Since I've never really been into ska-punk, I didn't expect to find myself writing about the new album from The Interrupters, except for the fact that their press materials trade on the band's professed love of 2 Tone--something that is lazily regurgitated in reviews like this one in AP and this one in Rolling Stone (Australia). The reason this irks me is that The Interrupters' sound is clearly derived from Rancid's popular punk rock take on ska (which, of course, Tim Armstrong--who produced this album--pioneered with Operation Ivy back in the late 80s) and bears little resemblance to the music of the 2 Tone groups. But what I find really disturbing--and what's compelling me to write this post--is how The Interrupters are draping themselves in 2 Tone's mantle while advocating right-wing and libertarian viewpoints that are the polar opposite of those espoused by The Specials, The Selecter, The Beat, et al. You should know what you're buying into before you decide to support this band. The music and the message matter--particularly in a genre of music that has a long history of decrying social and economic injustice.
I was alerted to The Interrupter's politics by my friend Matthew, who has rather cheekily dubbed the band as "Tea-Tone," since their singer, Aimee Allen (AKA Aimee Interrupter), is a libertarian (essentially, anti-tax and anti-federal government) and huge Ron Paul supporter (check out "Ron Paul Revolution," a song she wrote and recorded in support of Ron Paul's 2008 presidential bid; its words are here), and The Interrupters' lyrics seem steeped in Tea Party buzz words and phrases (more on that below). Allen also is on the record stating some pretty radical, right-wing things--check out her interviews with Patriot Movement conspiracy theorist Alex Jones here, here, here, here, and here (and, while you're at it, read what the Southern Law Poverty Center has to say about Alex Jones here). She's also convinced that the CIA hired some "Mexican gang members" to violently attack her several years ago (apparently, it had something to do with her 2003 "Revolution" song and her label folding?). If you do a Google search on her, you'll find yourself in some pretty dark, paranoid places on the internet, as she's popular with that crowd.
While The Specials' and other 2 Tone groups' songs are filled with a great deal of anger, frustration, and outrage at the government, this rage was focused on the British government's policies regarding youth unemployment, the police's oppressive treatment of black citizens and non-white immigrants through the dreaded SUS law (akin to the racial profiling police policy of "stop and frisk" here in the US), and deep cuts to the social safety net (if you don't believe my take on The Specials' songs and their politics, see Dick Hebdige's "Cut and Mix" or Paul Williams' "You're Wondering Now").
The Specials weren't interested in tearing down their national government--they wanted it to do more to help the people--particularly their despondent peers. The Specials believed that government could and should have been the vehicle to solve the many dire socio-economic issues plaguing England in the late 70s and early 80s (a perfect example is how they criticized Margaret Thatcher's government for not doing enough to support working class young people in the midst of severe economic depression and massive unemployment in "Ghost Town:" "Government leaving the youth on the shelf...No job to be found in this country.") The Specials didn't believe that the free market would resolve these issues (because the purpose of business is to make money, not solve societal problems or serve the greater good--the bottom line is all that matters), nor did they think a "Lord of the Flies"/every man for himself approach would fix things either. The Specials also promoted multiculturalism, tolerance, racial unity, and actively supported Rock Against Racism (during a time when the National Front and other racist groups were on the rise and frequently attacking non-white people--including Lynval Golding, prompting him to write the song "Why?")--and later The Special AKA created the anti-apartheid movement's brilliant anthem, "Nelson Mandela" (and in 1986 Jerry Dammers founded the UK chapter of Artists Against Apartheid).
In contrast, Aimee Interrupter enthusiastically supports libertarian Ron Paul in his anti-tax/anti-"big" government quest to dismantle the Federal government and all of its agencies (more on that below) in favor of establishing "states rights," which, since the day Ronald Reagan infamously launched his 1980 presidential bid, signifies a dog whistle call for rolling back of all of the federal anti-discriminiation and voting rights laws that resulted from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. While I don't know if Paul is personally racist or not (though his past newsletters strongly suggest he is), his libertarian goals happen to coincide with what many right-wing racists want (the reinstatement of Jim Crow laws in the former states of the Confederacy) and I don't think Paul minds consorting with them in order to achieve his vision.
