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Rock the Vote, Gently 

Can a bunch of shaggy-haired musicians really sway an election?

By Sara Bir

Last week I finally broke down and bought the Association's Greatest Hits! on CD. Now, I have no problem admitting my deep affection for the Association--but I also have no problem recognizing that, as bands go, they're pretty square. Seriously, some of their songs are just a couple steps above Up with People in the vapid peppiness department.

But as my new CD played, I began to consider the band's lyrical content more closely. Specifically, there's an antiwar song on there called "Requiem for the Masses," replete with passages in Latin (deep!). It's atypically macabre for the Association ("Red was the color of his blood flowing thin / Pallid white was the color of his lifeless skin"), but then again, it was written in 1967, a time I understand was charged with turbulent unrest among a rapidly shifting, dissatisfied youth culture. Even the easy-listening Association were in on it!

Since I wasn't alive back then, this is all just a hunch, but I have a suspicion that, despite a perceptible level of turbulent unrest among America's current rapidly shifting, dissatisfied youth culture, our present climate isn't quite the same. I'm talking about openly relishing songs that stick it to the man, man. We're in the midst of a war many feel is of dubious justification, our sitting president executes his motives with all the finesse of a sledgehammer and the upcoming election is going to be close enough to split hairs. It's the stuff of protest music, a call to arms for activists with pens and guitars in hand.

And activists have responded indeed. Folks famous and unknown have voiced their desire for change in methods both grass-roots (organizations like Punk Voter, Bands against Bush and Music for America) and Hollywood gloss (Barbra Streisand's one-woman crusade against the Bush administration). While I myself am very much convinced that George W. Bush is a total wanker and must be stopped, I'm not feeling it.

There's a part of me (yes, it's a very cynical part) that feels patronized whenever a celebrity emerges at an event, encouraging us to cast ballots this way or that way. If I'm going to vote on the blue side in this election, it's not going to be because someone (yes, I'm talking to you, Moby!) jammed with John Kerry at a fundraiser in New York. It makes me pretty embarrassed, in fact.

But it's jaded to underestimate the purity of motives behind folks like Moby, who hopefully are only trying to use their fame to tug on the media's sleeves for what they perceive will result in the greater good of the world. Does it accomplish much in terms of voter turnout?

Bluegrass and country musician Ricky Skaggs--an active Bush supporter--mused on the public efforts of anti-Bush artists in an Associated Press article this past August: "I don't think that's going to make a big difference in the election. . . . The American people, they're not going to let Bruce Springsteen or anybody else or Ricky Skaggs or Marty Raybon or Billy Dean choose who they vote for." OK, so maybe he could have phrased it better, but he's got a good point. People don't vote according to the tastes of their favorite singers. Or do they? God, that's a scary thought.

Ultimately, protest songs function as a form of expression more than persuasion: the president does something that pisses you off bad, so you go and write a song about it. Those who feel alienated politically can, though a protest song, become united as part of one big, angry family. They can let some steam off their chests and remind the rest of the world where they're coming from, just to sock it to 'em. And I should not allow my retroactive tastes (the music of Rock against Bush bands like NOFX and Sugarcult makes me want to vomit) to prevent me from becoming part of a larger community.

On Nov. 2, I will blast my Association CD at full volume and strut off to the polls to perform my civic duty and be a true American.

[ | Metroactive Central | ]

From the September 22-28, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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