This Machine Kills Fascists

Thanks to a Facebook friend, I was reminded how much I always liked Heaven 17.  One summer I was in the modern equivalent of a public park band; singer, sax, guitar, bass, drums, and we covered pop music from off the radio.  Literally off the radio; the workday usually consisted of gathering in a room in the morning, listening to the radio, working out the tunes we just heard then going out to play them at parks and rec centers around Rochester, New York.  It was a lot of fun!  I insisted we do this tune, because I was enthralled with the incredible synth bass line:

I sang that one.  The curious thing about the group is that they are nowhere to be found in this list of ’50 greatest conservative rock songs.’  Yes, I know what you’re thinking . . . dude, WTF?!  Pop culture and NRO are a painfully awkward fit at best, like Nixon strolling on the beach in wing-tips (which, of course, NRO probably thinks is an appropriate outfit).  And the explanation of what makes each song on the list ‘conservative’ makes me embarrassed for the author, not only in how painfully un-hip  his attempt at cultural relevance is but also in the fundamental and flaccid intellectual dishonesty.  The lyrics have both meaning and context, and that context is not yours, John J. Miller.  Also, songs have music, what about that?  Oh, never mind.

What he gets wrong is in the striving to identify ‘conservative’ songs in a form that is conservative enough already.  Except for the infrequent inflection, rock has been a commercial commodity ever since it’s origins, and has mainly been about producing and selling a mass product.  That product may be extremely well done and satisfying, but that’s what it is.  What’s more conservative to NRO than making a buck?  Again, it’s trying to have some meaning outside the closed, intellectually incestuous universe they’ve chosen to occupy.  They know rock is out there, where is theirs?  It’s identity politics for ‘conservatives,’ which they now love, along with policing language and blaming society for all wrongdoing.

But where is “Fascist Groove Thang?”  The problem, I think, is that NRO colleague Jonah Goldberg wrote this long ‘I know you are but what am I‘ tome, and if Miller put Heaven 17 on the list, then he’d have to confront this other track by the band (below), and a truly Stalinist purge would inevitably ensue.  But you can dance to it.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.

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