Unsurprisingly, effete urban liberals were heavily triggered by my praise of Ted Nugent a few weeks back. I’m guessing these are the types of people who still find references to “Drumpf” the pinnacle of comedy and long for the days when Jon Stewart made wacky faces on The Daily Show.
All these shenanigans got me to thinking about the cringe-inducing quality of stridently “leftist” rock musicians in 2016. Sometime in rock’s distant past, having left-wing politics probably had some kind of edge. The MC5 wore it best, but that edge has long since gone dull. At best, rock bands with a cause come off like U2. Millionaire rock stars with a deep concern for “social justice” nowadays are just the class tattletale who thinks he’s the class rebel. Really, what’s more embarrassing than that?
It’s not my claim that you have to be some flag-waving right-winger to be edgy. No, all I’m saying is that there are few things less edgy than conventional liberalism and its ugly little sisters, half-baked campus radicalism and political correctness.
Let’s go to the endorsements for this year’s presidential candidates, a sort of musical tale of the political tape. Sure, Clinton’s endorsement list runs a lot longer than Trump’s. That’s to be expected. You’re not going to get invited to the cool parties with the other cool rich people if you vote for the same guy as down-on-their-luck rust belt Americans. Still, a seal of approval from Gene Simmons, Loretta Lynn and Kid Rock means a lot more to me than one from Kanye West, Macklemore and Sting, the latter trio being the musical equivalent of a Huffington Post article shaming me for not enjoying Orange Is the New Black.
The best rock is apolitical, and too much politics makes rock & roll boring. Case in point: While The MC5 were the best at being a leftist rock band, they were a hell of a lot better once they ditched all the White Panther Party posturing and dedicated themselves to ripping off Chuck Berry. When it’s at its best, rock & roll is rebellious, sure. But it's not “revolutionary,” despite the knee-jerk impulse of radical groups to try to appropriate anything fun and suck the life out of it.
Elvis the Pelvis had this spirit of rebellion, giving church ladies the vapors while gyrating his hips. The Who had it when they blew shit up and smashed their instruments. The Dead Boys had it and it almost cost Johnny Blitz his life after he got stabbed and a doctor decided that his swastika pins made him too edgy to live. Guns 'N Roses had it, telling nasty tales with the nastiest words available. Even Stalin’s rockin’-est fanboys, the Manic Street Preachers, had it, whipping the British tabloid press into a frenzy every time they opened their mouths.
I’m not sure anyone has it today. Rock & roll seems like a sterile art form, like the blues. Maybe everyone’s just turning the same screw over and over again, as Bukowski said. If you’re looking for the next actually outrageous, offensive and irritating-to-the-squares rock band, they’re probably getting rave reviews in Pork magazine. You sure won’t find them playing The Late Show.