Standing up and talking loud
Bruce Springsteen’s decision to cancel a show in North Carolina to protest at the state’s HB2 legislation is a rare case of a major artist taking a stand
The HB2 bathroom bill story has been rumbling on for some time now. A few weeks ago, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory signed the new effectively anti-LGBT legislation into law and there was an immediate backlash to the move. One of the loudest reactions came from the tech sector with CEOs and executives from Facebook, Twitter, Square, Apple, LinkedIn, Google, Salesforce CEOs and many other companies signing a letter to McCrory urhing him to “repeal this heinous attack on fairness and equality”. Tthe letter was sent on and, no doubt, the governor got it, read it and put it to one side.
But sometimes actions speak louder than words. On Friday, Bruce Springsteen announced that he was cancelling his show in Greensboro, North Carolina as a protest against the new law. “To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress”, said Springsteen in the post announcing the cancellation. “Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.”
Rock stars can still create a noise which bests everyone else and the reaction to Springsteen’s decision over the weekend has been huge. While there’s obviously a lot of inconvenienced Springsteen fans who’ve been denied a Sunday night out (especially fans who were travelling from elsewhere for the show as is always the case with Springsteen), there was also a lot of “at last!” reactions. It used to be the case that musicians and artists on Springsteen’s level would raise their voices to signal a reaction or a protest, but it has become a rare enough sight in a time when musicians never seem to step away from the apolitical line. That Springsteen was prepared to do on behalf of a clearly under attack constituency was telling.
It’s not the first time that Springsteen has put himself in the spotlight on an issue which is not about three or four hour live concerts. Ever since Ronald Reagan decided to appropriate “Born In the USA” during an election campaign to the loud chagrin and obvious unease of the singer, Springsteen has chosen to speak out publicly several times. This is in addition to the private, unpublicised support for various social campaigners and activists which happens again and again when Springsteen goes on tour.
The North Carolina protest is a hugely public event. Here’s a major rock star using his star power and PR appeal to shine a light on an event he and many others regards as hugely discriminatory for a significant part of the state’s population. It’s obvious too that Springsteen regards this as part of a bigger picture move by certain sectors to chip away at anti-prejudice legislation which the LGBT community have succeeded in winning in recent years. It’s a strike against progress and the idea that everyone is equal – and it could encourage other anti-LGBT campaigners to try it on in other states.
But surely other artists also think that HB2 is wrong? Surely there are other artists, especially artists with significantly large and vocal LGBT fanbases, who look at what is happening in North Carolina and see the move as something which is wrong, wrong and wrong. So why aren’t they out there protesting and adding their support to what Springsteen is doing?
Is it down to finances – in the overall scheme of “The River” tour, the money which it cost Springsteen to cancel the Greensboro show is probably not too significant, but there will still be bills to pay – or is it something else? Is the fact that big acts are now part of a live music industrial complex, controlled from promotors to venues to managers by the Live Nation Ticketmaster entity, the reason why leading popular artists, with just a few exceptions, have lost their bite and bark? Or is down to other more wider socio-economic reasons about why we protest and why we don’t? After all, protest is, to quote Springsteen, “the strongest means” an artist has to make a point. It surely can’t be down to apathy, can it?
What Springsteen’s intervention in the HB2 story shows is that artists can still create a lot of noise around an issue compared to other sectors. It remains to be seen how this plays out but you can be certain that a whole lot more people know about the new law now as opposed to a week ago because a rich rock star decided to make a stand. What we need is more artists to realise that the power at their disposal is not just for adding more money to their bank accounts and can actually be used for bigger and better things.