The great rock n’ roll swindle

Homes fit for Working Class Heroes

“We recognize that a pact including such measures as fair trade, debt relief, fighting corruption and directing additional resources for basic needs – education, health, clean water, food, and care for orphans – would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the poorest countries, at a cost equal to just one percent more of the US budget”

These were the words of Bono in the lead up to the Live 8 concerts in summer 2005. A cry for money to be sent to Africa to help alleviate the crushing poverty that wrecks the lives of so many on that continent.

But not, it seems, if Bono is going to be asked to stump up for it. Yesterday the news broke that Bonos band U2 have carried out a neat soft shoe shuffle and transferred part of their publishing business to Holland where they will pay less tax. For a man who prides himself on his sincerity, that seems a little odd. But pop music, a genre which defines itself to some extent on its raw, uninhibited emotion, is no stranger to such rank hypocrisy.

Back in 1971 former Beatle John Lennon sang the song ‘Imagine’ in which he asked us to “Imagine no possessions”. Lennon, famed for his ‘sincerity’, is sitting at a white grand piano in the drawing room of his mansion as he sings this. Imagine no possessions? You first John.

He wasn’t alone. In 1973 Pink Floyd released the album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ which went on to sell a staggering 25 million copies. The album included ‘Money’, a song satirizing the rich and selfish written by bass player Roger Waters, which included the line “I’m alright Jack keep your hands off of my stack”. The money that comes in from royalties on a song like ‘Money’ everytime it is played on radio or TV anywhere in the world, and every time a copy of the album or single is sold, must be enormous. But, back in the Britain of the 1970’s, taxes likewise were enormous with a top rate at the now unimaginable 98 pence in the pound. As a result, Roger Waters moved to France where taxes were lower and band mate Nick Mason says “It was greed that drove Pink Floyd into exile. We thought we could make a pile of cash if we lived outside the country, saved taxes and invested the money”. ‘Keep your hands off my stack’ indeed.

Pink Floyd went on to release the album ‘The Wall’ in 1979. This time the hit single was ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ which included the famous line “We dont need no education”. When the Floyd played at Live 8 it was impossible not to notice the contradiction between the band singing that sang that famous line and the pictures of African children bearing placards reading ‘Education is our right’. Who is right? Multi millionaire musician Roger Waters? Or the children of sub Saharan Africa?

The song also contains the ridiculous line “We don’t need no thought control”. Well ask yourself this, because it doesn’t appear to have crossed Waters’ mind; who’s thoughts are easier to control? Someone who has good grammar, can communicate, understand idealistic concepts and has a working knowledge of science and history? Or one of the uneducated Morlocks our Comprehensive ‘schools’ are currently cranking out?

The hypocrisy of these rock gods is alive and well in a younger generation. Jennifer Lopez makes millions as a singer, actress and now perfume maker yet will still insist that “Im still Jenny from the block”. Coldplay singer Chris Martin said last year that “Shareholders are the great evil of this modern world”. For a man whose music is so insipid it might come as no surprise that his politics are equally fatuous, but one might have expected a firmer grasp on economics from an alumni of one of Britain’s top public schools, Sherbourne, and University College in London. The expensively educated husband of movie start Gwyneth Paltrow, doesn’t seem to realize that the investment put into companies like his record label EMI by shareholders enables those companies to pay for the A&R men and women who discover bands like Coldplay.

Why is it that these super rich stars are so hell bent on trying to convince us that they are, in fact, barely educated and without a penny to their names? In the song ‘Working Class Hero’, John Lennon sings that ‘They’ “Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV” (but not, it seems, with Beatles records) and “But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see” (that we should all live in a mansion in Surrey) and finishes up by claiming that “If you want to be a hero well just follow me”. The inference is clear; Lennon is a working class hero and we should all be following his example.

But Lennon wasn’t a working class hero and he was being dishonest again. The cover of the Oasis single ‘Live Forever’ has a picture of a very nice suburban semi. It turns out this picture of the middle class idyll was taken in Liverpool. Furthermore, it is the house which John Lennon grew up in. Not quite the Dickensian slum which ‘Working Class Hero’ would have you believe.

The answer as to why they play down to the gallery like this could well just be a bid to appeal to what they think their audience wants to hear. If this is the case it is a pretty condescending view of the record buying public. Perhaps the reason can be found in the vanity of these ‘artists’? In the song ‘Common People’, Pulp famously sang about a girl who slums it with the Proles safe in the knowledge that she can go home to her wealthy parents. It is quite easy to imagine a similar thought process animating Roger Waters when he warns his audience of the evils of a good education, or John Lennon when he tells us that possessions are of no importance, before the pair of them board their helicopters and whiz back to their mansions.

In the Godfather, Michael Corleone says that “Discontent for money is just a trick of the rich to keep the poor without it”. Perhaps there is an element of this in the hypocritical posing about that rock stars do? Tell people that education is a crock, that material things are an actual negative and they will not want to pursue them. All at once, your hold on the Mansions, limos and private jets looks just that little more secure.

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One thought on “The great rock n’ roll swindle

  1. And what about the most famous tax exiles of all the Rolling Stones who kept up a perenial tour in the 70’s to avoid almost all taxs. Still if they weren’t in tax exile in France maybe ‘Exile on Main Street’ wouldn’t have been so great.I know what you mean about ‘Lenin’ Lennon ‘imagine’ and ‘woring class hero’ are well… His best “political” song was probabbly ‘Revolution’ of the ‘White Album’ but after the Beatles split his solo politicism is very best somewhat flawed and at woset gross hipocrasey and knee jerk nonsence. Worse than ‘imagine’ or ‘working class hero’ by far are the tracks on ‘Some Time in New York City’ (1972) which features his knee jerk support for the IRA and dubious playing up of a Feinian identity (still i suppose that goes for most Irish-Americans!). For example in ‘The Luck of the Irish’ appenerntly “In the ‘Pool they told us the story , How the English divided the land”, “A land full of beauty and wonder was raped by the British brigands”, who commited “genocide”. Or ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ where he notes “Internment is no answer, Its those mothers’ turn to burn”, “keep Ireland for the Irish put the English back to sea”, and keep “falls road free forever fromthe bloody English hands”.I’m not sure Lennon ever went to Ireland in his life (then thats probably true for most Irish-Americans). If I was charitable I would blame Yoko and his Heroin withdrawal – its a rubbish LP as well. And its interesting to compare his views on the IRA with the actually Irish Bono’s mid-80’s denoncement of them which placed him in a difficult position both at home and in the US.

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