For President’s Day, we look at rock and rollers who have run for the highest office in the land, or might have, or had people wish they did. Most of them weren’t serious, but distaste for politicians in general has led to more than a few write-in votes in many of these cases, and…well we did elect an actor.
1. Alice Cooper
The prototype American shock-rocker (though some might argue for Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) ran a tongue-in-cheek campaign against Richard Nixon in 1972, mostly to promote his new single ridiculing politicians, Elected. Though these days often identified as a Republican because he was once quoted as saying “Linda Ronstadt? Don Henley? Geez that’s a good reason right there to vote for Bush!”, he’s also said “I am extremely non-political. I go out of my way to be non-political. I’m probably the biggest moderate you know””, and of his time spent with the “Hollywood Vampires” in his drinking days, said “When John Lennon and Harry Nilsson were arguing politics, I was sitting right in the middle of them, and I was the guy who was going ‘I don’t care!‘”
2. Joe Walsh
Joe ran for President in 1980, promising free gas for everyone and pledging to make his song Life’s Been Good the National Anthem. He wasn’t entirely serious, and couldn’t have held the office in any case, as he was only 33 at the time (the Constitution requires the Prez to be at least 35) though he has gotten political at times: He reunited the classic lineup of The James Gang to play a fundraiser for Bill Clinton’s campaign at Cleveland State University in 1996, and while promoting his solo album Analog Man in 2012 told an interviewer he might seriously consider a run for the national legislature, saying “The root of the problem is congress is so dysfunctional”.
3. Frank Zappa
Frank was famously political in testifying before congress on national television against would-be music censors of both parties, though he was mostly identified as a Libertarian: Pro-capitalism, anti drug war (though he didn’t use them himself much…he smoked pot…all of 4 times…and did inhale, but didn’t like it), and was an admitted atheist. Urban myth had him considering a not-entirely not-serious challenge to Bill Clinton in 1992 largely around his dislike of running mate Al Gore’s wife Tipper who was a big proponent of music censorship, but he’d been diagnosed with the cancer that killed him the next year. Still, there is an astonishing amount of “Frank Zappa For President” merchandise and artwork available to this day on Amazon.
4. Ringo Starr
Ringo never considered it himself, and wouldn’t have been eligible anyway as a British citizen who was too young when fans in the early days of Beatlemania sporting “Ringo for President” buttons started showing up, probably to promote this novelty single by Rolf Harris of Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport fame. And he did pose for a photo-op with some of the campaign signs created for him.
5. Jello Biafra
The lead singer of legendary San Francisco bay area punk band The Dead Kennedys actually did run for president, drafted by the New York Green Party as their candidate of choice in 2000. At the Green’s national convention he lost to Ralph Nader, who got 295 of the party’s 319 delegate votes to Jello’s 10, which put him in second place. He chose political activist and writer Mumia Abu-Jamal as a running mate, despite the fact that he was on death row (since changed to life without parole) for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Jello had previously run for Mayor of San Francisco under the slogan “There’s always room for Jello”, wanted to legalize squatting in vacant buildings, require all businessmen to wear clown suits within city limits, and would have made all police officers stand for election to their jobs. He supported Nader’s campaign after losing to him, and when gay rights activists complained that Nader had cost Al Gore the election to Bush, pointed out that Tipper Gore had wanted warning stickers on albums with homosexual content.
6. Clarence Clemmons
The late sax playing “Big Man” from Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band never considered running for political office, but at concerts Bruce would often introduce him as “The King of the World, Master of the Universe, and The Next President of the United States!” Some would say he was…Born to Run…but sadly died of a stroke in 2011.
7. The Presidents of the United States of America
This 3-piece Seattle band had a few hits, remain quite popular in concert to this day, and did once get their picture taken at the White House with Bill Clinton, and…well…if the name fits….
8. Krist Novoselic
The bass player for Nirvana did become quite politically active after the death of Kurt Cobain, fighting, as Frank Zappa had, a Washington State Legislature attempt at music censorship, Seattle’s proposed “teen dance ordinance” which would have placed restrictions on rock bands playing all-ages shows, and was active in creating a lobby group for music interests (JAMPAC). He’s fairly moderate, having supported Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and made donations to the Libertarian campaign of Ron Paul. He withdrew from a campaign for County Clerk of Wahkiakum County, and one for Lieutenant Governor of Washington State in 2004, against another musician (Sort of, he plays guitar and sings classic rock covers to preach of the evils of marijuana), incumbent Brad Owen. The Lt. Gov. gig in WA is largely ceremonial, but it’s a heartbeat away from the governor’s mansion, and we elect a lot of them President.
9. Ted Nugent
The Motor City Madman has never actively thrown his hat in the ring for public office, but he sure talks a lot. All ten fingers of doom are so conservative if he could have them all moved to his right hand…well, then he wouldn’t be able to play guitar. Some of us wish he’d do more of that, he hasn’t made a good record since 1977. Ted offers his opinions freely, and when asked if he could see himself running to become leader of the free world, replied “That would be a ‘Sure. Why not.'”