True Art Eschews Politics Even in the Wasteland

True art eschews politics, and so will I in this post.

By now, I hope you have all had a chance to listen to Riverside’s brilliant new album, Wasteland. It was magnificently reviewed here at Progarchy by Erik Heter and Brad Birzer. This album is beautiful. It is devastating. It is art at its finest.

Just as T. S. Eliot’s masterpiece “The Wasteland” was written in the depths of pain and despair, Riverside’s new masterpiece was written as the band dealt with pain and loss. The 2016 deaths of guitarist Piotr Grudzinski and Mariusz Duda’s father hang heavy over this album, but they do not weigh it down. Rather, they inform its brilliance. Yes, Riverside’s metal moments are here, and Duda does a great job on guitar when needed. But it is the quiet moments that shine like the star Sam and Frodo saw shining through the gloom and dark of Mordor (an allusion I have shamelessly stolen from Brad… and Tolkien).

Much like the recent Oak album, “False Memory Archive,” “Wasteland” embraces the good, the true, and the beautiful. The lyrics are timeless. They get at the what it means to be human. Our lives are filled with happiness, pain, joy, and immense suffering. Riverside don’t hide this fact. They face it head on, and in doing so, they have created true art. Art should move beyond the mundane and fleeting. In 100 years, no one will be remember or be amused by the political ramblings of Roger Waters, Andy Tillison, or Nick Beggs. They will probably remember “Supper’s Ready” and hopefully they will remember “The Underfall Yard” because that song and album deal with issues of lasting importance. “Wasteland” fits into that category. These concepts transcend time. In 1000 years, the lyrics to “The Night Before” will remain relevant.

Close your eyes
Don’t be afraid
I’m with you
This place is safe
We found a camp
We have supplies
They will let us stay the night

Close your eyes
I’ll tuck you in
Mum will sing to make you sleep
Don’t mind the noise
There’re just the bombs
A part of music for this song

When the night begins to fall
You and I
In a safety zone
The former world shall not return
But we’ll survive intact

Embrace beauty and art in music. Reject the ephemeral in favor of the ethereal.

The Place of an Artist

Untitled presentationSeveral weeks ago Progarchy contributor Bryan Morey posted an article, Keep Your Politics Out of My Prog, regarding musicians and the commercial risks they take when speaking their minds politically.  Bryan is a passionate writer and has deeply held beliefs; nonetheless, I took exception with what he said and how he said it, and made my comments in the honest and positive forum that is Progarchy. All good. But…it stayed with me, and thanks to Bryan for spurring me to further thought, and now to writing more.

I also feel compelled to write now, this evening, because a musical icon yesterday made a political statement regarding recently passed legislation in North Carolina, the state in which I live, where I was married, and where one of my children was born.  What has become known as HB2 is a law destructive of not only the Civil Rights Acts but of the grassroots, everyday work that millions of people in the South have undertaken in the last 70 years, to ensure that all are equal before the law.  In canceling his show in Greensboro, North Carolina tomorrow, Bruce Springsteen made the following statement:

As you, my fans, know I’m scheduled to play in Greensboro, North Carolina this Sunday. As we also know, North Carolina has just passed HB2, which the media are referring to as the “bathroom” law. HB2 — known officially as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act — dictates which bathrooms transgender people are permitted to use. Just as important, the law also attacks the rights of LGBT citizens to sue when their human rights are violated in the workplace. No other group of North Carolinians faces such a burden. To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress. Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments. Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.

I think as humans and citizens we should use the voices we have to speak out for what we believe to be the truth, what we believe to be right, and I admire Springsteen (someone whose politics, admittedly, I generally agree with) for using the voice he has and sending a message that needed sending to an increasingly retrograde Southern political establishment, on whom the shadows of segregation are again creeping.  It would be the poor artist who would shrink from using their total voice, to contain themselves only to their primary medium, regardless of the size of their fan base.  In digging deep, artists and musicians push boundaries, often at great personal and commercial cost, and the ones who are successful are without fail also the ones who are compelled to speak their minds in all aspects of their lives.  It might be messy, it might not look great on paper, it might not live up to the images they can magically conjure in their art or the idealization we, their fans, have built up around them or integrity we ascribe to them.  But we don’t get to have the one without the other, and any artist worth their salt, that I can think of, would not change their point of view or what they choose to say based on the sales of albums or tickets.  In taking the action he did, Bruce Springsteen showed again why his band and his fans call him the Boss and why, over his 40-odd years as a professional musician, his artistry has remained so vibrant.