Do artists have a responsibility to speak out?

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milo204
Do artists have a responsibility to speak out?

With this whole Chantal Kreviazuk thing, what do fellow babblers think about the role of artists to speak out against injustice?

 

I think an artist should have integrity.  You're not a bank, you're not an oil company, your not--or shouldn't be--simply a profit making machine.  It's only in the last 60 years that music became this vapid, commercialized bore filled with the same cliches recycled again and again over the years.  For most of human history music has been the heart and soul and voice of the community.

when you'd get thrown in jail for SAYING it, you sang it instead.  

 

Unfortunately most art these days is owned and operated by huge private companies, and closely reflects their interests.  Therefore there is no serious political commentary, consumerism is glorified, objectification of racial groups, women and sexuality is encouraged, progression or trying new things is strongly discouraged and the art is meant to appeal to the most individual consumers as possible to maximize profit.  

everything else is left to the independents, where the most honest, critical and progressive art happens. 

Issues Pages: 
N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Art and Social Life - Georgy Plekhanov

An oldie but goodie.

Plekhanov wrote:
The belief in art for art's sake arises wherever the artist is at odds with his social environment.

Plekhanov shows, among other things, that "art for art's sake" often becomes "art for money's sake". OTOH,

Quote:
...the so-called utilitarian view of art, that is, the tendency to impart to its productions the significance of judgements on the phenomena of life, and the joyful eagerness, which always accompanies it, to take part in social strife, arises and spreads wherever there is mutual sympathy between a considerable section of society and people who have a more or less active interest in creative art.

Georgy is far from the last word. But he's a good place to start.

Cytizen H

In answer to the title of this thread, absolutely. Artists have a responsibility to speak out becaus everyone has a responsibility to speak out. For an amazing read on this issue I would highly reccomend Howard Zinn's "ArYtists in Times of War". As an artist myself I particularly like this part:

Quote:

So the word transcendent comes to mind when I think of the role of the artist in dealing with the issues of the day. I use that word to suggestthat the role of the artist is to transcend conventional wisdom, to transcend the word of the establishment, to transcend the orthodoxy, to go beyond and escape what is handed down by the government or what is said in the media.

 

 

Erik Redburn

I'd agree with both those views.  Artists should have the same responsibilities as any other citizen of conscience, although I wouldn't reject the entirety of their works or what they say based entirely on their political views or personal failings.   I know very few people who have spotless reputations and far too many artists who have suffered unfairly because of the bourgeois conventions of their day.  Its n0t always clear to anyone what is a universal issue and what a mere social trend or artifice -until the talent comes along to illuminate it first.  I might boycott them if they're supporting an obvious injustice though.  Other citizens shouldn't feel obligated to support even the greatest talents if they're selling out to pirates or worse, making them out to be princes.

Fidel

I think artists are like scientists in the respect that they are pressured into delivering what the market is willing to pay. And the market doesn't always reward the best work or what should be produced for the greater good. Throughout history, the market has rewarded great artistic talent after the artist has died and their great works made rare as a result, and which is not much of an incentive for the artist to appreciate market ideology.

I am not an art expert, but I tend to believe that, yes, artists have a responsibility to express all kind of things that are important to society besides doing art which depicts rare beauty or unique artistic perspective. But artists have done all of this throughout history by what I can tell and in spite of market diktats.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Artists do not have a responsibility to "speak out" any more than anybody else does.  They are not obligated to be "people of conscience", and in fact there have been some extremely self-absorbed and conscienceless examples of artists who were, nevertheless, extremely good at the creative end of things.

Artists express, but they are in no way obligated to be politically inclined.  As an artist, I say that those of you who have these expectations should get stuffed.  I'll pick my messages and I'll express them when and how I CHOOSE. 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Yes, Ms. Atwood. lol.

al-Qa'bong

Hitler was an artist.

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

Well, yeah, but a crappy one.

Today, he'd have a chain of discount painting stores like Thomas Kinkeade, "Painter of Light".

Fidel

What does Noam Chomsky say about BDS?

Fidel

Pablo Picasso was an artist. And thank goodness the world knows what really happened at Guernica because of Pablo. The fascists' lies were destroyed with one painting.

Unionist

Timebandit wrote:

Artists do not have a responsibility to "speak out" any more than anybody else does.  They are not obligated to be "people of conscience", and in fact there have been some extremely self-absorbed and conscienceless examples of artists who were, nevertheless, extremely good at the creative end of things.

