“ReDefeat Bush” may be the most popular bumper sticker for those opposed to the re-election of the sitting U.S. president, but it’s not hard-hitting enough for Washington Social Club drummer Randy Scope. He prefers “Beat Bush”—which he interprets, well, pretty close to literally.
In fact, on March 17, the Austin, Texas, police department issued Scope a misdemeanor citation after he recruited dozens of passers-by to use his drumstick to smack a stencil of the president mounted on his snare drum. The barely legible ticket Scope received refers to a city statute and a “percussion instrument on sidewalk,” then quotes the handwritten sign he wore to generate business: “Hit W!! $1. He deserves it, you deserve it!”
“They had to call in the code,” the 33-year-old Silver Spring resident recalls. “‘We need the code for illegal use of a percussion instrument.’ I was just dying. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’”
Scope and his band were in town for the celebrated South by Southwest Music Festival, a showcase for up-and-coming indie- and alt-rock acts. The Social Club—besides Scope, the quartet includes lead vocalist and guitarist Martin Royle, bassist and backup vocalist Olivia Mancini, and guitarist and backup vocalist Evan Featherstone—is certainly that: It has just released its debut full-length, Catching Looks, on San Francisco’s Badman label, and is currently in the midst of a monthlong national tour. Later this summer, the foursome will bring its unassuming, up-tempo blend of rock, punk, and Britpop to the Vans Warped Tour.
With hours to kill before the band’s SXSW performance, Scope ventured out to the street with his snare. Besides the stencil, the drum features a scurrilous text about Bush: “My daddy got me into Yale and Harvard. I earned a ‘C’ average, then I bought a baseball team with my daddy’s rich friends,” it begins. The word “LIAR” serves as W’s lapel. After an hour and half, Scope had made $14, but he says many more people took
a turn smacking the president than actually paid for the privilege.
Scope says he didn’t realize the full significance of what he was doing, standing on the streets in the state capital where Bush once served as governor. “I was just thinking from a presidential standpoint,” he recalls. “I mean, have you ever been to Austin before? It’s like this liberal oasis in the middle of Texas, so you would never think, with all these creative people running around…”
But with approximately 10,000 SXSW attendees jamming Austin’s streets and clubs, local law enforcement decided to get creative, too—though Scope says he should have been onto the plainclothes officers who approached him: “They’ve got, like, Mardi Gras beads on, and the Docker khaki pants, Haggar shirts.”
“They were making it very clear that they were cutting me a break,” says Scope, “telling me they could write me up for panhandling and actually arrest me.” (A spokesperson for the Austin Police Department—who initially confused Scope’s case with a noise-ordinance violation that sent members of the Los Angeles band Ozomatli to jail for leading a conga line of fans outside after another SXSW performance—didn’t return calls for comment.)
Scope, who opted to do four hours of community service instead of paying a $100 fine or contesting the matter before a judge, says he won’t “panhandle” again. But he’s still hitting W every time he drops a beat. “It’s very therapeutic,” he says. “When calling your congressman and senators doesn’t get the job done, you’ve got to vent somehow. So I put it on the drum head. It feels good.” —Doug Rule