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Analysis: Loudon Wainwright takes on Bush

By PAT NASON

LOS ANGELES, April 26 (UPI) -- Veteran singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III is so intent on seeing President George W. Bush turned out of office in November that he has taken the unprecedented step -- for him, at least -- of allowing his new anti-Bush song to be downloaded free of charge on the Internet.

This is a significant concession by an adamant guardian of the rights of recording artists to be paid for their work. Wainwright has used his art to register strong objection to illegal downloading in "Something for Nothing," a song from his latest CD, "So Damn Happy":

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"You can pull one of my songs right out of thin air/Bootleg and download me, see if I care/In love, war and cyberspace, everything's fair/And it's OK to steal 'cause it's so nice to share."

Wainwright was moved to write "Presidents' Day" in February, when he found it hard to celebrate the holiday honoring U.S. presidents:

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"Next year at this time I hope I can say/I feel a lot better about Presidents' Day/With no George in the White House, oh happy day."

Wainwright first performed the song in March at McCabe's Guitar Shop, a popular venue for folk and acoustic acts in Santa Monica, Calif. He told United Press International the song got such an enthusiastic reception that, despite his negative feelings about file sharing in general, he is inviting anyone and everyone to download it from his Web site, lw3.com.

"In this case I felt this isn't something I need to be financially rewarded for," he said. "The world is welcome to it. It's my, I suppose, contribution."

Wainwright referred to "Presidents' Day" as a broadside -- which could mean either the discharge of all guns on one side of a warship, a forceful verbal attack or a public notice printed on a broad sheet of paper.

"I enjoy writing broadside material," he said. "I'm old enough to have come from a tradition of that, having listened to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and the singer-songwriters from when there was a lot of topical songwriting and protest songwriting."

Given Wainwright's longstanding practice of using his music to question authority and challenge complacency, it was probably a fair expectation that "Presidents' Day" would appeal particularly to his fan base.

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"But Toby Keith has to his advantage when he plays his songs, he's got his fish in a barrel too," said Wainwright. "But his barrel is usually bigger than mine."

Keith connected with large numbers of Americans with his anthem to the war on terrorism -- "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" -- following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Wainwright said he intends to play "Presidents' Day" frequently between now and Election Day, and he expects to catch some flak for it here and there.

"I expect some people will take umbrage," he said, "but that's OK, too. They can write their own songs."

It remains to be seen whether "Presidents' Day" will earn Wainwright a place among the persona non grata on Web sites such as probush.com, which refers to a long list of politically active celebrities such as Howard Stern, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Michael Moore as traitors. Currently, the site is waging a campaign to get Starbucks to stop selling a CD of Sheryl Crow's favorite tunes, because she is "an anti-war celebrity whose irresponsible message emboldened America's enemies."

At the same time Wainwright is trying to set off a political spark, he admits he is not a regular player in participatory democracy.

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"A lot of people like me are very apathetic about politics," he said. "Elections have gone by and, I'm ashamed to say it, I haven't even voted. I'm going to vote this time."

Wainwright has no idea whether "Presidents' Day" will gain a permanent spot in his repertoire.

"Topical songs quite often have a limited shelf life and this might be one of those songs," he said.

However, he said fans still call out occasionally for "Jesse Don't Like It," a 1990 song that lampoons Jesse Helms, formerly one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate. He also still performs "Tonya's Twirls," a song grounded in the 1994 incident in which figure skater Tonya Harding was implicated in an assault on a rival, Nancy Kerrigan.

"(That song was about) nationalism, winning at all costs, pressure on young people and things like that," said Wainwright. "I thought I was just going to sing that song for a little while, and I'm still singing that song 10 years later."

While the download of "Presidents' Day" is free, Wainwright also said he wouldn't mind if other singers added the song to their live repertoires.

"Again to use kind of an old term," he said, "I see it as part of the folk process."

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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