Rock and Roll has long been the music of revolution. As discordant melodies, forced together, signaled the onset of rebellion in the age of the renaissance, so did Rock and Roll usher in an era of revolutionary change. But then something happened as we collectively sat back, tapping our toes to the fun and flavor of the music. We forgot that Rock and Roll had meaning and message. It was meant to have a purpose. In its nature it is a smack in the face and demand for action. It is not a passive genre to be enjoyed while dining. It is meant to retch out any solid materials churning in your stomach, spill them upon a dirty floor and force you to see what you’ve previously held and chose to consume. The cathartic experience then forever alters your choices and thoughts again and again and forever. That is what Rock and Roll is meant to be.

When Rock and politics mix, the opportunity for revolution is palpable but is almost always missed. Christina Aguillera might popularize the vote, but she could never truly “Rock the Vote”. Too many established pop artists, like their wizened political counterparts are too much a part of the system to ever really be a vehicle for significant change. For real voices, real rock, real change, you have to look to the young upstart politicians, the young hungry bands. The two came together recently in Tucson, Arizona.

A grassroots band of politically active citizens organized an event called Barack and Roll, in support of presidential candidate Barack Obama. It was held appropriately at the vibrant yet historic venue, Club Congress. Clearly it was meant to drum up some interest and popularity among young voters. But as the show rocked on, it was equally clear that, though there was plenty more high-intensity drumming, the interest and popularity of Obama is already firmly established among Tucson’s youth. The young folks showed up to hear some great bands, of course. But they were there genuinely in support of Obama as well. They opted for t-shirts of the bands rather than the candidate, but a little pressing and it was clear where they stood. Under the din and haze of the show, I yelled into the ear of a young fan, “McCain or Obama?” After repeatedly yelling this, she finally recognized the question and slapped me with an are-you-serious look, cupped her black-nailed fingers round my ear and shouted, “Obama! It’s a no f—-in brainer!” Between sets people were a little more specific.

Outside a young man named David from Tucson explained. “Man, dude. It’s like this. No politician is perfect. But Obama doesn’t strut into town like some cowboy. I mean look at McCain. He’s just like Bush. He wants to put everyone in a headlock and haul them off to jail, like some wild west sheriff. He thinks you can bully other countries and we just can’t play that game anymore.” As David spoke, he grew impassioned and quite audible. A few others outside heard his slashing solo and shouted their allegiance. David, for a moment, was transformed from rock fan into an oratory rock star – spitting out a soliloquy as powerful as any guitar trance or drum thumping solo. He wasn’t the only one talking politics.

Though most bands came to perform, between songs they spoke of their support for Obama. Most bands didn’t want to spew forth the specifics of their personal political leanings but heavily trumpeted the call to vote. They encouraged the young audience to be involved, register to vote, and make their choice. Often it was cited to the crowd that if they don’t vote, they can’t complain. The band, Feel Good Revolution, promoted Obama’s platform of change as “a political revolution that, hey… feels good. And that is what the country needs!” The band put on an electric wonder-romp that, like Obama, embodied change – a true break from the norm in appearance and substance. Each member of the band brought a distinctive characteristic to the stage. Within a four ring circus, the performers were unable to contain themselves within their confines, constantly overlapping one another in feverish fits of energy, while spewing out wildly harmonious tunes. The closing band, American Android was more vocal in their political leanings. They had the hard-earned maturity of a band like RHCP or Radiohead but with the seething, raw lyrics of Rage Against the Machine. The lead singer constantly spoke of a democratic responsibility we all have to be informed and involved. His words might have been a call-to-arms. He told the crowd that now was a time to demand change. Now was a time to take our country back from corporate power brokers. At one point he said, “I am not telling you who to vote for… I am only telling you to vote.” He seemed to hesitate and then committed himself, “I am voting for Barack. I am voting for Obama!” The audience agreed and a swell of cheers rose and ushered in the lead chords to their next track.

It was an all-ages Sunday afternoon/evening event that had teenage rock fans traipsing around between sets. There were young families who brought their kids along who bounced balloons in the air as drum solos ricocheted off the walls. People in Tucson-For-Obama shirts mingled in the corners, talking politics or planning future events. A few Sunday regulars lingered in the Tap Room, but they too were eventually pulled in – either into the rock show or the political discussion. Overall, it was a unifying event that brought lots of different people together for one overriding reason: true democracy. No music is more democratic than rock and roll. It is the melody of the masses. In Tucson, the sound of change reverberates far and wide and anyone caught in its wave can’t help but set their foot to tapping. For in us all is an opinion, a voice, a power that we must express and that is what Rock and Roll is all about.


