How rock gods think: the politics of Nick Cave and Thom Yorke

If you think of contemporary human politics in terms of class, race and various kinds of entitlement and privilege, at the top of the pile you’ll see, as if sitting on Mount Olympus in a cheesy palace of marble and velour, male, mostly white rock stars. Rock music is a prime site for the amplification of capitalist subjectivities, a key axis of possibility for cultural reproduction, and of course it is a notoriously exploitative, racist and misogynistic industry. It’s interesting that just as fiction writers don’t often address the capitalist underpinnings of literature’s creation and policing, rock music rarely speaks about the music industry’s rapacity, its valorising of masculine desires, and objectification of women and demeaning of their achievements. Off the top of my head I can only think of three songs that attack the predatory nature of the music industry, and two of them are by the same band.

Still, music produced mostly by millionaires is terribly important to just about everybody. Music gets under your skin and in your head in the way that books don’t, and often does so at a crucial time in your life. If you are distressed, or overwhelmed, or even just happy, it’s a common practice to play your favourite music. Music outfoxes literature in that regard. The psychoanalyst and essayist Adam Phillips said that Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks meant more to him than anything Freud ever wrote, and statements like that sound about right. If you construct a sentence that goes ‘Such-and-such an album is more important to me than …’ you might find a surprising number of things on the list. So when one of our cherished male rock gods reveals himself to be not just devoid of divine insight but apparently as comfortable in his bloated privilege as Hugh Hefner was in his dressing gown, it can feel like a real betrayal. (I’ll come back to the feelings of betrayal later, because they are worth thinking about.)

If rock music amplifies capitalism’s misogyny, racism and male entitlement, it’s not surprising that rock star politics are often built out of those things. Enter Nick Cave (on the heels of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke), whose recent arguments justifying his tour of Israel and ignoring of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its confrontation with the racist, criminal politics of the Israeli state, sit squarely within that tradition. Often considered to be something of a rock intellectual Cave said that, ‘After a lot of thought and consideration, I rang up my people and said, “We’re doing a European tour and Israel.” Because it suddenly became very important to make a stand against those people who are trying to shut down musicians, to bully musicians, to censor musicians, and to silence musicians.’ Apart from being utterly politically tone-deaf and avoidant of the urgent arguments of BDS and Artists for Palestine, Cave’s extensive ‘thought and consideration’ reveal a lunkheaded, spiteful, brattish kind of violent petulance that reeks of white entitlement.

In my day job I run an outfit that works with men who use violence and abuse in the home. When I started work there I thought I had a good handle politically on feminist understandings, on structural misogyny and how male privilege works under capitalism. This was bullshit of course. But what I’ve since discovered in working amid the daily devastation of male uses of violence is that misogyny and male privilege and entitlement are everywhere, and are actively replicated all the time, in minute detail, not just by lying fascists like Peter Dutton, but also in what is often considered to be liberal progressive politics. When Nick Cave came out with his inane and frightening arguments about BDS, and Thom Yorke hit back at criticism of Radiohead’s gigs in Tel Aviv on the grounds that people were hurting the feelings of Radiohead’s guitarist Jonny Greenwood, whose partner is an Israeli, I immediately thought of the arguments that the men we work with use to justify their actions. First there’s an astonished outrage, a hurt disbelief that anyone could question how good they are. Then as they briefly stumble around locked in the encounter with an alternative view of themselves, a kind of existential confusion makes its appearance. Feelings of shame kick in, most often resulting in some sort of pushback; accusations, denials, and attempts to create irrelevant descriptions of the opposing view that can be trumpeted as major logical fallacies (‘You are censoring musicians!’). In this way their omnipotent position can be re-established, and their own sense of victimhood paraded. Cave pretty much acknowledged this when he said that in fact it was BDS that made him break the boycott – Not only am I going to hurt you, but it’s your fault. By his own admission, Cave experienced the arguments of BDS and Artists for Palestine as personal humiliation.

Peter Dutton follows this paranoid hyper-vigilant pattern all the time. It’s virtually all he does. Of course, in working professionally with men who are abusive in this way helping them to identify their shame and stay there with it for a little while, is the heart of the work. It’s tricky stuff because if you get it wrong that shame will find its way out into the world as a backlash against others, usually women and children.

