Grateful Dead, Ned Lamont and political identities


Governor Ned Lamont often wears a Grateful Dead themed belt. It features one of the images most associated with the group, a line of multicolored dancing bears.

His re-election campaign doubled that with a sticker that evokes the popular band. It’s commonly referred to as the “steal your face” logo, but in Lamont’s case, instead of a stylized red and blue skull bisected by a lightning bolt, it’s the outline of the state of Connecticut.

The words “Ned Head” declare the political leanings of the sticker.

By linking up with a group well-known and valued in the minds of voters, experts say Lamont is building on an age-old strategy of making candidates accessible and perhaps encouraging some potential voters to vote.

Politics and popular music have long gone hand in hand, according to Quinnipiac University politics professor Scott McLean.

“I researched how Frank Sinatra would sing John F. Kennedy campaign songs,” he said. “It’s been around for a long time.”

But the real question, he said, is whether a politician’s association with music can change a voter’s mind. McLean probably said no.

“I’m not sure it changes minds,” he said. “It’s more a question of reinforcement. So if I like Bruce Springsteen and he likes Biden, maybe I’ll decide, “Oh, Joe Biden is fine,” where I might have had second thoughts. Some of the doubts are addressed by someone I admire.

It’s the same as any endorsement, McLean said, including “newspaper endorsements or celebrity endorsements of candidates.”

“They don’t really change anyone’s mind, they reinforce what someone already wants to think,” he said.

McLean said the goal of a political campaign is “to make some sort of connection between one type of product that you like, which is the music and the artist, and the other type of thing that you like, who the party or the candidate is, and to make them kind of connect psychologically to people.

Sharing a candidate’s musical tastes can also make them more accessible.

“It tells you something about him other than the person giving a press conference or being behind the governor’s podium, that he’s a real person with interests,” McLean said, although it depends “on what what is the group?

“I think the Grateful Dead still have a kind of mystique about it, even today,” he said.

Lamont campaign spokeswoman Onotse Omoyeni said the governor is “not pretending” to like the group. Her pleasure, she says, is genuine.

“Governor. Lamont doesn’t pretend to be someone he’s not, so the dancing bears always come with him,” she said. “Governor still has the original Grateful Dead vinyls that he had as a child, and his collection has grown to include new music he hears on the road. He performs backstage and isn’t afraid to shake the mic on stage.

An email to the campaign from Bob Stefanowski, who is running against Lamont on the Republican ticket, asking about the candidate’s musical preferences, went unanswered.

Get out of the vote

McLean said the association between a musician and a politician is the most powerful in convincing potential voters to register and go to the polls.

“It’s especially important in our system right now,” he said. “Because voter turnout really is the name of the game.”

That’s something Andy Bernstein, executive director of a group known as Headcount, knows about.

The membership is nonpartisan and not associated with the Lamont campaign. The organization organizes voting events in concert halls.

The group began 18 years ago touring the jam band circuit.

“When we started, it was really into the jam band scene. That’s where we come from,” Bernstein said. “We toured that summer with Phish and The Dead, who were touring that summer- there as The Dead, along with Dave Matthews Band and a lot of other little jam bands.”

Since then, they have diversified. They’ve worked with modern musicians like Lizzo and Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish. Bernstein said that while they might get a good performance at a Dead show (they’re now called Dead and Co.), they try to work at gigs aimed at younger voters.

“We try to go where there are young people and we try to work with the most relevant artists among young people,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities there. There is always a new artist emerging.

Bernstein said that music and politics are linked by identity and community: “Music is a great unifier and it’s also a real driver of identity.” He said Ariana Grande was a good example.

Headcount works with Grande and is often mentioned on her social media, meaning “you know, Ari cares deeply about this stuff,” Bernstein said.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily that an Ariana Grande fan is more likely on day one to be politically aligned with Ariana Grande, but if you’re a big fan, you know that’s really important to Ari,” he said. . “It’s part of the fan experience, and hopefully it will make you a more likely voter.”

Before the pop

Music has been at the crossroads of identity, politics, and culture long before Ariana Grande, or even the Grateful Dead, and it’s not necessarily limited to pop music.

Elizabeth Sallinger is a visiting professor of music history at the University of Connecticut, specializing in the politics of musical theatre.

She said that very often the politics built into a musical are not very open. Take “Porgy and Bess,” for example, which is set in a 1920s black neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina.

When the opera was first performed in the United States, Ira Gershwin famously and controversially wrote that only black singers should play lead roles.

“You look at social structures in this musical, but you had something like ‘Of Thee I Sing,’ which is about politicians and being a little ridiculous and looking at how their political messages have been delivered,” a- she declared.

The multiple Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton” grappled directly with questions of politics and identity, and when then-Vice President Pence came to see the show, members of the distribution read what some saw as a politically charged statement, angering conservatives.

Before “Hamilton,” there was “Hair,” which Sallinger said directly challenged societal norms.

“It was just a very straight-forward show that was about how people felt and how people reacted to other things like drugs and were really open about sexuality, to the point that it resulted in the ban of the show in some places,” Sallinger says.

Before “Hair”, there was “The Pirates of Penzance”. The show, now 143 years old, “mocked English behavior and society and loyalty to the Queen above all else,” Sallinger said.

Before Gilbert and Sullivan, Sallinger said there were other societal and political commentaries set to music, perhaps as long as there were musical performances.

“You can see it stretches quite far back,” Sallinger said. “Other predecessors of modern musical theater also had political messages for them. And I guess if you wanted to go back even further in time, pretty much as long as you had people writing songs, writing shows, writing other pieces of music, there was often some kind of element reactionary in them.

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