Winning Hearts & Ears

Music in Political Campaigns

Hearts & Ears: Recent News

NRA Trace

Fiscal-Cliff (sm)

Ramy Essam

VIDEO: CBS News music for fiscal cliff special reports

In the above clip, David Letterman parodies the fight-or-flight quality of much TV news music. Below, a collection of intros and bumpers can be heard in all their epically sweeping/foreboding/blustering glory (the “NFL on Fox” theme  is thrown in for good measure):

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Follow the link here for a report on political protest music in post-Mubarak Egypt. The song “Ya Sayed Ya Masul” by indie band Salalem–its title translates to “Mr. In-Charge”–is critical of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s self-granted unlimited powers and divisive provisional constitution. A stark ballad for the most part, the band rock out briefly toward the end:

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Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the National Rifle Association cancelled a planned event with country music rapper Colt Ford.

In a 2012 publicity campaign, the NRA begun honoring a country-music-artist-of-the-month who endorses their organization (Read the “NRA Country Mission Statement” here). In the lead-off single to his latest album, “Answer To No One,” Colt Ford portrays himself as a “flag flyin’ bible totin’ son of a gun” who demands the “right to tote the weapon of [his] choice”:

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Campaign music: A history (part one)

No single development has altered the workings of American democracy in the last century so much as political consulting…Political consulting is often thought of as an offshoot of the advertising industry, but closer to the truth is that the advertising industry began as a form of political consulting. As the political scientist Stanley Kelley once explained, when modern advertising began, the big clients were just as interested in advancing a political agenda as a commercial one.

”The Lie Factory: How Politics Became A Business”                                                                            Jill Lepore, The New Yorker (2012)

The various uses of music in advertising…have played not just an important role, but a singular one, in shaping consumption patterns in the United States. More than that: music in advertising has helped make us into the consumers we are, for music’s relationship to the body and its ability to address listeners emotionally have made it a powerful tool for advertisers at least since the rise of broadcasting in the 1920s.

The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture                                    Timothy D. Taylor, University of Chicago Press (2012)

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Behold the Bermuda Triangle of American culture: First, there’s the common wisdom that advertising “corrupts” American politics. Second, musicians who sell their music to advertisers–or who pitch themselves to a designated audience in an obvious way–are labeled as “sell-outs” or worse. And third, musicians who bring an obvious political agenda to their work “sully” its entertainment value and its potential artistic merit.

In other words, when any two points within this politics/advertising/music triangle are linked, it creates no end of social anxiety and critical hand-wringing. The assumption, usually unspoken, is that these three things belong far apart and should remain isolated from one another. And when a particular instance of political music, advertising music, or political advertising is praised, it’s usually framed as an aberration, an exception to the rule.

All of this overlooks the fact that music, advertising, and politics have been closely intertwined through much of American history–as effectively demonstrated by the article and the book quoted above. You could even say they are symbiotic; broad changes in one have often worked in tandem with broad changes in the other two. In this blog post and its upcoming sequel, I’ll chart the parallel paths of music/politics/advertising through several paradigm shifts, looking at a number of representative examples.

Ballads and Broadsides: Politics As Storytelling

As yon effulgent orb of light with beaming glory sinks to rest
Veiled in a gloomy cloud of night his splendors vanish from the West
So Jefferson to shade retires but Madison like morn appears
Fresh confidence and hope inspires and light again the nation cheers
Huzzah for Madison, huzzah for Union and America.                                                                                —Anonymous, 1808 campaign song

Casting off the remnants of monarchy was a slow process in early political music. Campaign songs were not only prone to tortured constructions of the Queen’s English, but also had a tendency to treat presidential candidate like Kings. In one of the nation’s first campaign song–”Follow Washington,” a rousing sing-along borrowed from the Revolutionary War–there’s a telling disconnect between pledges of freedom and pledges of obedience even when they occur in the same stanza: “When he commands we shall obey / Through rain and snow, by night and day / Determined to be free, my lads / Determined to be free.”

Some of the earliest negative campaigning also took a distinctly Old World approach. Rather than disparaging a competitor’s political views or his character, a song like “Little Know Ye Who’s Coming” promised that Hell itself would be unleashed should the wrong candidate be chosen. In the 1824 John Quincy Adams campaign song, Andrew Jackson is portrayed as a one-man Horseman of the Apocalypse bringing with him plagues, pestilence, famine, slavery, and Ol’ Scratch (aka Old Hickory?) himself. (AUDIO

Apocalypse was averted–Adams’ three competitors split the vote and, with no one receiving a majority, the House of Representatives elected him president–even though Jackson won the popular and Electoral College votes. In an 1828 rematch, however, Jackson prevailed. Going up against the Harvard grad, successful diplomat, and son of the second president, Jackson was the first presidential candidate to be born in a log cabin and raised in poverty, an image that wouldn’t have suited past presidential candidates. But the timing was perfect for Jackson.

For one thing, the election saw the the largest jump in eligible voter turnout in US history–a record that still stands today. The 1828 election was the first where the overwhelming majority of states assigned Electoral College members by popular vote, even though voting was restricted to white land-holding men. Also, advertising was entering a transitional period–aiming products not only at the wealthy but also at the nascent mass market. Household products began to be marketed on a national level, just as party politics began to be organized more systematically on a national level with conventions replacing caucuses. As much as democracy itself, it was the birth of the mass market that catalyzed populist sentiment in the young country.

Far from the flowery language and heavy-handed sentiments of early political discourse, Jackson ran a race that tapped into the emerging mass-market orientation of ad makers, appealing directly to “the common man.” In the process he redefined American politics, political campaigning, and political song. On the other hand, just like presidents before him, John Quincy Adams viewed campaigning on one’s own behalf as undignified and thus as a political liability.

Jackson held no such misgivings, though he was careful to declare himself “not a politician” as he went about politicking–a hypocritical line many US politicians still feel the need to walk. Jackson’s campaign was also the first to throw itself, without reserve, into fundraising and merchandising (anything made of hickory was branded as a promotional item for Old Hickory). The candidate’s image was reproduced in newspaper ads and on posters; writers and speechmakers were hired to promote Jackson’s candidacy across the country.

Detractors were reportedly put off by the “howl of raging democracy” kicked up by his campaign. And, indeed, it was a loud campaign filled with parades, rallies, and songs. It was also a nasty campaign on both sides, marked by accusations of adultery, murder, and pimping. In this environment, candidates weren’t going to win with high-minded praise from other elites. Instead, they needed stories woven around them that were compelling to a mass audience–positioning them as “one of us,” extraordinary but not necessarily exceptional.