But nobody has the capacity to ensure that kind of containment happens with privileged rock stars. They famously rebound from catastrophic events that would destroy the career of anyone else. In the case of Cave and Yorke, they’ve both doubled-down on their commitment to breaking the artistic boycott of Israel and in the process handed major propaganda opportunities to a militarised, racist and murderous occupation. Cave’s ignorance and Yorke’s mindboggling lack of self-awareness directly contribute to reinforcing the legitimacy of the violence of the Israeli state. What was interesting about the arguments of both of Cave and York, is that neither addressed the concerns of BDS. Cave didn’t say, ‘Well, I support Israel’s occupation because …’, and Yorke didn’t build a nuanced refutation of Palestinian self-determination. Again, this is a prime strategy of the hurt white male: avoid the topic in question, and find your way back to victim-blaming by assuming martyrdom.

Running rings around Cave and Yorke’s blithering stupidity and chronic narcissism isn’t hard. And nobody would care, if they weren’t both such internationally loved and revered figures. It’s easy, in a way, to get on board with the condemnation of Harvey Weinstein. He’s always and obviously been an unpleasant individual who radiates creepy brutality. Even if you don’t really get feminist politics, you’re probably not going to try and put forward a defence of his actions. It’s harder when it comes down to celebrity predators who trade on their likeableness, like Louis CK or George Takei. Rock stars have that kind of unconditional regard magnified by a zillion. Rock stars are what film stars wish they were. Rock stars get into our hearts the way that film stars, or anyone else for that matter, don’t. We get married while their songs play, dance to their rhythms, hum their melodies under our breath on the train to work, and sing their lyrics in times of despair and exaltation.

So when these heroes of our inner lives are revealed to be reactionary, childish and bullying, thuggishly committed to courses of action that are so clearly aligned with the cruellest, bloodiest and most malicious desires and intentions of the Most High, and so out of tune, as it were, with their own songs, songs we have become so dependent on, it can feel like a betrayal of a kind.

What has happened is that capitalism has let us down, again. We became invested in its circuits of desire and longing, and it let us down. In her essay on climate change The myth of apathy the psychoanalyst Renee Lertzman wrote that our despair and paralysis about what is overwhelming us as capitalism devours the planet is not a product of our acquiescence, of our inability to give a fuck. We are overwhelmed because we care too much, too intensely; because our melancholia, born out of our arrested ability to mourn – and speak of it – is real.

In a way, I don’t expect rock gods to be able to think straight. When you become intergalactically adored at the age of twenty for writing a few love songs, the impact on your ability to be a coherent thinker and an integrated individual must be phenomenal. When our musical heroes prove to be so terribly lame, it’s tempting to imitate them: to deny, to evade and wait til the fuss dies down, to pretend that mourning isn’t real and disguise it as martyrdom, or to avoid the conclusion that capitalism got you again. If you are a Nick Cave or Radiohead fan, there are any number of ways you might manage out their endorsement of appalling proto-fascist ideologies that comes with their rejection of BDS and implicit endorsement of the horrific suffering of the Palestinians. But maybe there’s still a developmental task there, not just for people who have The Boatman’s Call or Hail to the Thief on high rotation, but for all of us; an impasse we haven’t yet negotiated.

In her recent book on psychosis, language and writers, Incandescent Alphabets, Annie Rogers writes of the way that language is encoded in and shapes our pre-linguistic awareness. There is always, with language, something unspeakable, something left over. Jacques Lacan wrote that encountering language is like being saturated by a stream of moving water. And we might add that even pre-linguistically, it is water already stained with capitalism’s demands and subjectivities.  The ‘water of language’ passes through us, says Lacan, and leaves ‘something behind as it passes, some detritus’ with which we play. And in this fragmented solitary, liminal, crowded playspace come to live and feed the songs that people like Nick Cave and Thom Yorke write.

Sometimes I think, in the depths of my own melancholia, only partly relieved by those songs that have become so important to me, that we inhabit some kind of poisoned timestream. In an alternative universe on an alternative Earth there is an almost identical rock music that created the same songs and albums, but one in which the lyrics have changed, lyrics that don’t celebrate the solemn ponderings of machismo, or cheer about rape, or make paternalistic, needy declarations of love.

But we don’t live there. We live here, on a burning planet dominated by capitalism’s disintegrating, savage and fraudulent ideas about love, the self, and the riddles of existence, where celebrity violence is rife, and where rock aristocrats like Nick Cave and Thom Yorke make the most gobsmacking statements about violent oppression, politics and artistic ‘freedom’ and sally forth as paid propagandists for bloody apartheid.

