LLast week, as Amy Coney Barrett’s audience parody twinkled across our screens, another rock star stepped in and put her proverbial money where it was.
Conor Oberst, the Nebraskan-born frontman of alternative rockers Bright Eyes, released his group’s collaboration with Phoebe Bridgers, “Miracle Of Life,” in support of Planned Parenthood, and to raise awareness that under a conservative Supreme Court 6- 3 – and, God forbid, a second Trump administration – the right to choose would be seriously threatened.
While he could promote Bright Eyes’ excellent new album In the weeds where the world once was—The group’s first in nine years – Oberst took the time out of his lockdown in Los Angeles to talk with The Daily Beast about the song’s origins, and why, whatever the personal risk, he thinks he is. of his duty to speak out right and wrong and injustice, especially as we move towards the most important election day of our lives.
Let’s talk about “Miracle of Life”. Obviously I want you to feel free to talk about the politics of this one, your support for Planned Parenthood, and why it’s such an important organization to help out, but when you created this lead you thought- you in terms of, “Well, this is going to reach a wider audience just because of the nature of our time and the cause? It’s not like you are writing “We Are the World”, but you have to be aware that you are writing for an audience beyond your target audience.
The story is so weird, because I actually wrote this song during the Kavanaugh audiences. So that was one of the songs I had written for the new album, but then, because we obviously recorded more songs than we wanted to put on the record, that just didn’t seem right to me. It was out of place on the record. Obviously I think reproductive rights are still an issue, but back then it wasn’t the hot button like it is now with the new Supreme Court justice. So he was sitting on the shelf. And then when Amy Coney Barrett was nominated, our label said, “We should release this song now.” We’ve always donated a dollar from every ticket sold to causes we support, so we’ve always donated money to Planned Parenthood anyway, but it was a really random coincidence that it did exist and that we didn’t. had not yet published. The time therefore seemed opportune to publish it.
I have to imagine that your audience largely shares the same ideas politically. But have you ever had concerns about being able to express your politics in public or be allied with causes that are important to you?
I guess I’ve been doing this for so long that it doesn’t bother me – or I don’t think about it too much. Obviously, with the Desaparecidos project, our first was recorded two weeks before September 11, and then we went on tour after that. We were on the road while the Pentagon was still burning, and we were playing mostly anti-capitalist and anti-American punk rock songs. It was the worst time to do this. Then we did another record in 2015 that nobody really paid attention to, but when I think about those songs, what we were singing is so relevant today. So people can choose.
But sometimes I am blown away. If you are a fan of any of my music, how could you not understand my politics at this point? But people don’t. I posted a post on the official Bright Eyes Instagram the other day saying, Basically Please Vote Joe Biden because Trump is so fucked up we all have to put our progressive ideals aside and do it. It pissed off a bunch of people! There were more people from Trump commenting on that kind of shit than anyone. I thought, “What the hell is this?” Do you support Trump but follow the official Bright Eyes? It’s just crazy to me. How could you not know where I am? I don’t know if they only know “First day of my life”, but it’s so crazy to me.
“I thought, “What the hell is this?” Do you support Trump but follow the official Bright Eyes? It’s just crazy to me. How could you not know where I am?“
They are probably just trolls. There are just people who find these posts because of the words and hashtags. I did an interview with Henry Rollins a few years ago, and he tore Trump apart. It was taken over by Breitbart, for this very reason. We have received a lot of hate mail. It’s usually easy to ignore, but some of the things people write aren’t disturbing. And that may sound dangerous.
Well, we had a show in Omaha in 2010 called Concert for Equality, because they were basically trying – I don’t know if you remember SB 1070, Arizona’s “show your papers” law backed by the Sheriff Joe and all that shit – but they were trying to make it illegal to be Mexican in the fucking Arizona. Good luck with that. And they was trying to get a copy law passed in this little town called Fremont, Nebraska, which is outside of Omaha. So we teamed up with the ACLU and raised a ton of money and sued Fremont to the point that we were going to bankrupt this fucking town. They had to give up. Basically, they couldn’t promulgate the law, even if they passed it. It was a triumph.
But during this time – because my mom is friends with Susie Buffett, Warren Buffett’s daughter, and is a very progressive activist – I was getting literal death threats in my mailbox at home, so during the three days we were at the festival, the Buffett family lent me their Navy SEAL bodyguard! I had this guy, who was nice, but he hung out with me day and night with a fucking gun on his belt while I did all the show stuff. It was very real – because there were people protesting outside and it only takes a madman to shoot you in the street. At the same time, if you believe in something and have a platform to express it – and I never feel like artists have to do it – but if you have to do it to your own conscience, so fucking speak up and do your part!
As a writer and musician, I have a small platform. You obviously have a much bigger platform. But anyway, people are careful. And I find that when I speak, I get more mail from people who feel the same way, who feel encouraged to express these feelings in their own lives than they otherwise could. If this is the smallest thing we can do, and you certainly have a much bigger platform, it’s up to us to do it, right?
Yeah. Totally. I live in the stereotypical liberal bubble, in the sense that I’ve lived in New York City for 13 years, and now I’m in LA. I only lived in Los Angeles and New York. But also Omaha, where I grew up, which is obviously a very different place. But even in Omaha, I hung out with the fucking liberal arts people. So I have a biased version of reality, without a doubt. But I have also traveled this country and the world so many times that I have dated all kinds of people and I am always blown away that there are more people who born think like me think like me. It’s sad, but I think that way of seeing the world is crumbling as well. Also, it is good to be aware of other ways of thinking. And it is not their fault. It’s not that they’re all bad people.
Well, essentially since Reagan, Republicans have gutted education and consolidated the media, playing this nefarious game to keep people undereducated and underinformed. Plus they’re playing the game of gerrymandering and all those other blatant forms of voter suppression that make those votes more powerful than those in California and New York. So maybe Joe Biden will win by six million votes. But he could still lose. This is what is scary: it is the rule of the minority. Because what is Trump’s real support? 30 or maybe 35 percent?
Yeah. He lost by three million votes!
And it’s going to be a lot more this time around, and yet we’re arguing over Pennsylvania and Florida, and they could win in court.
Using their new Supreme Court judge! This is fucking crazy. But I think you are there with the educational element. I love-slash-hate – because I just think it’s hilarious – the conservative talk radio, when they’re all hugging the kids at Vassar College being ‘brainwashed’ into left-wing politics at the school. I’m like, “Man, that’s embarrassing to say, but it’s true.” But on the other hand, I didn’t know about the Tulsa massacre until I watched it fuck Guardians on HBO! I was like, “What?” It is breathtaking. How the hell is that not taught to all children? Obviously this is horrible so maybe wait until the kids are in eighth or something, but if you learn more about the Holocaust in Germany, shouldn’t you learn more about the massacre from Tulsa? It happened in our fucking country! That’s a lot, I think, where we are at this point. People literally live on different planets, and that’s sad.
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