The video clip of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff imploring voters to “Rise up” is drawing inevitable comparison to Howard Dean’s “I Have A Scream” speech, but also has some thinking of 1980s Can-Con act, Parachute Club.
If that’s what Ignatieff was going for, he wouldn’t be the first to commandeer the tune Rise Up for political purposes.
Herewith, a bit of time travel: The year is 1999 and Canadian conservatives are trying to find a way to end the vote splitting between Progressive Conservatives and the Reform Party that has given us six years of Liberal hegemony.
Cue music, please….
(Apologies for the hack writing that seems as dated as, well, you know…)
Look what they’ve done to my song: United Alternative delegates get down and Rise Up to a funky, gay protest song
The Ottawa Citizen
Sat Feb 27 1999
Byline: Glen McGregor
The former members of Parachute Club couldn’t have imagined a more ignominious fate for their 1983 ditty Rise Up than hearing it turned into a frozen-food commercial.
But there it was on their television sets last year, the song so familiar to anyone who grew up in age of Canadian content regulations, melodically imploring a McCain self-rising pizza to “rise up, rise up.”
Cheesed off, Parachute Club’s lead singer Lorraine Segato rose up, called her lawyer and launched legal proceedings against McCain Foods and the band’s music publisher, EMI. Ms. Segato said the commercial use of the song destroyed the group’s integrity and claimed their fans had accused them of “selling out” even though they hadn’t received a penny in royalties.
Earlier this month, the now-defunct Parachute Club and EMI settled their grievance out of court. McCain dropped the ads and EMI agreed to return the rights to the song to its creators.
All well and good.
But only days after the settlement, Rise Up would endure what Ms. Segato considers to be an equally disturbing exploitation.
As more than 1,000 delegates rumbled into the United Alternative convention last weekend, the loudspeakers in the Ottawa Congress Centre exploded with that funky, familiar tune once again. Rise up, fiscal conservatives. Rise up, Stockwell Day. It’s time for celebration.
Over and over through the convention, UA delegates would hear the inspiring ditty echo around the hall. Rise up, rise up. The spirit’s time has come.
“My worst nightmare, when I wrote it, was I’d turn on the TV and it would be playing at the Tory convention,” said Lynne Fernie, who penned Rise Up’s lyrics with Ms. Segato. Despite the marked absence of Tories at the UA bash, this was worse.
“The energy of the song and where it came from seem to me to be the opposite of what the new right stands for,” Ms. Fernie says.
Many of the Reformers at the convention, with their Stetsons and cowboy boots, would likely share Ms. Fernie’s horror if they knew the conceptual background of the song and its history, not as a jingoistic jingle but same-sex sock-hopper.
“It’s about sexual diversity and sexual equality,” says Ms. Segato.
Rise Up, she explains, grew out of Toronto’s multiracial gay and lesbian community of the early ’80s.
In a time of bathhouse raids and emerging fears about a new, deadly, sexually transmitted disease, Queen Street West formed the nexus of the hip gay music scene. Parachute Club opened the Bamboo Club across the street from the new MuchMusic and the band’s poppy tune quickly became an anthem for the gay community, often identified with coming out of the closet.
Its catchy hook, however, would also make it an anthem for political groups unaware that the rousing refrain was not a call to arms, but rather, well, a call to arms. As the song goes, We want freedom, to love who we please.
Ms. Segato has heard the Rise Up played at Liberal party conventions, at marches to protest Chinese human-rights abuses, abortion rallies, and even on Christian radio stations in Europe. The NDP used to pipe it into the PA on former leader Ed Broadbent’s campaign plane during takeoff. “It’s a song that’s been used to basically promote anybody’s political idea about anything,” Ms. Segato says wearily.
Bill Clinton tapped the power of pop as political anthem when he appropriated Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) for his 1992 presidential bid.
He knew every good political movement needs a theme song, but in Canada, pop divas notwithstanding, choices run scarce.
For the 1993 election campaign, the Liberals dusted off Animotion’s late ’80s Obsession, a tune better known as Fashion Television’s theme. Reform incongruously chose Van Halen’s Right Now, which also was used to plug Pepsi, while the Tories swooned to Celine Dion’s Love Can Move Mountains and the NDP went native with Susan Aglukark’s obscure Hina Na Ho.
Matching middle-aged white politicians with pop tunes that express their vision — and with a good beat you can shake hands to — often proves difficult. In a bizarre choice, Republican strategists selected Bobby McFerrin’s breezy a cappella hit Don’t Worry, Be Happy to accompany George Bush’s 1988 election bid.
And in 1985, Larry Grossman led the Ontario Tories into election to the tune of Dancing in the Dark, sung by Bruce Springsteen, who fancies himself a champion of the working class. Alas, Mr. Grossman’s stiff on-stage gyrations to the song would be as close as he ever got to being “the Boss” in that campaign.
Despite Rise Up’s enduring popularity, the Parachute Club could never repeat the same level of success. The band busted up in the late ’80s and Ms. Segato went solo.
Ms. Fernie, her co-writer on Rise Up, pursued similar themes in a filmmaking career. She won a Genie Award for her documentary Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives.
Today, both women wince when they hear about groups with shabby records on gay rights cutting a rug to Rise Up, but they wonder if the song might provoke a policy change.
“The question we would put to the United Alterative,” says Ms. Segato, “is would we take that to mean that all the issues embodied in that song — racial equality, sexual diversity and women’s rights — are issues now being taken up by the party?”
“I hope it empowers them to expand their vision of what love is, and it does not include the use of the notwithstanding clause to enshrine inequality,” Ms. Fernie ads.
And if not, there’s always litigation.
“I would like to make them aware that we oppose them playing the song,” says Ms. Segato of the UA.
“If they keep doing it as a theme song, we will proceed legally.”
Rise up, rise up, all rise — the court is now in session.