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"Protest Singer Attacks Hypocrisy"

Rock 'n' rollers who want to display their conscience are having an easy time of it in these late '80s days: play a few benefits, look as if you mean it, and pay lip service to the broadest based and least controversial causes available. (After all, everybody in their right mind is against environmental destruction and starving Ethiopians.)

But veteran T.O. singer/songwriter/rocker and self-confessed "protest singer" Sebastian Agnello is obnoxious and pissed-off enough to rage against hypocrisy wherever he sees it. For his last few albums, he's taken a "politically incorrect" stance by attacking the armchair-conscience folks who support easy causes with less-than-total commitment.

Sebastian protests against protesters. "Lorraine, Give Us A Break", from his "This Is A Protest Album", charged the renowned Queen Streeter with a "no-wars-if-women-ran-the-world" feminism that conveniently ignores the right wing antics of Maggie Thatcher and Indira Gandhi. He released a song called "Stop picking On America" at the height of the free trade controversy. His "White Liberals On Reggae" album skewers left-leaning sorts who ptotest peacefully while driving BMWs, or demonstrate in front of Litton Systems and then go home to the ol' microwave.

"They're hypocrites," says Sebastian, "and that's what bugs my ass. Not to say that I'm not hypocritical in my own way. But I'm not gonna be like Bruce Cockburn, who accepted Canadian aid money to fly to poor Nicaragua, a country that wont give their people a free vote.

"I wrote 'Stop Picking On America' in 1981. I was traveling through Europe and wherever I went, all these socialist groups were demonstrating. Hundreds of thousands of people all yelling, 'down with America!'. These two American hitch hikers came over to me because they noticed I was wearing a Canadian pin and said, 'they want to kill us!' and tried to hide their US pins. The protestors were burning effigies and U.S. flags, and I got totally indignant.

"So I started yelling, 'Stop picking on America!', and we switched pins. I asked one guy why he was wearing it, and he said 'because my best friend died in Vietnam, and this is what he sent back.' To this day I wear that American pin on my denim jacket.

" 'White Liberals' is an extension of that. A friend dragged me down to Queen Street for a Lillian Allen record release party, and I think she's brilliant. The Horseshoe was packed, and 80 per cent of the audience was white middle-class kids. I thought 'this is great, more power to her.'

"But then she sang something about 'Why is Reagan exporting revolution to South America?' and I said, 'She means Central America, right?' Then she sang, 'He should have exported revolution to Canada!' and I said, 'Huh?! If it's so bad for her, why doesn't she go back to Jamaica?' I said, 'Well, what do you expect? It's a bunch of white liberals on reggae. White people trying to raise money for black people to attack white people? Is that hip or what?'"

Sebastian is a hardass - a loud-mouthed, ranting, maniacal iconoclast. But because he scabrously questions those who question authority, he might also be the most true and effective conscience of the left-leaning musical community in Toronto.

"I picked up the rock, and this is what I found," he's fond of saying. I say it's valuable to have a dissenting extremist around, if only because he forces us to consider all the sides. 

Howard Druckman, Metropolis Magazine