Waiting in a doctor’s office and, done wasting time leafing through the People magazines, I decided to waste time perusing a recent issue of Rolling Stone. It was evident as I skimmed through the pages that I was a stranger in a strange land.
Things got a lot stranger when I alighted on an article about past and present pop stars giving private concerts, and felt transported to an alternative universe.
These were not just any private concerts given by stars who could fill Dodger Stadium with adoring fans. Mega stars are now paid mega bucks for doing private shows for the mega rich. Pop idols like JLo, John Legend, and Alicia Keys receive millions of dollars to perform at Mediterranean villas, private islands, and football field-length backyards in Bel Air estates.
One name among the list of luminaries who perform at the whim of the super wealthy leapt out of the pages at me: Bob Dylan. The countercultural Greenwich Village icon and Baby Boomer patron saint of the ’60s anti-establishment movement was a frequent performer at such private soirees.
Maybe all the doomsayers were right, and Dylan playing “Blowin’ in the Wind” for a crowd that could very well include lobbyists for defense contractors, might have Our Lord thinking it is time to call it a day.
The idea of immensely wealthy pop stars playing for tiny audiences of super-rich music lovers puts flesh and blood on the unseemly example of the kind of wealth, excess, and resource discrepancy Pope Francis, and every pope before him, has cautioned us about.
It is not a crime to be rich. Abraham, Solomon, and King David were all pretty well-off. Regardless of how the tax system is rearranged, tweaked, or rewritten here at home, we can comfortably stipulate that the comfortably rich will be with us always.
But there used to be egalitarianism in pop music. Sure, the musicians, who had idolatrous praise and insane amounts of money heaped onto them, lived lives beyond the reach of us mere mortals, but at least they had to sing for us. If they did not fill seats in large stadiums made up primarily of mortals, they were not going to make the next payment on the Silver Shadow.
I try not to begrudge anyone who has made, or makes, lots of money, as envy is one of the seven deadly sins. God has seen fit to deny me the opportunity to find out if money would have been the ruin of me, and for that I guess I owe him a degree of gratitude.
But this growing divide between the extraordinarily rich and everyone else is not healthy.
What happened to all these voices of dissent? What happened to these iconic “heroes” who railed against the status quo and the corporate establishment? After reading this article I know — they went to the bank to cash large checks after obediently performing for the very elites they were once paid handsomely to rail against.
Some artists, poets, singers, and writers maintain their countercultural status, but they will not be found at Elon Musk’s birthday bash at his private ski chalet in Gstaad. Hard to imagine the likes of William S. Burroughs exchanging his dingy downtown LA bar to read excerpts from one of his novels to a group of people eating $5,000-a-pound bluefin tuna and beluga caviar. And the last thing one of Jeff Zuckerberg’s friends wants to hear after docking his mega yacht in the harbor at Monaco is a primal scream retelling of “Beowulf” from the perspective of Grendel’s mother as a proto feminist nonbinary revolutionary.
The big question that begs to be asked is whether there really is something out there truly countercultural. The big answer is yes. It is just found where most people never bother to look for it.
The God of the first covenant was truly countercultural, and was a bit of a scandal to the pagan (i.e., mainstream) cultures that encountered it. It was shocking to the senses that there was only one God, and it did not matter if one was a mighty king like David, or a lowly shepherd — God’s dominion over both was the same.
The second covenant made by Jesus was just as countercultural, per the response it got from the religious and pagan powers that ran things back then. The goal in life was not, as every civilization before and since has codified, to amass wealth, esteem, and status to guarantee a valuable life here on earth, but to lose your earthly life in order to gain eternal life.
Everything else that claims it is countercultural is counterfeit — even pop stars who seem to operate outside the constraints of God’s commandments and Jesus’ beatitudes. To reject that, even powerful pop stars must eventually fall into line with the prevailing culture, and the result is a very severe case of “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”