Irish rocker Van Morrison just released a new single titled strangely “They own the media.” Who the they is, is unclear, but what is clear is that the dog whistle has been heard loud and clear in the comments section of the Internet.
This isn’t the first time the 75-year-old Van Morrison has faced allegations of antisemitism. In 2005 he was called out for antisemitic tropes in his song “They Sold Me Out.” That song included lines they “sold out for a few shekels” and it’s “the oldest story that’s ever been told.” Again it may be “unclear” who they are but it is clear who use shekels as a currency…
Here’s what the critics had to say about “They own the media” and the latest album. Needless to say, he’s gotten multiple bad reviews.
The new album will include a song called ‘They Own The Media’ — a title that sure seems to be an anti-Semitic trope. Maybe it’s satire. Maybe the “they” of the title doesn’t refer to any specific group of people. But when you consider that this man just went on a months-long COVID-denial tantrum, we have every right to be suspicious about this one.
For those of us who love Van, the concern is always that his madness will overtake his judgment and something will occur that truly desecrates his legacy. “They Own the Media” is a cringeworthy title adjacent to a common anti-Semitic dogwhistle that blessedly turns out to be just another mostly anodyne psycho-non-specific-paranoid-blues workout. Same with “Psychoanalyst’s Ball,” same with “Stop Bitching, Do Something,” and same with (not kidding) “Why Are You on Facebook?” This is the project of loving Van Morrison in the fraught year of 2021. He is the Belfast Cowboy, the dweller on the threshold, the king of the slipstream. He is also transparently insane, in insane times. Together we flow into the mystic.
Despite its genuinely funny anti-social media screed “Why Are You on Facebook?” Morrison’s new record bears a strange resemblance to the unhinged, rambling feel of the pandemic-era internet: more often than not, its 28 tracks come across as a collection of shitposts, subtweets, and Reddit rants set to knockoff John Lee Hooker grooves. Latest Record Project, Vol. 1 comes on the heels of a strange, seemingly difficult, year for Morrison. He spent the pandemic issuing statements that blamed governmental officials and the mainstream media for his inability to perform concerts and releasing surreal songs on the same topic (sample lyric: “On the government website/From the 21st of March 2020/It said Covid-19/Was no longer high risk”).
We were right to be worried. Latest Record Project, Vol. 1 is a total shame of a record, so bad that it actively taints the legacy of one of the 20th century’s finest musicians and makes the case that it’s time for him to hang it up. As expected, it’s full of references to the COVID-19 safety measures Morrison was so outspoken against, as well as more general paranoia (“I’m a targeted individual,” he sings on “The Long Con”) and vague criticisms of the media (we never do find out who specifically the “they” refers to on “They Control the Media”). He rails against everything from what he perceives as the downfall of Western civilization (“Western Man”) to gold-diggers (“No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”) and yes, the social media platform founded by Mark Zuckerberg. (There are plenty of valid criticisms to be levied at Facebook, of course, but all we get here is “Why do you need second-hand friends?” and “Get a life/Is it that empty inside?”)
It’s MI5 this and mind-control that, secret “meetings in the forest”, mainstream media lies and Kool Aid being drunk by the gallon. On Western Man, there’s some troubling alt-right-y stuff about how the west’s “rewards” have been “stolen” by foreigners unknown and we should be “prepared to fight”. And he’s convinced that the shadowy forces of the establishment are engaged in efforts to silence him: “You have to be careful of everything you say”, “I’m a targeted individual”. The latter seems a fairly weird claim to make in the middle of a two-hour long album released by a major label: as far as can be ascertained, Sony is a multinational conglomerate with interests in banking and insurance, rather than an anarchist collective devoted to fearlessly speaking truth to power. Clearly the shadowy forces of the establishment need to up their game a bit.
After almost years of hits, Van Morrison has outed himself as a right wing anti-Semite on his new album, “Latest record Project, Vol. 1.”
The song that’s making people angry is “They Own the Media,” which doesn’t name its enemy but it seems pretty clear. And on YouTube, the comments coming in are all in agreement.
It’s a sad end to a great career. But the heyday of that career was 40 years ago.