Shut the [expletive] Up
First of all, I hope you don’t mind that I refuse to call you “Sir.” Knights swing swords and ride horses. You play a piano.
And nobody can really deny that you play that piano well. You are about as close as one can get to being a living musical legend. “Benny and the Jets.” “Crocodile Rock.” “Levon.” “Rocket Man”. Great stuff.
But I have to say: I only admit that begrudgingly. Over the past few months you have managed to severely piss me off. And I’m not alone. In fact, it’s safe to say that you’ve pissed off thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people who are engaged in a whole spectrum of movements for justice and equality.
First, there was early June, when you played at the wedding of the legendary right-wing turd Rush Limbaugh. For you to insist that gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans folks deserve the right to marry, then play at the (fourth!) wedding of a man who has made a lucrative career scapegoating the very same people is beyond hypocrisy! They say that “money talks,” and the $1 million check from Limbaugh reduced your own personal advocacy to lip-service.
One must wonder what some of your collaborators think of this move. For example Lady Gaga, who has spoken eloquently time and again against hate and fearmongering. Or even Eminem, who recently came out in favor of same-sex marriage himself. Indeed, you most likely would not have the career you have today if not for the militant LGBT movement of thirty-five years ago. It’s a movement that continues today, made up of people who, as your contemporary Tom Robinson said, “don’t take no for an answer.” Have your peers criticized you for this move, Elton? If not, then you must live in a greater vacuum than I assumed.
Something must have rubbed off at the wedding, though. Not only did you rebuff the myriad LGBT activists who understandably asked “why?” but a mere eleven days later, you played a show in Tel Aviv. This was a little over two weeks after Israel brutally attacked the Freedom Flotilla, whose only crime was seeking to deliver goods to a region devastated by war and sanctions. The show flew in the face of the growing number of artists (Elvis Costello, Gorillaz, the Pixies and more) who have cancelled shows in Israel out of protest.
You know this quite well, and you made it clear when you took a swipe at those same artists. “Musicians spread love and peace, and bring people together,” you said. "We don't cherry-pick our conscience."
No. The musicians who have been cancelling are the ones spreading love and peace. You have brought legitimacy to a nation built on occupation, displacement and racism. These artists aren’t playing politics, but rightfully refuse to let their music be the soundtrack for an ongoing crime against the Palestinian people.
And last but not least, there was your show in Tuscon on July 22nd, where you called artists boycotting Arizona “[expletive]wits.” Despite the censoring of most newspapers, we can all guess rather accurately what you really called them. “So what’s the [same expletive] with these people,” you asked.
The fuck with these people is that they are outraged that the state of Arizona is attempting to criminalize not just anyone undocumented, but anyone with brown skin. At your Tucson show you made the case that despite California’s ban on same-sex marriage, you play in California. Nobody is calling for a boycott of California, however. Activists in Arizona are the ones who initiated the call for a boycott, and thousands of people have responded. Most notably in this category is the Sound Strike--the collection of artists who have refused to play concerts in the state’s limits until the virulent SB 1070 is rescinded, including Rage Against the Machine, Kanye West, the Coup, Gogol Bordello and many others.
Elton, I can think of only one celebrity who has angered more communities than you in recent weeks, and his name rhymes with Mel Gibson.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by your indifference. After all, you enthusiastically wrote the music for Billy Elliot the Musical, which plays fast and loose with one of the most dramatic fights in British labor history: the ‘84 miners’ strike. This is a piece of theatre that portrays working folks in an insulting, one-dimensional way; the protagonist’s miner father is horrified by his son’s dreams of becoming a ballet dancer because it’s not “manly.” It hammers home what we can only assume to be your own personal view of ordinary people: worthy of pity when they’re suffering, and of disdain when they rise for themselves.
I have met some of these miners, Elton, and they weren’t simple, closed-minded pawns. In fact, they were damned pleased that the British LGBT movement supported their struggle against Thatcher’s cuts. One miner told me he was “moved to tears” by such a display of solidarity.
And I, Elton, was moved to delete you from my iPod a few days ago. I also took every album I own by you to the buy-sell-trade record store in my neighborhood. I didn’t get a lot for them: $15. But I couldn’t stand to have your songs on my shelves anymore. I am dividing that small sum equally three ways and donating it to Join the Impact Chicago (an LGBT rights group), the Electronic Intifada, and Puente Arizona, a group who Rage Against the Machine recently played a fundraiser for.
It’s not much. But I would rather donate what little I have to real, vibrant movements for liberation than give millions to the voices of hate... as you have done, Elton. And I am encouraging my friends, family and associates to do the same.
There is a twisted symmetry to your chosen insults over the past two months. Namely that, in all three instances, you delivered a slap in the face to vibrant movements seeking to gain dignity for ordinary people whose daily existence is under the boot of very real inequality. It’s the kind of timing that can only come of such a grossly unequal society. Oppression is like that.
But then, so is solidarity. Protests against SB 1070 have included activists from the LGBT and Palestinian communities. During the bombardment of Gaza in late 2008, activists witnessed rainbow flags and members of immigrant communities among the crowd. Activists from each movement have realized their common struggle.
These activists and artists aren’t a passive audience waiting for you to spoon-feed them your songs. They are not people who are going to allow for their own stories to be maligned like you have that of the miners. They are not “cherry-picking.” They aren’t “fuckwits.” They are people who believe that the things we hold dear in our lives--our labor, our art--shouldn’t be used to buttress inequality.
There’s an old saying from the ‘60s: you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. We’re part of the solution, Elton. Guess which side you’re on.
Alexander Billet, a music journalist and activist living in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies (http://rebelfrequencies.blogspot.com) and writes the column of the same name for the Society of Cinema and Arts. His articles have also appeared in Z Magazine, SocialistWorker.org, New Politics, PopMatters.com and CounterPunch.
Contact him, or subscribe to his mailing list, at email@example.com.