This article is part two of a two part series. Give the first part a read here.
As part of his newest publication, The Terror of the Unforeseen, McMaster professor Henry Giroux enlisted the help of his friend Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes, to provide some insight on the rise of various right-winged movements throughout the world. We had the chance to catch up with Casablancas to talk about music and politics.
Q: So in the early Strokes days, the music scene in general was saturated with songs about politics, but now, it’s been critiqued as being too “pop-y”. Why do you think it’s kind of sloped down?
I’m not sure I necessarily agree with that. If anything, [for me] personally, [it’s] probably more overtly political now. I think political music has not really been in the mainstream for a long time other than I guess, maybe like hip hop or hardcore punk. But if we’re talking just like mainstream, yeah I guess, I don’t know, I would say that the corporate confusion about what the real problems are has kind of saturated all minds, that there’s not really a . . . I don’t wanna say there isn’t an outlet, but maybe there hasn’t been an outlet yet that is connected, like a mainstream political concept that is connected in a mainstream way. I think the people who are truth-saying are crazy on the margins and essentially kind of mocked by corporate culture and news and therefore society at large . . . So I think truth is on the margins and it’s been like that as far as I can tell since 1971, maybe ‘69.
Q: Do you think it’s important for music to be used in a political way?
I think that it is important if you are to kind of create some kind of a movement towards any kind of philosophical, spiritual awakening in terms of human culture taking a forward progress-type step. It’s something like Buddhism or someone like Martin Luther King or Gandhi, I think inspiring is a key element to that. I think great books and works of art have inspired changes. I would say art tends to have more of a “further down the road” generational change. Politics is maybe more direct, or you know, action. People like Gandhi and MLK, it’s more kind of direct progress and art is more, kind of inspires the minds of tomorrow or generations that will make the change happen, more so than a song changes everything.
Also, it’s a fine line because there’s different kinds of art. Sometimes people seek art, it’s like watching a documentary or a rom com. Sometimes people want to be inspired and educated, and sometimes people want to just have fun. So I think all of mainstream music is basically designed that way and so being serious doesn’t really connect and you got to be careful not to bum people out who are maybe there to learn but want to also have a good time. So it’s a delicate dance and, short story long, I would say it doesn’t have to be. I think sometimes even a light song, if it’s well done and powerful, can have a politically-inspiring emotional power. So I just think quality is maybe the most inspiring thing because it could be an album like Thriller or Star Wars. I feel like when something is really good and popular, that tends to inspire people that things that are true and good can be widespread through society.
So there’s another library for you. Am I failing this?
No, I don’t think so!
(Pretends to be a reporter) “So, we were looking for a one word answer . . .” (everybody in the room laughs).
Q: What would you say that your political work looks like now with your music? You wrote the forward [for Giroux’s book]? Would you even describe your work in that way?
To be honest, it’s probably more similar to when I was working on music before I even put anything out. I’ve spent so many years reading and learning and it’s a little more . . . I’m gonna say a lot more intense than the music world because I think whatever you say people are going to come at you from all [angles], especially in this day and age. I think in the long run, it’s a good thing, but you’re expected to kind of understand every situation from all angles so perfectly that you gotta be careful with everything.
So I think I’m more in the process of getting my thoughts together and organizing ideas and stuff; and sure, I put it in songs and I put out a little, like the forward . . . I’m meeting people, talking to people, I’m kind of like “the battle is yet to happen” and I think that you need a very clear, sexy, simple ideology and philosophy, an exciting, inspiring thing if you’re going to unite all people to create separation of wealth and state.
Q: How did you meet Professor Henry Giroux? You guys did a sit down interview in 2016 for Rolling Stone magazine, how did that come about? And then how did you get involved with The Terror of the Unforeseen?
That’s kind of how we met. I’d seen him on Bill Moyers, was a fan of his mind and he’s one of the few truth-sayers around. I think he’s one of the people that I kind of would meet, talk to, and we did the interview and then he was writing a book, asked me to do the forward, told him that I’d come up to Toronto whenever the book came out. So yeah, we’re buds.
Q: How would you describe what The Terror of the Unforeseen is about?
He focuses a lot on fascism and neoliberalism and I think he’s got a really good knack for describing how things are malfunctioning and I think that’s a very important thing. It kind of reminds me of, like Malcolm X too, he’s good at holding the mirror up [and] saying the truth plainly. And I think that he does that really well.
Then the forward, not that I [wrote] it in the forward, but I guess, yeah. The counterbalance, team, superfriends, interview tour is about, for me, always kind of keeping that goal of like a simple strategy and solutions. I think they’re both part of the equation and I think people being informed is probably the first step in anything. Weirdly, the truth is not a tactic. I think people who try to fight for justice or whatever, think that it’s enough to value truth — even though I think it is something that should be valued higher than anything almost — I think it’s not a strategy, it’s almost a handicap. So you should still use it because the ends are inherent in the means or the means are inherent in the ends so you almost have to kind of fight with one hand tied behind your back and not cheat and do things the right way. Fighting against people who are cheating is what the fight looks like, I think, but my point is you need to be informed first and foremost. I think Henry’s one of the ideal. He’s a professor and one of the ideal people to teach the children to sing.
Q: Would you think that applies to the current political climate in the United States right now going into the next election?
I mean, it’s the world. The iPhone world, all the news. It’s interesting. Whether it’s Spotify and Netflix, the news on your phone, as soon as it asks you for your preferences, you’re screwed. It’s already funneling stuff towards you and limiting what you hear and even the options. The news options . . . it’s like this magic trick. It’s like pick a card, but really you only have — you know, it’s like in Canada, for example, you have these two options [Conservatives or Liberals]. You only have corporate options, you don’t have a non-corporate option. There should only be non-corporate options. Maybe there could be one in a future utopia or something, but right now, that’s the only option [Canadians] have.
Like, I remember when I had to select the news on my phone, I couldn’t . . . the websites I go to, you couldn’t even select that. You could only select the CNN type. I mean, even though more liberal ones, they’re still owned by these big companies and they’re all controlling the argument and it’s dark. If you really go deep and analyze it detective style, it’s extremely dark.
But my general point is it’s a worldwide issue that I think, corporations are fine and should thrive and we all want a world where companies are trying to make good products that help people’s lives be easier — unemployed people and all that, so it’s not about down with capitalism. For me, it’s about just separating capitalism and government. Basically keeping capitalism in the private sector and separating wealth and power. It’s a pretty simple concept and it’s not just money out of politics, it’s a worldwide thing. America, Europe.
In more oppressive dictatorships, the problem goes beyond [separating capitalism and government], they need separation of church and state still — they’re missing that step. So I think there’s a couple of things you need. You need separation of church and state, separation of wealth and state, all these kinds of power structures that are incentivized to manipulate and exploit people for their own benefit. They can exist, but they can’t secretly take over governments which they have done everywhere in the world.
The Terror of the Unforeseen is the 71st book by Henry Giroux and features a forward by Julian Casablancas. Casablancas’ new album with rock band The Strokes entitled, The New Abnormal, comes out April 10.