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Dream Theater and Politics don't mix - UGH

  • Dream Theater and Politics don't mix - UGH
    September 16, 2011 - 4:42pm

    I never really thought of Dream Theater as a political band but after their latest release, A Dramatic Turn of Events, I am really having a hard time NOT considering them one. Political messages in music is nothing new, but in my opinion it is such a bad marriage. Why can’t we just keep entertainment and politics separate, unless of course that is a main reason for your art – like – Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down or Dead Kennedys. Dream Theater was never that band, instead they focused on musical diversity and virtuosity. That is what drew me to them and I’d guess much of their audience as well. Politics is such a divisive topic these days that I don’t know why anyone would want to intentionally alienate half their fan base halfway through a successful career.

    Before going any further I should state that I am huge DT fan of 15 years, have always considered them as one my Top 2 fav bands of all time and have seen them more in concert than any other band.

    Dream Theater’s first 6 studio releases included songs that were emotional, personal and many times fictional, story-based lyrics. Then came Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002) which featured a song called The Great Debate. The song debated the topic of stem cell research and included various media clips which gave both sides of the argument. I didn’t really find anything wrong with this song because they didn’t really take a side, however, it was the first time they wrote a song commenting on contemporary social issues.

    Their next album, 2003′s Train of Thought, included the song In The Name of God. This song was about the 9/11 attacks and violence all done in the name of God. I would guess that there aren’t many who disagree with the sentiment here but you can see the band getting more confident with social topics.

    2005′s release, Octavarium, included Sacrificed Sons.

    “Channel surfing
    frantically
    Burning city,
    Smoke and fire,
    Planes we’re certain faith inspired”

    Again, another song about 9/11. There are no surprise to these songs since DT is from New York and were in the city when the attack happened.

    Systematic Choas (2007) is nearly entirely fictitious except for one song, Prophets of War. This song is about the American war in Iraq (and possibly Afghanistan). Such a change of pace from the last couple 9/11 songs. Instead of focusing on the horror of the event and the perpetrators, the band now targets America. Anti-war sentiment in this country was pretty loud in the years following 9/11, however, it still teetered on party lines to some degree. Many extreme opposers to the war called our leaders war profiteers, war criminals and such. Look at the title, the word “Prophet” is actually a homonym for ”Profit” in the song.

    "Can we clean up this mess?
    The loss of loved ones
    A perverse request
    They continue the same rhetoric
    These derelicts that profit

    See you sweat
    Unexpected, controversial
    Get used to it
    Things are gonna get personal
    Your sympathy
    A pitiful display you stutter
    Your empathy
    Means nothing if there is no honor"

    The next album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings, did not have any social songs with the exception of A Rite of Passage which was based on freemasonry but no commentary per se.

    Dream Theater’s latest single, On the Backs of Angels, again goes back to criticism of the US. Ten years after 9/11, Dream Theater isn’t finished with the topic and it can almost be argued to be a continuation of Prophets of War. I didn’t really notice the lyrics until I saw the video which was released this week. Throughout the video, we are fed images of a fallen Rome, stormy weather (reminiscent of The Matrix), soldiers, US government buildings, gears rolling (machines) and finally the crumbling of skyscrapers which relate back to the beginning = America will fall like Rome.

    "Mounting the attack
    While heroes carry your weight

    We spiral towards disaster
    Survival fading faster

    Bleeding us to death
    The new American dream
    You're blinded by your hunger
    Beware your days are numbered

    Tears fall from the shameless
    Selfless are the righteous
    Burden me, lead me like a lamb to the slaughter

    Blurring lines drawn in between
    What is right and what is wrong
    Victims on the radar string us along

    We're on to your agenda
    The dead end road to nowhere"

    Please Dream Theater, stop writing like this. I know this is a plea in vain but you are losing some of us. Now I have to ignore songs that have cool music because you have become preachy and radical. Not only that, I have to suspend belief that I don’t agree with you politically. I understand we all have different beliefs, most of my friends don’t have the same political/social beliefs as me but America bashing is just disgusting. Disagreeing with the war is one thing, calling them evil and treating the nation as the criminal is another thing. All I want is to be able to lay back, get lost in lyrics that make my mind drift away and musicianship that challenges my mind

