Michele Bachmann hasn’t exactly gotten her campaign off to the best start. It’s bad enough to confuse movie legend John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy and crazily insist that John Quincy Adams was a founding father at the age of nine – but now she’s gone and pissed off Tom Petty. The Minnesota congresswoman played “American Girl” yesterday when she walked onstage at a rally, and Rolling Stone has confirmed reports that Petty’s management team immediately sent the Bachmann campaign a cease and desist letter.
This isn’t the first time that a politician used a Petty song against his will. In 2000 he had to tell George W. Bush to stop using “I Won’t Back Down” at rallies. “It has recently come to our attention that your presidential campaign has been using the above-referenced song in connection with your presidential bid,” Wixen Music Publishing president Randall Wixen wrote to the Bush campaign. “Please be advised that this use has not been approved . . . Any use made by you or your campaign creates, either intentionally or unintentionally, the impression that you and your campaign have been endorsed by Tom Petty, which is not true.”
Petty is far from the only liberal rocker to get riled up a Republican co-opting his song or name. At a New Jersey campaign stop in 1984, Ronald Reagan famously heaped praise upon Bruce Springsteen. “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts,” Reagan said. “It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.” Springsteen wasn’t flattered by the name check.
In 2008, Sarah Palin took the stage at the Republican National Convention while Heart’s “Barracuda” blared over the PA system. “Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women,” Heart said in a statement. “We ask that our song ‘Barracuda’ no longer be used to promote her image. The song ‘Barracuda’ was written in the late Seventies as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. (The ‘barracuda’ represented the business.) While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there’s irony in Republican strategists’ choice to make use of it there.”
That same year, Jackson Browne sued John McCain when his campaign used a portion of “Running On Empty” in a campaign commercial without permission. (They settled out of court and the campaign issued a public apology.) McCain also took the stage to the John Mellencamp songs “Pink Houses” and “Our Country” at many stops on the 2008 campaign, until Mellencamp told him to stop.
The 2012 campaign is just getting started, so who knows what exciting cease and desist letters are going to come down in the next year and a half? Will Paul McCartney have to tell Bachmann to stop playing “Michelle?” Will Chuck Berry stop Jon Huntsman from using “Johnny B. Goode?” Might any of them be stupid enough to play “Born In The U.S.A?” It’s going to be a fun year and a half.