Rock was never meant to swim in easy waters. Right from the genre’s inception, it seemed to empower a generation to paddle against the tide, with its – predominantly male, predominantly straight, predominantly middle class – intake aiming to “kill the King” and “rail at all his servants”.
At time has gone on, however, the direction of the surrounding streams have shifted. The cultural energies of the 60s may have dissipated, but its impact can be felt in our daily lives – from green politics becoming mainstream, to women’s rights, to discussion around sexuality and gender, in the long run the Beautiful People have had an extraordinary, deeply progressive impact on the West as a whole.
So why are so many of rock’s original proponents still so damn angry? Each day seems to bring a new vox pop, with some old, grizzled hit-maker left red-faced and furious by the world they’ve found themselves in. First it was Eric Clapton, giving a bizarre, lengthy, rambling interview to Oracle Films – proponents of the “Censored Truth” – in which he discussed his experience with the COVID vaccine.
A 76 year old who endured lengthy struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, Eric Clapton is perhaps more fragile than most, more susceptible to the allure of what he himself terms “alternative facts” peddled on social media. Yet there’s an extraordinary sense of privilege in this iconic figure claiming to be sidelined. Forced to cancel his 2020 tour – wiping out a year’s work he tells us – the Oracle Films video was timed to arrive alongside the announcement of his next batch of tour dates, incorporating huge Stateside venues. He’s been afforded opportunities new, younger musicians can’t tap into – nor too, can so many of the Black American musicians whose work underpins his own.
Then footage of Roger Waters emerged online, the Pink Floyd founder railing against social media. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had the temerity, he said, the outside gall to email and politely ask if the group would consider licensing their mega-hit ‘Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2’ for an ad campaign. “Fuck you!” the prog musician railed, before labelling the beleaguered Zuckerberg a “prick”.
The rant takes on a distinctly different hue, however, when you realise that the event Roger Waters was speaking at was in support of the discredited, unsettling figure Julian Assange.
And now The Who’s frontman Roger Daltrey has swung into action. After gaining opprobrium for his views on Brexit – he’s for it, despite its obvious impact on musicians – he became the first music guest on GB News, the new channel that is “proud to be British”.
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Speaking to former Sun journalist Dan Wootton, Roger Daltrey held forth on all manner of topics. One of the few genuinely working class voices in rock’s constituency, the former sheet metal worker discussed footballers taking the knee – “if it goes on too long it is in danger of becoming virtue signalling” – and all these ‘woke snowflakes’ that keep raining down from the heavens.
A likeable, garrulous figure, Roger Daltrey’s everyman Hard Right views are objectionable, but not abhorrent. That is, though, until he began to echo the much-discredited claim that ventilators have contributed to the deaths of those infected by COVID, and whatever lowly viewing figures GB News has accrued began to plunge once more.
What seems to bind these interviews together is their tone. Like old boxers swinging blindly at targets that can’t quite focus on, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, and Roger Daltrey are all angry about something, they’re just not exactly sure what. The world has changed, and they’re uncertain of their place in it. They want to rail against authority, but those in power eerily resemble their own lives. Trapped in privileged, solitary realms, with too much time, and too much money, and too much information, the counter culture poses they once adopted has long since curdled into something more unpleasant - a naked instinct to protect their own self-interests.
In an era of such misinformation, however, using their platforms to undermine efforts to battle COVID, while supporting discredited figures and suspicious causes, leaves a profoundly ugly stain.
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