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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Concert Junkie: A Look at Politics and Music

Politics, sex, and religion are three subjects banned in bars. None of these are anyone’s favorite topics to discuss, particularly politics. Its one of those emotional subjects that when it’s brought up, even by asking a simple question, an argument usually ensues. It’s best to keep your views hidden like a dirty, dark secret. You try to avoid saying anything, until someone says a ridiculous comment about being afraid to vote for Barack Obama because his name sounds scary. But Rodham rhymes with Saddam and McCain rhymes with lame and Hussein.

Throughout U.S. history, politics and music have played a dual role together. Political songs respond to current policies, wars, events or actions that the government is either ignoring or tackling. Some political tunes that might come to mind: “Yankee Doodle" (Various Artists), “For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield), “Times are a Changin’” (Bob Dylan), “Not Ready to Make Nice” (Dixie Chicks), “Imagine” (John Lennon), “People Have the Power” (Patty Smith), “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (U2), “War Pigs” (Black Sabbath), “Fortunate Son” (John Fogerty), “Mosh” (Eminem), “Give Peace a Chance” (Lennon), “New Year’s Day” (U2), “Who’ll Stop the Rain” (Fogerty), “Blowin’ in the Wind” (Dylan), “Capital G” (NIN) “We’re All to Blame” (Sum 41) and pretty much every song written by Rage Against the Machine.
“Right now, my favorite political song has to be ‘Hands Held High,’ by Linkin Park,” says RoJoe musician Robert Smith. “The song, to me, is a call to action and solidarity. It speaks to any human being who is sick of the brainwashing that the political establishment has unleashed on us.”

After Sept. 11, 2001 and the invasion into Iraq, all types of music took a more political stance either with their albums or songs. In 2004, Green Day released the politically charged concept album American Idiot. The band wrote the album in response to the onset of the war in Iraq the previous year. Black 47’s anti-war album Iraq includes a song about prominent war protester Cindy Sheehan. NIN’s front man, Trent Reznor, released his response to the current administration, Year Zero without the usual five year waiting period in-between NIN albums. Neil Young released his concept album, Living with War.

NJ band B.I.T.E. bassist and lead singer, Adam Witkowski talks about B.I.T.E’s political song “Monkeys.”
“Lyrically, our song [Monkeys] is targeted towards the government in the sense that no matter what new policy gets passed or new politician comes to power, nothing changes and the same problems reoccur. Promise after promise just to live in the same dream.”

Some bands fall victim to speaking out against political policies and suffer dire consequences. In 2003, nine days before the U.S. invasion into Iraq, the Dixie Chicks lead singer, Natalie Maines, spoke out against Iraq at a concert in London.
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas,” stated Maines.

By the time the band came back to the states to finish their tour, they were greeted with boos and boycotts. Country stations refused to play any Dixie Chick song and Toby Keith posted a portrait of Maines with Saddam Hussein at his concerts. The Dixie Chicks received death threats and were told to, “Shut up and sing,” for speaking out against the war.

Almost similar, Bruce Springsteen’s new album, “Magic,” was not initially played on any mainstream NY radio station, prior to release, because of anti-war and anti-radio sentiments. Springsteen fans had to turn to Fordham University’s independent station, FM 90.7 for any preview. After the release, some stations were finally allowed to play the hit single, “Radio Nowhere.”

Currently with the U.S. election underway, artists are lending their support to any of the candidates. Melissa Ethridge slightly alludes to Hillary Clinton in her song, “What Happens Tomorrow.” At Live Earth’s tri-state area performance at Giants Stadium, Ethridge gave a very politically charged set asking the crowd, "America what happened to us?"

After the New Hampshire primary,, from the Black Eyed Peas, took Obama’s New Hampshire speech and turned it into a song called “Yes, We Can.” According to’s post on his site:, he found inspiration in Obama’s words and felt compelled to call fellow friends and musicians: Scarlet Johansen, John Legend, Chris Dougherty, and others to collaborate on the song. In recent weeks, released another pro-Obama song, with actors and comedians explaining why they are voting for the Illinois Senator, entitled “We are the Ones.”

“From an Australian perspective, I think it is quite interesting to have either [Clinton or Obama] elected,” says Australian singer and songwriter Julieanne Hennessy, who is in the process of working on her first album. “Regardless of the winner, it will have a huge impact beyond America.”

Though presidents and policies change, art will continue to interpret life. Musicians will continue to use their music to express their inner political voice.

By Lori, who's favorite political songs are "Ohio" (Young), "Know Your Rights" (The Clash) and "Born in the U.S.A." (Springsteen). I also want to mention to the McCain supporters that no musician has openly come forward and endorsed him yet, so that is why he was not mentioned in this article.

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