- 31 Oct 18
Pharrell Williams has issued a cease and desist order against Donald Trump, decreeing that the President of the USA must never use his songs again for political purposes.
The move follows the use by Donald Trump of his track ‘Happy’ at a rally in Indiana, on the day of the mass murder of 11 civilians at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The track was used without permission and was therefore a copyright infringement. Given the circumstances of the mass shooting, it was also in extremely bad taste.
The man accused of the mass killing is Robert Bowers, who Pharrell Williams depicted as “a deranged nationalist.” Bowers has been described by friends from school and neighbours alike as an inconspicuous loner, who was “ terrifyingly normal." However, he had an alternative life as a self-styled keyboard warrior, posting hate filled rants against Jews and immigrants alike on the US-based right-wing web site Gab.
According to reports, he described Jews as “children of Satan,” an “infestation”, “evil” and “filthy.”
He was also a firearms freak. He owned 21 guns and had what was described as “an active gun licence.”
Donald Trump’s decision to visit the scene of the mass murder has proven to be controversial, with the families of those killed telling him to stay away. Many feel that Trump’s own hate-filled agenda contributed to a climate in which self-styled nationalists, like Bowers, would be more likely to act on their twisted sense of grievance.
Meanwhile, Gab has been forced offline following the attack, with PayPal among the companies refusing to continue to provide services to the website. The Irish-originated online payments processor, Stripe, has also refused to work with Gab, while Samsung and Medium have also suspended service.
Williams’ cease and desist order is far from the first occasion in which musicians have clashed with politicians over the use – or misuse – of their music. Here’s a Hot Press Top 10 of politician .v. Musician smackdowns...
1. PHIL LYNOTT VS MITT ROMNEY
Ireland’s most celebrated case relates to the use of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ during the 2012 US Presidential election. Then Mitt Romney’s running mate, and later leader of the house, Paul Ryan strode onstage at the Republican Convention to the sound of Philip Lynott singing: “You know that chick that used to dance a lot/ Every night she'd be on the floor, shakin' what she got/ When I say she was cool she was red hot/ I mean, she was steamin’.” However the Lynott clan were not amused. First Philomena Lynott and then Philip’s wife Caroline Taraskevics denounced the use of the music without permission. The irony was palpable. Philip Lynott was Ireland’s first successful black artist. Barack Obama was the US’s first ever black President. There is no doubt whatsoever on whose side Philip Lynott would have been – and it is not Mitt Romney.
2. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN .V. RONALD REAGAN
The Boss's run-in with the Gipper came about as a result of the latter's misunderstanding of 'Born In The USA' – the anthemic feel gave the song the aura of a celebratory act of patriotism, but as every Springsteen fan knows, the song actually offered a scathing critique of US actions in the Vietnam war. As an artist who has consistently articulated the working class American experience in his music, Springsteen was very much at odds with Reaganism, and wasn't long about setting the record straight on the misinterpretation of his iconic hit.
3. JACKSON BROWNE Vs JOHN McCAIN
During the late McCain's ill-fated Presidential 2008 campaign, his camp had used Browne's hit 'Running On Empty' to soundtrack attack ads on Barack Obama's energy policy. Result: an apology to the singer the following year, as well as a Republican party vow to get artists' permission before using their material in future. We can see how that one worked out...
4. FOO FIGHTERS VS JOHN MCCAIN
Back in 2008, as the US Presidential Election campaign was heating up, John McCain made yet another blunder when used Foo Fighters’ ‘My Hero’ as his new theme tune. The Senator couldn’t catch a break, and quickly incurred the wrath of frontman Dave Grohl. "It's frustrating and infuriating that someone who claims to speak for the American people would repeatedly show such little respect for creativity and intellectual property," they said. “This isn't the first time the McCain campaign has used a song without making any attempt to get approval or permission from the artist. To have it appropriated without our knowledge and used in a manner that perverts the original sentiment of the lyric just tarnishes the song. We hope that the McCain campaign will do the right thing and stop using our song — and start asking artists' permission in general."
5. KEANE VS DAVID CAMERON
Richard Hughes, drummer for the English pop-rock band Keane, said that he was “horrified” when he heard that Cameron and the Tories had used the band’s 2004 song ‘Everybody’s Changing’ at their 2010 campaign launch. The move was part of Cameron’s attempts to rebrand the Tories and get rid of their ‘nasty party’ association. Thankfully, Keane saw through the bullshit. “Told the Tories played Keane at their manifesto launch,” Hughes wrote on Twitter. “Am horrified. To be clear – we were not asked. I will not vote for them.”
6. JOHNNY MARR VS DAVID CAMERON
Possibly the greatest slapdown by a British musician against a British politician. The hapless David Cameron waded himself into the music world once again with his continued expressions of love for The Smiths (he’s adamant that he’s been a fan since the ‘80s and picked This Charming Man as one of his Desert Island Discs back in 2006). This prompted Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to say on Twitter: "Stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it."
*Incidentally, on the same Desert Island Discs show David Cameron claimed that Thom Yorke had performed the song ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ at a show following a request by the prime minister. Yorke disputed this. But it wouldn’t be like a politician to lie, would it?
7. PAUL WELLER VS DAVID CAMERON
A ridiculous gaffe on Cameron's part. “I don’t see why the left should be the only ones allowed to listen to protest songs," he said, speaking about The Jam's famous song 'Eton Rifles'. Paul Weller was quick to react, speaking to Mojo. “The whole thing with Cameron saying it was one of his favourite songs… I just think, ‘Which bit didn’t you get?'” People say, ‘Why don’t you write any more political songs?’ But I would just write exactly the same fucking things I wrote thirty-odd years ago.” He added: “Every time they fire a missile in the Middle East, that’s £850,000, right? And then they talk about the NHS, fucking selling it off or it crumbling. So nothing’s really changed, has it?”
8. THE CLASH AND RUDY GUILIANI
Not exactly a slap down from a musician, more of a self-slap from an awful, awful politician. Former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani used The Clash's 'Rudie Can't Fail' for his 2008 Presidential Election campaign. This might seem appropriate - if not for the fact that 'rudie' is Jamaican and British slang for young Jamaicans who are stereotyped as hoodlums. This couldn't be further from the message Mr. Guiliani wanted to get across. On top of that, he did fail his campaign. Badly. Joe Strummer was apparently still making moves beyond the grave.
9. SAM MOORE OF SAM AND DAVE VS BARACK OBAMA
We realise that all 'cease and desist's so far have come from those veering to the right of the political spectrum, but Barack Obama had his own woes back in 2008 when Sam Moore, of Sam and Dave, asked the Presidential candidate not the use his song 'Hold On, I'm Comin'' at political rallies. "I have not agreed to endorse you for the highest office in our land. . . . My vote is a very private matter between myself and the ballot box." He added, however, that he found it "thrilling" to see a man of color run for the presidency. This is one story that had a happy ending however, as the following year, Moore performed with Sting and Elvis Costello at an inaugural ball for the newly elected president. And in 2013, he played at the White House as part of a PBS music series.