Giorgio Agamben said of the work of Maurice Blanchot that one of Blanchot’s preoccupations was the question, ‘How is literature possible?’ In the same way – remembering the unprecedented times in which we live, that require a reach of political understanding and compassion that capitalism is not capable of demonstrating – we can (also) ask, ‘How is rock and roll possible?’ And how can it become something much more connected and aligned with our experience of the tsunami of suffering that capitalism is inflicting upon us?

Perhaps it’s too late. Perhaps we actually need something else entirely. But one of the things that’s become obvious over the past few weeks, as sexual assault is revealed as a standard male greeting, is how bewildered a lot of powerful men are by the changes around them. Whether it’s Louis CK struggling to understand his own violence, or Tony Abbott and Lyle Shelton trying to spin the Same Sex Marriage vote as an endorsement of their violently homophobic views, or Nick Cave babbling about ‘censorship’ when faced with his complicity in endorsing apartheid savagery, things are really shifting. And maybe one day, long after Abbott is forgotten and Peter Dutton is a footnote in the history books under ‘Minor Thugs of the twenty-first century’, rock stardom will also be a curiosity, and rock gods an example of how stupid and damaging overweening narcissism and valorisation of machismo privilege can be to someone, the stupid shit it calls forth from their mouths in words so dear to the ears of fascists.



Image: Nick Cave / Thomas Helbig



Stephen Wright

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. In 2017, he won the Viva La Novella Prize. His winning novel, A Second Life, was published by Seizure, and also won the Woollahra Digital Literary Prize for Fiction.

More by Stephen Wright ›

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  1. I found this article completely unenlightening, without anything new to say, and not in the least challenging.

    It reads as though it must have been very easy to write.

    Not only that, the article’s thinking is incredibly black and white and either/or, lacking nuance. Everything is either this or it’s that. It’s too simplistic, obsequious and blandly conformist. Hardly in the vanguard of literary writing you’d expect from a so-called “literary journal”. Amongst the many and wonderful of genres of discourse in the world, the diverse plurality of writing, I would liken this piece to perhaps a nineteenth-century religious tract on the evils of the world, one that equally and crassly and dumbly divides us all into sinners and saints, proselytising and recruiting as it goes.

    Good luck to the missionary author and his or her zeal, and
    thanks to Overland for offering up a half-baked religiosity.

    1. Dear “Harvey Lucksetter”, I feel like maybe you’re not familiar with Overland? Around here, ‘reads like a ‘nineteenth-century tract or pamphlet’ is quite a compliment.

          1. This is the well reasoned, searing insight I expect from this website after reading this article.

  2. The emotionalism and ad-hominem attacks greatly hamper this essay, which is a great shame for the BDS argument and the moral righteousness to which it aspires. I have read much better arguments for BDS that don’t need to use vitriol. Why call Cave lunkheaded? Their “blithering stupidity”? Didn’t any editors go over this essay?

    I think both Cave and Yorke are very wrong. It is important to state why without allowing these kinds of lazy personal and emotive attacks. As the commenter above said, this reads like a jeremiad rather than lucid and persuasive writing.

    The last sentence, in particular, is truly poor. Wright has good points to make. So why drown them in hysterical vulgarity? Also, “sexual assault is revealed as a standard male greeting”? What relation does this have to reality?

    1. Thanks, McLyte, for calling my editing into question. That’s not in keeping with the revelations of this article, and the way it suggests men approach the world, at all.

      First, BDS is not ‘moral righteousness’; it’s a concerted political and economic tactic to end the occupation of Palestine and the oppression of Palestinians.

      To actively undermine such a campaign, to claim that musicians are those oppressed (note how Cave failed to mention Palestinians completely?) is foolish. Moreover, it’s entitled arseholery of the highest order. How does it personally affect Cave if he performs in Israel? It doesn’t, except insofar as he gets a few more $, and gets to feel like a hero while on a Hasbara tour – someone standing up against the thuggish left.

      But what does this tour do to the BDS movement? It’s a huge win for Israeli propaganda, because now they have another angle on which to fight the BDS – freedom of speech, the fantastical field on which the right pitch their straw houses.

      This essay was a revelation for me: it showed, quite clearly, the damage masculinity is wreaking in late capitalism; the ways men, in general, comprehend violence and their role in it.

      Your refusal to see merit in this argument, to accept a connection between this moment when misogyny is being revealed to be so commonplace that it appears natural, that predatory men are so ubiquitous that every woman has known one, is disappointing.

      As is your failure to grasp the meaning of ‘sexual assault is revealed as a standard male greeting’, given that so many thousands of women have shared such stories in the past month alone. Imagine what testimonies are to come.

