Saturday, August 25, 2012

Musicians to GOP: Stop using our music!

By Nathan Rothwell

A brief history of GOP musical fails.

Dee Snider joins the growing list of musicians who are not taking it.
Those of you who were around for the summer of 1984 probably remember Bruce Springsteen being a huge part of it. Seven songs from his Born in the U.S.A. album would rank on Billboard’s “Top Ten” hit singles list, a record that still stands today. None of those seven, however, were as iconic and controversial as the album’s title track. While the lyrics tell the story of a working-class American in the midst of a spiritual crisis after surviving the horrors of the Vietnam War, the song’s famous and catchy chorus caused many casual listeners to misinterpret the song as a patriotic anthem.

President Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign was definitely guilty of making that mistake. Reagan and other conservatives praised the song for confirming the values they promoted, while of course paying little heed to lamentations of the song’s protagonist; a man deeply troubled by a government that “put a rifle in my hand, sent me off to the foreign land, to go and kill the yellow man.” The Reagan campaign would go on to seek official endorsement from Springsteen, but anyone who knows Springsteen well can tell you how that turned out.

And so, unofficially, began an era of a strange relationship between music and Republican political campaigns. While Reagan never actually used any of Springsteen’s music at any of his campaign events, other Republicans would later make such attempts with the music of other artists. There have been more than two dozen documented instances since 2008 of a Republican using a band’s song at a campaign event, only to later receive a request from that band to stop using their music. Most likely, every one of those requests read something like the one Dee Snider of Twisted Sister used when he found out VP candidate Paul Ryan was using “We’re Not Gonna Take It” at one of his events:
"I emphatically denounce Paul Ryan's use of my band Twisted Sister's song 'We're Not Gonna Take It' in any capacity," Snider said in a statement. "There is almost nothing he stands for that I agree with - except the use of P90X."
To paint a better picture of just how curious the music choices have been for the GOP, I refer you to the following list (h/t to Redditor Alyeska2112, who came up with this list and even more examples):

  • Heart tells Sarah Palin to stop using "Barracuda"
  • John Mellencamp tells John McCain to stop using "Our Country" and "Pink Houses”
  • Jackson Browne tells John McCain to stop using "Running on Empty"(McCain was forced to pay Browne an undisclosed sum as part of a lawsuit settlement)
  • Foo Fighters tell John McCain to stop using "My Hero"
  • John Hall, of Orleans, tells John McCain to stop using "Still the One"
  • Van Halen tell John McCain to stop using "Right Now"
  • Tom Scholz, of Boston, tells Mike Huckabee to stop using "More than a Feeling"
  • Don Henley tells Senate candidate Chuck Devore to stop using "All She Wants to Do is Dance" and "The Boys of Summer"

  • Aerosmith tells Eric Cantor to stop using "Back in the Saddle"
  • Rush tells Rand Paul to stop using “The Spirit of Radio” and “Tom Sawyer”

  • Tom Petty tells Michele Bachmann to stop using "American Girl"
  • Katrina and the Waves tell Michele Bachmann to stop using "Walking on Sunshine"
  • David Byrne tells Charlie Crist to stop using "Road to Nowhere" (Crist was forced to record a public apology as part of their agreement)

  • The Heavy tell Newt Gingrich to stop using “How You Like Me Now?”
  • Frankie Sullivan of Survivor tells Newt Gingrich to stop using “Eye of the Tiger”
  • K’Naan tells Mitt Romney to stop using Wavin’ Flag
  • Silversun Pickups tell Mitt Romney to stop using “Panic Switch”
  • Dee Snider tells Paul Ryan to stop using “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
Now to be fair (except for the cases that went to court), there was nothing illegal or even unethical about Republicans using these songs at their events without the artists’ explicit permission. As Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul noted over the Silversun Pickups incident, the song “was covered under the campaign’s regular blanket license.” In other words, campaigns contact the artists’ labels, rather than the artists directly, and pay a fee to use the music of artists on the label as they please. In certain instances they could even continue using the music against the artists’ wishes, but obviously don’t for fear of garnering negative press.

That, to me, is the strange part. It baffles me that this system of asking for forgiveness rather than permission is the optimal way to go about securing music licensing. The GOP has a vast array of employees and volunteers; why not utilize some of them to take a little bit more time to vet these music choices and avoid inadvertently creating celebrity spokespersons for the Democrats? To that end, why not use the music of artists who actually want to support Republicans? Can you imagine the positive press Romney could achieve by appearing at an event to the tune of Kid Rock’s “American Bad Ass?” 

But I guess for that to happen, some of these politicians would need to develop a sense of irony; the current lack of which provides for this music licensing mess in the first place. And if “Born in the U.S.A.” has taught us anything, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath for that.

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