In Jackson’s campaign, ballads were the primary means of telling these stories and building an overarching narrative. With their strophic structure, simple-yet-catchy melodies, rhythmic drive, and use of common dialect, the storytelling power of the ballad is well known. Dating back to medieval minstrels and stretching across the world, ballads and their equivalents have long been used to preserve historical and mythical tales, and also to build up (or tear down) the reputation of leaders and/or their rivals.

In the 19th century, ballads were largely disseminated on broadsides–cheaply-produced, one-sheet notices that were the primary medium for advertising at the time–and their newspaper-format companion, the broadsheet. In the political realm, ballads were the precursor to television campaign ads of the 20th century. One century apart, they both deployed modern advertising techniques to political image-building–combining text with imagery and music, sometimes playing fast and loose with the facts.

Leading up to the 1828 election, campaign manager and mutton-chop sporting Martin Van Buren printed up thousands of broadsides for “The Hunters of Kentucky.” The song was a ballad written several years previous by Samuel Woodworth. Set to the tune of “The Unfortunate Miss Bailey”–a buoyant ditty about betrayal, suicide, alcoholism, and forgiving ghosts–the ballad told the heroic tale of Jackson’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans. It was famous as the final battle of the War of 1812, a battle that saved New Orleans from British occupation.

Even though the war-ending Treaty of Ghent had been ratified by the British when the fighting took place, the battle quickly entered the realm of American folklore. This was due in part to US forces being greatly outnumbered in New Orleans (giving the battle a rousing underdog angle) and also due to the image of the rag-tag polyglot fighting force–a force that included volunteer state militiamen and rural hunters carrying their own rifles.

“The Hunters of Kentucky” is basically Dirty South gangsta rap circa the 1820s: “whatever the game we join in chase, despising toil and danger.” And then there’s the constant references to gunplay: “with rifles ready cocked” we’re told it would do us good to see “Kentuckians drop ‘em.” Notably, the ballad’s lyrics highlight the danger posed to New Orleans’ in terms of its material-commercial culture, a culture stereotypically gendered as female. As a city famed for “wealth and beauty,” famed for “girls of every hue…from snowy white to sooty,” New Orleans was placed in mortal danger by the invaders who sought to “have their girls and cotton bags in spite of Old Kentucky.” Obviously, they didn’t count on a fighting force where “every man was half a horse and half an alligator.”

Speaking of product placement–”girls and cotton bags,” soldiers looking for “booty”–the ballad was unveiled as a campaign song by Noah Ludlow in his finest rural drag. A New York born-and-bred actor and theater manager who worked the Southern circuit, Ludlow appeared in front of the whopping Nola audience dressed in a buckskin hunting shirt and, according to popular legend, a coonskin cap–a fashion accessory that stood in stark contrast to the powdered wigs and knee britches worn by presidents up through James Monroe.

This populist image set a new template for campaigning–a template made up of equal parts music, advertising, and politics. It’s hardly coincidental that, as the 19th century progressed, the same media–broadsides and broadsheets–were at the heart of early mass advertising, the advent of popular music as a national phenomenon, and the onset of rabble-rousing political campaigns (printed speeches, songs, political editorials, propaganda, and so on).

Tip and Tyler: Constructing Reality Through Music

During 1840 a flood of musical compositions–waltzes and marches as well as campaign songs–inundated the land. “Some of the songs I shall never forget,” moaned a Democratic editor after it was all over. “They rang in my ears wherever I went, morning, noon and night…Men, women and children did nothing but sing. It worried, annoyed, dumbfounded, crushed the Democrats, but there was no use trying to escape. It was a ceaseless torrent of music…If a Democrat tried to speak, argue, or answer anything that was said or done, he was only saluted with a fresh deluge of music.” [William Henry] Harrison, remarked [diarist] Philip Hone, was “sung into the Presidency.”

–Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush
Paul F. Boller, Jr., Oxford Press (2004)

If the 1828 Jackson campaign made music a factor in presidential contests, it was William Henry Harrison and the Whig Party who perfected its use in the 1840 election. In an irony that must have been satisfying to Jackson’s rivals, the populist strategies developed by Martin Van Buren in Andrew Jackson’s first campaign–a strategy that translated to two terms for Jackson and one for Van Buren–were used against Van Buren when he ran for re-election. In many ways, the Harrison presidential run played out like a burlesque parody of Jackson’s campaign.

Harrison had served as a general in the War of 1812, but his role as commander in the Northwest theater wasn’t marked by any acts of notable heroism or upset victories. Also, like Jackson, Harrison was a major player in “Indian removal.” And so, his campaign seized on his victory against the Shawnee at the battle of Tippecanoe in the Indiana Territory (1811) as a major selling point. The battle was obscure and decades old–and not terribly noble or decisive–but no matter, Harrison was now the hero of Tippecanoe. He even took on “Tippecanoe” as a nickname as well as “Old Buckeye,” an obvious nod to Jackson.

The danger in this strategy was that Harrison had to rewrite his own past. He was raised on a Virginia plantation as the scion of a prominent political family, coming from a far less modest background than Van Buren himself. Music helped to remake these realities. According to his campaign songs, Harrison was “The Hero of Tippecanoe” and “The Farmer’s President” (indeed, he did live on a farm in Ohio) who promised “Two Dollars A Day and Roast Beef” to laborers. Campaign rallies drew thousands or tens-of-thousands, helping to popularize the songs.

As in Jackson’s campaign, character assassination was also a central pillar of Harrison’s strategy. Drawing on anxiety over the first economic depression in the country’s history, the Whigs painted Van Buren as an effete dandy–Sweet Sandy Whiskers they called him, and King Martin the First–mocking him for taking daily baths, extravagant dinner parties (with finger bowls so he could wash “his pretty tapering, soft, white, lily fingers”), and use of public funds to transform the White House into an “Asiatic mansion.” The latter charge was patently false, but a pamphlet titled The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace convinced many readers otherwise.

All of these impressions were brought together in the most famous, and most influential, campaign song in American history: “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” The song was inspired by a rival politician’s slander as recorded in the Baltimore Republican: “Give [Harrison] a barrel of hard cider and a pension of $2,000 a year and, my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in a log cabin.” This statement linking Harrison with laziness, poverty, and drunkenness was uttered not by Van Buren or anyone associated with his campaign, but by a supporter of Henry Clay, the Whig who challenged Harrison for the party’s nomination. Despite protestations from Van Buren’s camp, it was widely assumed that the quote came directly from either Van Buren or one of his Democratic colleagues–an assertion turned into fact with “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Below, They Might Be Giants perform their abridged rendition of the song.

