|When I was in high school I was on the newspaper staff. I wrote music reviews and editorials (surprise, surprise!) and once specifically outlined some of my favorite “political” music. Everything from Woody Guthrie to Rage Against the Machine, all inspired by the then sad case of the West Memphis Three (three boys were falsely tried and convicted for murder based on little more than the music the boys listened to and their outsider lifestyles. They have since been set free.). I had just turned eighteen, fairly politically minded, and all set to vote in the 2000 Presidential election. My first voting experience turned out to be memorable. Not for the vote I cast (Ralph Nader - Oh come on...I live in Texas...what else could I do?), but for the election itself. The big anus-ripping debacle between Al Gore and George W. Bush will forever be a historical moment in time. A time when the voice of the people was ignored in favor of a Bush...the Supreme Court is led by perverts.
The following four years went from comically awful to tragic in a blink of an eye of course and the second Bush term was even worse!!! War and recession make for a healthy diet of misery. What a fun time to be alive! Growing up, graduating college, and finding a path to adulthood in all that early 00s mess was like being born in a cave. I don’t know if any of us who came of age then have ever seen the light. Though we now find ourselves back in another Presidential campaign cycle. One that pits the professorial introvert Barack Obama against the greed gobbling Mormon Mitt Romney.
It’s election day and I’m going through my favorite political jams and finding little has changed (except I’m older) since I wrote that high school paper editorial. Playlist wise: Minutemen challenge my mind with abstract brief “spiels” backed by some of the most innovative funky punk rock a person can listen to. The rapid blur of tunes like “Joe McCarthy’s Ghost” and “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs,” along with the eloquent sprawl of the entire Double Nickels on the Dime album, lifts my spirits and gives herky-jerky rhythms to my displeasure at the direction our country is headed. The working man is pissed!
[ERRRRRRR, when drafting early notes for this essay headlines and current events interrupted]:
Motherfucking blort!! Terroristic threats - US embassies under attack all over the middle east and I'm listening to Gang of Four's Entertainment!. Friday September 14th's headlines read like pure insanity. North Dakota State and the University of Texas both received (what turned out to be fraudulent) bomb threats from whack jobs claiming Al-Queda affiliation. Bullshit crazy violence everywhere. LSU evacuated Monday September 17th due to threats! Continue with the evil headlines from all media outlets. Anger in China boiling over...anti-Japan protests screeching. Guerrilla warfare is the new entertainment.
[OK. Back to the main point. Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates were on TV as I finished off the rest of an early draft of “Dirty Work.”]
Mitt Romney’s been busy flapping his gums, writing off “47%” of the US as entitlement slaves. All I want to do is thrash around with my fist in the air, Rage Against the Machine style.
Speaking of RATM, VP candidate Paul Ryan proved to me that he is one illiterate phony cretin a while back when he said he listens to RATM (along with Metallica, the Grateful Dead, and other decidedly NON-right wing rockers). Does he really? Certainly he is onboard with their third world militant revolution themes and anti-capitalist tirades??!?!!! Ryan is just another dumb-ass egomaniac politician. He's not a smart man, to reference Mr. Gump. RATM guitarist Tom Morello told Rolling Stone, “Paul Ryan was a jackass before he listened to it, came out a jackass at the end, so he missed a lot of it."
Whenever politicians talk about music they expose themselves as milquetoast morons. Ryan also alluded to Metallica and the Grateful Dead so I can't quite figure where his earbuds are at. Is he a rage filled metal thug who pumps iron at the gym only to work himself into the image of a frothy madman in order to dream up new ways to screw the middle class and kill the poor? He spends his D.C. days head-banging in his office secretly wishing he could one day be President and appoint (bona-fide conservative Megadeth leader...should I say MegaBirther...unfortunately Rust in Peace is a great metal album) Dave Mustaine to National Security Advisor. At night he drops acid with Beltway madams, mellowing out with Dead tapes. This is a shadowy figure folks. We mustn't allow the weasel to reach the office of the Vice-President...or worse yet, President.
I spent the month of October wrapped up in politics as my sport of choice instead post-season baseball or the NFL. Hunter S. Thompson wrote, in his book Songs of the Doomed, “October in the politics business is like drowning in scum or trying to hang on through the final hour of a bastinado punishment...The flesh is dying and the heart is full of hate...,” in other words, “October is the cruelest month of any election year...” Thompson was something of an authority when it comes to writing about presidential campaigns [read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72]. He was one of our preeminent political junkies, after all.
Listening to songs by Green Day, The Rolling Stones, and Randy Newman, I’m struck by how wildly appropriate my playlist is for such a political season. I know what you’re thinking, one of those three is not like the others, but let me tell you right now that these three acts have been a great soundtrack to the mindfuckery of modern American politics.
For the first Presidential and only VP debate I was walking around with my ears full of Dookie (figuratively and literally - the excrement rolling off the candidate’s tongues...). It’s a nostalgia trip for sure, but only as an exercise. With the release of the latest Green Day album Uno!*, I went back to the 90s and reacquainted myself with the great singles of Billie Joe and co and worked my way up through the band’s last two politically themed pompous rock operas. My o my how the lyrical themes of boredom (“Longview”) and slacker meth-head debauchery (“Geek Stink Breath”) sounded against the headlines of endless analysis of Vice-President Joe Biden’s laughs and white-toothed smile and Obama’s first disconnected debate. It was the Bush era political rant of “American Idiot” that carried the most weight during my listening sessions. The song has a timeless quality that I felt I needed to hear again and again and again. I’m not a huge Green Day fan, but after listening to a handful of their power-pop-punk jams, I could face the nightly news, screaming at the vapidity of it all, “Don't want to be an American idiot./One nation controlled by the media./Information age of hysteria./It's calling out to idiot America.” Thinking of it now, it’s like a mantra for the damned.