    34
fb_matt_crouch's picture
on September 16, 2011 - 4:42pm

I never really thought of Dream Theater as a political band but after their latest release, A Dramatic Turn of Events, I am really having a hard time NOT considering them one. Political messages in music is nothing new, but in my opinion it is such a bad marriage. Why can’t we just keep entertainment and politics separate, unless of course that is a main reason for your art – like – Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down or Dead Kennedys. Dream Theater was never that band, instead they focused on musical diversity and virtuosity. That is what drew me to them and I’d guess much of their audience as well. Politics is such a divisive topic these days that I don’t know why anyone would want to intentionally alienate half their fan base halfway through a successful career.

Before going any further I should state that I am huge DT fan of 15 years, have always considered them as one my Top 2 fav bands of all time and have seen them more in concert than any other band.

Dream Theater’s first 6 studio releases included songs that were emotional, personal and many times fictional, story-based lyrics. Then came Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002) which featured a song called The Great Debate. The song debated the topic of stem cell research and included various media clips which gave both sides of the argument. I didn’t really find anything wrong with this song because they didn’t really take a side, however, it was the first time they wrote a song commenting on contemporary social issues.

Their next album, 2003′s Train of Thought, included the song In The Name of God. This song was about the 9/11 attacks and violence all done in the name of God. I would guess that there aren’t many who disagree with the sentiment here but you can see the band getting more confident with social topics.

2005′s release, Octavarium, included Sacrificed Sons.

“Channel surfing
frantically
Burning city,
Smoke and fire,
Planes we’re certain faith inspired”

Again, another song about 9/11. There are no surprise to these songs since DT is from New York and were in the city when the attack happened.

Systematic Choas (2007) is nearly entirely fictitious except for one song, Prophets of War. This song is about the American war in Iraq (and possibly Afghanistan). Such a change of pace from the last couple 9/11 songs. Instead of focusing on the horror of the event and the perpetrators, the band now targets America. Anti-war sentiment in this country was pretty loud in the years following 9/11, however, it still teetered on party lines to some degree. Many extreme opposers to the war called our leaders war profiteers, war criminals and such. Look at the title, the word “Prophet” is actually a homonym for ”Profit” in the song.

"Can we clean up this mess?
The loss of loved ones
A perverse request
They continue the same rhetoric
These derelicts that profit

See you sweat
Unexpected, controversial
Get used to it
Things are gonna get personal
Your sympathy
A pitiful display you stutter
Your empathy
Means nothing if there is no honor"

The next album, Black Clouds & Silver Linings, did not have any social songs with the exception of A Rite of Passage which was based on freemasonry but no commentary per se.

Dream Theater’s latest single, On the Backs of Angels, again goes back to criticism of the US. Ten years after 9/11, Dream Theater isn’t finished with the topic and it can almost be argued to be a continuation of Prophets of War. I didn’t really notice the lyrics until I saw the video which was released this week. Throughout the video, we are fed images of a fallen Rome, stormy weather (reminiscent of The Matrix), soldiers, US government buildings, gears rolling (machines) and finally the crumbling of skyscrapers which relate back to the beginning = America will fall like Rome.

"Mounting the attack
While heroes carry your weight

We spiral towards disaster
Survival fading faster

Bleeding us to death
The new American dream
You're blinded by your hunger
Beware your days are numbered

Tears fall from the shameless
Selfless are the righteous
Burden me, lead me like a lamb to the slaughter

Blurring lines drawn in between
What is right and what is wrong
Victims on the radar string us along

We're on to your agenda
The dead end road to nowhere"