The song’s lyrics were written by Alexander Ross, a jeweler from Ohio who composed the song for a local political meeting and introduced it at a Whig rally in New York while on a business trip. Musically the song  was adapted from “Little Pigs”–a lullaby combining lighthearted verses, a sing-songy melody, and Old MacDonald-style animal noises–that found its way into the new blackface minstrel shows of the era.

The lightly mocking tone of “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” was a good match for the music–by maintaining a whimsical tone, one might argue the song took the edge off the bald-faced fraudulence of the lyrics. Adding to this whimsical quality, Harrison’s supporters were encouraged to alter the song and add their own lyrics. Scores of stanzas were composed–describing every twist and turn of the presidential content in singable verse–further reinforcing the populist ideals of the campaign.

In its original version, the song begins: “Van Buren sits in his marble hall / And liveried slaves come forth at his call / The banquet is spread, the silver gleams / The dark wine flows in purple streams.” The refrain then pits Harrison–the victim of vicious hard-cider-and-log-cabin-based slander–as a man of the people, unlike the “little used up man” Van Buren. These lines are reinforced by a nursery-rhyme-like melody that bores deep into the listener’s cerebral cortex.

Let them talk about hard ci-der
Ci-der, ci-der and log cabins too
‘Twill only help to speed the ball
For Tippecanoe and Tyler, too
For Tippecanoe and Tyler, too
And with them we’ll beat little Van,
Van, Van is a used up man,
And with them we’ll beat little Van.

The only log cabin Harrison ever lived in was a sprawling number built after he married a wealthy farmer’s daughter. Nonetheless, the song caught on in a big way. Replica cabins adorned with coonskin caps become a regular feature on the campaign trail. Barrels of hard cider were also a regular feature–in contrast to Van Buren’s pompous wine-drinking ways–despite the fact that Harrison once closed his own profitable whiskey distillery because he was disturbed by its effects on his customers (he called whiskey production “a sin” and urged others to refrain from producing spirits). Nonetheless, alcohol played such a central role in his campaign that the term booze was popularized as a result–E.C. Booz was a Philadelphia distillery that sold hard cider and other liquors in bottles shaped like log cabins as a Harrison campaign tie-in.

Through Harrison’s campaign, promotional kitsch was taken to new levels with products ranging from shaving cream to replica tomahawks to giant “victory balls”–up to ten feet in diameter and covered in campaign slogans, they were rolled from one campaign rally to the next (the now-familiar phrase “keep the ball rolling” was invented to describe Harrison’s giant balls). More to the point, by running what became known as the Log Cabin and Hard Cider campaign, Harrison avoided having to address more substantive issues such as slavery and debate over a national bank.

He then went on to forever avoid these issues by dying of pneumonia one month into office (the “Tyler Too” must have seemed prescient). Harrison’s rugged image was undermined when he was taken out of commission by his own inauguration speech. Clocking in at two hours, the longest and most prolix in presidential history, the 68-year-old Harrison failed to wear a coat on the snowy late winter day and caught a cold from which he never recovered.

Harrison’s legacy, then, was his campaign, and the ways it tied together music, advertising, and politics to an unprecedented degree. Musically, the most notable development of the 1830s was the creation of blackface minstrelsy. Performing in blackface, the primary means by which white men took on the role of black men, besides the burnt cork makeup, was through song. At the same time, thanks to new printing techniques and methods of dissemination, advertising was becoming more omnipresent and, at times, more aggressive in stretching the truth. Politicians seized on both of these developments. Taken together, a shift was underway in American culture, with imagined identities and newly-constructed realities inserted into everyday life. Music, politics, and advertising were three of the main conduits for this new reality–the nascent American Dream–combining equal parts self-reinvention and upward mobility.

Playing It Safe

Critics and supporters alike described the president’s debate performance last week as “listless and passive,” “defensive,” and “arguably the lowest point in his campaign for a second term” (all quotes from the New York Socialist Times no less). Immediately after the debate, Obama’s campaign team went into damage control mode. The mediaocracy has deemed Mitt Romney “back in play” and the polls are tightening. [update 10/9: Romney has moved ahead in at least one poll.]

Well, I listened to Barack Obama’s Spotify playlist and I saw it coming. The mix is a somewhat bizarre and jumbled grab bag aimed at different sets of listeners and, one assumes, different political constituencies. More alarming, however, is the fact that the one recurring lyrical theme is a pervasive sense of resignation buoyed only by blind hope. The theme of resignation is reinforced musically across the stylistic spectrum: mild soul and retro-soul, smooth R&B, tepid indie rock, simpering country-pop (no exaggeration), a couple “play it safe” hip hop selections, a few random FM rock selections, a few Starbucks world music selections, a Ricky Martin song that’s not “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” and a version of “Sweet Home Chicago” that’s Viagra-commercial ready. In other words, it’s pretty lame.

I’ll be the first to admit this appraisal is a bit harsh. Politicians aren’t generally known for making daring musical choices. Plus the mix has some highlights (“Green Onions” anyone), the last half improves measurably on the first half, and the more left-field choices are fun, ranging from ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” to Willow’s “Whip My Hair.” There’s plenty of good artists and good songs. However, when taken together, they achieve a sort of negative synergy that makes the mix an ideal musical counterpart to Obama’s dismal performance in the first debate. It’s startling how the songs, taken as a whole sonically and lyrically, put across a “passive listless”  impression where hope is mostly of the blind variety. Just to take one example, in the lyrics to Florence and the Machine’s “You’ve Got the Love.” the narrator describes how “time after time” she thinks “Lord I just don’t care” or “Oh Lord, what’s the use?” Her only hope is a “savior” in the form of a loving and generous romantic partner or, translated to Obama’s campaign, the hope for a loving and generous electorate.

Even the Al Green selection adheres to this narrative. While the romantic entreatments of “Let’s Stay Together” makes for a great love song, it also makes for a terrible campaign slogan (“whatever you want to do is all right with me” indeed). What’s more, context is everything. On Obama’s playlist the Al Green classic is sandwiched by the two most gag-reflex-testing songs on the playlist: Sugarland’s “Stand Up” and Darius Rucker’s “This.” The latter is a song that literally pays tribute to mediocrity and failure—set against a country-lite backdrop that itself screams mediocrity—reassuring a romantic partner with the lines, “Thank God for all I missed / ’cause it led me here to this.” But how reassuring is it to know you’re only with your partner because  he was rejected by his high school crush and wasn’t accepted to the college of his choice?

