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A New Canadian Controversy, This One Musical

By Juliet Eilperin and Rena Kirsch
As Barack Obama heads into what could be the defining set of primaries against Hillary Clinton, the Illinois Democrat is doing everything he can to court the youth vote by cornering the indie band market.

It wasn't enough that Obama had won the support of the Chicago-based Wilco, which has performed on the campaign trail and recently told an audience at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club that they hail from the "Land of Obama." No, the leading members of Arcade Fire had to get into the act, performing Sunday night at Stuart's Opera House in Nelsonville, Ohio. That's when things started getting ugly.

According to a report in today's New York Times, Clinton aides launched an anti-immigrant counterattack in retaliation. Adam Nagourney wrote in a parenthetical note in his front-page piece, "(Aides to Mrs. Clinton, distressed that a band with many fans at the Clinton headquarters would join the line of supporters heading into the Obama camp, pointed out that the band was Canadian; in fact, while its members live there now, they grew up in Texas.)"

The Trail did some fact checking and would like to set the record straight before this alternative band battle gets out of hand.

Fact 1: The band's members hail from multiple countries, including the United States and Canada. Arcade Fire lead singer Win Butler grew up in the Houston suburbs, attended the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and met his Haitian-born wife (and band keyboardist) Régine Chassagne at Canada's McGill University. The group's bass player and guitarist Tim Kingsbury hails from Guelph, Canada. Butler's brother Will moved from Texas to Montreal to join the band after graduating from college. Other Arcade Fire members include Jeremy Gara, Richard Reed Parry, Sarah Neufeld and Owen Pallet, all of whom are Canadian. (The touring lineup can include close to a dozen members, so it gets quite confusing.)

Fact 2: Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson would never, ever criticize Arcade Fire. When asked via e-mail whether the Clinton campaign had, indeed, insinuated that Arcade Fire was a Canadian band, Wolfson shot back a reply in five minutes quashing such speculation. "I never said that," Wolfson wrote. "I love those guys." Later in the evening, Wolfson followed up with another heartfelt message. "I was sorry that they went for Obama. I'm really a big fan," he wrote.

Fact 3: One reason Clinton staffers shouldn't get into a Canadian rocker tit-for-tat is that the New York senator frequently plays "Taking Care of Business" by Winnipeg's own Bachman Turner Overdrive. So he or she who is without Canadian backup music should cast the first stone.

In closing, it's worth noting that one of the incentives Arcade Fire has for staying in Montreal is that the city's government offers professional artists property- and business-tax refunds as well as some subsidies. Should an Obama administration come to pass, watch out for big government subsidies to hip musicians.

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 2, 2008; 10:00 PM ET
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