A Note for Change:
An Open Letter to the Music World
Dear people who seem nice enough, but who's jobs have NOTHING to do with politics. I voted for George W. Bush...twice. The first time I voted for him because I hated Al Gore and Joe Lieberman for their censorship of music and television respectively and because for eight years I watched the Clinton administration bumble our response to the repeated terrorist attacks on our interests abroad. I thought four more years of that would prove dangerous. The second time, I voted for Bush for different reasons.
In fact, just months before the 2004 election, I was telling anyone that would listen that I wasn't going to vote for either of the assholes running. They'd tell me that I couldn't not vote, and I'd reply that not only did I agree, but that I had every intention of voting. Then they said voting for a third- party candidate was just throwing my vote away, to which I replied that I disagreed. In my opinion, the only way to throw your vote away is to not vote. Voting for a third party, especially one that has no real chance of winning, is anything but throwing your vote away. It's making a statement, and one that was exactly what I wanted to say at that point. Voting for a hopeless candidate is essentially a vote for None Of The Above. It says that you're aware of what's going on and that you do not approve of either, as Bill Hicks once put it, "the puppet on the left" or "the puppet on the right." It means that you think two men "debating" on national TV about an issue that they agree on, like gay marriage in this case, is a bullshit distraction and a waste of everyone's god damn time. It means that you think "the lesser of two evils" is a ridiculous concept and that you choose to stand with good. Perhaps most importantly, it means that you have your own opinion, and are not going to vote how your friends, your party, or your heroes tell you to.
Enter Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., John Mellencamp, Puff Daddy, Pearl Jam, 50 Cent, NOFX and various other musicians. Puff Daddy who threatened our lives with his "Vote or Die" campaign, which he assured us all was non-partisan one day while jumping up and down screaming "we're gonna change the world y'all" the next. 50 Cent who was involved with the Vote or Die campaign, and like several of its other spokesmen was not himself registered to vote. NOFX, whose singer Fat Mike organized two compilations titled Rock Against Bush Volumes 1 and 2, and featured songs like Operation Ivy's "Unity" which was recorded during Ronald Reagan's presidency, had absolutely nothing to do with being either for or against George Bush. Springsteen and the rest went on the "Vote For Change" tour through the so-called swing states which pretty much unanimously voted exactly the same way they did four years prior.
I was offended by the actions of these musicians not by their opinions, but by what they did about it. This is something that I surprisingly have not seen discussed in any of the major music publications. Whether they realize it or not, musicians are entertainers. Their job is to entertain their fans. Their job is not to make half of their fans feel like assholes because they think differently from someone they've grown to love and respect over the years. In the case of the Vote for Change tour, the entertainers job is not to tell their fans that they can either make a campaign contribution to a man they don't support, or they can sit home and miss the show.
Fundamentally, what the artists that came out in favor of either candidate were saying was that they didn't trust their fans to make an informed, intelligent decision of their own. NOFX, writers of such politically charged songs as "My Vagina" "Clams Have Feelings Too" and "Kids of the K-Hole" are going to tell me who to vote for? Green Day, who's breakout hit ten years ago was an ode to masturbation, doesn't think I'm intelligent enough to make my own decision?
When faced with this dilemma, and if it isn't clear, the dilemma was that Green Day, NOFX, Bad Religion, and others had new records out that I wanted, but directly supported a man that I did not, I did the only thing I could to keep myself neutral as far as the two mainstream candidates went. I bought Rock Against Bush for the rare Against Me and Offspring tracks. I went to see Green Day perform American Idiot in concert. I bought the NOFX album with Bush in clown make up on the cover. I gave my money and indirectly my voice to these people supporting Kerry and then I went into the voting booth on Nov. 2nd, pulled the curtain closed and balanced it out by voting for Bush, something that as I've mentioned I wasn't planning on doing.
Musicians, actors as well, should learn their place, which is simply to sing and dance and put a smile on people's faces, not to alienate folks who look up to them, or even worse, to abuse that relationship, and put ideas into the heads of their less informed fans. Leave the politicking to the politicians. Leave the commentary to the maniac liberals on CNN who still hadn't given Bush the state of Ohio after John Kerry had already conceded the election, and the maniac conservatives on Fox News that called Ohio nine hours before it became official. Most important, don't assume your fans agree with you, or that if you pull this shit again, that those of us who disagree with you will continue to buy your wares.
If you're confused about how to act, just look to U2's Bono (WHAT?!) who we all know has very strong political opinions, but refused to go out on tour with Springsteen and Co. and instead attended the Republican National Convention here in New York City. When asked why in a TV interview, Bono looked into the camera and said, "I love you Bruce, but I just can't do it." Whatever his reasons, I suspect they are directly related to the support President Bush lends to his anti-AIDS work in Africa. Bono chose to take the high road this year, and holds more esteem in my book right now than Billie Joe Armstrong, Fat Mike and Eddie Vedder, all of whom make music that I prefer to his.
If Bono isn't spokesman enough for the right way for celebrities to act, then I've got one more last chance trick up my sleeve. Captain Kirk. That's right William Shatner, who simply and brilliantly sums the whole thing up in a song on his latest album, Has Been when he sings, "I'd love to help the world and all its problems but I'm an entertainer and that's all."
Maybe next time, since the Vote For Change Tour didn't change anything, and the Vote Or Die campaign failed to produce any serious increase in the youth vote, these people will just keep their mouths shut and allow me to vote for Nader, the Libertarian candidate, my pal Leo or whoever else I choose to write in. Although with Eminem's new album coming out two weeks after the election and featuring at least one song which says simply, "Fuck Bush!", I kinda doubt it.
A disenfranchised voter turned disenfranchised music lover.