This 2012 New Yorker profile by Kelefa Sanneh notes Paul's opposition to one of the most important pieces of anti-discrimination legislation in America's history: "[Ron Paul] opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and reiterated his opposition less than a decade ago, on its fortieth anniversary, arguing that, by mandating “forced integration,” the act “increased racial tensions while diminishing individual liberty.” Paul sometimes seeks to offset this principled stance by reiterating his respect for civil-rights heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, even as he maintains that their political opponents were right."
In this recent piece, Nick Ramsey of MSNBC highlights some of Ron Paul's stances that are far outside mainstream political thought, are counter to firmly established American law, and some of which have no basis in reality: "In his 2011 book “Liberty Defined,” Paul wrote that the notion that everyone has a right to medical care “is an intellectual error;” in 2003, he asserted that the separation of church and state has “no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers;” he once told FOX News that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all “technically” unconstitutional; and in 2007, Paul told NBC News’s Tim Russert that Abraham Lincoln could have avoided the Civil War by simply buying and releasing all of the slaves in the Southern states. In a 2012 Republican debate, Paul claimed that in the 1960s “there was nobody on the street suffering with no medical care.” He’s also long said he wants the Federal Reserve, the CIA, and the federal income tax all abolished."
Paul wants all of this and more in the name of individual freedom (no matter what the cost to the common good).
Let's see how Paul's brand of libertarianism plays out in The Interrupters' lyrics (which can sometimes be mistaken for the typical--and good--"question authority" stance of most punk rock bands). Like many people on the far right-wing of the American political spectrum, Aimee Allen (based on her lyrics) seems to be suffering from a persecution complex--she thinks the government is literally out to get her at every turn (check out all of the lyrics about the FBI and CIA coming after her--though it's never spelled out why--simply for being a Ron Paul libertarian?). It's a very self-centered and paranoid view of the world. But it's the fantasy that fuels this political ideology (it's a given that the federal government is oppressive and determined to deny me my freedom through taxes and regulation and Social Security, etc., so we need to get rid of government).
Album opener "Take Back the Power" conveys the anti-tax and the we're-so-oppressed-our-rights-are-gone worldview held by libertarians and Tea Party-types:
"Whatcha gonna say
When they strip your rights away
And the taxman makes you pay
For every bead of sweat you bled today"
It appears that these lyrics were (disconcertingly) structured along the lines of The Specials' "It's Up to You" (sing the song in your head, but substitute the lyrics above and you'll see what I mean)--which is about The Specials stating that they're going to keep on playing their music and communicating their anti-racist/anti-violence message no matter what the audience response is, but it's also reminding the black and white listeners that they have to power and the personal responsibility to decide whether to unite or fight (and how this decision can make their society better or worse off). It's a moral challenge that every one hearing the song has to decide to accept: "What you gonna do, when morons come for you? They won't go away, they want the whole world painted grey..." The enemy here isn't government (or the fact that you have to pay taxes that go towards providing infrastructure or services that are used by and benefit everyone), but racists, the National Front, the British National Party, giving in to one's worst instincts or complacency--and the question is: are you going to do the right thing?
"Take Back the Power" also includes these lyrics that seem more real and relevant to black Americans in Ferguson, MO and many other places in the USA than to a white pop singer in LA (who's receiving lots of press for an album full of anti-government, libertarian lyrics that's clearly not being censored by anyone, since you can find the reviews all over the internet and in printed publications):
"Whatcha gonna do
When they show up in black suits
On your street in army boots
And they're there to silence you"
The over-the-top lyrics in The Interrupters' "Liberty" express the common right-wing/Tea Party fear that we're all terrifyingly close to living in some sort of Orwellian totalitarian state:
"Better quiet down
Don't speak your mind
Nod your head like everything's fine
Don't verbalize it
Cause if they hear you
They'll hunt you down and disappear you
They took it away, they got complete control
Where did my liberty go?"
Though, if we were living in something closely resembling a totalitarian state, The Interrupters probably wouldn't be out and about singing right-wing protest songs about living in--and rebelling against--a totalitarian state. Being able make some money off of singing about living in a society without liberty kind of proves that there is a fair amount of freedom left in said society, right?
