When Howard Met Thom

Just because the worlds of rock stardom and cultural
intellectualism don’t often collide, doesn’t mean they can’t meet
in the public square of our imaginations. It is with this in mind
that the Seattle-based arts magazine, Resonance, has
brought together Radiohead’s Thom Yorke with culture utility-man,
Howard Zinn for a debate about art and social change.

Owing to Zinn’s new book, Artists in Times of War and
Radiohead’s most recent recording, Hail to the Thief
which, Yorke insists is not a reference to a certain unscrupulous
world leader, but rather the natural title for an album about
‘extraordinarily fucked-up jubilation, wrong and displaced’ — the
two are not such unlikely candidates to entertain questions about
art and politics. Moderated by interviewer Sarah Burton, the men
jaw about the role of artists in inspiring social change, the
historical role of artists to do so, and the value and quality of
politically-minded art versus art made for entertainment’s sake,
and the difference between calling an artist a ‘revolutionary’ and
a ‘patriot.’

What transpires is telling. Zinn’s is an intelligent, but
detached and analytical voice capable of invoking Donna Summers and
Greek playwrights in the same breath. He ties up the frayed ends of
the entertainment vs. art debate with quotables like ‘Marx called
[entertainment] the ‘opium of the people,’ something that people
need. They need distraction … but if that’s all that artists do,
the entertainment that you seek will become permanent. The misery
that people live under and the war that people have to go through,
that will become permanent.’

Yorke, speaking more from an experienced,
in-the-trenches-of-culture point of view, is cautious in his view
of artists, saying that ‘someone like Zinn views artists as the
seers, idealizing them as the people responsible [for inspiring
change].’ In response to Zinn’s astute analysis of art vs.
entertainment, Yorke says, ‘Yeah, I don’t think we are [political]
at all … If you sit down and try to [make art] purposefully, and
try to change this with this, and do this with that, it never
works. I think the most important thing about music is the sense of
escape … I don’t think there is much that’s genuinely political
art that is good art.’
Eric Larson

Go there>>
Duty of
Expression: Howard Zinn and Thom Yorke Debate the Artist’s Role in
Making the World a Better Place

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