      1. And maybe you are just wrong? maybe you are so misinformed? maybe the BDS lie to you? have you ever been to Israel? Are all Israelis the same? when does music become a tool of boycott? USA and UK have killed half million people in iraq the are still in Afghanistan? did you ask to boycott them? hypocrisy.
        you just make Nick Cave point stronger with your comment
        if you want I can send you the list of artist played in Israel the last year it is long very long and the list gonna play next year is even longer. are you gonna boycott all? are they all wrong??? BDS is an organization establish to to fight Israel right to exist they don’t care about Palestinians. if they really did they wouldn’t come with that stupid idea that boycott a whole nation is a smart move. boycott is for haters. don’t be hater be smart.
        peace and love from Israel.

        1. Check your history books, my friend: the BDS movement was started by Palestinians, just as the anti-Apartheid movement was started by South Africans.

          1. how is that contradict my comment? is that your best argument? do you support Hamas too?
            you don’t even understand what apartheid is.
            you didn’t answer any of my questions. why?

      2. Jacinda:

        “This essay was a revelation for me”

        Religious language. Perhaps you need to question your own devotion to the author’s rhetoric, for it seems you are under the sway of some kind of influence that is harmful to careful, thoughtful analysis and intelligent deliberation. As an editor you should be able to see both sides a little more widely than your narrow-minded author.

        And let me state, finally, that I am in sympathy with much of what the author says, especially in terms of white male privilege, Capitalism, and Peter Dutton (though not necessarily his views on Israel: “the racist, criminal politics of the Israeli state” — what utter bollocks!). It’s just that the article is so badly written it does no favours to the cause it wants to promote (and certainly won’t help The Left). It appeals to the emotions (whipping up a fervour, gathering in the pious devotees) and not to thinking and intellectual analysis.

        Lastly, I am not against a subjective rant, a subjective polemic such as the one above. But why does it have to be called “literary” and appear in a so-called “literary journal”? It’s hardly “literary”. There is no evidence of stylistic merit, intellectual integrity and quality, artistic endeavour, and so on. Nor does it contain even the slightest hint of any journalistic merit.

  3. Such a self righteous article. the author so full of himself. Nick Cave just told them what he feels. you just dont boycott a nation and not with music. when you boycott a nation it means you think that all Israelis are the same and that is absolutely the opposite of Music language. Nick Cave also said that he LOVE Israel and LOVE Israelis and as THE god of music MR. Leonard Cohen said “love’s the only engine of survival”
    Peace and love from Israel…

  4. How wonderful that everyone is as enlightened as Harvey and already knows the ‘conformist’ conclusions in this article. For me, it was refreshing to have the phenomenon of rock star betrayals so clearly added to all the others. While the analysis may not be brand new, the space for calling out these behaviours has opened up. We all need this article and many many more like it.

  5. “Off the top of my head I can only think of three songs that attack the predatory nature of the music industry, and two of them are by the same band.”

    ‘So You Wanna be a Rock and Roll Star’ – The Byrds
    ‘Have a Cigar’ – Pink Floyd
    ‘Barracuda’ – Heart
    ‘EMI’ – The Sex Pistols
    ‘Pull My Strings’ – The Dead Kennedys
    ‘Money for Nothing’ – Dire Straits
    ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ – Nirvana
    ‘Buy Me a Pony’ – Spiderbait
    ‘Praying’ – Keisha

      1. I’m not a fan of anything, least of all Nick Cave. Fandom is servility. (I thought you were dead, Valerie.)

  6. People generally ignore or outright disregard any calls to boycott “The Zionist Entity” because it’s generally well understood that the boycott has little to do with opposing any poor foreign or domestic policy on the behalf of the Israelis. The BDS campaign is primarily built on moral righteousness that has little to do with improving the lot of Arabs in the region as much as it is a cynical ploy to undermine Israel’s right to exist in and of itself: advocates aren’t interested in some kind of peaceful resolution in which all peoples can live side by side, they’re primarily interested in ensuring Jews don’t have self determination. In a broader sense, this is part of an imperialistic drive by local theocrats, landlords and dictators who don’t want to condone any kind of minority ethnic group in the region having their own country, whether that be Jews, Kurds, Druze, the Baloch, or anyone else.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean condoning everything Israel does, but the author appears unable to critically assess why Israel in particular gets so much attention when almost other states in the region are doing equally bad, if not worse, things themselves. The only way to legitimately criticise Israel is to admit it has the right to exist and defend itself first and foremost, and that is not something advocates of BDS do often because their campaign isn’t about trying to change Israeli policy as much as it is trying to convince people that Israel should magically stop existing. I hope the author is just ignorant.

