Know Your Enemy

          What happens when you make art as an act of defiance, and then the very people and institutions against whom you are rebelling become your biggest fans?

Dear Friends,

My 40th birthday has passed. My first blog has been posted. Hundreds of “likes” came pouring in, creating hundreds of surges of dopamine to feed the hungry ghosts within. So very many thanks for all of the love (insert heart emoji?). I will be using your good juju this weekend as I haul our possessions into a storage container while Michelle hosts a retreat at Esalen.

In moments of procrastination from packing and cleaning, I fall into wormholes online; I am particularly interested in the transition from Obama to Trump.

Barack Obama was the coolest President of my lifetime. He played hoops with Magic Johnson. He had great comedic chops. He’s smooth. Trump has a comb-over and a bad self-tan. He is decidedly uncool.

If you don’t agree with me, observe the differences in their soirees:

On Friday January 6th, the Obamas threw an epic going away party at the White House. Jerry Seinfeld, Usher, Meryl Streep, Bradley Cooper, Solange Knowles, Chance the Rapper and so many more were in The House.

Meanwhile, The Donald is struggling to book high-level talent for his inauguration gala. So far, he has gotten the Rockettes (many of whom reportedly did not want to perform), The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and a contestant from America’s Got Talent. The list of artists who rejected performing at Trump’s party would be a better lineup than Coachella.[2]

There are even (unsubstantiated) rumors of a protest-like concert circulating on the Internet based on a Facebook post by economist and best-selling author Robert Reich. Leading to this false document advertising an incredible fake concert lineup.


None of this should come as a surprise, as popular lefty musicians have been publicly dissing their conservative fans for years. The most amusing of these instances coming in 2012, when Rage Against the Machine publicly rejected the affection of Paul Ryan. Back when the young Republican House leader was on the campaign trail as Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate, Ryan mentioned his affinity for Rage Against the Machine.

Shortly after hearing this praise, Tom Morello, the lead guitarist for Rage wrote an article  for Rolling Stone, issuing the following incendiary remarks about their Tea Party affiliated fan:

Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades. Charles Manson loved the Beatles but didn’t understand them. Governor Chris Christie loves Bruce Springsteen but doesn’t understand him. And Paul Ryan is clueless about his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine.”

That’s gotta sting. But, how blind could he be? Dude is pro-life, supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and wrote a budget bill to increase tax cuts for the wealthy. He fights to get legislature approved against everything that Rage stands for.

In one way, I sympathize with Ryan. Who doesn’t get pumped up when they hear Zach de la Rocha scream, “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me, Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me…?”

How would I feel if I wrote about how much I love listening to Kendrick Lamar and The Wu Tang Clan, and then The Rza wrote an article in Spin Magazine saying, “Jason Scott Cohen is a suburban Jew who knows nothing about the Wu,”? And, it went on to mention that my kung fu technique was weak and that I had no street cred? Both true, BTW.

What happens when you make art as an act of defiance and then the very people and institutions against whom you are rebelling become your biggest fans? Like, when museums purchase Banksy murals?


Does any artist get to choose their audience? What if listening to Rage Against the Machine makes Paul Ryan slightly more sympathetic to radical causes? Do all of these artists refusing to perform for Trump weaken his platform or does it only make it stronger?

One of the problems, which the soirees highlight, seems to be this divided perception of the coastal elites versus the middle of the country. As a person who has mostly lived on the coasts for his entire life, and someone whose political leanings are mostly liberal (though my radical anarchist friends often have the most potent truth serums), what are the points of defense for middle America that I can understand? Bootstrap Americanism and lower taxes. Ok. But, failure to see the systemic racism that denies so many people the opportunities to “pull up their own bootstraps” is a failure to see the truth.

An intelligent debate about the issues is what we lack. It is easy to attack the Donald over his misogynistic and anti-Muslim rhetoric, because such speech is not and should never be OK, but we/I also have to keep an open mind to conservative talking points if compromises are ever going to be made. Though Rage’s stance on compromise might be most correct:

              Yes, I know my enemies!

    They’re the teachers who taught me to fight me!

   Compromise! Conformity! Assimilation! Submission!

      Ignorance! Hypocrisy! Brutality! The elite![3]

All of which are American Dreams…

All of which are American Dreams…

All of which are American Dreams…


Why am I writing and reading about all of this stuff, when I should be wrapping ceramic bowls in bubble wrap, then gently placing them in cardboard boxes?! Everything goes in to storage on Saturday!

I’m going to make a huge pot of coffee, make a playlist of Rage Against the Machine and Kendrick Lamar and The Wu and get to packin.


[1] from his January 11th appearance on The Ellen Show

[2] For you entertainment, check out some of their responses:

Elton John , Queen

Also see: Moby, Aerosmith, George Harrison’s estate

[3] From “Know your Enemy”

1 comment

  1. Well written piece. Contrary to his self-deprecation, it’s pretty clear that the author’s Kung Fu technique is strong and he has mad street cred.


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