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Out of Time

Dan Sarka

So why has Bruce Springsteen chosen to wield the political clout he's held in account for 20 years? And why are 18 topdrawer pop acts joining him in the Vote for Change tour?

Bruce Springsteen knows a historical crossroads when he sees it. And Republican retiree Alice Cooper thinks you’re a moron. Springsteen told an interviewer this summer that he and his band had spent the last 25 years socking away a nest egg of credibility in the minds of the millions who count themselves among his fans. There comes a moment when you have to spend some of it,” he said. This is that moment.”

Well. We can agree that this is a moment. In fact, it’s a hell of a moment, one in which failure to act could result in mischief beyond imagining. But that” moment — when just a little more effort would have rendered this moment unnecessary — passed four years ago.

So why has Springsteen finally chosen to wield the political clout he’s held in account for 20-plus years? Why are 18 top-drawer pop acts joining together to defeat George Bush now, when the horses clearly have left the barn? Certainly those whose imaginations failed them in 2000 received a shock, and the hard slap of reality seems to have roused a congenitally dreamy bunch.

Next month’s Vote for Change tour, featuring Springsteen, REM, Pearl Jam, Jurassic 5 and 14 other acts, is a brave and intelligent enterprise that likely will mobilize a significant bloc of resistance to George Bush. Over the course of 10 days it will bring 36 shows to more than 30 cities in nine battleground states, focusing serious firepower where it’s needed most. And if we learned anything in Florida it’s that we mustn’t underestimate the significance of even the smallest shift in voter behavior.

Alice Cooper learned that lesson, too. Last month he said: If you’re listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you’re a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we’re morons.” This is not the mere ironic muttering of a rich man on a Glendale golf course. It’s the voice of a smart Republican who knows firsthand the power of any moron who has the nerve to get up on stage, who fears what these pop stars in opposition to this administration can do. (His friends in the party of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger also understand the pull of celebrity, which is why they trotted out their heavyweights like Bo Derek in New York.)

The Vote for Change tour is something of a risky undertaking for Springsteen and the other artists involved. Never mind the Dixie Chicks’ crucifixion or the clumsy Boycott the Boss” campaign mounted by hopeless New York Conservative Party Senate candidate Marilyn O’Grady: It’s easy enough to calculate how many red-state fans populist icons like Springsteen, John Mellencamp and John Fogerty stand to lose. To their credit the artists recognize they have more to lose this November than unit sales.

Springsteen is banking on the fact that a rock n’ roll moron” with a Telecaster and a sense of desperation can do a world of good. And the moment he faces today is an ice-cold reminder of what can happen when people in his position either underestimate their power or decline to exercise it at all.

The fact is, the Boss had as much rainy-day political capital in 2000 as he has today. He stayed home that year and kept his yap shut.

And so did the rest of us. Most Americans, rock stars and Wal-Mart clerks alike, failed to comprehend the stakes of that election. While a few shuddered to think, most stayed home and hoped for the best.

What a bunch of morons.

Dan Sarka, songwriter for Stingray Green, writes on music for In These Times.
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