The 2004 presidential election saw an unprecedented number of musicians coming out in support of either John Kerry or George W. Bush. The hot-button topics and candidates in this off-year election — California’s proposition 75 or New Jersey governor’s race — are not exactly getting the music community ready to rock, but musicians have not completely abandoned their newfound political awareness, either.
Indie rock act TV On The Radio recently posted an anti-Bush song on the Web site of its label, Touch & Go Records, whereas country singer Mark Wills has presented the president with a custom-made guitar.
Meanwhile, U2 singer Bono has taken flak for posing with Bush, and Latin legend Willie Colon, who has been politically active for decades, is pals with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On tour, Green Day has offered opt-out forms that people can use to be removed from military mailings.
The list could easily go on, as such top-selling acts as Kanye West and the Rolling Stones have taken partisan stances.
“Last year proved the Dixie Chicks fear wrong,” says Molly Neitzel, executive director of Music for America, which partners with artists to spread a left-leaning political message. “If a critical mass of artists get political, it won’t negatively affect their careers. For some bands, it even helps them.”
MFA utilizes a volunteer network to pass out voter registration forms and issue cards at concerts and is currently working with more than 300 acts, ranging from Bloc Party to Lyrics Born to Ryan Adams. Next year, the nonprofit will release a fund-raising compilation curated by comedian David Cross.
Neitzel cites MFA supporter Death Cab for Cutie as one band whose political leanings have not hurt its career. “When [Death Cab] started to come out pretty partisan at their shows,” Neitzel says, “they attracted the attention of those planning the Vote for Change tour and opened for Pearl Jam.”
The Vote for Change tour was spearheaded by political action committee MoveOn, a group that has fostered strong relationships with such acts as Moby, Green Day and the Black Eyed Peas. A number of artists who worked with MoveOn prior to the 2004 election are helping sister organization MoveOn Civic Action, a nonprofit currently raising funds for hurricane victims.
Foo Fighters performed at rallies for Democratic presidential candidate Kerry, and guitarist Chris Shiflett has since invited the Howard Dean-affiliated Discovery for America and progressive research institute Center for American Progress to set up shop at the band’s shows.
“We have some progressive fans,” Shiflett says, “but we’re a pretty middle-of-the-road, mainstream band. If we turn people on to some different ideas, that’s a good thing.”
Punkvoter, launched by Fat Wreck Chords, has already released multiple volumes of the compilation series “Rock Against Bush.” Without a major national election this year, the group has turned to other causes. It recently supported the 26-track CD “Protect: A Benefit for the National Association to Protect Children.”
“One of the ideas we’re trying to promote now is that voting isn’t enough to be a responsible citizen,” Punkvoter co-founder Toby Jegg says. “You need to be responsible in your purchases and act as a responsible person. We can still encourage that in nonelection months.”
Jegg says the organization will begin ramping up efforts next year for the 2006 congressional elections, hoping to regain the momentum of the 2004 campaign. “We don’t want people to feel marginalized or disenfranchised. We had an ad campaign right after the election that made it clear that we are not going away.”