While The Specials explicitly deplored and denounced violence (see "It Doesn't Make It Alright"; also The Selecter's "Celebrate the Bullet" and The Beat's "Two Swords"), "Can't Be Trusted" asserts that you need a gun handy at all times--and to be ready to actually use it--because the government's agents are coming to get you (though it's never exactly spelled out why they'd be pursuing the singer):
"I don't trust no one
under my pillow there's a loaded gun
The CIA, they wanna put me away
The FBI just sent another spy
The FBI, get your hands off me
There's no judge, no jury--Patriot Act took our liberty
They're tapping our phones, breaking down our doors
Waging on the people, it's a civil war and it's a police state
Jefferson's rolling over in his grave
and you can't be trusted
I don't trust no one
under my pillow there's a loaded gun"
It's dogma amongst far right-wingers and Tea Party types that they all need their guns to protect themselves against the US government--and that any and reasonable and sensible attempts at gun control (in a nation plagued by an extraordinary number of gun deaths--you can read a year's worth of horrifying reports on daily gun carnage in the US here) are part of a nefarious plot to take away the very guns from "patriots" who are somehow keeping an oppressive government at bay with those very same guns. Never mind that the Second Amendment was written with the intent of citizens having the right to be armed--with muskets!--in order to serve in militias to protect the newly-formed and vulnerable United States of America--not for Americans to violently overthrow their own government--or even to protect themselves individually. (There are definitely very legitimate concerns about how the NSA is collecting and analyzing the data of all of Americans' phone calls, emails, and internet usage--in the name of fighting terrorism--but the dystopian America she's describing here just isn't anywhere near real.)
I could go on, but you get the picture.
With right-wing politics like these, The Interrupters have no right to claim/subvert/pervert 2 Tone's legacy.
Ska fans, caveat emptor. Know your product.
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Update (9/10/14): Below, please find a response from The Interrupters' guitarist Kevin Bivona. Also, The Duff Guide to Ska will be doing an interview with The Interrupters in the near future...
"Ok here we go… Thank you very much for listening to our album and being moved enough to write this article. For better or worse, we do appreciate feedback and every listen we get. However, we DON’T identify ourselves as libertarians or Tea Party. In fact, we don’t identify ourselves as anything, as we believe putting people in boxes is divisive. I do understand how you came to your conclusion regarding Aimee’s politics, but I don’t see how you can use a young persons 2008 political song and a few interviews she did 6 years ago and apply them to a creative project they are involved in in 2014, when you don’t even know them personally. Aimee is one of the most politically open-minded and evolving people I’ve ever met and she NEVER judges or puts people down based on their political beliefs. She is on a constant quest for knowledge and if you ask her about her politics today, they will most definitely be different than yesterday (let alone 2008). As for the 2-Tone parallel. We love all those records and what we do have in common is we all come from working class families. We know a few of the Specials and a few members of the Beat. They seem to like our band just fine. The politics in their music applied to the time and place that they made those records. We never get too specific when talking about the politics in our music because we want to people to be able to interpret and apply them in any way they can. They are actually rather general (us against them, united we stand divided were fall etc..) Also, as a band, the 4 of us think different politically and like to debate issues. That being said, Aimee doesn’t even write all the lyrics to our songs, in particular the ones you attributed to her. My favorite part about playing in a punk rock or ska band is the unity in the scene.. Until I see articles like this: meant to divide or turn people off :’ they can’t come to the party because I don’t like what their singing about’ when in fact, you don’t even really know what we are singing about. We are most definitely NOT a ‘right wing’ band… but if we were , I would hope we would get the same shot as everyone else. That’s the great thing about America right? Freedom of choice and diversity. whether it be politics, religion, music.. pretty much anything. You seem to take the blog pretty seriously, so all I ask is before you slam the next band for their beliefs or lyrics (or your assumption thereof), maybe try reaching out to them to see if you can understand each other and find common ground then being just another article on the internet meant to put someone down. You play in a ska band and you are hurting your own scene. Let’s try and keep everything positive and have fun, you only live once. Not saying you have to like my band, or I have to like yours. But we need to have a mutual respect because there isn’t a lot of us left. I bet we have a lot of the same records and agree on more things than we disagree."