The Silversun Pickups, a popular American indie rock band, sent a cease-and-desist order to presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaign, requesting that their song "Panic Switch" no longer be played at Romney events.
In a statement released by the band Wednesday, lead singer Brian Aubert said, "We don't like people going behind our backs, using our music without asking, and we don't like the Romney campaign." He added, "We're nice, approachable people. We won't bite. Unless you're Mitt Romney! We were very close to just letting this go because the irony was too good. While he is inadvertently playing a song that describes his whole campaign, we doubt that 'Panic Switch' really sends the message he intends."
This not the first time a band has made a fuss over a presidential campaign's use of its music. Perhaps the most famous musician-candidate kerfuffle occurred during Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, over his allusion to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."
The story goes that conservative columnist George Will saw Springsteen play in Washington, D.C. and wrote about the show, praising Springsteen: "He is no whiner, and the recitation of closed factories and other problems always seems punctuated by a grand, cheerful affirmation: "Born in the U.S.A.!" Will admitted in the column he had not "a clue about Springsteen's politics, if any."
But that didn't stop Reagan from referencing Springsteen in a speech. Inspired by Will, the campaign allegedly hoped that Springsteen would endorse the president. However, Springsteen is an avid liberal, and the song's message was much more cynical than Will had interpreted, making Reagan's Springsteen shout-out all the more ironic.
"I think people have a need to feel good about the country they live in," Springsteen later explained in a Rolling Stone interview. "But what's happening, I think, is that that need—which is a good thing—is getting manipulated and exploited. You see in the Reagan election ads on TV, you know, 'It's morning in America,' and you say, 'Well, it's not morning in Pittsburgh.' "
Heart's Nancy Wilson also noted the irony of the use of her band's song "Barracuda" by the John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign. When the song played during the Republican National Convention after the band had requested the campaign to stop using the song, Wilson told EW.com she felt "completely f---ed over" and also E-mailed a statement with her sister Ann that said:
"Sarah Palin's views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women. We ask that our song 'Barracuda' no longer be used to promote her image. The song 'Barracuda' was written in the late 70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. (The 'barracuda' represented the business.) While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there's irony in Republican strategists' choice to make use of it there."
Tom Petty is a repeat objector to the use of his music by Republican campaigns. In 2004, Wixen Music Publishing president Randall Wixen told George W. Bush's campaign to stop playing Petty's "I Won't Back Down" at rallies: "Please be advised that this use has not been approved . . . Any use made by you or your campaign creates, either intentionally or unintentionally, the impression that you and your campaign have been endorsed by Tom Petty, which is not true." When Rep. Michele Bachmann played "American Girl" at a rally during her presidential primary run, she too received a cease-and-desist letter from Tom Petty's management.
But Republicans aren't the only ones getting in trouble for their music choices, During his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama's team was asked by Sam Moore to stop using "Hold On! I'm Coming," a 1966 soul classic by his duo Sam & Dave. Moore, who was very vocal in Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights movement, wrote in a letter to the campaign: "I have not agreed to endorse you for the highest office in our land. I reserve my right to determine who I will support when and if I choose to do so. My vote is a very private matter between myself and the ballot box. My endorsement and support of a candidate, because I do carry some celebrity, makes it quite a different matter changing a private act to a public statement, something I wouldn't do without considerable thought."