Column is filed. And as promised, I have marshaled my investigative reporting skills to unlock the mystery of why Rush went after Kentucky GOP Senate candidate and 47-year-old Rush fan Rand Paul. (Paul's feelings about this will remain a mystery for now--his campaign didn't return my calls.)
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Rush's lawyer, Bob Farmer, an extraordinarily cheerful guy who does a lot to knock down the stereotypes about lawyers. Or maybe Canadian lawyers are just friendlier about suing people. Either way, Bob answered all my questions, and even helped point me to a place where I found period-appropriate three-quarter-sleeved Rush t-shirts like I used to wear in high school. (I'm buying this sweet Grace Under Pressure one and expensing it to The Atlantic. Shhh.) Here's an edited transcript of our interview:
Me: So what contact have you had with the Rand Paul campaign about Rush's music?
Bob Farmer: I got David Adams's phone number--he's Paul's former campaign manager--it was a day before he got fired. I called the number and said "Hi, it's Bob Farmer, I'm a lawyer for Rush." And he said, "Oh, we're big Rush fans! We're driving down the interstate." I listened, you know, but there was no Rush on in the background!
Think they were lying?
I don't know. The strangest thing about this story is not so much that they used the music, [it's that] they've never gotten back to me! They haven't called me! They haven't said a word. Apparently Rand Paul has gone to ground, you can't find him!
I couldn't get a call back...
Yeah, I know. Defending BP was the last anybody heard from him.
Well, my part of the story is I was there on election night, and all of the sudden Rush comes on, blasting. I've been to a million campaign rallies, and you hear John Fogerty a lot and that boot-in-your-ass country guy, but never Rush. It was so unexpected. So I tweeted it, and then [I go onto to explain...] Anyway, I got lots of comments from people who wanted to know further details. Specifically, what was Rush's problem with Rand Paul? Was it copyright? Was it politics? I promised my commenters I'd ask.
Well, it's copyright and trademark. You just saw him at the election night rally, but there was, for awhile--I'm happy to send you a copy of the letter [pdf] I sent them. They were using "Tom Sawyer" to raise money and that sort of thing. When was the last time you saw Rush endorse something? Anything?
Well, I'm not Canadian. But there's a difference between actively endorsing a candidate and passively allowing your music to be played, isn't there? Or is that not a distinction you guys make?
As you probably know, Rush controls its music very tightly. This was simply a copyright thing. I mean, first of all, they're Canadians, what do they know about American politics? They can't vote down there. The other problem was, Rand Paul was quoting the Rush lyrics in his campaign speeches--
--Yeah, because he found some kind of convergence or something between whatever it is he believes--I really don't know his politics--and these Rush songs. Well, you know, he probably thinks "American Pie" is about food! [Laughs heartily] You can't control what people think your music is about. So to us this is simply a copyright issue.
I'll take your word on that, but ordinarily what you see in American politics is a conservative politician like Reagan who takes a shine to the music of a liberal like Bruce Springsteen, and so there are clear political conflicts between artist and politicians. But according to Rush fans and my commenters--not sure it's 100 percent accurate--Rush as a band had an interest in libertarianism and Ayn Rand.
Well, again, this goes back to interpreting music in different ways. There's no way you can make a conclusion about various things. It's a simple issue, and, for me, a legal issue: he's using the music in ways that are illegal.
But on the question of politics, I don't think I've encountered a politician as libertarian as Rand Paul or a band that had any libertarian interests the way Rush seems to have. So it's striking to me that in this case of libertarian convergence there's this animosity. Does Rush consider themselves libertarians, or did they back when they did those albums?
I have no idea.
One of my commenters said Neil Peart was an active libertarian at age 24 but had since, I dunno, moved away from it.
You'd have to ask Neil Peart.
Does he talk to reporters?
Oh, okay. Then I guess we'll leave it at copyright.
Look, it's a copyright issue. Rush is one band that is open to a lot of interpretations, and if I had to start dealing with all the interpretations of Rush lyrics I'd never get anything done during the day.
I blog, so I don't either.
Yeah, everybody's got a view about this. It's the same thing as "American Pie" or--remember the song was about this, about that, about this... It goes on forever. That's really a side issue.
But if it's an issue of copyright, one of my commenters suggested that perhaps Rand Paul could have paid royalties. Could he have used the music if he paid royalties?
No. Because royalties imply that there's a license. If you want to do this, you have to get the permission of the person who's performing, the record company who owns the recording, you have to get the permission of the songwriter who wrote the song, the music publisher who owns the song on behalf of the songwriter. You have to get permission of the performing rights society. There are also trademark and personality rights issues. It's not just all copyright. So if you want to use somebody's music it's complicated.
You know, a good libertarian senator could cut down on all that red tape.
People are completely entitled to say to you, "You can't use my music," and it's not a case of not making a payment. I could just say no. For example, in some circumstances you can use the music if you pay a royalty. Let's say you're a bar band playing a cover song. The bar has probably received a performing rights license from one of the performing arts societies. So that's okay. But it depends on the context. You take the same song, on a different stage, for a different reason, the license doesn't apply. You can't use it in a Broadway play.
Is there going to be a Rush play on Broadway?
No, but that would be "dramatic use" and that's different. The music business is really, really complicated.
And, thank God. [Laughs heartily]
Sounds like the takeaway for politicians is to stick to John Philip Souza marches or the "Star-Spangled Banner."Not necessarily! Because if it was a new recording you could get sued. You'd have to speak to the band that recorded it. No, a politician would be better off--wasn't it the governor of Louisiana who wrote "You Are My Sunshine"?
Ha, you mean write their own political jingles? Like in the 1930s?
Well, doesn't Mike Huckabee play bass?
I don't think he does original material. You mean the old-timey campaign jingles they write themselves?
That's what they should do. The problem is, is that music going to be as good as Rush?
I think we can agree the answer is no.
Please use my quote that Rand Paul thinks "American Pie" is about food--I haven't told anybody else that.
I promise you, Bob, I will. I can tell you like that one.
I heard the discussion about the meaning of the songs over and over. And, hey, you know there is a new Rush tour!
Okay, Washington...they're in Washington, D.C. on September 18th.
I'm in Washington D.C.
I realize that. Saturday, September 18th at the Nissan Pavilion. Go to Rush.com for all the details.
This has rekindles my love of Rush. Are they going to comp tickets to journalists who write about the Rush-Rand Paul controversy?
Tell you what, call me back then.
Maybe by then we can arrange the Neil Peart interview.
That'll never happen.
Are they going to Kentucky?
Kentucky--lemme see here...Oh, Kentucky...no. But it's going to be a really good show because they're performing Moving Pictures in its entirety, which they haven't done since they put out Moving Pictures. The latest information is on Rush.com.
Righteous! I'll definitely alert my readers. Do you get to tour with the band?
Well, Bob, thanks--and if you make it to the D.C. show, I'll buy you a beer. On The Atlantic.
If I come to the show, I'll take you up on that.