Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old, but few things seem to surprise me any more. Certainly not last week’s revelations – taken from emails leaked by a Syrian opposition group to the Guardian newspaper – about what Bashar al-Assad has been buying on iTunes recently.
Among the songs downloaded by the weasel-like dictator of Syria, who has been busy blasting the hell out of the city of Homs and murderously suppressing resistance to his regime since last March, were Don’t Talk Just Kiss by camp / novelty dance band Right Said Fred, Hurt by X Factor winner Leona Lewis and A Tribute to Cliff Richard by someone or something called 21st Century Christmas. Here is the Daily Telegraph’s take on the story:
Bashar’s taste in music, then, can charitably be described as ‘mainstream’. A more critical evaluation of it might be ‘awesomely lame’.
However, there is plenty of evidence that Bashar al-Assad’s love for mainstream musical triteness is the norm rather than the exception among mass-murdering dictators and terrorist-leaders. Among those who were offered lucrative deals to perform in front of the Gaddafi clan in recent years were Nelly Furtado, Usher and Mariah Carey. Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden was reportedly such a fan of the late Whitney Houston that he talked about launching an operation to execute her then-husband Bobby Brown and abduct her. The end-plan was that Ms Houston would become one of his wives – though it has to be said that being Mrs Bin Laden couldn’t have been much worse than being Mrs Bobby Brown.
In North Korea, meanwhile, it’s whispered that the ruling Kim dynasty are ardent fans of Eric Clapton. Supposedly, they’ve proposed mounting a Clapton concert in Pyongyang, under the official guise of improving cultural relations between their hardcore Stalinist state and the West. One suspects that it isn’t so much Clapton the fiery young blues guitarist who distinguished himself in the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith that appeals to the Kims, as Clapton the geriatric purveyor of woeful, toothless pap like Wonderful Tonight and Tears in Heaven.
No doubt if Pol Pot was still with us, the man responsible for the Cambodian killing fields would find space on his iPod for J-Lo and James Blunt. And though Richard Wagner’s compositions are the music normally associated with the Third Reich, I suspect that – were he installed in the Reichstag today – Adolf Hitler would be enthusiastically campaigning for the reformed Take That to come and do a gig in Berlin.
Of course, none of this means anything. Going by record sales, the majority of the world’s people like pop music that is bland, unmemorable and manufactured. So it’s not surprising that the majority of the world’s tyrants prefer their music that way too.
Still, over the past three decades, a lot of people – in the USA alone, the Parents’ Music Recourse Group led by Tipper Gore and Susan Baker, the FBI and various religious groups – have inferred a link between music and the behaviour of those (invariably youngsters) who listen to it. Listening to the wrong sort of music, such people claim, leads to anti-social behaviour, disrespect for authority, depression and morbidity, self-harm, devil worship, suicide and (as in the case of the Columbine High School massacre, which was initially and falsely blamed on the influence of Marilyn Manson) murder.
Inevitably, ‘the wrong sort of music’ is identified as genres like heavy metal and gothic and punk rock. Though probably none of these genres would qualify as Bashar al-Assad’s cup of tea.
So I’m puzzled. If there was a link between music and people’s behaviour – I’m certain that there isn’t, but if we took the likes of the PMRG seriously and assumed that there was – I wouldn’t be worried about, say, heavy metal. It’s unlikely that anybody who’s ever ordered the slaughter of protestors wanting an end to autocratic and corrupt government in their country, or sent passenger-filled airplanes crashing into a skyscraper, was listening beforehand to Cradle of Filth or Extreme Noise Terror.
No, if you’re going to damn certain types of music using circumstantial evidence, the message is clear. If you’re a parent afraid that your children might grow up to be paranoid, violent sociopaths, don’t under any conditions let them listen to Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. Or to Usher or Leona Lewis.
And beware especially of Right Said Fred.