The Bipartisan Effort to ... Induct Yes Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Democrats and Republicans come together for an unlikely cause: prog rock. Can they save Washington along the way?
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Voicesforyes.com

"REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS AGREE," blared the press release. "PROGRESSIVE ROCK BAND 'YES' SHOULD BE INDUCTED IN THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME."

Styled like a campaign document, the announcement touted "An Independent Campaign To Promote the Band's Undeniable Influence on Rock and Roll." It called itself "the only known bipartisan effort in Washington DC" (take that, Senate Gang of 8) and even had a super-PAC-like name, "Voices for Yes."

It sounded like a joke. But the effort, backed by some big names in political consulting and media, is totally serious.

"You've got to understand, I've been a Yes fan for decades," John Brabender, the political admaker whose Republican credits include Rick Santorum's presidential campaign, told me. Wherever he goes, he said, Brabender finds unexpected pockets of Yes fandom, from Michael Smerconish, the pundit and radio talk-show host, to Mike Huckabee, the bass-playing former Arkansas governor-turned-media personality. Being a conservative, it seems, is no obstacle to liking "progressive" rock. In the words of Brabender lieutenant Hogan Gidley, also a former Santorum and Huckabee staffer: "How can we be the party of no if we're the party of Yes?"

In conversation after conversation, Brabender has found people are shocked that Yes -- the multiplatinum-selling English artists behind such '70s and '80s hits as "Owner of a Lonely Heart" -- isn't already in the hall. (The Canadian prog-rock trio Rush just got in last year; prog fans generally nurse a sense of grievance that the grandiose, cerebral genre isn't taken seriously enough.) And because political types have never met an injustice they couldn't turn into a crusade, Brabender decided to do something about it.

"The genesis -- that's a pun -- was two things," Brabender said. "One, wouldn't it be fun to work for once on a campaign where you were really passionate about the candidate and knew it was the right thing to do?" (No offense, Rick Santorum.) "And two, wouldn't it be fun if you brought together Democrats and Republicans in an all-star team to go out and do it?"

The top Democrat on the effort is Tad Devine, a former top strategist to the Al Gore and John Kerry presidential campaigns. For Devine, the effort seems to be more of a lark: "Yeah, sure, I like them, I think they're great," he said of Yes. "Some of the people involved are like superfans. They know every song and every album, they've been to concerts. I'm a fan, like, I like their music -- that kind of fan." Devine has never been to a Yes show. Brabender has been to about 40, including one of his first dates with his now-wife in 1975.

Brabender recruited Devine, who he'd come to know through joint appearances and a fictional Internet series about the political ad business they'd collaborated on. There have been multiple conference calls; Brabender's firm has conducted extensive research into who selects Hall of Fame inductees (a music-industry committee with little fan input), what they value (rock-historical significance, not popularity), and how the process might be influenced. "We're really trying to do something here!" Devine, who was on a film shoot in Florida when I spoke to him, said with a half-incredulous laugh.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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