On Wednesday, Greg Abbott endorsed Ted Cruz for president. That’s not a small thing for the governor to do—last year he was saluting Donald Trump even as he disagreed with the “tenor” of his remarks on the border—and in recent weeks Abbott’s name has emerged as a strong vice presidential candidate should the GOP frontrunner continue sweeping primaries on his way to the nomination. (Cruz, who is starting to look like a long shot for the nomination at this point—gambling sites have him at 40/1—is unlikely to pick a politician from his own state even if he were to secure the nomination.) Picking a side, especially one that’s lacking momentum heading into Super Tuesday, is a bold choice.
Sharp-eared viewers of the governor’s endorsement might have noticed another bold choice in Abbott’s video: Namely, the fact that he used Explosions In The Sky, the Austin-by-way-of-West-Texas band, as a soundtrack for his proclamation of Cruz’s worthiness. It’s understandable why he would. The band’s music has underscored the triumphs of underdogs in movies and television from Friday Night Lights (the movie) to Friday Night Lights (the TV show, on occasion—though not the theme song, the band would like you to know) to Lone Survivor and more. If the strains of “Your Hand In Mine” from the band’s 2003 masterpiece The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place recalls images of Matt Saracen leading the Panthers to State, well, there are worse associations that a person could have with a struggling presidential campaign.
Explosions in the Sky, though, are not particularly psyched about Abbott’s use of their song in the video. The band’s manager, Ben Dickey, sent over a statement that makes that clear: “The song was used without our permission or knowledge, which is frustrating. We are not supporters of Ted Cruz or Greg Abbot [sic] and we have asked them to remove our music and not to use any of our songs in the future.”
This isn’t the first time that politicians have used music against the wishes of the artist who owns it, of course. (Salon ran a good Q&A about the legal issues with an intellectual property lawyer in September, after REM’s Michael Stipe railed against Donald Trump using his band’s music at a rally.) Each time it happens, though, it’s a violation of the intellectual property rights of the artist—especially when the music is used in a video, like Abbott’s endorsement of Cruz. (If the politician uses the song at a rally in a venue that has a blanket license, it may be legal.) And often when this happens, the politicians involved are conservatives, if only because musicians are more often than not liberal.
As an alternative, Abbott likely could have used the music of Ted Nugent without provoking any backlash. The Nuge is a supporter—and his endorsement of Cruz would have sounded epic in its own way over the righteous, riotous riffs of “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” while the boogie of “Just What The Doctor Ordered” might have been a thematically on-point use of music in an endorsement.
These instances happen so often that, at this point, it’s probably safe to draw one of two conclusions: Either there are really just so few songs recorded by musicians who support conservative politicians that campaigns are stuck hoping to pull one over on bands like Explosions In The Sky, or getting that cease-and-desist from a band that doesn’t want your campaign to be using its music is part of the point of doing it. In our polarized, culture-war climate, pissing off the liberals—even if it’s by violating the rights of performers—isn’t usually a bad thing among supporters, and getting your endorsement/video/rally in the news a second time for something like this doesn’t hurt.
Presumably Abbott’s campaign will remove the video and replace it with a version with different music—or, perhaps, the band will be forced to decide if they care enough to issue a takedown notice with YouTube—but in any case, the history of politicians claiming music they don’t own continues apace.
Meanwhile, you can watch the video for the band’s new single “Disintegration Anxiety,” from their forthcoming album and contemplate what politician will use that track for a campaign ad in future years.