Adventures in Tribalism: Trading Rock Bandsby Don Lacey on Aug. 28, 2012, under Art & Culture, Critical Thinking, Freethought, Question of the Day!, Reason
We were zooming down the Kansas turn pike in the depths of a long distance road trip. Out of our speakers came the chaotic rage of raw, punk rock, fury. The friend I was traveling with looked over at me from the steering wheel and said, “Man, Flux of Pink Indians was such a great punk band but why did they have to be a bunch of English wankers?”
Indeed, we have all experienced pride from having a great musician, artist, or public figure being from the same piece of geography we are from especially if it is someone from the same, city state, or region of the country as us. It gives us a sense of a connection. As our road trip progressed, this idea gave way to an interesting thought experiment. What American bands would we be willing to give up to have our favorite foreign bands native to the United States?
Questions were asked like: Would you be willing to give up the Beach Boys to have the Who as an American band? Would you be willing to give Jimi Hendrix to the British to have The Beatles as an American band? I wouldn’t, and I like The Beatles quite a bit. It may seem like a silly thought experiment, but I’m sure many American rockers would have loved to have AC/DC as their hometown heroes. Would they be willing to sacrifice Van Halen for this? How about The Doors for Pink Floyd, anybody?
It seemed some acts like the Stooges, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, The Velvet Underground, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis were completely non-negotiable. Nothing would make us trade those. At the same time, maybe we could trade away some of the awful bands that have tarnished this country’s musical reputation. For example, we could pawn off Creed to the Canadians, but they would probably make us take Nickleback in return, which just would not be worth it!
Of course, if we are going to have all these great acts born and raised in America, the following question arises: where in the country should we have them born and raised to maximize their American awesomeness? How Led Zeppelin coming out of the Mississippi delta? Or the Clash coming from Detroit? Or the Jesus and Mary Chain coming from Seattle? This means that we were definitely biased towards the notion that great music comes out of miserable parts of the country.
Of course that is where the thought experiment breaks down. There are many great musicians who sound the way they do because of their experiences and the places they are from. For example, I couldn’t imagine King Crimson, David Bowie, or The Beatles making the music they made without coming from Britain. In the same way, the music of Walon Jennings and Tupac Shakur are uniquely American. Other countries at the time did not have country music or gangster rap traditions that these artist built upon.
My point is rather than wish our heroes, whether musical or otherwise, were from the place you are from we should be happy that we live in a time where technology allows us to experience amazing things from all over the world. After all, our creative output is the result of our own personal experiences that really cannot be duplicated. While this was a fun thought experiment, in real life a great many of these people may not have actually pursued in their parallel universe alternate lives. Also, everyone being from the same place would make for a lot less creative diversity. I find that the need to have home town heroes, who are always number one, to be a prevalent one, but perhaps it is time for people, to move away from this kind of tribalism. Then again, maybe it’s all just good fun!