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6 Famous Musicians Accused of Racism: Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and more
In an email sent to Pitchfork yesterday, drummer Kliph Scurlock explained why he was fired from the Flaming Lips, blaming singer Wayne Coyne and accusing him of racism. In our increasingly progressive society, accusations of racism are thrown around quite often, and as this story shows, even great musicians are subject to it. Here are six other great artists who have been accused of racism.
1. David Bowie
David Bowie has made a career out of reinventing himself, both physically and musically, but his most controversial persona was his Thin White Duke character from 1976, a self-described "emotionless Aryan superman" that Bowie developed for his Station to Station album. Around this time, Bowie would make several pro-fascist comments during interviews, including praises of nationalism and Adolf Hitler, culminating in a famous photograph of Bowie allegedly giving a Nazi salute. In later years, Bowie would blame his actions during this time on his heavy drug use and commitment to the Thin White Duke persona.
2. Eric Clapton
Though Eric Clapton was part of a generation of British musicians who were heavily inspired by American blues, some comments he made in 1976 seem to contradict his love of black culture. During a concert, Clapton voiced his support for anti-immigration politician Enoch Powell, going to so far as to use racial slurs and shout "Keep Britain white!" Clapton would defend his comments by saying they were intended to be funny, but he's never retracted or regretted his support for Powell.
3. Bob Dylan
Even attempts to denounce racism can unintentionally turn into something offensive, as Bob Dylan learned last year. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan commented on the lingering racism in American culture, saying "If you got slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that." But the comment that caused trouble for him was the next one, "Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood." A French-Croatian community association sued both Dylan and Rolling Stone over the remarks (apparently you can be sued in Europe for being racist), though the charges were dropped just a few weeks ago.
Warhol protégé and Velvet Underground singer Nico was born in Germany at the height of the Third Reich, and the white supremacist agenda of the Nazi party apparently never left her, even as she got older and moved to the US. Close friends have recalled her hostility towards Jews and blacks, with journalist Danny Fields claiming, "She had a definite Nordic Aryan streak, [the belief] that she was physically, spiritually, and creatively superior."
Morrissey has been accused of racism for most of his career as the result of various interview comments and song lyrics. He's been quoted as denouncing black music ("Reggae is vile"), has described the Chinese as a "sub-species" due to their animal rights policies, and has written allegedly anti-immigrationist lyrics for songs like "Bengali in Platforms" and "The National Front Disco" (though for the record, I don't think these songs are from his perspective). Though Morrissey is never one to apologize for anything, he joined Unite Against Fascism in 2004, and donated money to the Love Music Hate Racism concert in 2008.
6. Varg Vikernes
If someone has served 15 years in prison for arson and murder, being called a racist is probably no big deal to them, and in Varg Vikernes' case, he wholeheartedly accepts the label. Vikernes was an early figure in the Norwegian black metal scene, which was notoriously violent and white supremacist, with Vikernes even identifying as a Neo-Nazi for a period (though he later rejected the label, as it conflicted with his support of democracy). Though Vikernes is a self-indentified white supremacist, in a 2009 interview he claimed to hate nobody based on race, because apparently there's a difference.