Political viewpoints and musical performers

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Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 16 Jun 2009, 01:01

Pick whichever questions you think may be interesting.

1. The Ramones documentary End of the Century has footage of the band being inducted into the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". In the acceptance speech, "Johnny Ramone" says, "God bless the United States, and God bless President Bush." Any comments or thoughts on this. Is this what you would have liked "Johnny Ramone" to say? Does it matter to you? Does it make you think more or less of the guitarist?

2. Neil Young in 1984 voiced support for Ronald Reagan publicly (I think the interview is in Musician magazine). How does that make you feel about Neil Young?

3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?

5. Can you think of a major country music performer whom you would describe as openly leftist?

6. Is there anything musically about punk that would make it leftist (assuming it is, of course)?

7. Can you think of any musical idiom in which the performers cover the entire political spectrum and in which all the major factions are well-represented? If not, why do you think this is so?

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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby Jeff K » 16 Jun 2009, 01:19

1. The Ramones documentary End of the Century has footage of the band being inducted into the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". In the acceptance speech, "Johnny Ramone" says, "God bless the United States, and God bless President Bush." Any comments or thoughts on this. Is this what you would have liked "Johnny Ramone" to say? Does it matter to you? Does it make you think more or less of the guitarist?

Johnny was always a right-winger and borderline bigot so it wasn't a shock to hear him thank Bush. It didn't change the way I felt about him as a musician.

2. Neil Young in 1984 voiced support for Ronald Reagan publicly (I think the interview is in Musician magazine). How does that make you feel about Neil Young?

Neil was in his 'farmer/get back to the country' phase. He was always trying on different hats and I guess he got caught up in the Reagan hoopla. I thought it was funny because he probably pissed off his hippie friends.

3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?

I always thought of folk music as poor people's music. Well, not really poor but downtrodden and the left caters to this demographic. I dunno, it's an interesting question.

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?

Most country music deals with simplistic values and doesn't want to rock the boat. God bless America, love it or leave it and all that jazz.

5. Can you think of a major country music performer whom you would describe as openly leftist?

Willie Nelson, Steve Earle (if you want to call him country), Kris Kristofferon, The Dixie Chicks.

6. Is there anything musically about punk that would make it leftist (assuming it is, of course)?

Punk was originally apolitical with the exception of the MC5 and Bernie Rhodes and Malcom McClaren decided to politicize it. The rest of the sheep followed along.

7. Can you think of any musical idiom in which the performers cover the entire political spectrum and in which all the major factions are well-represented? If not, why do you think this is so?

Probably country and western has a little bit of each.
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 16 Jun 2009, 01:27

Jeff K wrote:

3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?

I always thought of folk music as poor people's music. Well, not really poor but downtrodden and the left caters to this demographic. I dunno, it's an interesting question.

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?

Most country music deals with simplistic values and doesn't want to rock the boat. God bless America, love it or leave it and all that jazz.


If folk music is poor people's music, then so is country music as well, yet one tends to lean left and the other, right.

Musically, the two forms are quite close to one another though, to the extent that on some material such as the Carter Family, both idioms would lay claim to the material, and both would be right. What's going on here?


By the way, I'm trying to find the Neil Young quote in which he speaks out in favor of Reagan. I can't find it, but I know it's from 1984.

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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby Sneelock » 16 Jun 2009, 02:08

1. The Ramones documentary End of the Century has footage of the band being inducted into the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". In the acceptance speech, "Johnny Ramone" says, "God bless the United States, and God bless President Bush." Any comments or thoughts on this. Is this what you would have liked "Johnny Ramone" to say? Does it matter to you? Does it make you think more or less of the guitarist?
I'm glad he did. why not? it was his award! he wasn't exactly shy about his politics but thank god he was such a movie geek that he never really wore me down like others did. I suppose after "bonzo goes to bittburg" he deserved something like that.

2. Neil Young in 1984 voiced support for Ronald Reagan publicly (I think the interview is in Musician magazine). How does that make you feel about Neil Young?
the fact of the matter is that nearly everyone I knew in that age group went for Reagan without exception. he mostly said he seemed like a nice guy, didn't he? I think maybe Neil dug how retro it all was. me, I had too many neighbors from El Salvador to care if Reagan was a nice guy or not. I never really held it against Neil. in fact, he really was trying on all sorts of things in the 80's, wasn't he?

