Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, R.E.M., Pearl Jam and a deep roster of other rock stars will unite for politically minded concerts this fall that will give voice to dissatisfaction with the Bush administration.
The all-star rock shows, which are expected to begin in October and target campaign swing states, are in the planning stage but were confirmed by half a dozen music industry sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Insiders disagree on the unifying rhythm of the celebrity coalition. Some say it is the promise of the John F. Kerry candidacy, but at least one emphasizes the fear of President Bush’s reelection. “There is a range of feeling about Kerry,” the source said, “but a uniform belief that Bush must go.”
The tour turns up the volume of the rock scene’s role in politics, but it is not the only example of an apparent surge of commentary among artists. Rockers seem virtually unanimous in their anti-Bush stance, just as country music has seen a wave of passionate patriotism and support for the president, exemplified by the songs of Toby Keith.
MTV has been showing a video by the British dance-pop outfit Faithless that features a teen shipped off to Iraq only to return home wounded and disillusioned. Representing a different generation, Tom Waits and John Fogerty have recorded songs about Iraq. For Waits, it’s the first political song of his four-decade career; for Fogerty, it’s a return to his Vietnam-era songs such as “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”
Elsewhere, rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs is steering a new voter registration drive, and the usually bratty punk-pop band Green Day has said its next album will be a political concept piece. Steve Earle has a new album laced with songs about Iraq and Bush and even a mocking valentine to national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. Blues player Keb Mo has an upcoming album of peace songs, including John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.”
Introducing political commentary into music is sometimes a risky prospect -- even if it’s just a passing reference.
Last weekend, Linda Ronstadt was booed in Las Vegas for praising a Bush nemesis, filmmaker Michael Moore, while Ozzy Osbourne relented to critics and removed concert imagery that showed Bush and Hitler together on an overhead screen.
The countercultural mind-set and recklessness once at the core of rock music now seem relegated to the distant past, Elton John told Interview magazine. He said that protest had often given way to strict careerism in this corporate age.
“There’s an atmosphere of fear in America right now, and that is deadly,” John said. “Everyone is too career-conscious. They’re all too scared.... Things have changed.”
Tom Morello, guitarist with Rage Against the Machine and once a staffer to the late California Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston, is a veteran of politics-meets-rock. “I’m not surprised you’re seeing this music being made, and I’m not surprised it’s connecting with an audience,” he said. “It’s not just people who write songs -- carpenters, teachers, everyone is ready for a regime change.”
Morello was cited by some sources as a probable participant in the concert series, but he declined to confirm plans for the shows.
No album or song is likely to capture as much media attention as the concerts involving Springsteen in swing states, which are expected to take place in arenas.
Organizers have been tight-lipped since discussions of the idea caught the ears of some of the stars in April. At the end of last week, the formal announcement was scheduled for Aug. 4 in New York.
Other artists expected to join the lineup include Earle, the Dave Matthews Band, the Dixie Chicks, Bright Eyes, Ani DiFranco, Death Cab for Cutie and International Noise Conspiracy. There also are reports that Bob Dylan and James Taylor may be part of the bill.
The shows reportedly will benefit several organizations, chief among them MoveOn.org, the advocacy group that champions a liberal agenda through Web-based grass-roots efforts.
All-star concerts to raise money for philanthropic or political causes have become a tradition. The template goes back to 1971 with George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and the no-nukes shows of 1980 that featured Springsteen and such artists as Taylor, Jackson Browne and Carly Simon.
Organizers have tried to keep the fall shows under wraps to spotlight the official announcement. Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, declined to discuss the shows, and Young’s manager, Elliot Roberts, did not return calls. When Bertis Downs, who manages R.E.M., was asked about the band’s fundraising plans, he replied, “I can’t talk about that.”
R.E.M became one of the first bands to criticize the war in Iraq when it posted a song on its website in March 2003, the month of the invasion.
Others now joining the critical chorus include the Beastie Boys, a Perfect Circle and Jay Farrar, the alternative-country rocker who said Saturday that he resisted political messages in the past because the topic didn’t fit his sensibilities.
But now, he said, he would feel derelict if he didn’t speak up. “And there will be a lot more artists doing the same thing if Bush gets reelected.”