  7. I like the psychological insight about why we put musicians on an altar.
    They are not Gods, just as football players are not heroes. They are modern day gladiators. Their sexism is legendary too.
    Why rage against political stupidity, or ignorance? Why would we expect Nick Cave to be educated about Isralei apartheid and the extreme suffering of the Palestinians? He’s a wealthy, priveleged artist living in Brighton.
    He’s fascinated with religious ideas.

    Peter Dutton is a MAJOR, not minor thug of the early 21st Century. What’s happening on Manus Island is a tragedy. Dutton has presided over the torture and neglect of hundreds of refugees.

  8. I wouldn’t presuppose to know or understand how or what rock stars think, but I support the article taking down male rock stars from the corporate misogynist pinnacles of their (and the capitalistic music industry’s) making. The lyrics to the following well known song, for example, boil down two lines only:

    “And do ya think that you’re the only girl around?
    I bet you think that you’re the only woman in town, ah, ooh yeah”

    It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

    If I could stick my pen in my heart
    And spill it all over the stage
    Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya
    Would you think the boy is strange?
    Ain’t he strange?

    If I could win ya, if I could sing ya
    A love song so divine
    Would it be enough for your cheating heart
    If I broke down and cried?
    If I cried?

    I said I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it
    I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it, like it, yes, I do
    Oh, well, I like it, I like it, I like it
    I said can’t you see that this old boy has been a lonely?

    If I could stick a knife in my heart
    Suicide right on stage
    Would it be enough for your teenage lust
    Would it help to ease the pain?
    Ease your brain?

    If I could dig down deep in my heart
    Feelings would flood on the page
    Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya
    Would ya think the boy’s insane?
    He’s insane

    I said I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it
    I said I know it’s only rock’n roll but I like it, like it, yes, I do
    Oh, well, I like it, yeah, I like it, I like it
    I said can’t you see that this old boy has been a lonely?

    And do ya think that you’re the only girl around?
    I bet you think that you’re the only woman in town, ah, ooh yeah

    I said I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it
    I said I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it
    I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it, yeah
    I know it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it, like it, yes, I do
    Oh, well, I like it, I like it, I like it, I like it
    I like it, I like it, I like it (only rock ‘n roll’) but I like it
    (It’s only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it (only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it
    (Only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it (only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it
    (Only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it (only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it
    (Only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it (only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it
    (Only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it (only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it
    (Only rock ‘n’ roll) but I like it, yeah, but I like it
    Oh and I like it, ooh yeah I like it

    Oh, poor boy. Poor, poor male rock star. and of course they like it, because such masculine actions and thoughts are enabled by the industry and society in which we live, but it’s more than rock n roll, it’s misogyny, and of course male rock stars like being patriarchal musical gods, like playing Hamlet to all those Ophelia’s in their songs, as in life, and all supported by the Male Military Capitalist Complex.

    Female singers and bands are starting to fight back though I have noted, of late. About time. A revolution has to start somewhere, so why not with the music, film industries of a dominant male pleasure.

  9. This article is actually dog shit. I agree with Harley, that it lacks nuance and is black and white.
    Firstly, after the most basic google search, i found thom yorkes actual opinion on the matter via his twitter “playing in a country isnt the same as endorsing its government. We’ve been playing in Israel for over 20 years through a succession of governments, some more liberal than others. As we have in america. We don’t endorse netanyahu any more than trump but we still play in america. music art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression.”

    There could have been a dialogue about these issues and the BDS and..uhh..maybe learn more about the apartheid.
    So much hate is spewed to radiohead and nick cave, “blithering stupidity, chronic narcissism.” That I wonder if something is going on with the writer (perhaps success envy, as a lot of strong emotional shows are. It’s easy to feel down and out in this world and want to take anger out on the popular, I’ve definitely done it before. Thom yorke and Nick cave are complete outliers in art and music, beyond gender or capitalism, and to lump their success as white male privilege and lumping them as just another millionaire is just naive. Proto-facist bands. …nice joke. Radiohead have done more to reveal the sad narratives present in this culture, they speak of alienation, climate change, governments, fascism. Have you actually gotten to know the band? There’s talk of some alternate reality with different lyrics. Seriously a joke…. Thom york the best lyricist in the world.

