Every now and then when I was younger (and extremely well behaved) my darling music loving mother would leave me an album on my bed for me to come home from school to. One marvellous day in late 2004, mum left an album on my bed that, unbeknownst to her, would change my life forever. Green Day’s American Idiot. Admittedly, I only liked the songs because they were angry, and I really liked angry music – even more so when I was a 9-year-old who could now sing the word “Idiot” over and over without getting into any trouble. Young, innocent Jessie had absolutely no clue that the themes of American Idiot were far larger and more important than learning all the dance moves to The Ketchup Song
Politically influenced tunes have been around long before my existence. from We Shall Overcome during the African-American Civil Rights Movement, to Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley during the Vietnam War.
Punk rock started to enter the political music market thanks to Britain in the 1970’s, with bands like The Clash, The Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols delivering rude and highly unconventional punk music that mocked Britain’s systems. Now sentenced to 4 years of the Trump administration, theories are buzzing around the internet over whether this new era could be the cure to what has been (to say the least) a bit of a shit time for punk music.
It would be impossible for me to discuss all the fabulous music that has come from tragic political landscapes and wars so I’m going to focus on the one political era I was very much alive for – George W. Bush. From Iraq to 9/11, this was an incredibly angsty time for America and the world as a whole. But man did George provide us with some good tunes. Without him there would be no Sleater-Kinney’s Off with Your Head or System of a Down’s B.Y.O.B and god forbid a world with no American Idiot. He was so good that the world’s best rock bands came together to make two compilation albums appropriately titled Rock Against Bush.
GETTING OUR POLITICAL OPINIONS FROM ROCK STARS
If we were to take the opinion of the highly academic and almost always right Alice Cooper (keyword almost) we would not be looking up to our favourite rock bands as political influencers. During the 2004 presidential race (George W. Bush vs John Kerry), Cooper criticised other rock musicians such as Springsteen, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, the list goes on, for expressing their political views to their audiences. Cooper famously stated “Why are we rock stars? Because we’re morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal.”. Alice kind of hits the nail on the head – the same genre of music that we stereotype to be full of drugs and drunks, we also respect and admire the political opinion of.
Rock stars aren’t usually praised for their academic prowess and master degrees, so why should we listen and learn from them? The counter argument is far stronger – many academics argue that punk rock music is a strong communication form for delivering political messages and expression – particularly to a generation full of minority groups.
Punk rock has long been the voice of counter-culture with punk artists using their voices as political activists. There are many academics who regard punk as a solid form of political global communication. Kevin C. Dunn published a paper called Mind the Bollocks: The Punk Rock Politics of Global Communication where he states that “…the global punk rock scene provides a fruitful basis for exploring the multiple circuits of exchange and circulation of goods, people, and messages that moves beyond the limitations of International Relations.” Dunn is highlighting the many mediums that punk influences and assists in the development and understanding of.
If we were to look at this in terms of media audiences theory, young people heavily invest meaning in their social practises and life spaces – from their personal style, the television they watch, their social groups and almost definitely their use of music or creation of music. So it’s understandable young people take the messages and themes of punk music on board – especially the political ones. Punk Is incredibly expressive in style and nature. People who consider themselves punk fans, would often identify themselves as sharing the same values as their punk idols – if not purely for the sake of “belonging” to a group. As stated by Leonisa Ardizzone in Yelling and Listening: Youth Culture, Punk Rock and Power, “Music serves as a powerful outlet for those on the margin”.
Green Day will never stop being politically influenced in their writing, even more so now that most of them have kids – and I will never stop listening. Music is at its best when its passionate and layered – even if that means being force fed political opinions. I guess we can only wait and see what the music world has installed for us with Trump as their fresh new inspiration. If Katy Perry’s Chained to the Rhythm (apparently about Trump) is anything to go by – we are surely in for a fun ride.
I’ve made a playlist over on Spotify that features some of my fave politically driven tunes if you want to give them a spin: https://open.spotify.com/user/1231297339/playlist/7cb3UTnOzjXec0GAYtaje7