Eric Clapton’s been in the hot seat for a couple of months now for defending anti-vaxxers in word and song. He’s not the first, and he probably won’t be the last, to feel the heat for entering the political arena with just a few words.
Regardless of which side of the COVID mask you prefer, this latest musician-meets-political debacle begs the question, do those with influence bestowed upon them have the privilege of sharing their political beliefs with the public or, should they, as athletes have been told, just shut up and play?
The musicians I mention below are FAR from the only ones who could be included in this post. So, please add your opinion below to add to the fabric of the conversation.
The Reluctant Troubadour?
Although Bob Dylan never shared his political views publicly, critics, media, and fans assumed his early music reflected his viewpoints and claimed songs like Blowin’ in the Wind, Masters of War and Talkin’ World War III Blues as their own critical commentary on social inequality and war.
Yet Dylan once said, “I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.”
Maybe that’s why he chucked his acoustic guitar and solo career for an electric one in a band?
A More Global Approach
John Lennon and Yoko Ono took to bed, bags and acorns to plant seeds of peace, love, and social equality.
Their memorable Amsterdam bed-in on the couple’s honeymoon was expected to be racier than it was. The press expected live pornography but got pajamas instead. But the six days of press coverage while they languished under peace signs on the wall above their bed got their point across.
They followed that up with a press conference in Vienna wearing a full-body bag (not to be confused with a Law and Order body bag—their heads were sticking out).
They also sent bags of acorns to heads of state around the world to encourage them to plant trees as a sign of peace.
While the Establishment panned the couple’s efforts and Nixon tried to deport them, the kids dug it and continued their own protests until they arguably convinced the government to end the Vietnam War.
John remains a cultural icon.
Renegade Chicks in a Caustic Henhouse
It was the statement heard round the world.
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
After it left vocalist Natalie Maines’ mouth during a London concert nine days before the Iraq War launched in 2003, the Dixie Chicks’ stratospheric trajectory plummeted. The band got death threats, were dropped from radio playlists and lost fans and sponsors. Maines apologized—twice—saying her comment had been disrespectful, nobody wanted to hear it. Bush blithely accepted the second one.
Three years later, the band rose unapologetic. They released Not Ready to Make Nice, telling their side of the story.
They racked up seven Grammy awards.
In 2016, the NYT quoted Maines. “I look at how much more polarized and intolerant people have become now. With social media, opinions all start becoming noise, but at that point, people weren’t really supposed to have an opinion.” Her bandmate Emily Strayer said that the controversy “feels like another lifetime to me, it doesn’t even feel real—our country’s changed, we’ve changed, the fans definitely have.”
There are probably as many backlash stories as there are protest songs. But thank God that, at least for the time being, we have the right to speak out or sing out, whether others agree with us or not.
Do we have the maturity to listen with respect?