Ambivalence is a quality that is regarded in general as a gutless affectation of those with money who cannot muster a concerned moan or a sigh about the plight and fate of those less well endowed. Sometimes, though, it is a tale that must be told at times by poets, novelists, playwrights. The undecided experience is an experience none the less. There are those, of course, in this class who at least have what they consider the decency to feign a concern, the very subject of "Salt of the Earth" by the Rolling Stones from their 1968 Beggars Banquet album. An amazing song; Jagger's lyrics does not the very neat and difficult trick of commenting on its own expression with a verse, late in the song, we have the admission
"...when I look in the faceless crowd /A swirling mass of grays and Black and white /They don't look real to me/Or don't they look so strange..."
It's worth noting that if this song didn't have this qualifying, confessional side note where the assumedly monied liberal admits his inability to empathize with the plight of the poor and oppressed, it would have been a first-rate Lefty/Wobbly/Pro-Labor protest song geared to rally the base and convince the still apathetic. This is statement is remarkable not so much because it displays the easy, that is to say lazy irony of an erstwhile progressive being self-aware enough to realize his own absurdity, the rich man continuing to make use of limitless resources while the poor remain poor and subsisting on a pittance; Jagger is honest enough to tell us, as though confessing to a confidante late night, over drinks in the back of a limo that he does not relate at all to the plight of the poor, nor could care at all for their dignity as human beings . This phrase, in the middle of a song that begins as a Socialist Anthem, gives the lie to the whole enterprise. This a moment that reveals a crack in the narrator's otherwise politically -tuned persona; this is about appearances, not progress. Those rankled by the middle verse are, I think, being prodded to think and meditate deeper on their claims of commitment to social justice. Some prefer to act like Jagger's admission were never written, never sung, never recorded. Joan Baez must have noted this as well and changed the lyrics when she covered the song to words sympathetic to the proletariat. It is one of the best inside jokes of the Sixties.
From the Rolling Stones original, however, we have a profound and rare admission from 60s pop-star that the causes and the suffering outside their privileged bubble were alien, "other", and that dealing with them was another pose to strike for the cameras. The Stones were always ambivalent when it came to the politics of the period, but I do admire the way they never shied away from their inability to pick a side.