Even worse, Sugarland’s “Stand Up” made me want to stand up and throw my personal listening device against the wall. This visceral reaction was provoked even before I tuned into the lyrics about “all the lonely people crying” whose “hope has turned to dust” that just need to “stand up and use [their] voice.” The song is so smarmy, slick, and self-satisfied that it defies description. Thanks, Sugarland, for making me want to punch the nearest stranger in the face.

Let’s go back to the beginning and see where things went wrong. Obama’s playlist opens with Raphael Saadiq’s “Keep Marchin’.” Musically, the song is a mashup of the Temptations and the Impressions with a guitar melody that strongly echoes “My Girl.” Lyrically, it evokes the latter’s “Keep On Pushing,” a song that also appears on Obama’s mix. It’s a fine enough song, but heard in the context of the upcoming election it’s remarkably laid back musically, and reactive lyrically, especially as a lead-off track.

In the intro, the sunny, Motown-style arrangement seems to anticipate an upbeat love song. But instead, Saadiq opens with the lines: “When there’s nothing you can do / when there’s nothing you can say / ‘cause everything just ain’t gonna go your way / when you’re feelin’ kinda strange and you wanna lay it down,” followed later by imagery of a rich girl crying and a clown with no make-up (your guess is as good as mine). The context for the songs Saadiq pays homages to here is the Civil Rights movement, but in his song it’s uncertain what the context is supposed to be. In an interview, the co-founder explains that the song “reminds me I’ve been marching up this ladder a long, time time,” by which he apparently means his career ladder.

In the scenario laid out in the song, the only solution is to keep marching on because, well, what the heck else are you going to do. Again, this is the first song on Obama’s mix–its lyrics advocate soldiering on to an uncertain destination, while its music suggests passive acceptance of the bad situation described in the lyrics. This all makes perfect sense in light of four years of “obstructionist, party-first politics” by the Republicans, and four years of concessions and compromises by the president (or maybe Obama was a centrist Republican all along) but it’s an ambivalent message at best for voters.

Lest one think that Obama (or whoever assembled the mix) picked “Keep Marchin’” for its swingin’ retro-soul vibe, the next two songs hammer away at the same theme: lone individuals resisting fate and hoping to catch a lucky break (or to march heedlessly into the void, take your pick). The Springsteen-esque second track by Noah and the Whale tells the story of a boy saying goodbye to his hopeless one-horse town. Apparently it’s one heck of a depressing place, a place where “circles of street lights are the only signal that there’s people out there in the black.” But just like on the opening track, musically, we’re in pleasantly uplifting major-key territory. The chorus can only offer a cautious reassurance, “tonight’s the kind of night where everything could change,” complete with mildly exultant female backup singers.

Next up we have an even more Springsteen-esque track by Mr. Springsteen himself: “We Take Care of Our Own.” Despite his status as The Boss, he begins the song with a lament of powerlessness: “I’ve been knockin’ on the door that holds the throne / I’ve been lookin’ for the map that leads me home.” The emperor has no clothes, or at least no good friends, as he continues: “I’ve been stumblin’ on good hearts turned to stone / the road of good intentions has gone dry as a bone.” This theme of abandonment and dashed hopes continues: “We yelled ‘help’ but the cavalry stayed home / there ain’t no one hearing the bugle blowin’.” Hope and change? More like despair and stagnation. Lyrically, WTCOOO is nothing less than a scathing indictment of American apathy and selfishness, topped off by a thin veneer of uplift. (even the uplift is ambivalent—is it really that noble to take care of your own?) The song is like “Born in the U.S.A.” part two: big booming drums, heroic fanfare melodic hook, despairing verses describing a kind of No Exit societal nightmare, and a rallying-cry chorus with vaguely patriotic overtones. And just like “Born in the U.S.A.,” it’s been widely misinterpreted and awkwardly shoehorned into a political campaign.

By three songs in I’m starting to think: Is the president trying to tell us something here? The fourth song, “Keep Me In Mind” by the Zac Brown Band, revolves around the idea that “the world is real tough” and so, not to be too forward about it, but “if there’s no one else to love / keep me in mind.” Next, Aretha Franklin covers “The Weight” by the Band. It’s a classic song and classic performance, but it’s also a song about “the impossibility of sainthood” (according to songwriter Robbie Robertson himself) and thus continues to feed the Resignation Narrative. The two songs capture Obama’s tightrope act of the last four years–expected to move heaven and earth by much of the electorate, instead he’s been forced to lower expectations among his staunchest supporters and to find consensus with openly hostile foes whose only mission is to bring him down. In other words, he’s had to dumb it down for both sides.

In the war of the Spotify playlists, Obama manages to dumb it down more than his opponent Mitt Romney (I’m grading on a curve because, really, who expected Romney to have good taste in music). Despite some strong selections, the two songs each by Darius Rucker and Sugarland clinch the victory for the sitting president. Romney’s playlist may be pandering and hypocritical, but it hangs together better and possesses (arguably) less cringe-worth moments. Likewise, Romney’s performance at the debate may have been pandering and hypocritical, but he still managed to come away perceived as the victor. As a modest recommendation, I would advise President Obama to come up with a new mix of songs to inspire him before the next debate.

Mitt’s Mix

M

On March 9th, following Obama’s lead, Mitt Romney shared an mp3 playlist on the music-streaming service Spotify. Titled “On the Road,” Romney explained via Twitter that “spending a lot of time on the road means you have to carry good music.” And in the spirit of share and share alike, he generously offered up “some of [his] favorites.”

On May 17th, at a $50,000-a-plate dinner in Boca Raton, Florida, Mitt Romney opined that 47% of Americans are “dependent” and “believe that they are victims.” Since these Americans “believe that they’re entitled” to a certain level of care and convenience, he could “never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Given their parasitic non-income-tax-paying ways, he concludes that his “job is not to worry about those people.”

Interestingly, however, “those people” dominate Romney’s Spotify playlist. The tone is set from the very first song, a Dick Burnett cover made famous again by its inclusion in O Brother, Where Art Thou. In the song, the poverty-stricken Kentucky protagonist laments that he’s “a man of constant sorrow” with “no friends to help me now.” Instead of coming up with a responsible plan to improve his lot in life, he resolves only to “ride that northern railroad” until, perhaps, he “die[s] upon the train.” It’s easy to see why Mitt Romney would write off these whiny loser types.

