Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Campaign Jukebox III

The musical choices for McCain campaign rallies keep coming under fire. Just when the old, white-haired guy (thank you Paris Hilton) makes a play for a younger demographic, it all gets ... complicated.

Van Halen recently slapped Team McCain with a rock & roll cease & desist order, demanding that the group’s hit song “Right Now” stop being used at McCain campaign events.

The TMZ attack-dog Web site reported Aug. 29: “After John McCain used a Van Halen song during his big speech earlier today, the band wants to make to make one thing clear—they're not running with McCain.

Van Halen management tells us the band had no idea McCain was planning on using ‘Right Now’ during his big entrance in Ohio telling us, ‘Permission was not sought or granted nor would it have been given.’”

Can’t get any more emphatic than that.

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This isn’t the first time McCain or the Republican Party generally have been in trouble for borrowing music without permission.

Sam Stein of The Huffington Post reported this on Aug. 14: “Singer, songwriter, liberal activist and now John McCain scourge Jackson Browne filed a lawsuit today against the presumptive GOP nominee and the Republican Party for failing to obtain a license to use one of his songs in a television commercial.

“The song, ‘Running on Empty,’ has been used by the Ohio Republican Party (not the McCain campaign) apparently against Browne's approval. The music icon also claims that in doing so, the false perception is created that he is endorsing McCain's candidacy.”

Now with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin aboard, the musicologists at Team McCain have let fly with “Barracuda,” Heart’s 1977 hit, in a slavish capitalization of Palin’s nickname when she played basketball in high school. The song was played after Palin's speech at the Republican convention last week.

Ann and Nancy Wilson, the nucleus of the band, have since expressed their displeasure in a statement: "“Sarah Palin's views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women. We ask that our song 'Barracuda' no longer be used to promote her image,” the Seattle-based band said Thursday, after the song was used to end John McCain’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.

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McCain’s few attempts to musically make the pivot to hip have been painfully transparent. Maybe that’s why only the consistent signature sound of Chuck Berry’s immortal rocker “Johnny B. Goode” has been heard after some recent McCain campaign events. The track was an audio staple of the McCain primary season too.

We really shouldn’t be surprised why they went back to the Chuck Berry default. A quick survey of the people at the Xcel Energy Center — older, established, veterans, grandmothers, almost certainly no fans of most of what rock music is today — tells the story: These are people “Johnny B. Goode” resonates with.

You can tell a lot about a campaign by the musical company it keeps. Despite half-hearted attempts at creating a campaign musical signature that nods in any real way to what’s on and what’s next, John McCain, candidate of the American future, has a campaign soundtrack that’s living in the past. And the convention crowd wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a lesson there.
Image credits: Van Halen logo © Forever Van Halen, in this and all worlds. Jackson Browne: John Edwards, republished under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license 2.0. Chuck Berry: Unknown.

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