    “Ice age coming
    Women and children first
    We’re not scaremongering
    This is really happening”

    “Time is running out for us
    But you just move the hands upon the clock”

    “Has the light gone out for you?
    Because the light’s gone out for me
    It is the 21st century
    It is the 21st century
    It can follow you like a dog
    It brought me to my knees”

    “Your ears are burning
    Denial, denial
    Your ears should be burning
    Denial, denial”

    Like literally, where is the racism and amplification of capitalism ideals, the macho-ism ?? the article is no better than the slander of politicians and trump. like i said dog shit. just a mash of ideas and leftist buzz words. no wonder people scream SJW and leftist bullshit. sad to see the left so confused.

  10. This article (moreso than other, more nuanced takes on the subject) seems to be almost obsessive in its pursuit of geopolitical reductionism. It also seems to be either ignorant, or gleeful in it’s misrepresentation of, Thom Yorke’s comments. The point of his response to BDS’ criticism of his decision to play in Isreal (specifically the section concerning Jonny Greenwood, which has been wilfully misrepresented in this article for no other point than what I can only describe as a cheap gag) is not that their feelings were hurt (although that would presumably be a minor reaction to the testerical twitter rantings of BDS members), it was that it is disingenuous at best to suggest that the members of Radiohead, Greenwood in particular, would know nothing of the political reality in Israel as Greenwood has ties to the country, it is that simple. Also, let’s be frank, where was the scathing criticism of Mr Loach when it was found his films are distributed to Israel? And don’t tell me the excuse that was previously trotted out that it was promised to be distributed in Israel at a film festival in “the heat of the moment” by a lower-ranking member of the production company as that is capital N Not How Films Work. Bear in mind I say this as a fan of Mr Loach’s work, and was immeasurably affected by I, Daniel Blake, a film that spoke to me and my experiences as a working class person and the (mercifully) short time I spent unemployed.

    However, let’s continue, I think my main gripes with BDS are the inefficiency and wiggle room for exemptions, as otherwise it’s a movement with which I could associate myself. So, the inefficiency (for want of a better word) of the thing is the blanket nature of a ban (or boycott, whichever nomenclature you prefer) which I feel will ultimately be ineffectual. Since Israel is propped up by money from the US and UK governments (as well as probably more I’ve not been made aware of), I find it ultimately a pointless gesture to tell bands and other acts that they can’t play there as it’s unlikely to have any effect on the political situation. To really effect change, I’d suggest petitioning governments, your local representatives who can attempt to speak out about obvious issues with the Israel’s handling of the conflict with Palestine, however yes, heckling artists in screeds like this and in twitter rants is easier, so do whatever floats your boat. The wiggle room for exemption and exceptionalism is my other gripe, and the one that strikes me as the most (dare I say it) problematic aspect of the BDS movement. So, Israel’s government is morally objectionable and as such musicians shouldn’t play there as it legitimises the government – well this is reasoning that could be applied to the current US government, or the Tory party in the UK. After all, BDS members would most likely agree that Trump is a frequent displayer of fascist tendencies and is undeniably an unstable leader (points to which I would agree as well), yet no petitions or movements have been founded to launch an artistic boycott of any state of the US. The Tory party in the UK has implemented one of the most brutal disability assessments in the modern world, the thought of it happening in my country sickens me, austerity under the Tory party has been linked to the deaths of disabled people and this sickens me also, yet no movement has been founded to launch a artistic boycott of the UK. This is what I mean by wiggle room for exemption, could it be that most BDS movement members live in these countries and don’t want to be deprived of gigs by their favourite bands? Possibly, I won’t say that, but only because I don’t have to.

    A sidenote on the male-centric critique offered by the article, is the writer aware Beyoncé played a couple of shows in Israel last year? I’d like to see that mentioned if these criticisms are being offered up of all artists who’ve played Israel. As much as I hate how that point sounds like a “but why are men being criticised” bit of twitter bullshit, it’s a worthwhile point that should be addressed.

    Next, the rhetoric of the article itself. I’m not convinced by the point that mentions the fact that neither Yorke nor Cave offered up support of Israel’s occupation, perhaps this is because they don’t support the occupation? I mean, that’s obvious, surely, and I’d have liked to see some more actual discussion of the points Thom Yorke raised in his response to criticism from the BDS movement, instead of merely stating that arguing rings around them is easy. One of the first rules of writing is “show, don’t tell” so show us your debunking of it, don’t just tell us that it would be easy, as it leaves me a little unconvinced. Also, regarding the “chronic narcissism” quote, surely the same quality that you’ve accused Cave and Yorke of (i.e. ignoring the arguments posed to them and simply relating the argument back to themselves) is on display in this article. Apologies if I’ve misread, however that’s the way it appeared.

