The best telegenic moments don’t get much better than when they have a great theme song, and political imagemakers are slavish in their pursuit of the ultimate auditory accompaniment to their elegantly crafted closeups for their candidates.
No one hit that out of the park quite like Bill Clinton and Al Gore when in 1992 they eschewed Marvin Hamlisch and Jimmy Webb, capping Governor Clinton’s nominating speech with the AOR staple “Don’t Stop” by the bed-hopping, coke-huffing Baby Boomer heroes, Fleetwood Mac (personally, I thought Montrose’s grinding and heroic “Rock The Nation” would have been a bolder choice, especially with the can-do, patriotic, and very Bill Clintonesque line, “Ain’t gonna quit until it all comes out.”) It smashed the conventional wisdom of what would play without offense in America’s living rooms, and was a seminal, declarative cry from the bong-and-leisure-suit generation that it was their time to take the reins of the country.
It was perfect because Clinton and Gore represented a new breed of leadership, and Fleetwood Mac was a shot across the bow lest any of the Old Guard’s ossified gatekeepers missed the significance.
It’s a little trickier when a more mature candidate dispatches his young aides to consult their iPod and bring them an effervescent pint of youth. Ronald Reagan was one of the first to make this mistake (albeit in the Walkman Era, in 1984), when his advisor Michael Deaver, running on the suggestion of columnist George Will, who gushed over the patriotism of Bruce Springsteen, incorporated Springsteen’s current hit, “Born In The U.S.A.” into his boss’ hustings speech. On September 19, 1984, in a Hammonton, New Jersey, Ronald Reagan pandered, “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”
That message of hope, dissected, which Michael Deaver, George Will, and Ronald Reagan, espoused? “I had a buddy at Khe Sahn/Fighting off the Viet Cong/They’re still there, he’s all gone/He had a little girl in Saigon/I got a picture of him in her arms.”
Ears up, Young Americans. This is one of those thousand dreams inside your heart that could be yours for the taking.
Like the stumbling Battaan Death March that has come to represent the John McCain 2008 Presidential Campaign, the GOP standard-bearer has pulled both hamstrings and groin muscles stepping onto every musical landmine within reach on his ignominious march to what he hopes will be the 44th U.S. Presidency. Last night, after his nominating speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, he took the stage to the pounding refrain of Heart’s 1977 hit, “Barracuda.” It’s a great song, and McCain’s team most likely tapped it as a paean to his firecracker VP nominee, Governor Sarah Palin, who in high school was nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda” for her basketball prowess.
Heart wasn’t amused and had Universal Music Publishing and Sony BMG issue an immediate cease-and-desist order against the McCain Campaign using “Barracuda” to promote his and Governor Palin’s candidacy. Said Heart’s Nancy Wilson, “I feel completely fucked over.”
Nancy and her sister Ann later issued a statement, “Sarah Palin’s views and values in NO WAY represent us as American women. We ask that our song ‘Barracuda’ no longer be used to promote her image. The song ‘Barracuda’ was written in the late ’70s as a scathing rant against the soulless, corporate nature of the music business, particularly for women. (The ‘barracuda’ represented the business.) While Heart did not and would not authorize the use of their song at the RNC, there’s irony in Republican strategists’ choice to make use of it there.”
The McCain campaign has blown off more toes than it has on its feet in its deployment of music to promote his 2008 candidacy. In the last several weeks, his knuckles have been on the business end of the ruler of Jackson Browne, Van Halen, Heart, Orleans, and Frankie Valli. I’d been wondering about this and noted that one of the artists whose song he used after Sarah Palin’s speech, “The House Is Rockin’,” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, has yet to voice his opposition at the appropriation of one of his hits by the McCain campaign.
Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash in 1990. It’s possible, however, that he might weigh in later.
As an impartial observer of the current campaign, I don’t want to presume to offer advice to the McCain Campaign, but Johnny Cash is dead and Chris Cornell is way off the grid in France right now, so it might not be a losing proposition if he takes a chance on using Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” in a future ad campaign.