08 Sep Enots Gnillor
A few of you old-timers may remember when Rolling Stone was a publication that was all about music. Today, it’s a publication that produces garbage politics takes and only rarely dabbles in music.
In that sense, we feel like we’re the inverse of Rolling Stone. Once upon a time, we wrote about politics, but now, it seems, we mostly write garbage music takes and, ever so rarely, talk politics.
In today’s case, it’s not really our fault. We swear. It’s been a slow week in the race for the GOP presidential nomination – no debates, no policy platform releases, no indictments. More to the point, on Wednesday, Politico Magazine published an article based on the notion that the best way to understand the presidential candidates, to get a sense of what animates and motivates them, is to find out what music “stirs” them:
A prompt on the website formerly known as Twitter to share your top 20 songs recently set off a sharing frenzy:
“Make a 20-track comp of your all-time fav tracks, each artist can only feature once,” the X user, Nick Worrall, posted. “Not the ‘best’ songs, the ones that bring instant joy the second you hear the first note, the ones that give other people the best insight into what stirs your soul. Share when ready. #20tracks”
If this prompt really could tell us “what stirs your soul,” we thought about whom we wanted to know on such an intimate level the most. Easy: the 2024 candidates.
For the most part, the results of Politico’s inquiry into the songs that “stir the souls” of the candidates are…embarrassing. Yikes. Jeffrey Blehar does a nice job of documenting just how embarrassing they are over at National Review Online. For our part, we think the candidates misunderstood the assignment. They were supposed to tell us something about themselves, to tell us what moves them, what makes them tick. They were supposed to help us better understand their psyches. Instead, they sent lists of songs they kinda like. Two candidates (Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy) included Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” on their lists. Do they want us to believe that a song about how some woman – who is more beautiful than Ms. Parton, nonetheless – is having an affair with a married man stirs their souls? Umm…OK, we guess.
Interestingly, Chris Christie – whose list appears to be just a standard playlist pilfered from the local classic rock radio station – includes one song that contains one of the most brutal lines ever written, a line that, fittingly, explains how most Americans feel about picking a president. The line in question comes from Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”: “Show a little faith; there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty, but, eh, you’re all right.” Perfect, yes? Every four years, we pick from a crowd of toads, not in the expectation that one will turn out to be a prince, but in the simple hope that we won’t get warts. Eh, you’re all right.
Anyway, we’ve decided that we’ll do what the candidates didn’t. We’ll come up with one song for each, a theme song, if you will, a song that is stirring (rousing, inspiring, etc.), that suits the candidate or his/her campaign, and tells us something about him (or her). And as a sop to our British readers, we guarantee up front that we’ll avoid the cliché that is “Don’t Stop Me Now,” by Queen, universally acknowledged to be the most inspirational song for 99.9% of Britons. You’re welcome.
We’ll start with the low-hanging fruit:
Doug Bergum (Governor of North Dakota; the guy with the hair): The Who’s “Who Are You.” No explanation necessary.
Will Hurd (former Congressman and CIA clandestine officer: The Doors’ “The Spy.” Again, no explanation necessary.
Chris Christie: In his actual list, Christie goes out of his way to include artists from New Jersey, including Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. We have a better New Jersey connection, one that points out the folly of trying to mete out justice through liberal activism (something Christie would do well to remember as he tries to please the media by shrieking constantly about Donald Trump). Our choice for Christie’s song is Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane.” The song purports to tell the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer TWICE convicted of murdering three people at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. It is a classic. It is moving and powerful. And it gets almost every detail wrong. Carter was initially convicted of the murders in 1967. In part due to Dylan’s song and the movement it embodied, Carter was released and re-tried in 1976. He was convicted again. He was eventually freed through a writ of habeas corpus in 1985, at which point, the prosecutor’s office declined to try him a third time. He was NOT exonerated, and much of the evidence still suggests that he likely committed the murders. Today, even Dylan appears to acknowledge that the story is far more complicated than his politically motivated song makes it seem.
And if you wonder how such a song can be inspirational, that’s only because you haven’t watched the slo-mo part of this scene from “Dazed and Confused” enough.
Nikki Haley: As we’ve noted before, we like Nikki Haley. Additionally, we’re pretty impressed with her campaign so far. All that said, we can’t shake the feeling that she will say anything, anywhere, at any time, if she thinks it will help her cause. In particular, we can’t help but remember the time that she tried to score points against Ron DeSantis by sucking up to Disney. That left a sour taste in our mouths, not because we’re necessarily DeSantis fans but because – and this may come as a shock to some of you – we loathe Disney and its fight-picking CEO. Therefore, Ambassador Haley gets “Only a Fool Would Say That,” by Steely Dan.
