Hippies, Conservatives, and Rock n' Roll

What was the soundtrack of your teen years? Mine was classic rock and its many derivatives. I don’t know what did it for me. Perhaps it was the wailing guitars, thundering drums, hammering baselines, and audacious vocals that felt especially electrifying to a fourteen-year-old Catholic schoolgirl. I fell quickly down the rabbit hole, collecting dusty old records that could trigger an asthma attack, and plastering my bedroom walls with the faces of bygone bands.


Content Warning: Mentions of Gendered Violence & Racism 


What was the soundtrack of your teen years? Mine was classic rock and its many derivatives. I don’t know what did it for me. Perhaps it was the wailing guitars, thundering drums, hammering baselines, and audacious vocals that felt especially electrifying to a fourteen-year-old Catholic schoolgirl. I fell quickly down the rabbit hole, collecting dusty old records that could trigger an asthma attack, plastering my bedroom walls with the faces of bygone bands, and sewing various patches on an old beat-up denim jacket. Their songs became my new psalms; their singers the saints, and the lyrics the gospel.

Although I’ve relatively mellowed out in my obsession, imagine my surprise when I learned rock legend Eric Clapton collaborated with fellow rock legend, Van Morrison, and released an

anti-lockdown song called “Stand and Deliver” at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. I do believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions and practices, but, to release and promote an anti-lockdown song during a time when there were no readily available vaccines and when cases were surging was incredibly irresponsible. The song's second verse featured the lyrics,

“Do you wanna be a free man

Or do you wanna be a slave?

Do you wanna wear these chains

Until you're lying in the grave?”

Comparing a lockdown that was mandated to save lives to slavery is crass and revealing of Clapton's self-righteousness and white privilege. Musician Robert Cray, a former long-time friend of Clapton and renowned blues guitarist, was stunned by the duo's choice of words. For Cray, a Black man born in 1953 in segregated Georgia, listening to his friend and collaborator compare lockdown to slavery was shocking. However, this was not the first time Clapton had been accused of racism. His comparisons of lockdowns to slavery appear even more problematic in light of his history of xenophobia and racism. At a 1976 concert, he went on an infamous racist tirade.  It’s important to note that Clapton's career has greatly profited from the work of African-American musicians and the rhythm and blues genre. It seems that only when his privilege falls short of rendering him above the law and the common good, he is suddenly “sympathetic” to the plight of the marginalised. His comparison of COVID-19 protocol to slavery is a reflection of Clapton’s detachment from and blatant disregard for the history and reality of those who do not have the same privilege as him. 

Some long-time friends and collaborators have defended Clapton's actions by citing his age and deteriorating motor functions. Yet, beyond his old age, Clapton is protected by an immortal reputation. Musician Phoebe Bridgers summarises this:

"Sometimes I think people are too problematic to be cancelled, or not relevant enough to be cancelled. I mean, it wouldn't even make news if [Clapton] said something racist today, because he went on a racist rant in the 60s or 70s that was very famous.”

Clapton’s immortal reputation has led the majority of us to fail to hold him accountable for his racist and reprehensible beliefs. It seems that our favourite rock n' roll bad boys can only be "problematic" for so long. We might “cancel” them for a little bit, but not so much so that we wouldn't be able to see them on tour next year.

Van Morrison has also brewed up an online storm with his continued criticism of COVID-19 protocols. In addition to his collaboration with Clapton, he released two follow-up albums, both of which contained a myriad of songs containing anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination sentiments as well as distrust of the media and government. Some have even accused his latest albums of having anti-semetic themes. His antics led to him being sued by the Health Minister of Northern Ireland, Robin Swann for defamation.

