Iggy Pop, John Lydon, Roger Daltrey and countless more as Getintothis’ Nathan O’Hagan explores the right wing and very conservative perspectives of many rock stars.
Since its very inception, rock’n’roll has been synonymous with, if not defined by, the idea of youthful rebellion.
From Elvis giving middle America heart attacks with his pelvis shaking on the Ed Sullivan show, to the Sex Pistols causing British TV screens to get kicked in with their sweary appearance on the Bill Grundy show, it was meant to be something that shocked parents, teachers and authority figures.
But, despite this seemingly central tenet, there has always been a strain of conservatism amongst those who created the music.
As frontman of The Who, Roger Daltrey was as synonymous as anyone with the concept of youthful rebellion, Quadrophenia has been a favourite film of disenfranchised youth for decades. More recently though, Daltrey frequently looks like he may explode with rage whenever Brexit is mentioned, and has said in the past “I’ll never forgive the Labour government for their immigration policy.”
He’s not the only iconic rocker to be vocal in his support for Brexit, of course. Four decades after his band’s appearance on the Grundy show, John Lydon appeared on another chat show, Good Morning Britain, to tell walking bollock Piers Morgan, when asked for his views on Brexit, “the working class have spoken. I’m one of them, and I’m with them.” This is as well as defending Trump.
Nobody pointed out that Lydon’s affinity with working class Brits might be misplaced given his supplementing of his musical income with a large property development portfolio, and his residence in an upscale suburb of L.A. Those same people who kicked in their screens all those years before no doubt applauded him this time around.
Less surprising is the natural tendency towards conservatism amongst 70’s prog rockers.
Given that prog rock was largely the preserve of posh public school boys, it seems like a pretty natural fit. The likes of Phil “I’ll Emigrate If Labour Win The Election” Collins, Rick Wakeman and Kate Bush being prime examples.
So much has been said about Morrissey’s shift to the right in recent years that it’s almost not worth mentioning, but, while he’s still open in his hatred for the Tory Party, his support for far-right figures such as Anne Marie Waters and ‘Tommy Robinson’ in recent years is shocking even from a man whose views on ethnic minorities has always been questionable to say the least.
Noel Gallagher, in one of the less surprising developments, has seemingly appointed himself Indie Gammon In-Chief, going full ‘yer Da’ in recent years, calling Jeremy Corbyn ‘a communist’, a description he also used even for the far more moderate Ed Milliband, and criticising Remainers in several interviews.
Looking at these British examples of rock’n’roll Tories, some are less surprising than others.
In American cases, the dichotomy between the artist and their politics is often more evident. Going back as far as the king of rock’n’roll himself, Elvis was often circumspect when it came to publicly revealing his political affiliations, often demurring in interviews when pressed. He was, however, more public in his support for both Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon.
Cock rockers like Ted Nugent were unlikely to have been anything but right wing, their awful music as reactionary as their worldviews. But some of America’s edgiest, and most seminal counter culture musical icons are, politically, anything but.
The Ramones were at the very forefront of the punk rock movement stateside, part of the legendary CBGB’s New York scene. Few bands embodied the counter culture sprit more than The Ramones, but guitarist Johnny Ramone was always a staunch Republican.
Almost evangelical in his love of Ronald Reagan “the greatest president of my lifetime’, Johnny once said “I figure people drift toward liberalism at a young age, and I always hope that they change when they see how the world really is.” Johnny often clashed with bandmate Joey, a moderate Democrat.
Queens Of The Stone Age frontman Josh Homme is another incongruously conservative rocker. “I’m very socially liberal, but politically very conservative…I don’t think the government knows what to do with your money better than you do…I’m a fallen libertarian. In America, the land of the free, almost every civil liberty has been taken away,” being just a few of the statements he’s made during various interviews.
Homme, however, looks like Michael Stipe in comparison to his Eagles Of Death Metal bandmate Jesse Hughes.
