Sunday, July 04, 2010

I'll Fight Like Hell to Hide that I am Giving Up

The year is 2010, and a black democrat is in the White House. As you can imagine, it’s becoming more and more difficult for Rage Against the Machine to viewed with any degree of relevancy. Oh sure, some “musicians” in RATM’s position might decide that the time is right to inflict another terrible album onto the masses, but after some quick thinking, they remembered their penchant for empty political posturing, and thus the Sound Strike was born, to protest State Bill 1070 in Arizona.

I am not going to argue about the merits of the bill one way or the other. But what I am going to argue against is the overall inanity of the artists who have chosen to boycott the state as a result of this bill. The list contains a curious number of bands who aren’t even currently active (Nine Inch Nails, Throwing Muses, Tenacious D) as well as a few whose presence on the list I find genuinely disappointing (My Morning Jacket in particular.) Michael Moore and Maroon 5 are also on the list, which if anything seems unfair to the other 49 states that they’re choosing to NOT boycott.

As an Arizona concert promoter succinctly pointed out, this boycott basically only hurts the people actively supporting (both financially and politically) the majority of these bands. In response to the points raised by the promoter, Conor Oberst recently answered back with his own open letter. I decided to give Oberst’s letter the Fire Joe Morgan treatment that it so richly deserves. His actual words are in bold.

Dear Charlie,
I read your letter and I do understand where you are coming from. You bring up valid points. I personally regret any of the collateral damage the boycott is causing you, other like-minded arts promoters and the fans in Arizona. A boycott is, inherently, a blunt instrument. It is an imperfect weapon, a carpet bomb, when all involved would prefer a surgical strike.

Did you want your war analogies brought up before your appetizers?  Because they're ready immediately.  It's an interesting tactic of basically leading with “we’re destroying everyone in your shitty brown-people fearing state.”  Do go on...

I agree with you in part, and the radio host you quoted, that the authors and supporters of SB1070 could give a shit whether or not my band, or any other Artist, ever plays Arizona again. The only thing, clearly, that these people care about is Money and Power, that and the creation and preservation of an Anglo-Centric Police State where every Immigrant and Non-White citizen is considered subhuman. They want them stripped of their basic human rights and reduced to slaves for Corporate America and the White Race. They are engaged in blatant class warfare. It is evil, pure and simple.

Oberst math lesson: “Only thing” equals several things. And possibly another thing!
Oberst grammar lesson: Use capitalization whenever the hell you feel like it.

I have on many occasions spoken my mind from stage. I have offered organizations table space by the merch booth. I have donated a dollar-a-ticket, or the entire guarantee, to different causes. I have registered voters. I have played on behalf of political candidates.

“These actions allowed those organizations to raise money for their causes. They helped my supported candidates get elected, and in general they provided a forum for people who may not have known each other at the beginning of the day to connect and join forces to affect positive change for their community.  Obviously, that was all pretty fucking dumb.”

Sadly, this time, I fear none of that is enough. If I return to Arizona to pay lip service to a roomful of kids at the Marquee it will do absolutely no good for anyone.

Hey, remember in the 1960’s when Bob Dylan went down to Mississippi to “pay lip service” to kids during the civil rights struggles? What a rube he was! He obviously would have been much more effective singing his protest songs from coffeehouses in the Village. I can’t believe that asshole thought it did any good by confronting the issue at its source, when he should have just boycotted the South!  Too bad his foolish fuck ups rendered him a mere footnote in how to integrate activism and music.

What I can do is to help organize, and play my small part in, what I hope is the largest and most effective boycott this country has seen in a long time. To work it will have to involve members from all sectors of society. The Sports Industry, the Entertainment Industry, the Tourism and Convention Industry, other State and City governments, private businesses and individuals from around the country and the world---all of whom, by the way, are already participating in the boycott. Much of the Artist end of the boycott is symbolic, I acknowledge, and no real threat to the economics of the State. But it is an important part none-the-less for awareness and messaging. The Boycott has to be so widespread and devastating that the Arizona State Legislature and Governor have no choice but to repeal their unconstitutional, immoral and hateful law. It has to hurt them in the only place they feel any pain, their pocketbooks.

Did this dumb simpleton proofread his letter? He readily admits this boycott has “no real threat to the economics to the state,” but one sentence letter claims it has to hurt said said state’s legislature in “their pocketbooks,” which he just acknowledged won't happen. This is not like withholding a giant events on the scale of the Super Bowl or massive conventions that states build their budgets around, where those travelling to the state are staying in hotels or spending multiple days supporting the economy. This isn’t even a massive event like Lollapalooza; it’s a lot of little rock shows by bands who enter and leave the state within the same day, and the powers that be couldn’t give a fuck about such short trips that are inconsequential from an economic standpoint. The only point where it will get any recognition at all by state higher-ups will be after rock clubs, promoters, caterers, stage crews, etc, have already slowly bled to death. Congrats, asshole, you’ve ruined the lives of the very people who allow you to tour in the first place.  Go fuck yourself.

