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Mexican Radio

J.R. Taylor finds a conservative message in the Wall of Voodoo circa 1982 underground hit (got heavy play on MTV) Mexican Radio (co-written by Stan Ridgway).

Wall of Voodoo producer Richard Mazda phones me Friday afternoon, July 7, 2006. "I was like the fifth Beatle [with Wall of Voodoo]. Even though I was a producer, I was part of the creative process.

"Stan is proud of America. That sort of patriotism you don't see back in Europe, but that's more of an American thing than a right-wing thing.

"Although you had the Go Gos and bands like that [New Wave aka born out of punk rock] had hits, when a band like Voodoo or Devo had hits, it was more significant because the American audience was so conservative [in its musical taste]...

"Mexican Radio was one of the few things that I was working on [in the eighties] where I said, 'This is like a hit record. It's got a tune you can sing. It's got that sing along quality to the chorus. You can imagine half a dozen drunk idiots singing along. 'I wish I was in Tijuana, eating barbequed iguana.' You just knew that would become like a drinking song, which is ironic because Stan is a hugely intelligent lyric writer. He wasn't writing drinking songs for idiots, and definitely not drinking songs for right-wing idiots."

Luke: "You've been in the entertainment industry for over 20 years. What percentage of the people you've mixed with have been political conservatives?"

Richard: "I'm neither conservative nor liberal. I'm libertarian.

"Twenty five years ago, the creative types who went into music were more likely to be political than today. Paul Weller and the Jam were supporters of the miners' strike [1984]. Tom Robinson, who at the time was the second most famous gay man in Britain (after Quenton Crisp), and he had a hit record called Glad to be Gay.

"The only person who was conservative back in the day was Mark Smith, leader of The Fall. He had some potentially suspect ideas. You couldn't say they were out and out racist, but he'd say things that were jarring.

"Lyric-writing is weird. You could say that Ted Nugent back in the 1970s was right-wing. All he ever seemed to talk about was shooting, hunting and fishing. He was like an apologist for the NRA.

"You had Lynyrd Skynyrd, who were stereotypes of the Southern hillbilly. Sweet Home Alabama has a whole verse about Neil Young:

Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow

"Nei Young wrote that song 'Southern Man' criticizing the politics of the South.

"The majority of musicians tend to be left-wing. On the other hand, I've read people like P.J. O'Rourke who I find funny. I agree with him -- why should the Left wing be the only people who can satirize?

"I have an American friend who now lives in Britain. She used to be the girlfriend of Jackson Browne. Now she's married to a famous bone doctor. At parties, she'll say she reads the Daily Telegraph, a right-wing paper, and people attack her for it. She'll respond, 'Why can't I get all points of view? If you can't countenance giving a little thought to what is being said by the right-wing, how would you know what you believed?'

"I know I'm not racist. At the same time, I'm not for completely open immigration policies. It's bred problems in Britian. The July 7th, 2005 bombings is an example of how we've left ourselves open. When I lived in Britain, I couldn't believe that we allowed these fire-breathing Muslim preachers... Over here, what they were saying would be considered treason, but in Britain, we're so liberal, we allowed it to get out of control and July 7th was an example of how it came back to bite us in the ass. There could've been a time when the moderate Muslim leaders could've been encouraged to stand up.

"I'm not anti-Muslim. I'm anti people who are not supportive of the culture that is giving them succor and sanctuary.

"If you don't know what is being said in a radicalized mosque, you are allowing people to be brainwashed into potentially atrocious acts.

"This is politicizing society. We all became a bit apolitical in the past 20 years. I was amazed at the lack of student political protest. People don't seem to care that when the Republicans held their convention here in New York in 2004, hundreds of people were arrested, supposedly to keep things safe. The police were arresting people just because Bloomberg wanted them gone in case there was trouble. Twenty five years ago, that would've caused a riot. Now people just roll over and let it happen.

"I don't have any good theories other than that we are all a bit affluent."

Luke: "Maybe people have better things to do with their time?"

Richard: "Maybe. It's easy to protest when you're broke. When you have a lifestyle to protect, it tends to depoliticize people and makes you think about the material things in life."

Luke: "And people getting older. Old people don't march in riots."

Richard: "I have a 16 year old daughter. She's strident in her views. She's in a performing arts school. A helluva lot of her male friends are gay, which is the nature of being in a performing arts school. She's a member of the gay-straight alliance. She goes on AIDS walks. I'm glad she does.

"The political nature of the music business in the seventies seems to have disappeared. Black music is not throwing up enough consciousness in the lyrics like it was, like 'People Get Ready' and 'Innercity Blues' and 'What's Going On?' Paul McCartney wrote that song, 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish.' John Lennon was regarded as a political figure.

"Now it's all clones of 50 Cent and N'Sync. That's why I retired from music and went back to acting. There are no real rock stars anymore. Whatever it was that we thought about rock music's mission seems to be diluted, somewhere between consumerism and downloads... People have such wide choices for entertainment."

Luke: "Do you think the rock music mission turned out to be an illusion?"

Richard: "At the time I didn't think it was an illusion, but it didn't have any longevity. It didn't pass down through the generations. When you look back on hippies, they look a little bit pathetic. But at the time, hippies protesting the Vietnam War were important."

Luke: "I'm wondering if pop music, including the music you worked on, is primarily a form of entertainment and is not primarily a vessel for intellectual and political change?"

Richard: "It is primarily about entertainment but that doesn't mean a message can't be entertaining. Today you are less likely to hear something that will shock you. The Sex Pistols went so far, there's not much you can do now.

"If you take female politics, where are the women protesting the sexualization of fashion and music and everything else? I'm the same as any other redblooded male. I watch the Pussycat Dolls and it's hugely entertaining because they're scantily clad. I can think of a time, maybe 15 years ago, when I would've been told off by various women for that. Now there's a small percentage of feminists who would still be angry about it, but they're not making much noise. Where's the protests about the overly pumped image of Lara Croft in Tombraider video games? Nobody cares.

"That goes hand in hand with plastic surgery. Girls now want to have big tits. The majority of them would love to have a large chest and perfect lips. I don't know where it's all going.

"Back in 1980, if you told everybody you were going to get your breasts done, your fat sucked out, your lips done, a bottom reduction, you would've been considered a pariah, a freak."

Luke: "Is there anything that people told you when you were a young man that now looking back you realize they were right?"

Richard: "You probably touched on it when you said music is primarily entertainment. I'm sure a couple of people said to me, 'You won't really care about things in the same way you do now.' There's a big truth in that.

"I've got a 16 year old who's got to go to college. I'm not going to do anything to threaten my livelihood."

Luke: "Anything your parents told you?"

Richard: "This. 'You think this is really important now, but in the fullness of time, it'll be like nothing.'"

Mazda has been in a relationship with a woman for 13 years, married four years. "You don't need the madness to prove anything."

"I own a property in Britain. I own a theatre company (The Queen's Players) in New York. I'm not petit bourgeois but I am bourgeois."