One of the great things about being a Democratic politician is that you can use pretty much any cool rock and roll song without fear of being bitch-slapped by the artist. Most recently REM followed in the great tradition of progressive musicians telling the Right to cut it out. No, they said to Fox News, you cannot use "Losing My Religion" to mock the Democrats, even if the Dems seemed to have lost their bearings for a brief moment during the DNC.
So Bill Clinton practically owns "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," I am certain with the blessing of Fleetwood Mac. And the party had no reservations about using Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down," when the President walked onstage to hug Bill Wednesday night. But for me, the music highlight of the convention was cranking up Bruce's "We Take Care of Our Own" after the President's fierce acceptance address Thursday night. I was lucky enough to see Bruce at Wrigley Field last night, and his performance inspired this diary.
I lucked into seats, at face value no less, yesterday when I read on Facebook that they were releasing more seats because they had finished setting up the stage. I called and twelve hours later my wife and I were seated a line drive away from the stage, just inside Waveland Avenue. About the fourth song in, Bruce performed "We Take Care of Our Own," my favorite song off of Wrecking Ball. I couldn't help but think about the night before and about how that song perfectly captured the spirit of the convention and the essence of what both Clinton and the President were describing as the difference between the two parties.
It should be no surprise that Bruce wrote a song like this. He's been wearing his politics on his sleeve for some time now. Read David Remnick's encyclopedic profile of Bruce from New Yorker earlier this summer, and to catch up on Bruce's political evolution in case you hadn't noticed. To drive the rock and progressive politics home even better, though, Bruce trotted out two guests last night: Eddie Vedder and Tom Morello. Unlike Paul Ryan, I had not been a big fan of Rage against the Machine. I liked them, just not a big fan. After Tom joined Bruce for "Ghost of Tom Joad," though, I am now a HUGE fan of Tom Morello's, who blessed the song (and the audience) with a tremendously moving guitar solo.
My mind went back to Mr. Ryan and his tortured relationship with his favorite band. First I was baffled as to how Paul Ryan can even begin to reconcile his musical tastes with his politics. I mean Rage is nothing if not a political band. I do not think you can separate the music from the message and yet Ryan professes love for them. And I don't think he'd be moronic enough to lie about that. Especially since the band publicly rejected his affection as soon as it was known.
The rest of the show was great, one of the best Springsteen shows of the twenty or so I've seen over the last 35 plus years. Read Greg Kot's review in the Chicago Tribune for details. Greg captured the political flavor pretty well here:
Though Springsteen made no overt political speeches or statements – the words “election,” “Occupy” or “1 percent” were notably missing in action – there was no mistaking the subtext of many of his songs. This was a night devoted to several potent ideas, notably the power of informed dissent, and the dignity and opportunity afforded by a day’s work. For Springsteen, the ability of men and women to roll up their sleeves and earn an honest wage is as sacred as any human right. He may be a rich rock star now, but he grew up in a blue-collar New Jersey family and was immersed in a community where everything had to be earned, sometimes at great personal cost.I had not been a fan of most of Wrecking Ball because I didn't agree with his choice of using Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Irish Rovers inspired tunes to express the frustrations of today's working and middle class. Notwithstanding Laura Clawson's beautifully written diary about the record, I still felt that the choice of basically Depression era styles to critique today's economic situation was misguided, better for a PhD thesis than a record trying to speak to the mass public. After seeing many of the songs live, though, I'm a convert. Nothing like giving a song a jolt of live Bruce energy to bring it alive and make it compelling and relevant.
But let's get back to the point of this. How can conservatives separate the music from the message? I posted a concert picture on Facebook during the show and a friend who had "liked" Mitt Romney commented that she always loved Bruce. My question is "How?" Of course, the cars and the girls and the road are universal, even speaking to the individualism of "building that" alone, but even early stuff like Rosalita and Born to Run are class based at their heart. Bruce knows the gritty backgrounds of these characters (who he grew up with) and I can assure you they don't share Mitt's values or, for that matter, Paul Ryan's.
I love it every time a rocker tells a Republican "Hey, you, get offa my song." If nothing else, it tells another young person that being Republican is not cool, and hopefully sets them up for a deeper understanding of that premise. I hope they would wonder, why is it that every rock performer I love keeps telling conservatives to get lost. Unless of course you love Kid Rock, and then you've got bigger problems than bad politics.