And speaking of Ron DeSantis: The erstwhile frontrunner among candidates not named Donald Trump gets two possible songs, both of which speak to the perception that he’s moody and has a quick temper. The first is Waylon Jennings’ “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean,” which we think describes his demeanor on the campaign trail these days. The second not only takes into account the Governor’s potential temperament issue but also addresses the picture below. It’s Rancid’s “Time Bomb.”
Tim Scott: Ugh. Scott was probably the hardest candidate to lock down, in part because he didn’t submit his own list and in part because he doesn’t have any personality traits – good or bad – that make him stand out. He’s just a cheerful, normal guy who hopes for a better future for everyone. Seems fair, then, to give him Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s classic “Good Vibrations.”
Larry Elder: As Jeffrey Blehar notes, Elder is the only candidate who put together a solid list of his own, leaning heavily on Motown influences. We see no reason to pick anything for Elder that he didn’t pick for himself. We’ll just narrow his list down to one song: the inimitable Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Vivek Ramaswamy: As noted above, one of the songs Vivek put on his list was Jolene by Dolly Parton, which is just…kinda weird. He also includes the only classical selection on any list, Mozart’s Ronda Alla Turca. For our part, we wish he would have made his entire list classical music. We assume he didn’t want to do that because he didn’t want to play into the stereotype of the South Asian overachiever who presumes to be smarter, better educated, and culturally superior to everyone else. But here’s the thing: he IS smarter and better educated and more successful than everyone else. AND HE SHOULD LEAN INTO THAT. For decades – since the alleged “amiable dunce,” Ronald Reagan, at least – Democrats and the media have insisted that Republican candidates are half-wits who just aren’t bright enough to govern the country. Today, with an inarguable half-wit already sitting in the White House, the GOP has a candidate who is actually nothing short of brilliant, who went to the best schools, who made a fortune before he was even eligible to serve as president, and who occasionally plays piano at campaign stops. PRESS THAT ADVANTAGE!
Given that Vivek has already been unfairly accused of being anti-Israel and, by extension, anti-Semitic, Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” might be a little too provocative. Perhaps, then, he could join the current conservative fans of Hungary and its Prime Minister Viktor Orban by selecting Brahms’ rousing “Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor.” Or because he likes to talk about the American Founding and its early wars against Britain, he might be more amenable to the finale of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, (despite the fact that it was written about a much different war of 1812).
Vivek also included on his list, a song by Eminem. But he can’t have Eminem because Eminem belongs to…
Donald Trump: “Without Me,” by Eminem. “So the FCC won’t let me be, or let me be me, so let me see. They try to shut me down on MTV, but it’d be so empty without me.” Outstanding. Even the swipe Eminem takes at Dick Cheney fits Trump perfectly. Eminem would undoubtedly object, but it’s like he wrote the song for Trump.
Unlike Politico, which limited its survey to challengers – Republicans and Cornel West – we’ll give you our thoughts on theme songs for the mainstream(ish) Democrats, including the incumbents.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr: Finally, we get a Queen song, but NOT “Don’t Stope Me Now.” Rather, Kennedy gets a very Kennedy song: “Princes of the Universe,” the theme song from “Highlander.” “Here we are, born to be kings. We’re the Princes of the Universe. Here we belong, fighting to survive in a war with the darkest power.” Grandpa Joe nods in approval.
Vice President Kamala Harris: “Lump.” Not only was this song recorded by the Presidents of the United States of America, one of which Harris desperately wants to be, but it also describes her reasonably well: “Lump lingered last in line for brains, and the ones she got were sorta rotten and insane.” Also, in reference to the strategy she used to get ahead in California politics: “She spent her twenties between the sheets; life lingered on at subsonic speeds.”
President Joe Biden: While this song (like a couple of others above) may be less than “rousing,” it nevertheless fits the President perfectly: The Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket.” Because you know he HAS been. Likewise, in the park. And at the beach. And in the White House…etc.
Although he’s not officially a candidate, California Governor Gavin Newsom also gets a song. Not only is he champing at the proverbial bit to get into this race, be we also have the perfect song for him. Unfortunately, it’s the only song whose title we can’t print in this family-friendly publication. You will just have to follow the link to listen this classic by the incomparable Denis Leary (NSFW for language, naturally).
Now…back to our regularly scheduled programming…