25 May 2006

Right-wing rock 'n' roll. Really?

John J. Miller of the National Review has comes up with a list of the top 50 conservative rock songs expressing a conservative political outlook. An interesting exercise, to be sure and one guaranteed to generate debate. Let me be among the first to oblige by asking: what is Miller smoking?

The magazine is taking its time releasing the complete list, but the New York Times has the complete thing here. The No. 1 choice, The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," isn't too controversial. The lyrical allusion to disaffected dissent is pretty straightforward, and I'm not going to waste time trying to argue. There are also some other easy examples, like the anti-abortion anthem "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.

But some of the entries are just plain bizarre, suggesting a confused political sensibility. I don't care how much Rush Limbaugh likes the bass line, but "My City Was Gone" by the Pretenders doesn't make me want to vote Republican. Since when does evoking "Jane Jacobs' sensibility against central planning" constitute conservativism? (I just finished reading Ms. Jacob's last book, Dark Age Ahead, which is a litany of complaints against conservative politics.)

Miller frequently confuses libertarianism --"I Can't Drive 55" by Sammy Hagar and a couple of entries from Ayn Rand aficionados Rush) -- with conservativism. Worse, he sees politics where none exists by employing the journalistic trick of selectively quoting lyrics that suit his thesis.

For example, Joe Jackson does sing "There was a man in the jungle / Trying to make ends meet / Found himself one day with an axe in his hand / When a voice said 'Buddy can you spare that tree / We gotta save the world /— starting with your land' /a rock 'n' roll millionaire from the USA / Doing three to the gallon in a big white car / And he sang and he sang 'til he polluted the air / And he blew a lot of smoke from a Cuban cigar" in a catchy little number called "Obvious Song." But what would Miller make of what follows a few stanzas later: "So we starve all the teachers /And recruit more Marines /How come we don't even know what that means?"

I first thought Miller was championing true, old-fashioned, conservatism, and not what passes for it today. But in the NY Times interview, he shows his true colors:
"Any claim that rock is fundamentally revolutionary is just kind of silly," he said. "It's so mainstream that it puts them liberals in the position of saying that at no time has there ever been a rock song that expressed a sentiment that conservatives can appreciate. And that's just silly. In fact here are 50 of them."
All in all, a pointless exercise. Despite what we'd all like to think, rock musicians aren't particularly political animals.

I have a better suggestion: can we come up with a list of contributions to the popular music cannon that champion reason, science or any other product of the Enlightenment? I shall think about it. Email me or post any suggestions. Fifty examples is expecting a lot. Perhaps 10 is more realistic?

In about a week, this blog is moving to scienceblogs.com, a site hosted by SEED magazine, and I'd like to be able to make my first entry there at least a partial list.


Blogger Jon Swift said...

There are so many great conservative rock songs that I've made my own list of 50 more.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

I have deep respect for any North Carolinian who also has the breadth of knowledge and culture to quote Joe Jackson. Congratulations on the move to SB and I look forward to joining you there.

7:17 AM  

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