White House hope­fuls try to rock the vote but not the boat

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion - Brian Boyd on mu­sic

Dur­ing the last US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, a group of mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing Bruce Spring­steen and REM, em­barked on a “Vote for Change” tour of cru­cial swing states. The mes­sage from the stage each night was that a vote for the Demo­cratic can­di­date, John Kerry, would help re­move Ge­orge Bush from power. Spring­steen him­self went even fur­ther, writ­ing an edi­to­rial in the New York Times call­ing for “regime change”.

Vote for Change suc­ceeded in at­tract­ing au­di­ences and rais­ing money, but none of the swing states swung Kerry’s way – and Bush did even bet­ter in “Vote for Change’s” heav­ily tar­geted state of Ohio than ex­pected. Some of Spring­steen’s fans erupted in fury at his po­lit­i­cal stance.

“Boy­cott The Boss” post­ings ap­peared on the In­ter­net, with com­ments such as “He thinks mak­ing mil­lions with a song-and- dance rou­tine al­lows him to tell you how to vote. Here’s my vote: Boy­cott him. If you don’t buy his pol­i­tics, don’t buy his mu­sic” and “Spring­steen is a left-wing tool. I won’t be buy­ing any of his al­bums in the fu­ture, nor con­cert tick­ets”.

Pre­vi­ously, The Dixie Chicks made an anti-Bush re­mark at one of their con­certs and found them­selves banned from many ra­dio sta­tions. There were even rit­ual burn­ings of their CDs. Many other Amer­i­can en­ter­tain­ers, such as Linda Rond­stadt and Bar­bra Streisand, have been loudly booed when they voice anti-Bush sen­ti­ments at their shows.

It is pre­cisely be­cause of the fear of a back­lash vote that both Hi­lary Clin­ton and Barack Obama have been stu­diously avoid­ing the rock star en­dorse­ment. To launch her cam­paign, Clin­ton used a Ce­line Dion song. Obama, while he has used mu­sic from U2 and oth­ers, has yet to ac­tu­ally ap­pear with any sig­nif­i­cant mem­ber of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. Though not of­fi­cially Obama-en­dorsed, a video on YouTube, called Yes We Can, fea­tur­ing a host of mu­si­cians and ac­tors, has adopted sub­tler approach. Di­rected by Jesse Dylan (son of Bob) and fea­tur­ing will.i.am from Black Eyed Peas, John Leg­end, Her­bie Han­cock, and Scar­lett Jo­hans­son among oth­ers, the video sets one of Obama’s “in­spi­ra­tional” speeches to light hip-hop beats and soft gui­tar sounds.

The fact that the video is ab­so­lutely atro­cious – it sounds like it was writ­ten by Bob the Builder and fea­tures a stream of mean­ing­less plat­i­tudes that would shame even the most hope­less self-help guru – hasn’t de­terred 13 mil­lion view­ers from click­ing on it. It is be­lieved to be the most watched po­lit­i­cal speech ever.

Tac­ti­cally, it is su­perb. The peo­ple be­hind it ob­vi­ously learnt from the Vote for Change tour. There is no Bush-bash­ing or overt politi­cis­ing. It’s just a vac­u­ous, feel-good video, por­tray­ing Obama as some sort of sweet and cud­dly JFK/Martin Luther King hy­brid. It sounds like an over­long Hall­mark greet­ing card.

In the past fort­night, when Obama seemed close to se­cur­ing the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion, mu­si­cians in­clud­ing Ar­cade Fire be­gan jump­ing on the band­wagon. Fol­low­ing his set­back in this week’s pri­maries, they may go quiet again.

Again, Obama him­self is keep­ing his dis­tance, but uni­lat­er­ally The Grate­ful Dead are to play a one-off re­union show to raise money for his cam­paign, and Fall Out Boy and Pearl Jam (mi­nus Ed­die Ved­der) are do­ing sim­i­lar mu­si­cal en­dorse­ments.

Still, the last three are hardly high-wattage and, in this still close elec­tion, and any en­dorse­ment that might alien­ate vot­ers needs to be scru­ti­nised.

You would ex­pect rock stars to be fall­ing over them­selves to be as­so­ci­ated with a lib­eral black can­di­date (and self-con­fessed co­caine user!). But it would ap­pear that the Obama cam­paign is say­ing “just send the cheque please – you might scare off the Chris­tian vot­ers”. With stakes this high, can you blame him?

Scar­lett: Obama fan

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