Fight the power, fire your bandmates – after a tweet about Bernie Sanders

Flavor Flav has been sacked from Public Enemy, a band he helped create 35 years ago

Public Enemy  performs  during a campaign rally for US Democratic presidential candidate  Bernie Sanders  in Los Angeles,  March 1st. Photograph: Epa/Etienne Laurent

Public Enemy performs during a campaign rally for US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Los Angeles, March 1st. Photograph: Epa/Etienne Laurent

 

Comma enthusiasts will have enjoyed the tweet by Flavor Flav – clock-wearing Public Enemy makeweight – concerning his recent expulsion from that seminal hip-hop outfit. “MrChuckD are you kidding me right now???,,,over Bernie Sanders???” he wrote to the founding member. “You wanna destroy something we’ve built over 35 years OVER POLITICS???,,,all because I don’t wanna endorse a candidate,,,”

Hold on a second. Flav is expressing astonishment that something so trivial as “POLITICS???” could drive a wedge between the old chums. What band did he think he’d been in for the past 35 years? Bread? Air Supply? The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver? Public Enemy is the most aggressively political act of its generation. If you want to find an unlikely reason for a rock sacking then look to Lemmy being dumped from Hawkwind for taking too many drugs. Pharmaceutical under-indulgence would have sounded a more plausible cause for expulsion from that space-rock combo.

With this in mind, Flav’s sacking feels more like the biblical shunning of an errant sibling than a mere rearrangement in human resources

Space precludes any comprehensive parsing of Flavor Flav’s defenestration. In a later interview with the Guardian, Flav seemed to contradict his own tweet by denying the falling out had anything to do with Chuck’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders. “I don’t have anything against Bernie. I think he’s a good person and I wish him luck,” he told the paper. Chuck added to the confusion by noting that “It’s not about BERNIE with Flav... he don’t know the difference between Barry Sanders or Bernie Sanders”. (Barry Sanders is, apparently, some class of American footballer).

At any rate, nobody is denying that Flavor Flav has been expelled from an act he helped found in 1985. The dynamics of any long-running group are closer to those of a family than of a business or a sports team. The young people come together over a shared interest in pop culture and, as the decades progress, fit themselves to manacles formed of habit, complacency and financial interdependence. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have, like warring maiden aunts, been making sarcastic digs across the Christmas dinner table since Dr Who was in black and white, but, when the pudding is cleared away, they still settle down to watch the Big Film on the family sofa. (I mean this figuratively, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had, more than once, literally happened.)

With this in mind, Flav’s sacking feels more like the biblical shunning of an errant sibling than a mere rearrangement in human resources. One thinks of David St Hubbins’s feeble attempts to reconcile himself to Nigel Tuffnel’s estrangement in the immortal This is Spinal Tap. “Thirty-seven people have been in this band,” he says through choked tears. “In, you know, six months from now, I can’t see myself missing Nigel more than I might miss Ross McLochness, or Ronnie Pudding, or Danny Upham.” Flavour Flav is no Ronnie Pudding. It’s as if Chuck, like the harsh father in a Victorian novel, has flung his defiant daughter out into the driving snow.

Early ejections matter less. Glen Matlock is right to harbour a grudge about his firing from the Sex Pistols in 1977. Sid Vicious, deemed more satisfactorily anarchic in appearance and behaviour, contributed barely a note to the group’s recorded output, but the Pistols had only been around for two years. Matlock wasn’t part of a family yet.

The case of Brian Jones is harder to categorise. When we consider the absurd durability of the Rolling Stones, Jones’s period as guitarist – a mere seven years – reads like the briefest of throat clearances. But it was he who placed the advertisement that led to the band’s formation. When Jagger and Richards, appalled at their colleague’s erratic behaviour, sacked him in 1969 it must have felt like an act of grand patricide.

The cases of the Stones and Pistols have this in common: key members were sacked to help consolidate a potentially durable brand. It was becoming clear what a Sex Pistol was and what a Rolling Stone was. Pete Best, briefly a Beatle, is still around to offer footnotes on that ruthless strategy.

None of this compares to the cleaving of clan loyalties in the Public Enemy case. There is, however, one band straining harder still to break new ground in the field of extreme sacking. The mighty Slade, West-Midlands glam specialists, appeared to have delivered the oddest expulsion in rock history when, seven years ago, relatively recent employee Dave Glover was dumped for the alleged (and denied) offence of becoming engaged to serial killer Rose West. Just last month, guitarist Dave Hill, looking to go one better, passed a P45 to the 73-year-old Don Powell. By one measure, the two had been playing together for 57 years. Never mind sacking your brother. This must have been like saying goodbye to your own left leg.

Nobody knows why. But we’re pretty sure it had nothing to do with Bernie Sanders. 

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