The Rolling Stones just canceled one of its most beloved songs, “Brown Sugar,” after a brief flurry of so-called outrage.
Veteran troubadour Neal Fox is busy doing the opposite.
Fox’s new album, “Unhinged,” takes direct aim at government overreach, speech restrictions and a news media drowning in Fake News. The events of the past year-plus moved him to write the protest songs in the collection.
The inspiration for “Unhinged” began with the reaction to Donald Trump’s shocking 2016 presidential victory.
“You really started to see people go a bit crazy. He polarized people, but it’s hard to argue with the things he actually implemented,” Fox says. Trump’s critics refused to do that, he notes.
“They wouldn’t look at the statistics … they just hated him because of what the mainstream media was saying about him,” Fox says. “That riled me up.”
Add a global pandemic and the government’s reaction to it, and “Unhinged” was born. Songs like the title track cleverly chart modern times with an eye for the absurd.
Clown faces all distorted
Like the words they had to shout
Their meanings all contorted
As they kicked the sane ones out
The papers had their orders
On the violence, they binged
They lit the fires of hatred
Then we all became UNHINGED
Fox also name checks the George Floyd riots, Antifa’s emergence and progressive politicians “not only not stopping” urban riots but “aiding it and helping it along,” like then-Sen. Kamala Harris bailing out potentially violent protesters.
“That really irritated me,” he adds.
One sign said “Peace” with upraised fist
I searched my mind for what I missed
I passed by house’s charred remains
Another sign said “Break Your Chains”
But buried deep beneath some words of hate
I saw a placard torn in tatters
A ray of light, still not too late
One lonely sign said, “TRUTH MATTERS!”
Fox’s rage simmers on the album, but he says anger can only power a protest album so much.
“We do need to come together,” he says. “It’s why I never call anybody names, like ‘libtards.’ The name calling and the hatred, it’s a really bad way to go.”
“The average Democrat is not crazy. Their methods don’t work,” he adds. “They wanna see the country prosper, but they’re getting information that’s completely one sided.”
Fox began writing protest songs back in the Vietnam era, weaned on musical influences like Bob Dylan, the Beatles and more. The Brooklyn native describes his younger self as a “New York liberal.”
“The idea of voting for a Republican was nauseating,” he says.
The tumultuous era gave him all the fodder he needed, but he kept his activism relegated to his instruments.
“I didn’t go to protest marches. In college I was kind of shy and quiet. I figured I’d write some songs and save the world,” he says with a laugh.
His cynicism fit snugly with the times and his rebellious generation.
“Up until that time nobody really trusted the government. We knew politicians were the slugs of the planet,” he says. He later expanded his government skepticism, fueled by “The Creature from Jekyll Island,” a classic takedown of the Fed.
“It took a while for me to really see what was going on… it opened my eyes,” he says.
Fox realized few would read “Creature” or similar tracts. So he decided to use his musical gifts to spread the word.
“I put it in a form that people are going to listen to it,” he says.
Along the way he fashioned a fascinating career that flirted with mainstream success. He recorded music, briefly, under Clive Davis’ Columbia Records, scored a hit with a tune decrying the abuse of the Amazon rainforest (“In the Jungle”) and skipped across genres in the process.
His musical path later expanded to cover TV themes and commercial jingles. He even recorded theme music for Dan Rather’s CBS Evening News program, at least until the anchor’s documents scandal erupted. His one-man show, “Thank You, Dan Rather,” made the most of that career hiccup.
Fox couldn’t stick to one medium, though. He created musicals, animated shorts, children’s books and more, leaning on whatever technology was within reach.
Lately, Fox is consumed by what many conservatives care deeply about. Except he’s not a conservative, per se. He’s tough to pigeonhole, a quality he mocked years ago with a multimedia show called, what else, “Pigeonholes.”
“I don’t call myself a conservative or liberal. I’m not a libertarian, either. I’m a patriot,” he says. “The Constitution is the greatest document we’ve seen in hundreds of years.”
Most artists today are cheering on deplatforming, censorship and other anti-American tropes. Musicians like Eric Clapton, a fierce opponent of vaccine mandates, are the exception.
Fox isn’t surprised.
“It has to do with 20 years of indoctrination in the publics schools,” he says, recalling his own education promoted traditional topics, not progressive talking points. His schools were still left-leaning, and some teachers may have been avowed Marxists, but they kept that to themselves.
“These kids [today] are growing up with teachers who are out and out Marxists who hate America,” he says.
A restless artist like Fox seems a comfy fit for the 21st century, where creative minds can spread their work on social media and post videos for anyone to peruse.
The singer/songwriter sees it differently.
He says YouTube’s censorial ways, and shadow banning tactics favored by other platforms, limit how much he can reach the masses.
He understands advertisers might not be lining up to be associated with videos entitled, “F*** the Fed.” Still, he’ll face similar punishments for merely pointing out CDC flip flops.
“All of a sudden you get 100 views instead of thousands,” he says.
Fox considers himself an optimist despite the sorry state of the United States. That doesn’t mean American patriots can take a knee while the far-Left swamps the narrative.
“Even if you’re a religious person, do more than just pray. Get off your backside and do something,” he says, adding critics of the status quo are everywhere, even in the artistic community.
”There are a lot more people who think like me who are afraid to say anything for fear they will be blacklisted,” he says. “If enough of them spoke up, it would be the end of Cancel Culture.”