Many of the songs carry on in this fashion. In fact, Mitt Romney’s Spotify playlist is a cavalcade of victimhood, weakness, pain, and dependence, with the occasional detours into hopeful-but-still-not-very-constructive romanticism and blind faith. On Clint Black’s Eagles cover, as elsewhere, the “desperados” in Romney’s musical universe are full of “pain and hunger.” Freedom is merely a bromide, “some people talking,” when in reality their “prison is walking through this world all alone.” Could it be that this playlist was put together before Romney gave up on “the 47%”? Or does he experience a certain schadenfrude in these tales of the common people?

Take track 13 for instance, “As Good As I Once Was” by Toby Keith. In the song, Keith weaves a semi-comic tale of an aging everyman who admits, “I ain’t as good as I once was.” No longer able to partake in biker bar brawls or twin-on-twin ménage à trois sessions, Keith looks back to “a time back in my prime when I could really lay it down” and offers the consolation that “I’m as good once as I ever was” (in the music video, even getting it up once requires Viagra, and only a spilled beer motivates him to help out a friend in a fight).

The song, a #1 country music hit, courts an audience that can identify with fading potential and the embarrassment of failure—trials almost anyone can identify with at one time or another. But this is precisely why it’s surprising to find it on Romney’s playlist—a song that sympathizes with the very people he shuns and which at the same time plays uncomfortably into the “America in decline” narrative that Republicans alternatively love and loathe. From a candidate with a firm belief in American exceptionalism and who criticizes the “weakness” projected by Obama’s foreign policy, you wouldn’t expect a song about Americans who shy away from no-strings sex and fighting (well, maybe the former). But there it is on the playlist.

In another surprising choice, the Kingston Trio’s 1959 cover of “The M.T.A. (The Boston Subway Song)” is chosen as the sixth track. Originally written as a campaign song for a Progressive Party mayoral candidate in 1949—Walter O’Brien’s campaign was so short on funds that he commissioned songs instead of buying radio time; O’Brien drove around Boston playing his songs over a loudspeaker but still came in last—the Kingston Trio version changes the candidate’s first name in an attempt to depoliticize the song (as a popular “folk” music group they were regularly criticized by folk purists for not toeing the Leftist line). Still, even in their version, it’s clear that the song is satirizing a bureaucratic system that treats its citizenry as nothing more than a source of tax revenue.

The lyrics describe a man named Charlie who gets on a train without the money required to exit—due to fare hikes and primitive turnstile technology, a surcharge was collected when leaving the subway—and thus he is doomed to “ride forever ‘neath the street of Boston” surviving on the sandwiches his wife hands him through an open window every day at lunchtime. Perhaps Romney interprets this song less as satire and more as a serious warning that’s tied to his home state no less; moochers may be let onto the train but they won’t be let off.

Kid Rock constructs a similar narrative on “Born Free,” the song most closely associated with the Romney campaign. Against a rousing country-rock arrangement, Mr. Rock describes being “on a rough road riding…wandering out into this great unknown.” Winding through mountains and canyons, “tired, frail, and aching / waiting patiently for the sun to set,” it’s uncertain if he’ll ever reach his destination. But either way he “doesn’t want anyone to cry / but tell ‘em if I don’t survive / I was born free.” This is the one song on the mix that’s at the ideological heart of the Romney campaign—a multi-millionaire celebrating the hard times and risky situations he’ll have to surmount to “make it.”

Another song in the grittily resilient category is the Killers’ “Read My Mind.” Over a U2-style soaring arrangement, Brandon Flowers assures us he “never gave up on breakin’ out of this two-star town” and that he’s still “got a little fight” to “turn this thing around.” The song is addressed to a significant other who, apparently frustrated by the singer’s lack of success (“you say I’m falling behind”), may still be able to “read [his] mind” and come to his rescue. At the end of the song he begs, or perhaps demands, “Woman, open the door,” and luckily, “she says I don’t mind…’cause I don’t shine if you don’t shine” (the woman makes for a good Ann Romney stand-in, playing the typical supportive role of a political spouse).

Which, finally, brings us to love. Romney’s 19 musical selections include more love songs than songs on any other subject. No big surprise, love songs are commonplace. But what’s more surprising is the hyper-emotional self-dramatizing tone of some of the selections (Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” and “Crying,” Del Shannon’s “Runaway”, and even the Killers’ “Somebody Told Me”) and the treacly, sad-sack quality of many of the others (the Commodores’ “Only You,” Tim McGraw’s “It’s Your Love,” Keith Urban’s “Somebody Like You,” and even Nat King Cole’s version of “Stardust”). Only two of the chosen love songs bring any sense of giddy freedom to the equation: the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” by the Four Seasons. Taken together, the love songs convey a vulnerability and neediness that seemingly isn’t in keeping with Romney’s image or his anti-handouts party line.

Love itself is alternately portrayed as a form of dependence, victimhood, or fantasy escape—in other words, it is the enemy of personal responsibility. The men in Romney’s songs “couldn’t walk a straight line even if [they] wanted to” without their lovers. Yet love is a scary “ring of fire” that sucks them in with its “hypnotizing, mesmerizing” qualities. Or it’s the “stardust of yesterday,” to be found somewhere “over the rainbow.” The one song on Romney’s list sung by a female artist, “All-American Girl” by Carrie Underwood, describes a father-to-be who, hoping for a male child with whom to share his football fixation, instead has a daughter who first beguiles him and later holds sway over him: “And now he’s wrapped around her finger / she’s the center of his whole world.” At sixteen his daughter hooks up with the star of the high school football team, leading him to abandon a sure college scholarship and start a family with her instead, fathering a daughter and repeating the whole cycle over again.

“All-American Girl” is an interesting musical choice for a man with five sons, but it’s consistent with the idealized attitude taken toward dependence and, to a certain extent, victimhood, heard throughout Romney’s Spotify mix. What most of the songs don’t do, however, in lyrical terms, is to demand better. Instead, like the Chinese workers Romney talked up to his rich donors, they are either grateful or resigned.

Music on the 9/11 anniversary

“Nearly every ceremony will be smaller this year, even at the epicenter of the attacks…Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has stripped the New York ceremony of its presidents, governors and other politicians, who have in the past read literary or religious passages. Instead of Yo-Yo Ma, James Taylor and Paul Simon, bagpipers and a youth chorus will provide the music.” (New York Times)

The World Trade Center memorial service is streaming here.

