HE WILL FOLLOW….You can pinpoint the nadir
of rock music's first half-century--that wire service picture of Bono standing
with U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, the two of them wearing local
costumes somewhere in Ghana. Bono's idiocy is here complete, since any drunken
tourist would know better than to allow this photo to circulate. But tourists
are, for the most part, innocent of much beyond the blind pursuit of pleasure.
With his African junket alongside O'Neill, Bono is guilty of actual evil, since
the trip's purpose is to endorse the power of rich nations to control the fate
of poor ones.
The African junket also makes Bono complicit in
the enhancement of the image of Paul O'Neill, one of the most rotten characters
in the Bush regime. Next time he goes to Jamaica, Bono might take a jaunt around
the island to see firsthand the depredations of Alcoa's bauxite mining. O'Neill
ran Alcoa for 12 years. Before that he ran International Paper, devastating much
of the Black Belt of the southern United States. In other words, O'Neill played
a major role in defiling the places where both the blues and reggae were born.
Bono portrays himself as the latest in a line of
rock daredevils trying to change the world. In reality, everything Bono
does--starting with his support of the Irish and English governments--attempts
to stabilize the world, freezing the globe's poor into subservience. All the
rockers who changed--and are changing--the world go about it differently.
Instead of spending their time pretending not to suck up to power at its most
loathsome, they make music that delves into their own lives and the lives of the
people they love. Those who truly work for a different kind of world use their
talent and fame to tell the stories that aren't being told anywhere else. They
make records like Alejandro Escovedo's By the Hand of the Father (Texas Music
By the Hand of the Father sometimes feels like a
first-hand expansion of Woody Guthrie's great migrant farmworker ballad
"Deportees," but a lot of it is tied up in issues as common as homesickness, the
hope of romance and the agony when life ruins it. That is, it is the life of the
migrant made nearly universal--so universal that the detailed differences glare
unmistakably from the tapestry.
Escovedo never stops noticing how poor these
people--his people--are. But he puts his finger on the issue just once: "You see
the wicked prowl across the border/They say death's the only peace the poor
This is nothing like Bono trying to "speak truth
to power." It's a recognition that the powerful know the truth and that part of
the truth is that nobody knows much at all about the poor as human individuals.
Alejandro's two bare lines contain everything you never learn sitting in
conference rooms and traveling from town to town with a potentate's entourage.
Alejandro Escovedo speaks the power of truth to
all who are free to embrace it. Rock music cannot tell all of it, but for
millions, all of it cannot be told any longer without rock, and the music that
came after it, and the music that came before it. It certainly cannot be told
while standing in the shadows, smirking an implicit endorsement of the way