The slutroversy, initially between a thirty-year-old law student and a rotund radio host, now embroils the president of the United States, Sleep Train mattress retailers, the ladies of The View, and a certain Canadian power trio.
We always knew it would come to this: a copyright battle between Rush and Rush. Who guessed it would be over music and not brand names?
After indelicately pondering aloud what kind of a woman would demand free birth-control pills from her Catholic school, Rush the talk host launched into Rush the band’s “Spirit of the Radio” as bumper music. The overanalyzed controversy thus sparked a sideshow overlooked by all but the authors of the overplayed song. Rush is outraged to be associated with Rush. This is to say that the Canadians are mad at the Missourian. One likes to believe in the freedom of music, but Rush — the arena-rock staples — just won’t have it.
“The public performance of Rush’s music is not licensed for political purposes and any such use is in breach of public performance licenses and constitutes copyright infringement,” Rush’s legal representative Robert Farmer wrote Rush. “There are civil and criminal remedies for copyright infringement, including statutory damages and fines.” The lawyer added that “we hereby demand that you immediately stop all use of Rush’s music and confirm that you will do so.”
Like Limbaugh’s degrading comments, the legal missive would have been better left unsaid. Music acts wear meat dresses, puts spikes through their noses, and destroy their instruments all to get played on the radio. Rush — the “Closer to the Heart” guys, not the Excellence in Broadcasting one — exuding a nerdy regular guy vibe, have never really gone for such dramatics. But it’s hard not to see a public lawyer-letter ostensibly geared toward pulling their song from the radio as a clever PR stunt, too. The attention-grab echoes with the sounds of salesmen. And besides, radio broadcasters license such songs without forfeiting their speech rights, political or otherwise.
There is a flipside to “Shut up and sing!” that those invoking the sage advice rarely consider. Asking performers to mind their art and not our politics implies that the audience should mind the performer’s art and not the politics, too. People demanding that the government tell churches to pay for their contraceptives are perhaps incapable of limiting their politics. But this should come natural to advocates of limited government.
Wisely tuning out the political screeches of a Sean Penn or a Matt Damon drifts into idiocy when we also tune out their fine-crafted acting because of their poorly-developed political ideas. They sometimes make it difficult to see their characters through the haze of their very public political personae. But we should at least attempt to leave our own political baggage at the theater door — even if ideologically incontinent actors can’t do the same.
Liberals increasingly mistake ideological solidarity for funny (Bill Maher, Janeane Garofalo, Jon Stewart), get seduced by anti-corporate corporate marketing (Apple, Whole Foods, Starbucks), and view propagandistic films flattering their sensibilities as high art (Avatar, The Cider House Rules, The Kids Are All Right). We don’t defeat liberals by becoming them.
Taking political cues from artistic heroes makes as much sense as taking artistic cues from political heroes. This is a totalitarianism of the soul, in which politics dominates everything. Rush Limbaugh is the undisputed king of talk radio. But if you like listening to Manheim Steamroller because the man behind the mic that you like to listen to listens to Manheim Steamroller then you are truly sad. Dittoes, Megadittoes even, for Rush the band. The quality of their music isn’t influenced for better or worse because they have uncourageously swung at a talk show host once he has become a human piñata. Such endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity. Alas, some entertainers are sluts for publicity.
It would be a shame if Rush’s musical boycott of Rush’s broadcasts leads to listeners of Rush (the AM talker) ceasing to be listeners of Rush (the FM rockers). “Red Barchetta,” “Subdivisions,” “The Pass,” and “Tom Sawyer” remain on the radio decades after we first heard them for good reason. The same is true of Rush Limbaugh.
Rush, like Rush, are very good at what they do. A boycott for a boycott leaves the whole world broke.