Soundtrack to a Rally: Jeff Tweedy, The Roots, Ozzy and More
What exactly would take place remained both a mystery and motivation for attending the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30. Held at Washington, DC’s National Mall, the event was organized by the creative team behind the Daily Show and Colbert Report. Within days of its announcement, over 130,000 people had RSVP’d on Facebook. The actual number of attendees was closer to 250,000.
So, how do you keep that many people entertained for three hours, while avoiding a riot or an orgy? The answer is music. And a massive papier-mache puppet of Stephen Colbert. Some expected more snark than song from the (in)famous Daily Show team, but the point of the rally wasn’t in attacking any one group or individual, aside from the mass media. The point of the rally itself was to bring people together, from every state and income tax bracket, and show us that we’re not as different as the 24 hour news would like us to think. So the music of the rally wasn’t aimed at any one group, but covered a range of styles to give everybody there, or at least everybody within earshot, a little something they could nod their head to. The politics of the rally wasn’t in the rhetoric, but in the selection of performers.
Hip hop/ jazz group The Roots opened the show with a fist pumping first song, demonstrating that that the quickest way to feel like a revolutionary is to shake your fist in the air. John Legend joined the Roots to perform a few songs from the recently released album entitled Wake Up, a project that was initially inspired by the 2008 Presidential election. 4troops then took the stage to perform the National Anthem. The pop vocal group consists of four retired US armed forces personnel, all of whom saw active combat duty in Iraq.
R&B legend Mavis Staples joined talents with Jeff Tweedy, frontman for the alternative rock band Wilco. Though it wasn’t on the exact 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s “I Have a Dream Speech,” originally given at the opposite end of the National Mall, it was evidence of the progress that has taken place in America since then: a white man and a black woman can perform together in the heart of the Capitol, and the gathered crowd simply moves in time to the rhythm.
Tony Bennett sang “God Bless America”, R2D2 and Peter Pan (_Daily Show_’s John Oliver), also made special appearances. To say that there was some sort of continuity to the program would be pushing the definition of the word, but then much of the fun was in the madness and not the method.
The most politically focused song of the rally came from Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, with a special green screen appearance from T.I. Their song, titled “Care” will be on Kid Rock’s upcoming album Born Free. The song took a more sentimental tone, and was quickly followed by Jon Stewart’s 12-minute closing speech. Stewart compared the 24 hour news stream to a kid with a magnifying glass burning ants. Stewart concluded “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”
The most bizarre—and perhaps the best—performance of the day came from an unexpected source: a musical duel between Ozzy Osbourne and Yusuf Islam, the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens. The choice of two controversial musicians competing over reason and fear was an interesting inclusion to the show. The former Stevens has been in the spotlight in recent years for having converted to Islam and is occasionally
suspected of supporting terrorism (in the 1980s, he did support a fatwa against author Salman Rushdie). Osbourne has long been demonized for biting the heads off of small animals and for promoting Satanic influences. These two men have nothing in common, besides a tendency to freak out the religious right. But Stewart used them as a metaphor: Islam sang “Peace Train,” only to be interrupted by Ozzy’s “Crazy Train,” with shouts from on Stewart proclaiming, “The train crashes, the train crashes!” After a moment of standoff, the O’Jays came in to perform “Love Train” as a compromise.
All the fuss about trains seemed to predict the chaos of the DC Metro system post-rally. A more accurate description of the ride home on the orange line would have been “Sardine Train.”