GOP and pop music don’t mix well
By RICHARD ROEPER August 19, 2012 6:38PM
U.S. Rep. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) introduces Mitt Romney, back right, during a campaign stop in Miam on Aug. 13. The GOP candidate has received a cease and desist letter from SIlversun Pickups rquesting he stop using their song "Panic Switch" for appearances.
Updated: September 21, 2012 6:25AM
It’s no surprise Rage Against the Machine and Silversun Pickups have been howling about the Romney-Ryan campaign favorite-ing their music.
The real upset is that neither camp saw this coming.
We get the musicians vs. politicians story in virtually every campaign. It’s almost always a Republican co-opting a pop hit, followed by the artist saying the GOP candidate doesn’t get it and shouldn’t use it.
Last year, Tom Petty sent a cease-and-desist letter to Michele Bachmann after the congresswoman took to playing “I Won’t Back Down” at rallies.
Jackson Browne sued the John McCain campaign for playing “Running on Empty.” Dave Grohl, John Mellencamp and Van Halen also protested when McCain used their music. Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart issued a statement dissing Sarah Palin after Palin used “Barracuda.”
Bruce Springsteen was cheesed when the Reagan campaign invoked “Born in the U.S.A.” Survivor demanded Newt Gingrich stop using “Eye of the Tiger.” Boston’s Tom Scholz was ticked when Mike Huckabee used “More Than a Feeling.”
At this point, if you’re going to make a rock song part of your traveling salvation show, how can you NOT have your team analyze the song’s content and contact the artist before going forward?
Ryan, taking a break from playing Gabe on “The Office” to join Romney on the ticket, says Rage Against the Machine is one of his favorite bands.
That’s like Michael Phelps adopting “I’m a Loser” as his theme song. John Mayer covering “Alone Again, Naturally.” Bradley Cooper starring in a stage adaptation of “The Elephant Man.”
Oh wait. That last thing did happen.
Here’s Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, writing in Rolling Stone:
“I wonder what Ryan’s favorite song is? Is it the one where we condemn the genocide of Native Americans? The one lambasting American imperialism? Our cover of ‘F--- the Police’? Or is it the one where we call on the people to seize the means of production? So many excellent choices to jam out to at Young Republican meetings!”
The brief controversy over the Romney campaign and “Panic Switch” is a little more complicated — and a good example of how you can reap a mountain of publicity if you’re fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of one of these dust-ups.
Last week the Silversun Pickups issued a cease-and-desist order urging Romney to stop using “Panic Switch,” a song about someone feeling manipulated and experiencing an anxiety attack.
From the statement by lead singer and guitarist Brian Aubert: “We were very close to just letting this go because the irony was too good ...While [Romney] is inadvertently playing a song that describes his whole campaign, we doubt that ‘Panic Switch’ really sends the message he intends.”
A Romney spokesman said the song was played during a setup for an event before the candidate was even at the venue, and though the song “was covered under the campaign’s regular blanket license ... we will not play it again.”
This is something often ignored in these stories — whether artists can truly stop politicians from playing their songs. As far as I could determine, these cease-and-desist letters and threats of lawsuits have never led to an actual decision in court. Once musicians go public with their protest, the campaigns usually just stop using the songs — even if they have public performance licenses from ASCAP and BMI.
As a story from Bloomberg Businessweek explains, you’re probably not going to have a case if a candidate uses your song once or twice. But if he’s using it for a TV ad or it’s a constant part of his campaign, creating the impression you’ve endorsed the candidate, that could be a different story.
Given all the mentions of Silversun Pickups and “Panic Switch” in the last week, the band might want to consider following up that cease-and-desist letter with a giant thank you bouquet.