A post at Bob’s contained a link to an article by Howard Husock in the City Journal that got me thinking about politics and music. Husock contends Johnny Cash (one of the few country artists I have recordings of) has received more accolades from the music industry than Merle Haggard because of Cash’s popularity among the protest music crowd. Haggard, by contrast, was “aggressive in denouncing the political and cultural Left”:
[A] major part of Cash’s appeal to the Left Coast and elite culture in general is political: almost alone among prominent country singers, Cash incorporated 1960s protest politics into his songs. That stance helped revive and sustain his career and brought disproportionate praise for his music—which pales beside that of other big country stars, particularly his contemporary Merle Haggard.
I think this bias can be observed in other musical forms as well. In the punk music scene, anti-American acts are viewed in a much more favorable light than patriotic bands. For example, the SF Bay Area punk band the Dead Kennedys is lauded by progressives for the leftist political stance of former singer Jello Biafra. Granted, Biafra has moved much closer to the politics of the Moveon.org crowd over time and away from his causticity towards politicians on the left and right that exemplified the DKs music.
Compare this to the treatment afforded NYC band, Agnostic Front. Denounced as skinheads and fascists by leftist critics, Agnostic Front, like Haggard, are proud, critical Americans, thankful of the freedoms this country provides.
Agnostic Front was formed in 1982 in NYC. I found out about them in the mid-1980s and finally had the opportunity to hear them play live in 1991 at the Omni Ballroom on Shattuck Avenue in Oakland, CA. Despite a few stumbles here and there, AF continues to produce true New York Hardcore music.
Some live footage and interview (1986):
Interviewer: Agnostic Front is a skinhead band?
“No…Agnostic Front is not a skinhead band…we first started off as a unity band and that’s what we’ll always be, uniting everybody together…we don’t need any more barriers, we gotta all unite and be together.”—Roger Miret
“…It’s called Unity; Blacks, Whites, Punks, Skins, that’s what Agnostic Front is about. Not what you fuckin’ hear in Maximum Rock n’ Roll….”
Maligned, greatly misunderstood, Agnostic Front stand as a testament to the hardcore way of life.
“Society Sucker”, with “Your Mistake” and “With Time” (1988 )
Blind Justice (1991). I really miss these shows. If you experienced it, there is nothing like it.
Interview with Roger, vocals and Vinnie, guitar (1986):
Al: You say you’re a unity band, so if everybody united what would that be for?
Vinnie: We’re out of step with society. Basically that’s what it is. That’s what I’m doing right now. I live in a van, day and night. Everyday is Friday & Saturday. I play for the kids. I play for them, not against them.
Roger: Tell the kids not to fight against each other, (but) unite to fight against the outside world, (and) people that hate us. We’re all in it together now for the same reason, or almost the same reason.
Al: What do you want to fight the outside world about?
Vinnie: Discrimination. That’s a big word right there. Discrimination. That says it all in one word. Why should I be discriminated against because I have a mohawk, or a skinhead, or a tattoo, or whatever. If I walk out of step with society why should I be discriminated against? I’m a human being too. We fly the flag of America because we believe in America. We travel the country, I see America, and it is a beautiful country.
Roger: We’re fighting for what the flag stands for. What it should stand for. Land of the free, the glory, and justice for all.
UNITED AND STRONG (album version, 1984)