Artists express, but they are in no way obligated to be politically inclined.  As an artist, I say that those of you who have these expectations should get stuffed.  I'll pick my messages and I'll express them when and how I CHOOSE. 

Bravo, TB. Fully agree. And imagine this: There are people who lambaste Margaret Atwood for not boycotting Israel, but say nary a word when Jack Layton says he doesn't support BDS. Atwood held to a higher standard than Layton. In Canada. In 2010.

What a farce.

How about we poll Canadian jazz musicians and ask whether they want immediate Canadian withdrawal - now - from Afghanistan? Anyone who is ambiguous, we boycott their concerts and recordings.

Just don't ask the politicians. We might not know what to do with their answers.

Hey folks - the thing about a boycott movement, in its nascent stages, is you're supposed to persuade and convince people of all walks of life to climb on board. Political representatives have a far higher responsibility than pop singers and writers of fiction. I didn't say they have more influence. I said more responsibility.

 

milo204

But you could also argue that depending on the art, like certain kinds of music (hip hop, punk rock, afrobeat) and visual art (installations, collage, graffitti) that it's the artists message that makes the art resonate, beyond it's visual/aural appeal.  

 

"The measure of true or high art is how confrontational it is"

Rod Swenson

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

Unionist wrote:

Timebandit wrote:

Artists do not have a responsibility to "speak out" any more than anybody else does.  They are not obligated to be "people of conscience", and in fact there have been some extremely self-absorbed and conscienceless examples of artists who were, nevertheless, extremely good at the creative end of things.

Artists express, but they are in no way obligated to be politically inclined.  As an artist, I say that those of you who have these expectations should get stuffed.  I'll pick my messages and I'll express them when and how I CHOOSE. 

Bravo, TB. Fully agree. And imagine this: There are people who lambaste Margaret Atwood for not boycotting Israel, but say nary a word when Jack Layton says he doesn't support BDS. Atwood held to a higher standard than Layton. In Canada. In 2010.

What a farce.

How about we poll Canadian jazz musicians and ask whether they want immediate Canadian withdrawal - now - from Afghanistan? Anyone who is ambiguous, we boycott their concerts and recordings.

Just don't ask the politicians. We might not know what to do with their answers.

Hey folks - the thing about a boycott movement, in its nascent stages, is you're supposed to persuade and convince people of all walks of life to climb on board. Political representatives have a far higher responsibility than pop singers and writers of fiction. I didn't say they have more influence. I said more responsibility.

 

Unionist, the question wasn't "do artists have MORE of a responsibility to speak out than politicians?", for God's sake.  I don't think anybody was saying that we should push creative people to take stands on the issues while letting elected officials and party leaders off the hook.  Why did you think anybody was calling for politicians to be given an easier ride than artists?

 

Cytizen H

Unionist wrote:

Just don't ask the politicians. We might not know what to do with their answers.

 

 

Also from Howard Zinn's "Artsts in Times of War":

Quote:

It takes only a bit of knowledge about history to realize how dangerous it is to think that the people who run the country know what they are doing. Jean Jacques Rousseau said, "I see all sorts of people doing this and that, but where are the citizens among us?" Everyone must be involved. There are no experts."

Really, its a very good essay.

 

But to Timbandits comments above.... I absolutely agree. And when I said that artists do have a responsibility, again, it is only because they are people, and everyone has that responsibility.

I'm curious about your thoughts and the question of art itself. Many people I know in my field, theatre, say things like, "oh, I don't like political theatre, I just want to entertain". Personally I hate the term "political theatre". All theatre is political. The choice of stories we chose to tell is a political decision. Wondering if this holds true for other fields of art as well, in other's humble opinions.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

No, Ken, he was simply pointing out that they are given an easier ride than artists at the present moment.

skdadl

The politics of a work of art are evident in the work itself in ways that are much more complex than are soundbite answers to yes/no questions or questions about, eg, which year the occupation began or where an individual stands on a specific policy. There have been artists, eg, whose commitments to the dispossessed or the oppressed have led them irl to support political parties we would not consider progressive.

I don't consider art amoral or apolitical, exactly -- it's just that it isn't those things in the first place. Ethics and politics participate in aesthetics, or eventually they show through, but they aren't the driving logic of art. (Catchfire can put this better than I can. Where is he?)

