September 18, 2006


I'm going to talk a little about something I know a little about: music. More specifically the politics involved in music. I don't mean who you have to schmooze to get booked in a popular club, I mean why most musicians lean left & consequently anti-gun. But I'll admit up front these are just ponderings based on anecdotal evidence. Granted a lot of anecdotal evidence, but anecdotal nonetheless.

Have you ever heard a song that was decidedly pro-gun? Odds are the answer is no. There are a few examples (mainly in country, southern rock, blues & rap/hip-hop) that can be viewed as pro-gun in passing but not focus. Did you ever wonder why this is so?

The easy answer is that most of the pro-gun arguments are necessarily complex & lengthy whereas most of the anti-gun arguments are catchier (It takes more words to correct a lie than to repeat one). But that's not the whole story.

Firearms are a cultural thing & America is made up of a few different cultures. In some cultures they're viewed as evil objects which do the possessor no good, in others they're a useful tool used to accomplish some decent or necessary act. The average person who grew up in Manhattan probably doesn't view firearms in the same light as someone who grew up in rural Alabama. But aside form a few efforts here & there more music gets recorded in New York than in Alabama Course that doesn't mean we should discount Muscle Shoals as insignificant - they deserve some (ahem) r-e-s-p-e-c-t - but the majority of music (I use the term loosely) recorded in the u.S. has come from New York, Detroit, or California. The only other place I haven't mentioned is Nashville.

Now look at New York City, Detroit, California & Nashville. Which place do you think would be more likely to view guns as culturally neutral? Which places would view them in a negative light?

Music is not immune to politics on the small or big scale. It's a very lucrative venture at the upper levels & anywhere you have lots of cash passing through hands you have big politics. Copywrite law can make or break a studio or publisher & therefore all the bigger studios pay attention to the way the wind is blowing. You may talk of "artistic freedom" all you wish but the bottom line is if you have material that pisses off someone that you need on your side during a proposed change to copywrite law then guess which song the studio is going to shelve?

I'm not saying that Washington controls the music industry & uses economic/political blackmail to impose censorship. I'm not sayign there's a definite anti-gun conspiracy in the halls of the major record labels & publishing houses. I'm saying that business is business & the studios, record labels & publishers don't care about your "artistic freedom" or even the "rightness" of your point as much as it does increasing revenues. So if there's a conflict it's not hard to see what will happen. & most record execs look at the folks around them (in NYC & Cali) & assume most folks (therefore more potential consumers) in the u.S. would buy something anti-gun (or left leaning) quicker than something pro-gun (or right leaning).

That's a generalization. There are a few record labels which have produced & promoted material that's not made them any friends in D.C. But the politics of the music business lean left. On the left the aim isn't to be self reliant. It's to be government reliant. & they reckon they can use government for some theoretical good. In the music biz that good is the music biz's survival, or comfort. So they view government as a tool to be used to their advantage, but one that they can't push too far to their advantage.

K, that's the basics of the politics. But how does that translate into being anti-gun? Because firearms are usually a symbol of self reliance & those deep int he music biz usually see government as something to be controlled & manipulated, not a monster that requires you to take up arms against it. They further translate this attitude towards self defense. They wouldn't dream of walking into a committee meeting themselves - that's what lobbyists are for. Therefore they see the police as the rightful wielders of force, not the individual.

But enter the musicians. A fickle bunch of folks if there ever was one.

For the working musician the biz isn't always easy. & contrary to popular rumor talent has less to do with success than you'd imagine. It's a very rough life even if you don't fall into the traps laid by alcohol, drugs & stripper drama (which usually involves alcohol & drugs mixed with another lover & possibly a Llama).

The title of this post is from a song by Nickelback that's currently getting some airplay. It's funny as hell to me because of the honesty in it. Let's examine it for a moment:

"I'm through with standing in line
to clubs we'll never get in
It's like the bottom of the ninth
and I'm never gonna win
This life hasn't turned out
quite the way I want it to be

(Tell me what you want)

I want a brand new house
on an episode of Cribs
And a bathroom I can play baseball in
And a king size tub big enough
for ten plus me"

Ayup. Poverty sucks. Poverty really really creates unpleasant vacuum when you have ambition. If that ambition is great enough, or that poverty deep enough then you'd be surprised what a person would do to realize the ambition or escape the poverty. Let's look at another part of the song:

"I'm gonna trade this life for fortune and fame
I'd even cut my hair and change my name

'Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
And live in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We'll all stay skinny 'cause we just won't eat
And we'll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger's
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
With her bleach blond hair

Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar"

As an aside when I was 17 I was in a dance band that had a good lead on a cruise ship contract. The problem was the agent we were dealing with insisted that I cut my hair. I mean short. Above the collar. I was kinda taken aback cause not having to get a haircut was one of the few fringes of the music biz. I was the youngest guy in the band (a trend that continued till I was damn near 30) & possibly the most idealistic. I hadn't been through the years or decades of scraping by that the other musicians & singers had. The keyboard player who ran the band told me about how he stood his ground & refused to get a hair cut when Donna Summer insisted & he was fired for it. he then proceeded to tell me I was bucking to be as big a dumb ass as he was & to "...chop the damn freak flag off - it'll grow back but the gig won't". For the record that was the first of several cruise ship gigs I almost had.

