Released a year prior to the presidential election that found Bill Clinton succeeding George H.W. Bush, Corrosion of Conformity’s incendiary-if-easily-misconstrued paean to civic obligation, “Vote with a Bullet,” frankly felt more like hollow posturing, even despite the admonition at the end of its video urging eligible viewers to register to vote. That quibble didn’t make it any less of an enjoyably bracing bit of rocktastic oomph! But what, exactly, was it all trying to say?
Couched with vague lyrics and unspecific imagery, this thinly-veiled allusion to Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” literally calls for insurrection (with accompanying visuals), but also seems to portray the perils of guns falling into wrong hands and causing chaos. Which is it, C.O.C.? Do you want to start an armed revolution or are you espousing political change via participation in the system? The Orwellian closing statement urges voter registration to thwart the machinations of corrupt power, but the poetically licensed protagonist has abandoned the ballot for the bullet.
Meanwhile, the targeted politician in the video’s source material –- presidential candidate Senator Palantine in “Taxi Driver” -– was arguably incidental. Protagonist Travis Bickle only latches onto the idea of shooting the senator until after being rebuffed by Betsy, who works in his campaign office … a plot flourish that would later allegedly inspire John Hinckley Jr. to shoot Ronald Reagan to win the approval of Jodie Foster, who played Iris the teenage prostitute in “Taxi Driver.” Politics ultimately had little to do with it.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but the presidential election cycle of the early 90’s that put Clinton in the Oval Office wasn’t even a fraction as charged and divisive as the one we just went through and are …well, maybe not quite recovering from, but still feeling the fallout of. Had C.O.C. (who are still going, I believe) –- or their new millennial equivalents -– released something comparable closer to the Clinton/Trump content, I wonder what the reaction would have been. I’ve been hoping to hear more politically charged music that reflects the tenor of the times, but the closest I’ve heard might just have been “Fuck Donald Trump” by YG and Nipsy Hussle, … which minced no words.
Honestly, I preferred Corrosion of Conformity’s earlier incarnation as a proper hardcore band, although I did also enjoy this iteration’s other big, groove-driven single, “Clean My Wounds.” Mixed messages aside, I personally love this video for its flagrant hair-flippage, its very metal power-chords, its impressive t-shirt presentation (Black Flag AND Black Sabbath) and the fact that Pepper Keenan features the Einsturzende Neubauten stick figure on his guitar.
Also, eagle-eyed Flaming Pablum readers will note that this video –- or portions of it, at least -– were filmed on the Lower East Side.