JOPLIN, Mo. —
While nothing compared to the Internet conflagration prompted by Missouri Rep. and U.S. Senate-hopeful Todd Akin's bizarre rape comments this week, last week had its own political dustup in the form of Rage Against the Machine versus its No. 1 fan, Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
I'm mostly trying to stay away from the presidential election this year, tuning out the cable news programs and rampant blog speculations, and limiting my political reading primarily to longer magazine-style pieces and trusted writers.
But if there''s one type of political story that always entertains me, it's the intersection of (almost always liberal) musicians and the politicians who use their music without permission.
The last go-around was particularly hard for the Republican ticket. Heart nailed Sarah "Barracuda" Palin for using the band's 1977 hit about the vicious corporate machinery of the music industry during her campaign rallies. Similarly, Survivor, Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne, Van Halen, ABBA, John Mellencamp and John Hall, at one time or another, demanded John McCain's campaign not use their music.
In the case of Rage v. Ryan, the band appears upset that a politician is even listening to its music -- though I can understand how Ryan enjoys the band's aggressive rap-rock and not its lyrics about social and economic justice.
One of the worst mistakes I ever made was agreeing to go to a Rage Against the Machine concert, and the band's fans, at least at that particular show, were a bunch of meatheaded bros who enjoyed slamming brews, peeing on each other and screaming extra loud whenever the band's lyricist Zack de la Rocha reached a swear word. By and large, they did not seem particularly concerned about the political aims of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the revolutionary Mexican leftist group supported by Rage.
In an editorial in Rolling Stone magazine, Rage guitarist Tom Morello wrote: "Ryan claims that he likes Rage's sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don¹t care for Paul Ryan's sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever bands he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage."
At a certain point one begins to wonder if there is even any music available for conservative politicians to use? They have Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, a few country musicians, Kid Rock and that theme song Kelsey Grammar sang for "Fraiser," assuming Grammar has the rights. Not a lot of appealing options.
I can't blame musicians for not wanting their music associated with politicians who don't share their viewpoints. Why should they allow their intellectual property to be appropriated without their consent? But it does make one wonder why there is such a dearth of Republican-leaning musicians.
Part of it is most of today's pop music is derived from the '60s, a time when nearly all the youth-oriented music was tied up in the counterculture. And the roots of pop music itself -- folk, blues and country -- are the plights of the often poor and disenfranchised people who wrote the songs.
Conservatives meanwhile have defended policies that cater to the rich and powerful on the grounds that in time these policies will benefit all of society, which makes far less satisfying subject matter for songs.
A few weeks ago on Twitter -- you can follow me @jeremiah_tucker -- I was rewriting the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen from the viewpoint of Mitt Romney. So, for instance, the chorus from "Born to Run" became "Gentle folks like us, lady we were born to be chauffeured" and a memorable line from "Badlands" became "Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king and there's nothing wrong with that or comfortable jeans." I'm not sure Mitt Springsteen would be as popular as Bruce Springsteen, though both would be comfortable with being called "The Boss."
The only time songs from the perspective of the wealthy work well is in hip-hop, and then it's generally escapist fantasy from black men and women either daydreaming or crowing about overcoming a system engineered to hold them back.
Perhaps, if Republicans really wanted a new generation of conservative artists to write them anthems, they should champion strengthening the social safety-net and universal health care so the prospect of trying to make a living as an uninsured, under-employed artist isn't so terrifying?