oh, and yes, it is
by Sean
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oh, and yes, it is very difficult to represent the complexity of intelligent political discourse in song. but that it's difficult doesn't mean that we should accept the alternative (ie, simplistic, idiotic political discourse).

Posted by Sean at February 4, 2004 12:39 PM

This is surely a triviality, but are we allowed to accept simple and intelligent political discourse in song? At its very root, discourse is simply the capacity of ordered thought or procedure. In this regard, couldn't one be entirely silent and have intelligent discourse that is politically motivated?

Posted by nikk at February 4, 2004 12:46 PM

I think that's a really good point, Nikk. On one level, obviously, ALL music is political. But I don't think you're just talking about the politics that jazz fusion, for instance, implies. You mean that nonverbal music can be intentionally political - and intelligently so, - which is true as well.

My opinion of what makes "intelligent" political discourse is certainly an encultured, personal perspective: I value honesty, nuance, self-consciousness. And these values are possible along all of the axes:

overt/complex: Billy Bragg, Dylan and Bruce Springsteen
overt/simple: The Clash, Fugazi, Tchaikovsky?
implicit/complex: Bruce Springsteen, The Streets
implicit/simple: Godspeed!, nonvocal ASMZ.

The lines are really blurred, though.

Posted by Sean at February 4, 2004 1:25 PM

Although certainly Dylan can also fit into the overt/simple category on many occasions. Remember "Union Sundown"? Or how about this line from "Slow Train Coming:"

All this foreign oil
controlling American soil
look around you, its just bound to make you embarrassed
Sheiks walkin around like kings, wearin' fancy jewels and gold rings
Deciding America's future from Amsterdam
and to Paris.


Posted by Scott at February 5, 2004 11:08 AM

Yea, Dylan gets way too much credit for most of his work IMHO. When he's on, he's most assuredly ON, but thats so rare.

I stand by my claim that the best lyricist/songwriter of the past 50 years is Elvis Costello, and that Dylan doesn't even rank.

As for the axes - i don't know that I would call the Clash's political sentiments simple. Perhaps in terms of lyrical content, especially in the more well known tracks, but I think the Clash were unique among the early punks in that they DID manage to go beyond just slogans, to the point of having an actual political worldview, that was coherent, and complex, and cohesive, and comprehensible. The exacct opposite of the shockrock/dada/verbal diarrhea of a typical Sex Pistols lyric.

Posted by Keith at February 6, 2004 11:48 AM

I think you're right, Keith, when it comes to the Clash. I guess what I was saying is that the Clash's songs articulate their (complex) politics in a simple, easily-absorbed way. ALL of the examples I gave above do politics well, I think (although Dylan's unevenness is well taken). Just in different ways.

Posted by Sean at February 6, 2004 2:16 PM

you've got to be kidding! costello ranks #1 & dylan doesn't even place?! yeah, costello had a good run from 1977 to 1986....but with the exception of a song here & there, what has he done of any merit in the last 17 years? you can't really expect me to believe that all that wretched "easy listening" of late is better than even the most mediocre dylan record. don't get me wrong....i love costello....own everything he's done....but dylan's output between 1962 & 1976 alone is unbelieveable, and revolutionized music in many ways. "highway 61", "blonde on blonde", "desire", "blood on the tracks"....have you listened to these records! dylan was singing about politics (personal & global) when most of the bands were singing trite & mundane songs like "she loves you" & "scarborough fair".

Posted by hb at February 10, 2004 4:33 PM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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