On the stage or the stump?

Listening to the radio recently, the Steeles’ “God’s Cemetery” came on, and I was put in mind of, as hard as it is to say, how thankful I am that the Steeles weren’t on the Thursday-Saturday schedule of the convention this year. As regular reader JG remarked to me a bit ago, the Steeles seem stuck in some kind of creative time warp, trying to recreate the success of “We Want America Back.” Indeed, JG may be on to something, at least judging from the Steele’s website (beware; it’s a Flash player hog) and the few times they played the convention on the weekend. In their last couple of appearances at NQC, the Steele’s sets were highly derivative (hat tip, SV): same pace, same exhortative speech from Jeff Steele, same attempt at a big finish with flag-corps-and-choir and/or Stars-and-Stripes musical melodrama, complete with Jeff Steele recitation (and I seem to recall at least one year when the Wilburns got in on the act with a flag brigade and robed choir of their own). I wish we could all agree right now that groups ought to stop resorting to emotional ploys and histrionic stunts to carry sets that can’t and don’t stand on their own musically. You know the songs I’m talking about: flatfooted, one-dimensional numbers that inevitably rely on hot-button political or social themes to get a rise out of audiences that would otherwise be thoroughly underwhelmed by the group’s performance. The Nelon’s “We’ve Got to Get America Back to God” (though one of the best examples of this genre), the Steele’s “God’s Cemetery” and “We Want America Back” - all are essentially the same song sung over and over in different keys and with slightly different words. The pretentious, self-regarding nature of these tunes is bad enough (who told the Steeles, or anyone else for that matter, that they are synonymous with “we” and speak for anyone else but themselves?). But the bigger problem is that these kinds of songs thrive on a nasty, polemical, apocalyptic us-against-them mentality. They play to the easy emotionalism of flag-waving Christian nationalism (which has a pretty creepy historical record around the world), to end-times scare-mongering and comic-book mockery of spiritual warfare, to the sophomoric impetuosity of “the-Devil-can-sit-on-a-tack” Satan-taunting, and, perhaps most egregiously, the manipulative use of culturally divisive issues like abortion, homosexuality, and church-state separation for cheap applause and unearned ovations. If you want to be a stem-winding politician on the stump, run for elective office (something I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jeff Steele do, given the overtly political and propagandistic nature of his groups’ music, concerts, and website) and revive the Singing Senators or something. Otherwise, get off the stage.

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