Among the genres of music, country is largely alone in attracting patriotic, conservative listeners. The bellowing liberal Dixie Chicks found this out when they bashed then-President George W. Bush in 2003. Fan backlash was swift, and the group never fully regained its mainstream popularity.
Now, fans are feeling let down after Willie Nelson, 85, announced on Sept. 12 he would be headlining a benefit concert for Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas. O’Rourke is the Democratic nominee for Senate against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.
The congressman’s views are anathema to country music’s conservative base. O’Rourke, for instance, supports using taxpayer money to fund abortions, government approval of same-sex relationships, and a ban on assault rifles. In response to Nelson’s announcement, fans expressed their disappointment that the music legend would support such a candidate.
One user said, “Willie I have always loved you and I played your music on the local country station when I was in high school. I’ve always thought you were a patriot but you have jumped the shark my friend.”
A user named Melanie Phillip said, “You would pick a socialist agenda and an Anti-American fellow like Beto, shame on you.” On Nelson’s Facebook page, one fan pleaded with the singer to “Please change your mind on this.” Identifying as a “Long time supporter and listener,” the commentator said, please “don’t associate with [O’Rourke.]”
But these fans must not have been paying attention to Nelson’s lifelong record of leftist politics. Nelson has supported Democrats since Jimmy Carter. He is also a noted pothead who bragged of smoking marijuana on the White House roof when Carter was in office.
Nelson is no social conservative either. The famous— or, depending upon your point of view, infamous— supporter of marijuana legalization once put a joint in the collection plate at church. Nelson is also one with O’Rourke on using taxpayer money for abortions and supporting government approval for gay relationships.
Apart from opposing the invasion of Iraq, Nelson believes the Sept. 11 attacks came not from terrorists, but as part of a conspiracy by the U.S. government. In 2010 he told Larry King that the buildings attacked by planes on 9/11 were, in fact, explosives government had planted within the structures.
Often, the issue of marijuana legalization alone has decided his choice in candidates. In 2004, Nelson endorsed the presidential primary campaign of Democrat Dennis Kucinich— the only candidate to support the legalization of pot.
Nelson’s leftist politics have also made their way into the music he promotes. A supporter of homosexuality, the singer once released “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other,” composed and performed by Ned Sublette.
To his credit, Nelson has never hid his leftist leanings. Regarding the current controversy, he’s simply said he “doesn’t care if fans are upset” with him.
Country music fans, especially in Texas, have often assumed that all country singers are like Lee Greenwood, a Republican who composed and performed the patriotic song, “God Bless the U.S.A.” But there has always been a hippie undercurrent in country music. In the 1960s, there was Country Joe and the Fish, a band that appeared at selective service centers and tried to block young men from joining the armed forces. Kris Kristofferson has supported Fidel Castro and the murderous communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
In seeing Nelson’s support for O’Rouke, I am not surprised. When I grew up in Texas, not everyone was a patriotic conservative. Austin, the state’s capital city, was dominated by liberals who smoked pot and burned the flag.
“Shut up and sing,” is a common refrain from fans who complain that stars blather about politics. Most memorably, many used that very line on the liberal loudmouth Dixie Chicks 15years ago. But had country music fans paid more attention to Nelson’s work off the stage, that phrase would have been hurled at him much earlier than this month.