By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
During sound check, Summit County Democratic Party officials and volunteers decorate the theater. They hang a few giant Obama/Biden banners, set up an information booth and merchandise table selling Obama and Devo stuff. As a way to raise extra cash, the band members have created a T-shirt on which they have transformed the Obama campaign’s official logo by placing a cockeyed energy dome on top of it. A volunteer builds a pyramid with the official plastic domes on sale for $20, with all proceeds going to the campaign.
“This is one of the biggest fund-raising events of the season,” says Wayne Jones, chair of the Summit County Democratic Party, as he walks the aisles and oversees the progress. “This county went 56 percent for Kerry in ’04. If we can get it to 60 to 65 percent for Obama, that makes a huge difference.” It’s a big county, he says, with 300,000-plus voters. “If we can get 180,000 to 200,000 votes for Barack Obama, that’s huge.” Jones is optimistic. “I think it’s going to be extremely close, but I think he’ll take Ohio.”
There’s tension both among strangers passing each other on the highway and families sitting around the dinner table, explains Mothersbaugh before the show. One of his brothers, an ardent McCain backer, didn’t appreciate the fact that Devo would force him to attend an Obama rally in order to see his brothers perform. (Mothersbaugh’s brother Bob I, Devo’s guitarist, is an Obama supporter.) Indeed, Mothersbaugh asked his father (known to Devo die-hards as General Boy, he narrated some of the band’s early propaganda films) to introduce the band tonight, but the family patriarch declined, in part, for the same reason.
Still, Mothersbaugh says, the band needed to come to Ohio. “The truth of the matter is, in some recent elections some counties in this state were won by as little as nine votes. That shows you how important your vote is, especially in this state.”
It’s this imperative that has driven musicians on both sides of the political race to step up in swing states and cultural hubs around the country. Musicians this election are out in larger force than ever before, a vast army of singing persuaders. James Taylor performed five free concerts in North Carolina in support of Obama. John Legend, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel raised a big chunk of change for Obama in New York last week. Streisand at L.A.’s Beverly Wilshire raised $9 million for the Illinois senator. Jeff Tweedy, the Arcade Fire and the Decemberists have pitched in. Dianne Reeves, Brad Mehldau, Hank Jones, Stefon Harris (!) and other jazz geniuses did Jazz for Obama in New York.
Daddy Yankee and Ted Nugent are two unlikely partners in the McCain corner. “I’m very deliberately trying to be out there with my ideas and my music,” country singer John Rich — half of superstar duo Big & Rich, told People magazine last month. “I respect McCain for his heroism over the years. He stands for the things I value, and there aren’t many young conservatives like me who make it into the media, so I’m trying to do my part.”
Jerry Del Colliano, director of the Thornton Executive Programs in Music Industry and clinical professor of Music Industry at USC, has long studied the collision of music and politics but is particularly excited by one recent endorsement. “I’ve heard that Shakira is going to perform for Obama,” he says, “and I don’t know about you, but if I could see her on a video, that would firm up my support for Obama — and I’m choosing my words very carefully.” He laughs before declaring: “There is no, I repeat, no evidence whatsoever that a celebrity endorsement or a performance by even the biggest of stars has any effect whatsoever on the outcome of an election.” Music is an effective tool, he acknowledges, and he understands the desire to align the two. But it’s not the decider. “Music is probably a lot more sacred than a lot of things in our society. When we listen to Springsteen, and Springsteen sings on behalf of the Democrat — in this case Obama — we expect that. [And] I think the Republicans, or the independents, or the people who don’t give a damn, look in the other direction,” Del Colliano adds.
And, at times, music captures a moment, frames the events perfectly. He suggests Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” chorus in Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. “If the Chipmunks sang the song, it wouldn’t have mattered. It not only fit the era, but it fit the generation, [which] was critical. It was time for a baby-boomer president, and that song came right out of the greatest-hits vault. It made sense.” Ditto “Happy Days Are Here Again,” FDR’s theme.