November 2, 2004
|MAUREEN FARRELL ARCHIVES|
Songs to Dump Dubya By -- The 2004 Election Soundtrack
by Maureen Farrell
The next few hours will determine the course of the next few decades. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, by now you understand that this election promises to be the most dramatic in our lifetimes. (Perhaps even "Jaws music" dramatic if enough lawyers descend). But even before polls open one thing is certain: While campaigns have always relied on theme songs, this election, unlike any in the past 36 years, will have its own soundtrack.
"For better or worse, Bush has stirred up a lot of vitriol in the music community. There [have] always been protest songs against presidents, but they have never been near to the level of venom you’re seeing now," Entertainment Weekly music critic David Browne told the Sunday Herald, months before Eminem weighed in with his latest diatribe.
The President’s 2000 broken vow of "uniting, not diving" notwithstanding, in the past year, there have been two compilations of "Rock Against Bush"; a collection of songs from Fahrenheit 911; a politically charged "Future Soundtrack for America"; and even a compilation of "Songs to Vote By."
Bob Dylan’s "Masters of War" "Chimes of Freedom" and "With God on Our Side" have been resurrected while Country Joe and the Fish’s "Fixin to Die Rag" has also undergone a variety of incarnations. And in some cases, artists have taken their own old songs and applied them to new situations.
While Bush supporters have Toby Keith, Britney Spears and Alice Cooper on their side, the world’s poets (who have historically been the voice of conscience), have overwhelmingly spoken out against this particular President.
For your consideration, here is a list of songs about (or pertaining to) George W. Bush and his policies:
People Have the Power
I awakened to the cry
While this song is powerful in of and of itself, when sung by Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, Michael Stipe, John Mellencamp, John Fogerty, Patty Scialfa, Steve Van Zandt, Nils Lofgren, Jurassic Five, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Bonnie Raitt and the Dixie Chicks, the results are downright magical.
(To watch this extraordinary clip from the Vote for Change tour, click here.)
Bush Must Be Defeated
Bush must be defeated
Bush must be defeated
In this peppy number, singer-songwriter-poet Dan Bern takes on a serious subject -- saving the nation. As one reviewer put it: "with November 2nd nudging closer by the day, of late Bern has moved from an off-beat poet to a symbol of the modern Anti-Bush movement."
(To hear the contagious "Bush must be Defeated" click here and scroll down to the second box to song #7.)
Day After Tomorrow
You can't deny, the other side
Though not overtly about G.W. Bush or Iraq, Tom Waits’ "Day After Tomorrow" puts listeners squarely in the shoes of an American solider while humanizing "the other side." Mr. Waits’ soul-searing poetry wrenches the heart without hitting you over the head. Though the music itself is haunting, and Waits’ familiar rasp is as soothing as old friend, Waits’ lyrics, once again, make him America’s unofficial poet laureate.
As Slate put it: "Surprisingly, the year's best antiwar number is delivered by Tom Waits, who's usually too busy following his muse into musical wilds to bother with current events. 'Day After Tomorrow,' a ballad in Waits' three-hankie style, tells the story of a 21-year-old soldier pining for home; it might have been written about any war, in any historical period. 'Day After Tomorrow' has a spare, ambling guitar-bass-and-voice arrangement and just a few chord changes, and it's packed with poetic details that ring true. 'What I miss you won't believe,' Waits croaks, 'Shoveling snow and raking leaves.'"
(To hear "Day after Tomorrow" in its entirety, click here and scroll down to the second box to song #3.)
I Am a Patriot
I was walking with my brother
I am a patriot and I love my country
Remember when anyone who questioned the President or the rationale for the war in Iraq was considered unpatriotic? Apparently, Steve Van Zandt does, too. Have a listen.
Hey you're so like swine
money is clean if you scrub it good
If you don’t see the Bush administration and their assorted cronies in these words, you’ve not been paying attention. This song, which the Dave Matthews Band performed during the recent Vote for Change concert, has yet to be released, but in the meantime, here’s a brief but valuable message from Dave Matthews: "A vote for change is a vote for a stronger, safer, healthier America. A vote for Bush is a vote for a divided, unstable, paranoid America. It is our duty to this beautiful land to let our voices be heard."
Imagine it pouring, it's raining down on us,
In sharp contrast to Tom Waits’ quieter form of desperation or Dan Bern’s catchy mantra, Eminem has produced an in-your-face, controversial rally cry to oust Bush from office. This hard-hitting song (with its even harder hitting video) has reverberated across the Internet and has been featured on prime-time TV. Longtime nemesis Moby, fueled by a similar disdain for George W. Bush, put it bluntly: "You know that Eminem and I have had our differences in the past. But this video is the best thing that I’ve seen all year. It’s an amazing song and an even more amazing video. Please go watch."
