When the two spheres of rock and politics intersect, the results can often be very good indeed (like Rage Against The Machine) or very bad (Skyhooks-rapping MP anyone?).
Labor Treasure Wayne Swan, who is Acting Prime Minister in Julia Gillard’s absence, is aiming for the former in an address he’ll give tonight in Melbourne that references the politician’s won beloved music icons to address the contemporary issues in Australia, particularly concerning our country’s mining magnates.
The ABC reports that Mr Swan’s John Button Lecture, to be given at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre will reference and quote directly from the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Cold Chisel in a follow-up to the Acting PM’s essay that appeared in The Monthly magazine earlier this year, criticising mining bosses like Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and Andrew Forrest of influencing public debate with their wealth for personal gain.
A long-time Springsteen fan since his days as a Queensland University student in the 70s, Mr Swan cites The Boss’ blue-c0llar politics and unifying songs as championing causes of the people, and a prophet for social change.
“It’s often the case that great artists – people like Bruce Springsteen – tend to pick up the subterranean rumblings of profound social change long before the economic statisticians notice them,” begins Mr Swan’s lecture, before going on to describe Springsteen played an important part in fostering his political ideals.
“Springsteen saw that for ordinary people life wasn’t getting any better; other people were grabbing all of the gains. As he put it, the sense of daily struggle in each of his songs kept growing. And he responded with an abiding question: when are ordinary people – the people who get up in the morning, work hard and look after their families – going to get a fair go? Nothing has fuelled my own public life more than this question.”
After quoting lyrics from Springsteen classics like ‘Atlantic City’, ‘My Hometown’ and ‘Badlands’, you may well ask how an icon of American music relates to Australia.
Swan says the importance of Springsteen’s legacy with working class America is just as applicable to Australia’s current social climate. “If I could distil the relevance of Bruce Springsteen’s music to Australia it would be this: don’t let what has happened to the American economy happen here.”
Swan also cautions, “don’t let Australia become a down-under version of New Jersey,” warning of the risk of a future “where the people and the communities whose skills are no longer in demand get thrown on the scrap heap of life,” adding, “don’t let this be a place where ordinary people’s views are drowned out and only those with the most expensive megaphones get a say. Don’t let it be a place where Gina Rinehart can buy The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review with her pocket change and try to trample its fierce and proud independence unchallenged.”
Springsteen isn’t the only musical reference that gets a large nod in Swan’s attack on the mining magnates either, he also mentions in his lecture, “I’ve been a huge fan of Cold Chisel since the 1970s. My first concert with my wife was a Chisels concert in Canberra.” The infamous pub rockers also get a mention, with Swan quoting the chorus from ‘Standing On The Outside.’
There’s even a nod to Aussie hip hop, “my kids tell me the political tradition lives on in Aussie hip hop bands like the Hilltop Hoods,” says Swan.
Whether Mr Swan’s speech is genuinely channelling his own personal musical idols to transmit what he calls “egalitarian beliefs to new generations of activists”, or simply leverage to lure young voters, is up for debate.
Either way, Swan’s inclusion of music and song references in his lecture is certainly more well fleshed out than fellow Labor Minister Craig Emerson, the Trade and Competitiveness Minister thinking it a good idea to embarrassingly croak-rap his response about the carbon tax debate over Skyhooks’ ‘Horror Movie’ in a recent TV interview.
Springsteen’s political clout has always been a key part of his appeal, in fact less than a year ago, a poll in New Jersey saw that if the native were ever to officially enter the politics game, he had “favourability numbers any politician would die for.”
Mr Swan delivers his John Button lecture at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre tonight, and an edited version of his address is available from the ABC here.