Why is Rage Against the Machine’s guitarist the only widely-recognized musician joining the Wisconsin fray?
Such is the state of music that a ’90s rock icon like Tom Morello is the only representative from the music industry protesting Scott Walker’s dictatorial moves in Wisconsin. Indeed, he has called Walker the “Mubarak of the Midwest.”
What a breath of fresh air it is to hear a rocker speak politically. Which raises the question, how did music become so de-politicized, so neutered? Has the Echo Boom generation — 20 somethings and those in their early 30s — disappeared up its own collective asshole?
This isn’t merely a question of the Wisconsin situation, but politics at large. Some musicians and bands come out of hiding during elections, then disappear into their own insulated world of artistry in between, as if all the work had been done two years ago, and they could simply pat themselves on the back and point to Barack Obama as evidence that they had prevailed.
The truth is that for every band that plays a benefit for Obama, for instance, there are dozens of others who stay home. Maybe it is not within their budget to suddenly embark for Madison, Wisconsin, or any other place of protest — but surely there must be a few that could have joined Morello. Bands from Chicago, Milwaukee, Mineapolis/St. Paul, even places in Michigan and Indiana, for instance.
Why is a 46 year old guitarist from a band that peaked in the late 1990s the only visible presence from the music industry? Where is the energy and activism found in the ’60s, or the aftershock of punk rock in the ’80s, that allowed someone like Jello Biafri to not only advocate for issues, but run for political office in San Francisco?
Valid questions. Do bands just not give a flying fuck for politics these days? They probably care, but certainly do not know how to exercise their convictions like the ’60s counter-cultural icons like John Lennon, the MC5, or post-punk bands like Gang of Four. I don’t mean to over-emphasize music’s role in politics: Wisconsin protestors have been doing just fine without Morello. But every little bit helps, as they say.
As it stands, we’d be more likely to see Billy Corgan‘s bald head bob amongst the Madison masses than Grizzly Bear or Vampire Weekend to suddenly appear in solidarity with Wisconsin protesters. Say what you will of Morello as an artist these days, or of RATM as a band, but at least he has the strength of conviction to offer his visibility to the cause.
Morello is being joined by some musicians, but why is this not a cavalcade of known and respected artists?
Morello is right in saying that the future of worker’s rights is being fought in Madison, Wisconsin, with reverberations that will be felt around the country. He has been quoted as saying, “Madison is the next Cairo.”
That should be a cue for other musicians to join the movement.