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Miscellaneous - Music and Morality

  by Jon Rogers

published: 26 / 11 / 2011

Miscellaneous - Music and Morality


In 'Hitting the Right Note' Jon Rogers reflects upon why morality and musicians do not tend to figure well with each other

When you think about popular music, the notion of morality doesn't really figure all too highly in that concept. While there has been the odd exception, the fanciful idealism of John Lennon's 'Imagine' - complete with total hypocrisy - and Rastafarianism of Bob Marley most rock 'n' rollers more often than not embody a sort of libertine philosophy that isn't too far removed from occultist Aleister Crowley's dictum 'Do What You Whilst Shall Be the Whole of the Law'. It might be a horrible cliché but consider the archetypal 'rock god', that leather-clad Adonis with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand, a groupie in the other and a guitar slung over his back whilst wearing leather trousers. Surely the likes of Doors singer Jim Morrison is the embodiment of that libertine aesthetic. Reject any notion of moral limits and do just what you want when you want and never mind the consequences. In essence, do what you whilst. It's not surprising that on the backcover of the Doors' compilation album '13' the four members of the group are pictured with a bust of Crowley. Our rock-swaggering 'hero' rejects moral constraints that society imposes on its citizens and our libertine sees those boundaries as unnecessary or undesirable. In short they reject society's moral compass, placing the pursuit of pleasure above any moral notion. They want to get loaded and have a good time... all the time. Their morality is unrestrained. Perhaps Primal Scream summed it all up best with use of dialogue from the film 'The Wild Angels' in 'Loaded': "Just what is it that you wanna do? We wanna be free We wanna be free to do what we wanna do And we wanna get loaded We wanna have a good time That's what we're gonna do." Although perhaps Gillespie nowadays might have tamed is rather rock 'n' roll past, leading a comfy bourgeois life as a husband and father in Islington and getting stroppy when the pub he lives near gets a bit too noisy for his liking. But moral hypocrisy will have to wait for later... And our rock star hero has had a fondness for the libertine like Arthur Rimbaud, Marquis de Sade, Paul Verlaine, Giacomo Cassanova - and not forgetting Lord Byron. But perhaps the libertine who has had the strongest influence is Crowley. The rock crowd though are more attune to his libertarian stand rather than his religious belief 'Thelema'. To the likes of Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who was something of a devout fan, even buying Crowley's Boleskine House in the 1970s along with some of his clothes and manuscripts as he deepened his interest in magick. Crowley also popped up on the cover of the Beatles' cover for 'Sgt Pepper' next to Mae West, although it would seem the Fab Four were more interested in Crowley's personality and him as a figure rather than any serious belief in his ideas. A similar stance was taken by the former Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne who wrote the song 'Mr Crowley' for his solo album 'Blizzard of Ozz' That libertine aesthetic is linked to Frederich Nietzsche's notion of the Übermensch, or superman. In their eyes, the normal social and moral constraints on society don't apply to them as they are above all that. They are placed (or place themselves) outside of that morality and are freed from those constraints. Which, in part, helps explain the rise of the diva. All those little, petty stupid things that they do like refuse to climb stairs, hop in a limo to drive about 100 yards because they don't walk. We all may laugh at their stupidity but they do that because they can. They are divas and what use little people have to put up, they don't have to. They are the Nietzschean superman personified [Well, up to a point, that's all rather a mis-reading of Nietzsche, but they're too stupid to understand that.] To their egos they are great singers who must be indulged as they can't possibly be distracted from their great performance later on by having to hold a cup and straw whilst they drink. But not every rock star embodies that libertine swagger or that notion of the superman. Perhaps most obviously there is the hippie idealism of John Lennon's 'Imagine' where he tries to imagine a world without possessions and we all live in harmony. It might be vomit-inducing bollocks but you can't knock the sentiment. Still smattered with idealism but far more considered is Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song', a powerful look at slavery in all its forms and the need for the downtrodden to "emancipate yourselves" with the "power of the Almighty". It's difficult to underestimate the power of that song. But all too often those rock stars who make stand are all too often culpable of hypocrisy. And in the interest of keeping blood pressure down I'd advise all those Beatles nuts to look away now. Just how big a hypocrite was John Lennon? Even the video for 'Imagine' had him sat at the piano in his great big house and grounds; no possessions, hey John? And later he lived in one of wealthiest parts of Manhattan in the Dakota Building. U2, and in particular Bono, who must be applauded for all his work with Live Aid and feeding the poor, rather spoilt his copybook by avoiding tax in Ireland by basing the band in Amsterdam. At a time when Ireland is in financial straits and its citizens facing hardship perhaps the tax revenue raised from their income might have helped in some way to helping the poorest in that country. Sting too for all his spouting of his support for the environment rather likes the jet set lifestyle and was a regular passenger on Concorde. Hardly a carbon neutral form of transport. Looks like one rule for him and another for everyone else. Still, they're trying to do something, I guess.

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