We can rock – can we govern or educate…?

zappa.jpg Without any scientific data to back my claim, I’m going to say the idea began, as so many of rock’s stranger – and better – ideas did, with Frank Zappa.

After Zappa, a culture hero to Czechs during the days of Iron Curtain oppression, visited the newly freed Czech Republic in early 1990, Czech playwright and president Vaclav Havel appointed him Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture, and Tourism. Zappa accepted the post and even proposed some interesting ideas to increase tourism to the new country. Then Bush pere‘s Secretary of Bullshit State James Baker intervened and threatened to black ball the Czechs from United States foreign aid if Zappa’s portfolio wasn’t withdrawn. Seems FZ had “insulted” Baker’s wife Susan during the PMRC hearings aimed at censoring rock back in the mid-80’s. And like all rotten political bastards spawned from the spew of Nixon politicians, Baker had a loooong memory concerning people who’d stood up to his jackbooted idea set crossed him publicly as Zappa had.

To help his friend Havel out, Frank graciously resigned his post. And in what can only be seen as proof of that adage about life being unfair, Zappa is dead before his time and Baker helped rig the 2000 election for George W. Bush.

midnightoilgarrett.jpg Now in 2007 we get to see if a similarly outspoken and defiant rocker can actually help govern. Peter Garrett, that big, scary looking dude who used to front Australian rock band Midnight Oil, famous for its protest songs, has been appointed Minister of the Environment. Garrett has a law degree and has been (somewhat dangerously for a politician) outspoken about his support of a re-envisioning of Australia’s environmental policies. Proposed changes would include signing the Kyoto Protocols and realigning Australia’s energy policies to be more supportive of world environmental efforts – a far cry from Bush administration ally, defeated conservative PM John Howard’s “Crisis? What crisis?” position.

Whether Garrett will be successful is yet to be seen, but his appointment suggests that at least one way rock can make itself a force for change again.


brianmay.jpg In another interesting development, Brian May, lead guitarist of legendary rock band Queen, who recently completed his doctorate in astrophysics has been appointed as chancellor of John Moores University in Liverpool. May was working on his dissertation when Queen broke big. The Register, tongue firmly in cheek, reports it this way:

He inexplicably dropped his studies back in 1971 to become an international rock star.

That little side trip out of the way, May returned to his studies some 36 years later and completed his degree. He was appointed a fellow of John Moores University last year and appointed chancellor last month to succeed Cherie Booth, QC (Blair), wife of the former British PM.

May, in addition to his doctoral thesis A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, is co-author of British best seller Bang! the Complete History of the Universe.




For those of you worried that rock may become too intellectualized or politicized by the doings of Messrs. Garrett and May, rest easy.

Gene Simmons and Bret Michaels continue their reality television shows for those less intellectually inclined…

and Ozzy‘s out there somewhere….


10 replies »

  1. One more example of Rockers making a difference is Bono’s project red which just donated $50million to AIDS research.

  2. What’s amazing is that Garrett was no second-rate rocker turned politician like John Hall, the representative from New York (not to disrespect his work as a congressman), or zero-rated, like the bad Bono (Sonny).

    Garrett led one of the greatest rock bands of all time, Midnight Oil, whose long string of top-quality albums stands up to anybody’s from the Beatles to REM.

    If he’s half as good with the environment as he and his mates were with music, he can surpass Bob Geldof and the good Bono as a do-gooder.

  3. I can’t begin to testify that rock stars can govern. I can only say that I’ve seen the job professional politicians do and I’m willing to take the chance.

  4. I remember the the way Zappa stood up to Tipper Gore during those hearings in the 1980’s. He was the most unappreciated artist in rock music, except by fellow musicians.

    It’s amazing that I came onto this post just as “Catholic Girls” was playing…..I listen to a lot of Zappa.


  5. What a different world it would be if Frank were still alive and in politics. YouTube has a great video of an episode of Crossfire with Frank Zappa and Robert Novak from the PMRC era. I’ve probably watched it four or five times over the last year or so.

    It’s just my “child of the ’80s” perspective, but I still think Tipper Gore and her association with the PMRC cost Al the 2000 election. I didn’t vote for Bush, but I couldn’t bring myself to vote for anyone connected with her, either. In retrospect, it seems pretty trivial, but at the time I was thinking “yeah, that’s all we need is to see The Return of the Living PMRC”.

  6. Jeff – Zappa is the musician’s musician. He forgot more than most musicians ever know. In the way that Beatles songs have become standards, Frank’s music has influenced so many artists – I hear all that blather about Velvet Underground and I think, “Have you people never listened to Zappa?” I hear him in everyone from Costello to The Strokes. My boys, for example, have a picture of him up in their place – they burn a candle in front of it, for gosh sakes….

    fikshun – I agree about Tipper – I, as a fellow Boomer, offer my apologies that such a stupid, easily manipulated cow was born in my generation. PMRC served no one but the Republican repression machine – that Gore took part always besmirches him in my eyes – and I voted for him in 2000 out of desperation to prevent his evil twin Skippy from becoming President…. I failed, perhaps because the only right thing to do was demand somebody better – I keep wanting to think Al changed after 2000 and because of his environmental crusade sort of like Bobby did after JFK was killed. But that’d be asking a lot from a guy who played to right wing sensibilities as he did….

  7. Let’s not forget Gilberto Gil, Brazil’s Minster of Culture and first rate bossa nova artist. Also, I suspect U2’s Bono would have to qualify as “unelected politician” for his work on reducing Third World debt. Steve Van Zandt’s recent efforts to promote a curriculum of history and cultural knowledge using rock and roll should be acknowledged as well.

  8. Yeah, Tipper is the skeleton in Al’s closet.

    Thanks, Fikshun, for YouTube Zappa link. “Uncle Meat” ruled.

  9. Surviving in show business is the hardest thing to do, especially in popular music. 99.9 % of all musicians who attempt to go pro fail. To succeed for one year is quite a feat for a musician, but to do so for thirty years, like, say, Bruce Springsteen–that’s the hardest thing to do in the world. Therefore, anyone who can maintain a career in show business a la Bruce Springsteen, Frank Zappa (were he still alive), Neil Young, etc., should run for president or political office.