A guest post by Pamela Mac Neil
"Music is always a commentary on society" Frank Zappa
Whenever I hear that Harpers base is made up of primarily seniors I am a bit perplexed. Not that I don't think it's true, because it is. Boomers of which I am one are now seniors, so when I think of older people or seniors, I think of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Randy Bachman , Leonard Cohen, Dylan or Van Morrison to name a few. It is musical artists that come to my mind not just because I love their music, but because almost everything that we thought, idealized, loved, valued, hated or wanted changed as a generation, was written into the music, in fact it was the music. If the generation that created and listened to this music are now members of The Conservative Party under the rule of Stephen Harper and his regime, then B.B. King can't sing the blues. Two of the most important issues, anti-war and freedom that Harper and his government now violate are issues that boomers valued starting with their stand against war.
In the 60's Lester Pearson told President Johnson that Canada would not be supporting the US's war in Vietnam. Pearsons successor as everyone knows was Pierre Trudeau, who then opened Canada's doors to young Americans who did not want to fight in Vietnam. There were tens of thousands of them that came. Trudeau said " Canada should be a refuge from militarism." My how times have changed. Harper who supported the Iraq war and has committed us in joining with other nato allies to the air bombing of Iraq, will see to it that soldiers of conscience from the U.S. will not be able to seek sanctuary in Canada as they have been labeled "Criminally Inadmissable." Not one of the 30 to 50 war resisters who were already here and had applied for refugee status has received permanent residency in Canada. Most are in the process of or have already been deported back to the States. This is in spite of the fact that the majority of Canadians think we should allow war resisters including from the Iraq war into Canada, but when has the Harper regime ever done what the majority of Canadians want. This stand against war was reflected in songs like Dylans "Masters of War", John Lennon's " give peace a chance", Richie Havens "Handsome Johnny" , Steppenwolf "Draft Resister", Creedance Clearwater Revival "Fortunate Son" and Country Joe and the Fish "I'm- Fixin- to- Die- Rag." to name just a few of many, many, anti-war songs. It wasn't about just being against war but it was the expression of hope of a future without war.
Harper and his Regimes violation of our rights and freedoms is done through suppression, control and legislation. His definition of freedom of speech is " Freedom of Speech When I like what you Say." Scientists cannot speak freely, MP's from his cabinet and caucus cannot speak freely and pretty well anyone from his government cannot speak freely. Harper and his cronies do not always have an easy time of it though, trying to dismantle our democracy, because previous governments have created some strong infrastructures in support of freedom. Infrastuctures that were created by governments that believed in nation building. One of the most important infrastructures of course is The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This originated from the mind of a man Pierre Trudeau, who thought throughout his life about justice and about how to create "The Just Society." All of Harpers legislation that has been struck down, simply because The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has judged this legislation to be unconstitutional. The Act and the man who thought of it Pierre Trudeau, both of whom Harper has an almost pathological hatred for has stopped him from carrying out his legislative authoritarian agenda. There are many ways however where he has been able to suppress freedoms or remove rights. Ways like setting up bipartisan commitees in almost all areas of government. Committees that should be discussing and evaluating the importance of motions, programs or policy pretty well just rubber stamp whatever is on their agenda that day.
No process. Dictators and their minions don't like process, especially judicial process. So much for freedom. There is nothing more important than freedom though. I knew that at a young age and I think many people from my generation knew it. When the concept of freedom is put to music it can give a voice to a movement. There is a reason why under Stalin, in the former Soviet Union, Russians were not allowed to listen to Jazz. It wasn't because of the race card either, it was because it made people feel alive. Songs of the 60's and 70's, with the message of freedom, had an impact on society and some of them broke new ground musically. Songs like "A change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke, "Turn,Turn,Turn" by The Byrds, "One day we'll all be Free" by Donny Hathaway , "People Got to be Free" by The Rascals to name just a few songs that touched millions. These words of Phil Ochs are still true. "One good song with a message can bring a point more deeply, to more people, than a thousand rallies. I grew up in a culture that placed freedom at a high value.
I've given some thought to who those seniors that make up Harpers base are. Because I cannot take them serious politically, I think most, but not all are evangelical christians like Harper. That I think is the connection they have with him. Even though many of them are probably from the boomer generation, the music of their own generation, for the most part does not seem to have touched them. I don't think you're going to find any of them, as an example, listening to The Rolling Stones song "Sympathy For The Devil", or "The Future" by Leonard Cohen.Their dear leader though does seem to favor songs from that era particularly The Beatles. Like his inability to read how his behaviour is judged by the Canadian people, so he is not able to read how people judge his musical talent. Watching Netanyahu with his wife, both enduring forced smiles, when Harper sang and played piano at a state dinner in Jerusalem said it all to me. Harper sang before a room of people whose jewish compatriots contribution to music is nothing short of epic. Whether composers like Strauss, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Gerswin, Bernstein and copland, or Classical musicians like Andre' Previn, Itzhak Perlman and Isaac Stern including the more contempory artists like Carole King, bob Dylan, Mark Knoffler Don Fagen, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and Billy Joel are but a few names in a list that could fill several pages. Singing and playing the piano at a family or friends wedding is one thing. Singing off key, while plunking on a piano at a state dinner when you're the PM of Canada is another thing. Unlike his tyrannical control of the message that he wants Canadians to hear or to not hear, his audience listening to him sing and play the piano cannot be controlled. This is Harper at his freest, displaying his questionable talent. Those who don't know him may think him quite brave considering he has minimal talent. For those who do know him it's just another example of him being completely out of touch. Seeing that he likes The Beatles so much he should read the lyrics to their song "The Fool On The Hill", because it's an apt description of himself , but as someone said of him, "he is a man to whom words don't mean much."
Pamela Mac Neil's main interest is studying how ideas from philosophy and history shape politics.