Over the past two years the iconic British alternative band The Smiths have waged a war on British Prime Minister David Cameron. The Smiths, who have not performed live since 1986 and broke up in 1987, have been called the most influential British band since The Beatles. During the 1980's when popular music was about as deep as a cat's dish, the Smiths offered listeners a view of Britain in the heart of decay and class conflict. Their music has always held tightly to ideas of class divisions and philosophies of British culture. And, although their sounds influenced a generation of British bands (James, The Bluetones, Suede. etc.) no British band (before them, or since them) have forged pop, fashion and style with a conscious political message. Recently, their political ideologies have once again entered into public dialogue.
In 2010 both lead singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr angrily denounced PM David Cameron for being a fan of the band. Johnny Marr said "David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it". Morrissey similarly released his own diatribe aimed at Cameron's love of hunting, adding "it was not for such people that either Meat is Murder or The Queen is Dead were recorded; in fact they were made as a reaction against such violence". Marr and Morrissey, who have never been on the best of terms since Marr left the band in 87, supported a trade with Cameron: his government for a reunion show. Marr stated in 2012, "If this government steps down then I'll reform the band. How's that? That's a fair trade, innit?". So, to put the seriousness of this into context, the band have been in legal battles with each other for years, and have always said they will never reunite. But, they were apparently ready to do just that if Cameron steps down. The rhetoric reached new rigor this past week when Marr said in an interview "I told him to stop saying that he likes the band, I told him I forbid him to like it...He shouldn't like us. We're not his kind of people. I don't think I could say it any better". Cameron responded by hinting at the particularly strained relationship between Morrissey & Marr and their fellow bandmates Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, stating "When I've got the complete and full set, even then I will go on and listen to the Smiths".
But, here is the thing. Do Morrissey and Marr have a point?
Over the past few years my Walter Benjamin-like leanings have led me to embrace the post-modernist idea that when an artist creates something it can and should be taken by people and used, altered and adjusted to continue to create art. However, does the same philosophy apply to the "theme" within the music? I suppose people might argue the band does not have a say in who embraces their message, perhaps then should the onus be on the consumer of music. Do we as a consumer, whether we be a "regular" citizen or an elected official, have an obligation to understand the philosophy of an artist?
This is of course nothing new. In 2005 Alejandro Escovedo stopped playing "Castanets" after the NY Times reported that it was a George W. Bush fav and was on his iPOD. But, it seems as music slips more immediately into the public rhelm, artists are becoming more adamant about just who embraces their music and philosophies.
Canada has also been a part of this. Recently Torquil Campbell of Montreal-Toronto band Stars has taken his issues with the Harper Government to Twitter. This all began when Andrew MacDougall, the PMO's Director of Communication tweeted "The whole Stars record is great but 'Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It' is the standout track". This prompted the always political Campbell to respond "please man, until you stop working for a sociopath who is
ruining the country, leave our record alone". This sparring between the two continued with an agitated Campbell stating "having stevie harpers publicity guy praising our new record is ironic in the worst possible way" and (after a rather abrupt tweet) Campbell added "sorry to be so explicit, but i'm doing anything i can to get you stop listening to us", and "we think your crew are a bunch of fucking thugs, and we detest every last one of them".
Now, at first this might seem like an uncivilized response to someone liking your music. But, is music just music? Isn't music much more than that? Isn't music an art form that conveys a message? And, should musicians have a say in who listens to their music? Obviously, we can't have musicians verifying purchasers, but I think we can condone, and even expect, writers (of music, poetry, prose, etc.) to say when their message is in the hands of those they are fighting against. God knows, I certainly wouldn't expect Banksy to say something if his art work were to hang in Trump Tower.
It would seem as The Smiths and David Cameron continue to wage a war of words the true value of art and the limits of that art are pushing us to consider the role of art and politics once again. Perhaps it seems so odd because we seldom see artists that hold convictions like a true artist should?
The world of music and media offers us a view of the world like few other arts.