Like overbearing parents and jilted lovers, bad presidents make for damn good rock 'n' roll. Or at the very least, they make for lots of rock 'n' roll. Indeed, if Green Day's American Idiot was the best protest album of the year-as many rock mags have dubbed it-it's no surprise Kerry lost. But you can't say the musicians didn't try: 2004 saw artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Death Cab for Cutie, NOFX, Jurassic 5 and those Texas turncoats the Dixie Chicks joining the pop-politico majority opposed to four more years of Bushdom.
Unfortunately, neither Vietnam revivalism (John Fogerty's "Deja Vu (All Over Again)" nor hip-hop polemic (Eminem's "Mosh"); neither the obvious (Dan Bern's "Bush Must Be Defeated") nor the obscure (Elvis Costello's "Monkey to Man"); neither the excellent (R.E.M.'s "Final Straw") nor the plain fucking stupid (Steve Earle's "Condi Condi") could deliver anything but an overdue left-footed kick in the ass to pop's top earners.
Not surprising when you contrast this year's excuse for rebel music with the underdog zeal of Vietnam's hippie rock or the self-righteous fury of Reagan-era punk. Many of the same characters were on hand-Fogerty and Neil Young joined the Boss on the "Vote for Change" circuit and Jello Biafra added his special brand of vitriol to Fat Mike's "Rock Against Bush" tour-but seldom conveyed was the sense of urgency and fear found in classics like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Ohio" or the Dead Kennedys' "Kill the Poor." Putting the "die" in "Vote or Die" proved easier sung than done.
Though anti-Bush compilations and concept albums flourished and the Internet ensured instant proliferation of real-time musical rants, the partisan tour was the year's most innovative vote-rocking device. "Vote for Change" caught the most press-deservedly so-for pairing artists like Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket with Jackson Browne and James Taylor in eight battleground states (half of which would fall to Bush). Those crazy left-wingers at 91X even broadcast the tour's Oct. 13 Washington, D.C., finale. "Rock Against Bush" actually made it to RIMAC Arena, where NOFX, Biafra, Alkaline Trio and Authority Zero tipped the scales for Kerry in swing state California.
Um, well, it was a good show at least.
The line between poetic license and bandwagon profiteering may have been crossed more than a few times over the year-the words "Slightly Stoopid" did grace Dubya's forehead on a recent Belly Up concert print-but then again, you could fill a thousand RIMACs with the number of Americans who despise the leader of the free world.Like it or not, we'll see what another four years in the Bush leagues add to the equation.