Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Hillary's Playlist

What, no Rage Against The Machine?

I actually thought this was an Onionesque joke when it landed in the in box this afternoon - "Pick Hillary Clinton's campaign theme song?!?" But lo and behold, it's legit:

Humor sells - witness the praise lavished on Bill Richardson's ads this week - and the video itself is a passable attempt at both viral campaign humor and I'm Just Regular Folks, Especially In Person (as we keep hearing, but as few non-Iowans will ever get a chance to experience). She even incorporates her own (in)famous vocals on the national anthem and solemnly pledges not to sing - but then fumbles at the end by adding an unnecessary "until I win" that weakens the punch line.

Of course, the concept of "pick Hillary's theme song" presents endless humor possibilities, and you can insert your own punch lines.

A musician only has to appeal to a niche, while a major league politician has to get to 50% or so. Cutting edge music should be challenging, and can often alienate or polarize audiences. This can be smart politics in the intellectual sense (see the collected lyric sheets of the Clash and Rage Against The Machine) but risky in the electoral sense. Even innocuous bland pop hits have the occasional lyric that can be parsed or taken out of context for unintentional humor. Or the artist has a controversial statement or lifestyle foible - musicians are good at those! - that you get attacked for. Or there's another song that you didn't even play at the rally and which you or your junior level staffer who actually picked the music has never heard of, and you get held liable for that too.

If you try too hard you get caught looking phony, as when Jerry Brown dropped Midnight Oil lyrics into his speeches in 1992 without attribution. (Somehow, you got the idea that Jimmy Carter actually listened to Dylan.) And while artists lose a lot of control once music is released, they don't lose their voices and can bite back if they think you've misused their song. This most famously happened in `84 when the Reagan campaign mistook the grim lyric of "Born In The USA" for a rah-rah anthem and Bruce Springsteen, at the very top of his career arc, quite loudly corrected that interpretation.

So we are left at rallies with bland cliches, and the list Hillary gives us to choose from is typical.

  • City of Blinding Lights - U2
  • Beautiful Day - U2

    I've been a U2 fan since "October" and even I never ever ever want to hear "Beautiful Day" at a political rally ever again. Some of Bono's "am I bugging you" speeches from "Rattle and Hum" would be fine; Bono in his self-righteous prime was a wonder to behold, singing about the Central America war and turning the spotlight right back on the audience. But instead we are offered the watered down and latter day version.

    Fortunately there's no John Mellencamp on this list. As progressive and as active as he has been, two or three of his songs are just so damn all-American that he's become a campaign trail cliche, killed by overplay just like "Stairway To Heaven."

  • Suddenly I See - KT Tunstall
    The sleeper of the bunch which means it's probably already been picked. (Update: Apparantly this song has some kind of "Devil Wears Prada" connection. Which still leaves me in the dark but at least explains it.)

  • I'm a Believer - Smash Mouth
    A cover of a song by a cartoon band (the Monkees) remade for a cartoon movie (Shrek). Should lock up the six year old vote (and perhaps their voting moms) in the summer of Shrek 3 marketing, but if movie marketing were a factor they could have gone with the Ramones version of the Spiderman theme. Of course that doesn't have the line "then I saw her face, now I'm a believer." And with that in mind...

  • Get Ready - The Temptations
    "Never met a girl that makes me feel the way that you do" indeed.

  • Ready to Run - Dixie Chicks
    While the political pun of the title is too corny, "Landslide" would have been even worse. At least this would have the advantage of pissing off Republicans. In fact, this may be one of the few things that could make Republicans hate Hillary even more.

  • Rock This Country! - Shania Twain
    I heard Robert John "Mutt" Lange's other proteges Def Leppard on the radio the other day and realized that if you twanged up the guitars and changed a couple gender pronouns you'd have Shania Twain. Now, if Lange (aka Mr. Twain) got her in the studio with AC/DC, that'd be really interesting. Anyway, she's Canadian and as for her singing, well... uh... she looks real purty in the videos.

    As we close out the southern state country music appeal department, why not go hell-bent alt-country and get Steve Earle on board?
    So come back Woody Guthrie
    Come back to us now
    Tear your eyes from paradise
    And rise again somehow
    If you run into Jesus
    Maybe he can help you out
    Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

    So come back, Emma Goldman
    Rise up, old Joe Hill
    The barracades are goin' up
    They cannot break our will
    Come back to us, Malcolm X
    And Martin Luther King
    We're marching into Selma
    As the bells of freedom ring

    Let's see: lifestyle foibles, controversial public statements, controversial songs... sorry, Steve, three strikes. Back to Hillary's playlist:

  • Right Here, Right Now - Jesus Jones
    Might have been kinda hip for the first Bill Clinton campaign. Actually, an ironic choice, since the context of "watching the world wake up from history" was all about the "end of history" that was in vogue for about a year as the Soviet Union collapsed. I think in this context "history" is vote-for-the-woman vote code for It's Time.

  • I'll Take You There - The Staple Singers
    I'm not going to say anything snarky about this damn fine soul classic. Just proves that you don't have to be cutting edge to be cool.

    So in my dream-world, filled with voters who are political versions of John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity, what's my All Time Top Five list of Songs I Would Like To Hear At A Political Rally But Never Will?

    We'll start with the cynical:

  • "Elected" by Alice Cooper - wouldn't you respect someone who had the nerve to take the stage to "I wanna be elected"?
  • "Vote For Me" by Joe Walsh, the theme to his goofball 1980 run for vice president.
  • "Looking For The Next Best Thing" by Warren Zevon. The ultimate compromise song:

    Don Quixote had his windmills
    Ponce de Leon took his cruise
    Took Sinbad seven voyages
    To see that it was all a ruse

    (That's why I'm) Looking for the next best thing
    Looking for the next best thing
    I appreciate the best
    But I'm settling for less
    'Cause I'm looking for the next best thing

    More seriously, here's one that almost works:

  • "We'll Inherit The Earth" by the Replacements. From their slightly overproduced 1989 album "Don't Tell A Soul," this underrated song both expresses rage at the system and confidence in change:

    We can't hold our tongues at the top of our lungs

    We'll inherit the earth but don't tell anybody
    It's been ours since birth, and it's ours already

    But the top of my list is mimimalist. I'll immediately endorse any candidate who takes to the stage to the tune of...

    "New Day Rising" by Hüsker Dü. Recorded in the year of Reagan's Morning in America. Just the title phrase, screamed over and over and over again over Loud Fast Rules noise that would instantly alienate the 99.7% of voters who aren't fixated on `80s thrash punk... but what a noise, and just what we need: a new day rising.
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