Dirt Off His Shoulder: President Obama and Hip Hop

     

In 2008, Barack Obama garnered overwhelming support from hip hop artists and many of their fans. A fixture in song lyrics, on magazine covers, and in hip hop blogs leading up the election, Obama was actively supported by top stars like Jay-Z, Nas, Young Jeezy, Lil Wayne, and Ludacris. As a candidate, he even busted out Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” move in response to Hillary Clinton’s attacks in the 2008 primaries. With the highest turnout by young people in over 30 years, Obama was able to win the election.

But soon after came criticism of Young Jeezy’s “My President Is Black,” Jeezy and Jay-Z’s statements at an inauguration concert, “gangsta rap” on the president’s iPod, Common’s “controversial” invitation to the White House, and the jujitsu of Don Imus blaming rappers for his “nappy-headed hos” comment. In each case, President Obama seemed to do his best to remain above the fray.

Now it’s 2012 and Young Jeezy feels “a little played,” Sean Combs has called for the president to “do better,” and Jay-Z has called criticism of Obama “fair.” On Killer Mike’s “Reagan”—the most discussed track on the critically-lauded R.A.P. Music—Obama is lumped in with past presidents as “just another taking head telling lies on teleprompters.” (there is perhaps no lower blow in hip hop than being compared to Ronald Reagan)

Enter damage control. On Monday morning, President Obama was interviewed by Obie and Lil Shawn on Orlando hip hop radio station Power 95.3. Asked about Nicki Minaj’s recent Romney-endorsing verse—“I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney / You lazy bitches is fuckin’ up the economy”—Obama deftly noted that “she likes to play different characters,” an interpretation that was verified by Minaj herself later in the day on her Twitter account.

Political campaigning, of course, has a lot to do with “playing different characters.” Having shored up his base in North Carolina and gained a bounce in the polls, Obama is now off to the swing states. Instead of kissing babies or praising the height of trees, he spent the day giving commentary on a Lil Wayne remix and letting a pizza store owner hoist him in the air. Perhaps more than any candidate up to this point, Obama seems to grasp the contours the 21st-century political campaign—combining CNN-ready big statements with smaller “personal” appeals and idiosyncratic moments custom made for the viral-videosphere (and for fundraising emails).

Likewise, the Musical Obama is being constructed through fine-grained analytics. While the DNC featured zero rap music at the convention—the parts of the convention broadcast on the networks and the news cable outlets—rap artists including the Roots, Will.i.am, Common, Far East Movement, and Flo Rida performed at untelevised parties before and after the convention’s official business. Probably no one expected rap music at the DNC, but given the support he’s received from the hip hop community, and his own interest in at least some rap music, it’s remarkable that Obama’s highly-publicized Spotify playlist didn’t include a single hip hop track. Apparently, the president has learned from the Fox-inflamed media firestorms that were set off every time he reached out to hip hop in the past, as well as the wider appeal of the Prez N The Hood narrative (the video below has over 8 million views and counting).

Still, Obama did go on the Florida radio show, and he recently made an appearance at Jay-Z’s Made In America festival in Philadelphia. As seen in the clip below, the first night’s headline set began with a taped intro by the president singing the praises of Jay-Hova (“a truly great artist…who is constantly on my iPod”).

Whether appearing on a radio show or a videotaped intro for a Jay-Z concert, President Obama is keeping it in the family—narrowcasting rather than broadcasting his links to rap music and hip hop culture. Much like the mixtapes at the epicenter of 21st-century hip hop, Obama is reaching out to the Hip Hop Generation through word-of-mouth networks and social media while remaining largely under the radar of the mainstream media. This has the dual advantage of lending the prez a bit of “underground” cred and avoiding haters everywhere.

Liveblogging the DNC 9/4/12: Who Stole the Soul?

SKIP TO THE END OF THIS ENTRY FOR THE LIVEBLOG

But first, I’ll explore the following thesis: In the Democratic and Republican Conventions, the fight for the “soul” of the nation is also a fight for the soul music of the nation.

The Republicans have a lot to say about soul lately. According to Mitt Romney, the 2012 election is nothing less than an “election for the soul of America.” In the days leading up to the RNC meeting in Tampa, Senator Paul Rand declared “a war…for the heart and soul of America—a war between those who believe in the American Dream and those who cannot grasp what makes America great,” while Rick Santorum accused the President of “assault[ing] the very soul of America.” Earlier this year, billionaire hedge-fund manager John Paulson solicited checks for Romney 2012 at a townhouse meeting of the super-wealthy with a call to “[fight] for the soul of our country.” And late last year, Rick Perry’s wife defended her gaffe-prone husband by pointing out the stress he must be under “fighting for the soul of our country.”

In 2008, Barack Obama won the popular vote by framing the election in similarly “soulful” terms. His best-selling book The Audacity of Hope: Reclaiming the American Dream was nothing less than a manifesto on the heart and soul of America. And in his 2008 acceptance speech, Obama criticized the Bush administration for assaulting the very soul of the country: “America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.” Even if Obama studiously avoids using the word soul in speeches, the implication was clear (use of the word itself may have brought accusations of playing the “race card”; plus, why bother when Obama could prove his soul credentials with a more-than-passable Al Green impersonation).

If the plight of the American soul is a political football in 2012, the conventions have made it clear that American soul music—broadly defined—is one terrain where this battle will be fought.

At the RNC, the live band led by GE Smith was relentless with their selections of classic soul, R&B, and funk (see “Liveblogging the RNC”). Likewise, the short musical snippets played before featured speakers on the first day of the DNC were dominated by soul, R&B, and funk; albeit in cover-band versions that finessed copyright concerns. Even when a song like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” made it into the mix, it was combined with a hip hop breakbeat that lent a funky edge to the pop-soft rock staple. And the snippets themselves were the hooks of songs minus any vocals, rhythm-heavy hooks worthy of a dance music DJ or rap/R&B producer (rap music proper was notably absent, even if the sample-worthy selections and overall hip hop aesthetic should have been clear to clued-in listeners).

Put simply, the DNC brought the funk. As one Hip-To-Be-Square politician after another walked on stage and up to the podium, it was hard not to wonder: “Is this supposed to be Starsky or Hutch? And will they give us policy wonk talking points or Huggy Bear jive talking?”

For Democrats and Republicans alike, soul music is the music of choice in 2012. But why? Maybe because soul music is music of Hope and Change. It is music of uplift and (very often) music of protest at the same time, whether implicitly or explicitly. Soul music is one link in a long African-American tradition. Blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, soul, funk, disco, hip hop—despite their many differences, these musical genres are to a certain extent rooted in the interplay between untold  suffering and ecstatic release (whatever the balance between the two poles may be, and whether the release is fantasized or real).