Please Dream Theater, stop writing like this. I know this is a plea in vain but you are losing some of us. Now I have to ignore songs that have cool music because you have become preachy and radical. Not only that, I have to suspend belief that I don’t agree with you politically. I understand we all have different beliefs, most of my friends don’t have the same political/social beliefs as me but America bashing is just disgusting. Disagreeing with the war is one thing, calling them evil and treating the nation as the criminal is another thing. All I want is to be able to lay back, get lost in lyrics that make my mind drift away and musicianship that challenges my mind

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Rpgavan's picture

Art, whether it be music, writing or painting, should be self indulgent. It should be done for the artist first and the audience second. They are going to respond to what is going on around them

Wingnut1991's picture

I enjoy their politically inspired songs. The message I get from On the Backs of Angels, is that this once great country is being torn down by people that would rather find a way to take advantage of others to get ahead, than put their nose to the grindstone and earn what they get. Honestly if you live in the United States and don't see this happening, then you really need to wake up and open your eyes. There is a serious deficit of integrity and morality in the leaders of country today. When I think if the sacrafices that my grandparents and those of that generation made during WWII, it is embarrassing and an absolute tragedy how we have abused and misused the gift of freedom that they gave to us. We did this because this freedom that we enjoy was provided to us, we didn't earn it as they did, therefore we take it for granted.

And another thing, stop cutting me off on the freeway! If you were standing in line at the bank and some jerk walked past 10 people behind you and squeezed between you and the person at the front of the line, you would probably punch them in the back of the head, right? So stop driving the same way. Trust me the world would be a much happier place.

RMDT-Fan's picture

The fan base is also completely international now. I would suspect that there are fans in other countries that don't "hear" the lyrics the same way the OP does. As a lyricist, I hope James and John continue to write what moves them as people whether it's pro-left or pro-right. In their international audience, some are bound to agree with their POV, and some are bound to disagree with it. Just like this post.

RMDT-Fan's picture

[quote=spock84][quote=Hprog]
JP: My point of view is rather conservative. I'm no liberal. When I write about spiralling towards disaster, it is about people who profit from the system and live off of it. The song begins with the words "Standing on the backs of angels". The big thinkers, the creatives and the people who work hard keep the country alive, whilst there are others who just let themselves be tagged and dragged along. The american dream means working hard and being your own man in order to fulfill your own dreams, people who have won their lives through hard work and a belief in something. The new american dream works differently. It's based on taking advantage. It's no longer working hard, but rather living out of the common welfare. These people burden the system and bring it down.[/quote]

I disagree with that 100% and I find it unfortunate that he's got that kind of an opinion (it's ill-informed, naive and prejudiced and I could go on quite a bit as to why), [b]but[/b] I can ignore it and just enjoy the music, just as I do with Rush, whose lyrics are riddled with "objectivist" garbage.[/quote]

Basically where I was going....enjoy the music- find your own truth.

spock84's picture

[quote=Hprog]
JP: My point of view is rather conservative. I'm no liberal. When I write about spiralling towards disaster, it is about people who profit from the system and live off of it. The song begins with the words "Standing on the backs of angels". The big thinkers, the creatives and the people who work hard keep the country alive, whilst there are others who just let themselves be tagged and dragged along. The american dream means working hard and being your own man in order to fulfill your own dreams, people who have won their lives through hard work and a belief in something. The new american dream works differently. It's based on taking advantage. It's no longer working hard, but rather living out of the common welfare. These people burden the system and bring it down.[/quote]

I disagree with that 100% and I find it unfortunate that he's got that kind of an opinion (it's ill-informed, naive and prejudiced and I could go on quite a bit as to why), [b]but[/b] I can ignore it and just enjoy the music, just as I do with Rush, whose lyrics are riddled with "objectivist" garbage.