Moral thought when it becomes "moralizing" is often irritating to people with an aesthetic tilt, not because they wish to be immoral but because that's not the way their heads work, and also because both ethics and politics seem shakier in their commitments to truth and mental liberty. An artist might wonder about her own "responsibility," and in fact I think most do; but many will bristle instantly at the moralist's tendency to call others out, to demand that others prove they are responsible, either by denouncing something or by taking a loyalty oath, moralizing at its worst.

There's a reason that so many artists contributed to the historical development of our understanding of civil liberties.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

skdadl wrote:
I don't consider art amoral or apolitical, exactly -- it's just that it isn't those things in the first place. Ethics and politics participate in aesthetics, or eventually they show through, but they aren't the driving logic of art. (Catchfire can put this better than I can. Where is he?)

Catchfire is watching the World Cup, banning trolls and pretending to read Friedrich Kittler. And planting horseradish and leeks at halftime.

Of course art is inherently political, and we all "speak out" through art. Georg Lukács, a Hungarian Marxist critic from the early twentieth century, used to criticize the newfangled modernist artists for spending too much attention to form and style and lacking the "realism" of good ol' bourgeois writers like Sir Walter Scott and Honoré de Balzac, who, according to Lukács, showed class relations as they really happened. What he missed, of course, is that the very fact of moving from holistic realism to the inviolate subjectivity of stream-of-consciousness writing, fractured personhood and displaced, Gothic history (best articulated by Stephen Dedalus's famous quote in Ulysses, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake) was itself a political move, evincing the pressures of modernity and capitalism, and the response of the cultural dominant which tried to mitigate an increasing sense of isolation, alienatation and fragmentation. These fragments I shore against my ruin, etc. And who is Lukács to tell artists how to write anyway? Especially in an older, anachronistic form.

But "speaking out" as a public figure is a different thing than explicitly "speaking out" with either agit-prop or otherwise polemical art (not always successful, but American novels of the 1930s, and Bertold Brecht for one, do pretty good work). I'd say the former question should apply to all subjects equally: does everyone have a responsibility to speak out? I think artists take this question to heart because they are always "speaking out" on a daily basis--it's simply a distinction of frame. Like skdadl says, artists are generally much more in tune with the power of words and their ineffable connection with the individual's place in society. It's why--and Atwood acknowledged this debt--artists around the world have been intimately involved with some of history's greatest struggles, and often imprisoned, immiserated and executed for their troubles.

The question of a politician's responsibility to speak out is interesting to me, but I don't see a lot of "speaking out" in general from elected representatives. There's a lot of speaking, to be sure, and maybe that's all politicians nowadays think they need to do. Perhaps they're right. But to me, speaking out for all of us is critical to democracy: not just the ability and freedom to speak (often, wrongly, considered enough to qualify as "freedom of speech") but the freedom to be heard, and the freedom to effect change with your voice. Artists understand all three of these freedoms--the best understand it in their very bones. So in that respect, it sure would be nice if the best ones, who are best qualified to succeed in all three, make use of their privilege.

 

Fidel

[url=http://www.art-for-a-change.com/News/guernica.htm]Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" censored at U.N. in 2003[/url] Anti-war painting was covered over as a favour to shock and awe fascists

Unionist

Ken Burch wrote:

 

Unionist, the question wasn't "do artists have MORE of a responsibility to speak out than politicians?", for God's sake.  I don't think anybody was saying that we should push creative people to take stands on the issues while letting elected officials and party leaders off the hook.  Why did you think anybody was calling for politicians to be given an easier ride than artists?

 

You may not have read all the threads. But there are people on this board who have condemned Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen (for example) in rather loud terms, and called for them to be boycotted, because they have not abided by a BDS directive. Some of these same people have not said one single word of criticism of Canadian political figures who would rather jump off a cliff than say anything negative about Israel.

Can you imagine Jack Layton saying, "I'm sorry, my caucus are forbidden to visit Israel"?

Or, can you imagine him saying, "I'm sorry, Mr. Israeli Ambassador, my colleague who said 1948 and who spoke sort of favourably about BDS doesn't speak for my party"?