The most memorable soul music achieves an artful balance between suffering and release, between protest and uplift, that appears to be the envy of many a political candidate. These candidates very often attempt to strike a similar balance between desperation and optimism—that is, between the desperation of the present political climate (not to mention the fearful consequences of what will happen if they are not elected) and the optimism of their chosen message and political ideals. In this sense, soul music provides an ideal political soundtrack.

In the context of the Obama 2008 campaign, soul music from the Civil Rights era and the immediate post-Civil Rights era had obvious Hope And Change overtones. The Obama campaign drew on soul music to reflect both the progressivism of their political agenda and the pride many Americans felt in electing an African-American candidate. Along with this yin of “Hope” came the yang of “Change”–seeking release from the many ordeals of the previous administration starting with the 9/11 attacks and ending with the catastrophic economic crash, with the endless Iraq War sandwiched in between.

Now, in 2012, it’s the Republicans’ turn to present themselves as scrappy outsiders seeking to “take the country back” from the Political Establishment who failed the people, but in a peaceful and positive way inspired by religious idealism. Enter, once again, soul music. The appropriation of Obama’s soundtrack –and Obama’s own use of the same soundtrack in a very different political context–has turned the 2012 campaign into not only a fight the soul of the American people, but also for the soul of soul music itself.

*****

LIVE FROM THE TIME WARNER CABLE ARENA IN CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA

6:13 PM  Intro to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for Gov. Bev Perdue (North Carolina)

6:23  The Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It” for Ryan Case, a young campaign worker and student at the University of Colorado

6:25  The Four Seasons “December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)” used to introduce Mary Kay Henry, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President

6:43  Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” serves as walk-on music for Gov. Pat Quinn (Illinois)

6:55  Madonna’s “Holiday” soundtracks Tim Kaine, former governor of Virginia

7:03  “ABC” by the Jackson 5 used for Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina

7:17  “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan is the intro music for a tribute to female members of the House of Representatives. At first, I’m fooled into thinking that Nancy Pelosi is starring in a remake of Foxy Brown. The outro music is the Eurythmics’ “Woman Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”

7:37  Extremely funky intro music is used for Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary, a Hispanic Colorado senator wearing a cowboy hat.

7:45  “Respect” by Otis Redding–a song Aretha Franklin changed from a plea to a demand–plays as Joseph Kennedy III walks onstage waving stiffly.

7:55  Gospel-soul artist Ledisi tears it up on her song “Raise Up.” Earlier in the day she gave Fox & Friends’ Megyn Kelly fits.

8:00  A repeat of “Can You Feel It” plays during a short recess. On C-SPAN, it’s accompanied by  shots of Joe Biden hobnobbing in one of the arena’s private balconies.

8:02  The sports stadium staple “Rock and Roll, Part Two” by Gary Glitter precedes Robert Wexler’s speech on US-Israel relations.

8:07  A frantic, funky horn intro. introduces R.T. Rybak, mayor of Minneapolis. I couldn’t identify this number except to say (much to my disappointment) it wasn’t anything by Prince.

8:16  Back to Sly & the Family Stone and “Thank you falettinme be mice elf again.” Jared Polis (Colorado) speaks about being an openly gay Representative. “We represent Americans of all backgrounds and belief…out of many, we are one.”

8:24  A song I’m somewhat glad I can’t name by Maroon 5 serves as walk-on music for Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

8:46  Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” precedes Lincoln Chafee, independent from Rhode Island who’s obviously keeping it real.

9:05  “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder introduces Ted Strickland. He gives what might be the snarky quote of the night: “If Mitt was Santa Claus, he’d fire the reindeer and outsource the elves.”

9:09   Dire Straits “Walk of Life” used for Kathleen Sebelius, Health & Human Services Secretary.

9:16  Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” used for Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff (2009-2010)

9:26  A game-show worthy intro-snippet of Sister Sledge “We Are Family” introduces Kal Penn, actor and one-time associate director of the White House office of public engagement. Obama just locked down the disco stoner wedding crasher vote.

9:32  Prince’s “1999” appears about an hour and a half too late. Maya Seotoro, Obama’s half sister, and Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother don’t talk about the sky turning purple and people running everywhere.

9:40  “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves” by Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics serves as intro music for Lilly Ledbetter, Alabamian women’s equality and fair pay activist.

9:58  KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” used for Martin O’Malley, governor of Maryland, who seems to have left his boogie shoes at home. He teaches conventioneers a new dance step with his catch phrase: “Forward, not back.”

10:07  Opening beat of “Brokenhearted” by cutesy rap-music covering boy-girl duo Karmin used as walk on music Joaquin Castro, brother of San Antonio mayor Julian Castro.

10:08  Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling” is the very disappointing choice for Julian Castro. Then again, this song is disappointing in any context.

10:39  “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” one of Barack Obama’s primary campaign songs from 2008, serves as walk-on music for Michelle Obama. Or make that Signed, Sealed, and Almost Delivered, given her statement that “change is slow, and change is hard, and never happens all at once.”

11:04  Beyonce featuring Swizz Beats “Move Your Body” follows the speech, a song commissioned for Michelle Obama’s physical fitness initiative.

11:12  Post-convention celebration music includes snippets of Stevie Wonder “Sir Duke,” Martha and the Vandellas “Dancing in the Streets, and once again, the Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It.” The latter can now be declared the (unofficial) song of the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Atlas Shredded: Rush, Rand Paul, and Ayn Rand

Rand Paul–son of Ron Paul, author of The Tea Party Goes to Washingtonand freshman senator from Kentucky–likes the band Rush. Or maybe he’d describe it more as love, using their music to rev up campaign rallies and quoting their lyrics in speeches. But alas the band hasn’t returned his affections. In fact they’ve been downright withholding, demanding he stop using their music in his 2010 senatorial campaign, and calling their lawyers into the (moving) picture.

Libertarians, however, don’t take kindly to such regulatory action:

“Tom Sawyer” (1981, Moving Pictures) is arguably Rush’s most iconic song. With its fanfare power chords, shifting time signatures, and look-I-can-play-the-synthesizer-with-my-feet virtuosity, it’s a prog rock and AOR and D&D session staple. Delivered in Geddy Lee’s mountain-scaling tenor, the heroism implied by the music is made explicit in the lyrics. Penned by drummer Neil Peart and Canadian poet Pye Dubois, they describe a “modern day warrior” whose “mind is not for rent / to any god or government.”

