Imagine for a moment if your favorite rockers turned into politicians. Perhaps President Axl Rose and Vice President Tommy Lee?
Welcome to the jungle, is right! It might sound silly, but it might not be such a stretch.
Music and politics can go together, as these five musicians prove. So, we’ll look at rockers turned politicians and how they merged their passions for a greater cause.
The Connection Between Music and Politics
Music and politics have a rich history in the United States. In fact, as far back as the Civil War, songwriters encouraged the public to action.
In the early 20th-century, most popular music was pro-war and pro-establishment. If you lived through the 60s and remember it, you know protest music is the opposite.
Folk music was the people’s voice, even before Peter, Paul, and Mary. Protest songs by Oklahoma musician Woody Guthrie shattered the mold for popular music.
Guthrie’s lyrics told the stories of migrant workers. His guitar had the phrase this machine kills fascists emblazoned on it. Dictators worldwide promoted fascist ideals, and Guthrie promoted the ideals of freedom.
The 1960s saw the folk explosion, and Guthrie’s songs and mission certainly influenced some big names. Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Joan Baez, and Judy Collins all carried the torch of the protest song into the 60s. Famously inspired by the Vietnam War, John Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance closed out the protest song era.
US and English Rockers Fight the Politicians’ Power
The 70s and 80s looked different in America, but protest music was alive and well in England.
Pushing back against the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, anarchist music ruled the grimy streets. The Sex Pistols and folk-rocker Richard Thompson shared the same point of view through different genres.
In the late 80s, United States rappers N.W.A flipped the middle finger at the establishment. They fought back against Reagan’s war on drugs and the failing social systems. In the 90s, musicians took a more mainstream approach, with Rock the Vote appealing to younger voters.
Political music these days takes on an international flair. The Ukrainian band DakhaBrakha is currently touring as musical ambassadors. DakhaBrakha hopes to shed light on the war in Ukraine.
With this rich history of music and politics, it should come as no surprise that some musicians cross over into politics. Check out this ballot and see what you think.
5 Classic Rockers Who Became Politicians
Salvatore “Sonny” Bono, born in 1935, is best known for his work with Sonny and Cher. Hit singles like I Got You Babe and The Beat Goes On made Sonny and Cher a top billing act. After they parted ways, Bono spent some time acting in TV and film.
His attempt to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, California, pushed him into politics. As the mayor of Palm Springs from 1988 to 1992, Bono was instrumental in building the Palm Springs Film Festival, held in his honor each year.
Bono decided to reach higher than the mayoral office in 1992. He ran for the United States Senate but was unsuccessful. In 1994, he ran for the House of Representatives and won.
From 1994 until he died in a skiing accident in 1998, Bono served in the House of Representatives. After his death, the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act passed Congress. It extended copyright by 20 years.
Eric Boucher, born in 1958, is better known by his stage name Jello Biafra. Biafra, a founding member of the Dead Kennedys, was active in the music scene from 1979 to 1986. Dead Kennedys are known for their biting and sarcastic lyrics that often focus on politics, written by Biafra.
Even in the beginning, he was interested in politics. Jello first ran for mayor of San Francisco in 1979 under the slogan, “There is always room for Jello,” but he never formed a platform and was unsuccessful.
His next unsuccessful run was for the Green Party’s presidential nomination in 2000. Ralph Nader was the winner in that case. As a result, Biafra participated in Nader’s campaigns for the next eight years.
Jello is at heart an anarchist, and his political aspirations are an example of his love of political theater. He advocates direct action, shock tactics, and direct action and pranksterism in his public life.
Peter Garrett, born in 1953 in Sydney, Australia, is best known as a political and environmental activist. He joined the band Midnight Oil in 1973 after answering an ad placed by another founding member Rob Hirst.
From the beginning, Midnight Oil championed Aboriginal rights and the environment. In the 1980s, the band criticized American military and political actions worldwide.
At the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the band wore black overalls with the word “sorry” printed on them to protest the treatment of Aboriginal people.
Garrett also participated in traditional politics running for Australian Parliament as part of the Nuclear Disarmament Party. Following this unsuccessful bid, he ran as part of the Australian Labor Party and won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2004.
Garrett became the Environmental Minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government in 2007. After a stint as the Education Minister, Garrett declined to run again in 2013 and retired from politics.
Midnight Oil announced they were reforming and planning to tour again after his retirement.
Britpop sensation Blur featured the drumming of one of our rockers turned politicians. Dave Rowntree, born in 1964, joined the band in 1989 after his friend introduced him to Damon Albarn, who was forming a band.
Rowntree moved to London, and the band became known for their rivalry with fellow Britpop band Oasis. Members had strained relationships but eventually overcame their struggles to produce eight albums, the last in 2015.
Rowntree trained as a lawyer during the band’s 2006 hiatus. He worked as a solicitor in London for several years before trying to enter politics. In 2007, Rowntree ran for local office and was defeated.
He ran again in 2008 and 2010 and was unsuccessful. Finally, in 2017 he was elected to the Norfolk County Council, where he served until 2021.
Outside of music and politics, Greenwich University awarded Rountree an Honorary Doctorate of Laws in 2017.
Rowntree has hinted at a Blur reunion in 2021, which bandmate Damon Albarn echoed.
Born in 1965, Jon Fishman is the drummer and one of the founding members of the band Phish. Known for their dynamic live performances, long, drawn-out jam sessions, and vibrant community, Phish is a staple of the jam band circuit.
Fishman doesn’t just camp out behind the drumkit. He takes on vocal duties as well on covers like Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It and Purple Rain.
Fishman has long supported progressive causes, so it wasn’t surprising when he found his way into politics.
In 2016 and 2020, he supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. Inspired by Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, he ran for and won the position of Selectman in Lincolnville, Maine, in 2017.
Fishman and Trey Anastasio have teamed up again in a new project, Ghosts of the Forest, a side project featuring a 2-hour stage show with scripted dialogue.
Which of These Classic Rocker Politicians is Your Favorite?
It should be no surprise that musicians running for office have mixed results. From the anarcho-punk antics of Jello to the environmental activism of Garrett to the conservative politics of Bono, there’s something here for everyone.
Who would you vote for?