So if there's going to be a double standard - and I think there should be - self-styled progressive political figures must be held to a much higher standard than individuals, no matter who the individual is.

skdadl wrote:
An artist might wonder about her own "responsibility," and in fact I think most do; but many will bristle instantly at the moralist's tendency to call others out, to demand that others prove they are responsible, either by denouncing something or by taking a loyalty oath, moralizing at its worst.

Yes - exactly. And that's why the loud condemnation of artists for not complying with a nascent movement which as yet all too few public figures espouse is bound to be counterproductive, even if the motives of the condemners are pure.

Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Here's another point:  Artists and those in the cultural industries may not be progressive.  So if the requirement is to speak out about our political beliefs, let's have a round of applause for Charlton Heston, hmmmm? 

Caissa

And that famous actor, Ronald Reagan.

Bacchus
Fidel

[Israel drift]Our stooges puffed up their chests to speak out against South African apartheid way back then.

And then they did absolutely nothing about it on the diplomatic front, just as today's colonial administrators did nothing about attacks on Gazans in recent years. Jack Layton at least condemned the attacks and have called for an end to the blockade.

We don't need politicians scoring cheap political points with Israeli apartheid if they are not prepared to do anything about it by using Ottawa's established diplomatic channels at international levels. Israel's largest supporter is Uncle Sam, and our Colonial Administrators in Ottawa will do nothing to upset their imperial masters in Warshington.[/]

 

Fidel

[url=http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95190615]'Grapes Of Wrath' And The Politics of Book Burning[/url]

Quote:
"They're not afraid of the book; they're afraid of the ideas," says Krug. "The materials that are challenged and banned say something about the human condition."

And Steinbeck's candid photos of grinding poverty in depression era America were powerful reminders to Americans of how laissez-faire capitalism just wasn't working for far too many. Grapes of Wrath was banned by a number of US libraries but circulated far and wide in the former USSR then for some reason.

 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

For those who would like to defend some Joycean paring of fingernails by the "independent" artist, perhaps they could also add what God it is that such artists serve, if not some version of their understanding of the public? Does a writer want a goddam audience or not?

 

Good grief. The artist as someone who "shocks" bourgeois sensibilities, or the one who sells many books, or albums, or CDs, or the one who kicks a football really well, or the one who shoots a puck really well, ... all of these artists hardly exhaust what we on the left mean by artistic responsibility. It's no different, perhaps, than a great scientist in the service of humanity versus a great scientist ... developing napalm or a hydrogen bomb. We expect and want them to view their own work as somehow in the service of humanity.  If they only serve themselves, who gives a shit anyway?

[/end rant]

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

N. Beltov wrote:
For those who would like to defend some Joycean paring of fingernails by the "independent" artist, perhaps they could also add what God it is that such artists serve, if not some version of their understanding of the public? Does a writer want a goddam audience or not?

I don't quite understand this statement, Beltov. Are you saying an artist should always write for the largest audience possible? Does that exclude writers like Joyce (who wanted, and succeeded, in being a populist)? Does it include writers like Steinbeck, a very conservative and right-wing writer (and for that matter, Tolstoy and Scott, who by all accounts were aristocrats on the wrong side of revolution--but they could see the end coming clearer than their radical counterparts). Does it include the sensationalist and sentimentalist middle-class writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, who did so much to end American slavery?

skdadl

Rant taken and appreciated, N.Beltov, although a number of us have been thinking of artists who never especially made much money. And who decides what kind of commitment is "in the service of humanity"? I think that most artists believe that art is that already. I certainly do.

Fidel, try a comparison between Steinbeck and his almost exact contemporary, John Dos Passos (whom Sartre, for one, considered the greatest writer of his time, in spite of his later politics). It was Dos Passos I was thinking of earlier when I said that many artists who have written (or otherwise created) out of a commitment to the dispossessed or oppressed also take party or policy positions irl that we would not consider progressive.

It is a wonder and a gift that Picasso painted Guernica. It is also true that he took care of himself in Paris during the occupation, and I don't mean that as much of a compliment, although nobody is required to be a martyr ... I guess ...

Cytizen H

Let's not forget Elia Kazan, as well. One of the most prolific stage and screen artists in the history of America, and yet...

In this case an artist speaking out actually ruined the lives of others. (arguably). I suppose the other question bouncing around is to what extent an artist's work should be divorced from his personal beliefs. If we deny ourselves the work of people who are generally assholes we lose out on Streetcar Named Desire, Kind of Blue, and Terminator!

