POP'S SWINGING POLITICS… As recently as April, it seemed that save for a couple hip-hop impresarios it would be the usual four-year counterculture rumbling: an indie-pop band like Le Tigre here, an alt-country folkie like Steve Earle there, and of course Yoko Ono. Otherwise, political agitation among pop musicians seemed as if it would be fleeting at most. Once Nightline entered the picture though, with an entire episode last week devoted to pop culture politics and lead agitator Bruce Springsteen, it seemed I sorely underestimated the beat Bush brigades' bona fides. Here's an accounting:
Making his first real move into partisan politics, Springsteen is the lead performer on the Vote for Change Tour, put on by the liberal MoveOn.org and America Coming Together. The tour will visit 28 cities in nine presidential election battleground states. Pennsylvania is the closest they'll get to us, and six separate concerts are scheduled on the same day, Oct. 1, around the state. Springsteen and his E Street Band will perform in Philadelphia alongside R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bright Eyes. Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie will perform together that day in Reading, Pa. Among those performing further afield: Dave Matthews Band in State College, Pa.; John Mellencamp and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; Dixie Chicks and James Taylor in Pittsburgh; and Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt in Williamsport, Pa. Tickets go on sale Aug. 21. Visit http://www.moveonpac.org/vfc/ on the web.
Springsteen may be getting most of the press at the moment, but R.E.M. is gearing up to be the loudest voice for change. In addition to participating in the Vote for Change Tour, R.E.M. will release its next album Around the Sun on Oct. 5, and it will tour all that month in support of the album in a get-out-the-vote way. This includes a stop at DAR Constitution Hall Nov. 1 -- Election 2004 Eve, certainly no coincidence. In addition, R.E.M. contributed a song to the compilation Future Soundtrack of America, due out next Tuesday, Aug. 17. The CD benefits MoveOn.org and Music for America, among other groups. R.E.M.'s offering is a “MoveOn Mix” of its new anti-war song “Final Straw.” Other artists contributing to the compilation include Blink-182, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fountains of Wayne, Sleater-Kinney, will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas and OK Go. The compilation -- visit http://www.barsuk.com/web.cgi?fsfa -- was organized by They Might Be Giants principal John Flansburgh.
Until we can confirm that Le Tigre will release its next politically motivated album and tour this fall, as previously announced, Ani DiFranco will serve as our indie-music political princess. DiFranco has announced details of her swing-state Vote Dammit tour, in conjunction with the Feminist Majority Foundation's “Get Out Her Vote.” Comedian Margaret Cho will join DiFranco on her stops in Minneapolis and Madison, Wis., though not on her Sept. 11 stop in Baltimore or her Sept. 12 stop in Richmond, Va. No, Maryland and Virginia are not generally considered swing states. But keep it quiet, will ya? It's a good excuse for DiFranco to get close to what must be some of her best fans: she is expected to release a concert DVD this fall from her two D.C. stops last May.
This year's dance-music-oriented United Beats for Peace tour will stop in “Waynesboro, D.C.” -- I think they mean our town -- over Labor Day. D.C.-native BT will headline this Earthdance Foundation concert with Dan “The Automator” Nakamura and Particle. Clearly inspired by last decade's rave culture, the concert aims for a community feel, with speakers, a voter registration drive, and information on “green edge” companies and local nonprofits. The event will be at Nation on Sunday, Sept. 5. More information is available at http://www.earthdance.org/. Maybe drop organizers an email while you're there, to let them know our town's real name.
Finally, a weekly email newsletter has just been launched to keep track of all the arts-related political events happening this year. The Involver newsletter is focused on events in New York (where it's based) as well as what it calls this year's 20 swing states, Pennsylvania and West Virginia being the two closest to us. Visit http://www.involver04.org/ on the web.
Will all this fire in the pop belly be no more than just, as Ted Koppel put it, preaching to the choir, those already planning to vote Democratic? Or will it do much more and backfire, earning the Prez some sympathy votes -- incomprehensible as that sounds -- from swing-state political fence-sitters with much disdain for Hollywood do-gooders? It's cause for pause, and for hope that organizers of these events will work to limit damaging media sound bites…
SHINY HAPPY IRONY… “I went with a group of friends and they all jumped up and screamed, ‘Oh my god, you're in the movie!'” That's Kate Pierson of the B-52's, telling Soundwaves about her thoughts on Michael Moore's use of the R.E.M. song “Shiny Happy People” in his anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 911. Pierson, who shared vocals with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe on the 1991 song, had no idea going into the theater that the song would be featured, since R.E.M. owns the copyright. But she wholeheartedly approved of its use. Turns out she's voting for change, too. “The song was meant to be sort of ironic," she says. "And it was perfectly used." The song is played over shots of smiling Bush Administration leaders as they lead up to war in Iraq…