More Heat Than Light?

This post started as a counterpoint to those earlier posts from Brad and from Erik, but then our esteemed Time Lord responded with a spirited defence of the music that seems to have offended sensibilities so greatly, and for a while I wondered whether to abandon these ramblings entirely.  If there is a point left to make, perhaps it is to reiterate something I said the last time the thorny issue of politics reared its ugly head in these hallowed virtual halls.

My point then was simply this: I don’t want any artist to keep politics out of their music, even if this means they end up pushing a viewpoint that I disagree with vehemently.

Why? Well, it has to do with passion. Many of us get very passionate about our politics; you only have to read those earlier posts to see that! And passion is also a necessary fuel for art. Can the artist separate the passionate feelings that stimulate great art from those that feed their political beliefs? I’m not sure that’s possible. Perhaps hearing something we might disagree with is just the price we have to pay for great art – for that other stuff that resonates and inspires, rather than mystifying or angering us.

To be honest, I’m rather surprised that we aren’t hearing a lot more proselytising in prog right now. After all, the tectonic plates of global politics seem to have shifted significantly over the past couple of years. And I would hope that all rational and reasonable people near the centre ground, whether they lean left or right, can agree that we’ve seen some disturbing trends – not least in the rise of far-right extremism.

I think this must be why I take exception to some of the criticism that Erik levels at Andy Tillison for his ‘bait and switch’ on the Slow Rust album. Was it clichéd? For sure. Clumsy and melodramatic? Probably. But considering the toxic and febrile atmosphere surrounding Brexit, where a politician was murdered by an avowed neo-Nazi and synagogues were vandalised in the aftermath of the referendum result, I believe wholeheartedly that Andy had a valid point.

I’ve heard none of this apparently controversial new material from The Flower Kings and The Tangent. (I no longer listen to advance copies because I’m so bad at reviewing, and it’s not fair to the artists to treat this stuff as ‘free music’ without the quid pro quo of a review.) Thus I can’t comment on the specific bones of contention that other Progarchists have picked over so ardently. But I feel I must repeat something that I said two years ago in my first musings on this troublesome issue:

An artist communicates their thoughts and feelings to us through their music: their thoughts and feelings, which may align with or contradict our own. As listeners, we are free to accept or reject the message, but we don’t get to decide its contents.

Thus I ask, tentatively, and with the greatest of respect, whether it might be more constructive in the future to keep the politics out of Progarchy, rather than arguing that it should be kept out of prog?

5 thoughts on “More Heat Than Light?

  1. Erik Heter

    Nick, in defending Andy’s Nazi comparison, you are basically defending the smearing of a majority of people in the U.K. (or at least the majority that voted in the Brexit referendum) for the bad actions of a few. Unless you can show me that there is widespread support among the pro-Brexit faction for the murder in question or the vandalizing of synagogues, then you are advocating the stereotyping of a large swath of the population based on the awful actions of a tiny minority. I thought stereotyping is bad … or is it only situationally bad?

    You don’t like the direction that the political environment is taking in the U.K. and Europe, but attitudes like Andy’s are the *precise* reason people are turning to the leaders and causes they are. They are doing so *precisely* because those attitudes expressed in Slow Rust send the message that they are less than human, they are not to be listened to, their concerns are not to be seen as valid, and they shouldn’t even be expressed in polite society.

    Mark Steyn once said (and I’m paraphrasing) that if polite politicians make certain topics off limits for discussion, the people will turn to impolite politicians. If you don’t like the direction of politics in your country or Europe in general, perhaps you should spend less time defending (or in Andy’s case, uttering) ugly smears and more time actually listening to what the people are saying. Maybe you should give them the benefit of the doubt for acting in good faith and having legitimate grievances. There is no requirement that you agree with them. But no compromise or possibility of polite disagreement is possible if you don’t. And if attitudes like yours and Andy’s prevail among a critical mass of the population, don’t be surprised if things get worse instead of better.

    A few years back on this very site, you wrote the following regarding politics in music:

    “When it’s done well … it can shed new light and make you think about issues from a different perspective. Let’s face it, we could all benefit from standing in another’s shoes from time to time…”

    Is a Nazi smear doing it well? Is basically writing off half the country as prospective Heinrich Himmlers fall under the umbrella of standing in another’s shoes? Is it heat or is it light?

    As for wanting politics in you music, I have no inherent objection to that. Indeed, in my own post I cited two examples of politically-themed albums (by Galahad and Marillion) that I like very much. Both of them leveled harsh critiques, neither of them descended to smearing their targets as Nazis. And as Brad noted in a comment, Andy himself has leveled some pretty biting cultural and social critiques in the past, and did so very artfully and tastefully without sacrificing any of their forcefulness. That makes his failure here all the more disappointing, because we know he can do much, much better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jay Craig

      And despite multiple rational requests to can the political rants, on and on they go. I may as well go back to Twitter for my prog news. Goodbye, Progarchy.


  2. Richard Lock

    I can’t add much to Erik’s comments which are completely on point. What I will say is that rational, centre position occupiers like myself are equally concerned about both extremes of the political spectrum. The only difference between the extreme left and right at the moment in the UK is the propensity to act violently upon those beliefs, which is deplorable; even here though, let’s look factually upon the degree of that enacted violence compared with the rise of Fascism in 30’s Germany. Ironic then that the leftist party in the UK is currently the one under fire for anti-semitism. The non-violent language of the left and right are equally vitriolic and threatening but the left has the luxury of being able to bandy the term Nazi towards any dissenters because, despite the depravity of Stalinist Russia, we actually have no easy term to with which to label the extreme left. The danger here is that the further you stand to the left the more people you have to your right and the easier it becomes to label someone a Nazi; even if they are a left leaning centrist. If you’re to the right then everything to your left is hated but has no easy label which which to beat you. I really cannot applaud bands like Marillion and Galahad enough for their mature and well considered approach when taking on the subject.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great column.

    Musicians are free to use their music to deliver any message they want. People who don’t like the message can listen to something else, but they shouldn’t whine about how they should keep their opinions to themselves.

    Art involves creativity. If you want a performing monkey who pumps out exactly what you want to hear without threatening your worldview, there’s always AC/DC, Kid Rock, or country – an entire genre that caters almost exclusively to people who never want to hear anything different or challenging…ever.

    Most musicians put years (usually decades) into honing their craft. It isn’t up to us to tell them what to sing about any more than we should tell them what kind of music to play. If you don’t like it, buy something else – or start your own band.

    Besides, I thought Tillison’s “A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road” was entirely on point regarding Brexit and Trump. I can’t wait to hear the new Tangent record, and I have been waiting years for new Flower Kings. From what I have heard so far, it sounds like Manifesto of an Alchemist was worth the wait.

    Liked by 1 person


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