L. Neil Smith's
Number 333, August 21, 2005

"...far greater threat than Al Qaeda..."

Should The Stones Be Taken Seriously?
by Jonathan David Morris

Special to TLE

PROGRAMMING NOTE: JDM will be a guest on Charles Adler's radio show this morning at 11:30 AM Eastern Standard Time. Tune in to CJOB 68 in Manitoba, or log on to www.cjob.com and click "Listen Live."

Next month, the World's Oldest Rock Band—which is now so old that even the old jokes are getting old (and even the jokes about the old jokes getting old are getting old)—will release a new album called A Bigger Bang. That band is, of course, the Rolling Stones. And the only reason I feel the need to talk about their album is because it's set to include a song called "Sweet Neocon," an apparent swipe at George Cowboy Bush. While the Stones insist "Sweet Neocon" isn't about the president, in particular, you wouldn't know it from the lyrics, which go a little something like this:

"You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite/You call yourself a patriot, well I think you're full of shit."

I realize these words could theoretically pertain to any of the other warmongering neoconservatives in the current administration. However, I find the idea of an anti-Dick Cheney song remarkably unsexy and the idea of an anti-Condi Rice song only marginally sexier. So the Stones can stonewall all they want, but I absolutely refuse to believe "Sweet Neocon" is about anyone but Bush.

"Anyone But Bush." Ha. No pun intended.

Anyway, before you go getting any funny ideas, I'm not writing this column because I care if "Sweet Neocon" is about Bush, or because I'm interested in defending him if it is. He's a big boy. He's got plenty of firepower. He can defend himself. But as for me, the only reason I'm writing this column—the only reason I feel like talking about a band that stopped being interesting around the time I was born—is because I have one simple question: Should "Sweet Neocon" be taken seriously? And if not, why not? (Technically, that's two questions. But stop being picky and work with me here.)

Now, obviously, a lot of people are going to hear this question and say, "Well, of course it shouldn't be taken seriously." We've all had our fair share of arguments on whether musicians should be assailing us with their political views the last few years. But I'm tired of arguing that argument, and I'm not going to argue it here. So let's just pretend—for the sake of argument—that outspoken artists have won the debate. Let's operate under the assumption that major recording artists should, indeed, take advantage of captive audiences, abuse their First Amendment privileges, bite the capitalistic hand that feeds them, etc., etc., and so on. That said, should "Sweet Neocon" be taken seriously? I'm not so sure it should.

For starters, the lyrics alone are going to make people vote Republican. They're so smug and obvious and contrived. They're like a musical equivalent of P. Diddy's "Vote or Die" campaign. I mean, why even write new lyrics for it, Mick? I'm sure there are plenty of old "I'm John Kerry and I approved this message" scripts lying around Democratic headquarters. Why not just put one of those to music? For "Sweet Neocon" to have an impact, it needs to speak to the human condition. Instead, it speaks to people who would TiVo Jim Lehrer. I can't take that seriously.

On that note, let's talk about timing. Let's say this song is meant to be half as partisan as its lyrics, and especially its title, will be called. Why the hell would you release it now, almost a year after George Dubya was reelected, almost two and a half years since the start of Operation Error In Judgment, and almost four years since the politically advantageous Date That Dare Not Speak Its Name (whose name starts with an "N" and ends with an "ine-Eleven")? It makes no sense. Hating neocons has jumped the shark. I'm sorry, but I just can't take this song's timing seriously. Putting out an anti-Bush song in September '05 is like putting out an anti-Nam song in 1981.

Finally, "Sweet Neocon" shouldn't be taken seriously because of its source. That's not a knock on the Rolling Stones, who are clearly one of the greatest bands of all time, but rather a knock on what the Rolling Stones have become. At its core, this song is supposed to be anti-establishment. It wouldn't be attacking the people in charge of all three branches of government if it wasn't. But that said, shouldn't an anti-establishment song be written and performed by somebody, you know, outside the establishment? Because that's precisely what the Rolling Stones are not.

Think about this. As far as musical legitimacy is concerned, the only thing that really matters nowadays is whether an artist has corporate ties. We're living in an era where selling out is highly frowned upon—an era where rugged individualists hate anything that sounds mass produced. File-sharing has ended musical genres as we know them. The only thing people care about now is whether a song sounds like it's for 12-year-old girls. And the Rolling Stones—with their corporate, part-of-the-system sexuality—are as 12-year-old girl as it gets. They don't even have to try anymore. They can make millions off new CDs and concert tickets with their hands tied to their honky tonks. What's next? A Britney Spears song bashing No Child Left Behind?

So there you have it. "Sweet Neocon" sounds all right (not that I... um, illegally download music...), and it's certainly a valiant effort, but, in the end, it shouldn't be taken seriously. There's a place in this world for anti-Bush/anti-war/anti-whatever-else songs. But, politically, A Bigger Bang is not one of those places.

Jonathan David Morris writes a weekly column for The Aquarian and other publications. He can be reached at jdm@readjdm.com.

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