  11. Unsurprisingly, the people kicking up a stink about this article are either (presuming by their names on their posts) male and/or Nick Cave/Radiohead fans.

    So, if anything, these hotheaded and ignorant commentators are reflecting the very core of Stephen Wright’s thesis – that those who come from positions of power/privelege etc are prone to victimising themselves when they find themselves on the dangerous side of political debate. They can’t take the offence, as they’re so used to being from a position of power for so long, that they turn the argument around to make it about themselves and in the process completely eliminate important aspects of the argument. (Sorry for the very potter summary of just one aspect of a great article!)

    And then, on a smaller scale, you see offended Radiohead and Nick Cave fans spluttering all over threads like this because they don’t want to accept that the person or band they idolise has terrible politics. Anyone who questions the BDS movement is grossly ill informed and ignorant, attempting to critique its value to make themselves feel better about the problematic musicians they love and admire.

    Anyway, great work Stephen, as always. Brave of you to not just discuss the Palestine/Israel conflict, but to also critique Cave and Radiohead! Both topics unsurprisingly bring a lot of reactionary internet trolls with questionable politics out of the woodwork to do the dirty work for people like Yorke, Cave and Israel.

  12. I see that in his book “A Second Life” Stephen Wright uses the “dark heart” trope, as handed down by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Oh Mr Wright, peddling the tropes of a DWM and a racist and sexist to boot! You ought to be ashamed.

  13. I’m only going to reply once to the strange attacks from other men, and make no further comment. As Nora points out the praise/blame divide seems to be on gendered lines. That speaks volumes. The attacks also endorse my theses in spades, appear to be by men who haven’t read the essay in any detail, and continue to reiterate the same kind of defences and arguments for male privilege I will hear throughout the day at work.

    This is the whole problem: men constructing arguments or attacks on others in the name of ‘reason’ and continually revealing their entitlement and privilege.

    I’m intrigued – as I always am – by the fact that there is much rage and anger in the thread. I’d remind the fanboys that rage is the thing you demonstrate when something has prodded you where you’d prefer it didn’t – and you don’t really want to think about. And that this dynamic is what drives male privilege , demeaning of women and inability to genuinely and humbly self-reflect.

    1. Interesting. Your day job involves working with/on deranged males and you extrapolate this derangement to all males.

    2. “This is the whole problem: men constructing arguments or attacks on others in the name of ‘reason’ and continually revealing their entitlement and privilege.”

      But that is just a description of what you have done in this article.

      There is also “much rage and anger” in your article. You yourself are therefore perpetuating the very thing you criticise: “rage is the thing you demonstrate when something has prodded you where you’d prefer it didn’t – and you don’t really want to think about. And that this dynamic is what drives male privilege , demeaning of women and inability to genuinely and humbly self-reflect.”

      1. This completely! could even add his statement, “I’m only going to reply once, and make no further comment” – is similar to when men won’t engage or talk about their abusive actions/infliction’s. It’s so ironic. Personally I wouldn’t connect not wanting to engage with internet comments with ignorant abusive men, but as a point, it’s similar to the style of his logic

        And to blow it off as blind fanboyism is just so reductive as well. You mentioned Louis Ck, I’m a huge fan, but what he did was deeply saddening and I felt upset and angry that he acted that way. As much as a fan as I am, he deserves his career to be over, which it is (for now anyway), and it’s quite amazing at the precedent it’s setting.

        The whole problem with your writing is, you lump Nick Cave and Thom Yorke into the same category Ck and messed up white oppressor (proto-facist as you put it + misogynists + entitled). Yes, rock stars use their fame to sleep with women, and often become ego-maniacs. You would have been better off mentioning the emo band Brand New which is currently amidst controversy for this reason. But have Radiohead and Nick Cave been accused of this? No! They just played shows in Israel, and stated that art goes beyond borders. Yes their actions can be debated and discussed, but you actually haven’t done this, you just written this whole, you’re with us, or you’re against us mentality. Is this what the world needs more of? No it needs nuanced discussion.

