ZNet recently sat down with Howard Zinn, author of the absolutely required A People’s History of the United States of America, and Thom for a detailed interview.
Here’s an excerpt-
Q: So would you say that there’s a place for both directly political and non-political artists? What importance do you think each have?
Zinn: There are all sorts of artists. There are artists who really don’t have a social consciousness, who don’t see that there’s a connection between art and life in a way that compels the artist to look around the world and see what is wrong and try to use his or her art to change that. There are artists who just entertain. You can look upon entertainment as something useful, as we don’t want to eliminate art which is only entertaining, and insist that all art must be political, must be revolutionary, must be transforming. [But] there’s a place for comedy and music and the circus and things that don’t really have an awful effect on society except to entertain people-to make people feel good, and to act as a kind of religion.
That is what Marx called the “opium of the people,” something that people need. They need distraction. So it does serve a purpose, but if that’s all that artists do, the entertainment that you seek will become permanent. The misery that people live under and the wars that people have to go through, that will become permanent. There are huge numbers of people in the world whose lives are bound, limited. Lives of sheer misery, of sickness and violence. In order to change that you need to have artists who will be conscious of that, who will use their art in such a way that it helps to transform society. It may not be a blunt instrument, but it will have a kind of poetic effect.
Yorke: Yeah, I don’t think we are [political] at all, I think I’m hyper aware of the soapbox thing. It is difficult to make political art work. If all it does is exist in the realms of political discussion, it’s using that language, and generally, it’s an ugly language. It is very dead, definitely not a thing of beauty. The only reason, I think, that we go anywhere near it is because, like any reason that we buy music, these things get absorbed. These are the things surrounding your life. If you sit down and try to do it 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. But there are different ways to escape. I think escape is sort of like coming to a show with ten thousand other people and responding to that moment. Sharing that moment-that’s escape. Wherever the music came from originally is secondary to what’s happening at that moment, how the music sends you somewhere else. That’s the important thing.
Head on over to ZNet to read the whole thing.