What I would encourage you to do, if you haven't already started, is to organize with all the local businesses you can to put as much pressure as possible on your State Government until the Law is repealed. An economic death rattle is the only cry of outrage they will hear.

“I don’t live in your state, but please allow me to tell you how to handle your local politics. I suggest you complain to them when our actions put you out of business.” What a piece of shit. He should have the word “economic” taken away from his vocabulary. He can have it back when he learns to use it properly.

I realize that the people of Arizona did not vote on SB1070 and I empathize with the anger and frustration you all must feel. I applaud what you are doing with Viva Arizona and do wonder if there might be a way to reconcile both our efforts while maintaining the integrity of each. After all, we are trying to achieve the same thing. But just as you may feel the boycott is an empty gesture, I fear that if we return to business as usual (under the guise of some civic movement) that this will all devolve into the typical grandstanding that is political activism in music. It might make us feel better but won't do a damn thing to change the minds of the radical, racist minority that seem to have controlled Arizona politics for decades. In short, it will lose its teeth.

Playing in Arizona = “guise of some civic movement.” 
Staying away from Arizona=GENUINE civic movement, apparently. 
I have to be honest.  I always considered Bono pretty untouchable in the category of most self-delusional “activist,” but Oberst is pulling out all the stops here and approaching with Super Saver-like speed.

Just this past week, the little town of Fremont Nebraska passed a very similar, almost more radical, city ordinance. It was co-authored and championed by Kris Kobach of Kansas who helped write SB1070. I was outraged, saddened and embarrassed for their town and my state. I am already in the process of organizing a fund-raiser for the NE chapter of the ACLU who is suing the town of Fremont. Our situation requires immediate legal action and a campaign for public awareness (there has been very little press on this). Charlie, I promise you, if this Fremont law had been passed Statewide instead of in a rural town of 25,000 people, I would be the first to call for a boycott of my home state. This way of thinking and legislating is so dangerous, and such a threat to our basic ideals as Americans and Humans, that we cannot stand by and do nothing. We cannot play on as if nothing is wrong. This is not just about Arizona. I am not just skipping a tour date. This is not going to be easy for anyone.

So it's worth setting up a fundraiser in Nebraska to protest a city ordinance, but if that ordinance had been passed state-wide, you would stay away completely? Get fucked, asshole.  Seriously, this feels like a contest to see how many different ways this you can show yourself to be an abject fool. A nice touch letting Nebraska know that they’re on notice though, tough guy. Why not cut the bullshit and just say that all Red States are on thin ice?

Here's a little-heard about a small state called California.  In 2008, the state passed an amendment in 2008 known as Prop 8, which reversed the State Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. The amendment (which was passed by the voting public, as opposed to Arizona 1070) was protested by an overwhelming majority of musical artists, yet mysteriously nobody on the Sound Strike roster has argued for a boycott of the state. It’s fortunate to know that the civic minded artists haven’t passed up any paydays in LA, San Fran, or San Diego.

Charlie, I consider you a friend and you have always been great to my bands and me. I have played for you many times and I hope to do so again soon in New Mexico or anywhere else. I sincerely look forward to the day when I can return to Arizona and this will all seem like a bad dream. But I can't come back now. I'm sorry. I hope you will understand.

“Charlie, feel free to drive your sorry ass 8 hours from Phoenix to Albuquerque if that works for you. Otherwise, assuming the actions of myself, Joe Satriani, and that guy from System of a Down don’t cause your business to go under, I’d be glad to let you work on setting up a show for me down the line. I truly hope we can agree on an occasion where it becomes more beneficial for my image to venture into enemy territory. But for right now I really need to milk this stunt for all it’s worth. I hope you will understand. Though I honestly couldn't give a shit either way. 

Conor Oberst"


Sara said...

Okay then, complaining about grammar and random capitalization would be a text book example of "Oh I don't know how to argue against the actually message/content, I'll just focus/complain about petty details and hope no one notices", but sure, okay.

And he's not saying previous actions such as playing for political candidates doesn't work, he's just saying that this time it's not enough. And like he keeps pointing out: people care more about losing money than missing an concert with his (or any other) band.

About Bob Dylan, that was a publicity stunt set up by Columbia Records, which ultimately led to Dylan going underground when people expected him to be the "voice of the generation". But really, that's a whole different story.

And the ARTIST END (capitalization so you don't miss it this time) is symbolic and no real threat to the economics of the state, but ideally it would be a SMALL PART of a boycott from ALL sectors of society. See how these two things don't contradict each other? So once again, even more simply put: artist end = no real threat economically, but can raise awareness and make a difference together with other sectors.

