Friday, May 2, 2008

The Political Rip Off

I don't like presidents. I don't like people of "presidential caliber". In my opinion, if you've reached a point where you're able to aspire to be, arguably, the most powerful human being in the world then you've pulled some evil, Machiavellian shit to get there. Oh, I vote. I try to vote for the nitwit who's going to accelerate the destruction of our way of life more slowly than the other. Anymore, though, it doesn't seem to me that there's much of a difference. But I'm not writing this to bitch about politics - I'm writing this to bitch about the co-option of rock 'n' roll songs by these dandied up jack-booted thugs.

Now, if you're some knuckle dragging nationalist schmuck like Toby Keith who wants to endorse a fuckwad like George W. Bush, well, that's one thing. But these people use recording artists' material all the time without so much as a "please" or "thank you" in order to try and make us proles think of them when we hear certain songs. Advertising 101. In the world of advertising the artists a) grant permission for the use of their material, and b) are financially recompensed for its use. This is not true of political campaigns.

Alejandro Escovedo refused to play his song "Castanets" live for years when he found out George W. Bush was using it at campaign rallies.

John Mellencamp asked the McCain campaign to stop using his song "Our Country" at rallies as he didn't agree with McCain's politics. Surprisingly, McCain's people complied.

For an example on the other side in addition to the Toby Keith reference you had Barack Obama appearing on stage at the 2008 Austin Music Awards and "performing" with Asleep at the Wheel and Joe Ely. Presumably these two support Obama and were happy to have him. Fine.

Now, forgetting for a moment the fact that a bar showing the super bowl gets charged broadcast royalties for the songs playing at the stadium and emitting from the TV speakers while political campaigns don't get charged royalties at all, let's take a quick peek at the place of patronage in history and a (literally) little Federal agency called The National Endowment for the Arts.

In the admittedly morally questionable history of Western Civilization the importance of talented artists of all stripes has, until relatively recently, been acknowledged. Poets, composers, artists, actors, sculptors, etc. sought out patrons from the nobility. The kings, queens, dukes, earls or whatever would pay the way of select artists and thereby allow them to focus on their work. Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Mozart, Beethoven, and Shakespeare are among the many cultural luminaries that would in all likelihood be forgotten were it not for patronage. Granted, a social structure built around nobility is an autocratic, racist, classist abomination and these nobles didn't provide patronage out of the kindness of their shriveled black hearts. They did it because having a Da Vinci or a Mozart brought distinction to one's court and, ostensibly, the envy of other nobles. Still, the artist got to do nothing but make art and eat - two things mutually exclusive today.

The USA's enlightened response to this, which it took until 1965 to initiate, was an act of Congress creating The National Endowment for the Arts. Out of federal budgets exploding into the hundreds of billions of dollars the most money the NEA has ever been allotted for grants is 180 million dollars. The allotment for 2008 is 144.7 million dollars. When you consider the federal government is operating at a roughly 97 trillion dollar deficit, I'd be interested to see how much of that money actually endows any artists.

And yet our intrepid leaders don't even twitch at the thought of using artists' material to sell themselves. The honor of it should be its own reward, or some shit like that. No matter how you slice it it still smells like shit.

If you or your band want to pimp a candidate you support then more power to you. If a candidate is using your song without your approval then you're being ripped off and mis-represented. The music itself is cheapened and demeaned. And the inherently slimy somehow become even slimier.

What's the answer? I don't fucking know. It just pisses me off and I wanted to rant about it. I'm fully confident that it's only going to get worse.

As far as these asshole politicians are concerned, let me take a little bit of Bob Dylan out of context here - "Show me someone who's not a parasite and I'll go out and say a prayer for him."

Good luck finding one.

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