In the comments to a previous post, Jai supports the idea of using my role as a performer to put forward some alternative views on issues that I’m passionate about. I’ve actually thought about this a lot – I am a huge fan of Ani DiFranco who is not short of songs that address important issues, and whose between-song (and sometimes mid-song) banter continues many of the same themes.
I really enjoy and admire and respect Ani, and many other artists (Public Enemy, Michael Franti, the Beastie Boys, Midnight Oil and Radiohead immediately come to mind – hey, even Coldplay has recently got in on the act with tremendous support for Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign) for using their position as a “public figure” to express their views. This is courageous and can make a big impact on their audience. It has certainly had a big influence on me in learning more about certain issues. (That said, the biggest impact on me came from reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo.)
Personally, though, I really struggle to do this. I find it difficult to write songs about issues without it sounding like some lame cliche machine – I recall only one song that I’ve written that I’ve been willing to perform, and one other that had potential. When I’m onstage, strangely enough, I kinda leave the politics largely alone (except maybe in my choice of t-shirts). I don’t know why – perhaps in time I will feel differently.
This weblog, in fact, was started as a direct reaction to the feeling I had of a lack of voice on issues that were important to me. I find it a lot easier to raise those issues and speak my mind here than I do in person or on stage. I get the feeling when I talk to many friends and aquaintances about issues I’m passionate about that either a) they’re not interested, b) they don’t know quite what I’m on about, c) they feel uncomfortable discussing things, or c) don’t feel that they can respond for fear of disagreement or getting into a protracted discussion or argument. That’s the feeling I get – my impression – I don’t know what the reality is.
One thing I do know is that everyone comes to their point of view largely through a collection of personal experiences and to challenge them directly is often a confronting and, in many cases counter-productive, approach. A respectful and engaging debate, I find, is always the best way to bring a new point of view into someone’s consciousness. There are times for being confrontational, but those times are rare, imo.
I personally feel that sitting on a pulpit, as it were, such as being on stage and spouting my views on issues could be counter-productive in this way. It doesn’t really allow for the nuance of argument that I think is required to start the process of changing someone’s mind. This is particularly problematic when the issue is contentious, or obscure, or that requires an understanding of history.
One could easily argue that this weblog is a kind of pulpit too, and I couldn’t really disagree, but for some reason I feel more comfortable doing so here – where people can choose to tune in or tune out, to leave a comment or hold their views to themselves. I also have the time to present an argument more clearly here, and to link to relevant resources that back up or extend or challenge a certain perspective. 15 seconds on a stage doesn’t really provide for this level of reasoning and discussion.
So, I suppose my point is that I have really mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I admire and am influenced by artists that speak out and express their political views. On the other hand I feel uncomfortable being that kind of performer and feel that it can sometimes be counter-productive. Hmmmm…