Rocktober: Get Out And Vote!

Bill Payne - Little Feat

Is this election different than past elections, why or why not?

Bill Payne by Randall Photography
We are at a critical juncture in this country's history. To say we are in uncharted waters is an understatement. In the last few days our financial institutions have been strained to the breaking point. We are on the verge of collapse. The war in Iraq has eroded the United States stature in the world, and has made us suspicious of one another here at home. There is a dedicated and cynical attempt to keep us divided by those whose agenda is strengthened by calamitous statements on race, gender, and patriotism, fed by fear. The emphasis on division is to keep us from voicing our dissent, having us believe that words and fine speeches have no importance, that taxation is the biggest conceivable threat to our welfare (other than the terrorists and their ghastly plots and schemes to bring us to ruin), that our collective future is best secured by an unquestioning faith in government - tied inextricably to our religious beliefs - providing us a platform of inalienable rights as United States citizens to a warped philosophy of unconditional and full utilization of the world's resources for our own prosperity, pointing out the excesses, in areas as diverse as human rights and trade agreements, of others, while patently ignoring our own.

What makes this election different from those in the past is how close we are to losing what this country stands for: Freedom. Where it is not different from other elections is the employment of the tried and true techniques of division through character assassination, culture war mentality (at home and abroad), and jingoism (abroad). "Change" has been subjugated to ridicule, only to be embraced by the McCain campaign as if they had initiated it. There is little in the way of transparency in these attempts to manipulate, through broad strokes, what is the true promise of this election cycle, namely, giving democracy back to the people. Barack Obama is in a position not only to lay claim to history but for us to reclaim our place in this experiment in democracy, which is dangerously close to falling off the tracks. We have never faced a more important election. Vote.

What is the relationship between music and politics - and how, if at all, has this relationship affected your music?

I don't separate myself as an artist from who I am as a citizen. The fabric of society that I come from dictates what I write about. Politics is intrinsically woven into that fabric. Politics is about people. It is often about the powerful over the powerless. It is about our recognition of a world where words and deeds matter.

In 1980 I wrote the song, "Gringo." "They say blood is thicker than water/ they say all suffering comes to an end/ the common saying for friend is amigo, gringo."

The lyrics suggest our sense of equilibrium, our comfort zone, does not revolve around what perception we hold true of the world. Others have their view, their truth, which is connected through blood ties, experiences, and language. Our commonality is such that it should connect us, but unfortunately separates us when we see and hear only through the lens of our own self-interests, rendering us blind and tone deaf.

The exploration of other cultures gives real meaning to those universal concerns and aspirations, shaping and expanding our vocabulary, providing us the opportunity to enhance and share that part of the "conversation," through our art, that sheds greater light on who we are as human beings. And that includes just writing about things that make us smile, and having a good time.

If you could speak directly to all American voters, what would you say?

When I read Barack Obama's book, Dreams from My Father, a few years ago, I felt there was more eloquence in the first paragraph of his book than anything I had heard or read from the Bush administration in the four years since they had occupied the White House. What struck me about Barack was his understanding of himself, his growth as a human being. Did he stumble? Yes. But he recovered and continued the journey with renewed strength, sometimes in fits and starts, and that's what I liked that about him. He's an intelligent person that has embraced and survived the difficult issues of race, the connective and fragile tissue of family, life's choices and their repercussions, the importance of truly seeing, measuring values and commonality, along with the myriad things that divide us — not just through the egocentric lens of the United States but of the world: where displacement fades with simple curiosity, where that curiosity branches out into an appreciation of other cultures, of other views, of continuing discoveries, sustained by an innate sense of nuance. Barack's inquisitiveness has propelled him on a journey that has brought him to this precipice of history. He brings a kinetic energy and a sobering (and exhilarating) challenge to all of us to get involved.

You have a chance to make history. Barack Obama's campaign is as worthy as the journey Robert Kennedy made back in 1968. I was with a local band from the central coast of California when I performed at a fundraiser for his campaign in May. A month later he was gone. And though the dreams and hopes were shattered, they were not forgotten.

I believe what Barack Obama brings to his candidacy is a renewal of that hope, and a reconsideration of the dream, along with a focus of purpose on what might be accomplished if enough of us truly care and are inspired to get involved. The time has finally come to recapture that feeling of renewal, strength, and common decency.

Little Feat is on tour now, dates available here.

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