Somehow it has become a common notion that music celebrities are more leaning toward the left of center of the political spectrum. This could be due to the fact that the ideals of the left put a lot of emphasis on freedom of expression and creating a better world, to put it loosely—both of which are convenient subjects of the art form.
But musicians, as artists, tend to be vacillating. They always seem to espouse leftist subjects in their lyrics and are influenced by associated political philosophies, but most do not necessarily profess their politics or get directly involved. Not to mention, the left, itself, contains a broad spectrum of –isms and a lot of artists do not necessarily care about where they fall in.
Except for a few famous music celebrities who know what they are talking about enough to admit direct affinity with an ideology. And here, we are talking about the extreme left. But because these –isms are as complicated as the modern world itself, this article would rather not label these musicians’ politics and would instead loosely use the term “Marxist” pertaining to the political philosophy that they admit to read and subscribe to.
When asked by Playboy magazine if he were supposed to be a socialist, John Lennon said that in England, you are either for the labor movement or for the capitalist movement. In that sense, he claimed to be an “instinctive socialist” but still admitted to the contradictions brought on by his being a millionaire rockstar.
John Lennon was a political symbol. A voice that fought for the workers’ rights, the future of the youth, and against anything that the consumerist society stood for during his time. He was the anti-establishment Beatle. His contributions to the repertoire have always been seen in stark contrast with the rest of the band. As a Beatle, he was clear with his social and political causes, but these were only prescient to his anti-war involvements which sparked over the course of his relationship with artist, Yoko Ono.
Aside from being present in the campaigns against racism and the Vietnam War, and creating songs that later on became anthems of the movement such as “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance,” Lennon also contributed financially to known left-wing causes. It was even found out that the FBI has a large file on Lennon and has been tailing him until his assassination.
Guitar virtuoso, Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine is an Occupy Movement staple. Onstage, he is the folk soloist, Nightwatchman. Offstage, he is fulfilling activist duties as a cardholder of quintessential labor union, Industrial Workers of the World.
Morello has been doing the rounds even before the Occupy Wall Street campouts shook the world. Taking a break from the tour dates of the usual music celebrities, his was performances and speaking engagements on makeshift stage at an Occupy protest in Los Angeles, Chicago or Vancouver or across the pond in Nottingham or Newcastle.
In 2006, Morello was one of the 400 protesters who were arrested in a demonstration in Los Angeles in support of immigrant hotel workers’ rights. He also actively supported labor campaigns such as the strikes of California grocery workers and LA janitors as well as the Guess and Taco Bell boycotts.
Finding the need to celebrate music and hard-line activism as a common cause, he co-founded the Axis of Justice with fellow music celeb, Serj Tankian of System of a Down. Axis of Justice aims to gather musicians, fans and political organizations to “effectively organize around issues of peace, human rights, and economic justice.”
“I’m down to start a socialist party because President [Barack] Obama is not socialist.” System of a Down’s lead vocals, Serj Tankian, said it straight in an interview with American Rock Scene. Soon after, he was launching into a diatribe about how Republicans and critics are tagging the president a socialist when in fact his policies were more centrist, and were sometimes even leaning toward the right of center. Tankian claims that America needs a healthy left-wing party and that the two-party system makes a mockery out of democracy.
As Axis of Justice co-founder, he talks about encouraging music fans, especially festival goers, to participate in the “non-commercial” aspect of music distribution.
Joe Strummer’s band, The Clash, redefined the punk scene both in music and lyrics. During his time, punk rock was dismissed as just a bunch of misfits who know how to play a chord or two. All that changed when the Sex Pistols took center stage, and somehow, when The Clash started hitting the pubs of England, the idea that punk represents the working class youth counterculture’s socio-political milieu became influential even to the more recent music celebrities of the genre such as Green Day.
Joe Strummer himself was politically inspired and inspirational. Like Lennon, he became a working class icon. He was considered by many as radically left and has openly supported revolutionary struggles of his time, whether or not he was directly guided by any Marxist socialist or national liberation movement.
Simply, 90s hiphop icon Tupac Shakur was an active member of the Young Communist League of Maryland. His family was extremely leftist. He was raised by parents who were both active members of the Black Panther Party in New York during the 60s and 70s. His mother, Afeni Shakur carried him while she was fighting 150 charges of conspiracy against the United States government and New York landmarks or the so-called Panther 21 case. He was born a month after her mother and her comrades were acquitted.
Shakur, known in the hiphop world as “2pac,” practically grew up with activist godparents and had play dates with fellow sons and daughters of the revolution. When he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, a “revolutionary.” He was 10.
His teenage years were spent organizing community youths, distributing pamphlets, and agitating the crowd with his speeches and later on, social realist verses. He even used to date the daughter of the chairman of the Communist Party of Maryland.
Like Lennon, Shakur also died by assassination. The Young Communist League of Maryland is now known as the Tupac Shakur Club. Shakur became one of the music celebrities whose posthumous record sales soared higher than when they were alive.