Why do musicians endorse candidates?

Categories: Commentary

The Dixie Chicks wore their politics on their sleeve.
Though more than Gallo or Ramone, the most unlikely moment of a band sinking its boots into political cement and jumping in the river of public derision came in 2003 with the words: "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States [George W. Bush] is from Texas."

After dominating the record collections of Bush-loving, country-fried conservatives -- becoming one of the best-selling bands in the history of the genre -- the Dixie Chicks made an enemy of their fans when they publicly criticized our war-time President from a stage in London. Protests, boycotts and death threats followed, but the Chicks pressed on, reinventing themselves and supporting John Kerry in the historical Vote For Change tour in 2004, performing next to lefty liberals like R.E.M., Neil Young and Bright Eyes.

Though crossing socio-political boundaries as a musician isn't always a bad career move. There are plenty of non-country rockers who have chased elephants into GOP convention halls. And while these artists come from a variety of musical genres and cultural backgrounds, they inevitably all have one thing in common: They're old.

Sean Hannity is fond of falsely quoting Winston Churchill with the line "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain." And while Churchill never actually said the line, you could make an argument for it by simply looking at aging rock legends Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar, Gene Simmons and Moe Tucker (of the Velvet Underground), all of whom have all aligned themselves with conservative candidates.

It's hard to imagine Ted Nugent having a 21st-century career if it weren't for his political leanings. The Motor City Mad Man had a decent run as a classic rock riffmaster throughout the 1970s, but outside of Damn Yankees, he has yet to make a fingerprint on the music-history landscape of the past few decades.

Yet he continues to sell out auditoriums and keep his name in the headlines, primarily due to incendiary public remarks like: "Obama, he's a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey, Hillary, you might want to ride one [of my machine guns] into the sunset, you worthless bitch." For the more extreme end of the conservative party, Nugent is a hero, and therefore his music has taken on an anthemic dimension, becoming the unofficial soundtrack in the fight against liberalism.

Brandon Marshall
Kid Rock stumping for Romney/Ryan at Red Rocks

This fact was not lost on rap-metal turned family-friendly elder statesman Kid Rock. Once known as the "early morning stoned pimp," the trailer-trash hero began to soften his image around the turn of the century with a Sheryl Crow duet, a USO tour and an album titled Rock and Roll Jesus.

By the time the 2012 primaries rolled around, the "Bawitdaba"-era Kid Rock was almost completely forgotten, replaced now with a handsome, sober, pop-country musician with new-found concerns about the national debt. It was then that he publicly endorsed a pre-nominated Mitt Romney, an alliance that brought the Kid onto the stages of campaign rallies and into the consciousness of a new audience (coincidentally just in time for his new album to drop), who had no idea he used to repeatedly sing the line "now get in the pit and try to love someone."

With any luck, he'll be a guest on Fox and Friends in no time.

The real elder-statesman of this genre is Bono. Taking a hardline on nothing other than the NRA and the IRA, Mr. Africa has somehow managed to be on the winning side of almost every political argument of our time. He's a Christian, yet he's a humanist; he hangs out with George W. Bush and does Free Tibet concerts; he's incredibly preachy on stage, yet is loved by both liberals and conservatives. He's Billy Graham and Allen Ginsberg.

Nihilist hipsters may see Bono as a hokey caricature -- but they don't vote. The voting public are at an age where the rockers of their youth hold a sentimental influence, and the warm feelings of songs like Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" or Tom Petty's "American Girl" can be just the ticket to softening up a voters heart. And let's be honest, what is a presidential campaign without sentimentality?

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Craig Leavitt
Craig Leavitt

Same reason anyone does, they have strong personal beliefs that they want to express. I dislike the question very much, it implies musicians should be robotic entertainers without the normal rights and privileges of every other citizen.

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