17 June 2015
Keep on rockin' in the not-so-free world
Republicans and rock music have had a problematic relationship since at least the 1980s. It was in 1984, if I recall right, that Bruce Springsteen objected to President Reagan playing "Born in the U.S.A." at campaign rallies. In nearly every election since then, it seems, some rocker has objected to some Republican using his or her song as part of the campaign soundtrack. Now we have Neil Young throwing a fit over Donald Trump playing "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World" at his campaign launch this week. Young's protest reminds us of Republican ignorance of what popular music actually says. Just as Reagan's handlers really cared only about the Boss's "BORRRN! IN THE U.S.A!" chorus and ignored the song's rather bleak lyrics, so Trump's people hear only Young's chorus, which only echoes their own enthusiasm for a "Free World" if you ignore the lyrics about poor and homeless people. It seems as if the rockers could score important points if they would explain how their songs contradict Republican messages and let the candidates revel in their own idiocy. But invariably the musicians get proprietary about their songs, warning the politicians not to play them at all. I can sympathize with their disapproval of the Republican party but their own act has grown just a little tired. The assumption behind it, I assume, is that despite the way the song lyrics often contradict Republican rhetoric, innocent bystanders will infer from Donald Trump playing a Neil Young song that Neil Young endorses Donald Trump. I don't think any such inference is made. I think people no more infer that the singer playing on the p.a. system at a political rally endorses the politician than they infer that the singer playing on the p.a. at a ballpark is a fan of the home team. They more likely assume that they'll hear the same song at any ballpark or at any political rally. For them it is only more or less rhythmically appealing noise -- and they probably hear only the chorus in either case. For all that, I still sympathize with Neil Young's outrage -- he prefers Bernie Sanders but as a Canadian can't do much about it -- because Donald Trump is an outrage. If I seem annoyed at Young, it's really because his outburst has given Trump an extra day of free attention from the news media. Thanks a lot, Neil!