In a close-run election, could a bunch of music stars be the difference between victory and defeat for John Kerry? Just possibly, if the bunch goes under the collective name of Vote for Change, and one of the rock stars in question is a certain Bruce Springsteen.
This week, in what is surely the most ambitious venture of its kind, almost two dozen artists, led by Springsteen, presented plans for multi- state tours at the very height of the election season to garner support for the Democrats and whip up opposition to President George Bush.
There have have been many past efforts by entertainers to influence US presidential elections, but few with the star wattage of this one, and none, surely as focused and carefully organised. In the first week of October, as the political campaign proper moves into top gear, 16 acts, grouped in to six separate shows, will perform in 10 states.
And not just any states. This itinerary will follow the candidates through the election's most crucial battlefields: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin, culminating in Florida, the most crucial of them all. On the night of Friday, 8 October, there will be simultaneous Vote for Change shows in Miami, Tampa Bay, Orlando and three other cities.
The list of participants in the tour is impressive: among them REM, one of the biggest bands of the early 1990s, the songwriter and singer Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, the Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, and the Dixie Chicks - whose lead singer Natalie Maines earned damnation from many country and western fans when she said on the eve of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq that she was ashamed that George Bush came from Texas.
But, as every one of these luminaries would admit, it is the Boss who makes the difference. This week he has been everywhere, giving an interview to The Los Angeles Times, and appearing on Ted Koppel's Nightline, the peak of serious late-night talk shows. Most striking of all was an article on the op-ed page of The New York Times, no self-serving piece of promotional puff, but a political disquisition by Springsteen, "a writer and performer", as the Times quaintly described him.
To the casual observer, the anti-Bush sally might seem odd. After all, did not the Reagan campaign seek to co-opt his mega-hit Born in the USA as an anthem during the 1984 election campaign? And does not Springsteen - hard-edged blue-collar rocker - seem at first glance an archetypal "Reagan Democrat" of that era, of the breed that defected from its natural party in protest at its soggy liberalism?
Look a little closer, however, and it makes perfect sense. Born in the USA is no sugary paeon to the Land of the Free, but the bitter outburst of a Vietnam War veteran forgotten by an ungrateful country. Two decades later, another Springsteen hit, No Surrender, became the anthem of the Democratic Convention in Boston that nominated Mr Kerry last month.
Its lyrics evoked the candidate's own service in Vietnam, and the new macho image to which his party aspires, as Democrats seek to match Mr Bush's national security credentials: "Once we made a promise we swore we'd always remember/ No retreat, baby, no surrender/ Blood brothers in a stormy night/ With a vow to defend/ No retreat, baby, no surrender."
That "Hollywood" - in its shorthand sense of the entertainment industry - tends to favour Democrats is nothing new. For the Democrats, Hollywood is an inexhaustible fount of political funds, but Republicans use their opponents' cosying with the glittering, loose-living movie set to underscore their argument that the Democrats are unreconstructed, celebrity-obsessed liberals, who have lost touch with the core values of ordinary Americans.
Under Bill Clinton, the love affair reached an earlier apogee, only to cool somewhat in 2000 when the Democratic standard bearers were Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, both outspoken critics of the surge in sex and violence in movies and pop lyrics. …