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.