

The objects of Jonah’s outrage (and likely that of many other Republicans) were the various artists and bands currently on tour promoting the ousting of George W. Bush. That’s all well and good; after all, this is a free country, is it not? Those artists have every right to air their views, and those who disagree, likewise, have every right to voice their outrage. But where was the outrage on the right over politics mixing with music when over-hyped, cookie-cutter country singers could be heard yacking all over the radio about the war in Iraq and other matters most of them probably don’t know squat about (Alan Jackson basically admitted as much in his song). I remember the overwhelming feeling of tragedy still welling in my gut as I first saw and heard Jackson’s “tribute” to the heroes and victims of the 9/11 attacks. I had heard about upcoming musical tributes like that, and decided to check one out on TV. I could not believe my eyes or ears. Here we were, right after the direst tragedy on our soil since Pearl Harbor. Major media outlets had come forward apologizing for pushing frivolous reality shows and other mindless nonsense at the expense of substance, and promised to provide the public with more meaningful content. And what did the victims get in their memory--a tacky, generic country song by a true product of the corporate machine, including lyrics that were a phenomenally stupid, and brazen assault on whatever pride I felt in being an American (“I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you/ The difference in Iraq and Iran” ....you have got to be joking!). I saw nothing wrong with the song’s overall sentiment, but lines like this really blew it. Adding insult to injury was the fact that, being a guitarist, I could tell in the close-ups that Jackson was not even playing his guitar, but merely hand-synching for the camera!

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any more insipid, a friend of mine who was still unfortunately glued to the local country station, showed me a song that he had downloaded on his laptop that he thought had a good message. The song was “Have You Forgotten?” by Darrel Worley. Now this, I thought, was crossing the line! The song was divisive, misleading, pandering, and hopelessly one-sided in its blind adherence to supporting one war, while carelessly mixing in details pertaining to another. And despite the song’s somber tone, the underlying message, to me, was one of unconstructive (if understandable) anger and fierce disdain for anyone who might disagree. I knew that if this kind of attitude was fostered on a large scale, it could have truly ugly consequences for America as a whole. And while I truly regret that we have reached this point, look at where we are now! On September 11 th, we as a nation had the world’s unbridled sympathy. Somehow, that almost universal sentiment of sympathy turned to a deep division of thought not only abroad, but as Jonah pointed out, right here at home. Confronted with this harsh reality, some unfortunately still choose to scapegoat those with differing worldviews, rather than hold a mirror to themselves.

Okay, so having said that, how can I in good conscience support the current Rock Against Bush tour and others of its ilk? Simple: it’s not just a matter of politics, but a matter of principle. We are supposedly fighting for freedom abroad. What kind of example are we setting for countries we hope to democratize if we suppress or intimidate all those who dare challenge the status quo? It is troubling when certain points of view invite automatic, knee-jerk hostility- often from people who have no idea what’s going on in the world. Some argue that the artists participating in these anti-Bush tours are no better in this regard. But again, our forefathers died so that all in this country could hold whatever beliefs they chose, and not have to suppress those views for fear of aggressive or violent repression. They can say whatever they want to a captive audience, of course, but nobody, I repeat, nobody, can force an individual to vote one way or another. And like I said, Bush supporters didn’t seem particularly concerned about the mixing of politics and music when the Nashville hit factory began churning out pro-war anthems. As George Carlin once said: Let’s not have a double standard here. One standard will do just fine!

My colleague alleges, furthermore, that the artists touring to promote the idea of ousting Bush are doing so chiefly, if not purely, to boost ticket sales. I don’t know about the other artists’ current ticket sales, but Bruce Springsteen definitely does NOT need to hop on a Bush-bashing “bandwagon” to sell more tickets! In fact, it could be argued that he is putting his career in jeopardy over this tour. Think about it: Springsteen concerts (at least in my area) routinely sell out like no other gigs I can think of. Every time he comes to town, I always hear people bitching about how hard it is to get a ticket. On the other hand, I think it’s safe to assume that not all Springsteen fans are or have historically been Democrats. And with his current tour being what it is, it is not exactly inconceivable that a long-time fan of the Boss who supports Bush might say “Fuck this! I’m not going to an anti-Bush show!” Not exactly out of the realm of possibility when you consider the Administration’s (and many of their supporters’) overt hostility towards anyone who dares to hold a dissenting view! How is that supposed to boost ticket sales?

