Some of Ryan's taste in music and the artists he prefers don't jibe with his political beliefs
Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Grateful Dead among his favorites
Fans, including Ryan, have to decide whether to listen to bands with political beliefs that don't align with theirs
Billboard editor: "Using Rage at a campaign stop would be absurd beyond comprehension."
Although Rage thinks Paul Ryan is just another cog in the “Machine,” that doesn’t stop the Republican vice presidential hopeful from rocking out to the rap metal group’s anti-establishment lyrics.
“Rage Against the Machine is not going to be down with that,” said Lorraine Ali, pop music editor at the Los Angeles Times.
Rage joins Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Hank Williams Jr., the Grateful Dead and Beethoven on Ryan’s playlist, according to his Facebook page.
Beethoven, who never registered for an American political party, and Hank Williams Jr., a vocal Republican supporter, might be the only two Ryan choices that don’t directly compete with his political beliefs. Metallica prefers to stay out of politics.
Perhaps none is more opposed to Ryan’s life’s work than Rage Against the Machine.
Led by vocal activist front man Zack de la Rocha and guitarist and labor union supporter Tom Morello, Rage staged a protest concert on the lawn of the Minnesota State Capitol during the Republican National Convention in 2008. Rage also held a concert several miles away from the Democratic National Convention in Denver the same year, protesting the Iraq War.
When police shut down the Minnesota concert before Rage took the stage, fans chanted “F— you I won’t do what you tell me,” lyrics from the band’s song, “Killing in the Name,” Rolling Stone reported.
Shortly after, members of the group led a protest toward the Xcel Center where the Republican convention was underway before being dispersed by police with tear gas.
“I think it’s important to call out the economic crimes at home and the war crimes abroad, while they’re here,” Morello told Rolling Stone about the protest. “… It’s important to get that message out … to have that amplified alongside the B.S. messages being spouted from the podium.”
The band also calls out what it sees as political crimes. In perhaps one of the group’s most famous songs, 1996’s “Bulls on Parade,” on the album “Evil Empire,” de la Rocha raps, “They rally around the family with a pocket full of shells.” The anti-war anthem continues, “Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes/Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal.”
Along with most members of Congress nearly a decade ago, Ryan voted for using military force to remove Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from power. Ryan also voted against a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2011.
In addition to being an outspoken critic of the Republican Party, Morello is also a self-proclaimed socialist and a union supporter. Morello wrote “Union Town,” which came from his experience in Madison, Wisconsin, demonstrating with workers against Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation that stripped collective bargaining rights from some union workers. Walker was recently given a prime speaking spot at this year’s Republican convention.
“I was standing on these freezing cold picket lines – what was I supposed to do? Sing Kumbaya?… I wanted to be part of the cultural component of these struggles,” Morello told Socialist Review in 2007.
Labor, a crucial block of support for President Barack Obama, has come out forcefully against the selection of Ryan.
If Ryan does not agree with Rage’s lyrics, Joe Levy, editor of Billboard magazine, said it is possible that he listens to it for the same reason that he might listen to Led Zeppelin – for the guitar riffs.
“The disconnect between the meaning of the song and the way it feels is an old one. … Lyrics are felt before they are understood and it’s certainly possible to listen to Rage Against the Machine and never embrace or understand what they are saying,” Levy said.
To Ali, the pick says something about the kind of vice president Ryan might make.
“If he wasn’t hearing what someone was saying when they were screaming it in your face … is this the guy we want in office when he doesn’t hear?” Ali said.
A representative for the Ryan campaign did not immediately reply to request for comment.
But because Ryan works out, Levy says RATM could be a good choice.
“Dude works out.” Levy said. “Dude wants some heavy music to move some weights to, to psyche himself up for his next P90X challenge,” referring to the intense workout regimen Ryan is a devotee to.
“With that said, it’s weird because he’s forty-two years old and you cannot possibly be a genuine Rage Against the Machine fan without understanding what they stand for. The Grateful Dead, which played a concert for Barack Obama in 2008.
The Grateful Dead, which has been performing since the 1960s and played for a Barack Obama fundraiser four years ago, is another seemingly incongruent selection.
“Generationally, it’s not really Ryan’s thing,” Ali said. “I would think aesthetically, not either. The Grateful Dead equals smoking pot, it just does.”
Another one of Ryan’s favorites with a bent toward weed but who does align with his politics is the country star, Williams, who campaigned with 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
In his 1979 hit “Family Tradition,” Williams sings:
“So don’t ask me, /Hank why do you drink? /Hank, why do you roll smoke?/Why must you live out the songs that you wrote? … I said leave me alone /I’m singing all night long/it’s a family tradition.”
Williams recently lost his long-running gig performing the opening song for “Monday Night Football” for likening Obama to Adolf Hitler.
Of course, picking favorite musicians who don’t imbibe can limit choices.
“Musicians of any sort of persuasion like to get high. You can talk about Waylon Jennings, or Hank Williams or Willie Nelson … they all like their [pot],” said Eric Deggans, media critic for the Tampa Bay Times.
While he might not agree with some of his favorites on marijuana, Ryan can find common ground with the Grateful Dead on other issues.
“[The Dead] were legendary for letting people tape their shows and trade tapes,” Deggans said.
Ryan said he would vote down the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that would have restricted free music trading, to avoid additional regulation.
The Dead, which The Atlantic reported, sang about their disdain for federal power and might agree with Ryan on that point. Their song, “U.S. Blues,” told from Uncle Sam’s point of view rails against overreaching political power:
“Shine your shoes/light your fuse/ Can you use/them ol’ U.S. Blues?/I’ll drink your health/share your wealth/Run your life/steal your wife.”
With the increasing entanglement between politics, music and musical expression, Ryan is not alone in listening to musicians that don’t line up with their politics. Deggans said as musicians and actors become more outspoken about their political views, fans will have to decide how much of that will impact their musical choices.
The misalignment can be a letdown.
“It’s always a disappointment when someone’s personal behavior doesn’t line up with their artistic output or your enjoyment of their art,” Levy said. “But anyone that likes music, movies, books, painting is well familiar with the way an artist lives his or her life can be diametrically [opposed to the way you live yours].”
That shouldn’t be a problem for Ryan as long as a staffer doesn’t confuse his personal playlist with the campaign rally mix.
“Using Rage Against the Machine to work out doesn’t seem ridiculous,” said Levy. “Using Rage at a campaign stop would be absurd beyond comprehension.”