Jedizen07's picture

There is nothing wrong with musical groups/individuals sharing their feelings regarding polictical matters. In some ways, we have had a history of musicians issuing out statements of policitcs for centuries. Everything from Stravinsky to Robert Johnson has been about some kind of social/political situation. I am for one glad to see Dream Theater has some kind of feelings in regards to politics. This new album is no exception. I feel the current economic climate is well displayed on several songs here. My personal favorite is " Bridges In The Sky. " Now. . .it may not seem like a political song to some. But I can find several implications there from our current US political situation, whether it was implied or not. Then again, I always thought " 18 " by Alice Cooper was a poltical song too ( despite Alice's saying that it wasn't meant to be one ). That is what makes great groups/musicians: Allowing others to interpret feelings after hearing a song about a certain subject matter.

KirksNoseHair_2's picture

It doesn't matter to me what they write about, as long as they stay away from the kind of stuff they did on Systematic Chaos, which I didn't find all that compelling.....I'm referring to songs like The Dark Eternal Night, not Constant Motion

WovenDistortion's picture

[quote=RMDT-Fan][quote=SilentFury007]You don't have to agree with whatever is said, but if you censor it just because you don't agree with it, you end up creating a homogenous blob of nationalism which is considerably different than patriotism.[/quote]

QFT.

RMDT-Fan's picture

[quote=SilentFury007]First of all, I'll admit that the lyrics are the last thing I focus on, so usually I have no idea what a song is actually about until I really look into it, so I could be wrong about this, but it almost seems to me that they're not EVER really picking a side in politics, just bringing up hotly debated issues (The Great Debate). Am I wrong? Are they obviously writing lyrics about one side or another? [/quote]

I definitely have the same listening style as you-- music first, maybe lyrics later. I still don't know all the lyrics to Pull Me Under, yet I've had every release since 92. I first noticed something with The Great Debate as well, but as another poster in this thread commented, I also have started picking up the Christian Rock vibe a bit. All in all, music is art and a vehicle for artists to express themselves. It's up to the listeners and viewers to decide whether or not they like it.

So fb_matt_crouch, if you are truly a patriot, then love your country for the values that it is supposed to represent. Freedom of speech is one of the greatest values our country has tried to give us. If a band like DT or Rush or Queensryche wants to write about something a little deeper than "Girls, Girls, Girls," be thankful that you live in a place where it is accepted! You don't have to agree with whatever is said, but if you censor it just because you don't agree with it, you end up creating a homogenous blob of nationalism which is considerably different than patriotism.

BigBunny's picture

[quote=Necrovarium]Given the fact that this band belongs to these guys and to the fans who support them, I think we can all give and take a little. It's not just about pleasing fans, but pleasing what's in these guys' minds, as well. If they possess the desire to write a set of lyrics about politics, religion, [b]or even the Care Bears I'm okay with it[/b]. If they can make it sound awesome, then I'm on board.[/quote]

Care Bears is fine but i draw the line at Cabbage Patch Kids ;)

Necrovarium's picture

Given the fact that this band belongs to these guys and to the fans who support them, I think we can all give and take a little. It's not just about pleasing fans, but pleasing what's in these guys' minds, as well. If they possess the desire to write a set of lyrics about politics, religion, or even the Care Bears I'm okay with it. If they can make it sound awesome, then I'm on board.

Lightweight's picture

I hope I'm not insulting anyone or making a point to which there was no concern to begin with, but I love their criticizing religion- and politics songs. I haven't found any of the lyrics in those songs to be unneeded nor unjustified. I hope your point was that you'd like another theme for other reasons that you cannot handle your religion and/or country to be bashed in a song?

Without criticism, nothing will change.

BigBunny's picture

[quote=matei]So what if the lyrics got a little bit of politics? After all it's not Justin f*&$@ Bieber to just sing lalala and mean nothing.... They are at the very musical basis, rock'n'roll. And rock'n'roll is all about criticism, and not conforming and trying (at least) to be different, in a positive way, in the end. So, no, I have no problem whatsoever with them taking the political way of writing lyrics, at least from time to time. [/quote]

alot of bands i listen to have political songs. just listen to 'Disposable Heroes' by MetallicA, the song is 25yrs old but is just as relevant today... though it is mainly from the soldiers view. plus there's no music video to go with it.