3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?
well, they had political freedom in those pre-Mcarthy days. so many of those songs were songs for working people. suddenly songs for working people were pinko and commie. I think Woody and those guys had a pretty clear vision. Burl followed the money. I don't blame him - no more than I blame Johnny Ramone but I sure hated Burl when I was a kid. I found a lot of that stuff pretty condescending.

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?
I think vietnam is the fork in the road. this became the music of the "love it or leave it" crowd - for better or worse. some of it's better, most of it's worse.
5. Can you think of a major country music performer whom you would describe as openly leftist?
maybe not in the way you mean. I really admire Merle Haggard for making some anti-Iraq War songs when he did. I don't think Merle is a lefty (except in the 'pancho & lefty' sense). I think Merle is a human bean.
6. Is there anything musically about punk that would make it leftist (assuming it is, of course)?
there was a lot of good "Fuck Reagan" punk in the 80's and for many of the right reasons.
7. Can you think of any musical idiom in which the performers cover the entire political spectrum and in which all the major factions are well-represented? If not, why do you think this is so?
not unless band members drink from different cups. I think the political song is usually the result of a bile that builds up in the songwriter's belly.

I wanted to add Jefferson Airplane to MC5 as a band that seemed to be giving marching orders to it's listeners at some point. 'volunteers' was maybe as much a call to arms as we saw on a major label in those days.

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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby LeBaron » 16 Jun 2009, 04:31

Geez, take5. These are the hardest yet.

Sneelock wrote:5. Can you think of a major country music performer whom you would describe as openly leftist?
maybe not in the way you mean. I really admire Merle Haggard for making some anti-Iraq War songs when he did. I don't think Merle is a lefty (except in the 'pancho & lefty' sense). I think Merle is a human bean.


Hag did prison time.
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby king feeb » 16 Jun 2009, 04:52

take5_d_shorterer wrote:1. The Ramones documentary End of the Century has footage of the band being inducted into the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". In the acceptance speech, "Johnny Ramone" says, "God bless the United States, and God bless President Bush." Any comments or thoughts on this. Is this what you would have liked "Johnny Ramone" to say? Does it matter to you? Does it make you think more or less of the guitarist?

I always thought it was worth noting that the two best known "righties" in rock music are/were Johnny Ramone and Ted Nugent: two guitar mechanics who found a style early on and eschewed any experimentalism. They developed their niche and stuck with it, never venturing out of their comfort zones.


take5_d_shorterer wrote:3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?


I don't think folk music is intrinsically left or right wing. But most of the left-leaning folk music of that era came out of urban scenes: Greenwich Village, Cambridge/Boston and San Francisco. Cities tend to be less conservative than rural areas. I suspect that accounts for a lot of it.
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby LeBaron » 16 Jun 2009, 04:54

king feeb wrote:I don't think folk music is intrinsically left or right wing. But most of the left-leaning folk music of that era came out of urban scenes: Greenwich Village, Cambridge/Boston and San Francisco. Cities tend to be less conservative than rural areas. I suspect that accounts for a lot of it.


I think that's tangled up, feeb. Your causes and effects are off.
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby king feeb » 16 Jun 2009, 05:00

il Baron wrote:
king feeb wrote:I don't think folk music is intrinsically left or right wing. But most of the left-leaning folk music of that era came out of urban scenes: Greenwich Village, Cambridge/Boston and San Francisco. Cities tend to be less conservative than rural areas. I suspect that accounts for a lot of it.


I think that's tangled up, feeb. Your causes and effects are off.


You're probably right, Baron, but we can never really know for certain. One thing is for sure, though: those scenes certainly attracted a lot of folkies from the heartlands (the most notable example is Dylan) who were more sympathetic to progressive causes.
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby LeBaron » 16 Jun 2009, 05:02

king feeb wrote:
il Baron wrote:
king feeb wrote:I don't think folk music is intrinsically left or right wing. But most of the left-leaning folk music of that era came out of urban scenes: Greenwich Village, Cambridge/Boston and San Francisco. Cities tend to be less conservative than rural areas. I suspect that accounts for a lot of it.


I think that's tangled up, feeb. Your causes and effects are off.


You're probably right, Baron, but we can never really know for certain. One thing is for sure, though: those scenes certainly attracted a lot of folkies from the heartlands (the most notable example is Dylan) who were more sympathetic to progressive causes.


No definitely. And hats off . . . you didn't see me trying to answer the question!
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby Billybob Dylan » 16 Jun 2009, 06:29

take5_d_shorterer wrote:
Jeff K wrote:

3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?

