OTTAWA — So a rock star popped up in Toronto on the weekend and pronounced on politics. People noticed. Some got upset, some were happy.
Happens all the time. This time, it was Neil Young, who was raised in Winnipeg but hasn’t lived in Canada for half a century. Other times, it’s been movie stars or TV stars or other kinds of celebrities — Pamela Anderson on the seal hunt, Robert Redford on the oilsands, Ted Nugent on guns, and so on.
Doesn’t just happen in Canada, either. Last week, one of the biggest stories in the world was about the North Korea visit of former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman, who is stupid, saying stupid stuff. He later apologized for his stupidity.
As a musician — I’ve been playing in punk bands, badly, for decades — I have never really understood why anyone could be persuaded to listen to anything we say. We’re musicians, we play music. (Again, in my case, badly. But I remain proud I could take a beer bottle full in the chest and not miss a beat.)
Why does anyone care what movie stars and rock stars have to say about politics? Well, for starters, because stars get more attention than mere politicians do. They’re better looking than politicians are and they’re way more interesting.
There’s also the monkey on a bicycle factor. We know, and the monkey probably knows, that it shouldn’t be riding a bicycle. But we cannot tear our eyes away, and we await the (perhaps inevitable) disaster.
Alice Cooper, who according to urban legend bit the head off of a chicken — and who later went on to regularly play golf with assorted Republican notables — is contemptuous of rock stars who have political views. He has sneered at past efforts of REM, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp to unseat George W. Bush.
Go ask Alice, you might say, and Canadian Press did. Said Alice: “To me, that’s treason. I call it treason against rock ’n’ roll because rock is the antithesis of politics.
“Rock should never be in bed with politics.”
Warming to his subject, Alice said: “If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are.”
But here we are, listening to Alice — a registered Republican and a self-described moron — tell us who we shouldn’t be listening to. I don’t think anyone should listen to anything Alice does. Musically or otherwise.
He is right, however, when he seems to suggest that celebrities aren’t oracles for complex political theory. They are, after all, celebrities. But Toronto Mayor Rob Ford isn’t the sharpest knife in the political drawer, either, and he got himself elected mayor of one of the biggest cities in the world, didn’t he? High IQs and politics are often mutually inconsistent concepts.
Sure, Neil Young was a jerk for likening the oilsands to Hiroshima. That kind of exaggerated rhetoric is silly, and likely offensive to the families of the tens of thousands of people who were slaughtered there on a single day in August 1945.
But Young is entitled — as is Springsteen, Bono and many others — to offer an opinion, even an exaggerated one, on politics. Sometimes, some good comes of such things.
So, Neil Young, say what you want. It is welcome, even if it isn’t always going to be right.
And, if you can be persuaded to return home, you’d have a pretty good shot at becoming Toronto’s next mayor, if you’re so inclined.