The Man Who Delivered Iowa

When a young senator took the stage in Illinois politics, few took notice of more than his youth and his skin color. However, after his first scenes, people started to take notice. My father was an early attendee back then. He was the first to tell me about this Obama guy. He displayed an optimistic enthusiasm for the political arena I had only previously seen when he talked about “the 60’s” or his great luminary, Robert Kennedy. My father wasn’t one to throw his loyalty around blindly. So, I began to take notice too, following somewhat this new player. I liked what I saw and heard. Slowly, I began to develop a faith in Obama too – not so much a faith in what he could do for us, but what he could inspire us to do for ourselves. But my faith was not as profound as my father’s. Not yet.

My father was motivated to act on behalf of Obama. He began to call other leaders of his quiet Illinois community – mayors past and present, aldermen, business leaders, councilpersons and his old education colleagues. Most of them, like me, were listening interestedly but not cheering. Not yet. As his message resounded and his spotlight grew brighter, the faith grew. But it was like everyone was holding their breath. Afraid to overextend themselves. We’ve believed before and we’ve been burned. Let the election cycle begin. Let the caucuses stir up conversation and see what happens. Then I will better know the stage of players. Then I will better know where this Obama really stands. People seemed to be sitting back reading the rosters and preparing for the big season that would open in Iowa.

My dad decided to get involved. He had not voted with his feet since the age of iconic initials – MLK, JFK, RFK, and LBJ (“What else do we have to say!?”). Now he was motivated to act. Weeks before the Iowa primaries, he called up some old town friends. Like minded men of faith – faith in this new call for change and the repossession of our place as participants in the system. Dad woke early one Saturday and drove his Buick to pick up three retiree friends. They had a map of Keokuk, Iowa and a thermos of coffee. They headed across the river to start canvassing neighborhoods to talk to other Midwesterners about Obama. He called me a couple days later. He was excited about being involved and the responses he got. His enthusiasm was contagious over the phone. He estimated that he, going door-to-door, probably spoke with 60 people. His buddies figured they each hit about the same number. Most people they met were, like me, hesitant but hungry. They wanted to believe but were cautious. He told a lot of people his story, how he was motivated to act and we all have to take a step at some point. Dad felt that many of the people seemed stirred, enthused that they are not alone in this hunger for hope. He felt perhaps he had watered these seeds of hope and they might grow into action. After relaying his excitement and pride over the phone, his Midwestern modesty took over.

“Ah, who knows? Maybe we didn’t make any difference at all. But at least I did something.”

I did not want his pride and enthusiasm diminished. After all, I was really starting to feel it too. I was the one who grew excited and animated now over the phone.

“Hang on, now, Dad. You know that no matter what those people think they are at the very least going to talk to a friend or two about ‘this out-of-towner who came to the door to talk about that Obama fella’. Just knowing that people are talking about him, excited about him, believing in a leader again…. That has power, Dad. And I really think it will grow.”

This got him back on track and we started exchanging grand ideas about how far reaching his impact might have been. If he talked to sixty people and each of those talked to two friends, and they talked to just one friend, he’d initiated over 300 people to at the very least seriously talk about Obama, if not truly believe in his message. If his friends had the same impact – that is nearly 1000 people taking those ideas to their caucuses. Now that is People Power. That is what this democracy is supposed to be. Involved and concerned and informed citizens talking to neighbors – across the street or across a river.

Well, history holds forever the revolution that occurred in Iowa shortly thereafter. I still tell my father, a native Chicagoan turned downstater, in terms a Chicagoan can fully appreciate, that he quietly delivered Iowa to Obama. Similar to the way Daley delivered Chicago to Kennedy, but much more subtly, much more purely. This election holds in it a great deal of hope. Most importantly, I think is the hope that we can wrench this system back into the hands of the people. We have to be active. We have to get off the couch and go to a neighbors’ house and ask them what they think. Ask them who they are voting for and why? Tell them how they feel and who they support and why? We have to stop looking for a savior and start saving ourselves. We have to do this together. Neighbor by neighbor, house by house, state by state, until we become one country again. Our country.