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Bands and How to (Political) Party Like a Rock Star

McCainocrats. Obamakans. Naderites. Bill Barr-ians. If the band has an opinion, it has a political affiliation, or at least a selection of pieces from a political party. Musicians are typically outspoken advocates for a wide range of social issues – war, climate change, human rights. Politicians, who are both loved and hated, themselves rely on songs to adequately express the sentiments they intend to stand for, but are tarred and feathered for verbalizing in public. From patriotic anthems to today’s vitriolic protest songs, music provides political soundtracks for the saints and sinners of the political season. But should the band provide the musical environment for their elected politician?

Music can unconsciously affect listeners and overtly retain or repel an audience. Such is the case with campaign music. While he can only hope to convey the essence of the politician, he is as controversial as the gas price in the primary season. This year, the audience was treated to a barrage of choices: Celine, Aretha, Elvis, “God Bless the USA,” “The Ron Paul Song” and McCain improvising on the stump to the tune of “Bomb Iran.” “Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys. Awkward retrofitting is only natural in a way. Song choice is so important because what these choices reveal about these politicians is equivalent. After all, political pundits and politicians themselves long to feel the love of an adoring crowd.

Tim Russert and Barack Obama are huge Bruce Springsteen fans. John McCain likes ABBA and the Eagles, and Colin Powell craves calypso music. And there are plenty who toe the line and enlist as rock stars as often as congressional politics allows. Mike Huckabee’s own band, the Capitol Offense, belies his sincere love for Hendrix and Grand Funk Railroad. Tony Snow, President Bush’s former press secretary, also has a part-time rock band habit. The bipartisan rock band Second Amendments is made up of five members of Congress: Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.); Collin Peterson (D-Minn.); Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.); Dave Weldon (R-Fla.); and Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.). For every child who wants to grow up to be president, there are plenty of grown-up politicians who want to be rock stars. In a way, the lifestyles of aspiring rock stars and ambitious politicians are strikingly similar; they travel the country to draw attention to their existence and try to make a favorable impression on everyone they meet who stops to listen; a few hours of sleep and junk food; few people understand fast scheduling and fewer still can keep up with it.

But even so, music and politics are strange bedfellows. Rock, by its very nature, is the art of rebellion, an ancient scream in the key of E played through a Marshall, turned up to 11. And despite their deceptive distaste for the establishment, artists often support the candidate. which is most similar to his ideals. Songwriters, after all, envision themselves as the voice of a generation that speaks not only to money and unrequited love, but to the disenfranchised, the lonely, the downtrodden—people no different from the songwriters themselves, and no different from the most common. suppressed or outraged voices in politics. Bruce Springsteen; Ted Nugent; Rage Against the Machine; Johnny Ramone.; NOFX; and Charlie Daniels are well-known artists who have at times taken a hard line with their political stances. So what about your band? With it being the season for politics, have you thought about reaching out and speaking out for the candidate or party of your choice? And do you need it?

While many bands have strong political opinions, few voice the truths they take for granted, and fewer still speak out loud about their close beliefs. This can seem like both great character and suicidal career suicide. After all, music makes and breaks our identity as much as any clothing brand, regional accent or home location can. Because for everyone inspired by a gang’s stance, there will be others who see it as a personal betrayal. So for bands considering making their political allegiances public, here are a few things to consider carefully:

1) Be prepared to offend and alienate some fans.
No matter how pure and true your intentions are, understand that your band will lose some fans. Issues involving people’s loved ones, health, and finances are incredibly sensitive topics, and people take it personally when you offend the person or party they believe represents their own truth. If you have any doubts about this, there are two words to remember: Dixie Chicks.

2) Know that you will be stereotyped.
The nuances of his political beliefs are eliminated in favor of a 30-second sound bite. It’s much easier to get the band together with a pre-existing mindset than it is to deal with them discussing and correcting their opinion of who they think you are.

3) Make sure your band is ready to make the stand and make sure you make it together.
You need to make sure that your band agrees with the public position, and that all of your band members have enough similar political attitudes that the leader of the group can truly speak for everyone. In times of public dissonance, it is all too easy to point fingers when someone is not truly engaged. If you are not completely positive about taking the step, don’t do it.

4) Realize that most people don’t take the opinions of entertainers seriously.
In a recent AOL Hot Seat poll, Politico’s Jeffrey Kessner asked whether celebrity endorsements influenced how people voted. As of this writing, 96% of them answered with a firm “No”. Your band may not yet have “celebrity” status, but it’s worth noting that endorsements are often ineffective. And while your political battle cry may rally the troops, it probably won’t change the minds of those who don’t already agree with you.

But what if the band decides to take a political stand anyway? What do you need to do to actually initiate action offstage? To take it a step further and actively support a particular candidate, party or cause, think about what would be the most effective use of your band’s time. Below are several suggestions:

1) Play a fundraiser with the proceeds for the party or candidate chosen by your group
2) Donate a percentage of your CD and merchandise sales
3) Voluntary performance at an organizing meeting for supporters of the rally
4) Display a link to the candidate, party or cause on your websites
5) Write and dedicate a theme song to your chosen politician
6) Contact the local organizing committee and offer literature, yard signs, bumper stickers and other information materials during your performances (clear this with the venue first)

Bands will always have the opportunity to be among the most outspoken voices for something they believe in. For those who want to publicly express their version of the country’s future, regardless of the D’s, R’s and I’s on our ballots, their group is their own. Political truth is relative to your own opinion and shaped by your own experiences. So whichever option you choose or not, make sure the policy is truly personal.

© 2008 Refugee Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

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