Anyway most musicians would gladly change their name, cut their hair & do quite a few other things for job security. Hell most would do that for a decent hotel room & good food. Some are stubborn & won't do what they'd consider to be "selling out" but most simply make compromises in order to make a living.

With politics this usually isn't a big deal. A music degree is a liberal arts degree & there is a serious shortage of conservatives in music departments of most colleges. Hell I remember being very young & naive & falling briefly for arguments for subsidizing the music biz when a professor brought up the subject. Most musicians aren't about to make bary Goldwater seems communist by comparison. The ones that are usually alter their material to keep the record companies happy or have day jobs doing interesting musical things such as painting or installing tile or making sure your food arrives on time. (Know how to get a guitar player off your porch at 2 in the morning? Pay him for the pizza.!)

Lynyrd Skynyrd. They're from the south & were the epitome of a genre called oddly enough Southern Rock. I know - believe me I'm as sick of playing Sweet Home Alabama & Freebird as you ever could be of hearing either of them (which is a shame caused I liked them fine until the trillionth time I had to play them) but they have some really great stuff that has not been played more often than spin-the-bottle. They hunted, fished, some served in the military & they weren't afraid to get into a barroom brawl if the occasion warranted it. Yet they penned one of the most popular anti-gun songs there is - Mr. Saturday Night Special.

Contrast that with another tune of theirs - Mississippi Kid.

"I've got my pistols in my pockets boys,
I'm Alabama bound.
I've got my pistols in my pockets boys, I'm
I'm Alabama bound.
Well, I'm not looking for no trouble
But nobody dogs me 'round."

That's the first verse. Here's the last verse:

"Well, I ride to Alabama
With my pistols out by my side
Well, I ride to Alabama
With my pistols out by my side
'Cause down in Alabama
You can run, but you sure can't hide"

It's not uncommon to have guns featured in blues &/or country & not in a negative light (though there are a fair share of blues tunes that mention firearms as a good method of resolving a fidelity dispute). What Skynyrd did was largely based in blues & country & they (mainly) grew up in the South where the cultural was gun friendly for the most part.

So how'd they write such an anti-gun tune? Well they also wrote songs about the evils of whiskey & drugs but I have the feeling that they might have imbibed & partook themselves. In the culture they were exposed to it was fashionable to be anti-gun to some extent. Mix that in with some misunderstandings about the issue & a desire to make popular music & that probably explains it. I doubt the members of Skynyrd were die hard anti-gunners but they knew a hit when they wrote one.

Most of the musicians I knew either carried weapons while on the road (sometimes around town - bars can be rough places) or didn't object when another person in the band did. But most would gladly sing or write an anti-gun tune if requested.

Being popular is the name of the game in the music biz. If you're not popular you're not going to sell many tickets or albums (that's what we called CD's back before dirt) & that means doing too many hours per week painting or laying tile or hoping you get a tip (Know the difference between a guitar player & a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four!). Remember where the major recording centers are? The sentiment around there is usually not pro-gun & if a musician spends too much time there he/she will start to cater to that audience. Writing a pro-gun tune isn't usually the way to cater to them.

So you have some influence from the top coupled with the cultural influence from the areas where the major recording centers are. Most colleges don't have practicing conservatives in the music departments therefore there's a heavy left leaning/pro gun control influence to the musicians. Add to that the difficulty in reducing a usually lengthy & complex argument into a catchy few lines & you have most of the reasons why most songs that mention guns don't do it in a positive light. Sure you can make very simple & direct statements that express the gist of the pro-gun arguments but typically it seems cold or heartless especially to the folks living in NYC or Cali.

For the most part this also explains why most (but by no means all) songs that deal with politics lean left rather than right. I grew up in the music biz (played my first bar at age 15) & considering the influences I've had it's surprising I turned out to be anything other than a leftist.

I'm not saying don't listen to a musician because of their politics - you'd really have to cut out 95% of the musicians out there. Besides most songs aren't about politics or social issues (unless you consider love a social issue or perhaps consider it a social disease). I figure about 45% are about being in love (or lust), 45% are about being in love (or lust) & not being happy about things & the remaining 10% cover everything from politics to being in bands & on the road to doing time to being too broke to pay attention. I just think the above explains why you probably aren't going to hear a pro-Right to Arms tune topping the billboard charts anytime soon.