        1. The irony is that Thom Yorke dislikes touring and hates the whole rockstar thing. He’s pretty open about it if you watch interviews, and my friend met him. Touring is literally just for fan service. All he wants to do is make art in his own world.
          I rarely get involved in comments, but it was when you called them Proto-facists that made me stray, seriously LOL. Facists who release their music for free, stopped their label from suing people who pirated their music. Wrote an album against the Bush Presidency (hail to the thief)

    3. I’m a queer person of colour, and very much not a fanboy as Nick Cave’s music really isn’t my thing. But I certainly don’t like racism, which is effectively where (generally white people’s) unrelenting, seething hatred of Israel in particular stems from. There’s no difference to someone calling me a homophobic epithet and the kind of animus that motivates many, if not the majority, in the BDS movement. Gender probably doesn’t really have much to do with it. If anything, I’d say you’re projecting very hard here to try and undermine the reasons why so many progressive, left-leaning or outright left-wing people are militantly opposed to BDS by trying to portray opposition to anti-semitic racism as inherently tied up with someone’s gender or class. I urge you to reconsider your support of the BDS campaign and to reflect on where your racist attitudes towards Jews stems from.

      1. I guess everyone who’s Jewish and sharing this article approvingly is anti-semitic too, or do you have another way of describing those readers? I guess, when anonymous, we can all be queer people of colour. (You could be a queer person of colour, or you could be the IDF’s Media and Publicity Department, that’s the beauty of anonymity.)

        But, ultimately, performing your identity has nothing to do with a murderous, racist occupation. Aside from the violent occupation of Palestine, you might be interested in reading up on the absolutely appalling treatment of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

  14. Great piece.

    Also interesting (read: disturbing yet sadly unsurprising but also puzzlingly blatant) that none of the critical responses have engaged with the link Stephen draws to the whining reasons the violent men he works with use to justify their behaviour and shift blame back onto those they hurt (and collectively onto all women).

    1. It’s a fair point, but that’s because it’s obvious and hardly a groundbreaking analysis. We already know that in spades. What are the solutions, then?

  15. Regardless of your opinions, you start the article off with an idle boast! Never heard music condeming the music industry?! What the heck have you been listening to then (other than self pleasuring yourself over your own music that is)?! Jeff Buckley’s the sky is a landfill, listen to that for starters..though he condems the status quo in general. Stop making out you are selfless. Had you wrote about the issue, rather than sneaking in an advert for yourself, I would pay closer attention to what you have to say. The Palestinians don’t need fly by nights like you fighting for them.

  16. Understand that Nick has agreed to have himself filmed bulldozing a Palestinian village! Cool! Now that’s commitment to Art!

  17. The biggest irony here is that Overland prides itself on ‘calling out’ what’s wrong in the world, through writing, and yet when commenters call out what’s wrong with the writing in the world of Overland — the very poor writing presented on the website — Overland gets very defensive and starts name-calling and branding certain commenters as trolls. Not all of them are. Some just want better writing. If you want to write for political change you have to write well, and there is little evidence of that on this website, which appears to me little more than an undergrad journal (nothing wrong with that, of course). But isn’t this publication funded by The Australia Council for the Arts? And the writers here are always bemoaning privilege? Authors like Stephen Wright are getting paid to push their works out there through this publication. They, the authors, are therefore in a position of power and privilege compared to the commenters (and other writers who are struggling to get published and paid for their writing), and as I see it, the authors here are hardly using that power and privilege to great effect, hardly developing a culture of strong Leftist writing and Leftist literary endeavour.

  18. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Israel one of the bastions of sexual equality, and doesn’t the Islamic world (including the states that screwed Palestine’s chances in the first place by dragging it into their idiotic 20th C wars with Israel) still have a problem with misogyny, homophobia, and anti-semitism?
    Are you addressing that here, or is wrong just a function of skin tone?

        1. Aren’t all problems solved through preterition, which simply means we forget about them and move on to other problems?

  19. I liked this article because it started from a real issue on the left — the complexity of feelings generated by an artist’s politics not gelling with their emotional placement in our lives. If I am shaken and uplifted by what I experience as an anthem for freedom and humanity, but then I hear that anthem’s writer has no problem in ignoring an anti-apartheid campaign, I will suffer feelings of personal upset and betrayal. This is part of the mystery of how creative works live outside of their creators. Stephen was right to link this to the recent flood of sexual assault testimonies from Hollywood-land, and Hannah Gadsby’s show Nanette also pinpoints this problem. Thanks for writing, editing and publishing this.

  20. What is it about Rock Music that incites so many opinions, that unites and divides, unlike so many other, perhaps more important topics floated on Overland and elsewhere, or is it simply a function of the writer, the provocative and nowadays reclusive, Mr. Wright?

  21. As well as no sexism, racism and homophobia, which some of these comments certainly border on, we also have a policy of no personal attacks. Closing the comments on this one.

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