Top 5 Musicians Whose Art Trumps Their Politics

Top 5 Musicians Whose Art Trumps Their Politics

Once again we have yet another example that if a musician opens his or her mouth without the benefit of a guitar or piano close by, trouble is usually not far behind. In this case it's Rockin' Randall Hank Williams Jr., who compared this year's Obama/John Boehner "golf summit" to Adolf Hitler hitting the links with former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends Monday. #facepalm

This statement by Bocephus, bless his heart, is idiotic for a number of reasons. First, Hitler's considerable tally of alleged health problems - including Parkinson's disease, amphetamine addiction, syphilis and monorchism (one testicle) - means he probably didn't play much golf. Second, Netanyahu was born in 1949, four years after Hitler died, so it wouldn't have been much of a match anyway.

Lastly, if even the Fox News hosts can't throw you a lifeline (co-host Brian Kilmeade: "I don't understand the analogy"), you know you fucked up. ESPN pulled Hank Jr.'s long-running "Are You Ready for Some Football?" Monday Night Football introduction from last night's Indianapolis-Tampa Bay game, and has not announced whether it will reinstate the singer or, as has been suggested on Twitter, replace him with someone like Kid Rock or Pitbull.

Since then, Hank Jr. has apologized, or at least said his comments were "misunderstood." It sounded like a pretty clear example of pure jackassery to us, though, and since Rocks Off set a Twitter search for Bocephus earlier this morning, his name has come up more than 1,200 times (including retweets). The tenor of tweets has been more or less the same: Hank needs to shut his racist/ignorant mouth and stick to making music.

Which, by the way, he's still quite good at. Rocks Off has the feeling Bocephus is going to keep right on saying whatever the hell he wants, Monday Night Football, ESPN, Obama and everyone else be damned. But if he cares, ol' Hank is now enshrined on our list of artists whose ill-advised, misinterpreted, or downright boneheaded political pronouncements have not prevented us from enjoying their music one bit.

5. Cat Stevens: The British singer-songwriter's late-'70s conversion to Islam and changing his name from Cat Stevens (birth name: Steven Georgiu) to Yousuf Islam is his own business. But he touched off a firestorm of criticism in 1989, when his comments were interpreted to support the fatwa against Salman Rushdie after the latter's The Satanic Verses had many Muslim clerics calling for the author's head. Islam said he was merely recounting the Koran's prescribed punishment for blasphemy, but that's not how the media saw it.

The repercussions lasted for years, and are probably what landed Islam on a U.S. government no-fly list in September 2004, when his Washington-bound plane was intercepted in Bangor, Me. (he was flying to a scheduled meeting with Dolly Parton), and he was flown back to the UK the next day. Be that as it may, Rocks Off is willing to bet that even the Homeland Security agents who took him into custody had "Wild World" and "The First Cut Is the Deepest" on their iPods. They may have blissed out to "Morning Has Broken" at Starbucks that very day.

Since the Rushdie incident, Stevens/Islam, who performed "Peace Train" for the first time in two decades in the wake of 9/11, has won numerous humanitarian awards, and was allowed into the U.S. for a radio promotional tour in 2006.

4. Sinead O'Connor: Sinead O'Connor effectively killed her career when she tore up that picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, which happened 19 years ago this week. She hasn't stopped saying exactly what's on her mind, emerging as a pundit of sorts in recent years as the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal has intensified in her native Ireland and elsewhere around the globe. She proposed an alternate Catholic Church in an op-ed piece for Ireland's The Independent this past July, writing "Christ is being murdered by liars" and "what is being sold by the Vatican is not Catholicism at all."

More importantly for our purposes, when not becoming an ordained minister herself or being domestic - O'Connor has four children and got married for the fourth time last year - has kept right on recording music and even touring once in a while. (One of these days, Houston.) None of her post-SNL albums has seen much U.S. chart activity, but we recommend 1997's Gospel Oak EP and the cannabis-laden old-school reggae covers of Burning Spear, Lee "Scratch" Perry and Peter Tosh on 2005's Throw Down Your Arms.

