What happens when musicians become activists? These artists all went above and beyond the call of duty for their causes, upsetting police along the way…
Chrissie Hynde: The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde got nicked by the Parisian police in 2003 for taking part in a PETA protest outside a KFC store, against inhumane killing of chickens. They had blocked traffic on a main street and wiped red paint over the store’s windows – to mimic the blood of mistreated poultry.
Tom Morello: Tom Morello, of RATM and Audioslave fame, was arrested in 2006 along with 400 others while protesting for immigrant hotel workers’ rights. “We’re here to express our solidarity with them,” he said, “to help them unionize and to help them close the gap between their sub-poverty wages and the millions and millions of dollars the people who own these hotels make.”
Nina Simone: Nina protested the Vietnam War by not paying her taxes. Not entirely obvious how that works, no, but interestingly, she avoided the warrant for her arrest by moving to Barbados, where she reportedly had an affair with the Prime Minister, Errol Barrow. Take that, war effort!
Paul Simonon, The Clash: In 2011, Paul Simonon spent weeks as a ship’s cook on Greenpeace’s MV Esperanza. The Greenpeace activist was then arrested for storming the Leiv Eriksson oil rig near Greenland with 18 others in speedboats. “We went to the office,” he said, “to ask what their oil spill response plan was.” The rig called the authorities and the lot were arrested.
Joan Baez: Folk musician Joan Baez was extremely active in the Vietnam protests, getting herself arrested twice in 1967 and spending over a month in jail. She’d blocked the entrance of the Armed Forces Induction Center in Oakland, California, from access by young inductees, but was also protesting in solidarity with conscientious objectors. Where was Bob Dylan?
Pussy Riot: Pussy Riot, Russia’s balaclava-wearing Putin-objectors, are now famous throughout the world for their arrest in 2012 after they danced in a church, singing, “Mother of God, chase Putin away!” Three of them were convicted for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and were released the following year after going on hunger strike.
Mos Def: “Disorderly conduct” here translates to performing an impromptu gig on a flatbed truck outside the 2006 VMAs at NYC’s Radio City Music Hall. Mos Def gave an unauthorised performance of ‘Katrina Clap’, criticising how George W. Bush’s administration dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: “He out treatin’ bruthas worse than they treat the trash”. He was released the next day.
Tim Commerford: Another Rage Against The Machine one here – bassist Tim Commerford clambered up a fake palm tree onstage at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, refusing to descend after Limp Bizkit won Best Rock Video. Not the noblest of protests, to be honest – he ended up getting arrested and spending the night in jail.
Madonna: Madge was threatened with arrest for ‘promoting gay behaviour’ ahead of a string of Russian concerts she was scheduled to perform in 2014. Despite the strict LGBT ‘propaganda law’ there, she went ahead and did it anyway, commenting, “I did not change one moment of my show. 87 of my fans were arrested for gay behaviour – whatever that is.”
Denise Ho: 2014’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong got their first celebrity arrest in the form of Cantopop singer Denise Ho. After seeing teargas used on students, she said, “There was no option but to stand up. This is part of my responsibility as an adult and celebrity, to fill the responsibility of civil disobedience.” She’s now said to have been blacklisted by Chinese authorities.
Pete Seeger: Legendary folk guitarist Seeger was arrested when McCarthyism was in full swing. Seeger appeared before McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities and refused to name other communists, also refusing to plead the fifth amendment, which would have prevented a year spent in jail.