GETTING MORE TALE #651: Death From…Right Above?
Canada’s Death From Above (formerly: Death From Above 1979) have some pretty awesome tunage. This bass/drum duo of Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger have been creating edgy rock and roll (off and on) since 2001. Their music is great. “Trainwreck 1979” is an incredible steamroller rock song. But Death From Above have a history that might contain some unsavoury characters, such as Vice media co-founder Gavin McInnes.
Have you ever heard of the Proud Boys? It’s OK if you haven’t.
The Proud Boys are a “western chauvinist” group founded by McInnes. As westerners, they “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world” (a fallacy in itself as any historian can tell you). Only men are permitted. Women can become a “Proud Boy’s Girl”. They even have a uniform (black polo shirts with yellow trim) and coded words that identify them with each other, but not with the general public. They claim it’s just a fraternity, and that anyone who identifies as “alt-right” will be banned permanently from the group. McInnes also claimed that Jesse F. Keeler of Death From Above was a member, which Keeler denies.
After my first encounter with a Proud Boy, a quick glance at his Facebook photos revealed a swastika and other Nazi paraphernalia, misogyny and a boatload of bigotry. That was my very first encounter. I don’t accept their claim that all “alt-right” folks are unwelcome. I believe that they prefer their alt-right members to keep any Nazi and white supremacist symbolism in the closet. I strongly doubt that the Proud Boys have zero white supremacists in their numbers. That’s how it looks to me, and I’m not interested in debating with Proud Boys.
Proud Boys really hate being “mischaracterized” as a white nationalist movement, but they have become a safe space for such folks. There certainly have been plenty of violent Proud Boy bad apples in the news, whom the organization distances itself from. But for whatever reason, the Proud Boys attract these assholes like flies are attracted to shit.
Part of the Proud Boy initiation is getting in a fight with an “Antifa” member. Antifa, a controversial leftist group, stands for “anti-fascist”. So in order to be a Proud Boy, you have to commit the crime of assault. That’s not to say Antifa have never initiated violence themselves; they have. But to be a Proud Boy, you actually have to beat somebody up? They call it all “freedom of expression” and “family values”. I’m sure you’ve heard those phrases before from the far-right, just as you will also hear the word “patriot”. They refer to their group as “fun, respectful and fair”. Until you mention such words as “Islam”, “transgender”, “immigrant” or “liberal”. These dirty words are sure to earn the opposite of a fun, respectful or fair response. If you want to “trigger” a sensitive Proud Boy, try one of those words. (Assault must be one of their “fun” activities.)
There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage or your country. I love Canada, even though our history has its dark corners. We have not treated our native population well, and that is an understatement times 1000. On his solo album The Secret Path, Gord Downie (RIP) of the Tragically Hip tried to educate Canadians on our shameful history with residential schools. Yes, there are many things in our history to take pride in, such our military role as peace keepers (thank you Lester B. Pearson). Take pride in being Canadian, but don’t distort history to do so. Distorting history will only lead to repeated mistakes. Pride is one thing; hate is something else altogether. In my view, the Proud Boys are a safe haven for some very angry individuals.
Some of Death From Above’s lyrics have been characterised as misogynistic:
“So tired of sluts coming up to us in the clubs with their cocaine,
We’re looking for wives.” (“Dead Womb”)
One of the Proud Boys’ values is “venerate the housewife”. Death From Above’s Sebastian Grainger says “It wasn’t meant to be a hateful song…I just liked saying outrageous things.”
Death From Above’s Jesse Keeler has appeared The Gavin McInnes Podcast, viewed by some as a Proud Boy recruitment tool. Keeler has acknowledged a past friendship with McInnes but says he’s never been a Proud Boy. As the Canadian son of an Indian immigrant, he doesn’t identify with white nationalism. He says that as he got to know McInnes better, he realised that he had some extreme views that he didn’t agree with.
McInnes’ views are pretty simple. Here’s one: “We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, English-speaking way of life.”
Canada has two official languages by the way: English and French. They are equal under law. But the original Canadians spoke neither; they had myriad tongues including the Algonquian and Iroquoian languages.
This western chauvinist attitude of McInnes and his group goes against everything I studied earning my History BA. It also clashes with the values that rock and roll music have taught me.
The Beatles proved that music can transcend all barriers. They went to India and came back with the White Album. Led Zeppelin went to North Africa and wrote “Kashmir”. Could there be anything more boring than a plain western, English-speaking way of life? The music in such a place would certainly be a lot duller. Like trying to create art in a vacuum, out of nothing. Another exception to the Proud Boy way of thinking is the long list of incredible women of rock and roll. They didn’t just settle for being “housewives”. Where would music be today without Janis Joplin, Aretha Frankin, Chrissy Hynde and Debbie Harry? A hell of a lot less interesting. I can’t even imagine a world without them.
The best art benefits from a diverse palette. The more colours you have to choose from, the more vibrant and alive your art can be. White western people didn’t invent rock and roll. They stole it. Rock and roll has a long history, and if you go back far enough you can trace it all the way to Africa. It came to America on slave ships, mixed and matched with music from Europe, and became R&B. R&B used to be called “race music”. Rock and roll evolved from this stew of cultures and influences. Elvis Presley did not invent rock and roll. Elvis Presley didn’t even write songs.
The Proud Boy value system is one of insular uniformity. Rock and roll is about everything but conforming to a clean and neat Western life. It is about rebelling, and exploring all the way to the edge. From the very beginning of rock to today, music has only benefited from cultural diversity. Everything on the radio today is a product of cross-pollination. If rock and roll did not embrace music from different cultures worldwide, it would be a stifled, sad thing. There would be no Beatles, no Stones, no Queen, or any of the bands influenced by them. From Prince to the Prophets of Rage, most of rock and roll would simply not exist.
Want to be proud of your heritage? That’s great, but don’t pretend. The west is responsible for great innovation, built on the shoulders of previous old-world giants. (Ptolemy, anyone?) The west is also responsible for the worst atrocities in history. No amount of revisionism can change the past. Ignorance cannot erase it. And here’s the key point that everybody seems to miss. You can condemn the bad stuff, like residential schools, as it deserves to be condemned. But then you can be proud of the good, such as the bravery of our troops from World War II to the present. You can do both, it’s allowed!
I like to think of Frank Zappa.
“Hey, you know something people?
I’m not black, but there’s a whole lotsa times
I wish I could say I’m not white.” — “Trouble Every Day”, 1966
Death From Above have distanced themselves and disavowed McInnes and the Proud Boys. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt. “I began noticing that Gavin was promoting violence and a form of radical politics that I absolutely do not agree with,” said Keeler. I’ll continue to listen to Death From Above. Everyone learns from their experiences.
No matter where you fall politically, if you don’t see that our “western culture” (including our music) has roots all over the entire world, then you have a lot of history to learn. In genetics, the larger and more diverse the population, the better the chances of survival. A small or homogeneous population without diversity will go extinct. I think the same is true of culture. Embrace the good and reject the bad. That’s why the Proud Boys need to be rejected, and I’m glad Death From Above have done that.
Please keep comments civil. Any personal attacks will be deleted and burned with a tiki torch.