Artists in Trump World

Photo by Angela N. | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Angela N. | CC BY 2.0

Man, that guy from Hamilton was over-acting!

This is why a lot of us have never felt comfortable with Broadway shows.  It was great to see that actor go after Mike Pence at curtain-call, but his technique was fingernails-on-blackboard bad.  In theater parlance it’s called “indicating”—like, when you say “all of us…ALL of us,” and you make an exaggerated arm-sweep gesture to clobber everyone over the head with the ALL-of-us-ness of it. When you attack the Mike Pences of this world—and I hope it happens every day, a thousand times—it should not be in those mellifluous, operatic tones.  It should be harsh, raw, gutty, and unforgiving…

…like Green Day at the American Music Awards.

I never liked punk rock.  I came of age as a musician in an era when proficiency was admired—Mike Bloomfield,  Sonny Rollins, Merle Haggard—not as an end in itself, but as one vital weapon in the armory.  I liked much of The Clash’s stuff, but the Sex Pistols/Ramones thing always left me cold, so Green Day has never been on my playlist.  But seeing them chant “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” Sunday night was absolutely exhilirating.

The Hamilton and Green Day incidents—along with Alec Baldwin’s caricature of Trump on SNL—are the first Fort Sumter shots of a civil war that will last four years, like the first one.  (Trump has a good chance of dying in office from natural causes—he’s a morbidly-obese 70-year-old man who never exercises, subsists on McDonald’s and ice-cream, and is prone to impotent rage—but I’m afraid Pence is around for the long haul.)  How should actors, musicans and writers—what Shelley called “the unacknowledged legislators of the world”—express their rage, disgust, and rebellion against this Fascism With A Sunlamped Face?

I respect Steve Van Zandt’s contary opinion—that everyone should be welcomed into the house of art, and that the rage should be expressed in the art itself, and not by ad hominem attacks on a specific audience member.  If he’d never done more than write and produce Sun City, the great anti-apartheid anthem, Van Zandt’s earned a voice in this debate.  If I understand him correctly, he’s saying that we should fight and win these battles within the art, and not on its periphery.  But I think he’s wrong here, because Pences and Trumps never play fair with art iself.

Case in point: the theme song to Celebrity Apprentice was “For the Love of Money,” the wonderful Holland-Dozier-Holland composition performed by the mighty O’Jays.  Few popular songs have ever been as agressively anti-Donalad-Trump as that one, whose lyrics actually include the line “money is the root of all evil.”  But when Trump and his producers adopted it as their theme, they simply cut that line out, leaving a six-second gap in Eddie Levert’s vocal that no-one seemed to notice.  (Happily, the O’Jays have since taken out a cease-and-desist order preventing any further Trump use of the song.)

In Trump World, you can distort a work of art into its exact, Orwellian opposite simply by snipping out a lyric that offends you.  So it won’t be enough to attack these sick frauds with our music, our books, and our plays.  We have to attack them with our entire being—fighting clean whenver possible, but fighting dirty when needed.  Letting them know that whenever they come to us for escapist entertainment they are likely to feel our rage instead.

To paraphrase Che Guevara, we must “create two, three many Green Days.”

No Trump!


No fascist USA!

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John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence. He can be reached at: johneskow@yahoo.com

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