The other night I went to see the legendary R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire at Radio City Music Hall. Toward the end of the show, lead singer Philip Bailey startled me and others in crowd because he actually said: “I thank God and America for allowing us to have success for 37 years.”
Call me cynical, but I am used to hearing performers bad mouth their country and promote things like drugs and violence. This is routine these days. People like Nas and Ludacris spit out poison like sesame seeds. That’s why it took some guts for Mr. Bailey to say what he said. In some precincts, it is cool to run down America from the stage not praise it.
Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and Chris Martin of Coldplay, all have demeaned the United States this summer. These guys say it’s about the evil Bush administration but, believe me, their message is clear: America, itself, is one screwed up place.
Now, some commentators say that performers should just shut up and sing because that’s what the folks have paid to hear. But artistic license and the first amendment are on the side of the rock stars. People freely pay to hear them and, in a free society, they can pretty much do what they want.
All throughout history, music has been used to protest injustice. That is a good thing. Protest songs in the 1960’s, for example, effectively focused attention on America’s societal problems and the awful conflict in Vietnam. There is no doubt about that.
But there is a responsibility that comes along with protest. To simply run your country down because you don’t like a politician or the party in power is simply stupid. America is a huge mosaic, there are great things and there are bad things in this country.
What really annoys me about Springsteen, Young, and Martin in particular is that they never debate issues. They never show us exactly how deep their political thinking is; how wide their frame of reference. Instead, they yell out dumb stuff to their zombie followers and revel in the applause. Overseas, especially, any knock on America is greeted with rapture.
Country music artists generally do not go in for this kind of stuff because their audience has little tolerance for it, as we saw with the Dixie Chick debacle. However, it is certainly refreshing to see some rock and pop people singing a different tune. Billy Joel opened his recent Shea Stadium show by playing “The Star Spangled Banner,” and the Beach Boys consistently praise their country.
Add Philip Bailey and Earth, Wind and Fire to the list. Take that, Bruce Springsteen.