BOULDER, Colo., Nov. 12, 2004 — -- Parents and students say they are outraged and offended by a proposed band name and song scheduled for a high school talent show in Boulder this evening, but members of the band, named Coalition of the Willing, said the whole thing is being blown out of proportion.
The students told ABC News affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver they are performing Bob Dylan's song "Masters of War" during the Boulder High School Talent Exposé because they are Dylan fans. They said they want to express their views and show off their musical abilities.
But some students and adults who heard the band rehearse called a radio talk show Thursday morning, saying the song the band sang ended with a call for President Bush to die.
Threatening the president is a federal crime, so the Secret Service was called to the school to investigate.
Students in the band said they're just singing the lyrics and not inciting anyone to do anything.
The 1963 song ends with the lyrics: "You might say that I'm young. You might say I'm unlearned, but there's one thing I know, though I'm younger than you, even Jesus would never forgive what you do ... And I hope that you die and your death'll come soon. I will follow your casket in the pale afternoon. And I'll watch while you're lowered down to your deathbed. And I'll stand o'er your grave 'til I'm sure that you're dead."
The students told KMGH they never threatened the president and never changed the lyrics to the song.
"It's just Bob Dylan's song. We were just singing Bob Dylan's song ... If you think it has to do with Bush that's because you're drawing your own conclusions. We never conveyed that Bush was the person we were talking about," said Allysse Wojtanek-Watson, a singer for the band.
"She never said anything about killing Bush ... It's crazy, it's chaos. We have nothing in there it says about killing Bush," band leader Forest Engstrom told KMGH.
The principal of the school said he stands behind the students.
"Never was it rehearsed or auditioned with a change of lyrics. I want to be very clear about that," Boulder principal Ron Cabrera said.
Cabrera said Secret Service agents questioned him for 20 minutes and took a copy of the lyrics. They did not ask to speak to any of the students but they did question a teacher who had supervised a student protest that was held at the school last weekend.
Despite the controversy, the Boulder School District said it will allow the students to perform this evening.
"Boulder High School has expectations for the appropriateness of talent show acts and those expectations are communicated to the performers. Over the course of the rehearsals, the faculty has worked with the performers to create a show that falls within those expectations. School staff have monitored the performance and spoken with the students and are satisfied that the performance is simply student expression and not a threat against anyone," Boulder Schools spokeswoman Susan Cousins said in a statement.
During the rehearsals for the show, teachers Jim Vacca and Jim Kavanaugh played backup in the band at the students' request but the teachers decided not to perform this evening because they don't want to detract from the students' performance, Cousins said.
The band had at one point considered calling itself The TaliBand, but the students decided against it after discussing with Vacca whether the name would be offensive to some people, she said.
Vacca praised a group of 70 students after they camped out overnight in the school library last week to protest the results of the presidential election and to announce their worries about the direction of the country. The students wanted to meet with Colorado's political leaders to get assurances that they were being heard.
The students said they worried about war, a return of the draft and the future of the environment after the election in which they could not participate.
"In an age where narcissistic college students riot in an inarticulate drunken stupor, you have students here at Boulder High School, principled, thoughtful and yet scared of four more years of pre-emptive war, the Patriot Act and an increase in militarism at school through the No Child Left Behind Act," Vacca had said.
But other people said they are upset students and teachers are allowed to put on such a performance, and some say the high school students are being manipulated by the adults.
"These kids are being used to promote an extreme leftist point of view on the taxpayers' dime," Boulder resident James Lemons told KMGH.
He said other students who saw the tryouts and were upset by the presentation discussed it with their parents but are afraid of speaking up because of the political environment within the school and in Boulder, considered the most liberal city in Colorado.
The principal said Lemons' accusations and allegations are untrue and unfounded.
"I feel that the school and these students have been accused without being able to confront their accusers," Cabrera said, adding that no student or parent had talked to him about the allegations. "Why would someone do that?"