While rock band groupies are a sad spectacle, even sadder still is the sight of vacuous rockers turned political groupies. But that’s exactly what singers Bruce Springsteen and The Dixie Chicks have become as they plan to tour for John Kerry as part of a scheme to use rock festivals to garner votes and raise funds for the Democrats in the upcoming election.
The early 1990s saw the renaissance of the political pop festival. Lollapalooza, which defined the “alternative nation,” also drove home a left-wing political message to its attendees in 1992. Having helped convince Generation X to put the only non-inhaling pot-smoker in history in the Oval Office, youth culture’s interest in politics curiously seemed to die down. No one much was interested in “rocking the vote” in 1996, and during the late 1990s, the popular music festival as political vehicle was a non-starter. But with the return of a Republican to the White House and the popularity of Michael Moore’s “documentaries,” the politically oriented music festival has come back with a vengeance, seeking to radicalize a new generation of youth.
The popular alternative groups of 1992 included the Rage Against The Machine (fronted by neo-Marxist Zach De La Rocha), the nihilism of New York noise-rockers Sonic Youth, and Nirvana, whose Kurt Cobain died shortly afterwards. New York disco revivalists Deee-lite exhorted club kids, on their last heavily promoted release, to “Vote Baby Vote.” Sonic Youth actually released a single entitled “Youth Against Fascism.” Its hook? “I Believe Anita Hill.”
That year, the music festival was launched as a political weapon at Lollapalooza. Founded by gender bending rock vocalist Perry Farrell of LA’s Jane’s Addiction, Lollapalooza featured groups like Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. As Guitar World magazine put it: “It was Lollapalooza that established the whole Nineties Alterno-Identity Kit: tattoos, body piercing, Politics Lite, being real excited about the Internet; in short, a full catalog of inner and outer wares made in the image of Perry Farrell's own likeness and tastes.”
Even some of the performers have expressed cynicism about Lollapalooza’s larger impact. Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers stopped just short of calling the festival racist: “I was hoping there would be more of a mixed audience. With Ice Cube on the bill, I was hoping there would be more black people. But it seems like the Ice Cube fans don't even know about the show because it wasn't marketed at all to the black community. Segregation runs right through the music industry."
Soundgarden's Kim Thayil saw the festival as base deception also. "Lollapalooza was an alternative lie. The demographics of its audience was white suburban kids between the ages of 18 and 24." But when Generation X voters supported the Liar from Little Rock, it had proven that the lie worked. Then music festivals died down, only to be reborn when a new Republican incumbent needed to be unseated.
This year, two major music festivals were planned. The first, a revived version of Lollapalooza, featured a lot of retread acts who were last popular in 1992 (like Morrissey and Sonic Youth). Lollapalooza was to be underwritten by MoveOn.Org in the hopes of mobilizing thirtysomethings to come out against W in November. But anticipated financial shortfalls shut down the operation. Even George Soros isn’t going to pour money into a losing operation, and the Lollapalooza lineup of 2004 was tailored to an older demographic, who presumably outgrew music festival moshpits
The second festival, the Vans WARPED tour, actually has proceeded – and played to packed houses and teeming moshpits. George Soros isn’t underwriting this, but he should be. WARPED – presented by Sony, Samsung and Cingular, the electronics multinationals – is aimed at people between the ages of 13 and 25, bringing them an updated version of the values Farrell helped to bring down Poppy Bush with in 1992.
Political propaganda is the sine qua non of the WARPED tour. Consider the film review from “Meghan,” the “Pit Reporter” for the official WARPED website:
I had the opportunity on my day off to see Fahrenheit 911, the film by Michael Moore. This movie should be seen by every American before they vote in the next presidential election. The lies that have been fed to the American public for the last four years are absolutely ridiculous. Its so important now, more than ever, that we all rally together and vote in the election in November. If you are going to be 18 by November 5 and you are not registered to vote, stop by the Punkvoter.com booth, talk to Kevin and get registered. Seeing this movie made me think how lucky Canadians are to not live in America. It was quite the experience seeing this movie in Canada, and knowing that the Canadians think that Americans are idiots. Needless to say I was a little riled up on my day off.
Needless to say! Luckily, Meghan found time in her film review, while processing her righteous ire, to direct the reader to Punkvoter.com.
Punkvoter.com -- which is definitely not a subsidiary of the League of Women Voters -- is not coy about its intentions:
Our goal is to educate, register and mobilize over 500,000 of today’s youth as one voice. We plan to use this election as a way to get our fans engaged in politics and evolve our movement into becoming involved locally to affect real change nationally …Punk bands, punk labels, and punk fans must form a union against the chaotic policies George W. Bush has put in place. He must be exposed.
Punkvoter.com features such anti-Bush gimmicks as a downloadable Veto Democracy banner with the President’s face as background. It also links to Michael Moore’s official site, Noam Chomsky’s crew at Znet and NARAL Pro-Choice America. The piece de resistance: a link to the downloadable Bush Game, in which the object is to “help Hulk, Mr. T, and Howard Dean fight Bush and Voltron.”
Mr. T and Howard Dean save America? Not beyond the pale of the Soros Left. It’s not even the most outrageous campaign antic already perpetrated by the Left onstage. In Sweden, a young man and woman associated with the “F*** For Forests” environmental group had sex on stage while the band “Cumshots” played, in response to the lead singer asking “How far are you willing to go to save the world?” Cumshots soundtracked the couple’s onstage fornication, as a banner was raised to inform the audience that the couple was having sex to save the rainforest. After completing the intercourse, the couple received applause from the audience and disappeared. The rainforest? Presumably, still there.
If WARPED strikes the popular music consumer as too raucous, there’s always the newly announced Vote For Change tour. In an unprecedented series of concerts in nine swing states, more than 20 musical acts - including Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam and the Dixie Chicks - will perform fundraising concerts in the month before the Nov. 2 election in an anti-Bush sonic offensive. These artists are booked to barnstorm the country beginning October 1, with as many as six concerts on a single day in cities across those states expected to decide the November presidential race. Stops on the tour include the following “battleground” states: Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin and the key state in 2000, Florida.
"We're trying to put forward a group of progressive ideals and change the administration in the White House," Springsteen told The Associated Press in the most overtly political statements of his 30-year career. "That's the success or failure, very clear cut and very simple."
The artists of different generations and genres will tour under the name Vote For Change. But the money generated will go to America Coming Together, which promises on its website to "derail the right-wing Republican agenda by defeating George W. Bush." The shows will be presented by MoveOn Pac, the electoral arm of the liberal interest group MoveOn.org.
October Surprise, indeed.
Lollapalooza. WARPED. Vote For Change. These festivals indicate the lie at the heart of popular music and culture: its drive to undermine traditional American values. It remains to be seen why Bruce Springsteen and his ilk are taking Soros money to bring down the President. But as made abundantly clear, that is the shared aim of the mass-marketed music festival – whether in 1992 or 2004.