"i was born for dyyyyyying!"

matei's picture

So what if the lyrics got a little bit of politics? After all it's not Justin f*&$@ Bieber to just sing lalala and mean nothing.... They are at the very musical basis, rock'n'roll. And rock'n'roll is all about criticism, and not conforming and trying (at least) to be different, in a positive way, in the end. So, no, I have no problem whatsoever with them taking the political way of writing lyrics, at least from time to time.

Hprog's picture

Hey there guys,

JP clarifies what the song is about in an interview with the German magazine Rockhard. I post here my own translation. Even though neither German nor English are my native languages, I think I have a good level at both ;) So here it is:

RH: Not only "Outcry" is politically motivated, but also the opening track, "On the Backs of Angels", where you criticize the american dream.

JP: My point of view is rather conservative. I'm no liberal. When I write about spiralling towards disaster, it is about people who profit from the system and live off of it. The song begins with the words "Standing on the backs of angels". The big thinkers, the creatives and the people who work hard keep the country alive, whilst there are others who just let themselves be tagged and dragged along. The american dream means working hard and being your own man in order to fulfill your own dreams, people who have won their lives through hard work and a belief in something. The new american dream works differently. It's based on taking advantage. It's no longer working hard, but rather living out of the common welfare. These people burden the system and bring it down.

So as you see, it's not an anti-American song. It's quite metaphorically written and not so easy to figure out, in my opinion, which I'm also thankful for, considering how bad JP's lyrics were lately.

BigBunny's picture

i just watched the video and i don't think it's "America bashing", if anything it's having a go at the government. America is over 14 trillion dollars in debt and that number is rising. all of the 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia but Bush didn't send the troops in there... i think the song & video are just having a go at the government, that america has to pay for their mistakes.

daveeroberts's picture

Truth is, that there were three (main) writers for the band over the past few albums (Since SDOIT)

Petrucci, Portnoy and LaBrie.

Portnoy was more 'this is my life' kind of writing.
Petrucci was more 'This is a fairytale' writing
And LaBrie is more Politically influenced.

That's the way i see it anyway. Regardless of that however, no-one has any right to tell a band 'they shouldn't be doing this' etc etc.

As Mangini said in an interview people have to find their 'gift' and stick to it. He said [i]"I mean, my whole life people tapping me on the shoulder saying ‘You play too many drums, you play too many notes, blah blah blah blah’ I mean these people are just miserable, I don’t know why they can’t just pick up a tennis racquet and have a cocktail and have some fun – I don’t know what their problem is."[/i]

Personally, I love that quote, and I think that it's 100% true. We have no right to tell people how to do what they do. Just accept it, and smile.

alegratis's picture

[quote=fb_matt_crouch]Have you ever heard the old adage, Never talk about religion and politics with friends? There is a reason why that saying has been around for years.[/quote]

This, exactly, is why I will not comment on the rest of your post.

I Like their lyrics and I agree with most of their ideas.

johncal's picture

[quote=WaterToFire][quote=johncal][quote=AngelBackDTF]@ZeppelinDT: "Everyone's born a democrat and dies a republican". Read that somewhere, seems to be kind of true.[/quote]Because old people become ornery, lonely and selfish, amirite? :p [/quote]

You know, it's not often you get a chance to get insulted and laugh your ass off at the same time.

BigBunny's picture

i've only been a DT fan for 2yrs so i am not as close to thier music as many others are on here. i don't think DT are "America bashing" at all... i don't understand where you get that?

AngelBackDTF's picture

I think I heard something like:

"If you are not a liberal at 20 you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at 30 you have no brain."

I would add if you are not a Libertarian by 40 you probably have learned nothing from the mistakes if being liberal or conservative, but just my opinion and probably not where this thread was intended to go.

