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Living Things burn through dollars, sense

March 23, 2009 |  5:23 pm

The economic crisis is a prime opportunity for musicians to whip up some righteous rage in songs and on stages. But leave it to scuzz-rock furballs Living Things (who are actual leftists in the way Lil' Wayne's an actual Martian) to simultaneously offend liberals, plutocrats, the homeless and Perez Hilton in one fell swoop with its recent groaner of a promotional stunt for its new album, "Habeas Corpus."

On Saturday, the St. Louis quartet (along with several homeless people from a local shelter) commandeered the stage at Hilton's South by Southwest showcase during a set by the infinitely preferable electro-rap band Thunderheist. Then, in a thrilling coup of virtuosic metaphor, they decried the current capitalist malaise by burning dollar bills, a feat they repeated at several of their own shows that week.

Now, let's set aside the fact that this little gag has been done before, and in much more spectacular fashion. And let's not be petty by pointing out that, hypothesizing that the band and their homeless guests burned at least eight dollar bills, they could have instead vaccinated three children against measles, according to Doctors Without Borders. Let's take this stunt at face value.

What exactly is the message here? That the band has been liberated from an obsessive chase for wealth? Great, I'll tell that to the Amoeba cashier and the good people at Jive Records when I abscond with a few dozen gratis copies of "Habeas Corpus." Is it that the American dollar has been so devalued that it's worthless enough to burn? We're not quite Zimbabwe yet, hoss. That abstract wealth has proved a false facade as a measure of value? OK, but shouldn't you be burning credit default swap notes instead of the one financial asset that's keeping our Chinese debt holders at bay?

Or, perhaps, there is no there at all and the band was just fishing for a trite and easy image to piggyback on populist resentment and land blog write-ups much like this one? Take it away, Living Things, from your press statement on the gag:

"Wall Street's dollar is dirty. Let's burn that dirty dollar. We are not economists. We don't have a solution. But through symbolism we can raise awareness together."

Now, America needs more "awareness" of its financial problems like Tim Geithner needs a forehead extension. Saying that "We are not economists. We don't have a solution" smacks of the willful anti-intellectualism that has pervaded American politics for years. You don't have any ideas about a solution? Perhaps read one of many different viewpoints on the problem and see which one you most agree with. It's not so hard. I just did it on the Internet and refilled my tea mug in the last five minutes. Also, having a vague idea of what you're talking about would lend infinitely more weight to your protest.

Ahh, but it's much easier to bat around cliche, siphon economic-injustice cred off the local homeless and then say that you don't have any proposals for solutions but that someone, somewhere should really do something about those dirty Wall Street dollars, man. And for added insult, they had to go and burn $1 bills, which is the rock equivalent of making it rain with nickels. Burn hundreds or go home, guys.

If nothing else, this crisis is teaching millions upon millions of Americans the real value of earned wealth as opposed to exotic financial instruments, and how the opportunity to earn the former is less and less available every week. Malarkey like this stunt cements the right's images of leftists as warmed-over post-'60s ineffectuals, and bogs down a potentially worthy sentiment in lazy and nonsensical "symbolism."

-- August Brown