To further the Republican case, particularly as it pertains to heavy metal fans, Jonah correctly points to the Parents Music Resource Center , spearheaded by none other than Tipper Gore. While I have tended to support the Democrats, and understood Mrs. Gore’s parental instinct to protect her children, I agree with Jonah and others who have spoken out against her actions. Banning or censoring music was not and is not the answer; Parental responsibility is. And with that in mind, I think we metal fans have reason to be concerned about what our current administration might do regarding this issue if given another four years. We’ve already seen FCC commissioner Michael Powell (Colin’s Son) raise a stink about Janet Jackson’s (partially) exposed breast making it onto television. A rather hypocritical move, I’d say, especially after Powell and his fellow republican commissioners committed a brazen assault on democracy by disregarding public opinion and changing their rules to let large corporations like CBS to gobble up even more radio and TV stations, allowing fine content like the aforementioned half-time debacle to reach a wider audience than ever. (Note: for more on the FCC, check out our previous article: “Clear Channel - Why the Radio Sucks.”) Furthermore, Bush makes no secret of his Christian beliefs. Nothing wrong with that. But what about his overly cozy relationship with the religious right? Aren’t these some of the same people who launched a massive PR attack on Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden and others throughout the eighties? I seem to remember some members of the religious right even suggesting that albums by these artists should be burned on sight. And remember Bob Dole’s famous speech about the dangers of cultural “nightmares of depravity?” Did that not have a troubling prohibitionist air to it?

And that is really what troubles me about this situation more than anything else: The intolerance for differing views. As Jonah pointed out, the free airing of opposing viewpoints is a great and crucial aspect of a free society like ours. I couldn’t agree more. And for this reason, I am truly sick and tired of hearing accusations of “treason” lobbed at anyone who speaks out against leaders they feel are acting immorally. I find it highly ironic to be lectured about supporting our troops by someone who drives around by him/ herself with no cargo in a gargantuan gas guzzler with an imported patriotic bumper sticker on it, while thousands of brave young men and women lay their lives on the line every day in a region where we probably wouldn’t have as many conflicts as we do were it not for our dependence on foreign petrol. In times like these, what is so treasonous about voicing concern for those who are making the ultimate sacrifice for you and me? Solidarity in uncertain times is a virtue, as supporters of the war in Iraq are often quick to point out; but we must never forget that solidarity does not mean blindly supporting the status quo and ostracizing those who don’t. Solidarity means recognizing and accepting our differences, rather than letting them create animosity between us. Or, to be simplistic about it: People have different opinions. Deal with it.

I’m not telling you to vote for John Kerry. I’m not telling you to vote against George W. Bush. All I am suggesting is that we be wary of unconditional support for one viewpoint or categorical rejection of another. Moreover, whatever viewpoint we take, we should all do our part to ensure that everyone gets a fair shake, regardless of their views. As human beings, we tend to find this task damn near impossible at times. But we owe it to ourselves, each other, and the world to strive for that ideal. That, to me, is what America stands for. I actually spoke to Jonah via email (yes, we are on speaking terms!) about my idea for this article. And while I had a certain message that I wanted to convey to all of you, I think Jonah said it best, so I’ll just use his words!

       "No matter what we believe we should speak if we have a forum. Before we are Democrats, before we are Republicans and even before we are Americans, we are METAL! And that alone unites us with a stronger bond than blood or party lines could ever. Raise your fist and yell my brother!"

Amen to that, my friend.

(By the way, while I have enjoyed Michael Moore’s work, I take no issue with Jonah’s comment about Mr. Moore and Slim Fast.)

Special thanks to Maximum Metal staff for having the decency and integrity to uphold freedom of expression on this site, and to Jonah Haze in particular for being a good sport about it.

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