Hughes, the drug hoovering, hedonistic frontman, is also a longstanding and vocal proponent of gun ownership. In the aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks at the Bataclan in Paris while his band were performing, Hughes made several horrendous remarks on social media and in interviews, which most reasonable people would mitigate with the knowledge that Hughes was clearly suffering from the effects of PTSD.
However, Hughes’ outspoken conservatism long predates these comments, which included many ludicrous assertions and accusations, including joining the tin foil hat brigade questioning whether Barack Obama was born in America, as well as accusing security at the Bataclan of being involved in the attack, and echoing future president Donald Trump by accusing Muslims of celebrating in the streets following the attack, despite not possessing a shred of evidence, and then going on to repeat many of these statements after initially issuing an apology and retraction.
Of all conservative rock stars, perhaps the most bemusing is Iggy Pop. The artist formerly known as James Osterhaus was, like Johnny Ramone, a vocal supporter of Reagan ‘I’ve been waiting for someone who could communicate the joys of liberty as compared to the joys of equality.’ Pop, or ‘Sweaty Lunatic Iggy Pop’ as Alan Partridge once called him, even wrote a song called “I Am A Conservative”.
It’s hard to imagine the man who spent most of his career semi-naked, mutilating himself with broken bottles onstage entering a ballot booth and putting his mark next to a man who oversaw the Iran-Contra affair.
As well as bands with a right-wing worldview have upset the sensibilities of liberal fans, there are no shortage of liberal/left-wing bands who have unwittingly attracted a right-wing following.
The National Front unsuccessfully tried to co-opt the punk movement, after misunderstanding the intent and meaning of songs like ‘White Riot’ by The Clash and Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy In The UK’. They were given short shrift by the punks, which led to leading far-right figure Colin Jordan describing Johnny Rotten as a ‘white n*gger’, which much have been a proud moment for Rotten. After this failure the NF couldn’t even manage to fully infiltrate the Oi! scene.
Not long after, similar attempts were made to influence the ska scene. Bands like Madness and The Specials often clashed with neo-Nazi skinheads at their gigs, in the same way punks like Sham 69 had. Most of the above bands became regulars at Rock Against Racism gigs, yet continued to attract a racist element for many years, despite their personal ideologies being completely at odds with them
The closest equivalent in America came in the hardcore scene of the early 80’s. Musically, the hardcore scene made the UK punk scene look like prog.
Blasting out short, fast, aggressive songs, frequently clocking in at under a minute were bands like Black Flag and Minor Threat who naturally attracted an aggressive, slamdancing crowd, mainly compirisng young white men.
But very early on, a much darker element was drawn in by this frenetic music. All over the States, neo-Nazi’s would appear at their gigs, turning the moshpits into abrasive but ultimately supportive places into scenes of genuine violence. The similarities in style, with American punks often sporting the same shaven-headed look as fascists, often made it hard to tell the different elements apart, the only distinguishing feature often being different coloured shoelaces that different factions sometimes took to weaaring.
Of course, figures like Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye were never going to be passive in their resistance to any encroaching fascist element at their gigs. Violent clashes at gigs weren’t uncommon, both between rival sections of the crowd, as well as between crowd and artists. The Dead Kennedy’s 1981 classic ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ made it clear where they and other bands stood, but, much like the ska and punk bands in Britain, many American hardcore bands have never truly rid themselves of their right-wing following.
At least the large majority of fans of these bands were always safe in the knowledge that, even if some of the audience weren’t, the bands were on their side politically, and while they may have suffered the odd racist elbow to the face, they never suffered that unique disappointment you feel when you find out someone you idolise perhaps isn’t quite the person you hoped they were.
There is, of course, no great mystery as to why some musical figures surprise us with their political views. Rock’n’roll is clearly just a broader church than some would like to believe. The old adage of getting more right-wing as you get older can clearly apply to musicians too, and plenty of them will have always been thus.
Being surprised, or even disgusted by, someone’s politics doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t still enjoy their work. But, with the current rise in anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and outright white-supremacy, it’s important that rock’n’roll, or whatever you want to call it, remains a beacon against extremism.