GOP Veep Pick Paul Ryan vs. Rage Against the Machine: 10 Cases of Politicians’ Unrequited Love for Pop Stars (ANALYSIS)
Morello wrote that he’s amused by Ryan’s fandom, since “he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades.” Wondering which Rage tune might be Ryan’s favorite, Morello wrote, “Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of ‘Fuck the Police’? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production?” As for any rage in Ryan, Morello wrote that he sees only “A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment…. This unbridled rage against those who have the least is a cornerstone of the Romney-Ryan ticket.”
As Morello noted, the Rage-Ryan dispute is only the latest in a long line of politicians trying to co-opt a pop act’s cool factor, only to find that the musician or band wants no association with them. In fact, it’s not even the first such dispute this week; on Monday, the Romney campaign ran afoul of the Silversun Pickups for unauthorized use of the band’s song “Panic Switch.”
Which bands and singers have dissed the politicians who love their music?
As in the Silversun Pickups incident, a politician’s unrequited love for a musician’s work manifests itself in a song played at a campaign rally, followed by a cease-and-desist letter from the musician, outraged that a tune played without permission might be heard as an endorsement — or a missed chance to earn royalties.
Ronald Regan and Bruce Springsteen
The trend started in 1984, when President Ronald Reagan, running for re-electon, glommed onto Bruce Springsteen’s anthem “Born in the USA,” a chart-topping hit that year. Springsteen was miffed, suggesting that the Reagan campaign had picked the song for its (ironic) title and rousing music, without listening to the lyrics, about a bitter, desperate, jobless Vietnam veteran. (Not exactly the “Morning in America” message the campaign was trying to convey.) Rival Democratic candidate Walter Mondale seized on the controversy, saying that Bruce may have been born in the U.S.A., “but he wasn’t born yesterday” — marking the only time in Mondale’s public life that anyone remembers him telling a joke.
Bob Dole and Sam & Dave
In 1996, R&B legend Sam Moore objected to Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole’s use of the Sam & Dave classic “Soul Man” at campaign stops, where it had been rewritten as “Dole Man.” The Dole campaign pulled the tune after a threat of legal action. Moore was an equal opportunity objector; in 2008, he successfully urged Democrat Barack Obama’s campaign to stop using Sam & Dave’s “Hold On! I’m Coming.”
George W. Bush and Tom Petty
In 2000, Tom Petty threatened to sue the George W. Bush campaign for using “I Won’t Back Down.” The GOP campaigners backed down. Petty performed the song in Al Gore’s honor the night he backed down and conceded the election to Bush. Petty also threatened litigation in 2011 when Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann used his iconic tune “American Girl.”
Orleans and John McCain
John Hall, of ’70s band Orleans, complained when Bush used the band’s familiar “Still the One” at campaign events in 2004. By 2008, Hall had been elected as a Democratic Congressman from New York when Republican presidential candidate John McCain started using the song. Hall got him to yank it.
John McCain and Van Halen, John Mellencamp, Foo Fighters and Jackson Browne
In fact, McCain was a serial offender when it came to using songs without permission. Among those who objected were Van Halen (over the song “Right Now”) John Mellencamp (the songs “Our Country” and “Little Pink Houses,” which he’d licensed to Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards), Foo Fighters (“My Hero,” another song whose bitter lyrics the candidate apparently overlooked) and Jackson Browne (who sued for $75,000 over the use of “Running on Empty” and eventually won a settlement).
Sarah Palin and Heart
McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, made use of Heart’s classic-rock track “Barracuda,” since that was her high school nickname. The core of Heart, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, complained, but Palin kept using the song. “I feel completely fucked over,” said guitarist Nancy. Singer Ann issued a statement saying, “Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women.”
Mike Huckabee and Boston
Also in 2008, Boston guitarist/songwriter Tom Scholz complained about Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s use of “More Than a Feeling,” a song that the bass-playing Arkansas governor would perform with his band, the Capitol Offenders. Barry Goudreau, the Boston guitarist who’d left the band in the 1980s amid a bitter legal battle with Scholz, would sometimes sit in with the Offenders.
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Other spats: Aerosmith slapped down Virginia GOP Congressman Eric Cantor for his use of “Back in the Saddle” as an anthem for Tea Party Republicans in 2009. In 2010, Don Henley got California Republican Senate candidate Chuck DeVore to stop using parody versions of his “The Boys of Summer” and “All She Wants To Do Is Dance.” That same year, Henley’s Eagles bandmate, Joe Walsh, got the Illinois Republican Congressman who shares his name to stop sharing his song “Walk Away.” Also in 2010, power trio Rush got Senator Rand Paul to stop using its songs “Tom Sawyer” and “The Spirit of Radio.” Like the Canadian band, the Kentucky Republican is a big fan of novelist Ayn Rand and her Objectivist philosophy, but Rush’s lawyer said that the group’s objection was entirely about copyright infringement, not ideology.
The best 2010 songwriter smackdown came from Talking Heads’ David Byrne, who sued Florida Republican Senate candidate Charlie Crist over his unauthorized use of “Road to Nowhere.” Byrne won a settlement that included cash and a forced apology by Crist. On YouTube.
Watch Charlie Crist’s apology to Talking Heads here.
With this year’s presidential race heating up, so have the legal threats from aggrieved musicians. ’80s band Survivor took action against Republican candidate Newt Gingirch, complaining that he’d been using “Eye of the Tiger” without permission for at least three years. Cyndi Lauper complained about a Democratic National Committee ad with a negative message about Romney. She added that she was no supporter of Romney; she merely didn’t want her comforting song “True Colors” associated with such negativity. (The DNC yanked the ad.) And hip-hopper K’Naan called upon Romney to stop using his “Wavin’ Flag,” though he also offered the song to Obama, should the President want it.
The funniest or most pathetic (take your pick) case of unrequited love between a musician and a politician is the one revealed this summer, involving Bruce Springsteen and the governor of his home state, Chris Christie. The New Jersey leader has attended more than 120 Springsteen concerts and shouts along to all the lyrics, but despite all his attempts to set up an introduction, the Boss has declined to meet him. Perhaps the famously liberal songwriter wants to avoid another “Born in the USA” incident with a conservative politician, but Christie has insisted that they could find common ground. “We disagree on a lot less than he thinks,” the snubbed Republican said in a must-read article in The Atlantic about his one-sided man-crush. Sadly, a sitdown between the Boss and the Governor seems about as likely as one between Paul Ryan and Tom Morello. But oh, to be a fly on the wall if such a meeting ever did come to pass…