Interpretations:The Communists Have The Music

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Interpretation 1[edit]

While I can see how this song could be interpreted as another 1st person narrative from a fictional point of view, I'm going to argue that, when Linnell sings "what I care about is music," he's singing from the heart. The lyrics are not a political argument or diatribe; they are an acknowledgement that the music of communism really is great, especially compared to fascism or objectivism (the philosophy of Ayn Rand). Admittedly, I'd love to hear John and John openly support communist ideas like worker co-ops, free access to health care and education, etc., but I don't think that's what they're doing here. They're celebrating the music of communism and having a great time doing it.

I also REALLY don't think it's some kind of satire poking fun at communists or at people who choose their political ideology based on music. There's just way too much positivity and enthusiasm in this recording to imagine it as a mean-spirited joke. (Zeppyfish, 9/15/18, 9:57 pm PDT)

Interpretation 2[edit]

Given the history of the Johns, it's entirely possible that it's at least somewhat-serious; Their first gig was a Sandinista rally, they've always been pretty far-left. That said, I think there's a little bit of tongue-in-cheek here; after all, while one can find rational reasons to support most political positions, the narrator of the song isn't; he's a communist because of the music. It's notable that there's an allowance that if he did "care for the outfits," he could just as well be fascist. I think this is ultimately a song about someone choosing their political positions for facile reasons -- the aesthetic of the position rather than the substance. If you're just a communist because you like the music, you aren't really a communist, just as you aren't really a fascist if you like the outfits. To actually believe something requires something more than just posing.

And for what it's worth, if you are socialist (or even a social democrat), it's not hard to find music by Them that's dead on. I still say "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair" is one of the best songs ever written about False Consciousness. --Mrfeek (talk) 15:32, 19 September 2018 (EDT)

  • Interjecting lyrics from Black Ops: "... I see a Communist / And there's another one / And his dumb son" could be seen as referring to Flansy and then Linnell and his kid (Henry), form the POV of the secret cops. At least I always saw it thus, before The Communists Have The Music hit the TMBGsphere. CJSF (talk) 15:32, 6 August 2019 (EDT)

Interpretation 3[edit]

A quote by Linnell in the Brooklyn Vegan sheds a bit of light on the song's meaning: " “On the one hand, Fran Lebowitz memorably said of Communism vs. Fascism that one was too dull and the other too exciting,” says TMBG’s John Linnell. “However, our song takes its cue from somebody (I can’t remember who) in our high school, who once compared two bands (I wish I could remember which bands) by declaring that one had the power but the other had the tunes. This enduring metaphor seems to apply to any pair of things we can think of.” Or, as he sings here, “I hear a melody and just as suddenly I know who I’m supposed to be.” --Kaylum (talk) 18:00, 10 October 2018 (EDT)

Interpretation 4[edit]

As to whether there is a tongue in cheek or satirical element to it, I say not for the simple reason that if it's satire it isn't GOOD satire. The narrator never espouses any political beliefs really; you could, if you really wanted, view this song as apolitical. The narrator isn't stating that he is a communist, merely that communists tend to make great music and that he thinks they are more musically endowed than the fascists martials plutocrats etc. This is not a song about someone who's political beliefs are dictated by fashion and art, as the narrator doesn't imply that he is a communist because of their music or that he is a communist at all; the song isn't about communism or politics at all, it's about music. Because that's the case, I believe this song to be as sincere and straightforward as Applause Applause Applause. -ASelfCalledL, 10/11/2018.

  • The satirical force of the song is precisely that the narrator's attitude isn't so much apolitical but depoliticised. They're so easily dazzled by aesthetics that they have absolutely nothing of substance to say about communism, fascism, or anarchism, despite mentioning all three in the course of the song. Their objection to being thought-policed by McCarthyists is only that they're simply in it for the tunes, so they have the wrong guy—no comment on the general injustice of the situation. They're not "jealous of the zealous", suggesting their own political opinions, if they even have any, are fairly anodyne. In a word you could call this person pacified. - Stareadactyl (talk) 18:26, 16 February 2023 (EST)

Interpretation 5[edit]

I'd hate to oversimplify, but I believe this song is relatively straightforward. Fascism is more concerned with top-down control and therefore uses stifling techniques on its subjects. Communism is about bottom-up control wherein people are allowed to be expressive. The song focuses on music because it's a song by musical artists, but really is concerned with art, human spirit, humanity in general. Fascism traditionally suppresses these things whereas communism (not authoritarianism, which many people incorrectly conflate with communism) encourages it. As fascism re-emerges over time, songs like this are a (surprisingly necessary) reminder that it totally sucks - 3toe 17:09, January 3, 2019‎

Gilded Age Plutocrats[edit]

Plutocrats in their beaver hats, I'm guessing, refers to the fat cats of the Gilded Age often depicted (by cartoonists like Thomas Nast) wearing top hats... sometimes these would be made of beaver pelts. The most famous cartoon of this ilk is The Bosses of the Senate. --Nehushtan (talk) 10:55, 2 August 2019 (EDT)

Bland, Canned Ayn Rand[edit]

Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged is a tract for capitalism disguised as fiction. Long-winded pseudo-philosophical rants frequently invade the dialog. The plot is thin, the characters flat, the conclusion foregone. Rand's non-fiction is also clunky. It's not hard to imagine a young music lover retching at the blandness of her books & reaching instead for the pathos and rage of Engels' catalogue of child labor, mill town poverty, disease, and death. Or maybe he just likes the beats. --Nehushtan (talk) 08:28, 17 September 2019 (EDT)

A Love Song to Music[edit]

