April 28, 2004
Bands Against Bush
by Maureen Farrell
A confidence man, but why so beleagued?
Bushleaguer, Pearl Jam
You've got to hand it to the right wing media. Though they traditionally rail against celebrities who air political views, once they stumble across famous folks who embrace the GOP, they fawn; they rave; they entice them to run for political office.
While the coronation of "courage-of-their-convictions" celebrities like Dennis Miller and Arnold Schwarzenegger is an anthropological wonder (especially when contrasted to the vilification of the country's Susan Sarandons), when this initiation rite backfires, it's doubly intriguing.
In less than a year, for example, Howard Stern went from "Pro-Bush celeb" [FoxNews.com] to anti-Bush activist [HowardStern.com], while the artist formerly known as "Pro-Bush Neil Young" (according to Newsmax, anyway) eventually wondered, "If I keep speaking my mind, will I be deported?"
"[T]o protect freedom it seems that we're going to have to relinquish some of our freedoms for a short period of time," Young said of the Patriot Act back in Dec. 2001. "But it's temporary, and we can't forget that it's temporary." [NewsMax.com] But by May, 2003, the Canadian icon was singing a different tune. "It's not what we thought we were gonna be doing, a lot of the people's civil rights have been compromised, and we don't know what's going on. . . I'm not very happy with the state of things. Music is being banned, and we have people in control of the radio stations who are the same people in control of the concert halls. They're also tied into the [US] administration and are sponsoring pro-war rallies. It's not good," Young said. [The Guardian]
Mr. Young, of course, was referring to the Dixie Chicks' fiasco, when the group was banned from more than fifty radio stations' play lists for saying that they were "ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." (For more, see "Dixie Chicks axed by Clear Channel," Jacksonville Business News Journal, March 18, 2003 [Jacksonville.Bizjournals.com])
And while Don Henley, Sheryl Crow and others have since taken their Clear-Channel-related complaints to Capitol Hill, [MediaAccess.org] the Dixie Chick clamor reverberated across the country:
In the aftermath, the Dixie Chicks contributed $100,000 to Rock the Vote and inspired others to vote, organize and speak out. Here then, are some of the ways musicians are doing just that:
So a new man in the White House
In Nov. 2003, Rolling Stone spoke to thirty musicians regarding a variety of issues -- from Iraq to the economy to the environment to the media -- with each agreeing that their one overriding concern was dumping Dubya come November. "Welcome to the increasingly partisan world of popular music -- where President George W. Bush is a marked man," Rolling Stone's Damien Cave wrote, in his aptly named "Rockers Unite to Oust Bush." [Rolling Stone]
In all, hundreds of musicians have organized, and while some have openly endorsed their favorite candidates, others have been active in other ways. Consider the following:
Approximately 200 bands, including Green Day, the Foo Fighters, Offspring and Pennywise have forged an alliance through PunkVoter, with the single-minded intention of mobilizing America's youth to vote against President Bush in November. Founded by Mike Burkett (otherwise known as Fat Mike of the band NOFX) PunkVoter has been involved in everything from voter-registration drives to a Rock Against Bush Tour to the production of a two-volume "Rock Against Bush" compilation (the first of which was released on April 20, 2004).
"Our goal is to anger the youth of America, and to show them how the Bush administration is bad for them," Burkett was quoted as saying in the New York Times.
Burkett has also been active on other fronts, including educating others about the latest Federal Election Commission (FEC) reforms and "the repressive policies of the Bush Administration."
"I decided to use my influence to get bands together to speak out about the president," Burkett said. "I think it's our responsibility as citizens and musicians to do so. He's wrecking the country and the world." [PunkVoter.com]
Musicians United to Win Without War
In Feb. 2003, Def Jam founder Russell Simmons told USA Today that the American music community was "waking up" to the crisis at hand. A driving force behind "Musicians United to Win Without War" (which was supported by such heavy hitters as Lou Reed, R.E.M., Dave Matthews, David Byrne and Rosanne Cash), Simmons also collaborated with rapper Mos Def to produce television ads criticizing the Bush administration's policies. [USA Today]
The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network
Meanwhile, Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN) hopes to register 4 million voters before the 2004 election. [Hiphopsummitactionnetwork.org]
"The right wing fears the influence of hip-hop translating into political power, and they attack it every time there's a glimmer of a political connection," HSAN's Ben Chavis recently told Salon.com. "Hip-hop transcends race in America. That's the greatest fear of the right wing: a generation who would dare to transcend racial division and embrace a vision of a new America that is more inclusive." [Salon.com]
While more than 1,500 contestants submitted clips for MoveOn.org's "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest, Moby, Michael Stipe, Eddy Vedder and Jack Black (of film and "Tenacious D" fame) served as judges, while drawing attention to wider concerns. "The basic idea was to try to some extent to involve the creative community more in the political process and to disseminate information about what a dreadful president George Bush has been," Moby told Rolling Stone. [Rolling Stone]
Meanwhile, he, like 2000 other activists across the country, hosted a screening of the documentary, Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War as part of a grassroots campaign to spread the truth about Bush's lies.
The 'Tell Us the Truth' Tour
Former Rage Against the Machine and current Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello joined forces with Billy Bragg, Lester Chambers and Steve Earle to embark on the "Tell Us the Truth Tour" [TellUsTheTruth.org] last November. ("Here the raging was mainly against the star of media consolidation, Clear Channel Communications, which since 1996 has grown from fewer than 40 radio stations to more than 1,200 nationwide," the New York Times reported.)
Morello and System of a Down's Serj Tankian also founded "Axis of Justice," a nonprofit political organization which just happens to include a petition to impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney on its Web site.
Meanwhile, System of a Down (the band behind the Michael Moore-directed "BOOM!" video [SystemofaDownOnline.com]) also held a "Souls 2004" benefit concert on April 24,which, according to one piece of promotional literature, was meant "to highlight the broken promises of George W. Bush." [Undercover.com]
Bands Against Bush
"Sonic Youth, the Donnas, the Liars, the Locust and Erase Errata are among the groups who have pledged their support for Bands Against Bush, a self-explanatory new artistic collective dedicated to lending its support to the 'struggle against a world of perpetual fear and violence bolstered by the Bush administration," Rolling Stone reported on Sept. 23, 2003. [Rolling Stone]
Even though the name is indeed self-explanatory, BAB boasts more than twenty regional chapters in America and oversees has a roster of groups interested in partaking in anti-Bush, pro-American causes. [BandsAgainstBush.org]
2) A World Gone Mad
build more bombs as you get more bold
In addition to notable activism, musicians worldwide have assessed the current situation:
"America, what the hell? What are we doing? Like, I can't believe it's gone this far... I can't believe that we're going to war. I still can't believe that we're a democracy and the President was voted in in a non-democratic way by the Supreme Court who were put in place by his father...It's shooting fish in a barrel, isn't it?" -- R.E.M's Michael Stipe, at the Bono MusiCares Person Of The Year event in New York City, Sept. 2003
"I think 9/11 gave this generation an identity, and its identity is potentially fascist. My skin crawls when I think of the first week after 9/11. I was looking out of the window and there were people marching down the street carrying flags. It reminded me of spontaneous, angry Nazis and I thought, 'Oh, man, we are in a lot of trouble'. There's a whole bunch of people who have flags hanging from their cars and who are mistaking fascism for patriotism." Rickie Lee Jones, the Guardian, Oct. 18, 2003
'Why am I, a country singer who has never been involved in politics publicly, the one asking questions?'" -- Natalie Maines, Rolling Stone, Nov. 26, 2003
"We have been lied to and terrorized by our own government, and it is time to take action." -- John Mellencamp, on his Web site, Oct.2003
"Americans are asleep at the wheel. We're not getting involved in our own political process." James Taylor, Rolling Stone, Nov. 26, 2003
"This is a time, I believe, of great inner turmoil for the majority of the American people. There is a new morality coming out of this administration -- fundamentalist religious views; a holier-than-thou attitude towards the rest of the world -- that is not classically American. I don't think Americans felt holier-than-thou in the twentieth century. We were happy and successful, with a great lifestyle. But something else is going on now." -- Neil Young, Rolling Stone, Aug. 21, 2003
"I think the administration took September 11 and used it as a blank check. You try not to be cynical, but without the distraction of Iraq [people would notice] that the economy is doing poorly, and the old fashioned Republican tax cuts for the folks that are doin' well will seriously curtail services for people who are struggling out there. I don't think that's the kind of country Americans really want." -- Bruce Springsteen, Entertainment Weekly, Feb. 2003
"The majority of people out there seem to link September 11 and Iraq. It seems to me that the government hasn't really put any evidence out there. There hasn't been a compelling case linking the two, so I think it's really important to separate them." -- Mike D., The Beastie Boys, MTV.com, March 11, 2003
"I hate to see the American flag hanging out of every bloody station wagon, out of every SUV, every little Midwestern house in some residential area....It's easy to confuse patriotism with nationalism. Flag waving ain't gonna do it." -- Ian Anderson, Nov. 2003 (After which, the New Jersey classic rock radio station WCHR-FM "forever" banned Jethro Tull from its playlist)
"What is the motivation? Regime change? Shouldn't that be up to the people of the region and the people of Iraq? . . . Surely it is more likely that an attack on Iraq would only strengthen Al Qaeda by feeding Anti-American sentiment. Putting out the fire with gasoline, so to speak. It is certainly not to liberate the people of Iraq who suffer under Hussein's rule, unless we call killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis liberation. . . Bottom line: this war is wrong and this war is un-American." -- Dave Matthews, on his Web site, Feb. 2003
"The question of whether we were misled into the war in Iraq isn't a liberal or conservative or Republican or Democratic question, it's an American one. Protecting the democracy that we ask our sons and daughters to die for is our responsibility and our trust. Demanding accountability from our leaders is our job as citizens. It's the American way. So may the truth will out." -- Bruce Springsteen, as quoted in the Madison Capital Times, Sept. 27, 2003
"We're all going to die when George Bush has his way. It's good to go out with a bang." -- Coldplay's Chris Martin, at the Brit Awards, Feb. 26, 2003
"There are myriad causes with which I'm involved, and I have friends who work for a lot of different non-profits, and we all feel the same way: The one cause that seems to take precedence over all the others is to do everything in our power to make sure George Bush is sent back to Texas in 2004. Every cause would benefit immeasurably." Moby, Rolling Stone, Dec. 5, 2003
3) Choice Words
He's an ugly man
Artists have also had some choice words for G.W. Bush:
"Shout a little louder if you want the president impeached." Bruce Springsteen, Oct. 4, 2003 (as reported in Rolling Stone, Nov. 26, 2003)
"Bush has polarized the country and is creating this breeding ground for an opposition. In the next couple of months, they'll probably make it unpatriotic to be Democrat. It's pretty crazy." Neil Young, the Guardian, May 22, 2003
"The America we believe in can't survive another four years of George Bush." -- Moby, Rolling Stone, Nov. 26, 2003.
"None of us feels very comfortable with what Bush is putting forward and the way that Bush is representing the United States, and I don't think he represents us. . . . I mean, you just look at the TV and see this guy who's supposed to be representing us and it just feels ridiculous." -- MCA, the Beastie Boys, MTV.com, March 11, 2003
"We must all unite and work for whomever opposes Bush, regardless of whatever differences we may have. Our motto: Anything but Bush." -- Lou Reed, Rolling Stone, Nov. 26, 2003
"I just look at that man [Bush] and get perturbed, but I figure the true ugliness is inside, so the cross-eyed smug thing is nothing compared to what is going on in that little, twisted head of his." Rickie Lee Jones, the Age.com, Jan. 5, 2004
"And this big deal about Bush landing on an aircraft carrier? Talk about a six-year-old kid with a Tonka toy - we got it here." Neil Young, The Guardian, May 22, 2003
"We'd like to dedicate this to Johnny Cash and to John Kerry who hopefully will be your president one day." -- Chris Martin, the Grammy Awards, Feb. 9, 2004
"That's for the soldiers who die in Iraq every day, because of this stupid plan that the administration didn't have. They didn't know what the hell was going to happen. Bush makes Clinton look like sandpaper -- that's how slippery he is." -- Neil Young, on why he ended his song, "Rockin' in the Free World" (an anthem originally intended to protest Bush #41's policies) with military funeral music, Rolling Stone, Aug. 2003
"We have to get George Bush's ass out of office.. .He doesn't care about Black people. he doesn't care about young people and he certainly doesn't care about all those mothers who have lost their sons in this war in Iraq... Let's register everyone to vote-20 million strong and get him out of office." -- Sean "P-Diddy" Combs, Feb. 7, 2004 at the Rock The Vote Lippert Awards
4) Herd Mentality
With pending anti-First Amendment decency legislation crouching in the wings, artists' concerns about free speech are stronger than ever. This is what some have said about the restrictive post-9/11 atmosphere:
"I did an interview two weeks ago for Fox News. They invited me to come on their national news show and talk about 'Trouble No More.' And I thought, well wait a minute, am I going to have to go on TV and argue with somebody and defend myself? That's not my job. I'm a singer, a songwriter, I'm not going to go on TV and debate and all that bullshit.
They said, "No, no, no. This is strictly about the record." So I said 'OK.' So I go in there and they ask me a few questions about the record. Then all of a sudden the guy says to me, 'You wrote a song that took some potshots at the president. . .Well, you saw what happened to the Dixie Chicks.' I said, 'Listen, people have died in World War I, World War II, the Korean War,Vietnam and a bunch of little wars in between so that people will have the freedom to speak out, and then the administration gets on the news and says there's a price for freedom. Yeah, and these dead guys have already paid for it. For people to drive by those women's houses [the Dixie Chicks] and call them on the phone and threaten them is criminal. What the Dixie Chicks did was legal.'" John Mellencamp, Salon.com, June 30, 2003
"We all live in fairly dangerous times in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. . .. A lot of the songwriters that I've admired and learned from ... are people who spoke in matters of conscience as well as matters of the heart. I think that it's essential that we defend that right." -- Elvis Costello, at an event where he was being honored by songwriters society ASCAP in Beverly Hills,CA, May 20, 2003 (via Billboard.com)
"I think that these are times when it's more important than ever to demand the truth, when there's been a squelching of political debate in this fog of deceitful patriotism." -- Tom Morello, Newsweek.com, Nov. 26, 2003
"Did someone just say 'shut up?' I don't know if you heard about this thing called freedom of speech, man. It's worth thinking about, because it's going away . . ." -- Eddy Vedder, after relaying an anti-war conversation he'd had with a Vietnam veteran and being told to "shut up" by a heckler at a concert in Denver on April 1, 2003
"It is the people who scream loudest about America and freedom who seem to be the most intolerant for people with a differing point of view." [The Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines] was just expressing a feeling and an opinion, you know. She wasn't trying to insight a riot. I really cannot believe the backlash. It is as if we have not learnt anything from history. It is like McCarthyism all over again." Rosanne Cash, Undercover Media, March 2003
"I read a list of un-American people and there was Jimmy Carter on there. He's probably the most honest president we've ever had, since I was alive, and now he's un-American? Well, the whole thing was surreal to me. I have watched Vietnam and a bunch of other skirmishes, but I've never seen another point in time where I felt that McCarthyism was rearing its head. And that's how I felt." -- John Mellencamp, Salon.com, June 30, 2003
"[The attacks on the Dixie Chicks] reminded me of things I'd read about Berlin in 1938. It pissed me off." -- Merle Haggard, Rolling Stone, Nov 26, 2003
"It's funny, having all but obliterated free speech in the press here in the US, [Bush] would remark on the free speech taking place in other countries. You know, people in America are afraid to say anything. . . " -- Rickie Lee Jones, The Guardian, Oct. 18, 2003
"You know it's ironic that we're fighting for democracy in Iraq because we ultimately aren't celebrating democracy here. Because anybody who has anything to say against the war or against the president or whatever -- is punished, and that's not democracy -- it's people being intolerant." Madonna, VH1 (as reported by CBS News, April 18, 2003) [Madonna also partook in self-censorship by canceling the release of her "American Life" video [Salon.com] after Matt Drudge deemed it "the most shocking anti-war, anti-Bush statement yet to come from the show business industry."]
"The pressure coming from the government and big business to enforce conformity of thought concerning the war and politics goes against everything that this country is about -- namely freedom. Right now, we are supposedly fighting to create freedom in Iraq, at the same time that some are trying to intimidate and punish people for using that same freedom here at home." Bruce Springsteen, on his Web site, April, 2003
5) Déjà vu
And its one, two, three, what are we searching for?
Of course, it wasn't too long ago that Ronald Reagan misinterpreted Springsteen's "Born in the USA" and tried to cozy up to the Boss for political purposes. As Salon.com recently explained, "Bruce Springsteen told President Reagan's campaign in 1984 to stop using his anthem "Born in the USA" at rallies; he didn't want it to be associated with the Republicans. In the 2000 campaign George W. Bush received similar cease-and-desist requests from Sting, Tom Petty, John Fogerty, John Mellencamp and Los Lobos. Today, as the party unveils a major new push to land the 18- to 24-year-old vote, the GOP is again grappling with its fragile ties to pop culture." (With Bush's favorite song being "Wake Up, Little Susie," can you blame them?)
But then again, the right does have minimal support, with the punk world, as the New York Times recently explained, becoming "consumed by the same sort of angry right-vs.-left feuding that has divided the rest of America for years. . . " [New York Times].
But even so, the GOP and its media minions [FoxNews.com] try to downplay the importance of activism on this election. "People tend to choose candidates on the issues that they stand for -- and not the position of their favorite musician," RNC spokeswoman Christine Iverson recently said, reminding us, once again, of the posturing that occurred before the start of the war in Iraq.
"When it comes to assessing the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, who are you going to trust? The real president or the guy who plays the president on Wednesday nights?" Jason Zengerle wrote in The New Republic in Feb. 2003, [USA Today] referring, of course, to Martin Sheen (who, in addition to portraying the President of the United States on the West Wing, unwittingly portrayed the antichrist on many a right-wing Web site).
Anyone care to answer that question today?
Luckily for us, today's poets are out there, slugging away. Now if only the nation's journalists would do the same.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original