Controversy follows music in GOP campaign

By Nick Walters

Music can help to express emotions, summarize a mood and pump up a crowd. Politicians are not blind to this fact and have used popular music during campaigns for years. Many times, artists have been angered when their songs are used without permission. This year’s presidential campaign has not been without its share of musical controversy — though the controversies have been a bit one-sided.

Recently, I have seen many accounts of the Republican campaign using songs without artist’s consent. The first report of this happening came when John Mellencamp spoke out early this year about John McCain’s use of many of his hit songs while on the campaign trail. Mellencamp, whose political views are far from conservative, was adamantly against his songs being used. Bob Merlis, Mellencamp’s publicist, told The Associated Press, “You know, here’s a guy running around saying, ‘I’m a true conservative.’ Well, if you’re such a true conservative, why are you playing songs that have a very populist pro-labor message written by a guy who would find no argument if you characterized him as left of center?”

In the past month, classic rockers Van Halen and Heart have spoken out about the GOP’s usage of their tunes. Founding Heart members, sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson, were horrified by the playing of their song “Barracuda” in support of McCain running mate Sarah Palin whose high school nickname was Barracuda. The band responded with a statement saying, “The Republican campaign did not ask for permission to use the song, nor would they have been granted that permission. We have asked the Republican campaign publicly not to use our music. We hope our wishes will be honored.”

On Aug. 29, John McCain entered his rally in Ohio to the tune of Van Halen’s “Right Now.” Van Halen did not approve the use, but not because of political differences. VH management responded by stating, “Permission was not sought or granted nor would it have been given. They’re not political, they’re just rock and roll.”

Personally, if I was going to choose a song from Van Halen’s catalog to play as campaign music, I would choose one from the real Van Halen, meaning with David Lee Roth singing, not Sammy Hagar. Though I suppose “Running with the Devil” would not have been as appropriate.