The Strange Intersection of Musicians and Politicians

We have a strange political system here in America, where we have managed to turn elections into multi-year affairs.  A lot of this is the fault of the media and especially 24-hour cable news networks, which have to find something with which to fill their airtime, and incisive policy discussion ain’t gonna cut it.  As a result, we end up with breathless coverage of every single appearance that a “candidate” may make, followed by countless pieces which attempt to either present us with straight-up bullshit or worse, find a unique bullshit angle to discuss the bullshit.  No, I am not a cynic.

One such example is this recent piece published in the New Republic concerning music played at political rallies.  There have been several instances over the years where artists have asked candidates to refrain from playing their music, with several providing cease-and-desist orders and threatening other legal action.  The author of this particular piece pleads with these musicians to stop engaging in this practice, and in the name of bipartisanship allow their music to be played without regard to the candidate’s politics.

To this I say: Fuck no.

The author makes a very simple mistake in his argument, and that is to confuse a candidate’s personal taste with his or her professional work.  Simply put, when music is played at a rally, there is an implicit connection made in the minds of the audience between the artist and the candidate.  This is not unintentional–the music is selected to convey a particular message, so there is definitely a level of forethought to the presentation that exists beyond “the candidate likes this song.”  And just as it is the case in film and television, an artist has the right not to associate his or her work with a candidate.  Few would argue that an artist must comply with a filmmaker’s demand or an advertiser’s wishes to include a particular song, so why would one assume that a politician should be able to use a song without regard to the wishes of the artist?  That is part of the protections offered by copyright, and a musician should certainly be able to defend that right.

Squishy notions of bipartisanship should not play a part in the decision at all; it may be that the vast majority of examples of refusals may be against Republican candidates, but an individual musician is under no obligation to make up for the gap when their politics are entirely diametrical.  Survivor had every right to be pissed when their megahit “Eye of the Tiger” was used as the soundtrack to the recent rally for Kim Davis–they would much rather have their song associated with the triumph of Rocky instead of affirming the beliefs of a bigot.  If it means that more conservative candidates have to lean on country cliches, that says more about the current sad state of the genre than anything else.

The editorial was on the right track when it discussed the intrusion into the personal lives of candidates; Springsteen does come off as a dick in his interactions with Chris Christie.  If the candidate can separate personal and professional lives in meeting with a hero, the artist should be able to do the same.  I have no doubt in the sincerity of various politicians when they profess their love of certain bands–even though Paul Ryan’s budgets make it seem like he has never listened to a word that Rage Against The Machine has said, he would not be alone in ignoring the content of their message.

Oh, and just because Neil Young wrote “Rockin’ in the Free World” as a protest against the policies of President George H.W. Bush, that does not mean Young should allow it to be used by a competitor against Bush’s son.  Everything that Young said about Bush goes ten-fold against Mr. Trump.

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