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Bob Lefsetz: Rockers cancel shows over divisive law

Los Angeles (CNN) Rock stars are cancelling concerts in the southern U.S.

They’re protesting bills that deny services to same-sex couples or prevent transgender people from choosing bathrooms based on their gender identity.

bruceBruce Springsteen called off a show in Greensboro, North Carolina: “To my mind, it’s an attempt by people who cannot stand the progress our country has made in recognizing the human rights of all of our citizens to overturn that progress… Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them.”

Bryan Adams stopped his gig in Biloxi, Mississippi: “I cannot in good conscience perform in a state where certain people are being denied their civil rights due to their sexual orientation.”

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Bob Lefsetz is a music writer, analyst and author of the email newsletter and blog “The Lefsetz Letter.” He joined “CNN Newsroom L.A.” and spoke with John Vause about the growing number of artists taking a stand against bigotry.

Lefsetz: “It’s the older generation who’s weighing in because they remember the Sixties. They remember when music stopped the Vietnam War and changed the world. The youngsters have no idea there. The music business has completely changed. In the Sixties and Seventies, if you were a rock star, you were as rich as anybody in America. Now the richest people are techies and financiers — and the musical artists are chasing those people. This is a wake-up-call from Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams saying, ‘There are things that are more important than money. And art has power in a way that money does not have.'” The interesting thing is that it’s been tech companies that have been weighing in first. Tech people are the new rock stars. They don’t care what other people think.”

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Vause: “I guess that’s the point: a lot of the younger musicians aren’t taking a stand in this. But it is risky for musicians to speak out. Remember the Dixie Chicks?”

Lefsetz: “That’s a complicated thing. That was country music.”

Vause: “Well, they did talk out about the Iraq War and they protested George W. Bush and they were put through the ringer for that.”

Lefsetz: “The irony is we have Donald Trump all over the news now saying that George Bush did the wrong thing. The truth is out. The Dixie Chicks should have continued to play. They took themselves out of the game. But what we’ve learned over a long time in music is: being right is more important and pays long-term dividends as opposed to playing the game. This is one of the big problems… everybody’s so nice, worrying about alienating people. We don’t have records that sell 200 or 300 million copies. If you don’t have an identity, people can’t relate to you and it ultimately works against you.”

Vause: “How effective is a boycott? The argument is that state officials are the ones who pass these laws, the only people who are being hurt right now are the fans – the Springsteen fans, the Bryan Adams fans.”

Lefsetz: “Well no. Further north, we had the situation where they had the law that was payback to the right-wing about people not having to bake cakes for gay people. We had Tim Cook, who happens to be gay, himself, and other tech executives blowing back — and they stopped that. So many people say, ‘Oh Bruce! You should have played anyway and just given a speech.’ He cleaved society in a minute and brought this issue to a head. So, therefore, people are now discussing it.”

Vause: “You mentioned the country music side of things with the Dixie Chicks. It’s tough for them because their audience is, in large part, conservative and in the southern part of the country. The Tennessee Equality Project and G.L.A.D.D. are calling on the country music industry to speak out, as well. Will that be tough for them?

Lefsetz: “It’s gonna be very tough. First and foremost, don’t forget, it’s hard for country music stars to even come out of the closet. But Nashville is much more liberal than other parts of Tennessee… Someone will break this log jam. Because it’s moving. Listen, it went from Georgia to North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee. It sounds like Route 66. But eventually the country acts will get involved. They don’t want to! That’s what they funny thing is about it. They’re so busy kissing the corporate butt. They don’t understand… music when done right is larger than life. What we have is these acts that are so afraid to piss people off that they don’t realize they have no identity. Where if they had an identity, people could connect with them and their careers would actually be bigger.”

Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”

Bob Lefsetz Bamsey

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