The Stones are back with a new song called “Doom and Gloom.” The tune is part retrospective compilation album titled GRRR! celebrating fifty years of haggard British faces and iconic debauchery guitar riffs. Somewhere I read this song described as “an apathetic version of ‘Gimme Shelter,’” which kinda fits the mood I’m feeling today. “Doom and Gloom” officially went on sale as the Presidential candidates met for their second of three debates.
As the debate started EVERYONE tuning in knew President Obama was ready to fight...then again so was Romney. It was an ugly TV viewing experience from the get go. All the while I had the new Stones single playing in the background on repeat. Damn, if the old boys haven’t recorded a decent jam. The swagger of Richards’ rhythm guitar is in the pocket of the groove like most of the Stones’ best hits, but also reminiscent of a less outta control post-reunion Stooges pattern. Jagger’s young man blues seduction voice is long a beast of the past, yet he manages to exude his usual JAGGERNESS with lyrics like the chorus’ hook, “Baby, take a chance/Baby, wont ya dance with me.” Really what he is getting at is escaping from the constant “doom and gloom” of our times. In the second verse Jagger does swing topical. He sings about “overseas wars” not being worth the money & lives spent and how those in charge bow to the rich while they feign interest in those in the middle or lower classes. Ultimately he (or the song’s character) wants to kick back at home on the couch and lock the doors, blocking out the constant negativity of political campaigns. All this from geriatric British rock ‘n’ roll hall of famers...
This is the song that plays, blasts from my laptop as Mitt Romney embarrasses himself talking about “binders full of women” and Obama dances away from gun control. No solutions...ever from our politicians. “Doom and Gloom” is the pessimistic rock song of the election season.
Randy Newman’s a misunderstood songwriter, plain and simple. He sings lyrics from (usually) an unlikeable character’s points of view. His is a style of the “unreliable narrator.” “I’m Dreaming” is a new song of Newman’s released just in time for this year’s presidential contest. Once again the song offers an offensive point of view in order to illustrate a real concern. The narrator is dreaming of a “white” president and racism is an ugly, yet inescapable topic we have to deal with today. It seems like we should be past this by now, but we AINT. Throw in sexism and homophobia and you got yourselves a PARTY! Why just recently I read a headline to the effect of “A Majority of Americans are Racist.” OK, hold the phone…I don’t think that is the case…then again…maybe it is. Shameful feelings, along with Newman’s creaky vocal, wash over me.
During the final debate, which covered foreign policy, I thought President Obama wiped the floor with the money mad Mormon, but the pundits felt otherwise. The opinion that Romney “looked presidential” or “managed to be above the fray” is such a load of horseshit. The guy only cares about wealth and regurgitates foreign policy talking points. Americans are growing more comfortable with the witless white face, graying at the temples, Mitt Romney. I’m scared. The next two weeks would be a nail-biting showdown. Let’s just hope the Supreme Court doesn’t have to get involved.
The morning after the last debate I voted. There was a polling location near where I work so I made it a point to hit the ballot-casting machine pre-coffee. I was bleary-eyed, but confident in the civic act. Sure, the state of Texas is a non-player in the overall system as we have it...damn you electoral college! - but fuck it...I can’t, in good conscience, sit back and be ok with how our country swings to the right. Randy Newman’s song “I’m Dreaming” echoes my concerns about a party like the Republicans and their platform of hate. The song is an unfortunate product of this election, our times, and the divide our system reflects between political ideologies. Tis a real bummer...
Final word: Be sure to vote. Vote for anyone other than that of the Romney/Ryan ticket - write in Louis CK for all I care. These monsters will divide the have’s and have-not’s further by giving tax breaks to their rich friends and squeeze the “middle-class” dry with barbaric health care philosophies. Whatever your political jam is, turn it up loud and roll over to a voting location near you before the game is over and the winter crashes down upon us with the fist of a unfeeling intolerance.
*The first of three albums (the kinda funny titles are as follows: Uno!, Dos!, and Tre!...with a DVD making of film titled Cuatro!) coming out between now and January 2013 and I'll tell ya, Uno! isn't all that good. Green Day are The Who of the alternative nation. Sure Uno! celebrates 40+ minutes of easy rollicking pop/punk rockers with big sing-along choruses and enough F-bombs to shock wholesome hearted-church going parents of sour patch rebel kids into frothing at their tightly squeezed sphincters. When the last distorted notes of amp buzz fade I'm left with almost no memory of what I just heard other than it was a fun, if totally minor collection of songs. As a music fan I know that when a band leaves the recording process with a double or even triple album ready for release, it will no doubt feature about one album's worth of (mostly) good songs and a hefty amount of detritus that would be cool B-side stuff or excellent box set filler. Band's have bad habits of wanting to release more than just the quality single album, so they make a point of dumping it all out there.
The Beatles "White Album," for all its majestic messiness, should probably have been a single album. Likewise both London Calling and (definitely) Sandinista! could be trimmed down to flawless one record sets, but that isn't the way songwriters/musicians work is it? Anyway, who the fuck cares...GnR's Use Your Illusion I and II and Springsteen's Human Touch and Lucky Town all kinda sucked as single albums...so maybe they would've been better as double records so we could all say, "wow, what a indulgent double album! But I love it!"
Anyway, that's not really the point here - I'm a screw loose and a dollar short as it were...