I always thought of folk music as poor people's music. Well, not really poor but downtrodden and the left caters to this demographic. I dunno, it's an interesting question.

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?

Most country music deals with simplistic values and doesn't want to rock the boat. God bless America, love it or leave it and all that jazz.


If folk music is poor people's music, then so is country music as well, yet one tends to lean left and the other, right.

Musically, the two forms are quite close to one another though, to the extent that on some material such as the Carter Family, both idioms would lay claim to the material, and both would be right. What's going on here?

Which "country music" are we talking about here? I've always seen (or assumed) "traditional" C&W was more left than right.

I was going to agree with Jeff. Given that the "left" is socialist and looks after the working man and the "right" is capitalist with a more "every man for himself" value, I see most "folk" music, whether it's folk, country, punk or reggae as leaning towards the left. Punk & new wave in the UK in the late 70s/early 80s was very left wing.
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby purgatory brite » 16 Jun 2009, 11:01

There used to be an expectation that all rock groups should be socialists. This view was expressed not only by the NME, the most overtly political of the music papers, but also Melody Maker and Sounds. There seemed to be a neat divide between punk and new wave being on the left and the "old wave" being Conservatives. A number of 70s rock stars were found to be Tory supporters - Mike Oldfield, Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett and Brian May - which gave critics an additional stick to beat them with. However, this dividing line was blurred when Paul Weller declared that he would be voting Tory (in 1979).

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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 16 Jun 2009, 19:45

1. The Ramones documentary End of the Century has footage of the band being inducted into the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". In the acceptance speech, "Johnny Ramone" says, "God bless the United States, and God bless President Bush." Any comments or thoughts on this. Is this what you would have liked "Johnny Ramone" to say? Does it matter to you? Does it make you think more or less of the guitarist?

If there was ever a time when I was sincerely glad that the Sex Pistols stopped sometime in early 1978 instead of making a "career" of it, it was during "Johnny Ramone" 's speech.

I find "Johnny Ramone" 's endorsement of George W. Bush to be irritating although I would also say that I would find it about as irritating if he were to endorse, let's say, JFK. Actually what I find most irritating, far more irritating than the above, is the sort of careerism a band like the Ramones displays by appearing at this sort of event. I understand fully that musicians need to eat, and I understand how the "R&R Hall of Fame" is a podium for advertising in which you get coverage if you show up and say the right things to the publicists and critics.

Does it make me think less of Ramone for having said it? Probably not. The one and only thing I like about the band is the sound of the guitar. I've never liked Hyman's singing. There's very little correlation between political and musical preferences.


2. Neil Young in 1984 voiced support for Ronald Reagan publicly (I think the interview is in Musician magazine). How does that make you feel about Neil Young?

It confirms my feeling that it's generally unwise to get information about politicians from celebrities. Art is fundamentally irrational. Meanwhile the best part of politics is that it is supposed to be a rational discourse on public policy and the public good. How would one ever expect to get this discussion out of art?

You might get exuberance, rage, madness, and other things that make life interesting, but these are no basis for public policy.

3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?

There are very different reasons why I think folk music is left-leaning, which I again admit is a very ambiguous term.

One reason is inherent in the music and that it is a) acoustic and b) not technically demanding. This makes it a useful music to have at political rallies, especially in the first half of the 20th century when people wanted to rouse a crowd into a sing-along. Anything technically difficult would reduce the number of people who could participate. The acoustic aspect means that one doesn't have to depend on electricity to make music.

The second reason has to do with mythmaking that's been around for a long time, cf. Rousseau, about the "noble savage". In this case, it's the goodness of the common people. Folk music is supposed to have its musical origins in the music of everyday common people. If you accept, like many have, the inherent goodness of these common people, then you might reasonably expect that the music they would make would be also good and decent.

This is where the arguments and reasons have always escaped me. "I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground" seems just surreal, not necessarily good or evil. "Omie Wise" (a contraction of Naomi Weiss) is just plain evil, and yet these are the folk songs that the American folk music movement considered some of its most important sourcework.

Maybe Pete Seeger can find something about the goodness and decency of the common people in these songs, but to me they sound like drug interactions and nightmares.

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?

Two comments:

1) If folk music is poor people's music, then so is country music as well, yet one tends to lean left and the other, right. Musically, the two forms are quite close to one another though, to the extent that on some material such as the Carter Family, both idioms would lay claim to the material, and both would be right. What's going on here?

