It is a little over a month before the November 2 national election, and I've been slammed by a hurricane of pop culture protest. As I write this column, my email system is clogged with announcements of tours, rallies, voter registration campaigns, and protest records.
Every few days, I get a mass email from "Carolina" asking if I want to volunteer for registering voters at local rock concerts. I also get updates from www.musicforamerica.org, www.punkvoter.com, www.moveon.org, www.hsan.org, and even www.johnkerry.com and www.bushcheney.com.
And there's more to come. In the following weeks South Florida can expect a Rock the Vote Tour with no-name major label prospects such as Keaton Simons and the Wylde Bunch; a Slam Bush competition (see "Bush Bash" in this issue) headlined by the Roots; a Swing the State show with indie rock acts Metric and Midnight Movies; and two Vote for Change concerts, one with John Mellencamp and Babyface, the other with Keb' Mo, Jackson Browne, and Bonnie Raitt.
Not coincidentally, most of these acts have new albums out. I guess many of them may assume that hearing their rants against the political status quo will entice you to buy their CDs. For example, I received a press statement from a publicist for the Heavenly States announcing the Bay Area pop-punk band's "timely and controversial new single," "King Epiphany" backed with "Monument." The press statement calls the single, which criticizes the Bush administration's current occupation of Iraq, as a "testament to the power of resistance."
What has President George W. Bush's electoral opponent, Massachusetts senator John Kerry, done to deserve such munificence? When the first National Hip-Hop Convention was held in Newark, New Jersey last June, and legendary poet Amiri Baraka took the stage and urged the crowd to vote Bush out of office, there were no officials from the Democratic Party or Kerry's campaign who heard him. When I spoke with Robert "Biko" Baker, a respected journalist who helped organize Slam Bush, a political action committee that is currently finishing up an extraordinarily successful grassroots campaign, he admitted that none of Kerry's representatives had acknowledged their work.
Yes, John Kerry gave an interview to MTV earlier this March on which he said admiringly he was "fascinated by rap and hip-hop." But for the most part, he seems to be too busy wooing moderate voters with tales of Vietnam-era heroism and pithy, tentative critiques of our country's occupation of Iraq to support the numerous left-leaning, youth-oriented activists indirectly campaigning for him by spouting an endless stream of anti-Bush propaganda.
Nevertheless, the rhetoric continues to reach deafening levels. My desk is muddied with politically-minded recordings, from Who's America, a compilation assembled by underground imprints Definitive Jux and System Recordings, to nondescript CDs such as Vote in November, an "anti-theft device" assembled by Portland based folk label Waterbug.
Then there is the Future Soundtrack for America, a compilation sponsored by Music for America and Move On, which benefits several progressive organizations. It's not stocked with meandering anti-Bush tracks, though, but over twenty songs meant to convey the breadth of American rock, from will.i.am's cool, jazzy "Money" to the late Elliott Smith's fragile, Beatle-esque "A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free."
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Future Soundtrack for America is a surprisingly strong album given the dodgy nature of most multi-artist compilations, and it is symbolic of the soul-searching many progressive-thinking musicians, some of whom had buried or denied their strong feelings for their native land, are going through. The Bush administration has triggered a response from them that is comparable to the slew of songs that Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, inspired in the early Nineties, from Ministry's "NWO" to Ice Cube's "A Bird in the Hand."
This year, there are equally brazen statements such as Steve Earle's The Revolution Starts...Now, Green Day's American Idiot, and too many others to mention here. However, if current opinion polls are any indication, these "liberal" sentiments are being ignored by most of the country. Just as progressives believe that President Bush hasn't done anything right during his tenure, conservatives have learned to ignore any "liberal" critiques of him.
As I've observed before, I don't tend to deal with tragedy very well -- and I do believe that the current state of American discourse, where red and blue ideologues preach to the converted instead of each other, is lamentable. So I have retreated to the past. It's a way to remind myself that it probably won't be the end of the world if President Bush wins the 2004 election, and that a win by Kerry probably won't transform our society from one that champions greed, ignorance, and global imperialism into one that values moderation, knowledge, and global cooperation.
One song that sticks in my head is Talking Heads's "Once In a Lifetime." On it, David Byrne sings of "water flowing underground," emphasizing continuity in a world of chaos. It reminds me that this current storm of discontent will pass, even if it claims our election, our possessions, and our lives. Same as it ever was.