AngelBackDTF's picture

[quote=WaterToFire][quote=johncal][quote=AngelBackDTF]@ZeppelinDT: "Everyone's born a democrat and dies a republican". Read that somewhere, seems to be kind of true.[/quote]Because old people become ornery, lonely and selfish, amirite? :p [/quote]

WaterToFire's picture

[quote=johncal][quote=AngelBackDTF]@ZeppelinDT: "Everyone's born a democrat and dies a republican". Read that somewhere, seems to be kind of true.[/quote]Because old people become ornery, lonely and selfish, amirite? :p

Spin's picture

The only song which I think they took it too far was The Great Debate, and perhaps the opening to Sacrificed sons (before the music). When you start throwing speeches in your songs it's getting a bit too political to enjoy it. Otherwise i'm not too fussed. However, saying this, I don't exactly care too much about the lyrics when it comes to Dream Theater, i'm usually listening to other things :).

dspurdy's picture

[quote=ryan1562]who cares if the songs are political sometimes thats what rock and rolll is about just go with it.[/quote]

That's my general thought.

It's funny, my wife still swears that all their lyrics are very religious and still calls them "Christian Rock." I can listen to certain songs and her point of view is justified with me. I couldn't be swayed to like or dislike a song because of what they are saying. The music is what draws me in first and DT does that and then some. ADTOE is quickly becoming my favorite DT album.

ryan1562's picture

who cares if the songs are political sometimes thats what rock and rolll is about just go with it.

EndersGamer's picture

If you hate bad lyrics, you should be ashamed of urself for criticizing ADTOE. it is miles better than the last two albums. The video WAS groan inducing but honestly not because it doesnt touch the truth. Its bcuz, like most doomsayer perspectives, the video offers no solution for the problematic prophecies it suggests. Personnally i dont think the song lyrics themselves were so bad as the images in the vid. Altho the quality was pretty good the content stank of systematic chaos.

johncal's picture

[quote=AngelBackDTF]@ZeppelinDT:

Zep, I believe you are right on. JP is in the conservative/libertarian camp and he has stated that Backs of Angels is about the those who coast along in society, contributing nothing, letting the productive members foot the bill.

If you watched the Chaos in Motion DVD, JP comments on Prophets of War with a veiled hint that he didn't agree with the lyrics but that the band is diverse in many aspects and all opinions are welcome.[/quote]

I guess you could just have a problem with the lyrics if you had a problem with JP's point of view. Of course, being a conservative I don't have a problem with it.

"Everyone's born a democrat and dies a republican". Read that somewhere, seems to be kind of true.

AngelBackDTF's picture

@ZeppelinDT:

Zep, I believe you are right on. JP is in the conservative/libertarian camp and he has stated that Backs of Angels is about the those who coast along in society, contributing nothing, letting the productive members foot the bill.

If you watched the Chaos in Motion DVD, JP comments on Prophets of War with a veiled hint that he didn't agree with the lyrics but that the band is diverse in many aspects and all opinions are welcome.

ZeppelinDT's picture

A couple of points:

1 - "In the Name of God" has nothing to do with 9/11. It's about religious cults. JP wrote it mostly about 3 specific cult leader's. One of them was the dude from Heaven's Gate. I think one was David Koresh (the guy from Waco, Texas). Forget who the third was.

2 - "Sacrificed Sons" obviously was about 9/11. Note that one was written by JLB, who was in Manhattan only a few blocks from Ground Zero on September 11th. I guess it's sort of political, it seems more to me that it's just about the confusion over what was going on that day and why these attacks happened. I don't really hear any particular political message in it.

3 - "Prophets of War" obviously is a political song. Another JLB lyric. James claims that its more about corruption in government on both sides, and he said it was inspired by some book he read (can't remember the name of it). Although, I believe James is the most left-leaning member of the band, and I guess there is some room for interpreting it that way.

4 - "On the Backs of Angels" is still too new for me to have fully digested, but on first impression, I don't necessarily see it as an "attack on the US". It seems more like a criticism of certain factions of society and maybe government. Being that it was written by JP, who I'm pretty sure is a lot more right-leaning, I'd be a little surprised if it's really a continuation of Prophets of War and is really meant to express the same political opinion as a song written by James LaBrie.

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