Fidel

Skdadl, I'm embarrassed to have to admit that I know nothing of Dos Passos. Some of his works sound familiar, but I will have to look him.

Steinbeck I am somewhat familiar with. I guess few are perfect, but everyone has at least one story to tell.

VanGoghs Ear

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do. Bob Dylan

skdadl

Hey, Fidel -- none of this embarrassment stuff. I talk about literature because I love literature and I believe it should be for all the people, not just elites. It is definitely the most accessible form of art, and the least socially intimidating (you can read a paperback under the covers with a flashlight if you're feeling rilly shy). I sure haven't read all of it, and I'm grateful when someone tells me about someone new. Catchfire does that all the time, damn him. I mean, thank you, Catchfire.

I hope the kitty is well, Fidel.

Fidel

Smokey's one foot in it, and my mama's been gone since middle of May. I really miss her. She was 85. Dazed and confuzed now. It's like there's no horizon for a reference. Missing my heart. How can one exist without their heart?

skdadl

Oh, if you're wondering about your heart, Fidel, that means you've got one. Don't worry: it will find you. *hugs*

ebodyknows ebodyknows's picture

My answer is hell no!

However, I do think it should be an innate response in every culture to react against injustice.  In a culture where this is not the case it is a human necessity to ease and transcend sorrow and one may choose to do this through art but the onus is on the culture as a whole to get healthy.

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

 

Heston's reputation as a right-winger actually stems from the 1980's when he opposed the efforts of Ed Asner, who at the time was president of the Screen Actors Guild(the union film actors belong to in the U.S., and a union once headed by Ronald Reagan) to move the SAG to the left on many issues.  Heston was particularly offended by Asner's opposition to Reagan's Central America policies and by Asner's expressions of support for other unions in their struggle against corporate demands for wage cuts and layoffs.

Heston illustrates the maxim that the older a neoconservative gets, the further he marched for Civil Rights as a boy.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Catchfire: I thought the idea was straightforward even if in the form of my rant. Every artist has an intended audience in mind. And there's no escaping those necessary tentacles of social connections. It's this latter point that is important to me. I wanted to put a kibosh on the idea that an artist needs to be persuaded about the reality of the social connections, their role in artistic creativity, etc., etc.. The idea that an artist is "above" or outside of social life reflects, I think, what old Georgy wrote about 100 years ago; the artist at odds with her/his social environment.

I did not want to give the impression that I thought, for example, that Balzac wasn't a great artist. He depicted the rising bourgeois brilliantly. Brilliantly. You could also say that in television, for example, Mad Men does an excellent job of depicting those Madison Avenue lunatics who have had such a big effect in advertising and marketing and in social life in general in our current form of society.

OTOH, I watched some of The Sopranos, when it began, and very quickly lost interest. I don't care what gangsters do. Seeing them all die, in a pool of their own blood, screaming in pain, would have been a satisfying and early end to the series. Sadly for me, this didn't happen. lol.

Bob Dylan has made no bones about his use of the electric guitar at Newport, so long ago, and the changes that he championed in music. It was about Bob making lots of cash. Unfortunately for his critics, Bob Dylan was also gifted by a monstrous talent - a gift from God is a term I would use were I religious in that way - and so it does no good just crapping on him generally. He's like Balzac, eh? Can't avoid him.

Sorry about the rant. Sometimes I get like that. Carry on.

Red_and_Black Red_and_Black's picture

Tom Morello said something along the lines of 'All music is political' (can't find the exact quote). He was referring to the fact that music can either be a vehicle for awareness, or a distraction from the issues which really matter.

"A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over. And I maintain that if a person can put a few common sense facts into a song and dress them up in a cloak of humor, he will succeed in reaching a great number of workers who are too unintelligent or too indifferent to read." -Joe Hill

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Plenty of great thinkers, and artists, have made this point over and over again. Behind Joe Hill are thousands.

It would be a helpful exercise to collect such expressions.

Ken Burch Ken Burch's picture

I do think, however, that the world would be better off if Wagner HADN'T "spoken out".

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Quote:
Nechama Rosler, a violinist with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. "But, because Wagner's music arouses such deep emotions, I feel strongly that as long as it disturbs anyone who associates it with the Nazis, with his own or his family's suffering in the Holocaust, Wagner's music should not be played publicly. The function of music, after all, is to soothe, to make the listener feel good, to stimulate or pacify his or her soul. Whoever wants to hear Wagner's music can listen to it in private."