2) It may be that country music evolved in a way that made it more right-leaning, again an ambiguous term if there ever was one. Part of this right-leaning is a matter of trying to make music into a business like building and selling cars. In its fullest incarnation, in Nashville, this means having interchangeable parts and combining them as the executives see fit. You have the songwriters, the studio musicians, the "face" or performer who will be recognizable to the public, the media outlet (Grand Ole Opry and Nashville radio stations), and then the executives who will sell the music. It's the McDonald's approach to making music.

Note that these aren't musical reasons at all. I haven't said or explained what in the music intrinsically points towards the kind of conservatism I outline here. Yet it happened with country music and it continues. Maybe someone can explain why this is so.

5. Can you think of a major country music performer whom you would describe as openly leftist?

6. Is there anything musically about punk that would make it leftist (assuming it is, of course)?

7. Can you think of any musical idiom in which the performers cover the entire political spectrum and in which all the major factions are well-represented? If not, why do you think this is so?
Last edited by take5_d_shorterer on 19 Jun 2009, 00:34, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby Sneelock » 16 Jun 2009, 21:19

you know what really made that Ramones thing for me? DeeDee thanking himself. I feel like somebody needed to do it so I'm glad DeeDee got the chance.

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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby bobzilla77 » 17 Jun 2009, 00:25

Pick whichever questions you think may be interesting.

1. The Ramones documentary End of the Century has footage of the band being inducted into the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". In the acceptance speech, "Johnny Ramone" says, "God bless the United States, and God bless President Bush." Any comments or thoughts on this. Is this what you would have liked "Johnny Ramone" to say? Does it matter to you? Does it make you think more or less of the guitarist?

Johnny was a contributor to Republicanpunk.com too. I don;t have a problem with it.

2. Neil Young in 1984 voiced support for Ronald Reagan publicly (I think the interview is in Musician magazine). How does that make you feel about Neil Young?

Don't have a problem with that either. Incidentally he at least partly recanted his support for Reagan years later saying essentially, he was right about some things and wrong about others, and also that he made those comments after a particularly obnoxious reporter had been goading him after a gig when he wanted to be left alone. So there was a certain "Fuck you, you're wrong" context to the actual quotes. I've never read the entire piece though.


3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?

Just the fact that the country music recording industry has historically been based in the South, especially Nashville, which tends to be somewhat conservative part of the country. Folksingers weren't so much concentrated in a particular area of the US.

(MAJOR oversimplification coming up but bear with me.... ) It's interesting to note, as well, that at least it's my perception that poor Americans used to be more leftist than they are today. A lot of the "classic" folk music I've heard has to do with injustice against the oppressed, projecting the blame outward. Woody Guthrie protesting the bosses, Phil Ochs protesting the war. Country music instead seems to me to project inward - I'm a fool, I was wrong, I couldn't bear the load, poor me. Pete Seeger would have blamed the people that put the load on him.

5. Can you think of a major country music performer whom you would describe as openly leftist?

Steve Earle and the Dixie Chicks come to mind. Kris Kristofferson told a funny story in Rolling Stone about some young upstart - presumably Toby Keith - telling him to cut out the "lefty shit" at some awards show, which ended with Kristofferson threatening to kill him and telling an interviewer "That guy's done for country music what pantyhose did for finger fucking."

6. Is there anything musically about punk that would make it leftist (assuming it is, of course)?

Not musically, no. It has since been adopted by everyone from fascists to radical feminists to the completely apolitical. In the hardcore era you could say there was a certain anti-corporatism, by necessity since the corporations weren't buying. That's kind of gone nowadays.

7. Can you think of any musical idiom in which the performers cover the entire political spectrum and in which all the major factions are well-represented? If not, why do you think this is so?

Well, punk music, as noted above.
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby Piggly Wiggly » 17 Jun 2009, 08:14

bobzilla77 wrote:
2. Neil Young in 1984 voiced support for Ronald Reagan publicly (I think the interview is in Musician magazine). How does that make you feel about Neil Young?

Don't have a problem with that either. Incidentally he at least partly recanted his support for Reagan years later saying essentially, he was right about some things and wrong about others, and also that he made those comments after a particularly obnoxious reporter had been goading him after a gig when he wanted to be left alone. So there was a certain "Fuck you, you're wrong" context to the actual quotes. I've never read the entire piece though.


I'm projecting a lot onto Neil Young, but...I think he also was tired of wishy washy uninformed hippies projecting their own views on to him.

