A View From The Handbasket

Monday, June 05, 2006
Return of the son of cultural envy
Posted by neros_fiddle at 11:59 AM

Many, many years ago, a rock band in England was struggling to get attention amid all the other nascent "beat" groups of the day. One night, playing a gig in a local dive with a low ceiling, the guitarist made a flashy move onstage and snapped the neck of his guitar on the rafters. The crowd went ape. With an uneasy combination of adrenaline and distaste, the guitarist continued to demolish the hapless instrument, leaving the crowd baying its approval.

Word of mouth spread, and suddenly people would turn up at the band's shows to see guitars get broken. The guitarist resisted at first, not having the money to keep replacing his axes, but his manager encouraged him. Soon enough, it became an established part of the stage act, and in later years no one was really sure if Pete Townshend (1) was merely going through the motions, (2) was mocking the audience or (3) was mocking himself.

Much later, one of Townshend's songs was named by John J. Miller, a writer at National Review, as the #1 conservative rock song of all time. The article, which listed 49 other, equally tenuous, examples of "conservative rock songs," was quickly dissected across the blogosphere and mainstream media, and was the subject of much amusement.

One is tempted to wonder if Miller's emotions on looking at the huge attention the article received weren't similar in some way to that of Townshend. What to do when confronted with a lark out of control? Take the high road and move on, or embrace the madness and see how far it will take you?

Like Townshend, Miller's back on stage breaking stuff again, with a new list of 50 more songs to add to the bizarre category of "stuff that doesn't totally contradict conservative dogma, and thus is conservative."

I won't subject either of us to a complete rundown this time. But this new list repeats all the same moves as the first one. We get songs that mention religion ("After Forever" by Black Sabbath, "Jesus Is Just Alright" by the Doobie Brothers, "Gotta Serve Somebody" by Bob Dylan, "Turn! Turn! Turn!") because only conservatives can be religious. We get songs like "Red Army Blues" by the Waterboys, "Red Skies" by the Fixx, "Mother Russia" by Iron Maiden and "Miss Gradenko" by the Police because only conservatives could disapprove of Stalinism. We get goofball jingoist anthems like "VOA" by Sammy Hagar and "In America" by the Charlie Daniels Band. We get songs that say bad things about abortion from Extreme and Slayer (as if being pro-choice is same thing as being pro-abortion). There's the inevitable suggestion, via "Back In The USA" by Chuck Berry, that only conservatives can be patriots. We get a heavy dose of grumpy nostalgia from the Kinks (three songs) and earnest objectivism from Rush (four songs), of course.

And a few real head scratchers. Miller includes "Holiday In Cambodia" by the Dead Kennedys for its anti-Pol Pot content, apparently unaware that the whole point of the song is the skewering of a smug, materialistic college student with rich parents by pointing out the horrors of the world beyond our comfortable borders. For some reason, 1981's "Dirty Laundry" (Don Henley) is "conservative" because Dan Rather peddled some forged memos in 2004. Perhaps strangest of all, he claims P.O.D. is "super-hip."

And on and on. If anything, it's even more ludicrous than the first one. It's hard to say whether (1) he really believes this stuff, (2) is mocking us or (3) is mocking himself.

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