Free Music, Free Political Association, and Fugazi

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Fugazi
Krist Novoselic's column on music and politics runs every Tuesday on Reverb. Check back on Friday when he writes about what's circulating through his headphones.
I've written before about anarchism as a political philosophy and the role it played in punk rock. Anarchism tends to conjure images of violent protests against government. But in its classic sense, it's about people with shared needs and values voluntarily coming together to build their own peaceful structures of mutual cooperation.

Those of you who followed my column on The Daily Weekly (I'll be posting on Reverb from here on out. Yes, still plenty of politics AND music.) know I'm passionate about protecting the rights of individuals to associate in political parties, and that political parties should be allowed to control their image, unlike what the state of Washington does on our ballots.

After reading many of the reader comments to last week's column about intellectual property rights, and thinking over my replies, it dawned on me how similar are the issues of free association (political parties), and free music on the Internet. If an artist wishes to make their music free on the Internet, nothing should stand in their way (the inverse is true, too). And if a political party wants to control whom they nominate, they should be allowed to.

Under Washington state law, any person can run as "prefers" Democrat or "prefers" Republican, but voters could have no idea which candidate is supported by the party they, the voters, associate with. I vehemently disagree with this law. This assessment has gotten me derided as a party hack or boss because I stand up for the right of rank-and-file members of a political group (the Democratic Party) to determine who their nominee should be. I say that if you don't like the members of a party, how they do business, or what they believe in, don't vote for their candidates!

My correlation between private content (mp3s) and private association is that many people just assume they can take this voice away from others at their own pleasure to suit themselves. People should be free to get together with whom they please, and have a right to control how the group goes about things. Do you see the word "group"? Replace that with the terms "band" or "ensemble."

If you think Nirvana, or even U2, are corporate-rock sellouts, that's your right. You don't have to share this music with anyone. I say just leave it alone. But for many people, the music is just too good to resist! And that's where the wicked assumptions come in. Just because you want it, you're forcing bands to give music away.

I'm all for free music. Free music is important for bands to get noticed in the vast ocean of information that is the Web. Music should be free--if the creators or owners want it to be. But what of the free flow of ideas? If you value them, ideas can only be practiced, and the information revolution is a way to implement them.

This all brings me back to the band Fugazi, seminal in forming punk ideals, who shunned the corporate world to remain fiercely independent with their own Dischord Records. Go to dischord.com and have a glimpse at the values needed to drive voluntary cooperation. If you're not buying their music, read the "About Us" section that reads as a manifesto: "We do not work with contracts so our relationship with our bands is based on friendship and trust. New bands come into the fold when they have made a mark within our community and there is mutual agreement that we would be a good fit for each other."

How's that for sharing! It warmed my heart to read these words. At Dischord, enter an enduring, wonderful, and ethical world filled with great music. And if you don't like it, go elsewhere. Just like choosing to vote Republican or Democratic, nobody is making you do anything. But Democrats and Republicans should have the right to choose who flies their party's flag (at least one per ballot).

 
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