He could have been "Puff Puff Give" and he didn't want to be.

His work has always been very generous and ambiguous re: point of view. One of his strengths, in my view. I certainly don't want entertainers to be dogmatic about politics. It shows an indisputable shallowness and lack of respect for the audience.

I think you've got a problem if you want your artists to mirror and propagate your opinions.

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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby Geezee » 17 Jun 2009, 12:49

take5_d_shorterer wrote:
Jeff K wrote:

3. So-called folk music from the 1950s is generally thought to be left-leaning, which is admittedly a highly ambiguous term. I can't think of a single major example of a right-leaning performer...maybe Burl Ives. Is there anything intrinsically about American folk music that would make it left-leaning?

I always thought of folk music as poor people's music. Well, not really poor but downtrodden and the left caters to this demographic. I dunno, it's an interesting question.

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?

Most country music deals with simplistic values and doesn't want to rock the boat. God bless America, love it or leave it and all that jazz.


If folk music is poor people's music, then so is country music as well, yet one tends to lean left and the other, right.

Musically, the two forms are quite close to one another though, to the extent that on some material such as the Carter Family, both idioms would lay claim to the material, and both would be right. What's going on here?


i think this is true, and Sneelock makes an interesting point that Vietnam probably represented the fork in the road. I think mainstream Country music was always seen as distinctly American music, right from the fields, salt of the earth etc, with Nashville as the heartland. And when some of the "outlaws" of Country music appeared, they were deemed unpatriotic - they grew their hair long, became anti-establishment...and aalthough alot of them lost their way in the 80s, it was still quite clear that these guys represented something quite different than mainstream conservatism.

of course now we associate Country with the horrible mainstream stuff, but generally speaking people like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings,Jessi Colter, Steve Earle, Guy Clark, Jimmie Dale Gilmoure, Jerry Jeff Walker, Joe Ely, Kris Kristofferson, Townes van Zandt, Merle Haggard, David Allen Coe, Billie Joe Shaver etc etc are still the "core" of Country, and by far the more successful in terms of exporting the music.
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby bobzilla77 » 17 Jun 2009, 17:36

It's interesting thinking about the divides between folks & country. Kind of like punk and metal... very similar at first glance but the devil's in the details. Or even in the values.

It also occurred to me that you usually see old folk singers dressed in work clothes, while you always see the classic country singers in their Nudie suits. Even if they were both dirt poor in real life, the country singer had to show up in flashy duds to be taken seriously. Whereas if Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger had showed up in one of those suits, I wonder if the audience would have taken offense.

Does that play into the liberal-conservative divide? Can we make the connection that silicon valley liberals insist on going to their six-figure jobs with bushy old beards and sneakers, while the lowliest intern at a conservative company is expected to wear a tie?
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 17 Jun 2009, 17:43

Good that Nudie suits have finally made an appearance in the thread.

Country music performers often dress up, while folk music performers dress down.

Both are acts of theatre, usually quite consciously made. What decision the performers make often depends on 1) what impression they want to make and 2) what the expectations of their audiences are (see questions 8 and 9 of this thread.)

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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby Snarfyguy » 17 Jun 2009, 17:51

bobzilla77 wrote: Can we make the connection that silicon valley liberals insist on going to their six-figure jobs with bushy old beards and sneakers, while the lowliest intern at a conservative company is expected to wear a tie?

Off topic, but I'll note that at Midtown Manhattan law firms these days, dress is "business casual" except for the guys in the mailroom / photocopy room. Those guys have to wear neckties to project professionalism to the rest of the staff / attorneys. :roll:
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Re: Political viewpoints and musical performers

Postby take5_d_shorterer » 19 Jun 2009, 00:35

4. Is there anything musically about country music that would make it right-leaning?

It may be that country music evolved in a way that made it more right-leaning, again an ambiguous term if there ever was one. Part of this right-leaning is a matter of trying to make music into a business like building and selling cars. In its fullest incarnation, in Nashville, this means having interchangeable parts and combining them as the executives see fit. You have the songwriters, the studio musicians, the "face" or performer who will be recognizable to the public, the media outlet (Grand Ole Opry and Nashville radio stations), and then the executives who will sell the music. It's the McDonald's approach to making music.

Note that these aren't musical reasons at all. I haven't said or explained what in the music intrinsically points towards the kind of conservatism I outline here. Yet it happened with country music and it continues. Maybe someone can explain why this is so.