(To watch the video, click here. )
(All Over Again)
Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
John Fogerty’s "Fortunate Son," was a staple during the Vietnam era, and it’s been dusted off to protest the war in Iraq – with the line "I ain’t no millionaire's son" taking on new significance. But his new song, "Déjà Vu" was written with both military mistakes in mind. "[Vietnam was] one of the stupidest exercises America ever went through," Fogerty explained. "I remember clearly saying in 1974, let's don't ever do this again . . . So in 2003, I was just flabbergasted that we would be able to wind up enough support to allow it to take place."
(To hear this song in its entirety, click here and scroll down to the first offering in the second box. )
Monkey to Man
Big and useless as he has become
He hangs up flowers and bells and rhymes
Elvis Costello surely made the gods smile when he sang "(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding" while hosting Late Night with David Letterman a week or so before the war in Iraq began. "Thanks to Dave for letting me warm his seat, so to speak, and may peace prevail," he said, back when few people were saying anything about the President or the war. Now that it’s far safer to call Mr. Bush an embarrassment, Costello has done just that. As Newsweek revealed "Costello introduced a song called 'Monkey to Man,' with a dig at George W. Bush, counseling the crowd never 'to vote for anyone who's a disgrace to the theory of evolution.'" Though the song explores Darwin’s theory from the monkeys’ point of view, Costello used it to make a monkey out of Bush.
(For a sample of this song, click here and scroll down to #7 )
Born in the U.S.A.
I got in a little hometown jam
Like Springsteen’s "No Retreat/ No Surrender" which has become the Kerry campaign's theme song, the Boss’ decades-old anthem "Born in the USA" has figured prominently in the 2004 election – most notably during the recent Vote for Change tour. "After opening with a solo version of 'The Star Spangled Banner'' and a rousing rendition of his 1984 anti-war song 'Born in the U.S.A.,' Springsteen wasn't shy about showering Friday's sellout crowd with some clear political advice: Vote President Bush out of office," MSNBC explained. 'America is not always right -- that's a fairy tale you tell your children -- but America is always true, and it's in seeking this truth that we find a deeper patriotism,'' Springsteen told cheering fans after endorsing Kerry and running mate U.S. Sen. John Edwards."
Springsteen's wife Patty Scialfa also urged Security Moms to rethink their misguided positions: "I'm a mother of three and hope all women vote from conviction and courage and not from fear. A vote based on fear is beneath us as women and Americans."
Life During Wartime
It used to be us and them
A real war to fight against
"Life During Wartime" like "American Idiot," exposes the heart on Green Day’s sleeve. When the band met John Kerry during a taping of Late Night with David Letterman, lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong described the dynamic. "They stuck us in a room with him for 10 seconds to take a photo and say a couple words. He said to me 'I can't wait to hear your anti-Bush song.' I told him 'You got my vote.'"
(To hear "Life During Wartime," click here and scroll to the first song.)
If hatred makes a play on me tomorrow
And if I ignore the voice inside,
"Hell, I’ll say it. I can’t stand Bush and I don’t care who knows it. I can’t stand him or the people who surround him. I think they’re dangerous and evil people," bassist/keyboardist Mike Mills said.
(To hear a sample, click here and scroll to #5.)
Rockin’ in the Free World
We got a thousand points of light
We got department stores
Though this song was written with George W. Bush’s father in mind, Neil Young tweaked it a bit to make it relevant to Bush, the sequel. Ending a concert rendition of "Rockin In the Free World" with Taps, he told Rolling Stone: "That's for the soldiers who die in Iraq every day, because of this stupid plan that the administration didn't have. They didn't know what the hell was going to happen. Bush makes Clinton look like sandpaper -- that's how slippery he is. A lot of people in this country obviously think President Bush is a great leader. If they're happy, they should vote to keep him in office. But if you're not happy, you should also go and vote."
(To hear this song, click here and scroll to the first sample.)
Rich Man’s War
Jimmy joined the army ‘cause he had no place to go
Eight-time Grammy nominee Steve Earle released the CD "The Revolution Starts Now," (which contains the song "Rich Man’s War") in hopes of inspiring voters to get rid of G.W. Bush. Hopefully, it will work.
(To hear this song in its entirety, click here and scroll down.)
