System of a Down: Politics, Justice, Rock and Roll

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Serj Tankian, lead singer of System of a Down, voted the #1 band of 2002 by leading critics, is one of the most original and passionate of today’s artists, and one of Integral Institute’s favorite contributors to our ongoing conversation on the avant garde. With a surging and cacophonic presentation, System of a Down simply can’t be pigeonholed—a type of genre-busting transcendental howl. Rolling Stone magazine called System’s sophomore effort, Toxicity, “a bouquet of smart rock and ardent social comment.” In this surprisingly touching dialogue, Serj speaks about some of the most important aspects of his life that contribute to the “post-everything” bouquet of sound that is System of a Down.

All four members of System are of Armenian heritage, and Serj begins the conversation by commenting on their activities with the Armenian National Committee of America and its efforts to hold the US to its commitments to the Genocide Convention. Encyclopedia Britannica estimates that the Ottoman/Turkish government was responsible for the deaths of 600,000–1,500,000 Armenians from 1915-1923, and yet, as Serj points out, this tragedy is “not recognized by the United States officially as a genocide.”

Serj and Ken go on to speak of how a creative response to injustice is central to their work, whether musical or academic. What they both have in common is an integral-aperspectival space—a holding space in consciousness—that rebels against the marginalization of any views, and one of the views most marginalized in today’s world is the integral. Both the culture and the counterculture actively oppress it.

But the conversation is far from morbid. “I think the most open times for me have been when I’m completely goofy and creative… and the most serious and powerful things can come through that goofiness.” The conversation dances from the beginnings of System, to Serj’s eclectic musical interests, to the vital role of a spacious—and integral—consciousness in living and creating in today’s world.

Many people listen to System of a Down and think, “How could you be so angry?” In this dialogue Serj explains, “I’m not angry.” The expression of a deeply caring consciousness can be a passionate shout or a compassionate whisper; they go together. What is so moving about this conversation is the depth of heart-felt compassion and justice expressed by Serj Tankian. “I’ve never spoken so personally about these issues,” he told us. After hearing this dialogue, we think you’ll be glad that he did….

Serj Tankian

About Serj Tankian

Lebanese-born Serj Tankian is the lead singer of mega-popular hard rock band System of a Down. Their sophomore effort, Toxicity, was widely hailed as one of the best albums of 2001. That same year, Tankian started Serjical Strike Records, a Los Angeles-based "label without labels," dedicated to nurturing new and diverse musical acts that would otherwise go ignored by the mainstream music industry.

Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.