The Blog

Stardumb: Chris Martin of Coldplay

A Grammy special, Cusack revisited, MTV goes anti-war, and the Boss.

11:00 PM, Feb 25, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
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THE STARDUMB word of the week is "agreeance." We shout out a thanks to Fred Dunce of Limp Bizkit for the contribution, which he ad-libbed on stage at the Grammys, in defiance of the English language and rumors of a gag order handed down from CBS. Without him, we wouldn't have a Stardumb word of the week. So, thanks Fred.

Dunce's full comment was, "I hope we all are in agreeance that this war should go away as soon as possible."

Stardumb Hypothesis 4: Although celebrity is often used to advance an overlooked cause, the dynamic works the other way, too. In the current antiwar movement, for example, one sees many instances in which the cause is saving a celebrity from being overlooked. (Hello, Mike Farrell!)

The music awards remained relatively free of war-posing even after reports that the plug wouldn't be pulled on anyone for mouthing off. But, somehow, the dye was already set. In addition to Dunce's misfire, Sheryl Crow wore a peace sign necklace and Bonnie Raitt got off a "let's build some peace," and that's about it. One might even say the pro-war cause received equal time. Crow performed a duet with Kid Rock who later told the New York Daily News that we should definitely get Saddam: "Kill him and the guy in North Korea."

The de facto ixne on arwe alkte made for less embarrassment for the music industry, but not for better television. Look at what it did to Dustin Hoffman, who, to his shame, recently told an audience in London that "For me as an American, the most painful aspect of this is that I believe the administration has taken the events of 9/11 and has manipulated the grief of the country and I think that's reprehensible." Opening up the politically scrubbed Grammys, Hoffman could barely achieve coherence as he sucked his teeth and muttered about (1) New York and (2) his kids and (3) doing his scatter-brained best right now. Audience reaction went something like this: (1) "Hooray!," (2) "Huh?," (3) "What the?" At least we knew what he was talking about when Rain Man was maligning the Bush administration.

On the plus side, Chris Martin of Coldplay definitely made a better appearance at the Grammys than he had at the Brit Awards last week. At the Grammys, he and his band did the unexpected thing and played music--with the New York Metropolitan Orchestra, it so happened. Of course, such reverse slumming is usually a bad sign: Rock'n'roll bands shouldn't crave that kind of respect, and nor should orchestras crave that kind of cool. But at the Brit Awards, where Coldplay nabbed Best album, this week's featured Stardumb, lead singer Martin, thanked the crowd by saying, "Awards are essentially nonsense. We're all going to die when George Bush has his way. It's good to go out with a bang."

This edifying moment came after singer George Michael--last in the news for lewd behavior in a public bathroom in Los Angeles--and Ms. Dynamite--to my knowledge, never in the news before this--sang an anti-war duet version of Michael's early '90s hit "Faith." The lyrics were changed to include such penetrating tidbits as: "We've been here before / Talk of violence and talk of war / I don't wanna see children die no more / So I gotta make a stand." Michael also showed up in a Daily Mirror report this week, essentially thanking the "pop legend" for attending an antiwar rally sponsored by--who else?--the Daily Mirror. The oily former half of Wham! declared that a war against Iraq would set the Islamist world aflame. As opposed to its current, lukewarm feeling toward the Great Satan and the rest of the West.

Of course one never had high expectations for George Michael. Chris Martin's appearance in the ranks of Stardumb, however, is a real bummer. Although something of a political activist before this, Martin was more than sufficiently self-deprecating for it not to matter. Discussing his work for Oxfam, the anti-poverty organization, Martin told Nick Harcourt of KCRW in Los Angeles, "I'm well aware of [the possibility] of looking like a complete fraud and an idiot." But the idea of using his celebrity to advance a noble cause occurred to him after Coldplay was offered lucrative deals to license their music for television commercials.

"Why don't we advertise something we care about?" is how the lead singer characterized the decision. Besides, the band didn't want to betray their fans by trotting out beloved songs to sell sneakers. In fact, Martin was quite the critic of rock stars who licensed their music, taking a shot at Sting for helping Jaguar sell their luxury vehicles. Yet apparently the stardummy thinks it okay to leverage his musical fame for a chance to call George Bush a one-man apocalypse. One wishes Martin and Coldplay considered their musical reputation dear enough to protect from not only the desecrations of the marketplace, but also the demagoguery of the public square.

