What Do the Presidential Candidates Think About Music?

A Statement of Purpose

Over a month ago, Frank and I set about contacting five Presidential candidates to ask them for thoughts on American music. No one responded.

Al Gore’s campaign was the only one to dignify us with a response. Other responses ranged from clueless silence (Nader’s campaign; then again, they don’t even provide a public phone number, just a fax) to abrupt rudeness (Pat Buchanan’s press secretary cut me off and hung up the phone). Ah, America, land of the free…and the disempowered.

The sad thing is, as serious musicians in this country, we are used to being “blown off.”

Frequently the disrespect surfaces in ways that are perhaps too trivial to merit serious complaint: having to pretend to the person sitting next to you on the plane that, no, really, you like Britney Spears. But there are other, more serious problems that all of us face all our lives that not only merit complaint, they merit the serious attention of politicians.

The cultural attitude that the work of musicians is not “real work” is still all too prevalent, and it is reflected in the low wages doled out to many excellent performers, teachers, and composers. Unfortunately, evidence of a small income, no matter what the source, serves as a “green light” to many people, ranging from landlords to airline attendants, to treat all of us as if we were uneducated slackers.

Why should any politician worth his or her salt be working to change this attitude? Perhaps because a healthy respect for music, instigated through disciplined and creative education, has been proven again and again to not only turn young people away from cheap sex and violence, but to make them smarter, more profound, and more reasonable human beings. And while this surfaces in various isolated programs across the country, we have yet to elect a President who makes this kind of an initiative a national priority.

Here’s our quandary: to create a cultural respect for music, we need a President’s help; to get the President’s attention, we need more money, money that we likely won’t get unless we gain cultural respect. So what do we do?

To begin with, we need to get better at getting angry. The prevalent attitude that “small income equals stupid” frequently cows us into silencing the articulate and cutting thoughts running through our heads. Many of my musician buddies are at their most creative when elaborating a grievance – but that stream of words rarely makes it to the ears of the offender. Take the time to make the phone call to the airline that made you put your cello in with somebody’s skis.

Second of all, we need to make more money. Unless capitalism goes mellow, money will always talk loudest in this country. Gigs are gigs, and most of us will still take a good gig that pays poorly sooner than we will take a bad gig that pays well. But one of the negative effects of the “you don’t have a real job” attitude is that many musicians believe it, and they don’t plan wisely with the money they do make. Hire a financial planner, and make sure your students do the same. Boycotts are powerful things, but we can’t do it if we are all “scraping by.”

Lastly, vote, whatever you do, even if it is only for a candidate who represents “the lesser of two evils.” With voter turnout consistently declining for the past thirty-five years, our small demographic becomes larger and larger, by comparison. If you need a reason to vote, vote for an education policy that will ensure the funding of an arts program in your local public schools. Without that program, there will never be a shift in cultural attitude.

Partly from a latent adolescent desire to “get even,” we decided to go ahead with the “Hymn and Fuguing Tune,” simply making up the comments that we tried to pry from the candidates’ mouths. We have also mixed in actual comments by these men on the subject of music. It may frustrate you to know that one of the candidates has given interviews to not one, but two prominent pop music media mouths. For the most part, however, it appears that the word “music” has rarely graced the lips of any of these men during the past few years.

Politics has become the realm of the wealthy and few, and I suspect that we could have been calling from NewFishBox and we would have received the same treatment. Making up comments is tame revenge, because the candidates will never read this and they won’t respond. Then again, if you are one of the Presidential candidates and you are reading this, we are more than willing to run anything you have to say about American music, regardless of length. Just send us an email.

In the jovial spirit of disenfranchisement, we invite the rest of you to try your luck at guessing which of the comments we made up. Click on the name of the candidates below to read both sets of comments. To unmask us, simply click on the remark to reveal the source.