Let Them Eat Jellybeans
Craig Grossman, November 13th 2016
Darker Times=Darker Music
We Americans have gone through quite an embarrassing week. You can argue that approximately 25% of us would not agree but I’m on the betting side that theorizes there will be a lot of Brexit-style buyer’s remorse in the not-so-distant future. I spent the week going back and forth between hoping I am wrong on this sentiment and hoping that I am right.
Yet there is one ray of light, something that occurred to me even as I watched my native country go down into the abyss this past Tuesday and into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. I’m barely old enough to remember when another actor became our leader, one Ronald Reagan. Upon reflecting on my own current musical tastes of what shaped my personal aesthetic, it could be said that what I love most is the darker music produced in the Reagan years. Trickledown economics, Star Wars (not the epic film mind you) and the symbolic end of the Cold War all contributed to a lot of angst and sadness and not just in the good ‘ol US of A. Depeche Mode, New Order (coming out of the ashes of Joy Division), The Smiths, Talk Talk, Yazoo, Soft Cell and even more uplifting artists like Tears for Fears and ABC all came to light (so to speak) and thrived during these damp political years- and every artist I’ve named here are out of the U.K. Certainly Americans got into it as well with compilations going beyond anything subversive – take Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles‘ 1981 release ‘Let Them Eat Jellybeans!’ subtitled ‘17 Extracts From America’s Darker Side’. The album included offerings from many soon-to-be punk legends including Black Flag, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks and Dead Kennedys (Biafra’s musical vehicle at the time).
So what does this mean for us as a society that’s always hungry for good art? I’m not one to argue that beautiful music isn’t always being produced somewhere, but I do think there’s validity to the theory that artists tend to write more compelling music, both composition and lyrics in darker, more Orwellian times such as these. While the theme song for this week in American might as well be Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, I do think we have lots of creativity to look forward to under a Trump administration. Granted, at this moment I’d take horrific music for the next four years over this nightmare. That is why we all need to just keep listening and more importantly, discovering.