The song Coldplay performed at the Grammys, "Politik," is from their new album, "A Rush of Blood to the Head." Martin wrote the song days after September 11, 2001, but one detects little political commentary in it. With its vague, skyward pleas for calm and understanding and peace, it has more in common with Bruce Springsteen's Grammy-nominated album The Rising than, say, the leftist, belligerent roughhousing of The Clash (whose leader, the late Joe Strummer, was also honored Sunday night).

What makes Coldplay worthwhile is their music. Their soulful and melodic songs are consistently pleasant and of reasonably good craftsmanship. They remind one of the softer side of U2, a band they admire, though in terms of percussion the new album is as interesting as a metronome. Their chord progressions also sometimes mark an all-too-predictable trail. And yet, they can make happy songs like nobody's business, such as "Don't Panic" from their first, Grammy-winning, album "Parachutes." Its chorus, "We live in a beautiful world" gives some idea of the debut album's superior feel-good vibe. One os the standout tracks "A Rush of Blood to the Head," is called "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face": "It's about you can't believe what a great life you have," the usually upbeat and humorous Martin told KCRW.

Someone tell Martin that the "great" life generally doesn't involve dabbling in false accusations of mass murder.

Barbrometer: Two out of five Barbra Streisand heads

Grader's comment: Although Martin's statement at the Brit Awards was horrible and reckless, it may have been a one-shot bit of idiocy. Their anti-war lyrics--"I'm going to buy a gun and start a war / If you can tell me something worth fighting for," barely register on the Barbrometer, which is like one of those giant scales lugged out only for the really big fish.

"LLOYD, LLOYD, NULL AND VOID": A handful of readers have complained that I was too hard on good ole' John Cusack, who incidentally seems to have become a protege of Sidney Blumenthal, who gets a producing credit in "Max" and shows up in a recent Salon interview with Cusack.

In particular, many correspondents say Cusack was entirely correct to describe the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center as having been deliberately staggered to make sure television cameras would be present when the second plane hit. Perhaps I didn't argue this point hard enough, but that was out of respect for the intelligence of my readers. My apologies in advance to those who require no further illumination:

To say that Osama bin Laden deliberately "staggered" the planes hitting the Twin Towers is to say he entertained the possibility of having both planes hit simultaneously--and had the power to choreograph it--but decided against this astonishing course of action. Which is incredibly unlikely, given the difficulty of pulling off the terrorist attacks to begin with, the varying degrees of experience among the pilots, and the fact that the planes that hit WTC 1 and 2 left Boston at different times. I'll grant that aside from murdering thousands of Americans, the attacks were intended to terrorize the rest of us (of course), but I will not indulge any more silly, postmodern blather about Osama's designs for the "iconography of murder," to use Cusack's awful and misleading phrase. It sounds like something a VH1 host would say.

Stardumb Honorary Mention: It's hard to know who to blame for MTV's generally vacuous and sometimes bizarre anti-war announcements. The music channel or the musicians? That famous student of the GOP Adam Duritz, the frontman for Counting Crows, says, "What disturbs me the most about the situation is that we may be going to war . . . to keep a political party in power in our country." Rob Thomas states that he can never support war. For his part, Jay Z tells us that in war "everyone loses." Yeah, tell it to the Soviets, Jay. Justin Timberlake says in one of two 20-second recorded messages that he leaves such issues as war to our "world leaders." Why then is he speaking out? These public service announcements make their stardummies sound like they received their political education from, well, public service announcements.

Oh, and another thing: Stardummy Bruce Springsteen (I know, I know--it hurts me, too) recently told Entertainment Weekly that, "You try not to be cynical, but without the distraction of Iraq, [people would notice] that the economy is doing poorly, and the old-fashioned Republican tax cuts for the folks that are doin' well will seriously curtail services for people who are struggling out there."

I can't keep up.

David Skinner is an associate managing editor at The Weekly Standard.

Correction Appended, 2/27/03: The article originally called Coldplay's new album "A Cold Rush of Blood to the Head." And the lyric quoted in the Grader's Comment is actually from the song "A Rush of Blood to the Head," not "Politik."