I’m not much of a concertgoer but if a friend has an extra ticket then it’s usually not difficult to twist my arm to get me to go.
That’s what happened this past weekend when my friend and co-worker Jimmy Miles invited me to join him for the Jane’s Addiction and Nine Inch Nails show at the Verizon Wireless Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana.
So Saturday evening we drove down early so we could tailgate before the show. As we stood out in the parking lot, Jimmy with his beer, me with my energy drink (my wife had insisted if I was to be the one driving then I wouldn’t be drinking) other concertgoers blasted their music in preparation for the show that was about to start.
One of the songs we heard was from the leftist band Rage Against the Machine, no doubt because the evening’s opening act was a new group called Street Sweeper Social Club, co-founded by Rage guitarist Tom Morello. As we finished our drinks, stuck the cooler back in the car, and began walking toward the concert I said to Jimmy, “You know even though I understand now that the guys in Rage Against the Machine are a bunch of Stalinists I still enjoy their music.” The same sentiment could be said of Morello’s new effort.
Street Sweeper Social Club is a joint project of Morello and Raymond “Boots” Riley, the lead singer of the radical hip-hop group the Coup. And Riley is so far to the left that he makes Rage lead singer Zack de la Rocha look like Pat Buchanan. Throughout Street Sweeper’s short set Riley declared his political positions, at one point arguing that the government needs to have “a people’s bailout, not a corporate bailout.” They also played a cover of the popular M.I.A. song “Paper Planes,” a catchy track that’s become the leftist anthem of late.
Riley’s quite open and blunt about his political religion:
"I am a communist. I have been a communist/socialist since I was 14 years old. I think that people should have democratic control over the profits that they produce. It is not real democracy until you have that. And the plain and simple definition of communism is the people having democratic control over the profits that they create. When you first have a revolution, you are heading into socialism. People who were against communism have defined communism for us. People that are for communism and who have dedicated their lives and given their lives to giving people power, they are the ones that created the concept."
The rest of the concert was fun. If Street Sweeper Social Club tagged the communist base then Nine Inch Nails covered nihilism and Jane’s Addiction took care of hedonism.
Driving back home after the concert Jimmy and I couldn’t help but reflect on these bands that we’d enjoyed so much but whose politics and ideas we could no longer take seriously. And we realized that you could never really have a conservative version of Rage Against the Machine or Street Sweeper Social Club. Sure, you’ve got conservative musicians like Ted Nugent and Toby Keith but what conservative rock band places their politics ahead of the music itself? With Rage and Street Sweeper Social Club the musicians are quite frank about their priorities. Neo-communist politics first, music second. It’s as though the music is the spoonful of sugar to help the poison go down. Tom Morello might as well be a radical Mary Poppins.
The reason why you won’t find a right-leaning activist band is not one most young conservatives – and even many older ones – would want to hear or accept: conservatism is not cool.
There are many reasons why this is the case. First and foremost is that the radical approach is principally concerned with two concepts, both of which are the foundations of cool: destruction and creation. It’s cool to destroy things and ideas. It’s cool to reinvent something, to create something new. (This is why what’s considered “cool” is always changing.) Thus the entire premise of leftist radicalism – the destruction of the existing society and the creation of a new, better, utopian one – is endlessly cool.
What’s cool about maintaining what we have? What’s cool about defending systems, ideas, and behaviors that work? What’s cool about personal responsibility, caution, and moderation? The very foundations of conservatism are the antithesis of cool.
Usually conservatives only become cool when they imitate the style or approach of the Left – when they get aggressive, confrontational, and edgy or attempt acts of destruction and creation. They become cool when they seek to either destroy the Left or reinvent the Right. Thus, David Horowitz and Ann Coulter – in their New Left-style attacks on the Left -- hold the current monopolies of cool on the Right. And William F. Buckley, Jr., because he created the modern conservative movement, remains a figure or overwhelming cool.
This cool deficiency isn’t a problem, though. Movement conservative leaders and GOP strategists don’t need to start figuring out how to make the philosophy of Buckley, Reagan, and Goldwater hip for Generation Y. And the reason for this is simple: eventually as people grow up they become less concerned with being cool and more focused on being happy. (Further, not everyone bases their political decisions on the temptation of radical chic.)
It was not cool that my wife twisted my arm into not drinking at the concert. It’s not cool to be the sober one at the Nine Inch Nails show while so many people around you are falling over drunk or stoned. But I managed to walk away from the concert and get home safely to the wife who loves me. That certainly generates a lot more happiness than I would have gotten had I been the guy on his knees outside the concert with cops shining a flashlight into his eyes. And that’s ultimately the conclusion – both personal and political – that most people will eventually make. They’ll learn to abstain from getting drunk on the radical dreams of nihilistic destruction and utopian creation.