Waterloo Sunset
by David Goodloe

I love music, all kinds of music.

I guess that is to be expected. I was raised with the sounds of music filling the house. My mother loved folk music. My father loved Middle Eastern music. They both loved classical music and bluegrass.

In that environment, as I say, I developed a fondness for all kinds of music. I liked the music my parents liked — still do — but I also liked the music that was popular with others of my generation.

Hey, I’ll listen to Mozart or Ravi Shankar or Hank Williams any time and be quite content to do so, but I’m also a product of my times, and the music of my times was rock ‘n’ roll — or what is simply known as classic rock today.

Oh, well, as Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

I love the Beatles. I love the Rolling Stones and the Who and Bob Dylan, and I love some of the lesser lights as well. Elvis was before my time, but I appreciate what he did all the same, just as I appreciate the contributions of Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

Anyway, I didn’t watch Michele Bachmann’s announcement the other day in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, that she was going to run for the Republican presidential nomination. But I wasn’t surprised to learn that she had used a Tom Petty song — “American Girl” — to pump up the crowd.

What did surprise me, however, was the fact that neither she nor anyone from her staff apparently ever contacted Petty or any of the members of his band to see if they had any objections to her use of the song.

With all the talk on the Republican side of the fence about protecting and preserving one’s property rights, I would have thought she would be particularly careful about being sure that her ducks are in a row when it comes to intellectual property issues.

But she wasn’t careful. And Petty has kindly asked her to cool it.

I guess it was a natural mistake. Hillary Clinton used the song at her rallies in 2008, and Bachmann must have assumed it was in the public domain.

But that isn’t how it works.

Well, Hillary and Michele don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. Maybe Petty didn’t mind if Hillary used his song, but he does mind if Michele uses it.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that a politician has tried to score points with the public through popular music. It has often been used in campaign rallies and advertising.

In a way, I suppose this is fitting. Republicans have been openly yearning for the next Ronald Reagan, and this flap over music might give Michele an advantage in that competition.

But that might not really be an advantage.

When he was running for re–election in 1984, Reagan — in what must have been a bid for the youth vote — tried to link himself to Bruce Springsteen, who may have been the most popular performer in America at the time.

He was also riding high on the charts with “Born in the U.S.A.,” and Reagan was eager to capitalize on the“message of hope” he perceived in the song.

Problem was that the song was about the negative influence on Americans because of the Vietnam War — a war that Reagan had praised as a “noble cause.”

That’s the real issue here, isn’t it? Some people are so eager to score political points with cultural references that they don’t bother to look beyond the title or the melody.

In their haste, they give voters an insight into the kind of attention to detail they can be expected to bring to the issues they will confront in office.

Reminds me of the words from another classic rock song.

If the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

David Goodloe got his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas in 1982, and his master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Texas in 1991. He publishes the thoughtful weblog Freedom Writing. This post is cross posted from his website.

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  • JSpencer

    It’s always been funny to see politicians try to exploit popular culture to their own ends, and it’s especially funny when they do it without bothering to discover the political bent of the originators. For some reason rightwingers have a greater penchant for it.

  • ShannonLeee

    Or maybe they know their audience?

  • casualobserver

    “What did surprise me, however, was the fact that neither she nor anyone from her staff apparently ever contacted Petty or any of the members of his band to see if they had any objections to her use of the song.

    With all the talk on the Republican side of the fence about protecting and preserving one’s property rights, I would have thought she would be particularly careful about being sure that her ducks are in a row when it comes to intellectual property issues.But she wasn’t careful. And Petty has kindly asked her to cool it.”

    And with the penchant for TMV liberals to criticize Republicans, I would have thought the liberals would have their ducks in a row before they spout off. While “asking” for permission might be an extra courtesy, it has nothing to do with enforcing copyright. Unless Petty put a specific restriction in his ASCAP release license respecting political venue usage, as long as Bachmann’s campaign paid the regular ASCAP licensing fee, both you and Petty might as well go pound sand relative to legal lecturing.

  • David_Goodloe

    Who are you accusing of spouting off?

    First, as I have said many times here, I am not a liberal. I am a centrist. I have written things that supported conservatives (for which I was attacked by liberals), and I have written things that supported liberals (for which I was attacked by conservatives). American politics has become so polarized in my lifetime that you can’t express your opinion on anything without being needlessly pigeonholed by someone.

    Second, I said nothing about copyright law or enforcing it. I am aware of the things you mentioned. I was writing from the standpoint of being courteous. Doesn’t that matter anymore?

  • DLS

    [shrug] Entertainer far-left politics emerges once more.

  • JSpencer

    “I was writing from the standpoint of being courteous. Doesn’t that matter anymore?”

    It’s a fair question David (even though it was probaby intended to be rhetorical). Yes, it still does matter, and courtesy remains an important part of the glue that helps keep society functioning in a halfway civilized way. Unfortunately, it’s trumped more and more easily by tribal reflexes these days – reflexes which are in essence the anti-glue.

  • rudi

    Maybe Bachman will use the likes of the Kinks Lola or Lou Reeds Walk on the Wild Side. Maybe her staff could use the drunken rantings of Jack Kerouac in his final days. Or Naked Lunch…

    Or maybe the family of John Wayne Gacy will embrace her family values.

  • JSpencer

    Bachmann isn’t even close to being in the deep end of the pool yet. When that happens things will start to get interesting.