You know election season must be in full swing when rock stars are issuing public statements getting candidates to stop using their songs at rallies, speeches and events.
The inaugural music-related strike of the 2012 presidential race comes from Tom Petty, who issued a cease and desist letter to Michele Bachmann’s campaign to get her to stop using Petty’s 1977 hit “American Girl.”
This isn’t even the first time Petty has bristled at the idea that somebody from the right borrowed one of his tunes—he issued a similar letter in 2004 when George W. Bush used Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” as one of his campaign themes (like Bachmann, Bush complied).
Ever since Bruce Springsteen took umbrage with Ronald Reagan’s use of “Born in the U.S.A.” during his re-election campaign in 1984, it has become something of a tradition for rock musicians (many of whom, you may have noticed, have views that tend to skew to the left) to publicly disassociate themselves from right-wing candidates who borrow their music.
For example, John McCain couldn’t do very much right in 2008. Not only did he lose the election, but he also felt attacks coming from a number of different musicians, including John Mellencamp (who was bothered by the fact that McCain was using both “Our Country” and “Pink Houses”), Foo Fighters (“My Hero”), Van Halen (“Right Now”), Orleans (“Still the One”) and, most notably, Jackson Browne (who actually filed a lawsuit against McCain after his song “Running on Empty” showed up in a McCain campaign ad; the issue was settled a year later for an undisclosed amount).
McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin wasn’t immune to rocker ire either—she took heat from Nancy Wilson of Heart (who was irate that Palin used her band’s “Barracuda,” announcing “I feel completely f—ed over. Sarah Palin’s views and values in no way represent us as American women”) and country star Gretchen Peters (who was so angry that Palin was using her song “Independence Day” that she encouraged people to make donations to Planned Parenthood under the name “Sarah Palin”).
And it isn’t just presidential candidates who get themselves entangled with angry rock stars. Former Florida governor Charlie Crist felt David Byrne’s ire after he borrowed the Talking Heads’ classic “Road to Nowhere” and California senatorial candidate Chuck DeVore had to apologize to Don Henley after he used both “The Boys of Summer” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” without permission. (As an aside, how is “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” a campaign song?)
As the Republican field widens and the individual profiles of Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and the rest all get larger and more public, expect more of these incidents to happen.
Here’s a free tip for any candidate looking to make a splash: As rousing an anthem as it is, stay away from Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” He will not like it.