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Jimmy Eat World Mixing Music and Politics

When Jimmy Eat World played at a rally for Democratic Senate nominee Richard Carmona last cycle, it was a collision of my two worlds.

I love politics and music, but I generally hate politics in music.

The influential indie band from Arizona is one of my all-time favorites and they are forcing me to rethink my position. I’d never take a position on whether the guys in Jimmy Eat World have the right politics, but I think they are approaching politics in the right way as musicians.

“The idea that musicians shouldn’t voice their opinions about things is kind of silly,” lead vocalist and guitarist Jim Adkins told in 2010, “We always try to get the message across by stating our support rather than telling people what to do.”

Adkins struck a similar chord in an interview last fall. “I feel more comfortable just telling people my opinion rather than that they should do something,” he told Phoenix People. “There’s a line where I think it goes from testimonial to crusading. I have to check myself with that, because I think you lose a little credibility when you come off as crusading rather than testifying.”

That’s a different approach than when Rage Against the Machine played in Minneapolis dressed like detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, during the 2008 Republican National Convention.

When Jimmy Eat World played the 9:30 Club in Washington on Sunday, plain black shirts were mostly the uniform of choice.

You see, I cared about Jimmy Eat World before I cared about politics.

I first saw them in 1997 at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. Looking back, it was an unbelievable show: 10 bands for 10 bucks on a bill that included The Get Up Kids, Knapsack and No Knife. It was the live version of half of my college playlist. Back then we called them mixtapes — and I couldn’t name more than three members of Congress.

In 2002, a couple of years after I moved to Washington to write about politics, I forced my fiancee to watch Jimmy Eat World from the balcony of the 9:30 Club, when the band filmed its “Believe in What You Want” DVD.

I had grand plans to interview the band and talk politics before their show on Sunday, and unfortunately it fell through. It would have been great fun for me, but I understand the reluctance to talk with a random political reporter.

There’s not really much of a debate on where the guys stand on the partisan spectrum.

Back in 2004, the first line of the first song of Jimmy Eat World’s “Futures” featured a call to action for the presidential election: “I always believed in futures. I hope for better in November.”

“The song is about George W. Bush, yeah. It’s about being dissatisfied with how things are going and about greed taking over,” Adkins told MTV at the time. “We’re all political,” drummer Zach Lind added. “And [‘Futures’] definitely references the idea that it would be great to have a change in the White House in November. It would be irresponsible not to look into what’s going on and not do things that counteract any sort of injustice you feel is going on.”

Since then, the band hasn’t lost any of its political passion but it has been more politically active behind the scenes.

In 2010, Adkins, a “self-employed musician,” contributed $1,000 and $500 to Democrat Jon Hulburd’s congressional campaign in Arizona’s 3rd District. (Hulburd lost to Republican Ben Quayle by close to a dozen points.)

That same cycle, Lind rooted for Sen. John McCain in the GOP primary against former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, although he didn’t really like McCain either. At times, Lind wrestles with the role of faith in politics on his Finding Rhythm blog.

Collectively, Jimmy Eat World opened for President Bill Clinton at a get-out-the-vote rally at Arizona State University for Carmona last year. I’m probably in the minority that thinks that is a preferable concert to watching Pearl Jam in Montana for Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.

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