McDermott meshes with punk band Anti-Flag

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — When Washington wants to let down its musical hair, it doesn’t usually get any wilder than Brooks & Dunn belting out “Little Miss Honky Tonk.” So when the Pittsburgh-based punk-rock band Anti-Flag released its latest album last week, an anti-Bush onslaught called “For Blood and Empire,” strange political history was made. 
Charles Case
Members of Anti-Flag with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) in Hollywood last week.

“Depleted Uranium Is a War Crime” is the last track on the album, and, like all of the band’s music, it’s well-crafted sonic mayhem. However, what distinguishes this song from the others on the new disc — and perhaps from any song in the history of punk rock — is that its slashing guitars and buzz-saw lyrics are spoken-word comments by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) critiquing the military’s use of depleted uranium in Iraq. 

Nixon and Presley. Kerry and Springsteen. McDermott and Anti-Flag. Another chapter in the romance of rock and politics has been written.

It’s a hot March morning in Los Angeles, and Anti-Flag, in town on the first leg of its For Blood and Empire Tour, has joined McDermott in Hollywood for a press conference on their shared concerns about depleted uranium.

Joined by speakers from a variety of activist groups, McDermott and the musicians promote H.R. 2410, the Depleted Uranium Munitions Study Act. Introduced by McDermott, the bill calls for an analysis of the effects of depleted uranium on civilian populations and American soldiers. 

Depleted uranium is an extraordinarily dense metal that the military manufactures into both projectiles and armor. The Defense Department argues it is an essential component in its arsenal that provides a tactical edge on the battlefield and ultimately saves American lives. 

While Defense Department and RAND Corp. studies dispute any linkage between depleted uranium and health problems, McDermott is skeptical about the military’s denials, which remind him of government claims after the Vietnam War that Agent Orange proved no medical risk.

In McDermott’s opinion, depleted uranium threatens to be the Agent Orange of a new generation. 

“I’m like Yogi Berra,” sighs McDermott. “It’s d�j� vu all over again.” 

The press conference wraps, and the participants gather outside for photographs. An onlooker calls out that the congressman must have missed the memo about the hair gel. Indeed, the sight of McDermott squeezed between “Justin Sane’s” mohawk and the cactus-like spikes of drummer “Pat Thetic” (puns intended) presents one of the more improbable tableaux in recent U.S. politics. 

McDermott’s collaboration with the band can be traced back to a concert Anti-Flag played in Seattle on the Punk Voter Tour during the run-up to the 2004 election. McDermott spoke during the show about depleted uranium, impressing Anti-Flag guitarist Justin Sane with his passion for the issue.

Sane followed up by doing a formal interview with McDermott, which the band then “sampled” for talking passages on “Depleted Uranium Is a War Crime.” 

Anti-Flag is returning the favor by backing H.R. 2410 with a petition that will circulate at all of the band’s concerts. 

For McDermott, the relationship with Anti-Flag is all about reaching young people who might otherwise resist the ministrations of a congressman. No closet punk rebel, McDermott freely confesses that it’s not about the tunes. 

“I have a hard time standing around listening to their music,” the congressman says, laughing. “I already have one hearing aid.” 

And no, the congressman doesn’t stage dive either.