All of the words you can't say right
Yeah, I believe the war is wrong
In an article subtitled "the return of protest music," Reason explained why Mike Doughty’s "Move On" works: 1) It "is infectiously singable" and 2) it "takes a sarcastic poke at ‘ads for the army on cable / between ads for soda and skin cream.’"
In a World Gone Mad
George Bush you're looking like Zoolander
"The majority of people out there seem to link September 11 and Iraq," Beastie Boys band member Mike D said, way back when it was sacrilege to speak such truth. "It seems to me that the government hasn’t really put any evidence out there. There hasn’t been a compelling case linking the two, so I think it’s really important to separate them," he said of this administration's barrage of disinformation. "None of us feels very comfortable with what Bush is putting forward and the way that Bush is representing the United States, " MCA told MTV. "I mean, you just look at the TV and see this guy who’s supposed to be representing us and it just feels ridiculous."
(To listen, click here and scroll down to the Beastie Boys' "In a World Gone Mad.")
How does he do it? how do they do it? uncanny and immutable.
A confidence man, but why so beleagued?
Eddie Vedder has been one of Bush’s harshest critics – invoking near Dixie Chick-level ire he impaled a mask of the President on a stick during a concert. But these days, he’s waxing more philosophical and less angry. "At some point, you can't sit still. You can't spend your life, when people are getting killed, without asking serious questions about why," he said.
To sample "Bushleaguer," click here and scroll to #12.)
A plane goes down in KC, Mo
For a certain brother down in Florida
"To address George Bush and his presidency is a departure from my usual point of view," Rickie Lee Jones told the BBC. "I usually reflect things totally internally. But I think what is happening in America is so disturbing to me, it becomes internal."
Her latest album is ripe with political statements, including "Tell Somebody (Repeal the Patriot Act Now), "Ugly Man" (about you know who) and "Little Mysteries."
"These are pop's most artful anti-Bush statements to date," Entertainment Weekly wrote, adding that "even right-wingers will have to attest to the musical integrity of ''Evening's jazz-inflected tracks and the charm of Jones' idiosyncratic style."
(To listen to a sample of "Little Mysteries," click here and scroll down to the third song.)
So a new man in the White House
And he wants to fight with many
John Mellencamp was one of the first to speak out against President Bush and the war in Iraq, when doing so provoked certain backlash. "[Mellencamp’s] protest song ‘To Washington,’ with its thinly veiled jabs at President Bush, struck a chord with listeners on the left and right alike." Salon.com reported. "Isn't it funny?" Mellencamp mused. "A 51-year-old guy who's made as many records as I have can still piss off the right wing."
(To hear a sample of "To Washington" click here and scroll to number 12.)
Whatever Happened to Peace On Earth?
And the bewildered herd is still believing
The Dixie Chicks provided the first clue that anti-Bush angst is not just the province of punk, rap and rock and roll. "Country music icon Willie Nelson has written a Christmas song with an edge -- a protest against the war in Iraq that he hopes will stir passions in those who hear it," Reuters reported. "Nelson said his new song criticized the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq and those who thought it unpatriotic to speak out against the war."
(To listen to the song or watch the video, click here.)
The FFC song
So f*ck you very much the FCC
Not all protest songs have been serious. In this playful but biting ditty, Monty Python's Eric Idle takes on the FCC and the Bush administration in one funny fell swoop. Highlights? He pokes at Bush, Enron and Halliburton and refers to "dickhead" Mr. Cheney as "a pasty-faced old fart" and calls Condoleezza Rice "an intellectual tart."
(To hear the entire song, go here. Warning: May be offensive to Republicans.)
Why would n***** push pounds and powder?
From the Remix:
Why is Bush acting like he's trying to get Osama?
Though this song is admittedly over the top, Slate explains why it's a winner: "Why? the hit single by the powerhouse MC Jadakiss, is pure provocation. . . It aims not so much to raise consciousness as to raise hackles, and it's worked: The original version, released earlier this year, scandalized Bill O'Reilly. . ." It scandalized Bill O’Reilly? 'Nuff said.
(To hear the original and remix, click here and scroll to Jadakiss, "Why.")
The Price of Oil
Saddam killed his own people
Back when people were asking "Why do they hate us?" Billy Bragg offered a voice of reason from across the Atlantic. "I'll be very critical of the Bush administration but not of our American cousins because they didn't vote for George W. Bush, they got stuck with him just as we all have," he told the BBC.
(To listen to "The Price of Oil," click here.)
Of course, the world won’t be so understanding if America grants G.W. Bush another four years. But it doesn't have to be that way. As Bruce Springsteen put it: "Remember, the country we carry in our hearts is waiting."
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell