A Swinger's Diary

Stars descend on a dying town in hopes that Cleveland rocks the vote

Ten days earlier, at the Agora Theatre's disappointingly small "Rock Against Bush" show, the venom toward Bush didn't always transfer into such allegiances. Twenty-year-old Jeff Wasilik, for one, seemed swayed by the flip-flop ads, and had never considered how a vote for Nader might be a bad idea in Ohio. Worse yet, not a single punk band on the bill uttered the words "John Kerry" from stage. It almost didn't matter, considering how headliners Anti-Flag saved the middling lineup with their surprisingly jagged punk, but if lead singer Justin Sane could bring up a service employees union organizer onstage, why not a Kucinich spokesperson, say, to lay out the left's agenda? A few days later, Thomas Barnett of Strike Anywhere explained by phone from Lancaster, Pennsylvania: "Let's just say that it's an amazing step that we could all agree that we need to promote voting as part of punk. We're all conflicted about the system in general." As for connecting with a broader stripe of indie fan, Barnett was wary: "A lot of people in their twenties and early thirties, they want a shelter, and they want some kind of justification for their cynicism, so they'll cling to forms of music whose message is more evocative and abstract, as opposed to anthemic political songs."

From left: Michael Stipe, Conor Oberst, and Bruce Springsteen at Gund Arena
photo: Anastasia Pantsios
From left: Michael Stipe, Conor Oberst, and Bruce Springsteen at Gund Arena

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  • With that in mind, I went to see the Faint at the Beachland Ballroom on October 8—the weekend after the "Vote for Change" tour, the vice presidential debate, and the closure of Ohio voter registration. I'd always considered the Faint mere crafty '80s revivalists, but live I heard menace and a bracing anti-authoritarian streak. Afterward, a few kids checked out the liberal literature at the musicforamerica.org table, but most were in the T-shirt line. Everyone I spoke to there rejected Bush with clear conviction, almost everyone was voting for Kerry with equal conviction ("You can't afford to be extreme when it's this urgent," said Lindsey Rhodes, 21), many have Bush-voting parents, all toted un-pollable cell phones, and the crowd was twice as large as at "Rock Against Bush." It was enough to keep me going for a couple more weeks, at the very least.

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