Monday, August 15, 2011

Country Music Round-Up: Iowa Straw Poll Edition

If there's one thing presidential candidates and pro wrestlers have in common, it's that they can't go anywhere without entrance music. Ok, there's more than one thing. There's also the hyperbolic rhetoric, the manufactured rivalries, the cultivation of a pre-determined public image, etc., but those are topics for another time, because the Iowa Straw Poll—the Royal Rumble of American politics—was held Saturday in Ames, Iowa. The candidates who were present had the chance to address the crowd—and provide an early look at their choices in entrance music.[1] Let's see how they did.

Herman Cain: "I Am America" by Krista Branch
In case you didn't know Herman Cain is positioning himself as the "Tea Party candidate":
Pay no attention to the people in the street
Crying out for accountability
Make a joke of what we believe
Say we don’t matter ’cause you disagree
Pretend you’re kings, sit on your throne
Look down your nose at the peasants below
I’ve got some news, we’re taking names
We’re waiting now for the judgment day

I am America, one voice, united we stand
I am America, one hope to heal our land
Aside from the fact that its title makes me think of Stephen Colbert's book, I don't have much of an opinion on this. As a protest song, it's not specific enough to be objectionable. If I want to hear about how those in power ignore the angry masses at their peril, I think I'll go with "For What It's Worth" or "The Times They Are a-Changin'".

Ron Paul: "America First" by Merle Haggard
Easily the boldest choice. "America First" is country legend/beloved ex-convict Merle Haggard's anti-Iraq War song (written in 2005, before a Democrat took office and it became acceptable for conservatives to criticize the war):
Why don't we liberate these United States
We're the ones that need it worst
Let the rest of the world help us for a change
And let's rebuild America first

Let's get out of Iraq and get back on the track
And let's rebuild America first
Where Herman Cain went with a vaguely-worded Tea Party-approved anthem, I'm impressed that Ron Paul's entrance music has lyrics that specifically endorse one of his more controversial views.[2] There's also a line that rather beautifully articulates his overall message:
God bless the army and God bless our liberty
And dadgum the rest of it all

Tim Pawlenty: Unidentified instrumental music
Here's what I know about Tim Pawlenty: (a) he's seen as the dull candidate, and (b) he was the governor of…I'm going to say Indiana. That's it. And I don't even know if those things are true—I just know that Pawlenty seems so dull, I almost didn't bother to look up whether he's really from Indiana.[3] (Spoiler alert: He's not.)

What I'm saying is, the Ames speech was an opportunity to give people like me a reason to care. Naturally, he came to the stage accompanied by some boring instrumental piece. It seemed familiar, but I don't know what it was or where it was from, and don't especially care to find out. Just like Pawlenty.

Oh, and apparently he withdrew yesterday. Alright then.

Rick Santorum: No music
Still more interesting than Pawlenty.

Michelle Bachmann: "A Little Less Conversation" and "Promised Land" by Elvis Presley
In what I assume was an attempt to belatedly answer the "Elvis or Johnny Cash?" question she inexplicably dodged a few debates ago, Bachmann preceded her speech with Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation", which is about how much more tolerable women can be when they aren't talking:
A little less conversation, a little more action please
All this aggravation ain't satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark
Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
Ignoring for now that it contains one of the more egregious non-words in songwriting history, or that "a little less fight and a little more spark" makes no sense, the biggest problem is that the song is a political cliché. According to Wikipedia, Howard Dean, John Kerry, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Sarah Palin have used it in past campaigns. And it's not even a lyrically-appropriate cliché. As a small-government conservative Bachmann should be in favor of less action, not more, and any reasonable observer of politics would contend that we need more conversation, not less.

Bachmann was the only candidate to also provide her own exit music, in the form of Elvis's verson of Chuck Berry's "Promised Land", which tells the story of a mildly eventful trip from Virginia to California:
I left my home in Norfolk, Virginia
California on my mind
I straddled that Greyhound
And rode on into Raleigh
And on across Caroline
Other than further clearing up the aforementioned matter of Presley v. Cash, I'm pretty sure she picked this song for two reasons. First, because it mentions a lot of places—sometimes in folksy old-timey slang (Caroline, Alabam', Houston town, etc.)—and political campaigns involve going to a lot of places, just like in the song! Second, because "promised land" sounds religious, and also refers vaguely to some desired goal. Nevermind that the song's protagonist is traveling away from the White House, and that the "promised land" in question is, presumably, Hollywood. It kind of works if you shut off the part of your brain that parses phrases and sentences and makes syntactic inferences about overall meaning, and just listen to the words individually. Is that the kind of superficiality we can expect from a Bachmann presidency?

Alright, fine, maybe I'm trying a little too hard to extract meaning from something entirely meaningless, but this is the Iowa Straw Poll we're dealing with, after all.

Paul: B+
Cain: C+
Bachmann: D
Pawlenty: Crocodile
Santorum: F

1. I've labeled this article as part of my Country Music Round-Up series even though the candidates could theoretically have chosen music from any other genre, because come on, who are we kidding? Cain's is the only song that doesn't sound country, but it's definitely country in spirit.
    Also, since you asked, I'd probably go with…hm, it's hard to think of a non-cynical answer. But it'd be tough to talk me out of using Spinal Tap's "Gimme Some Money", or maybe Cream's "Politician" ("Hey now baby, get into my big black car/I wanna just show you what my politics are").
2. Not that Ron Paul is the only candidate in favor of reducing foreign entanglements, but he's certainly the most unequivocal about it. Regardless, by "controversial" I mean that it's something that can be argued with—and something that might actually cause him to lose a few votes—as opposed to generic platitudes about how America is great and politicians suck.
3. Pawlenty's Wikipedia page might have the least interesting "personal life" section I've ever seen. It contains approximately four pieces of information:
– He often goes by "T-Paw".
– He didn't live in the Governor's Residence during his first term because his wife was a judge in nearby Dakota County and wasn't allowed to live outside her district.
– His wife resigned as a judge to take a position with a Minneapolis-based dispute resolution company. Then, she left that job to work for another Minneapolis-based dispute resolution company.
– He was raised Roman Catholic, but his wife is Baptist, so they now attend an interdenominational church.
    If you use the term extremely loosely, I suppose you could call the "T-Paw" thing interesting, but even then it's only because it's so stupid.

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