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Saturday 24 March 2018

Music: Trump and the politics of song

Stars and Stipes: The REM frontman furious at Trump campaign
Stars and Stipes: The REM frontman furious at Trump campaign
John Meagher

John Meagher

Earlier this month, Donald Trump strode on stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland to the strains of Queen's 'We Are The Champions'. It was a suitably bombastic walk-on for a man who was divorced from subtlety in the womb.

Queen wrote scores of far better songs, but there's every chance that 'We Are The Champions' will endure longer than any of the others. Its persistent use in sporting events will make damn sure of that.

But while the remaining members of the band presumably have no trouble with the anthem blaring out at Wembley on Cup Final day, it's a very different story when one of the most controversial public figures of his time employs it in a bid to boost his standing.

Brian May was aghast when he found out. In June, he had issued a statement prohibiting Trump from using any Queen material and tweeted about the "an unauthorised use against our wishes" after the fiery convention during which 'The Donald' officially accepted the Republican nomination for president.

And much like his enthusiasm for offending women, Muslims and blacks, Trump seems to care not one bit about the sensitivity of someone like the Queen guitarist or those other musical behemoths whose popularity and power has not been enough to muzzle the Republican candidate.

Queen are among a dozen or so major league artists who have requested that Trump not use their work, but such pleas have fallen on deaf ears. It takes a special person indeed to annoy such a disparate bunch as George Harrison's family, Free, the Rolling Stones and Adele, but Trump and his team have managed that, and then some.

And he really rattled REM's Michael Stipe when using what could well be the prophetic 'It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)'. "Go f*** yourselves, the lot of you - you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little men," Stipe thundered. "Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign."

Luciano Pavarotti may not be around to defend his music, but his estate wasted little time in admonishing Trump for the use of the tenor's version of 'Nessun Dorma', the celebrated aria from Turandot that was popularised thanks to its use in the 1990 World Cup. "As members of his immediate family," their statement read, "we would like to recall that the values of brotherhood and solidarity which Luciano Pavarotti expressed throughout the course of his artistic career are entirely incompatible with the world view offered by the candidate Donald Trump."

Perhaps the funniest retort came courtesy of Elton John, who has had both 'Rocket Man' and, improbably, 'Tiny Dancer' used by Trump on several occasions during his campaign. "I don't really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign," he said back in February. "I'm British. I've met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, it's nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different, I'm not a Republican in a million years. Why not ask [controversial singer and board member of the National Rifle Association] Ted f***ing Nugent? Or one of those f***ing country stars? They'll do it for you."

Last week, while speaking at an Aids awareness event in South Africa, Elton warned that the vista of a President Trump - with the deeply conservative Mike Pence as his VP - would be very bad news indeed for Aids sufferers around the globe.

It was a remarkably different story eight years ago, when musicians as diverse as Beyoncé and the National were queueing up to have their songs associated with Barack Obama. Similarly, in 2012, when he stood for re-election, acts of all hues were not just happy for the president to use their songs in his campaign, but were keen to share a stage with him, too.

One of Obama's early supporters, Neil Young, supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination which was eventually secured by Hillary Clinton, and yet this most avowed of anti-Republicans found Trump was using 'Keep On Rockin' In The Free World'. In echoes of Ronald Reagan's use of Bruce Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' some 32 years before, Trump and his people appear wholly oblivious to the fact that the song takes a subtle pop at then US President George H W Bush.

But, unlike his peers, Young seems to be taking a philosophical approach to the matter. "He actually got a licence to use it. I mean, he said he did and I believe him. So I got nothing against him. You know, once the music goes out, everybody can use it for anything."

Meanwhile, many of those musicians may not want to have their work associated with one of the most divisive figures in US politics in years, have no trouble making a very quick buck through the deeply uncool channel of the private gig.

One would be forgiven for not being aware that Jon Bon Jovi played two separate shows in Dublin in the space of the past few weeks, but then these were no ordinary shows. The gigs at Lutterstown Castle last month, and the Academy in the city centre last week, were private gigs for which Bon Jovi was very handsomely paid. Tickets for the Academy show reportedly cost around €1,400. One imagines Trump would be hugely enamoured by such an unashamedly naked display of capitalism.

* Fine as the Strypes are on record, the young Cavan lads really come into their own on the live stage - and you'll struggle to find a band as tight anywhere. The quartet play a special show in Dublin on August 7, at the finish line of the fourth annual Affidea Rock 'N' Roll Half Marathon. It's a great event for runners and music-lovers alike, with a hand-picked bands playing at every mile mark along a 13.1-mile route that takes in Dublin city centre and the Phoenix Park.

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