You’ve heard this one before: A hopeful politician plays a song at a rally, and a rankled rock star slaps him with a cease-and-desist letter.
With the 2012 race for the White House officially underway, the first big sparks between a pol and a pop star flew in Waterloo, Iowa, on Monday when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) blasted the first 29 seconds of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” before announcing her bid for the presidency. Petty’s camp promptly sent a letter asking her to knock it off.
Prepare for 16 more months of this.
Although presidential campaigns have adopted theme songs since Abraham Lincoln was running for office, squabbles between candidates and musicians have only become commonplace since 1984, when President Ronald Reagan name-dropped Bruce Springsteen and his “message of hope” while stumping in New Jersey. (Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was a rising hit at the time, and although Reagan never reportedly played the song on the trail, the singer complained that his image had been co-opted.)
Since then, this trope has played out during every campaign season like a broken record. Sometimes the disputes go unresolved. Artists can take legal action when a politician uses their music in a campaign advertisement without permission, but they have little recourse against candidates who pump the singers’ hits at public appearances — aside from shaming them in the pages of Rolling Stone.
Despite Petty’s request, Bachmann played “American Girl” again on Tuesday after a speech in Myrtle Beach, S.C., but refrained from playing it as she made four tour stops across South Carolina on Wednesday.
Democratic candidates don’t seem to have such bad luck. The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign funding, says that more than 80% of congressional campaign donations from political action committees and individual employees associated with the music industry went to Democrats last year.
Over the years, Republicans have found a haven in country music. With the Republican nomination up for grabs, the tunes have played it pretty safe. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has recently taken the stage to “Born Free” by Kid Rock.
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