No mid­dle ground for mu­si­cians when it comes to the Mid­dle East

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - Brian Boyd on mu­sic

Ed­die Ved­der, Ri­hanna, Neil Young and Roger Wa­ters have all had some­thing to say of late about the liv­ing hell that is the Is­rael/Ha­mas con­flict. How did that go for them? Funny you should ask.

It kicked off dur­ing a re­cent UK show, when Pearl Jam’s lead singer broke into the band’s song Daugh

ter to say the fol­low­ing: “I swear to fuck­ing God, there are peo­ple out there who are look­ing for a rea­son to kill. They’re look­ing for a rea­son to go across bor­ders and take over land that doesn’t be­long to them. They should get the fuck out and mind their own fuck­ing busi­ness. We don’t want to give them our taxes to drop bombs on chil­dren”.

There was no ex­plicit ref­er­ence to Is­rael or Gaza but Ved­der’s re­marks were taken by some to be an “anti-Is­rael di­a­tribe”. The band’s so­cial-me­dia pages were flooded with strongly worded opin­ions that echoed the name-calling and fin­ger­point­ing in the po­lit­i­cal world. In an ef­fort to dampen down the go­ing-nowhere de­bate, Ved­der then at­tempted to con­tex­tu­alise his re­marks by writ­ing an open let­ter.

“When at­tempt­ing to make a plea for more peace in the world at a rock con­cert, we are re­flect­ing feel­ings – I’d rather be naïve, heart­felt and hope­ful than re­signed to say ( sic) noth­ing for fear of mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion and ret­ri­bu­tion.”

En­ter Neil Young. His Tel Aviv show sched­uled for last week was can­celled due to the con­flict. “We’ll miss the op­por­tu­nity to play for our fans and look for­ward to play­ing in Is­rael and Pales­tine in peace,” said Young, who also made a size­able do­na­tion to an or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps teach Is­raeli and Pales­tinian youth to co-ex­ist .

Roger Wa­ters had writ­ten to Neil Young urg­ing him to pull the show. The for­mer Pink Floyd man sup­ports a cul­tural boy­cott of Is­rael, and com­pares the state to Apartheid South Africa. How­ever, many big name acts, in­clud­ing Madonna, El­ton John and Paul McCart­ney, are of a dif­fer­ent opinion and play reg­u­larly in Is­rael. A de­bate is now on­go­ing about whether Young was in­flu­enced by Roger Wa­ters’s ar­gu­ments or was sim­ply ad­vised not to travel for safety rea­sons.

As the death toll mounts and opin­ions be­come even more po­larised this is be­com­ing a press­ing is­sue for mu­si­cians.

Ri­hanna tweeted the hash­tag “#FreePales­tine” to her 36 mil­lion fol­low­ers but then deleted it eight min­utes later, putting up in­stead “Let’s pray for peace and a swift end to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.” That pro­voked the odd mil­lion or so com­ments, not all of them co­her­ent and in­sight­ful, oddly enough.

Across the mu­si­cal spec­trum over the last few weeks artists are ei­ther be­ing told to “stay out” of the con­flict or “speak up”. Why all of this mat­ters is be­cause – for good or ill – the ac­tions and state­ments of ad­mired and in­flu­en­tial mu­si­cal fig­ures such as Ri­hanna and Neil Young carry weight.

The mu­sic world loves a cri­sis – par­tic­u­larly when it’s very far away and comes with the chance of ap­pear­ing on a chart-top­ping, image-en­hanc­ing num­ber one char­ity sin­gle. But this is dif­fer­ent. Hope­lessly dif­fer­ent.

Ed­die Ved­der: let­ter man

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