In one of the most politically charged election years in U.S. history, the majority of musicians speaking their minds seem energized to vote President George W. Bush out of office.
But a number of notable performers, including country singer Lee Ann Womack, Latin Grammy nominee Jaci Velasquez and Christian rock band Third Day, are slated to appear at next week’s Republican National Convention in New York (Aug. 30-Sept. 2), bucking the left-leaning industry trend.
Anti-Bush acts are making their case in song, such as those on the “Future Soundtrack for America” (Barsuk) and “Rock Against Bush” (Fat Wreck Chords) compilations. Others will do it on stage through outings like Vote for Change swing state tour, which boasts high-profile artists like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, the Dixie Chicks, Babyface and John Mellencamp, among many others.
But will it matter when they do? According to a Billboard.com poll, the answer is no. Of 3,482 voters, 75% said the opinions of recording artists and other celebrities do not influence their political views. Only 8% admitted that they could be swayed, while 17% said their views were “sometimes” altered by the opinions of artists.
Despite the influx of artists on the political scene, there are opposing views.
Rock meets politics
“People shouldn’t vote for a Presidential candidate just because a rock star says so,” veteran artist Alice Cooper says. “And that’s true whether it’s Bruce Springsteen or Alice Cooper... I think that the rebellious spirit of rock’n’roll doesn’t mix well with political fundraisers and electoral campaigning.”
Cooper made his comments in a statement released this week to clarify something he believes was taken out context during a Canadian tour stop, where he was asked his opinion on the Vote for Change tour.
“It’s true what I said, that most of us dropped out of school to chase girls, drink beer, and play rock n roll ...,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions, and it doesn’t mean we don’t care about our country, or what’s going on in the world. It just means I don’t think our opinions should matter to anyone else.”
Singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg agrees. “That’s their choice if they want to do it, but I just really hate when rock ’n’ roll mixes,” the former Replacements lead singer told Billboard.com. “I mean, it’s oil and water when rock ’n’ roll mixes with politics. To me it’s just wrong. It’s something that Wayne Newton can do, you know? Don’t lower yourself.
“I mean, I’ll go out and give a guy money who needs money on the street and I’ll go out and help someone and I’ll go out and stop a fight myself, but I’m not about to go endorse someone for their purpose.”
Singer/songwriter Steve Earle, an outspoken anti-death penalty activist, disagrees, telling Billboard.com he knows the effect his politically charged music has on listeners. “I lost count a long time ago of people coming up to me and telling me they changed their mind about the death penalty because of one of the songs I’d written about that,” he said. “It’s a sizable number of people.”
As for the Vote for Change tour, Earle said, “I totally applaud what they’re doing.” Earle will be touring in many of the same places as that trek in support of his forthcoming album, “The Revolution Starts... Now” (Artemis), but declined to sign on due to other commitments. “I don’t sell as many records as a lot of those other people that are on the tour.”
Earle also understands why so many artists are trying to make a difference this year. “It’s a left-brain, right-brain thing,” he said. “Creative people tend to be more liberal in their politics. Part of it is because we travel... We don’t have the insular view of the rest of the world that the rest of Americans have. And that doesn’t mean we’re better, we’re just lucky.
“I do care what people outside of this country think about us,” he continued. “I think we need their help and I think we need it very desperately right now, which is the main reason I’m voting for Kerry.”