If you believe the political pundits there’s a distinct chance the next Democratic candidate for the US presidency could be a former punk band musician called Beto O’Rourke. These days Beto presents as a well-dressed businessman, a well-spoken progressive and a former candidate in the 2018 US Senate election up against Ted Cruz in Texas. But back in the early 90s, in the Texas border city of El Paso, he was cranking it out as a member of post-hardcore rockers Foss. The band released a seven-inch record under the name of the El Passo Pussycats in 1993 and (shock of shocks) Beto posed in a dress on the cover art.
It was the kind of legacy of misspent youth that the Republicans attempted to use as dirt when he took on arch-conservative Ted Cruz in the midterms last year. Rather than turn voters off, his early musical history endeared him to many Texans, particularly the thousands of young Democrats who came out to vote for the very first time. Beto has since launched a serious campaign to become the Democratic nominee and who’s to say he will not go all the way to the White House.
It’s hard to find a similar example of a ‘punk to politician’ scenario in Australia although Paul Keating, when in his mid-teens, once managed a band called the Ramrods – a fairly clean cut bunch of young men who played an early Australian brand of pop and beat. The less said about Peter Garrett’s bumbling career as a Federal MP and Labor minister the better but no doubt there are other politicians throughout the country with now well hidden musical backgrounds. I can’t find any reference to the punch crazy Fraser Anning ever having picked up a guitar or fronted a set of drums. If he ever did he may well have taken his inspiration from those notorious death metal bands of the Norwegian right.
Judging on the various campaign launches all kinds of promises are currently being made before this weekend’s State election as to what Labor or the Coalition will do to revive the flagging live music industry and breathe new life into the nighttime culture. Most of the policies put forward, by both side, are short on detail but big on splashes of money.
Whilst I am all in favour of Government initiatives and a concerted effort to create a dynamic music scene, I tend to think splashes of cash are not really the answer. The buoyant Australian music scene of the late 60s, 70s and 80s grew out of virtually nothing – a lot of bands and musicians did it really tough getting off the ground – but the spontaneity of new and exciting music fostered hundreds of live music venues. Trying to conjure up some artificial cultural renaissance is probably not going to work, especially with local Councils continuing to enforce their current straitjacket of over-regulation.
In the meantime perhaps all candidates, hoping to win over young voters, could come clean as to whether they have ever played in a band back in their misspent youth. Whether it was some raucous 80s post-punk outfit, a pot-smoking reggae combo or a dreary Abba covers band, the public has a right to know. You can’t always judge a politician by the policies they currently spruik, but their back catalogue of musical sins is as good a character reference as any.