Enter Ayn Rand. In light of this lyrical pronouncement–and in light of Rush’s seven-part opus, 2112 (1976), which includes a credit to “the genius of Ayn Rand” in the liner notes–some listeners took “Tom Sawyer” itself to be an Objectivist mini-manifesto. And then in Fall 2002, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies took the discussion to the scholarly realm with a long, heavily-footnoted piece on the overlap of Rush, Ayn Rand, and progressive rock (which itself inspired an academic symposium and a number of published rejoinders).

Libertarians, of course, love them some Ayn Rand. And so does a growing proportion of the Republican Party. Over the past generation, the party has increasingly come under the sway of the Russian intellectual and “dorm-room doyenne,” this according to a growing consensus of critics and boosters alike.

Enter Randal Paul, “Rand” for short. In his speech last night, Rand Paul went into John Galt soliloquy-mode with some of his pronouncements: “The great and abiding lesson of American history…is that the engine of capitalism, the individual, is mightier than any collective,” and, “It’s hard to see a boat full of people like that and not get a lump somewhere between chin and belly button” (bizarre phraseology isn’t unknown in the Ayn Rand oeuvre).

Ergo, Rand Paul digs Rush, Rush digs Ayn Rand, and Rand is guru of the Tea Party and Rand Paul. And so with that the Rush-Rand-Paul troika is complete; the only “friction of the day” being Rush’s copyright concerns, and Neil Peart’s recent renouncement of Objectivism.

Liveblogging the RNC: Tue 8/28/12

CN1:19 PM: The Oak Ridge Boys speak with the Wall Street Journal during their RNC Lunch Break. They will perform “Amazing Grace” tonight. They also performed the National Anthem on Fox & Friends this morning.

3:05 PM: “Eye of the Tiger” used as intro for speech by Andy Barr (US House Candidate, Kentucky). His speech focuses on Obama’s “War on Coal”. Why not Devo? Maybe because of this?

3:58 PM: GE Smith and the Boys play a bluesy version of the Beatles’ “Eight Days of the Week” How do Republicans feel about lovemaking that bends the laws of time?

4:02 PM: GE Smith and the Boys beg the delegates to beg Romney to accept the nomination by playing a somewhat tepid version of “I Want You To Want Me.” The horns do add something, though.

4:07 PM: The band covers Delbert McClinton’s “Standing on Shaky Ground.” A good choice for spotlighting the “harder times I haven’t seen in years…ever since you [Obama, duh] put me down.” Nice guitar and Hammond organ breakdown.

4:12PM: GE Smith’s mic goes out. C-Span compensates with lots of shots of RNC delegates shaking their stuff. Oh, the humanity!

4:13 PM: Chairman Priebus takes the stage. If this isn’t the name of a new math rock group it should be.

4:45 PM: Just returned from a food break to find GE Smith and band performing James Brown’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.” Tampa gets funky.

4:48 PM: The funkiness continues with “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.”

4:52 PM: GE Smith calls out “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” On-mic discussion ensues over who’s going to sing, followed by the reassurance “We’ll get it!” Not so reassuring, but it’s nice to see how loose and on point the band is. Maybe the idea is to get Romney loosened up as well.

4:54 PM: Boehner should sing a number. He’s got a fascinating voice–sort of Tom Brokaw meets Scott Stapp with a hint of Elmer Fudd. And he can bring the emotion!

6:10 PM: Romney is now the official Republican nominee. The band plays “Shout.” The Isley Brothers, not Tears For Fears.

6:21 PM: GE Smith and the Boys groove on “634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.).” It’s hard not to notice the wide gap between musical demographics and delegate demographics. Still, good song selection so far–largely free of obvious pandering and hammer-you-over-the-head “message songs.” Overall, the band is bringing more of a high school class reunion vibe.

7:05 PM: More classic soul with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.”

7:21 PM: Chairman Priebus walk-on music: “We Will Rock You” (on record, not live). Now we’re getting more obvious. They should have at least gone with a Jessie J vocal.

7:31 PM: Neil Boyd from America’s Got Talent is taking the stage to oversing some Lee Greenwood. This is starting to go down hill fast. Nice hat, though.

7:36 PM: Band launches into instrumental version of “I Want You To Want Me.” This is shaping up to be the 2012 RNC Theme Song. It’s a surprisingly frank choice. Nice.

7:38 PM: Before her speech, a video is screened on the life of Mia Love–the first black female mayor in Utah (Saratoga Springs) who is now running for Congress. She brags that as a child her parents told her that “you will not be a burden to society.” This background music sounds familiar but I can’t place it. The last line of her speech: “We are the last best hope on Earth.” This line really needed a musical sting.

7:45 PM: For those remaining Northern Exposure fans out there, former series star and “Christoga” creator (look it up) Janine Turner takes the stage to a brief bit of country music–finally! She like to go “woo-hoo!” a lot but seems unlikely to flash the devil horns.

7:52 PM: Now we’re on the C&W tip. Country music singer-songwriter Lane Turner sings a song about how he worked for and built everything he owns “with my own two working hands…with no help from Uncle Sam.” Anarchy now!

8:04 PM: The Oak Ridge Boys! In their intro they claim “there is an element [in this country] trying to push God out of our lives.” But from the look of things God is a member of the Oak Ridge Boys (second from the right, wearing shades). They sound amazing on “Amazing Grace.”

8:23 PM: Utah governor RE enters to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and even references the song in the first line of his speech. There’s nothing I can say here about the Black Eyed Peas that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog hasn’t said already.

9:04 PM: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back Lane Turner!” He’s performing a song called “(The Constitution’s On Our Side If We Keep Believin’ In) Blood, Sweat and Freedom.” I love songs with long parenthetical phrases in the title, even when I add them myself.

9:19 PM: No entrance music for Rick Santorum. He should have gone with Megadeth.

9:47 PM: Former Alabama Rep. Artur Davis admits DNC ads have convinced him that Romney can’t sing, then draws a distinction between singing and leading, and criticizes Obama for acting cool. Interesting how lack of musical ability is equated with authenticity whereas skill, soul, or whatever you want to call it is treated with suspicion. This appears to be the party line.

10:32 PM: “My Girl” plays as Mitt comes out to greet his wife after her speech. Thanks to Ann Romney the Temptations’ song tally moves up to two for the day.

10:37 PM: In his speech Chris Christie recalls listening to Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town while hanging at the Jersey Shore in his youth. The New Jersey governor reportedly has quite the mancrush on The Boss.