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Country Music, Punk, and the U.S. Election
Y ou probably missed country star Darryl Worley’s performance at the 38th Super Bowl, overshadowed as it was by the headline-grabbing antics of Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.
it’s been a good 12 months or so for the country singer who
went from being just another stetson in the country music firmament
to one of its biggest stars with “Have You Forgotten?”—an
emotive call to arms in which Worley asks:
Have you forgotten how it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?
Have you forgotten when those towers fell?
We had neighbors still inside
Going through a living hell
And you say we shouldn’t worry ‘bout Bin Laden
Have you forgotten?
According to Worley’s record label, Dreamworks, the song scaled the charts faster last year than any single in recent memory, prompting one Dreamworks talking head to claim, “Daryl has hit a nerve that strikes to the core of this country.” “Have You Forgotten?” helped Worley bag a Best New Male Vocalist nomination at last year’s annual Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards as well as a hat trick of nominations at the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Country Music Awards. In the event, Worley was beaten for the Songwriter and Artist of the Year titles by Alan Jackson, whose more contemplative “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” (I’m just a singer of simple songs/I’m not a real political man/I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran) also helped him to Country Music Awards Entertainer and Male Vocalist of the Year titles.
Where the likes of the Dixie Chicks are only now starting to recover from the adverse publicity and country radio boycotts caused by very public anti-Bush comments, some country stars have jumpstarted healthy if unremarkable music careers thanks to their twangin’ post 9/11 triumphalism. Foremost among these is Toby Keith, who recently walked off for the second year in a row with the coveted Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year Award. Most famous for “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” Worley’s Dream- works labelmate scored a massive hit last year with a finger-wagging song that angrily warned:
Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A
‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass
It’s the American Way.
It comes as no surprise that President Bush is a card carrying member of the Toby Keith Appreciation Society. Keith’s unique brand of angry Americanism wowed them at the Pentagon and on a USO tour of Bosnia and Kosovo last year. This year Keith undertook an extended USO tour, which took in Kosovo, Germany, Italy, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
“It was a song I was inspired to write because I lost my father six months before 9/11,” explained Keith at the time. “Nobody wrote an angry American song and this was one. It was the way everybody felt when they saw those two buildings fall.” Enjoying what can only be described as a hot songwriting streak, Keith went on to pen “The American Soldier” and “The Taliban Song”:
So we prayed to Allah with all of our might
And then those big U.S. jets came flyin one night
They dropped little bombs all over our holy land
And man you should have seen em run like rabbits, they ran—the Taliban
This song helped Keith’s overall album sales touch the 20 million mark. The name of his latest album is Shock ’ n Y ’ all .
P erforming at a Spirit of America concert at Tampa’s Mac- Dill Airbase last year, Darryl Worley took time out to tell George W. Bush that he prayed for him daily. Bush responded by saying “that is the greatest gift you could ever give a president.” Not to be outdone, Keith dedicated his Country Music Television 2003 Flameworthy Video of the Year award to Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks, as well as “all the people over there [Iraq] putting it down for us tonight.” Winning the same prize again this year, Keith told the audience, “I know it’s getting to be old hat sometimes to be patriotic, but don’t forget our brothers and sisters overseas making it free for us tonight.”
“Toby Keith hit a bullseye at West Point,” said Bill Yost, director of West Point’s Eisenhower Hall Theatre. “His tribute to the American Soldier warmed the hearts and souls of the Cadets and Soldiers who were in attendance for the concert.” Last year Worley received a U.S. flag from Lieutenant General Richard Cody during a concert in Montgomery, Alabama. The flag was presented to Worley in recognition of his vocal support for U.S. soldiers and their families’ patriotism.
It is doubtful whether country music has ever enjoyed a higher public profile, with interest in country music at a premium thanks to country’s favored sons current willingness to champion the patriotic cause at the drop of a ten gallon hat. Visitors to www.country goldusa.com (“lyrics for country music and patriotic songs”) can express their patriotism by investing in a “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” collector plate. Certainly, the patriotic furrow that has been ploughed so relentlessly since September 11 by country music stars has captured the imagination of large swathes of the U.S. public. However, it’s a peculiarly exclusive sort of chisel jawed, chest beating patriotism, equally in thrall to syrupy sentimental notions of some bygone white picket fenced America as it is to the might of the modern U.S. military complex.
Of course, country music has long been a repository for conservative thinking and a reactionary force for the enshrining of “traditional American” values. Substitute the hokey comedy factor of Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee” (“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee/We don’t take our trips on LSD/We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street/We like living right, and being free”), with the righteous indignation of current country stalwarts and you’ll find that not much has changed. Country music’s hijacking of populist blue collar values has long acted as a cloak to an industry more at home in the corporate boardroom than on the front porches of the regular downhome folk it patronizes.
Nowhere is the country music industry’s symbiotic relationship to power and commerce more apparent than at glad-handing awards ceremonies where corporations like Wal-Mart (scourge of working poor Americans and small communities alike) pick up baubles like ASCAP’s Partner in Music Award for their exceptional dedication to promoting and expanding the reach of country music. Academy of Country Music members can likewise vote for the Home Depot Humanitarian Award or the Don Romeo Talent Buyer/Promoter of the Year.
Perhaps more curious still than country music’s right-leaning instinct are forums like Conservative Punk, created “to educate, inform, and increase the little known demographic of the Conservative Punk” in the run up to the presidential election. Yes, there really is a little known conservative punk demographic of punk rockers who believe in small government, low taxes, and acting when necessary to defend the country. Promoting itself as a conservative alternative to liberal Rock the Vote type initiatives, Conservative Punk aims to give “today’s young people a way to view politics from a different perspective.” That’ll be the different perspective offered up by conservative punks like Nation of Suspects who sing:
Beat ‘em till they couldn’t take no more
blood and teeth splattered on the floor
on ‘America 2 - Iraq 0
A number of country music fans have decided to challenge the plaid and gingham-checked conservative country status quo. In Nashville, disgruntled music industry leaders have banded together to form the Music Row Democrats in order to recruit and organize Democrats in the music community. Set up in December 2003, Music Row Democrat activities include Kerry fundraisers with artists like Emmy- lou Harris and Allison Moorer performing to raise funds for the Kerry presidential campaign.
Yet a few notable country music exceptions aside, most country singers are loathe to say anything vaguely critical of Bush or the occupation in Iraq lest they find themselves on the receiving end of a consumer and Clear Channel type boycott (an allegation still refuted by Clear Channel who claims that local managers make their own programming decisions). As one poster to FreeRepublic.com points out, “If they plan on recruiting all the liberals in country music, they could hold a concert in a closet....”
Richard Perle famously said, “If we let our vision of the world go forth and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”
People in the U.S. owe it to themselves to choose their own soundtrack.
William MacDougall contributes to a number of publications, including Counterpunch, Outlook India, and Red Pepper .
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.