Music makes the polls go round

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I signed up to vote at an Eddie Vedder concert.

Since moving to Missouri I've made time for work, downtown concerts, art openings and golf. I hadn't, however, found the time to register to vote.

The concert marked the end of Vedder's solo tour. Before it started, I was wandering around the lobby and was stopped by the dude at the Rock the Vote/HeadCount table. I asked him what he was doing there and what happened to Rock the Vote.

He was officially with HeadCount, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit formed in 2004 to try and up the count of music-loving voters and Rock the Vote had pretty much lost funding.

"The music community has such great opinions, and I want their voices to be heard," he told me.

Sign me up, I said.

Music has been a political avenue for thousands of years and remains a way to send messages and express your own. Political campaigns have to choose just the right music to "represent" the candidate and campaign goals. Michelle Obama walked out to a clip of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her" Monday night to give her speech about her relationship with her husband, Democratic candidate Barack Obama. News outlets have released the playlists from both Obama and Republican John McCain.

But those are cases of politicians using music as background, as filler. That music entertains people who are already excited about politics. They should bring it back to the foreground and educate the people who are excited about music and may not care or think they should care about politics.

Vedder used politics as filler. He promised he wouldn't endorse anyone, then he fell silent and wiped the sweat from his head as two stage tech's floated a 15-foot "Obama 08" banner from one side of the stage to the other. The silence between songs was filler with a political message, cheering and then on with the music.

That's all it takes. You have a captive audience and a few minutes between songs to bring out a candidate and show the group ages 18 to 36 that "Hey, I'm here. I'm real. Go vote."

Music makes a difference. Look at the 1960s. Look at the clout and consideration given to the race issue in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina after Kanye West told America that "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Music matters and the younger side of this bell curve pays attention to the ones behind the mic. First and second-time voters need to be coaxed, enticed, encouraged to vote, and who better to do that than the people who convince them to pop their collars, wear flannel or put flowers in their hair?

Younger voters are more timid. They don't have the practice. They've never had this power, and they need to be reassured it will make a difference.

The media outlets that reach these age groups and the celebrities they follow so closely should wield that power for more than peddling sneakers and sunglasses.

To whom much is given, much is expected.

It might be too much to expect from Britney or Lindsay, but Madonna appeared on the Today Show and talked politics. The Dave Matthews Band played at the kickoff for the Democratic National Convention. Those and others could take a second between songs just to say, "Hey guys, stop by that Headcount booth outside and register to vote. And then, uh, go vote, because you control your future and the future of this country. Now let's rock on."

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