Liberal-leaning artists, includingBruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and the Dixie Chicks, have announced that they will tour under the banner "Vote for Change" with the express purpose of replacing President Bush with Sen. John Kerry. Musicians are free to donate their talents to any political cause, but there are several pitfalls they should avoid.
The first and most obvious is to avoid being disrespectful to our country, our current president and our men and women in uniform.
In April 2003, Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, impaled a mask of Mr. Bush at the group's Denver concert.
At the July 8 Kerry-Edwards fund-raiser that brought in $7.5 million for the Democratic ticket, John Mellencamp sang his new ditty "Texas Bandido," which intones, "He's just another cheap thug that sacrifices our young."
Perhaps the nastiest anti-Bush material appears on the new albums from roots-rocker Steve Earle and singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones. Mr. Earle's latest album "The Revolution StartsNow"includes "Condi, Condi" in which National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice is depicted as nothing more than a sexual object for Mr. Bush. Written from Mr. Bush's perspective, this shameful song drones, "Skank for me, Condi. Show me what you got." Skank means "one who is disgustingly foul or filthy and often considered sexually promiscuous."
Onhernewalbum "Evening of My Best Day," Rickie Lee Jones penned the song "Ugly Man" about Mr. Bush. Her shallow lyrics include, "He's an ugly man, he always was an ugly man. He grew up to be like his father, an ugly man."
Last year, Miss Jones told the Guardian newspaper: "I think 9/11 gave this generation an identity, and its identity is potentially fascist. My skin crawls when I think of the first week after 9/11. I was looking out of the window and there were people marching down the street carrying flags. It reminded me of spontaneous, angry Nazis and I thought, 'Oh, man, we are in a lot of trouble'. There's a whole bunch of people who have flags hanging from their cars and who are mistaking fascism for patriotism."
Such paranoia about domestic fascism is ironic when those who so much as questioned the Taliban or Saddam Hussein were imprisoned or killed. The Baltimore Sun reported July 7 that poets silenced under Saddam are finally having their creative voices heard.
Although Miss Jones said she wouldn't murder Mr. Bush herself, she added, "But would I feel sorry if someone killed him? No, I wouldn't." Similarly, British artist Morrissey at a concert in Ireland announced the death of Ronald Reagan and said he wished Mr. Bush had died instead.
In addition to tempering their rhetoric and taming their paranoia, musicians must not be so arrogant as to believe that they should be immune from criticism for their political exhortations. Mr. Earle stated, "You're supposed to be able to say anything about anything ... We're supposed to be able to do that without being criticized or intimidated."
Linda Ronstadt, who was booted from a casino July 17 after using her concert to praise Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9-11," also lashed out at her critics. She later revealed the limits of her own tolerance, complaining, "It's a real conflict for me when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or fundamental[ist] Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I'd rather not know."
Mr. Earle and Miss Ronstadt are entitled to express their views, but it is hypocritical and arrogant of them to demand that others refrain from criticizing them. Artists who have made millions from fans of all political views must be willing to pay the price for injecting politics into their performances.
Other pitfalls also confront musicians who veer deeply into politics. Most artists are idealists, but politics is dominated by shades of gray and littered with compromises. For example, most artists on the "Vote for Change" tour are largely motivated by opposition to the Iraq war, but Mr. Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, both voted for it.
Ultimately, this gap between pure idealism and political reality explains why the most socially powerful music speaks in universal terms like Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," John Lennon's "Imagine" and, more recently, many of Mr. Springsteen's September 11-inspired compositions on "The Rising." By contrast, the trite and trashy tunes bashing Mr. Bush seem destined to have little lasting impact.
Many argue that government involvement in religion imperils religious institutions as much as government. Similarly, the crass use of music to accomplish specific, partisan political ends may do as much damage to the quality of modern music as it does to the tenor of America's political debate.