They Died 4 U: Punk Music, Political Art, and Heaven's New Supergroup

If you had told me at this time last year that the two major points of discussion at my family’s Passover Seder in 2016 would be Donald Trump and Prince, I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted. In the spring of 2015 Trump was just as much of a joke as he is today, but we still had the luxury of being able to not take him seriously or better yet ignore him outright. As for Prince, I couldn’t imagine my family dissecting the finer points of HitNRun, but come on, it wasn’t though Prince is mortal or anything. But there I was this weekend at my parents’ house with all of my family mourning the loss of Prince and mourning the rise of Trump. “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Ma nishtana.

Ma nishtana.

Prince’s death hit me harder than any other celebrity death this year, and there have been far too many of them. Bowie’s death was a shock to be sure, but my reaction was more of admiration as opposed to adoration. Phife Dawg was equally shocking, though I hate to admit that Tribe is a gap in my musical knowledge. Maurice White, Merle Haggard, Paul Kantner, Otis Clay, the list goes on and on and on, and those are only a handful of the musicians and singers we’ve lost this year.

Perhaps it’s for the best though. Perhaps there is something else at work here. Passover is a time in which Jews reflect on many things, not the least of which is their relationship with God. During the Seder you recount the story of Exodus during which God smote the Egyptians and delivered his people from slavery. God giveth, God taketh. The latter need not necessarily be a bad thing, the earlier not a good thing.

Consider the fact that all of those previously mentioned musicians who have died this year will not have to endure the coming months. They won’t have to sit through one more debate, they won’t have to drink themselves through one more exit poll, they won’t have to watch in horror as America takes off its mask to reveal the truth: America the exact kind of place that would elect Donald Trump to the Presidency.

Fuck everything.

Fuck everything.

The good thing is that musicians have always known that truth, though maybe not spelled out in those words. That’s why punk music exists. And that’s why during my Seder conversation about Prince and Trump I realized that God is ten steps ahead of the rest of us. He is calling the world’s best musicians to Heaven to form the greatest punk band in history.

Maurice White is on the drums. Bowie on keyboards. Merle on guitar, Kantner on bass. Prince is the chameleon who plays whatever is necessary for the song, and Otis and Phife Dawg share lead vocal. They all split songwriting responsibilities. The band is called Class of ’16, and they have just started rehearsing in the afterlife.

2016, personified.

2016, personified.

The main problem with my theory (beyond the fact that Kantner didn’t play bass and that God doesn’t exist) is that there is nothing inherently punk about hating Donald Trump. There is nothing anti-establishment about singing a song shitting on the Donald, no matter what people say about this year being the year for the “anti-establishment candidate.” These people are running for President. They are now the establishment, each and every one of them. Sanders, Trump, Clinton, Cruz, Kasich, you’d be well within your rights to hate each and every one of them, and while my dream punk band in Heaven does write songs primarily targeted at Trump’s hair, you can just as easily have them singing songs about Benghazi in your fantasy scenario. It doesn’t change the fact that we need something more than punk music to get us through this election.

Class of ’16 aside, I have had some really interesting debates with my friends about what art can accomplish in the face of the 2016 election. Writing a song called “Fuck Trump” will do nothing to change his mind, and drawing a cartoon about Hillary’s e-mails will do nothing to sway her from the path. Calling Sanders a communist – beyond being factually incorrect – will only further invigorate his supporters, and I’m pretty sure Ted Cruz gets his daily caloric intake by absorbing fear and hatred. Does this mean that political artwork only works if it remains neutral? Of course not, there’s no such thing as neutral artwork. Is punk dead? It doesn’t really matter; that’s why it’s punk. Can art change the world? I don’t know if I even agree with the premise of that question. An asteroid can change the world, and so can a parasite, and yeah, so can a song I think, but only if the audience of that song is ready to change the world without it.

That’s what scares me most about political artwork right now. The left-right divide in this country is so stark that real progress is impossible. If change comes from within, and the world you live in is monotonous, then how is change possible at all? If you can handpick your news from people with whom you already agree, then you are living in your own world, a world in which you might never hear the song that could change the world. That, to me, is why imagining this fake supergroup of mine is so comforting, and why Prince’s death was so devastating to me. I disagreed with just about everything Prince stood for: he was homophobic, misogynistic, and a complete hypocrite when it came to his creative output and his audience. Having said that, Prince’s music did what no politician – establishment or otherwise – could ever do: it made me happy.