The last bit, starting with "The function of music ..." is worth looking at. I think, myself, that what music can do is more than what the JSO violinist has stated. It's a funny thing, but great artists are often just as tongue-tied as the rest of us in describing what they do, etc.. This does not mean, however, that what they do is a mystery.

 

Now, let's see what Woody said:

Woody Guthrie wrote:
"I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim, too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling. I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops. No matter what color, what size you are, how you are built. I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you. I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think you've not got any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I'd starve to death before I'd sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your song books are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow."

Woody, e.g., wrote "This Land is Your Land" as a response to the jingoistic "God Bless America" that Kate Smith (later) made so famous at Philly Flyer hockey games.

ebodyknows ebodyknows's picture

N.Beltov wrote:

Now, let's see what Woody said:

Ya! that's what I was trying to say.

on the cusp of electricity dylan sang:

"While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in"

Electric guitars for cash?

They were all protest songs. c'mon.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

OK, I'll bite. Here's "protest song" Dylan ...

Bob Dylan wrote:
You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You might be a rock 'n' roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
You may be the head of some big TV network,
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
You may be living in another country under another name

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin' in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody's mistress, may be somebody's heir

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk,
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread,
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy,
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy,
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray,
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

That's the sort of song that Woody Guthrie would have upchucked over. And here's a parody by John Lennon that mocks the gratuitious injection of religion into Bob Dylan's songs ...

John Lennon wrote:
you say you found jesus christ
he's the only one
you say you fund Buddha
sittin in the sun
you say you found Mohammed
facin to the East
you say you found Krishna
dancin in the streets

well there's something missing in this godalmighty stew and it's your mother
you mother don't forget your mother lad

you gotta serve yourself
nobody gonna do it for you
you gotta serve yourself
nobody gonna do it for you
well you may believe in devils and you may believe in lords
but you don't go out and serve yourself lad
ain't no room service here
??????

it's still the same old story
a bloody holy war
a fight for love and glory
ain't gonna study war no more
a fight for god and country
we're gonna set you free
we'll put you back in the syone age
if you won't be like me
get it?

you gotta serve yourself
ain't nobody gonna do for you
you gotta serve yourself
ain't nobody gonna do for you
well you may believe in devils and you may believe in lords
but christ, you're gonna have to serve yourself and that's
all there is to it
so Get right back here, it's in the bloody fridge
god, when I was a kid, didn't have stuff like this
TV fucking dinners and all that crap
you fuckin kids are all the fuckin same
want a fuckin car now?
lucky to have a pair of shoes!

you tell me you found Jesus
well that's great and he's the only one
you tell me you found Buddah
and he's sittin on his ass in the sun
you say you found Mohammed
kneelin ona bloody carpet facing the east
you say you found Krishna,
with a bald head dancin in the street
well christ lad, you're goin out and you're being heard

you gotta serve yourself
ain't nobody gonna do it for you
that right lad you better get that straight through your fuckin head
you gotta serve yourself
you know that better
who the hell els is gonna do it for you
it ain't me kid, i'll tell ya that
well you may believe in jesus and you may believe in marx and you may believe in marx and spencer's and you may believe in bloody woolworths
but there's something missing from this whole bloody stew...

and it's your mother
your poor bloody mother
she once bore ya in the back bedroom
full of piss and shit and fucking midwives
god you can't forget that awful moment
???
you should of been in the bloody war lad, you would of known all about it

well i'll tell you something
it's still the same old story
a holy bloody war
you know with pope and all that stuff
a fight for love and glory
ain't gonna study no more war
a fight for god and country
and the queen and all that
we're gonna set you free
yeah ??? i'm sure
bomb you back into the fuckin stone age
if you won't be like me
you know, get down on your knees and pray

well there's something missing from this god-all-mighty stew
and it's your goddamn mother you dirty little git
now get in there and wash your ears

ha ha. I'll take a large helping of John Lennon, thanks, and give ol Bob Dylan a pass on this one.

Gotta Serve Somebody

Serve Yourself

 

 

ebodyknows ebodyknows's picture

you lost me. gotta serve somebody is an inflated ego check.