Furthermore, listening to O'Connor's haunting voice tackle traditional Irish music on 2002's Sean-Nos Nua is truly not of this Earth; there's also "The Foggy Dew" from the Chieftains' 1995 LP The Long Black Veil. More recently, O'Connor recorded a version of her "This Is to Mother You" with Mary J. Blige and newcomer Martha B as a fundraiser for in 2009, and is said to be working on a new pop album for release next year.

3. Hank Williams Jr.: Ol' Hank's comments Monday were especially unfortunate, because a couple of years ago he released one of the best songs to date about the ongoing economic downturn/recession/crisis, the devastating "Red, White & Pink Slip Blues," where he refrains from pointing the finger at anyone besides whatever corporation it is that's just moved its manufacturing operations to Mexico.

Regardless of his politics, "Pink Slip" has the same kind of lyrical candor - "We're gonna need that truck/ When they come to take the house away" - that makes Bocephus unique among his generation of country musicians (and since then), whether he's talking about his star-crossed family history ("Family Tradition"), the frequently dissolute lifestyle of a musician ("OD'd In Denver," "Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound") or perhaps his favorite subject of all, livin' it up in Dixie ("Country State of Mind," "That's How We Do It In Dixie").

Also, he's got a keen ear for covers (Warren Zevon's "Send Lawyers, Guns & Money," Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself"), and no matter how stupid some of the other things that come out of Hank's mouth may be, Rocks Off could never, ever, ever hate the man who sang "Texas Women."


Top 5 Musicians Whose Art Trumps Their Politics
Photo by Marco Torres

2. Kanye West: Rocks Off has never thought of Kanye West as an especially political rapper, but we're guessing that for people who listen to even less rap than we do, or none at all, they think about that whole "George Bush doesn't like black people" thing if they think about Kanye at all. Kanye is outspoken, yes, but most of his controversial utterances seem to revolve around how difficult it is to be a super rich huge rap megastar like him, such as when he compared himself to Hitler earlier this summer. There may be a lesson for Hank Jr. in there somewhere.

Rocks Off learned our own lesson not long ago. After Graduation, we hadn't paid much attention to Kanye except for a few YouTube videos and the time a certain Mr. S. Serrano took us to lunch and had 808s & Heartbreak on in his car. (We liked it.) At ACL Fest last month, we snuck over to Kanye in time to see "Power" and "Jesus Walks" (impressive), but spent the rest of the time at Coldplay. They finished first, so when Rocks Off was making our way to the shuttle buses, we heard this agonizing bit of Auto-tune wafting over from the other end of Zilker Park the entire time. It was long, long walk, too.

No idea what song it was, but it sounded like a robot having its big metallic heart pureed in a blender on the slowest possible setting. It was about the saddest thing we've ever heard, and after that, Kanye can pretty much say whatever the hell he wants.

Top 5 Musicians Whose Art Trumps Their Politics

1. Bono: The U2 front man has been able to use his vast wealth, intelligence and Irish charm to infiltrate the highest corridors of power and lobby for causes no decent person should ever oppose: AIDS research, Third World debt relief. His periodic op-eds for The New York Times are some of the most insightful, well-informed pieces of writing we've ever seen from a musician.

Bono is also full of enough blarney that his bandmates still cringe whenever he opens his mouth for something besides announcing another album or tour. He's suggested the music business study the way China has kept Google on a short leash as a possible way to combat online piracy, like U2's existing sales and his small stake in Facebook aren't enough to ensure every Hewson who wants one can have a deluxe Harvard/Oxford education from now until Doomsday.

He's also rubbed people the wrong way with his warmth toward conservative bugaboos like the late Sen. Jesse Helms and George W. Bush and, well, by just being Bono. (Apparently the glasses don't help.)

Meanwhile, despite disappointing sales for No Line On the Horizon - which lacked a hit single or two, but is not a bad album at all - U2 has spent the two years since its release filling stadiums around the globe. And earlier today, the deluxe reissue of Achtung Baby landed in our email inbox. All 72 tracks' worth... Rocks Off thinks it's safe to say that's all the Bono we need for a good long while.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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