When Your Favorite Rock Stars Defend Dictatorships

Some say you have to separate the art from the artist, but it’s not easy when voices of rock & roll and rebellion run to support repression against the Cuban and Venezuelan people

Pink Floyd Venezuela

Photo: Roger Waters

“After all you are just another brick in the wall”

Pink Floyd, Another Brick in The Wall part III

Disappointment. That was the feeling I got in 2019 when I saw Roger Waters talking about Venezuela. The legendary British Pink Floyd frontman and bass player, a key piece in the evolution of rock and roll, decided to support Maduro’s regime. Now, he appeared in the podcast “People’s Dispatch” defending Cuba’s dictatorship, one of the oldest authoritarian regimes in the world.

I felt the same thing when Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello defended the Cuban government last week, or when I remember Spike Lee shaking hands with Jorge Rodríguez in Caracas back in 2009, when Chávez was still alive and the revolution was still “cool”. It’s not that bad, but it also happens on the other side of the aisle, like finding out John Lydon, former singer of the Sex Pistols, is a Trump supporter or that Morrissey from the Smiths is, well… Morrissey.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, and it can break the enjoyment you find in that artist’s work. I can only speak for myself but after Waters came out in support of Maduro I couldn’t listen to Pink Floyd for a few weeks, and I still haven’t been able to get back into his solo stuff. 

You could always go with “Death of the author,” the concept formulated by the French philosopher, scholar and literary critic Roland Barthes, that the creator’s intention is just one more interpretation. That way, taking your RATM playlist into a protest, or even listening to Nueva Trova Cubana, doesn’t feel like breaking your head in two parts. But sometimes it feels a little dishonest to ignore the politics of any openly political creator.

At the same time, when you do that, you help those artists elevate their voices. Sharing a Tom Morello song helps him and his uninformed tweets about Cuba get to more people. The same can be said about a Boots Riley movie or even some new piece of Harry Potter trivia created by JK Rowling and her transphobia.

In the end, there isn’t a clear answer. For me, it’s a case-by-case and purely emotional thing. I can listen to Pink Floyd and Rage Against The Machine because there’s more people in those projects apart from Waters and Morello. At the same time, I can’t deal with Boots Riley’s work and Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanes and the rest of the Nueva Trova Cubana generation tend to sound like pure hypocrisy. Hell, I can’t stand listening to Servando and Florentino knowing of Florentino’s politics, and they don’t really sing about it!

There isn’t a clear answer on how to deal with this, and we will probably see the same thing happening in the future with Venezuelan artists talking about right-wing politicians with authoritarian policies. Just like Water’s childhood was marked by World War II and his youth were marked by Thatcherism forming his politics, Venezuelans’ own trauma has thrown lots of young people into the far right.

But in the meantime, it hurts to see someone you admired and who you thought was a rebel not listening to the people’s voice. I guess I can say that if you found their rebellion inspiring, don’t forget that, maybe we can learn from them how to not get stuck in our trauma and our teenage ideas, how to grow and not get stuck behind that wall.