News Column

Free Speech Also Applies to Musicians, Including Nugent

April 24, 2012

Eugene Kane

The only thing the late Dick Clark wanted to know about music was this: "Does it have a nice beat and can you dance to it?"

These days, popular recording artists seem to have a lot more on their minds, including politics.

That's why it was interesting to see the recent announcement that rapper Common will be a headliner July 7 at one of the Summerfest stages this year.

Common -- a Chicago native who's real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. -- is known by his fans as a "conscious" rapper and author who touches on a variety of social issues in his rap lyrics.

Not being a huge rap fan, I know Common mainly for his recent acting career. But many of his fans still view him mainly as a Grammy winning rap artist.

The news about Common coming to Milwaukee's popular musical festival reminded me of last May when some conservative politicians and media types were in an uproar after the rapper was invited by Michelle Obama to perform at a White House poetry event.

After Republicans began to scrutinize Common's lyrics -- never a smart move for non-hip hop fans -- they responded with the usual over-the-top rhetoric suggesting he was an inappropriate choice, a vile and controversial performer and perhaps even a threat to national security.

The Common lyric that brought most scrutiny denigrated former President Bush.

"Burn a Bush 'cause for peace he no push no button."

(OK, I think it probably makes sense if he does it.)

Right wingers like Sarah Palin and Karl Rove immediately criticized President Barack Obama for being out of touch with traditional American values. Actually, in the rap music world Common is considered pretty tame.

The controversy was largely put to rest after some levelheaded music lovers reminded the anti-Obama crowd about all the musicians with strong social and political convictions who have performed at the White House with no controversy.

Names like Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen, who both wrote songs about the gritty side of American life, all played the White House without anyone poring over their song catalogs to find inappropriate lyrics.

Now that Common has been judged mainstream enough for Summerfest, we'll have to see if Ted Nugent's concert opportunities are affected by his recent brush with the Secret Service over comments he made about Obama at the recent NRA convention.

Nugent had a meeting with the service after telling an NRA crowd that if Obama was re-elected in November, the rocker would either be "dead or in jail" by next year.

Bet that got a big laugh, right?

Nugent had a concert in Fort Knox canceled after his remarks were publicized, but he's still booked at the Racine County Fair on July 26. Other than "Cat Scratch Fever," I don't know many Nugent songs, but it's clear it wasn't his lyrics that got him in hot water, just his mouth.

Still, the First Amendment applies to Nugent, too; he should be allowed to continue to rock on and make as many outlandish statements about the president as he wants. Frankly, I don't think the 2012 presidential race will be decided by what either Nugent or Common thinks about the candidates, so maybe both should just concentrate on their music.

Most fans just care if it's got a good beat, and if you can dance to it.

(RIP, Dick Clark.)

Source: (c)2012 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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