Here’s something that could be even harder than getting Rick Santorum elected president: getting the band Yes elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But don’t tell John Brabender. The political consultant was Santorum’s messaging guru in the last election, and now that he’s got some time on his hands he’s working on a new passion project. This time, he’s focused on Yes, a 1970s-era progressive rock band known for songs of near-epic length and complexity. (The band’s double album, Tales From Topographical Oceans, had precisely four songs and ran for 83 minutes.)
But just as the Republican establishment never really warmed to Santorum, music critics never really took to Yes or, for that matter, to the entire progressive rock genre. Aside from Rush, which was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, no other purely progressive band has made the cut. (Genesis was inducted in 2010, but there’s no way to tell whether voters were more influenced by the band’s work before or after Peter Gabriel left).
Dave Weigel, political writer for Slate and author of an upcoming book on progressive rock (disclosure: Weigel is a good friend of mine), says the genre essentially died with the emergence of the way-cooler punk rock in the late 1970s. It’s like punk was “Mitt Romney in 2012 and prog is the Rick Santorum,” he says. One got the “success, most of the money, and endorsements.” In contrast, says Weigel, “if you’re Rick Santorum, you need to live off the land and campaign much harder.”
And so it is with Voices for Yes, a group founded by Brabender and Democratic consultant Tad Devine, and more than 20 other consultants, including Hogan Gidley, the former Santorum presidential campaign spokesman who is now serving in the same capacity for Voices for Yes. Gidley says he was initially less than optimistic about the effort to “help out a band that’s been slighted.” But he was willing to accept something less than absolute victory. Even if the band isn’t admitted to the Hall of Fame, then at least “we spent a couple of months calling awareness to the influential nature of that band.”
Not that Voices for Yes would give up after one loss. “It’s not necessarily, we tried and they don’t get in, then we fold up the tent,” said Gidley. “We just grow the tent” and get more supporters for the next election—from both sides of the aisle. “When you look at all the partisan gridlock, it’s always encouraging when Republicans and Democrats can get together on something, even if it’s something as nonpolitical as this.”
Devine says the Yes campaign is “about trying to pull Washington back to bipartisanship. If we can collaborate on this little bit of real estate, maybe there’s a hopeful sign that Democrats and Republicans can work together on projects with a common interest.”
Although Santorum hasn’t taken a position on the effort yet, at least one former Iowa caucuses winner is a big Yes fan. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was inspired to take up the electric bass as a teenager after listening to Yes. Of course, he didn’t play much Yes while on the stump, opting for covers from more popular bands like Boston.
Politicians can find it advantageous to embrace “the populism of Springsteen,” says Weigel, but “mind-expanding space rock” rarely has much popular appeal outside college towns like “Berkeley and Madison.”
Voices for Yes does have one key advantage in its campaign: no competition. There’s no anti-Yes campaign, as far as anyone knows. However, according to Republican consultant Rick Wilson, who doesn’t believe Yes is a “Hall of Fame type of band,” it would be very easy to put one together with slogans like “Special interests say yes to Yes but America is saying no.” But Wilson has yet to be approached by a punk-rock super PAC and doesn’t anticipate one getting involved in this campaign.
Still, the lack of opposition may not be enough to overcome the decades of abuse from music critics that Yes has suffered.