Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Punk Rock And The Bush Presidency

(originally from January 19, 2009)

Tomorrow marks the final day of George W. Bush's presidency, eight years which most American's categorize as a step in the wrong direction to say the least. Newsweek columnist Jacob Weisberg commented that "It remains a brainteaser to come up with ways, however minor, in which Bush changed government, politics, or the world for the better". While Bush may not have changed politics or government for the better, his presidency has inspired a great number of punk songs, albums, and bands, for the better.

In the early 1980's with the Reagan presidency, a slew of political punk bands rose to greatness. The punk scenes popular nihilistic themed bands from the late 70s like The Germs, Fear, and The Heartbreakers, were replaced with politically conscious bands like the Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, MDC, Reagan Youth, and countless others. Sure there were popular apolitical bands like The Descendents or Misfits, but punk, particularly hardcore, become more synonymous with anti-Reagan politics.

A similar thing has happened with the Bush presidency. At the start of the new decade the most popular punk bands were MTV-approved apolitcal ones like Blink-182, Sum41, and New Found Glory. As Bush's presidency continued anti-Bush political bands like Rise Against, Anti-Flag, and Against Me, rose in popularity and eventually all signed on to major labels. Popular bands that once wrote apolitical songs changed their tune, such as Green Day, Sum41, and especially NOFX. Fat Mike organized the punk voter project, and put out the Rock Against Bush albums, in an effort to help defeat Bush's re-election. While Bush was narrowly re-elected, the number of youth voters, punk voters target audience, increased and many of those first-time young voters, voted again and helped Obama get elected in the last election. Punk voter didn't succeed in getting Bush out of office, but I believe it succeeded in planting seeds in people who had previously been uninterested in politics. If anything Bush has helped re-associate punk with politics, and to quote NOFX, "if you think punk rock doesn't mix with politics you're wrong."

I'll end with a list of the essential anti-Bush Administration songs from this era:

*Jello Biafra & The Melvins- McGruff The Crime Dog
Jello's 2003 album "Never Breathe What You Can't Say" is to me the definitive political album of the Bush administration, hell it's probably the best album in general to come out in the Bush years. Starting out with the lyrics, "Thank you, Osama you are the savior of our economy today", the song is inspired by the wire tapping brought on by the Patriot Act. It is based around the idea of hiring a half of the country to spy on the other half making sure everything they did was desirable for the government.

*Bad Religion- Let Them Eat War
After a series of unimpressive and poorly selling albums from the late 90s Bad Religion had somewhat of a ressurgence, artistically and commercially during the Bush era. Their 2003 anti-Iraq War album aptly titled, The Empire Strikes First, featured Let Them Eat War, one of the best songs in their lengthy career.

*Green Day- Holiday
A song that would sound much more at home on a Bad Religion album, Holiday proved to be one of Green Day's most popular. It isn't often that there is a hit song on commercial radio that takes direct aim against the Iraq War, American homophobia, and John Ashcroft's censorship of the Spirit of Justice monument. The song's line "a plastic bag on a monument" I've always assumed refered to the former Attorney General's orders to place curtains over a famous statue, the Spirit of Justice, because it depicted a women's breast.

*Cobra Skulls- Charming The Cobra
Could the Cobra Skulls have made an album like 2007's Sitting Army or a song like Charming The Cobra without the inspiration of a rightwing government in control? Perhaps, but its hard to think that it could be as good.

*NOFX- Franco-Unamerican
NOFX's 2003 album The War On Errorism rivals The Empire Strikes First for best anti-Bush administration album title. The albums version of Franco-Unamerican is good, but the version of the song that the band played on Conan O'brien with the addition of the lyrics, "We all know George Bush is an imbecile, he love's Dick but he hates homosexuals", is the best.

*Chris Phillips- The Decider
This song appeared on the Comedy Central show "Lil' Bush". Based around one of Bush's more arrogant quotes about him being "The Decider". I'm not sure who Chris Phillips is, but this is a great song. You can download it for free

*The Mighty Mighty Bosstones- This List
A song about the casualties of the Iraq War, and the politicians who started it. "So go on give in and get ‘em out,
spin it anyway you want to we know what you’re all about, saving lives instead of young face there might be one small saving grace, if only someone kept us safe from you."

*Rise Against- Blood Red, White & Blue
Another great anti-war song, Rise Against deserves all the success they have gotten. The song brings up a good question "Would God Bless America?".

*Leftover Crack- Super Tuesday
If the cover of the 1981 Alternative Tentacles compilation, Let Them Eat Jellybeans, which depicts Reagan giving a thumbs up to the backset of an upside down American flag is the definitve cover-art from the anti-Reagan era, then the cover of Leftover Crack's Fuck World Trade, showing Bush pouring gas over the World Trade Center, may be the definitive cover-art of the anti-Bush era. Sure Leftover Crack's political views are a lot more extreme than the other bands here, but Super Tuesday, a song about how the United States deserved 9/11 because of their support for free trade, is still a good song, and presents a unique perspective to say the least.

*American Steel- Sons Of Avarice
A Clash inspired song that like Green Day's Holiday covers a variety of complaints with the government, from the war, to Bush dodging the draft, to the low pay of teachers and soldiers, to the genocide in Sudan.

There you have it. Here's hoping the Obama years will see success, but still bring a healthy questioning of government, and good political punk.

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