WASHINGTON, June 30, 2013 — On July 4th, Dave Bray, a four-year U.S. Navy veteran and lead singer of the two-year-old Indie rock band Madison Rising, hopes to achieve five million hits at StarSpangledBannerChallenge.com for the band’s rocking, moving rendition of our national anthem.
Controversy over the band’s version of the anthem suddenly arose on May 22.
Just as this track was rising in sales on iTunes, in YouTube views, and Facebook “likes,” Facebook, perhaps mistakenly, perhaps suspiciously, labeled the Madison Rising YouTube Video as spam.
The result: The YouTube version of the song that Bray says, “some 20,000 fans” were sharing on their own Facebook pages instantly disappeared.
At the time, the band’s rendition of the anthem was “going viral,” Bray noted despairingly. But precisely at that point, sales and views suddenly plunged. He called the Facebook spam decision “anti-American because we believe in freedom of speech in this country.”
It took the band’s manager six weeks to get Facebook to correct the error—a long time for a technology giant to respond.
The time taken to address the issue raises this troubling question: Did Facebook remove the link to the band’s YouTube rendition of the national anthem because of the band’s perceived politically conservative message? This Indie band’s songs also include “Right to Bear,” and an admittedly right-leaning political vision.
The question posed in this column on love and the arts is: What happens to art when politics defines the message, mistakenly or on purpose, by either the maker or the perceiver?
Art has always made trouble when it breaks the rules, innovates, and fights for voice. When politics becomes part of the paradigm, the trouble compounds.
This isn’t the first time our anthem has been “taken on” by a musician. In 1969, legendary guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix took the stage in Bethel, NY, at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, an event that defined a generation’s opposition to the Vietnam War.
“Hendrix’s version played a part in what we did,” says Dave Bray. “I actually told my guitar player, ‘When I point to you, give me a Jimi Hendrix-Star-Spangled-Banner-guitar solo,’ and that’s what he went into.” He added that “Jimi burned soul into the guitar.”
Hendrix, though arguably reluctant, was, like Bray, a military enlistee. In 1961 he chose the army over prison after being picked up for joy riding in stolen cars. It was eight years later that he performed his unforgettable rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
“I’m an American so I played it,” Hendrix declared to Dick Cavett in an interview after the event. Cavett commented, “There’s a certain mad beauty in unorthodoxy.”
I asked Dave Bray if, considering their differing political views, he would have a problem being compared to Hendrix? “If I could play in front of four thousand people,” Bray said, “I wouldn’t mind. “But I don’t think we’re quite at Jimi’s level yet,” he added modestly.
“If you had to choose between politics and art, I asked, “which would you choose?” “I’ve never actually thought about that before,” he responded. “One is basically molding a society much like you would mold a piece of clay. Molding a piece of clay is very much artistic. If you’re going to compare the two, I’d pose the question, ‘Is a politician an artist?’ I think art is human and everything human is open to interpretation.
“Some would say politics is ugly art,” he continued, “and who’s to say what is ugly in art? But sitting here right now, I go with music.”
And there’s the rub. When politics and art rub shoulders, the stakes get raised, and art that can bring us the news we desperately need to hear can and may be silenced.
Harold Pinter, 2005 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, in his Nobel lecture entitled “Art, Truth & Politics,” summed up the human and artistic dilemma: “The writer makes his choice and is stuck with it. But it is true to say that you are open to all the winds, some of them icy indeed. You are out on your own, out on a limb. You find no shelter, no protection —unless you lie—in which case of course you have constructed your own protection and, it could be argued, become a politician.”
Pinter closed his lecture with this admonition, “I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory. If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us—the dignity of man.”
The dignity of man defines our National Anthem, and so does the rendition of this song by Dave Bray and Madison Rising.
Let’s support this band and get their version of the anthem five million hits by July 4th. Click on the video in this article or on StarSpangledBannerChallenge.com and we can make it happen. (Watch the slideshow below to catch the spirit.)
No matter where we stand on the political spectrum, art will be honored, and our human dignity will be given voice.
Mary L. Tabor is the author of the Who by Fire a novel, the memoir (Re)Making Love: a memoir and The Woman Who Never Cooked. She says, “I ferret out the detail, love the footnote, am never bored and believe it all leads to story. Best advice I ever got? ‘Only connect …’ E.M. Forster.” Find out more at http://www.maryltabor.com
- Star Spangled Banner
- Madison Rising album cover
- Madison Rising band members
- Madison Rising at MD Historical Society
- Madison Rising on U.S. Capitol lawn
- Dave Bray sings
- Dave Bray working on piano
- Dave Bray
- Dave Bray honors those who gave all
- Bray signs Madison Rising posters
- Dave Bray
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