Vote the rock: when rock stars become politicians
A short sampling of those who've put aside their musicianly ways in order to seek higher office
Brian May is fed up. Fed up with MPs wasting taxpayers money. Fed up with Westminster failing to represent those who vote them in to power. Fed up with the status quo. So he's launching the Common Decency initiative, and is considering standing for the next election. "I'm looking forward to getting my hands dirty," says the guitarist. "We have an opportunity in the election coming up - it doesn't have to be this way." But he isn't the first..
Jello Biafra - Dead Kennedy’s firecracker and Green Party presidential nominee.
After his righteous declarations of anarchism, you could be forgiven for wondering why the Dead Kennedys’ frontman Jello Biafra wanted to do anything as established as running for mayor, but he ran for the post in San Francisco in 1979. His campaign slogan was “There’s always room for Jello” and his campaign was marked by stunts like wearing the t-shirt from his opponent Quentin Kopp’s previous campaign and vacuuming outside the US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s house. He wasn’t entirely helped by supporters who carried signs saying things like, ‘What if he does win?’, as he called for the legalisation of squatting, for police to be voted into neighbourhoods they represented and less serious topics like requiring businessmen to wear clown suits. He came fourth out of 10, perhaps giving him the confidence in 2000 to put himself forward in the race to become the Green Party’s presidential candidate. He lost to Ralph Nader, whose campaign he then subsequently joined.
Einar Örn - Sugarcubes and Reykjavik City Council member
After being inspired by a tale of John Lydon puking in an aeroplane and then spending the summer of ’77 amid the burgeoning London punk scene, Icelander Einar Örn was one of the first of his countrymen to discover the raw power of the Sex Pistols et al. He brought The Stranglers and Clash to Reykjavik, then became part of several Icelandic anarcho-punk bands in the early 80s before, alongside Björk, forming the Sugarcubes in 1986. In May 2010, he joined forces with the Icelandic actor and comedian Jón Gnarr for what was initially a joke political group called The Best Party. They promised to be openly corrupt, to provide free towels in all swimming pools, to offer a new Disneyland and for parliament to be drug-free by 2020. And then they won. As Gnarr’s No2, Örn served a four year term on the City Council with the party being seen as a genuine force for good.
**Roger Bullen - Essex County Councillor and pig head smasher **
As the Head of Partnership, Schools, Children and Families for Essex County Council, Roger Bullen had one of those jobs that was almost certainly very important for the local community but which, to the layman, sounds so ball-achingly dull that it’s hard to imagine the man doing ever doing anything more outlandish than risking a beige tie with a grey suit. So it comes as some surprise that the man who can be seen here haltingly talking about the Social Value Act once went by the name Dee Generate and, as the 13-year-old drummer in punk band Eater, could occasionally be seen smashing the fuck out of a pig’s head onstage at the Roxy Club.
Kaiadas - Black Metal grunter and Greek lawmaker
Hellenic Black Metal has never particularly been a genre that took off in extreme metal circles, the marrying of Greek mythology to blast beats and vicious riffs not as much of a draw as its equivalent in Scandinavia. However, that’s not something that has prevented Greece’s Naer Mataron from a five-album, 20-year career in the extreme metal underground. What is trickier for them, though, is the fact their bassist and vocalist Kaiadas – real name Giorgos Germenis – is currently in prison as a result of his activities as a Greek MP and member of the far-right Golden Dawn Party. Jailed after Golden Dawn were implicated in the running of a criminal organisation, Germenis has had something of a chequered political history – he was accused of hitting a 12-year-old girl and attempting to attack the mayor of Athens, who also claimed Germenis attempted to pull a gun on him. Naer Mataron albums might be thin on the ground for a little while.
Ted Nugent - Idiot and potential Michigan governor
As a musician, Ted Nugent can be relied upon to interject his macho songs with pro-hunting, pro-gun tirades that appeal to a certain redneck demographic but which appal most right-minded people elsewhere. His politics are remarkably similar and during much of the 2000s he threatened to run for governor of Michigan on a ballot that basically involved telling people it was OK to shoot stuff. While dressed in full camouflage gear and toting two machine guns he once delivered a Churchillian political speech when he addressed Barak Obama from onstage once: “He’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Then he turned on Hilary Clinton, waving his guns around: “You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.” He did all this in the name of, as he said, “Freedom”. He’s yet to trouble the corridors of power, oddly.
Krist Novoselic - Nirvana bassist and Washington State Committeeman
When Washington State attempted to introduce a bill in 1992 that would make certain types of music illegal to under 18s by branding it “erotic”, Nirvana quite rightly joined the crusade against it. It was one of the first moments in which the band’s bassist, Krist Novoselic, made his political interests clear and he has gone on to weave himself into the political scene in Washington State ever since. A vocal proponent for political and voting reform, he has at various times been a State Committeeman, chairman of a voting reform group, a donor to a Republican Congressman and a supporter of the Democrats. He has also run as county clerk and considered a bid to become Lieutenant Governor of Washington.
Beau Butler - Punk dancer and Richmond, Virginia mayoral candidate
As general dancer, hype man and crowd whipper-upper for Virginia punks Avail, Beau Butler’s career in music largely involved stage-diving, clapping his hands and whooping a lot. Essentially the band’s onstage cheerleader, the equivalent of the Happy Monday’s Bez (who is having a crack at becoming Salford’s MP), he figured the next step was to run for town mayor in Richmond, a post which will become vacant in 2016. “It will be legal for women to bare their chests the same way men do – I believe in equal rights,” he parped of his campaign platform. “I will continue $2 highballs … all students will have to pay an annoyance tax cause they are annoying as shit.” He finished with this: “All gastropubs will have to remove that word from their signage.” Which actually seems fair enough.
Peter Garrett - Midnight Oil crooner and Minister for the Environment
Possibly the most successful musician-turned-politician is the Australian singer Peter Garrett who, as a member of Midnight Oil, was one of the country’s biggest stars during the ‘80s and ‘90s, famous partly because of his wacky dancing. Never afraid to use the spotlight as a means for raising awareness of environmental issues and indigenous rights, Garrett effectively brought the band to a halt in 2002 when his interest in activism overtook his interest in music. Now an MP, he has served in the Australian parliament as Environment, Heritage and Arts Minister and, most recently, as Education Minister.
Peter Wishart - Big Country and Runrig keyboardist and SNP MP
Being the only member of parliament to have performed on Top Of The Pops means the former Big Country and Runrig keyboardist Peter Wishart is probably not all that chuffed about Brian May’s political aspirations, given that it would somewhat scupper his achievement. Being outdone by a bloke who has not only played Top Of The Pops several more times, but who has also headlined Wembley Stadium on more than a few occasions and who has riffed on top of Buckingham Palace would somewhat put him in the shade. But until – or if – May makes his bid, Wishart can revel in the fact he is the most rock‘n’roll member of parliament. A title, admittedly, akin to being named rapper of the year in a tournament whose only other entrant is Stephen Hawking.
Jedrzej Wijas - Democrat MP and death metal growler
A slight twist here: rather than a musician becoming a politician, this is a politician becoming a musician in a bid to engage with the youth of Poland. In an effort to get said youth off their backsides and into the polling station, the left-wing parliamentary candidate Jedrzej Wijas made himself the frontman of a local death metal act and recorded a video of his 2011 party political broadcast over a series of churning, gurning riffs. “End of the useless talking, enough of the stupid wars, secular government, dignified life, freedom is my goal,” he growled over the death metal onslaught, before ending with the pithy: “Vote wisely”. “I am trying to wake people up with this intense message,” he explained, perhaps unnecessarily.