Magazine article The New Yorker

Precious Wood

Magazine article The New Yorker

Precious Wood

Article excerpt

The combination of Republicans and pop music often produces awkward results--the Somali-born rapper K'naan got mad recently when the Romney campaign used his song "Wavin' Flag" as a victory anthem; Newt Gingrich and John McCain have faced lawsuits from Survivor and Jackson Browne, respectively. The rock-and-roll dustup at next month's Republican National Convention, in Tampa, Florida, won't be about the acts on the bill--Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kid Rock--but about a V.I.P. hospitality bus.

The bus, which functions as a rolling greenroom, is sponsored by the Gibson guitar company, which is currently at the center of a political controversy over illegally logged rare woods. Because of its opposition to recent government regulation, the company has become a darling of the Tea Party and the Heritage Foundation, and an enemy of environmentalists, a denomination that includes many left-leaning rockers. Reached by telephone the other day, Sting, who has been active in rain-forest causes for decades (in recognition of his support, a species of Colombian tree frog, Dendropsophus stingi, has been named after him), said, "I would never play a Gibson." Sting described the controversy as "a bit of a wakeup call" to musicians everywhere, and should prompt them to ask, "Where does my instrument come from?" Along with Mick Jagger, Bonnie Raitt, Lenny Kravitz, Willie Nelson, and others, he recently signed a petition protesting a proposed bill that would weaken the Lacey Act, which prohibits the importation of illegally logged wood. Stefan Lessard, a member of the Dave Matthews Band, has complained that Congress is "out of tune with the majority of musicians," who, he says, "are committed to insuring sustainable practices so that future generations also have access to the tonewoods that provide the rich sounds that make music great."

The controversy began in 2009, when Gibson's Nashville factory was raided by federal authorities, on warrants that accused the company of having illegally imported contraband wood--ebony from Madagascar and, in a later raid, Indian rosewood. One environmentalist described Malagasy ebony, which is used in fingerboards, as "the crack cocaine, or beluga caviar" of the guitar industry.

After the raids, Gibson hired a Washington lobbying firm and pushed for legal and legislative relief. Gibson's C.E.O., Henry Jusziewicz, who had previously worked with environmentalist groups, such as Greenpeace, began hitting the right-wing media circuit, appearing on Glenn Beck's radio show and sitting in House Speaker John Boehner's box during a Presidential speech, to insist upon his firm's innocence and to denounce what he regarded as the government's unfair tactics. …

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