Anyhow PE has a good question HOW DO YOU SELL SOUL TO A SOULLESS PEOPLE WHO SOLD THEIR SOUL???

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

No, John Lennon mocked the gratuitous injection of religion into Dylan's music and this piece in particular. Dylan's song says "Obey!" and Lennon's says, "To thine own self be true" (and mum, of course).

Furthermore, it is not just Dylan's lyrics that reflected his musical and artistic views. See Electric Dylan Controversy - although I will not vouch for Wiki being completely accurate.

6079_Smith_W

I was going to wait until morning to post, but I noticed that Dylan song, which I happen to think is great.

I know he wrote it when he turned Christian, but there are plenty of jesus tunes that work just fine as non-religious liberation tunes, and that is how I heard this one the first time I heard it.

As ebodyknows said, it's about pride (including religious pride), and to me it says that you have to choose to work for good or work for bad, and you can't avoid it because doing nothing and wasting yourself is definitely a choice for bad. It's a pretty straight message.

Interesting how art says different things to different people, eh?

ebodyknows ebodyknows's picture

I'm sorry. First of all...I have to ask why does dylan's song say obey? It's not evident to me.  It's not even dubious like the possible interpretations of rainy day women.  Are you trying to prove with the wikipedia article that bob is a self serving artist? I don't get it, even if I ignore everything else I know but what's in the article.

Did you listen to the public enemy song? I was a teenager in the 90's. I listened to public enemy before I learned everything I could about dylan.  I was interested in Dylan because I lived in the suburbs and there was a great derth of culture let alone pop culture with any kind of intellectual component.  Dylans greatest protest is that pop culture should not be trivial and dumb.  There is no controversy that Dylan going electric opened doors for everything that came after.  Public Enemy is the quintesential pop 'speak out' artist.  Rap was and maybe still is modern urban folk music.  You can denounce all pop musicisians as sell outs but you can't denounce dylan and embrace pop artists for their politics.

"You never turned around to see the frowns
On the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you.
Never understood that it ain't no good.
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you."

Without pop music 'speaking out' I'd probably wouldn't have bothered to involve myself in any form of real culture.
I don't make any money from my culture. I don't think people should make money from culture. I do think it's a two way street.
If I had an audience willing to pay me do you really think I should keep living on a crack corner as a marginalized outcast in a pop culture world?

If we depend on artists or any other small segment of the population to speak for the rest it is already a lost cause. If the idea of some super heros coming to fight your war for you is a part of your culture we need a new culture. The artist is not responsible for the culture. An artist is at most a component of a culture.

the question remains(with written lyrics for improved ease in comprehension):

how you sell soul to a

Souless people who sold their soul?

and

This is the video I'm contributing to the money project at the peoples summit. Am I reaching woodies standards? Does it got soul? It's free and people are smoking crack outside my window.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Dylan's song about "Serving Someone" has everything to do with religion and bugger all to do with social activism. It's about antipathy to social activism, in fact, and is an expression of religious "pride". That's why John Lennon mocked it so mercilessly - Lennon was, after all, an atheist (and was eventually murdered by a Christian fundamentalist) . Dylan's song is about abandoning the struggle for social justice and "finding Jesus" instead.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

The boring repetitiveness of Dylan's song makes that rather obvious, doesn't it? What do you want, a sledge hammer of obviousness over the head?

If anything thinks this particular song of Bob Dylan is a vehicle for social activism, or something like that, then social activism has become passivity for such people. Dylan made many influential songs that did an excellent job of conveying the necessity of participation in the struggles for social justice. This isn't one of them.

ebodyknows ebodyknows's picture

N.Beltov wrote:

Dylan's song about "Serving Someone" has everything to do with religion and bugger all to do with social activism. It's about antipathy to social activism, in fact, and is an expression of religious "pride". That's why John Lennon mocked it so mercilessly - Lennon was, after all, an atheist (and was eventually murdered by a Christian fundamentalist) . Dylan's song is about abandoning the struggle for social justice and "finding Jesus" instead.

Even though this has more to do with the Christian phase than electric guitars I still don't believe you.  Can you explain your stance with direct reference to the music?

 

ebodyknows ebodyknows's picture

The boring repetitiveness is all you got?

BTW I'm familiar with your pop music, in the interest of keeping this conversation from being one sided you should acknowledge my pop music.

 

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