Monday, December 01, 2003

Rocker's political message is cut from Farm Aid special

fa2003 Dave Matthews, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp photo from Rocky Mountain News

John Mellencamp's comments during the Farm Aid broadcast are heavily edited. From Indianapolis Star by David Lindquist:

"After Mellencamp told the crowd in Columbus, Ohio, that billions of dollars requested for Afghanistan and Iraq might be spent more wisely at home, a lot of people booed and a lot of other people cheered.

Catcalls persisted when he sang 'To Washington,' a song that characterizes President Bush as too quick to fight. Mellencamp also inserted Bush into a rendition of Bob Dylan's 'Highway 61 Revisited,' citing a 'Texas gambler' rather than a roving gambler out to start the next world war.

Did Mellencamp resemble a pacifist as he heard boos from an audience for maybe the first time in decades?

Well, no. The 52-year-old became visibly steamed. Between songs, he methodically rolled the sleeves of his white T-shirt above his biceps. Twice, he held his microphone away so he could spit expletives at a heckler more or less in private.

But a national TV audience won't see any of this when PBS broadcasts two hours of Farm Aid highlights tonight.

Instead of vigorous dissent and a stormy give-and-take between artist and audience, PBS will show just three of the nine songs Mellencamp performed.

The segment begins with Robert Johnson's 'Stones in My Passway' and Son House's 'Death Letter,' the two numbers that came before the singer commented on Bush's freshly revised tab for the war on terror -- $87 billion.

It ends with the crowd-appeasing 'Pink Houses,' the only Mellencamp original of the set.
It's disappointing that a national audience didn't see this scene play out as it happened. Cable TV's CMT and the Nashville Network passed on Farm Aid after a lengthy history of live telecasts.

PBS editing also stings Neil Young, who founded the series of benefit concerts with Mellencamp and Willie Nelson in 1985.

Young modified a line of "Rockin' in the Free World" to "We're losing boys every day 'cause we didn't have a plan." But you had to be in Columbus to hear that one."

More on politics and music from

"The notion that musicians shouldn't get involved in politics is 'ridiculous,' says Mike Burkett (a.k.a. Fat Mike), lead singer of NOFX and founder of 'Everyone should be involved in politics: cabdrivers, lawyers . . . everyone.'

Mellencamp says that the goal of his open letter and his song 'To Washington' is to turn such apathy into action. 'My whole purpose of being here, to write songs or write a letter like that, is to put the idea forward that some conversation needs to take place here, as opposed to accepting the [government] line,' he says."

From AlterNet "Is Protest Music Dead?" by Jeff Chang, Metro Silicon Valley :

"Artists who were once outspoken peaceniks seem to have lost their certainty, or even switched their position. For years, U2 led crowds in chants of 'No more war!' during their concerts. But during their surrealistic Super Bowl half-time performance this past January, they offered deep ambivalence a stark display of the names of Sept. 11 victims set to 'Beautiful Day.'

Neil Young's Ohio (lyric analysis) memorialized Kent State University's murdered antiwar protesters of 1970; his 'Cortez the Killer' condemned imperialism. Now we find him on his post-Sept. 11 cut, 'Let's Roll,' singing, 'Let's roll for freedom; let's roll for love, going after Satan on the wings of a dove.'

Young wrote the song to honor the heroes of Flight 93, who subdued their hijackers and paid the ultimate price. But if you believe 'Let's Roll' with its Bush-reduced ideas of 'evil' and 'Satan' is a cry for peace, you've probably already cleaned out your bomb shelter and reviewed your duck-and-cover manual.

As Leslie Nuchow, a Brooklyn-based folk singer who has been touring the country, says, 'Speaking on or singing anything that's critical of this country at this time is more difficult than it was a year ago.' "

More on politics and music.


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