Dictators have been all over the news lately, thanks to the ouster of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and NATO strikes against Libyan relic Muammar Qadhafi.
Believe it or not, but personality traits common to political tyrants are prevalent in the tamer world of popular music. Rock stars may be less violent than their political brethren, but many possess similarly domineering natures and abrasive interpersonal skills.
Today we discuss three political dictators and match them up with their rock & roll soul mates, citing historical evidence and real-life pieces of journalism to make our case.
Dictator: Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe
Ten years ago Robert Mugabe seized thousands of privately owned farms and small businesses across Zimbabwe. In a staged act of goodwill, Mugabe handed them over to a lobby of war veterans, many of whom turned out to be his ill-prepared flunkies and not even veterans at all. In barely 5 years, the Zimbabwean economy collapsed.
Mugabe has grown increasingly paranoid since, and the streets of his country are now overrun with rape-happy secret police goons that torture democracy activists for shits and gigs. Once an African success story, Zimbabwe is nowadays regarded by political scientists as the closest thing to a nation as operated by Charles Manson.
Rock Soul Mate: Axl Rose
Talk about astounding parallels! Mugabe governs like Charles Manson, and Axl Rose once idolized the greasy mass murderer.
Guns N' Roses used to be a rock & roll success story until Axl seized the GN'R name from co-founders Slash and Duff McKagan, and parceled out their jobs to underwhelming, so-called music industry veterans such as guitarist Bumblefoot.
Rose further destroyed his little kingdom's economy by taking 14 years to release the so-so album Chinese Democracy and then refusing to give interviews or go on tour to promote it.
Mugabe and Rose also enjoy punishing their underlings for imaginary slights. This month, Mugabe imprisoned a policeman for using his private bathroom. Over the last 20 years, Rose has repeatedly walked out of concerts when fans take his picture or toss water bottles near the stage.
Just as Mugabe uses state-run media to proclaim his genius, Rose used the GN'R website in 2009 to trumpet the brilliance of Chinese Democracy, and to lash out at his critics and former band mates.
Tellingly, when Rose finally did tour behind Chinese Democracy, he skipped lucrative cities in the United States for dates in the developing world, where audiences are more comfortable amassing in the thousands to get screamed at and insulted by a lone man with a microphone.
Dictator: Kim Jong-Il, Dear Leader of North Korea
The North Korean ruler has been expertly lampooned by the South Park guys so his traits are by now known to most of us.
To recap: Kim is isolative, he surrounds himself with yes-men relatives, he's bequeathed his country to his unqualified son and he's so obsessed with spectacle that he forces citizens to endure lengthy stage extravaganzas centered on his greatness.
Kim also rewrites history to suit his needs, and begs China to bail him out whenever he irks a country with bigger guns. Sound like any musicians you know?
Rock Soul Mate: Eddie Van Halen
Hear us out and you'll agree that these two aren't just soul mates, but clones. While forming his band, Eddie placed a seedy yes man family member in the key position of drummer, older brother Alex Van Halen. Eddie is also poised to pass the mighty Van Halen franchise down to his under-qualified son Wolfgang. And he's such a recluse, he reportedly battled cancer without bothering to tell many of his friends.
Eddie loves gaudy spectacle and has long forced audiences to endure lengthy guitar solos that emphasize his greatness. What kind of man thinks Right Now needs a 9-minute solo? Eddie Van Halen. Anyone else? Not in this country, but Kim Jong-Il probably does, and we'll bet he keeps a stash of Van Halen concert bootlegs under his royal bed, right next to his favorite prostitute.
Van Halen even shares Kim's totalitarian knack for rewriting history. After parting ways with founding bass player Michael Anthony, Eddie reportedly had Anthony's image Photoshopped out of old concert and publicity photos on the band's website (his images were restored after annoyed fans complained).
Just as Kim goes running to the more charismatic China in times of crisis, so did Eddie seek out the vastly more personable David Lee Roth when he needed to stir interest in a new tour in 2007.
Personality-wise, Van Halen and Kim Jong-Il are so alike they should ditch their respective pursuits, meet in a mutually agreeable place and start collaborating. We don't know what these two would come up with, but “Kim and Eddie” sounds to us like the name of a zany morning radio show.
Dictator: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran
This pint-sized despot earned worldwide attention several years ago when he mocked George W. Bush's intelligence and appeared at official functions wearing waist-length Windbreakers instead of dull executive attire.
Earning stateside admiration for his eccentric behavior, Ahmadinejad promptly flushed it all by disputing the Holocaust and ramping up a nuclear program against the rest of the world's wishes.
Cementing his love for contradiction, Ahmadinejad, a political elite, publicly sides with underdogs the world over by occasionally sporting a Keffiyeh, a scarf and visual statement of one's solidarity with Palestine.
After his widely disputed re-election 2 years ago, Ahmadinejad sent armed riot police after peaceful protesters and later justified the violence with dubious claims of his spiritual purity.
Considered a bluffer by some foreign policy experts and a madman by others, Ahmadinejad is definitely one thing: slick enough to use religion and to work the gray areas surrounding his image for political gain. Who does that remind you of?
Rock Soul Mate: Billy Corgan
The leader of the Smashing Pumpkins has spent 20 years crafting a murky image that alienates different segments of his audience at different times. Sometimes he's a miserable, verse-scribbling naïf; others, a Chicago wise-ass who loves Cheap Trick and cheaper beer; and at other times, a seething perfectionist who lords over the mixing board and fires personnel with impunity.
Despite his platinum records and presumable wealth, Corgan pathologically sides with outcasts and fuck-ups, going so far as to strip his head and face clean of hair and to costume himself in frilly skirts and evil space monster costumes.
Corgan also re-formed the Smashing Pumpkins against the world's wishes and uses his spirituality for dubious reasons. Rather than write a straight-up memoir about his life in the music business, Corgan announced in May that his upcoming book will be a “spiritual memoir” of the Smashing Pumpkins (whatever that means).
Of the other names on this list, Corgan seems like the most cultivated and least likely to act violent. Yet if given the chance to face down his sniping hometown critics or anonymous Twitter haters, we're confident that Corgan would surprise us all once again by loading up on pliers, car batteries, nails and other tricks of the torturer's trade.
And we wouldn't blame him. Check out this guy, writer Jim DeRogatis, who has pretty much made a second career out of trashing Corgan: