PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

When Politicians Hit Wrong Notes

From Reagan in the '80s to Limbaugh in 2012, Republicans have an uncanny knack for linking themselves to musicians who don’t support them. Just ask Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp.

With the arrival of Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball, released 6 March, I was psyched to pen an article advocating we all bow down to the altar of Bruce as the mouthpiece for what ails the average American. However, after reading multiple reviews framing it as “the album for the Occupy Movement”, the idea felt as clichéd as describing early R.E.M. as “jangly” or double albums as “sprawling”.

It’s difficult to write about a musician so universally loved he rarely courts controversy. With few exceptions, Springsteen’s critical acclaim and public appeal throughout his career make a mockery of even the best politicians’ poll numbers. His celebration of the blue collar work ethic in the context of “the runaway American dream” make The Boss the unofficial leader of Every Man, everywhere.

Besides, there’s a more fascinating story than Bruce, à la the ghost of Woody Guthrie, reminding us that times are tough, again, because of greedy money-grubbing power brokers, again. Musicians are lining up left and right – well, lining up on the left and against the right – to make sure they aren’t associated with Wall Street and certain politicians.

The GOP isn’t unique in the art of foot-in-mouth disease, but 2012 is proving a banner year for the party with the pachyderm mascot to wade knee-deep in elephant dung. The Republicans just can’t stop picking campaign songs without first securing the rights. Candidates are supposed to get permission from ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) to use copyrighted music in any kind of public performance. However, the Grand Old Party seems to have developed a Grand Old Tradition of failing to do so – or at least, failing make sure the act they’re playing is actually on board with the politician.

This classic stumble can be traced back to 1984. When President Ronald Reagan was running for re-election, he cited Bruce Springsteen as representative of the American dream. What he failed to realize is that “Born in the U.S.A.”, Springsteen’s hit at the time, was not a flag-waving anthem but a seething attack on the poor treatment received by Vietnam veterans when they came home. Oops.

On the flip side, when running for President in 2004, John Kerry tapped Springsteen’s “No Surrender” and Barack Obama used “The Rising” in 2008 and neither suffered any fall out. Perhaps Republican candidates’ constant desire to align themselves with St. Reagan has inspired them to even repeat his gaffes. Newt Gingrich lost the “eye of the tiger” he had just weeks ago that would have allowed him to survive until November. While songwriter Jim Peterik okayed Newt using Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”, co-writer Frank Sullivan filed suit for the song being used without permission.

Similarly, when Michele Bachman was still a candidate back in June, Tom Petty’s camp sent a nice little cease-and-desist letter regarding the use of “American Girl”. She should have taken a lesson from the other side of the aisle. Hillary Rodham Clinton did have permission to use the song when she sought the Presidential nomination in 2008.

Petty also took action when George W. Bush used “I Won’t Back Down” in the 2000 race. In an apparent attempt to lose the classic rock vote, Bush also miffed Sting and John Mellencamp when he used “Brand New Day” and “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”, respectively. In 2008, the rocker from Indiana also offered up a “nay” vote to the Senator from Arizona. In John McCain’s Presidential bid, he played Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” and “Our Country” without approval.

It isn’t that these artists object to their music being used for anything more than “artistic purposes”. Sting and Mellencamp both sold songs for commercials hawking cars and trucks. However, both artists made their political affiliations clear were when they authorized those same songs to Al Gore in 2000 and John Edwards in 2008.

In 2008, McCain seemed determined to align the GOP with AOR (album-oriented rock). However, he not only failed to get Mellencamp’s vote, but got the Foo Fighters and Jackson Browne squarely against him, as well. Ironically, McCain tried to use Browne’s “Running on Empty” as a commentary on Obama’s campaign, but we know who came up empty on that one.

McCain’s VP candidate, Sarah Palin, took the stage at the Republican National Convention to Heart’s “Barracuda”. It may have been her nickname as a basketball player in high school, but instead of cheering for her on the sidelines, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson blew the whistle and called foul.

I don’t deny there are ample bone-headed errors from both sides of the political fence. When it comes to politicians associating themselves with music, though, the Republican party has a runaway lead on hitting sour notes.

Current events have shown a need to reign in their mouthpieces, as well. The recent fracas surrounding radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and his attack on Sandra Fluke demonstrates rock ‘n’ rollers will run away in droves from controversial pundits with equal speed as they will politicians. Peter Gabriel laid the hammer down on Rush for soundtracking his sludge with Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”.

The spirits of Canadian rock band Rush nosedived when they learned their song “The Spirit of Radio” provided the lead-in for commercial breaks on Limbaugh’s show. Anyone with the decency to find Rush the Man’s antics offensive has to chuckle when even Rush the Band doesn’t want to be associated with that name. At this point, “Slut” would be a more acceptable band name.

Artists like Springsteen and Mellencamp have made their political positions well known and have used their own music to make political statements. Musicians have a rich history of crafting music with social and political commentary. Entire genres, such as folk, punk, and rap have grown out of musicians railing against the destruction the establishment has wrought.

Detractors whine that music with a message oversteps the role these entertainers have earned with their public platforms. Frankly, I get excited when I see artists making bold statements that challenge the status quo. As for their qualifications, I was unaware one had to be authorized to express an opinion.

Similarly, politicians are certainly allowed their opinions – and can attempt to tie their images to any musicians they wish. Regardless of what political stance an artist may (or may not) take, all listeners are welcome. Young Republicans for Mellencamp have every right to like the music they like. I’m sure John is happy to sell records no matter who buys them.

However, here’s a memo to the GOP candidates from this year and years to come: Please, learn from your party’s past mistakes. Before you start blaring the latest pop ditty with a fighting spirit or patriotic bent from the speakers at your rally, ask permission.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Music

Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.

Music

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Television

'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Nudges Out Conscience in Our Time of Crises

Avatar shows us that to fight for only the people we know, for simply the things that affect us personally, is neither brave nor heroic, nor particularly useful.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.