Rockers Unite to Oust Bush – Rolling Stone
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Rockers Unite to Oust Bush

Moby, Henley, Matthews ask fans to “get involved”

Bruce Springsteen told a crowd of 50,000 New Yorkers on October 4th
to “shout a little louder if you want the president impeached.” Two
weeks later, John Mellencamp posted an open letter to America on
his Web site, declaring, “We have been lied to and terrorized by
our own government, and it is time to take action.” Meanwhile,
Moby, Eddie Vedder and Michael Stipe are organizing a TV-ad
campaign that will run anti-Bush commercials during the week of the
State of the Union address in January; Dave Matthews is railing
against the war in Iraq in interviews; and at press time, at least
three multiband rock tours planned to take aim at
Bush-administration policies. Green Day, NOFX, Tom Morello, Dixie
Chicks, Don Henley, Willie Nelson and Steve Earle have all played
(or plan to play) for political candidates or causes. Hip-hop stars
have also gotten involved. “We have a voice and a responsibility to
speak out,” says Jay-Z, a member of Russell Simmons’ Hip-Hop
Summit, which aims to register 4 million voters before the 2004
election. “People listen to us.”

Welcome to the increasingly partisan world of popular music —
where President George W. Bush is a marked man. Thirty major
artists interviewed for this story cited many concerns: U.S. policy
on Iraq, the Patriot Act, the Bush administration’s assault on the
environment, the economy and the media. But they all agreed that as
the 2004 presidential election gets closer, it is time to mobilize.
“The America we believe in can’t survive another four years of
George Bush,” says Moby. Adds Lou Reed, “We must all unite and work
for whomever opposes Bush, regardless of whatever differences we
may have. Our motto: Anything but Bush.”

Many artists aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty in the
democratic process, either: At Punkvoter.com, more than 100 bands,
including NOFX, Green Day and Offspring, are creating
voter-registration drives, a political action committee and a Rock
Against Bush Tour. Willie Nelson recently called Dennis Kucinich to
offer his time and a slogan, “Kucinich: His middle name is sin,”
and dozens of other artists are contributing money to campaigns and
performing in swing states and in televised public-service
announcements.

“Musicians have an obligation to get involved,” says Henley,
“not necessarily because they have a forum but because they are
citizens.”

Donna Brazile, Al Gore’s 2000 campaign manager, says that
artists are important to this campaign, because “musicians have
reach that politicians need in order to motivate people to take an
active interest in their future.” With that in mind, eight
Democratic candidates filmed ads for a November 4th Rock the Vote
event designed to woo young voters. In his spot, Wesley Clark even
name-drops OutKast.

It’s not always easy for artists to speak out. Recently, New
Jersey radio station WCHR banned Jethro Tull after the band’s lead
singer, Ian Anderson, was quoted in a local paper saying, “I hate
to see the American flag hanging out of every bloody station wagon.
It’s easy to confuse patriotism with nationalism. Flag-waving ain’t
gonna do it.”

Eight months ago, Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines told a
London audience, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of
the United States is from Texas.” More than fifty radio stations
pulled the Dixie Chicks’ songs off the air, and DJs and fans
launched protests. Says Maines, “I thought, ‘Why am I, a country
singer who has never been involved in politics publicly, the one
asking questions?'”

In July, Dixie Chicks contributed $100,000 to Rock the Vote —
the largest single band donation in the nonprofit’s history. Maines
says that she hopes the London incident will help rally eighteen-
to twenty-four-year-old women to vote. “I had gotten too
comfortable in my life,” she says. “And I wasn’t necessarily active
for things that I believed in. It inspired me.” Maines’ experience
may have scared some musicians away from speaking out, but it
angered others enough to get involved. Merle Haggard, who recorded
his own anti-war song, “That’s the News,” this year, says that the
attacks on the Chicks “reminded me of things I’d read about Berlin
in 1938. It pissed me off.”

The notion that musicians shouldn’t get involved in politics is
“ridiculous,” says Mike Burkett (a.k.a. Fat Mike), lead singer of
NOFX and founder of Punkvoter.com. “Everyone should be involved in
politics: cabdrivers, lawyers . . . everyone.” Artists are in a
unique position to understand the mood of this country, too. “We
travel,” says Henley. “We see what the economy is like in every
city. We take the temperature of between 10,000 and 20,000 people
four nights a week.”

Musicians hope that by getting involved they will inspire their
fans to do the same. James Taylor, who has supported Sen. John
Kerry, says that the administration has benefited from “a failure
of citizenship.” “Americans are asleep at the wheel,” Taylor adds.
“We’re not getting involved in our own political process.”

Mellencamp says that the goal of his open letter and his song
“To Washington” is to turn such apathy into action. “My whole
purpose of being here, to write songs or write a letter like that,
is to put the idea forward that some conversation needs to take
place here, as opposed to accepting the [government] line,” he
says.

But can musicians actually tilt the electoral scale, especially
at a time when voter turnout among eighteen- to
twenty-four-year-olds is at an all-time low? Republican strategists
are skeptical. “People tend to choose candidates on the issues that
they stand for — and not the position of their favorite musician,”
says Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National
Committee. Brazile begs to differ. “People come out because they’re
attracted not just to [the candidate] but also because the
candidate is being endorsed by their favorite artist,” she says.
“It matters.”

Artists clearly agree. Many say they are convinced that they’re
reflecting a national mood that is “disturbed,” in the words of
Haggard, or “agitated,” as Morello puts it, and that fans can be
motivated to get involved. “What you have to realize,” says Russell
Simmons, “is that it’s a cultural step, not only a political step.
It’s in style to be at the rallies. It’s in style to give money
back to education.” Adds Fat Mike, “If we get a few hundred
thousand kids together, we will be a force to reckon with. If
anybody wants our votes, they’re going to have to give us some of
the things we want. If the NRA can do it, why can’t we?”

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