Musicians Get On The Soapbox

Musicians have always been very vocal about their political beliefs. This dates back to the days of Woody Guthrie and Jimmie Rodgers. Guthrie wrote “This Land Is Your Land” and “Deportee” in direct protest to actions taken by our government. This practice continues today, with artists like U2, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan, Shakira and John Mellencamp often using their music to share their political beliefs with the public.

Known for having strong political feelings, Bruce Springsteen let his music do the talking at a recent concert in Austin. Opening with “War,” the classic Edwin Star song, he chose to perform this tune in the hometown of President Bush. With the anti-war lyrics, “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing,” it leaves little speculation to what his thoughts are concerning our situation in Iraq. Later in his show, he introduced “Born In The USA,” by saying “I wrote this song about the Vietnam Vets coming home from a war we shouldn’t have been involved in. I hope I don’t have to write it again.”

On tour in support of his current album, “The Rising,” Springsteen has been quoted in several cities as saying that a war with Iraq “just doesn’t make sense right now.” His album was written and recorded soon after the attacks on Sept. 11 and is full of songs dealing with sadness, faith and even revenge. “Lonesome Day,” the first single includes the lyrics, “Hell’s brewin’, dark sun’s on the rise, this storm’ll blow through by and by, house is on fire, viper’s in the grass, a little revenge and this too shall pass.” So at first, the listener feels that Bruce knows our leaders will seek revenge for these cowardly acts.

The final verse states, “Better ask questions before you shoot, deceit and betrayal’s bitter fruit, it’s hard to swallow, come time to pay, that taste on your tongue don’t easily slip away.” On “Empty Sky” he sings “I woke up this morning, I could barely breathe, just an empty impression, in the bed where you used to be, I want a kiss from your lips, I want an eye for an eye, I woke up this morning to an empty sky.” At a March 7 concert in Atlantic City, Springsteen explained the meaning of this verse. “One thing that bothers me,” he told the audience, “is that as a songwriter, you write to be understood. I wrote that as an expression of the characters confusion and grief, never as a call for blind revenge or bloodlust. We can’t be too careful about these things these days. We’re living in a time when there are real lives on the lineā€¦had to make sure that line was clearly understood.”

In 1984, President Reagan started using the lyrics of Springsteen’s “Born In The USA in his campaign speeches. Bruce objected, saying “it’s obvious he hasn’t really listened to the songs lyrics.” Another heartland rocker, John Mellencamp, was asked by both Reagan and Bush Sr. if they could use his song “Pink Houses” for their campaigns. He also declined, echoing Bruce’s message that they should listen close to the song before thinking of using it on the campaign trail. Though both songs have catchy American choruses, neither was intended to be patriotic. Now Mellencamp has written a new song, titled “To Washington,” for his upcoming album and he wants the label to release it immediately.

The new album is not set to hit stores until May 20 and Mellencamp wants the song released before the U.S. launches its impending invasion of Iraq. He’s afraid that by the time the album comes out, the war will be over, since military action against Saddam Hussein is likely to occur within the coming weeks. Mellencamp is currently in talks with Columbia Records to make the song available on his website,, in time to make a difference. In the song, the 51-year-old singer offers his opinion of President Bush’s motivations for war. “He wants to fight with many, and he says it’s not for oil. He sent out the National Guard to police the world, from Baghdad to Washington,” go the lyrics. Speaking to the New York Times this week from his home studio in Indiana, Mellencamp said, “I don’t really have an opinion in the song, I’m just stating what I believe to be fact. That line about the National Guard, I know some of those guys. They don’t want to fight Iraq; they just wanted to make some extra money. Every other weekend they went to an armory in Indiana and played cards.”

Other musicians have taken this opportunity to speak out against the conflict with Iraq. During a recent Pearl Jam show in Australia, Eddie Vedder sang “I wish I was president. Keep us out of war, that’s what friends are for.” In England, Chris Martin, vocalist for Coldplay, was even more blunt, “We are all going to die when George Bush gets his way.” Dave Matthews recently had this to say, “I’m very scared at this point in our history. There’s this idea going on in our administration that one plus one equals ten. Or five times two equals one. I have no idea how they’ve come up with the concept that if we get into a conflict with Iraq that any of the results that they’re anticipating will come to pass.”

Shakira, the blonde bombshell singer, points out that “bombs and missiles don’t fall on top of cardboard dummies, they fall on people, children and mothers. The leaders are lacking love, and love is lacking leaders. The values of the world are twisted and we need to go back to principles of love and forgiveness. That’s the only way to survive.” Wow, that was brilliant. I wonder how long it took her to come up with this idea. Peter Buck, of R.E.M., recently stated, “It certainly seems that if we’re gonna have a war, Vietnam would have taught us that you should figure out why you’re having it and who you’re fighting. And I haven’t seen that anyone’s figured that out yet.”

Some country artists, like Toby Keith and Charlie Daniels, support the actions of President Bush and have been just as vocal about their beliefs. Daniels posts regular comments on his website under the “Soapbox” section and they are full of common sense explanations on why a war with Iraq is necessary for world peace. He calls actor Sean Penn a traitor for traveling to Iraq on a fact finding mission. In an open letter to Hollywood, Charlie had this to say,” I suppose that in your fantasy world this would create a utopian world where everybody would live in peace. After all, the great monster, the United States of America, the cause of all the world’s trouble would have disbanded it’s horrible military and certainly all the other countries of the world would follow suit. After all, they only arm themselves to defend their countries from the mean old U.S.A. Why you bunch of pitiful, hypocritical, idiotic, spoiled mugwumps. Get your head out of the sand and smell the Trade Towers burning. Barbra Streisand’s fanatical and hateful rankings about George Bush makes about as much sense as Michael Jackson hanging a baby over a railing.”

Whatever happens in Iraq, you can bet there will be a long list of musicians just waiting to put in their two cents worth. Funny thing is, during the last election, I didn’t see any of their names on the ballot. Whether you agree or disagree with our President, I bet there’s no one out there that wants his job right now.

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