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Rock 'n' Roll remix: Strummin' for political principle ain't new

August 15, 2004 1:10 am

THE BEST PART about a bunch of well-known rock musicians hitting the road in support of Democratic Sen. John Kerry's bid to unseat Republican President George Bush is that the effort is all about the message and not about the money.

The money raised will merely be the icing on the cake. It will be going to a political action committee, MoveOn .org, which is dedicated to defeating Bush, and it should be a tidy sum considering the high-profile musicians involved, including Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, and the Dixie Chicks. The musicians are not accepting pay for these performances.

But the real goal of the planned series of early October concerts is to motivate a generation of voters that hasn't been heard from since the Vietnam War era.

These musicians are unconcerned about the impact their actions will have on their fan base. Talk about vindication for the Dixie Chicks--the highly publicized comments about Bush that once cost them fans and record sales now look like well-placed criticism. They must also appreciate the vocal support of their peers in the industry.

In announcing the politically motivated tour, Bruce Springsteen put it this way:

"Why is it that the wealthiest nation in the world finds it so hard to keep its promise and faith with its weakest citizens? Why do we continue to find it so difficult to see beyond the veil of race? How do we conduct ourselves during difficult times without killing the things we hold dear? Why does the fulfilment of our promise as a people always seem to be just within grasp yet forever out of reach?"

In the days following the announcement, some observers took issue with this foray by popular music into the political scene, arguing that there ought to be a separation of popular music and politics akin to the separation of church and state. The plan was called unprecedented.

Well, anybody familiar with Springsteen's music knows he's unafraid to leap into the political debate. His song "American Skin (41 Shots)" about the 1999 shooting death of black West African immigrant Amadou Diallo at the hands of white New York City police officers made him the target of attempted boycotts, and of obscene gestures by concertgoers when he played the song.

Then, immediately after 9/11 and with a subsequent album, Springsteen helped the nation grieve, and then begin to heal, with his words and music.

John Mellencamp has made the plight of the American farmer his cause celèbre with his series of Farm Aid concerts and lyrics such as:

Rain on the scarecrow,

Blood on the plow

This land fed a nation,

This land made me proud

And son I'm sorry there's no legacy for you now

Rain on the scarecrow,

Blood on the plow

Rain on the scarecrow,

Blood on the plow.

Perhaps you recall "Four Dead in Ohio," a song about the shooting of four Kent State students by National Guardsmen, written by Neil Young of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:

Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin'

We're finally on our own

This summer I hear the drummin'

Four dead in Ohio.

And then there's Woodstock, the 1969 music festival that, by demanding nothing more than peace, made a more lasting political statement than the riots, demonstrations, and assassinations of the tumultuous Vietnam era.

There are countless other examples of musicians involving themselves in politics and using their popularity as a soapbox. The upcoming concert series is hardly precedent-setting, but it is welcome and exciting.

The outpouring of anti-Bush sentiment as we approach the first presidential election since Sept. 11 is indeed remarkable. On that day and the weeks and months that followed, Americans rallied around the president as they should have. We had not felt such unity as a nation perhaps since Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, when we shared a determination to defeat a known enemy. This time, however, the enemy is much more difficult to identify and define. We have to be able to trust federal intelligence-gatherers, as well as how the president acts on that information. But evidently we can't.

The campaign rhetoric on both sides laments that in the few years since 9/11, Americans have become even more politically segregated. It is no coincidence that this has taken place during the most potent years of the Bush administration. We've taken our places across the political spectrum, and have become even more unable, or unwilling, to reach a common ground on any issue we deem worthy of debate.

Those of us who already see the Bush administration as the primary source of our divisiveness don't need these musicians to persuade us to vote against him. We don't need to be convinced that, as a nation and as individuals, we are suffering under his leadership. Bush chooses not to focus on the pride we share as Americans, but rather encourages the disdain we feel for one another over what our goals and levels of tolerance as a nation should be.

But for those who are ignoring the political process, perhaps Springsteen and company will help them discover that whether it's his leadership, his mental acuity, his motives, his vision, his advisers, or all of the above, America will be better off without George Bush as president.

If they also get the message that they can't be part of the solution if they stay home on Tuesday, Nov. 3, rock on.





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