Conservatism and Music
We politicize everything, it seems. Lately, it’s been seeping into the world of entertainment, particularly music. And if there’s one quick and easy way to make me furious, it is by screwing around in that arena. Anyone that pays attention to me on Twitter knows by now that I am a Spotify addict, but what they might not know is that I haven’t come close to adding my personal music collection, let alone the new stuff that keeps crossing my path elsewhere. A running joke around my hometown is that the local fire department doesn’t want to end up putting out a fire at my house, because they might end up swimming in a pond of melted vinyl from all the records that are stowed away throughout the house.
But that’s what you get when you’re raised by parents that collected records and appeared as DJ’s on-air, and off-air in dance halls for the better part of two decades. Thanks to them, my personal record collection has a little bit of everything, from Bruce Springsteen, to The Who, to Jimmy Beaumont, to Tchaichovsky, to Louis Armstrong, to the Cure, to Agnostic Front, etc. (My digital collection is far more diverse.) And they didn’t stop with just encouraging me to listen to music. Not unlike Billy Joel, they forced me to learn to play the organ – that turned into learning piano. Later, I ended up picking up the flute, percussion instruments in general, string bass – jazz-style, and a little acoustic guitar. And that lead to more than a few situations where I ended up “jamming” with friends of my parents that were involved in the Pittsburgh music scene.
The most important thing I learned along the way came from a man named Joe Rock – the man who wrote “Since I Don’t Have You” that was performed by Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners. He was their manager for years, before he moved on to Nashville, and one thing everyone could agree on about him was that he knew music. And one day, he sat me down and asked me about a few songs from some bands that wanted him to represent them, mostly because my father had been bragging about how well he had taught me about “good music.” Rock wanted to see if that was true, so he played the records for me, and asked which bands were worth representing. I was terrified, but answered – and named the ones he was interested in dealing with anyway. He looked me straight in the eye, and told me, “Music is a personal thing. There’s music you really love, and then there’s good music that you know someone else might really love. The good music that others might really like is stuff you might want to own, but the stuff you love owns you.”
He was talking about the industry when he said that, and it took me years to realize what he really meant. It was a statement about having the ability to recognize talent, without being subjective. It was about listening to music without letting one’s personal opinion about it taint that determination. Rock hated each one of the bands he played for me that day, but he helped them make it anyway. He didn’t like their music, but he knew they had talent, and the potential to make it. And that is how I listen to music, to this day. I have hundreds of albums, and only a handful that I can tolerate listening to from beginning to end. There are probably at least a hundred albums that I own simply because I liked one song, and couldn’t find it as a single – even do that today, since iTunes restricts purchasing of some songs to “album only.”
About eight years ago, I was in a local bar listening to a young girl sing. She looked like she was terrified of the crowd. She had zero stage presence, and to call her “less than confident” would have been extremely kind. Her mother was there, biting her fingernails, and I felt sorry for them both, primarily because I couldn’t help thinking that I knew right then and there what Red Foley must have felt when he first heard Brenda Lee sing. I knew one way or another that scared girl was going to end up in the industry, and I was right. Her name was DeAnna Dawn Denning, and now she’s the lead singer of “Difference United”, a Christian rock band out of Nashville. And yes, this atheist that can’t stand that genre of music at all has added that band to Spotify, because I still love her voice.
And what does this have to do with conservatives? Well, there’s been a little war of sorts going on, involving some high profile conservatives and some struggling musicians. No, I won’t mention names because it’s not necessary, and honestly doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. The stupid posturing and bullshit that’s been going on is why conservatives are failing miserably at what Brandon Morse over at Misfit Politics aptly pointed out that we need to succeed at doing. We, as conservatives, are failing at connecting with the public, because we can’t speak on a cultural level. And it’s no wonder that we can’t, when we have people running around picking on stupid things.
I’ve listened to music from more artists than I care to think about, and own music from just about every genre out there, with the notable exception of rap. (Sorry, but I just can’t make myself tolerate rap in general, certainly not enough to shell out cash to own it.) Like I’ve said, I don’t love it all. But I can still spot talent and potential as well as I ever could. And there is quite a bit of it out there in the ranks of conservative artists. Big Dawg Music Mafia has plenty of artists to choose from, in several genres. Do I like them all? No. Do I think they all have potential? I’ll get back to you on that one, once I’ve taken the time to hit at least a few tracks from each of them. But, no matter what, there’s one thing about each and every one of them. They are out there trying to do what we need to be doing as conservatives – they are out there delivering our message in a way that has the potential to reach masses far beyond our ranks.
One thing we have to remember about these people is that there’s a very good reason why many musicians have agents – they need them, to deal with the industry, and the public. I don’t know any performers that are “normal” by any stretch of the imagination. Some of them do manage to put up a very good front, and appear that way. But, for whatever reason, creative people simply don’t fit molds – myself included. So, to run about crucifying them because they have trouble occasionally playing like social butterflies is beyond counter-productive – it’s downright stupid. It only shows that one has no decency or character – you know, the sort of person Sarah Palin would rail for using the “R-word.” Hate someone’s music? Fine. No one’s saying you have to love it simply because the artist is conservative. But don’t run them down to everyone else either! What you think sucks, might be great to someone else. That’s just arrogant, and insulting – to not only the musician, but also everyone else. Sure, I share my playlists with the masses on Twitter, but I don’t sit there and say that if someone doesn’t absolutely love everything I listen to regularly, they’re idiots. Even my playlists are full of songs that I rarely listen to, because I have to be in the “right mood” for certain stuff.
So, the bottom line is, if you’re out there telling people not to pay attention to a conservative artist, shame on you. I’m not saying you need to campaign for them, especially if you honestly don’t like their music. But, if you’re telling everyone that someone’s music isn’t worth listening to in the first place simply because you don’t like it (or worse, because you don’t get along with the musician), you’re part of the problem conservatives are having getting our message out to a wider audience. Just like your mother should have taught you, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”