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Rock n' roll provides clues to today's populism, says Sault author

Former Saultite and prolific author, George Case, has just released "Takin’ Care of Business - A History of Working People’s Rock ‘n’ Roll"
George Case, former Saultite and prolific author has just released "Takin' Care of Business - A History of Working People's Rock 'n' Roll".

If you want a better understanding of Donald Trump’s rise to power, turn on the radio.

And don’t search for PBS or CBC.

You’re better off setting the dial on some good old rock ‘n’ roll.

Sault native George Case analyses the link between rock music and current political trends in his new book Takin’ Care of Business - A History of Working People’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.

“It seems to be relevant these days,” said Case from his home in Ottawa. “People are talking about Donald Trump, Brexit and the rise of populism.”

“A lot of people who are considered conservative, right-wing voters have grown up listening to a certain type of music. They are not the type of right-wing voters people would have known two or three generations ago,” said Case.

Conservatives of that day are often referred to as “Country-Club Republicans.”

President Nixon once famously said “if the music is square, it's because I like it square.”

Today, you’re likely to find the Republican base listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC and Bruce Springsteen.

Case believes there are things you can learn from someone’s playlist. 

“George Case shows how an important strain of rock music from the late 1960s onward spoke to - and represented an idealized self-portrait of - a very different audience: the working-class ‘Average Joes’ who didn't want to change the world as much as they wanted to protect their perceived place within it,” states a synopsis of his book on Amazon and, where it can be purchased.

The synopsis goes on to say that the politics of rock fans drifted surprisingly rightward since 1970. Case argues that it has helped reset the very boundaries of left and right.

The use of certain music at right-wing political events in the United States rubs a number of artists the wrong way. Some musicians have issued cease and desist orders.

Artists such as Adele, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, R.E.M., Aerosmith, Guns N' Roses, The Rolling Stones, Rihanna and the estates of Leonard Cohen, Tom Petty and Prince have taken issue with Trump playing their music at his rallies.

The lyrics of some songs often belie the fervent, patriotic attitude of right-wing political rally-goers. It includes lines like this from Springsteen.

Born down in a dead man's town.
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground 

Born in the USA may be a patriotic anthem, but not in the way Trump or Ronald Reagan supporters envision.

Regardless, Case says the music strikes a chord with “poor white people who have been laid off in one-industry towns. People from the Rust Belt, people who had assurances that the local plant, like Algoma Steel, was always going to be there.”

Case says Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Bob Seger speak to the people of the heartland. It was the heartland states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania that delivered the White House to Trump.

He describes these voters and music fans as “people who grew up in small towns, not wanting to leave, wanting to raise their families there” and they found themselves affected by all the international changes coming over the world.

It reminds him of Sault Ste. Marie.

“I was born and raised in the Sault. I left when I was 20 and then came back with my family for a few years in 2007,” said Case. “I did see a lot of changes happen. The city did lose a lot of population, like a lot of places.”

While growing up in Sault Ste Marie he listened to Springsteen, Bob Seger and Ted Nugent, who was big in the Sault.

The song ‘My Hometown’ by Bruce Springsteen comes to mind when Case thinks of Sault Ste. Marie. Mellencamp’s Small Town and Judas Priest’s ‘Breaking The Law’ are others that evoke thoughts of growing up in the shadow of the steel plant and once-functioning paper mill.

“A lot of these acts found a more receptive audience in places like the Sault or smaller markets than in New York, Toronto or L.A,” said Case.

Case works at the National Archives in Ottawa.

Like most writers, he needs the day job to make a living. He’s honed his research skills which Case put to good use writing this latest book and numerous others over the years.

The list includes: Silence Descends: The End of the Information Age, 2000-2500 (1997), Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man (2007), Arcadia Borealis: Childhood and Youth In Northern Ontario (2008), Out of Our Heads: Rock ‘n’ Roll Before the Drugs Wore Off (2010), Led Zeppelin FAQ (2011), Dumbing Down Dissent: Fads and Fallacies in Political Discourse (2011), Calling Dr. Strangelove: The Anatomy and Influence of the Kubrick Masterpiece (2014), and Here’s To My Sweet Satan:  How the Occult Haunted Music, Movies and Pop Culture, 1966-1980 (2016). 

Case hopes Takin' Care of Business becomes useful to those studying trends in politics and society. He says people are still trying to figure out where the populist movement came from. He thinks it would be useful to look at their favourite entertainment and how that has helped form their world view.

Frank Rupnik

About the Author: Frank Rupnik

Frank Rupnik is Community Editor of SooToday. Frank is a veteran writer and editor who has worked at daily newspapers across Ontario for more than 30 years
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