But Clapton and Morrison are not exceptions – this is not the first time a 70’s musician’s problematic beliefs and abhorrent behaviour have been revealed. Take John Lennon, a renowned musician and activist, as an example. There is no denying Lennon’s impact and influence on music, art, and politics, but he was also known to be an adulterer, misogynist, and abusive to his first wife, Cynthia, and his son Julian. It's rather hypocritical for the ‘Imagine’ singer to be singing about a better world when he did not seem to practise what he preached. Lennon acknowledged his past in a 1981 interview with Playboy, stating, “I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically - any woman…That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace… I am a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence…”. Whether or not his words were sincere, the mythos of Lennon lives on. The rosy tint cast over Lennon’s reputation is just one example of how so many people of influence in creative industries have gotten away with repugnant behaviour because of their artistic and cultural significance. Are we really "separating the art from the artist", or are we just protecting the problematic pedestals of bigots and abusers?

Now, I don’t intend for this article to be wholly about the deplorable behaviour of old rock stars. What prompted me to write about hippies, conservatives, and rockstars was a meme I came across on TikTok. It went along the lines of “if someone listens to classic rock, it either means they're cool people or they’re raging conservatives.” Isn’t that ironic? Rock n' roll has long been associated with countercultures that are critical of conservative beliefs and practices. From punks to hippies, one thing they can agree upon is their distaste for the “establishment.” So what does it mean when the “establishment” uses anti-establishment songs for their benefit? How has a genre of music which prides itself on being anti-establishment, free-loving, and against the mainstream become associated with conservatism, bigotry, and conspiracy?

From its rhythm and blues beginnings to its thrashing heavy metal drums, rock n' roll has always been a polarising genre of music. It has always been seen as a threat or corrupting force permeating through the white picket fence of law and order. There have been numerous crusades against the genre throughout the decades. They deemed Elvis Presley and his gyrating pelvis “immoral” and accused the Beatles of blasphemy and promoting devil worship. Today, rock n' roll music, once deemed as a root of evil by conservatives, is their anthem.

In recent years, numerous musicians have been vocal against conservatives using their songs during campaigns, rallies, and protests. Countless musicians have banned former U.S. President Donald Trump from using their music in his political campaigns. However, this did not stop Trump, his colleagues, and his supporters from continuing to use their songs. What’s incredibly ironic is that these conservatives tend to favour songs whose messages are contradictory to what they support. For example, ‘Born in the USA’ by Bruce Springsteen and ‘Fortunate Son’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival are often confused as being patriotic anthems. Yet, it's obvious both songs are critiques of the Vietnam War. Rage Against the Machine (RATM) guitarist Tom Morello remains baffled as to why some fans don’t seem to understand what “machine'' they're raging against. When someone posted on Twitter that they were no longer a fan of the band after discovering their criticisms of cultural imperialism, corporate America, and the U.S. government, Morello responded, "What music of mine were you a fan of that DIDN'T contain “political BS”? I need to know so I can delete it from the catalogue.” Some people really don’t get it, do they?

“Conservative hippies'' seems like an oxymoron, but today, the music associated with free love and expression continues to be misconstrued and used to justify bigotry. It seems odd to associate spiritualism and mysticism with conservatives, yet they seem to have found a niche within the demographic. “Conspirituality” is a term used to describe the intersection of conservatism and New Age spirituality. It attracts people in two ways. The first is the belief that a singular group is covertly controlling or trying to control the socio-political order. Second is the belief that a paradigm shift in consciousness is occurring. From Pastel QAnon influencers to the self-appointed QAnon Shaman, “conspirituality” is rapidly spreading, from the political arena to the music scene, not only in the United States but throughout the world.

It’s interesting how the once free-wheeling and counterculture rockstars of the 60s and 70s are now promoting conspiracy theories and sharing very problematic viewpoints. It seems they've gone full circle, becoming the embodiment of what they sang against all those many years ago. People placed on pedestals often have their wrongdoings masked by the glitz and glamour attached to their names. But that shiny exterior is not enough to absolve them of their sins. Now at twenty-one, I no longer see these rock stars as gods and legends, untouchable and golden. They’re both sinners and saints. It’s like the old saying, “Never meet your heroes, they’re sure to disappoint you.”

You may be interested in...
There are no current news articles.