By Michaela Payne/Copy Editor
My thoughts are in Paris, one of my hometowns. Many people there died, suffered or lost someone to hate-fueled violence in the attacks last week.
This time of grief is also a time to examine other expressions of hatred in our world.
The Californian band Eagles of Death Metal played at the Bataclan on the night the venue was attacked, and escaped out the back while 89 people in their audience and crew died in the gun violence.
“While Jesse (Hughes) and the band thankfully survived, some of the people closest to them did not. They include the band’s merchandise manager, Nick Alexander, as well as three colleagues from their record label, Thomas Ayad, Marie Mosser and Manu Perez,” Vice reported.
As people who experienced horrors that night, the band members absolutely deserve support and care.
As musicians, the band’s overall insensitivity is a stunt which has shaped their obsessively virile, troublemaking image since their debut in 1998.
“I make dick-shaking, titty-wobbling, good-time, let’s-get-down, what’s-up-girl music,” the band’s founder and frontman Hughes said in an October interview with online music reviewers Consequences of Sound.
Cruel and careless language and imagery saturate the band’s music and album art, glorifying exaggerated Westernisms and especially degrading women — a different kind of violence and an expression of hate that should not be ignored.
The band was touring their new, fourth album, titled “Zipper Down” and emblazoned with a photograph of a grossly idealized rock’n’roll fan.
In a skin-tight, unzipped pleather outfit, her head and legs are cropped out of the image but her breasts are shown in full — except for pasties of the two band members’ heads.
It’s the type of faceless, partiallynude image that was used for shock value (and got censored) decades ago on Supertramp’s album “Indelibly Stamped” in 1971 and Roger Waters’ “The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” in 1984, among others.
For newer musicians to still be relying on these dehumanizing hypersexual images for record sales is incredibly boring.
“In 2015, an image of a sexy decapitated topless women feels tired, dull and dumb…the image does point, on a deeper level, to an unfair power dynamic which is alive and well in the music industry,” reviewer Deborah Coughlin wrote about the album for the UK’s The Guardian newspaper on August 11.
“Hughes and (Josh) Homme’s form of cock rock is clearly tongue-in-cheek. But ironic sexism just isn’t cutting edge any more,” Coughlin wrote.
Coughlin quoted “an anonymous feminist in a 1970s issue of New York underground newspaper Rat” who wrote an article titled (and invented the term) “Cock Rock: Men Always Seem to End Up on Top.” Though many more female, trans and non-gender-identifying musicians take the stages now than in those days, the ’70s writer is still right about one thing: “When you get to listening to male rock lyrics, the message to women is devastating.”
On a 2004 release titled “Peace, Love, Death Metal,” Eagles of Death Metal included a song called “Whorehoppin’.”
“Smell those sweet young things./Looky here, this one’s got black hair./She’s like a death metal queen./Struttin’ sluts all through that whorehoppin’ scene./Makes me say…/(chorus) Shit, goddamn! I’m a man? I’m a man,” and “We’ve got the desert, got the sand, and our guns!/We love the whorehoppin, that ain’t no lie./You could tell by the devilish look in our eyes!/Goddamn! I’m a man,” in lyrics from metrolyrics.com.
Frontman Hughes’ mom is not a fan of that song. “Whenever she comes to the show, she leaves before we play it. Then she comes back,” he said in the October interview with Consequences of Sound.
Just for comparison — if the lyrics were about people who are different from the band members on the basis of skin color, I am sure the media would have vilified them long ago. By now, the public may have made connections between their lyrical content and the attackers’ choice of events. In my search through their music and interviews I have found no race-based statements.
But I have also not found any criticisms of the band’s content published since the attacks, and very few that mention sexism before then. In past reviews, some writers lauded the band as being just a fun party band.
“Zipper Down is a sleazy spitball made of frantic party beats, Casanova attitude and garage-rock riffs,” NPR reviewer Jason Heller wrote on Oct. 5. He downplayed the lyrics as “deceptively asinine shenanigans.”
I’m not blaming the musicians for the violence that was carried out by others at their show. That disregard for the lives of others was the attackers’ fault, along with ideas that influenced them.
Since that night, our media is doing good work in spreading the news from Paris, with the effect of rallying support from all over the world.
But our media is also effective at boosting popularity and music sales through clicks. In the wake of this tragedy, I predict that the increased media exposure will gain this band significant sales.
We can support the members, crew and audience of Eagles of Death Metal in their healing from tragedy, but we have a responsibility to not confuse this with supporting their messages. We can and should demand an end to the band’s profits gained by creating mindless content that dehumanizes women.
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