Around this time most years, I’ve ended up with political-related posts in my /Tuesday Ten series. But, tired of elections, frankly – even if, as it stands, it looks like the US Election has had more of a positive result than perhaps we had feared, at least with Trump on his way out – I thought I’d look in a little more detail at some musicians who’ve to a lesser or greater extent, got involved in politics.
/Tuesday Ten/434/Rock the Vote
However, I didn’t want just musicians who’ve written a political song or two, or offered support to someone being elected – I wanted to specifically look at artists who’ve got their hands dirty in the political process. Be that having been elected to office, stood for election, or even arrested for their beliefs.
Thanks to everyone who suggested artists for this one. There were 68 suggestions overall, and pretty much all of them were considered, even if some didn’t quite fit the brief. That said, thanks to all of you who got involved, as ever.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
Chthonic have long forged a position as one of the biggest metal bands to come from East Asia, and have a surprisingly long history, formed in 1995, and came to prominence in the West with their exceptional album SEEDIQ BALE, which brought together traditional Taiwanese elements alongside thrashing, vicious metal, and they certainly sounded unique. Taiwan, of course, has issues with identity, a country “claimed” by China even though it is technically an independent country.
Freddy Lim has ended up as one of the figureheads of a youth movement that is trying to strengthen Taiwanese identity in the face of Chinese pressure, and in recent times has been chair of Amnesty International Taiwan, before starting his own political party and being elected to office (this recent Guardian interview tells more of the story). Who said all extreme metallers don’t want to engage with the world and inspire?
The frontman of Midnight Oil, one of Australia’s best-known brands, has long been known as a political activist and political song-writer, but there are few such artists who made the leap to mainstream politics to continue that work. He served as an Australian Labor Party MP in New South Wales for nearly a decade, although I was interested to note that a number of Australian friends suggested that he never lived up to high expectations as a politician.
The song here is one of the many by Midnight Oil about events affecting Australians, in this case about the Wittenoom asbestos exposure disaster where hundreds of miners were exposed to lethal levels of blue asbestos that resulted in many developing fatal cases of pleural mesothelioma and lung cancer, and the fight to get compensation of any kind took decades.
One half of the long-standing theatrical German industrial/darkwave group Das Ich, in more recent times he has become, perhaps surprisingly, a relatively well-known politician in Germany. For some years a member of the Piratenpartei Deutschland (Pirate Party), there appeared to be a bizarre interlude a few years back where he joined the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance 90/Green Party) for seven weeks. But, in a rare example of a member of a party in the correct role, as a musician with extensive experience, he was within the Piratenpartei their specialist in copyright issues (as well as being state party chairman).
Blur was never the most political of bands – indeed much of Britpop was notably apolitical, apparently happy to wallow in the glories of the past rather than engage with the present (with the notable exception of Pulp in particular) – so I was perhaps surprised when I first heard that Dave Rowntree, the drummer of Blur, had nudged into a political career as Blur wound down. A number of attempts at central London parliamentary seats ended in failure, but he did end up as a Norfolk County Council Labour councillor in 2017, a role he remains in as of now, as I recall.
I wasn’t especially keen on featuring Sonny Bono – his grim reputation as a person (particularly his relationship with Cher, as he was charged with “involuntary servitude” in her divorce proceedings) rather preceeding him. But, in terms of reaching office, he is probably the highest-ranking musician in American politics in the modern era, whether we like it or not – apparently the only member of Congress to have topped the Billboard charts. He was initially elected Mayor of Palm Springs – only standing because he was frustrated with bureaucracy locally in his own business dealings – before being elected to Congress in 1994, his political career cut short by the skiing accident that killed him in 1998.
Cher, of course, has remained a cultural icon, with her politics being the other side of the aisle to her late ex-husband, and has put her money where her mouth is, with substantial philanthropic and political donations to a host of progressive causes – as well as publicly supporting and backing the transition of her son Chaz Bono.
Another musician to be elected in the US more recently is considerably more progressive than Sonny Bono. Danica Roem was the first to both be elected and serve while openly transgender in any U.S. state legislature – and gloriously stood against, and beat, Bob Marshall, an openly homophobic and transphobic man who had sponsored so-called “Bathroom Bills” in Virginia. Roem has since been elected for a second term in Virginia, a state that perhaps is now considerably less Red than it used to be.
Roem, by the way, was previously the vocalist in Virginian metal band Cab Ride Home.
Another unlikely politician is Fenriz, frontman of Norwegian Black Metal (and later other styles!) legends Darkthrone. Black Metal was notoriously – at least in sound – somewhat apolitical, even if some of the actions of members of bands were absolutely not. But, somehow – despite his picture on the voting form showing him and his cat, and a caption of “don’t vote for me”, he ended up elected as a councillor in a suburb of Oslo. So – Black Metal legend, town councillor, postal worker, music journalist and general all-round good guy. Who knew?
Haiti has had a turbulent history, to say the least – from being the first, and only, country created from a slave revolt, to penury in recent years following a succession of appalling dictatorships, natural disasters, further unstable rule, and accusations of rampant corruption.
Enter Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean, who announced his intention to run for Haitian President in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. He made a lot of noise, appeared to get a groundswell of local support – after all, he was probably one of the most famous Haitians in the world at the time – but didn’t make it past the nomination stage in the end. It was a crowded field, mind – no less than 19 candidates were approved for nomination, and another fifteen, including Jean, were disqualified. It’s probably a good thing he was disqualified, as it didn’t take long for his charitable endeavours to come undone in accusations of mass fraud and all kinds of questions as to where the money went.
The Reddit AMA that followed a few years later makes for uncomfortable reading.
The only artist in this list not to actually stand for office, or to be elected to office in way one or another, Fela Kuti still stands like a colossus, even over two decades since his death. A fearless exponent of fighting back against oppressive regimes in his native Nigeria in particular, he was able to use his position as a musical icon to offer criticism of a succession of military governments that gained office by way of coup d’états, giving a voice to those that had none. He suffered for it, of course – reputedly arrested hundreds of times, beaten, imprisoned, charged for various spurious reasons (and this song was recorded in the aftermath of a prison sentence) – but his actions were vitally important. Not to mention his musical work, too, which began to influence other music around the world.
My teammate on Real Gothic / FC 2019 Gothenheim, frontman of 1919, and now throwing his hat in the ring as a potential West Yorkshire Metro Mayor candidate (you can read his Manifesto here, the election for which is in May 2021. And whyever not? As has been noted in the US election, where for the Presidency it was between two white men in their late-seventies, why can’t an important political position be held by someone younger, and potentially more vibrant? Certainly Rio’s work in music, his extensive political work, research and writing, even the charitable work around the Goth Football, makes him more qualified than many to the role… Best of luck.