While many say this is a song full of communist praxis and such, I firmly believe that the Johns aren't writing a song about Communism. In my opinion, if you look deeper, you see that the driving force of the song, is music. John several times repeats that what he cares about, is music, and he is clearly willing to agree with anything to have what he loves. So, he goes with the Communists in this hypothetical instance. He says "I hear a melody, and just as suddenly, I know who I’m supposed to be". He knows what he wants to be, based on music. Communism is an allegory for his true love of music, and nothing being able to overcome that. Grrrrarrgh (talk) 01:32, 18 March 2020 (EDT)

Interpretation 9[edit]

I believe that too many people are looking at this song as an ideological statement. It is not an ideological statement. The lyrics, at least in my opinion, reflect the reality of what political oppression means in the contexts of the United States. The song tells a story of a young communist who believes in communism for mere superficial reasons (and his distaste general capitalism). However, despite his supposed freedom to harbor such beliefs he his dragged away to answer for his “un-American” activity. He goes on to explain that he isn’t “partial to the martial” (a reference to the legal/social justification for capitalist motivations) or to the “plutocrats in their beaver hats” (a plutocrat is a person who derives their political power from the money the possess). It appears that this communist is not exactly what you would think of a communist. He is not extreme or looking to conspire against the establishment. In fact, he openly admits he has made peace with it. He is simply confessing his political leanings in what most influences him, music. Not outfits, guitar picks, or beaver hats. He is not dangerous or even very ideological at all. Ironically, it seems that the only true “un-American” activity was him being dragged off. But this is what I believe the song to represent. That it ISN’T un-American to discriminate against political opponents. It’s simply rare. The entire song is a message about what political oppression (and authoritarianism) means in general. Usually those who are not negatively affected by authoritarianism will rarely notice its existence. But for those who the establishment considers dangerous it is much different. Look no further than the McCarthy trials as evidence of this. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 65.99.106.54 (talk) 06:20, 20 May 2020 (EDT)

People Are Wrong[edit]

I think of this song as another JL dramatization of one of the standard mind quirks. Like Apophenia or Mountain Flowers, Communists has a hero whose reasoning process is a wee bit off. It's wrong to select one's ideological alignment because of a catchy melody, but I feel that Linnell is really saying that almost any other stimulus could be used to produce the same results.

Or different results. The halo effect is as critical to the capitalist economy as it is to communist propaganda. A stirring national (or international) anthem can be the clincher that inspires the revolutionary devotion of a million Marxist-Leninists - just as a buxom babe in a bikini might just be what shoots your local Harley Davidson franchise over its monthly sales quota. --Nehushtan (talk) 17:14, 9 August 2020 (EDT)

Ideology as satisfying an emotional need[edit]

The singer feels alienated from the world: He isn't partial to its various authorities. His curiosity about Engel's Conditions of the Working Class is promptly suppressed by the Committee. Confronted with this atomized, authoritarian society which is intolerant to heterodox ideas, all the singer wants is to escape into his music.

The singer seems uninterested in advancing his ideology on others, preferring to listen to his music privately with his headphones. He's not an ideologue: he's not compelled to communism for intellectual reasons. Instead, the musical aesthetics of communism resonate with him on an emotional level. After all, he doesn't need a rationale to sing the Internationale. Similarly, the singer rejects Ayn Rand's Objectivism not necessarily because he intellectually disagrees with its premises, but because the ideology doesn't resonate with him: it tastes "so bland."

Communist music gives the singer a sense of purpose that he struggles to find elsewhere: he discovers who he's supposed to be. This song has nothing to do with the merits of communism. Instead it is a story about how young people are alienated and suppressed by the world, and how they find comfort in music.--100.35.194.134 16:13, 20 March 2021 (EDT)

Martial or Marshal?[edit]

The lyric here is given as "I'm not partial to the martial," but I don't think that's correct. "I'm not partial to the Marshal" makes much more sense as a reference to Joseph Stalin, Marshal of the Soviet Union. And the "plutocrats in their beaver hats" are clearly Soviet oligarchs (the beaver hats are also known as "Russian hats").

The narrator is explaining that he has every reason not to be a communist, not liking Soviet leaders, and he might even be attracted to the Hugo Boss Nazi uniforms, but no, he doesn't care about the outfits. He's got to be a communist because they have the music and that's all there is to it.

I don't think there's anything ideological about this song -- it's just some fun rhymes using superficial generalizations about different ideologies. The lyric that "the fascists have the outfits" is hysterical and obviously not serious, because if serious then it would be an awful thing to say.

I think John might have asked himself, what sort of smart-ass answer might someone have given upon being dragged in front of the HUAC? Well, here it is -- I only joined for the music!

I love the use of "un-American activity" in a rhyme, this might be the first time it's ever been tried. As for "I don't need a rationale/to sing The Internationale," it makes me laugh so hard that I could puke.


Or maybe it's Marshall, as in The Marshall plan.

BOOK says martial. --ColorOfInfinity (talk) 01:59, 3 May 2022 (EDT)

Synesthesia taken further[edit]

The narrator is experiencing a writer as food and a book as a drink. This initiates the song as taking place in a fairly surreal world. Like John said in the Girlie Action press release, this is inspired by a friend who compared two bands saying one has the power and one has the tunes, and that any two things could be compared using that. This isn't about actual communist music -- though the Internationale is thrown in there as sort of a red herring -- it's about a narrator who experiences an ideology as music, just like he experienced Ayn Rand as a sandwich or Engels' Conditions of the Working Class as a beverage. And you know what? He seems to dig the sound of the communist ideology. -- Never (talk)