PW: In your book Dispatches from the Culture Wars, you criticize Democratic and liberal leadership for losing touch with the young. Does the liberal leadership "get" pop culture or its audience?

Danny Goldberg: A bunch of subtle influences on the left have interfered with the marketing of progressive ideas. A lot of people on the left come out of academia or government or foundations, and they often lack experience in the PR and marketing techniques required to persuade large numbers of people, whereas a large bloc of support for conservatives comes from the business community, which does prize those skills. There's a discipline in rudimentary PR the left lacks, which has undersold the content of their message.

PW: As your experience releasing Cornel West's CD through your record label, Artemis, shows, snobbery comes into play, too.

DG: I was astonished that Sketches of My Culture caused any controversy. It reaches out to a new audience, but it earnestly embraces mainstream, traditional values. As Cornel told me, to ignore the impact of the CD today is like ignoring the impact of the novel in the 19th century. But the president of Harvard attacked it simply because it was a CD, as if the medium was automatically tainted by being popular. It says a lot more to me about Harvard than it does about Cornel, who is exactly the kind of public intellectual we need to popularize intellectual traditions and make sure they aren't marginalized to an academic elite.

PW: You also released Steve Earle's last record, which many conservatives branded un-American.

DG: "John Walker's Blues" falls within a tradition of songs about outlaws and other unsympathetic characters told in their own voices, as well as the complex character description that, say, Bruce Springsteen was doing in his Nebraska album. I saw that, Steve's fans saw it, music critics saw it. But to people who look at song lyrics literally, as the equivalent of a speech or a news report, the song meant something completely different from what Steve intended, or from the emotional, impressionistic way the fans heard it.

PW: You recently launched a small press, RDV Books. How did that come about?

DG: A friend of mine, Johnny Temple, from the band Girls Against Boys, started an imprint about four or five years ago called Akashic Books. He taught me a little bit about the economics of independent publishing, and I became intrigued. In some ways, it's a lot like the record business, though the risks and the rewards are generally smaller. It didn't require the kind of investment I need for the record business, and it was another chance to work with my father, Victor, with whom I had co-published Tikkun [a progressive Jewish journal] for four years. So my friend Robert Greenwald and I each put up half the money to publish It's A Free Country, and we have at least one other book coming out this year. Hopefully we can do two to three books a year.

PW: Thanks to your musical and political connections, the book has an eclectic list of contributors.

DG: A lot of it was done very quickly because we wanted to get it out by September 2002. The one thing I regret is that the contributors lean so predominantly to the left, which has a lot to do with who was in our Rolodexes at the time. It's become clear to me since we published that there's quite a bit of libertarian and conservative support for civil liberties as well, and critiques of Ashcroft's policies from those perspectives. We'll be trying in the paperback to remedy that imbalance and present views from all the people concerned about civil liberties, not just the liberal side.