Posted by Publicola at September 18, 2006 05:27 AM | TrackBack

This is parody, right? I really haven't read anything this funny in a long time; it's Steve Colbert-worthy material.

I really hate to break it to you but music--especially commercial music--has zip to with colleges and universities, other than many bands play college venues because that's where the audiences are. And record companies could care less about content, so long as it sells. This explains Marilyn Manson and the various American Idol-Boy Band-Heavy Metal act variations. Hey, most record labels would record the sound of a cat being beaten against a wall if they thought it would sell.

The fact is guns appeal to a very narrow segment of American society. And even within that narrow segment, many gun owners rightly recognize firearms as implements for hunting or target shooting. IOW, nobody is really wondering why there aren't more songs about lawnmowers or tabletop saws.

Posted by: JadeGold at September 18, 2006 05:17 PM

Almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
Was gettin' kinda long
I could have said it was in my way

But I didn't, and I wonder why
I felt like letting my freak flag fly
I feel ... like I owe it
To someone

Posted by: jed at September 18, 2006 08:15 PM

My sole purpose in this universe is to amuse you. giving you aformat for your less than spot on opinions is a secondary thing it seems.

Now as I pointed out it was anecdotal, but in my experience in the music biz at least half of the musicians I worked with had been to college for some length of time. there are a number of high school grads & some that didn't even make it out of high school, but musicians are generally an educated lot - at least in music. some formal training is usually present & most times that training occurred at a college.

But i must ask you something & hope you'll give an honest & direct answer this time. In all the comments that you've left on here you've been generally opposed to my writings & caused arguments from a few of my readers. No one has chipped in on your side of whatever point you were trying to make. So my question is why are you here? Do you really think you'll change someone's mind or do you just enjoy debate with folks who'll you'll neevr win over?


CSN. I'll neglect the "Y' considering my upbringing. :P

Posted by: Publicola at September 19, 2006 12:04 AM


The problem with anecdotes is that they're generally a very poor substitute for the facts. And when you make broad, sweeping assertions that the reason we don't see more songs celebrating guns is because the industry side and colleges all collude to suppress all those budding NRA artists--it's based on nonsense.

So my question is why are you here? Do you really think you'll change someone's mind or do you just enjoy debate with folks who'll you'll neevr win over?

You'd be surprised at how many I do win over; it's not generally those who engage in 'debate'--it's often those on the sidelines. Fortunately, there are many gunowners/enthusiasts that recognize responsibility comes with ownership and don't regard firearms as some holy icon handed down from on high.

However, it's your forum and if you want it dedicated to preaching to the choir--I'll gladly retreat.

Posted by: JadeGold at September 19, 2006 04:46 PM

Ever heard "Kiss my Glock" by Ted Nugent?

Posted by: Hyunchback at September 19, 2006 08:53 PM

I've got a .38 Special on a .44 frame.
How can I miss when I've got dead aim.

Old blues song I first heard before Dylan sold out and went electric, but I only learned recently that this was the ancestor of the .357 Magnum. See the 2007 Gun Digest for a writeup of the S&W Outdoorsman. My understanding is that this actually started as a homebrew wildcat.

Posted by: triticale at September 24, 2006 07:36 PM

Jade I've generally thought that if anyone got really impolite I'd ask them to leave. Since my policy did not reflect on ill conceieved logic then you're most welcome to stick around. :P

what seems so problematic with you is that either I have a problem with my writing or you have a problem with your comprehension. Since a fair number of folks seem to get the gist of what I verbosely try to discuss I'll assume it's the latter. You seem to latch on to one thing & assume that's a thesis when usually it involves a broader set of facts or incidences that lead to a different conclusion.

What I was trying to say was that several things contribute to the generally negative view that the music biz takes on firearms as reflected by some of the more popular tunes. Among those are the biases that pervade colleges as well as the cultural norms of the major recording studios' locations which influence marketing & production (which is a "cater to the audience you know" thing). In addition to that there's the (perhaps main) problem of pro-gun/pro-individual freedom tunes not being as easy to write because the ideas involved are a bit more complex than their rival idealogies.

But I do agree - if most labels thought cat beating against a wall would make a hit they'd all be cleaning out the pound of strays. & some of the singers I've worked for - I'd take the cat anyday of the week if the money was close. As for no songs about lawnmowers or table top saws - I recall a few verses here & there about steamrollers, chainsaws, & a john deere. :)

But I was not so much bitching about having songs with firearms as their main focus, but having songs which mentioned firearms in a positive light despite the positive or nuetral light that they should be viewed in.

Posted by: Publicola at October 2, 2006 12:05 AM