In Praise of Embarrassing Rock Stars

Reviewing The 1975’s Glastonbury set, the Daily Telegraph called Matt Healy a “future, slightly embarrassing rock star” for speaking up about Brexit. The general drift of the review was positive but it adhered to the unwritten law of music journalism that requires critics to sneer at musicians who express a moral view in public.

nme 1975

It’s a threadbare trope rendered transparent by the events of the past week.

Whether you agree with Matty’s criticism of the “sentiment of anti-compassion… among older people who have voted in a future that we don’t fucking want” or not, there is nothing embarrassing about him expressing an opinion.

What is embarrassing is leaders like Nigel Farage who use lies, fear and hatred to incite anxious, underprivileged people to vote against their own best interests.

What is embarrassing is politicians like David Cameron who precipitate the biggest political crisis in British history then waltz away and leave us to deal with the fallout.

What is embarrassing is the explosion of racism in a modern, multicultural country.

What is embarrassing is when good people say nothing.

“I’m just a pop star,” Matty told the Glastonbury crowd. “What do I know?” It would have been easy for him to stop there. We all do it. I’m just a ____. What do I know?

Politicians and powermongers count on our diffidence. They count on us to second-guess ourselves while they lie, steal, scheme, cheat, and abuse. They count on us being fearful and defensive. They count on us being too worried about being cool to speak.

Which makes what happened next brave and beautiful: “It is appropriate for me to say this, because I’m here,” Matty said. “And Glastonbury stands for everything that our generation wants. Equality. Compassion. Social responsibility. Unity. Community. Fucking loving people.”

***

In Kris Kristofferson’s blues masterpiece ‘To Beat The Devil’ a broke guitar player meets the devil in a tavern. Satan tells him he’s wasting his time, nobody cares what a lonely singer has to say. The young man sees the truth in the devil’s argument: most people are gripped by fear and inertia. Most don’t want to be reminded that they have the power to change. But he gathers his guitar and courage: “The devil haunts a hungry man/If you don’t wanna join him, you gotta beat him.” He pledges to keep singing to the indifferent world saying, “I won’t ever die ashamed.”

***

As a rainbow ribboned the steely Somerset sky The 1975 launched into ‘Loving Someone’. It might not sound like a protest song, but it is. Politics are no recourse against the manipulations of power and hate. We marched against the war in Iraq, for nothing. We resisted tuition hikes and benefits cuts, for nothing. We fought Brexit, for nothing. Excuse us for thinking protests and polls are part of a rigged game.

What’s left?

What Matty said: “Compassion. Fucking loving people.”

That, and refusing to be silent. When words are inadequate is precisely when we need them most. So here’s to “embarrassing rock stars” and to anyone who speaks up for love.

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