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Musicians for Dennis Kucinich

While other Democratic candidates may be raising more money, the Ohio Congressman's candidacy is inspiring some of the finest campaign concerts in this election.
 
 
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Dennis Kucinich still faces an uphill climb in his campaign to win the Democratic presidential nomination. But his anti-Iraq war candidacy has already inspired better music than those of contenders who are garnering far more attention and campaign money. The New Year's weekend benefit for Kucinich at the Austin Music Hall was one of the finest campaign concerts in recent memory, and the sentiments of the stellar cast of performers were well summed up by singer Bonnie Raitt, who introduced a bluesy version of the Buffalo Springfield hit "For What It's Worth," by declaring, "Here's to free speech. Here's to fair elections. Here's to the possibility that Dennis Kucinich could win."

The Texas concert, which drew a crowd of 4,000 and was expected to raise more than $80,000 for the Kucinich campaign, showcased the success the Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair has had in appealing to some of the country's most inspired and independent-minded musicians. The candidate who has been endorsed by artists ranging from Pete Seeger to Ani DiFranco brought some of his best-known backers together for a sold-out concert in Austin. Along with Raitt, a pair of younger artists with Texas roots and national reputations, Michelle Shocked and Tish Hinojosa turned in musically and politically charged performances. Tim Reynolds, guitarist for the Dave Matthews Band, played. So too did Pat Simmons and Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers, who performed some of that group's greatest hits before being joined by Raitt for a raucous rendition of "Taking It To The Streets." The highlight of the Saturday night show came when Kucinich's most high-profile musician backer, Willie Nelson, took the stage.

Nelson, who has been talking up Kucinich's candidacy since last summer, says he was attracted to Kucinich first because of the Ohio congressman's passionate defense of family farmers -- a cause close to the heart of the country singer, who has been a core backer of the Farm Aid concerts. But, as he campaigned for Kucinich over the weekend, Nelson picked up on the anti-war message that has been central to Kucinich's run for the White House.

Nelson used appearances with Kucinich to talk about a new song he wrote on Christmas Day, "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?"

"(It's) only the second protest song I've ever written," Nelson said, "but it just came pouring out." Nelson, who performed his earlier protest song, the anti-war ballad "Jimmy's Road," prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said he was inspired to write the new song by Christmas morning news reports of the ongoing violence in Iraq. "There was nothing but bad news and here it was Christmas Day," Nelson recalled. "I said, 'There sure are a lot of babies dying and mothers crying,' and (Nelson's wife) Annie said, 'That sounds like a song.'"

When Nelson sat down to write the song's words, he pulled no punches. "How much oil is one human life worth?" the lyrics ask. "How much is a liar's word worth?"

Nelson joins his critique of the war and the president who launched it with a poke at the media, singing, "Now, you probably won't hear this on your radio/Probably not on your local TV/But if there's a time, and you're so inclined/You can always hear it from me."

Is Nelson, who achieved international fame as a self-described country music "outlaw," trying to stir things up?

"I hope there is some controversy," said Nelson, when a reporter asked whether he feared the song's biting commentary on George W. Bush's war might stir anger among country music fans who have been cheering for songs like Toby Keith's angry, war-cry, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." Added Nelson, "If you write something like this and nobody says anything, then you probably haven't struck a nerve."

The singer hopes to strike that nerve for Kucinich, whose criticism of the rush to war and its pursuit echo the bluntness of the lyrics to "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?"

Nelson, who put his arm around Kucinich during several Austin appearances Saturday, says, "I just like him because he tells the truth. Whether he's electable or not, who knows? But when you've got a guy you can trust, you've got a good candidate." And Kucinich, whose campaign is using pictures of Nelson wearing a "Kucinich for President" t-shirt on posters, has a good supporter in the country star.

On Saturday night, just around midnight, Nelson gave Kucinich a rousing endorsement and debuted "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth," singing:

There's so many things going on in the world
Babies dying Mothers crying
How much oil is one human life worth
And what ever happened to peace on earth

We believe everything that they tell us
They're gonna' kill us
So we gotta' kill them first
But I remember a commandment
Thou shall not kill
How much is that soldier's life worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

(Bridge)

And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we've been told from our birth
Hell they won't lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

So I guess it's just
Do unto others before they do it to you
Let's just kill em' all and let God sort em' out
Is this what God wants us to do

(Repeat Bridge)

And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we've been told from our birth
Hell they won't lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

Now you probably won't hear this on your radio
Probably not on your local TV
But if there's a time, and if you're ever so inclined
You can always hear it from me
How much is one picker's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

But don't confuse caring for weakness
You can't put that label on me
The truth is my weapon of mass protection
And I believe truth sets you free

(Bridge)
And the bewildered herd is still believing
Everything we've been told from our birth
Hell they won't lie to me
Not on my own damn TV
But how much is a liar's word worth

John Nichols is a columnist for the Nation.