Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Music, Politics and Juliana Hatfield

I first became aware of Juliana Hatfield in the 1990s through a couple of her singles they played on WDRE (the alternative rock station), "My Sister" and "Spin the Bottle". I liked her enough to buy a couple of her albums at the time. Then, probably like many, I lost track of her. In 2015, when I saw that the Juliana Hatfield Three was putting out a new album (Whatever, My Love), I gave it a shot, and it was worth my while. I especially liked the song "If I Could", which made Top 20 Songs of the year. So when I saw she was putting out another album this year (this time as a solo artist), it seemed like a natural idea to pick it up. The album, called Pussycat, features a close up of Hatfield's face, sans makeup, wearing an expression of extreme unhappiness (and maybe a little bit of mental illness). It's a little off putting, but whatever. I liked Whatever My Love enough to consider it a worthwhile risk. Unfortunately for me, what I got is an entire album of hatred towards all things Donald Trump.

Now I get that sometimes an artist has something they want to express, and I can deal with songs I don't agree with. Songs. Not a whole album. Pussycat is filled with anger and disdain for everything and everyone in Trump's life. It's not just about him and his "small hands". There's a song about how much Hatfield wants to see Kellyanne Conway's face melt. There are two songs of disdain for Melania Trump, including one that taunts her for "fucking a whale". I'm sure somewhere there's probably something referring to Ivanka and her husband. I wouldn't know for sure, because one listen was about all I could take. It's not especially creative, there's nothing that really interested me about the music, the whole album is nothing but one huge bile-venting session. All of which would maybe be fine, if she'd called the album something like Fuck Trump. Then I would have known that probably, this wasn't the album for me, and I wouldn't feel totally ripped off.

Now here's the thing -- if you're a musician, you're allowed to write and sing about whatever you want. But you need to understand a couple of things going in. The first is that the minute you start aggressively singing about your personal political and social views, you're probably turning a bunch of people off without even realizing it. Maybe you don't care about that, although certainly on a local level, most of the artists I've met over the years have to fight like dogs to get people interested in their music in the first place. They really don't want to turn people off.

The second thing you ought to know is that you're really not changing anybody's mind. The truth is, I don't care what Juliana Hatfield thinks about Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, or anybody else. I don't begrudge her beliefs, I don't need her to think like me, but her opinion doesn't change my opinions even a little. And I certainly don't want her beliefs shoved down my throat, especially when she hits me with them somewhat dishonestly. Maybe she needs to vent -- from her own statements, it seems like this might be the case. She's distraught over Trump's election, she doesn't understand it, it has her so upset that she has to get those feelings out somehow -- I can sympathize with all of that. But hire yourself a therapist, Juliana. Don't do your therapy on my time, and steal my ten bucks in the process. Now, instead of my being fan (if a casual one), I'll never buy one of her albums again because I don't trust her anymore.

Years ago, I used to run an online Yahoo group called longislandmusicscene. (I still do technically, but it's really been running itself for the last ten years or so. I never closed it because people still use it occasionally, but nowhere near as much as they did before newer and better forums like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and whatever modern sites they're using now came along). When I moderated the list, I had a strict rule against discussing politics on the list, primarily because the list was intended to help people come together and develop ideas as to how to promote local original music, whereas all politic discussion does is get people pissed at one another. And in fact, one of the things that eventually drove me out of the scene was continually going to shows where I came out to enjoy and support a local musician, only to have to sit there and listen to them berate my point of view and the leaders who I respected. Why would I want to buy music and attend shows to hear my beliefs disrespected again and again? So eventually, I just stopped. I moved on and found other things to do with my time and my money.

So that's really all I wanted to say about this issue. Again, I have no problems accepting that people think differently than I do. I've lived long enough to be at peace with the understanding that many good people see the world from a very different perspective than I do. And if you're an artist, it's totally your choice as to whether you want to write and sing about your beliefs, and how you want to do it. But realize that if choose to mix your music and your politics together, you might be gaining some fans who agree with your basic world view, but you're also more likely than not offending some others. And those you offend probably won't even tell you about it. They'll just stop supporting you.

I'm stepping off of my soapbox now. Next post (I think) will be a review of an album by a respected New York folk artist. (That's the only hint you're going to get).