Thursday, September 25, 2008

Political songs, what to do with them?

I've had an interesting situation come up recently, and without going into too much detail about it, I will talk about the questions it has brought up, and I'd love to hear any feedback any of you might have.

If you're not aware, the folk singer/songwriter "scene" that encompasses most of my concerts, fanbase, fellow artists, etc is very issues based, a lot of songwriters share their political and social views through their music. Often times, I disagree with the views being expressed in songs written and performed by my peers. I quite often appear on stage with other performers, doing co-bills, in-the-round concerts, etc. And, unavoidably, sometimes an artist will perform a song that offends some members of my audience. Keep in mind here that I am talking about artists who have just a few songs of strong political/social opinion, and for the most part have a catalog of songs similar to mine, and with no particular viewpoint.

I wonder if it is in any way my responsibility to distance myself from views that I diasgree with, and those that may upset some of my fans. I know I have fans on both sides of the political spectrum, and have different views on social issues from many performers that I know and like.

I have always had the opinion that a persons views on these type of issues, so long as they are not a majority of their songs, and only shared sparingly, don't bother me at all, whether I agree or disagree. But, I realize many people can take a song very seriously, or really feel the need to distance themselves from someone they have a fundemental difference of opinion from. Think about what happened to the Dixie Chicks when they made comments about Bush a few years ago. They were basically thrown out of country music. I personally could care less what Natalie Maines feels about politics. Good music is good music. Obviously, several hundred thousand other people who stopped buying their records couldn't shrug it off as easily.

So, the question I would pose and appreciate feedback on is this; If I am appearing on stage, either opening for, doing an in-the-round performance with, or otherwise on the same bill as a musician that I know has songs that I disagree with, and that some of my fans may be offended by, should I refuse to appear with that artist? Or, should I feel the need to say anything about it? What is my obligation in that sort of situation?

And, let me pose this question to you as a listener; If an artist has 25 songs that you like and 1 or 2 songs that you strongly disagree with , do those 1 or 2 songs change your opinion of the artist, or the other 25 songs that you like?
Let me know if you have any thoughts on my ramblings. As always, thanks for listening.


Josh said...

You shouldn't refuse to appear on stage with an artist because 1-3 of his or her songs may offend some of your audience. You should, however, avoid frequently appearing with that artist, or going on a tour with that artist. The exception would be if an artist has any part of a song that you find objectionable, and/or you feel the majority of your audience finds not just disagreeable, but objectionable or offensive.

As for the other question, I have been a fan of artists who have a few songs that express positions with which I do not agree. It does impact the way I think about said artist, but it doesn't, at least initially, prevent me from enjoying the rest of their work (or even the songs with which I disagree!).

However, I have found that, with time, my affinity for their work has waned, and my view of them has become somewhat simplified down to the categorization of the statements they made with which I do not agree.

Wendy said...


I personally think that all performers are just that: performers...they are not that same breath...Until you put your foot in your mouth I may really like you! (IE: Dixie Chicks) Did they really have to make their "statement" ? Um, No. Do I still listen to their old stuff before the "statement"? yes, b/c I like the MUSIC. Have I bought their new stuff since? NO. Same thing with actors...Why would I want to hear what their opinion is on politics Theu are paid...over paid to PRETEND. I don't care who they vote for..I will still vote for who and what I believe in. Would I be upset if you performed along side someone who has a song that I didn't like? NO. Would I be upset if your concert turned into a politcal rally for issues I didn't agree with? Yes. :) Am I confusing you? :) I agree with your first commenter as well...I don't think you should refuse to play with anyone just b/c some of your audience may not like it...I am very good friends with people who have very different views than I do...I'm talking VERY GOOD...Like, friends for over 25 years...We agree to disagree...I bet we could both come to a concert where you are performing with a friend and we would both walk away feeling good....NOW, if everything another performer sings about is completely against your entire belief system...well, that's another story, my friend! :) Does my response help in ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM?! HA! Good Luck with pondering this!!

greg said...


This happened to me just last year when I did a songwriters-in-the-round show with 2 Live Crew, Neil Young, and Cartman from South Park.

I didn't say anything and now both of my fans won't even look at me. They had a Greg Adkins CD burning party. It wasn't pretty.

Of course, that was probably because I chose that show to debut my new remix CD called "Old F-ing Radio and other hits" That reminds me, I need to get you in the studio to sing a little "Unplug the mutha-bleeping-internet BOYEEE".

Okay, seriously...

Good topic. I think I agree with you... as long as it doesn't become all that performer sings about, I'm cool. The only person I've ever been turned off by in regards to this stuff was Cheryl Wheeler but I still love pretty much all of her non-political stuff. I think seeing her life it would annoy the heck out of me but it doesn't make me not enjoy her music.

Anonymous said...

I see no problem with respectful disagreement on most any issue. Look around, and you see Republicans who are good friends with Democrats, liberals who are good friends with conservatives (and no, I don't think that liberal = Democrat anymore than I think conservative = Republican, no matter what people try to make me believe), baseball fans friends with baseball haters; heck, you can even find die-hard Auburn fans who proudly claim friendship with the most ardent Alabama fan. But in all of the cases, the key to making it a "difference" instead of a "problem" is RESPECT. On both sides, of course.

What I would do in your in-the-round situation is... well, nothing. I wouldn't turn the concert into a debate; that makes YOU the bad guy. And I wouldn't necessarily have an "answer song," because that makes you the retaliator. Just listen, applaud politely, and do your part in keeping the event a concert, and not a political/philosophical argument. People will notice; actions speak louder than words, and sometimes silence can be deafening.

One of the foundations of America is freedom of choice; there is nothing in the Constitution about everybody being exactly alike. Differences can actually be celebrated, as long as the respect is never forgotten.

Anonymous said...

If you are opening, closing, or in the round, their songs are their songs and you aren't involved. Secondly, people need to lighten up abit. If you walk out everytime you hear something you disagree with, you'll end up on an island. I am not a Christian, but I love the song Ordinary Life (about the life of Jesus). Should I instead be offended and refuse to go to Dave Potts way.