Chilled, pox-on-both-houses music. “The man” is ready to clamp down on the kids, with his pistol. But the hothead revolution kids are not alright, are paranoid, and are quite simply “wrong.” Parental instructions for “children” to stop, cool down, listen to others. Dialogue as submission.
Without this song—the one often sung by South African White friends as an un-national anthem during apartheid—without this song, no ancient cults of Sixto Rodriguez. It’s his one underground hit record (though never a single), and it is a tower of weird. Opening peregrinating bassline says we’re on the streets, checking out the entrance to her apartment while vaguely musing about soldiers, class, and race. If the revolution is a kind of romantic love (Warren Beatty’s Reds, for example), then its first wonderments are like a bad breakup’s hangover: obsessing over her sleeping habits, running through her list of awful friends. In relation to the State of Apartheid, were even its children of privilege like spurned lovers?
Produced by Roger Waters, Animals (1977) sounds like dry ice. There’s no place or space in this mix for a psychedelic communion of instruments. Instead, voices are constantly modulating toward machines, and the guitar delivers its message in biting, often atonal shards. This revolution is serious business. Translating capitalism into the terms of the animal fable, Roger Waters discovers three relevant categories: pigs (the one percent), dogs (aspirants, or those aggressively playing the “game”), and sheep (perfect victims). Religion, invented by the system in order to produce quiescent meat, is skewered; Waters rewrites Psalm 23 as preparation for the abattoir, and proposes, in its place, a rather unlikely but decidedly low-tech alternative: karate training. Karate, however, is deeply intertwined with the history of buddhisms. It is in no sense a secular practice, and its spiritual dimensions have provided platforms for both state rule and capitalist accumulation. (Indeed, Žižek says that if Max Weber were alive today, he’d likely write a book on the “buddhist ethic and the spirit of global capitalism”). Meanwhile, the sheep, who have become martial arts masters, achieve a Pyrrhic victory: “the dogs are dead,” but the pigs are still overhead, ready to carpet bomb. Even if your kicks are fast as lightning, you can’t defeat aerial bombardment by those who preside over the garrison state, with their cloven hooves on the triggers. So how do we read the sign “karate”? As hope from the East? As a weapon of the weak? As always already defeated and coopted? Whatever karate brings to the table, it still cannot execute a pork chop.
“Communists devout” protest the Party “line” that alliances be made with “bourgeois groups” and even, ugh, Socialists. No coherence to such “kaleidoscopic” politics, and, meanwhile, what happens to the Revolution? “It can wait.” But, in truth, it hasn’t arrived, yet, and such brinksmanship risks what Mangabeira Unger calls “the dangerous limiting case of transformative politics.” The empty purity of the hard line.
Verbal whipping of “niggers,” who are “everything but themselves” these days. Which is to say: American Blacks are degraded, violent, sex-obsessed, pimping fools, and need to be shocked into recognizing who they really are, if the Revolution is to come. Background drums make it crystal clear: these figures must recover their African roots, and get behind the beat. But where’s the Revolution in such disciplinary maneuvering? Or: if patrolled identity normativity is the pre-condition of Revolution, then the Revolution is everything but itself.
Purportedly part of the soundtrack for the alleged Malvo sniper shootings, professing the 5% knowledge of holy black masculinity. With only the mind “free,” dualism of war/peace favors the former in the mode of Black complacency/suicide; put another way, survival becomes a “revolutionary war” unto itself. Seeking the “black nation” that can be “absorb[ed]”; submerging the necessity of taking arms in order to purify, but never exceed, the white supremacist state. To mind, much more has been taken in the name of purity. The ballot in this formulation, though, is the bullet.
Dismissal of physical world for revolution “within.” Disembodied monadism as way to find “new voice” and “new law”: prog inversion of “Amazing Grace,” but god doesn’t care. The decision to “take the time” equates subjectivity with self-sufficiency; closed system logic denies social to craft solipsistic refuge. Fetishization of “invention” with denial of (inevitable) lineage.
The teenage masses as troubled swallowing machine(s): quasi revolutionary (sub)urban teenagers ingest both corporate and counterhegemonic sweetness that possess similar “wrappers.” An “extinct” esophageal disease resurfaces at moment when revolution can be digested.
Tritone half-steps—no half-steppin’—lope forward then back, while a ballad alternates with admonishment. Apocryphal stories have either Spiro Agnew or H.R. Haldeman calling Atlantic Records and condemning the album, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse, leading to its burial. And it’s really a burial that McDaniels wants us to consider. Rather than “ignore the graves we dance upon,” there’s a question of praxis involved. In an easy vein, we could take the trax at face value. Take note, hedonists, hippies, and the young: nothing you do will stop nuclear destruction, global hunger, or the spread of unfreedom. You’ve lost your way and insult those revolutionaries that came before you. But hold on. In “The Parasite (For Buffy),” the Pilgrim’s domination of natives begins (and continues) an incessant narrative of power choosing division over “breath[ing] freedom.” Likewise, McDaniels pegs the military-industrial complex as the owners of the “chess board” in “Headless Heroes,” resigning Jews and Arabs, left- and right-wings, and “niggers and crackers” to duke it out among themselves. How should we properly memorialize the dead? By founding a new sense of experience and dancing in a different way. To “speak of the future,” the checklist of basic liberatory goals and desires should be recategorized as a basically banal bare minimum. The “amount of dancing” we do won’t “make us free.” “Be[ing] in touch with your own humanity” initiates dissatisfaction with a liberal recognition and a move toward some new “news.” “Gather ‘round” and “be free” if and only if what you want exceeds the possibilities that this limited sense of the world offers. That way, “justice and equality” won’t have to be brought to anyone.
Renounces violent legal and institutional change in the present, in favor of a preliminary project of individual moral reformism (“free your mind”): the final, most sinister implication of the doctrine, “All you need is love.” Backing track downshifts the impulse to “rock” toward quietistic, contemplative, shooby-doo-wop shuffle. The famed altered lyric in this White Album version, “Don’t you know that you can count me out/in,” amounts to a bit of pandering, really, toward all self-styled revolutionists. Let’s compare it to Marx (Groucho, that is), and his more general allergy to community and inclusion: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” Marx will have none of it; Lennon, on the other hand, doesn’t want to be bound to the insurgency and its strictures, but would like to continue to serve as sniping, spiritual advisor from the sidelines. Coming off more than a bit Fabian in inclination (and no, not Fabian Forte), it’s useful to remember that the Fabian Society was named after the general Fabius Maximus (280-203 BC), known as the “Cunctator,” or the “Delayer.” Putting off revolution while remaining comfortably glum.