Does state politics only concern one state and that state alone? No, it doesn't and most certainly not when it comes to basic human values and rights. Even if you do think that it's up to each state to decide on its own, then like it was Arizona's choice to pass that law, then by logic it would be other states choice to dislike and boycott it.

About Nebraska, he's just saying that he if it was another state implementing a similar law, he wouldn't be biased, but boycott that state too.

And no, English is not my native language, so I'm sure you can find some grammar mistakes to pick on.

But seriously, what are you complaining about really? And how come you don't seem to comment on the actual content of Oberst's letter or the law? Only valid point you bring up would be Prop 8, so maybe elaborate on that part?

TC said...

Thank you for the feedback. For the record, I made only one joke about capitalization and it was an attempt at levity. It's hardly the only thing I focused on.

I'm not sure what further elaboration is required as to the Prop 8 argument. It's much easier to avoid a state that most artists play infrequently as it is (such as AZ or NE), but skipping multiple dates in a state as large as California would legitimately hamper tour earnings for the artists in the name of standing up for what they believe in, and I'd be far more impressed if any were willing to take a stand in a state that's not as convenient for them to skip over.

The ultimate flaw with boycotting a state whose governement couldn't care less about the boycott is that by the time it makes a big enough impact for the state to take notice, the venue owners and talent bookers will have long been unemployed. Meanwhile, there are several groups within the state of Arizona fighting the ruling (which, again, the public was not allowed to vote on) that the artists could get behind to affect change. A perfect example would be an organization like who are literally on the front lines of the border saving lives and trying to get the law overturned. Playing a show and raising funds for groups like these to reverse the law is radically different from playing a show there as if nothing is wrong. The majority of these groups have been fighting this issue behind the scenes for years before it appeared on the national landscape, and as a result they need visibility now more than ever.

I'm not sure what your getting at by dismissing Dylan as a Columbia "publicity stunt." Theodore Bikel - not Columbia - paid Dylan's plane fare to Mississippi. Are you implying that Dylan's actions in the south were not genuine? Even if one assumes that he was a puppet of his label (which wasn't the case), the effect cannot be argued, as it's obvious that he made an infinitely larger impact with the local media, local activists, and his cause at large than he would have by staying away. The fact that he later rejected the "voice of a generation" label doesn't mean it wasn't applicable at the time it was originally given. It's a tactic that Oberst and the Sound Strike could take some pointers from in carrying out their own "publicity stunt."

I find your grammar to be flawless.

Sara said...

See you can make a valid and well written point when you want to, I never would have thought so from your original post. Never mind the Dylan stuff, it was more conspiracy theories than founded, fact, my apologies.

About Oberst’s letter again, I just feel like it’s so easy for people to poke fun at it, while disregarding the content, because that’s easier to do than to actually try and say something relevant to the issue.

About proposition 8, the question is, did Oberst choose to not boycott California because of money loss? Maybe, it’s hard to say, however he has been boycotting venues owned by Clear Channel Communications for quite a while (since 2003 or even further back, I’m not sure). To use Wikipedia as a source; (even though, I normally wouldn’t, but I think this information would be correct) “Clear Channel is the largest owner of full-power AM, FM, and shortwave radio stations and twelve radio channels on XM Satellite Radio, and is also the largest pure-play radio station owner and operator” I would suppose this would mean some money loss, so even if Oberst, like most of us, obviously wants to earn money, he doesn’t seem to be afraid of speaking his mind or boycotting something that doesn’t correspond with his personal beliefs.

But okay, we can’t know for sure, but either he’s scared of losing money, or maybe he’s just one person, in a world full of evils that should be protested or boycotted and he simply can’t be everywhere and protest everything at once.

You can still question if a boycott is the best way to protest though and maybe you’re right, maybe it’s not the best way. Since you didn’t like the war analogies, I’ll add another quote from Oberst:

“I’ve played a lot of shows in Arizona and I have fans there and I hope that they don’t feel like we’re attempting to punish them, ‘cause that’s not what it’s about. If the choices are some kind of action, even if it’s somewhat imperfect or no action at all, we have to choose some kind of action.”

So yet again, Oberst agrees the boycott is imperfect and will affect more people than intended, there will be collateral damage, but still he considers it part of the way to fight this particular issue.

Also Zack de la Rocha has said that there will be concerts as well:

“In the coming weeks we are going to be organizing a series of concerts that are respectful of the nature of the boycott in its attempts to isolate the Arizona government but not isolate the people, and especially the organizations that are fighting this on the ground. Many of us have begun to plan concerts that include bands that have signed on the Sound Strike, and make tickets available so that people within Arizona can come and see these concerts as they roll out. These are things that are being set into motion right now - a series of concerts or maybe even one giant concert in late July.”

Sara said...
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Sara said...
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Sara said...

Oh sorry for the multiply posts, I kept a error message to retry posting, but seems there was no need to.