Can Rock and Roll Save America?
by Bob Pomeroy
Looking back, a huge part of the hubris of the ’60s was a belief that rock and roll could change the world. It did change the world, at least the world of popular entertainment and radio formats. The big changes people believed rock and roll was to bring about — peace, love and a freaky friendly non-violent world — that never came about. Political rockers of the ’60s turned their attention to saving whales or banning nukes or became Republicans. The utopian dreams of the Woodstock Nation died on the infield at Altamont. The youth vote, which some hoped would transform American politics, never really amounted to much. Punk rock brought rebellion back into fashion, but it didn’t even pretend it was going to change the world. Punks were pretty well content with just tearing at the facades of political nicety. To paraphrase the Mekons, youthful rebellion became just a commodity, bought and sold like rock and roll.
It’s with considerable amazement then that I confront the concerted efforts of rock and rollers to influence the outcome of the 2004 election. My jaded sense that most political speak coming from pop stars these days is mainly fashion accessory has been given a kick in the teeth. This effort isn’t just utopian dreaming. This is an all-out blitz by rock and rollers, from the biggest of the big down to local heroes, to swing the election for John Kerry. What’s even more interesting is how they’re trying to do this. Let’s take a look at how rock and roll is trying to save America.
Vote for Change is the highest profile regime change road show. The Vote for Change tour is a synchronized campaign of approximately 40 shows in 30 cities in 9 battleground states over a ten day period. This is an amazing feat of planning and coordination. You basically have six different tours chugging across the country hitting different cities in different states on the same days. Most of the tours start in Pennsylvania, then head to Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The shows spread out over Iowa, Missouri, and North Carolina before the whole thing ends up in Florida on October 8th. (The Jackson Browne lead tour starts off in Seattle then heads through Arizona before hitting the Midwestern swing States.) It would be a pretty big deal to have Bruce Springsteen, REM and Bright Eyes in Orlando at the same time that Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie are in Kissimmee while the Dixie Chicks and James Taylor are in Clearwater and John Mellencamp and Babyface are playing in Miami with Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Keb Mo playing Jacksonville at the same time that Dave Matthews, Ben Harper, Jurassic 5 and My Morning Jacket are singing in Gainesville. The fact that all those bands are hitting Florida on the same night with a unified purpose is pretty astounding. I was going to check out the Dixie Chicks show until I found out the tickets were $87.50. That’s more that this barely-employed scribe can afford. That’s alright though. There is another tour headed our way that’s more affordable. Vote for Change: www.moveonpac.org/vfc
Vote for Change is affiliated with MoveOn and America Coming Together. The shows will pack arenas with platinum selling acts, raising money and hopefully mobilizing a few undecided voters. Punk Voter is another group working to energize the electorate. Punk Voter’s goal is to “educate, register and mobilize over 500,000 of today’s youth as one voice.” What they want that one voice to do is get “involved locally to affect real change nationally.” Punk Voter has already put out two compilation CDs called Rock Against Bush. Now, Rock Against Bush is hitting the road with a tour aimed at filling smaller halls with solid punk rock acts. The Rock Against Bush tours are hitting more states and have many more dates. The Anti-Flag, Strike Anywhere, Midtown and Mike Park tour touches down in Tampa on October 3rd and Orlando on October 4th. Flogging Molly bring their thread of the Rock Against Bush road show to Orlando on September 22nd. Hot Water Music hit Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, St. Petersburg and Gainesville between September 21st and 25th. Punk Voter: www.punkvoter.com/shows/shows.php
That’s a lot of rock and roll wattage being aimed in our direction. But as they say on those late night informercials; Wait, there’s more!
There are artists who still want to do their bit to send George W. Bush back to Crawford, Texas, but who can’t take part in a cross country odyssey. That’s where the people at Concerts for Change come in. Concerts for Change is an organization that coordinates efforts of individual artists wanting to do their part to see John Kerry elected. Looking at their website, I’m overwhelmed by the eclectic list of events going on across the country under this banner. In New York City, you can see a Voices for Change show featuring Broadway stars doing show tunes in a cabaret setting. Downtown at the Knitting Factory, there is a Klezmer for Kerry show featuring a band called What I Like About Jew. Out in Los Angeles, John Doe, Grant Lee Buffalo and Kristen Hersh put on singer-songwriter night. Down on the bayou in New Orleans a local jazz showcase happened. If you’re more into dancing than live music, there is a DJ Party out in San Francisco. My favorite event listing has to be Burlesque Against Bush. This was an evening of modern burlesque revivalists including The Pontani Sisters, Dirty Martini, Delirium Tremens and Les Sans Culottes. They took over the Knitting Factory in New York for a night to put some dirty, clean fun into politics. The Concerts for Change web site even has a do-it-yourself kit for putting on your own show. Concerts for Change: www.concertsforvictory.org/index.php
But that’s not all…
Once I got started looking into these get out the progressive voter events, I just couldn’t stop myself. How can you not appreciate the exotic dancer in Los Angeles who put up a web site called www.VampsForVotes.com to encourage voter registration. Then there is Run Against Bush who are mobilizing those radical joggers and fitness runners. They sponsored a national Run Against Bush Day on Saturday, September 18th. The group is planning events in 100 cities across the country and expects to have over 10,000 participants. Run Against Bush: www.runagainstbush.org
Confession time: I got caught up in the spirit of the thing and helped Dave Hundley organize an all local band voter registration concert drive concert for September 11th at the State Theater. The show featured Weak Sauce, Knowing Stu and the Bad Touch. There were information tables and people doing voter registration at the show. (Thanks Dave for doing all the hard work).
So the question remains, can rock and roll (and runners and burlesque queens and actors) tip enough undecided voters to decide the 2004 election? I don’t know. If each show only sways one or two voters, it could be enough. Remember, in the 2000 election Al Gore won the popular vote and it was 537 ballots in Florida that allowed Bush to claim victory in the Electoral College. This election, maybe more than in any election before, every vote is going to matter.