The Beat to Beat Bush With

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(289)

'As concerned mothers, women and most importantly concerned Americans, we are compelled to do what we can to inspire other voters to get involved in this year's election. We hope our participation in the Vote for Change Tour will be a catalyst for positive change.'

This is The Dixie Chicks explaining why they are gigging with James Taylor in the swing states during October. Headlined by Bruce Springsteen, REM, Pearl Jam and Jackson Browne, and coordinated by MoveOn.org, big name line-ups will play several areas simultaneously where the votes really count.

Republicans mounted a news offensive after this tour was announced on 4 August, claiming that Springsteen had grown very rich from the American way. This only recruited more acts.

Outside the rockocracy the anti-Bush rage is even fiercer. Topplebush.com or sealionrecords.com will give you a taste of the huge musical mass mobilisation under way, largely coordinated via musicforamerica.org (MfA), which claims to be 'a partisan, political non-profit organisation working to turn out our generation at the polls. By exposing the connection between our cultural lives and politics, we are getting our generation to participate in the political process on all levels - whether that means volunteering for a campaign, organising a local MfA chapter, or just going to a show and having a conversation with some friends. By throwing some kick-ass parties and concerts all across the country we're building a decentralised movement that encourages our friends to incorporate political participation into their daily lifestyle, and will ultimately bring about lasting, progressive change in this country.' It's a shame this effort isn't being used to support an independent candidate such as Ralph Nader.

Steve Earle's latest CD couldn't get more in your face: 'The Revolution Starts Here - Now!' Not to my taste artistically, but filling the new release shelves of all big music stores, Earle's message is that there needs to be a second American Revolution to rescue democracy from the current White House imposters.

But it's not just the rockers who are agitating. Rap don P Diddy had strolled around the Democrats' Boston convention at the end of July in a 'Vote or Die' T-shirt. Like some Stalinist puppetmaster, he orchestrated a blatant political takeover of September's MTV Awards from Miami, getting megastars like Outkast and Usher to open their acceptance speeches with exhortations to get out and vote on 2 November. Habitually Democrat, America's black voters seem keenest to prevent a repeat of the Florida fiasco which got Bush in, when so many adults were swindled out of a vote.

'You know, not many people are speaking of peace, and we gotta work for it,' Gil Scott-Heron told a packed venue in SoHo, three nights before the Republican circus came to town. Clean shaven, short haired, on parole but almost back to his sublime best, he built his set around this vocal riff, before picking through the anti-war gems of his back catalogue. In the 1970s he raised the bar for militant poetic jazz-funk - music for the head, heart and feet. This gig's website, sobs.com, pushes a voter registration campaign on its homepage.

The following night rapper Mos Def started his open-air gig in Central Park with a Scott-Heron number, before working through a brand new repertoire as musical director of his Big Band. With only one album to his name and another as Black Star with Talib Kweli, he is most definitely a star in the making. He also fronts the brilliant Def Poetry TV show on HBO in New York, showcasing breathtaking multicultural spoken word talent. At one point he exhorted his drummer, who had begun playing softly, to 'beat them up - the Republicans are coming'. In his closing moments he paced the whole stage, with raised clenched fist, repeating, 'The people... united... will never be defeated.'

Unsurprisingly, the jazzers are at it too. 'The improvisation that takes place in the music is symbolic of freedom. It's open on a number of levels, which is exactly the opposite of conservative politics,' pianist Brad Mehldau told September's issue of Downbeat. He'd been part of an all-star fundraiser for the Democrats on 14 June, the highlights of which included a duet between drummer Jeff 'Tain' Watts and tapdancer Savion Glover, and a sax duel on 'Green Chimneys' between Michael Brecker and Joshua Redman.

Virtuoso guitarist Charlie Hunter had also filled that bill. When he played his home turf of San Francisco on 21 August he donated signed CDs to the 'Head Count' team registering voters inside the venue. When I spoke to Evan at the stall about their success that night he explained, 'Actually, we haven't done too much business. Most of Charlie's fans are all ready to vote Bush out.' Having been very active in the Bay Area anti-war movement, Evan was adamant that voter registration was now the vital political task.

Aside from the political problems of its lesser evil assumptions, the pro-Democrat bandwagon has some cringeworthy moments. A programme to celebrate the opening of the Lincoln Centre's new jazz concert hall in New York in late September included readings from the works of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and former president and warmonger Lyndon Baines Johnson!

In an utterly unsentimental performance at the Los Angeles Hollywood Bowl on 4 August, veteran pianist Dave Brubeck recalled the mission President Eisenhower had sent his quartet on during the Cold War. Like Rockefeller's touring show of Abstract Expressionist paintings, Brubeck was sent behind the Iron Curtain to extol the personal and artistic freedoms inherent in modern jazz. Recalling gigs in places like Warsaw, Istanbul, Moscow and Tashkent, and a hairy plane ride through the Hindu Kush to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he smiled as he told the audience, 'I wouldn't want to do that again.' The roaring applause from over 10,000 listeners signified an understanding that 50 years later no musician wishes to be this president's propagandist.