Roger Waters and Todd Rundgren: Outspoken Artists or Leftist Crybabies?

Let's face it: we are living in some very politically-charged times. Seems like the battles lines were writ large with the 2015 US Presidential campaign, where the age of gutter-politics and yellow journalism reached its societal epoch (or should I say nadir?), and it appears there's no turning back. Musicians, always at the forefront of sociopolitical discourse, have spoken out against both injustices they deemed unacceptable, as well as the traditional machinations of the Republic and the elected representatives of that Republic. But while there is a historic precedent between rock'n'roll and the political arena, one has to wonder if at some point, decorum and civility got thrown under the bus.

From the violence-inciting comments of celebs like Madonna (who mused aloud about wanting to "blow up the White House") to the audience backlash hurled at Kanye West when he dared state that perhaps the Democratic party haven't done much to uplift African-Americans (his outspokenness during a live event was immediately labeled as the rantings of someone who might be psychologically unstable - causing his handlers to place him "under evaluation" at a medical facility), people are beginning to realize that not only is free speech not always free, but the cost to your professional career can be just a Twitter feed away.

Indeed, many fans appear to be weary over being 'lectured' by their musical heroes when attending their concerts: the prevailing attitude is, "stick to the music please....and keep your politics to yourself" - except of course, where the politics of the artist and his audience are in sync, in which case such preaching to the choir is better received. Back in the days of the punk movement, bands like the Sex Pistols, Tom Robinson Band, The Clash and Billy Bragg made their music the conduit for political discourse - the politics inherent in songs like "Anarchy In The UK", "White Man In Hammersmith Palais" and "Power In The Darkness" spoke of a more egalitarian objective, while offering unapologetic criticism of the current climate they felt was in need of change. But the language seems to have denigrated into a sort of arrogant, name-calling diatribe which has become less righteously indignant, and more self-righteous in its vitriol.

Two veterans of rock royalty - former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters and musician/songwriter/ producer Todd Rundgren have entered the fray by releasing new albums this Summer. Rundgren's White Knight features contributions from a variety of artists, from Robyn to Joe Walsh, Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and NIN's Trent Reznor, and has a strong anti-Trump thread running through it, as is the case with Waters' Is This The Life We Really Want? While Waters' album attempts to shroud this palpable contempt of Trump with overarching messages against fascism and corporate greed, the inferences to the current inhabitant of the Oval Office aren't difficult to spot. And while on tour in support of ITTLWRW, Waters has been anything but subtle: at a stop in New Orleans this past weekend, a handful of Floyd fans were taken aback during a performance of "Pigs (Three Different Ones)"

As Waters sang the iconic Animals track, a montage of disparaging images of Trump flashed on the jumbotron, including one of a Trump statue with a small penis, and a shot of Trump being held up in the arms of Russian President Vladimir Putin before the words TRUMP IS A PIG brought his message home. I wont bother to tell you what happened during the performance of Dark Side of the Moon's "Money".......given the fact that Donald Trump is a billionaire businessman, I think you can figure out where Waters went with that. But Bill Gates is also a billionaire - some would even argue that Gates has made some extraordinarily oppressive and authoritarian gestures in his bid for wealth and power, yet I've never heard any contemporary rockers take him on. Is it because Gates considers himself a Democrat that he's off-limits? Are the politics being espoused more partisan than ideologically consistent?

White Knight includes the acerbic Rundgren/Reznor duet, "Falling On Deaf Ears" - a treatise on a Dystopian political atmosphere, abetted by apathy ("The world we made goes up in flames/We reenact The Hunger Games/It's raining ashes..../The dark is far as eyes can see/We've reached the end of history"), but the Trump-bashing trophy has to go to "Tin Foil Hat", where Fagen brings us his signature barbed lyricism to take some not-so-subtle jabs at the Commander In Chief: "The man in the tin foil hat is tweeting like a teenage girl/He puts the Pluto in plutocrat/He's gonna drain the swamp tonite/and fill it with alternative facts." Musically, the tune has a post Gaucho-era feel to it, and Fagan's voice can still charm, even while he slips the venom in. But is all this overkill?

Political leaders from Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth to Oliver North, Bushes Jr. and Sr. and Pierre Trudeau provided fodder for many a socially-conscious recording artist from the 80's onward: during the Reagan dynasty alone, many of that decades most trenchant rock songs addressed the policies of these leaders and political players, and took no prisoners in terms of a pointed critique. But in an age of trial-by-Twitter, political correctness on one side, and all out character assassination on the other, are folks like Waters, Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, and even Lana Del Rey (who Tweeted about utilizing witchcraft in order to bring an end to the Trump presidency........I am not making that up) merely expressing their First Amendment privilege, while conveniently ignoring that the language being used is not merely inflammatory, but could legitimately incite violence and civil unrest?

Snoop Dogg's now-infamous music video for "Lavender" features the rap star assassinating a man in a business suit with clown makeup who looks suspiciously like Trump - okay, let's get real....the 'person' in the video is a representation of President Trump. In any other time and context, such a music video would not likely be made, and if were, would certainly not be approved to air on any video music network or Youtube channel. So what's changed? Do we throw our hands up in the air, and quote that Cole Porter song, "Now goodness knows......anything goes"? If vocal Obama-hater Ted Nugent had recorded a new song and video which depicted our former President in a mock-hanging, would anyone, anywhere dare air that? And with these questions of partisan double-standards comes an atmosphere so polarized that merely presenting the questions are met with accusations of a politically-motivated agenda. I am reminded of the Buffalo Springfield tune, "For What It's Worth" and can't help but reflect on how timely that song's sentiments were in 1967, as well as their eerily prescient significance today: "There's battle lines being drawn/Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.." Or, to quote the title of an Ice T album, "freedom of speech......just watch what you say."


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