I might never have a golden statue erected in my honor, and I highly doubt my autobiography (You Can't Pay Retail for a Pocket Full of Dreams) will become a best-seller. But of all the narcissistic fantasies I have (and trust me, there are many) perhaps the most feasible is the desire to someday have theme music. Yeah. I want theme music. Before I enter a room, I want everyone to hear a stirring sequence of chords so they know who's about to grace them with his presence.
I've had a taste of what this dream would be like. My department at work had a softball game this past summer. In order to demoralize and crush our opponents (all in the name of team-building) we decided to give every player a theme song as he or she approached the plate for an at-bat. I chose "The Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin, for its memorable and solemn opening guitar riff. I have to think the scary Viking imagery also made the infield back up about a foot as well (side note: I went 4 for 4).
It was cool to have theme music, even just for an afternoon. I suppose, if I wanted, I could realize this dream by carrying a tape deck around with me, but that's an awful lot of rewinding and changing batteries over the course of one's life. If you're important enough to warrant theme music, it should be someone else's problem. Perhaps a marching band could follow me around and play my song every time I do something significant. My sex life would be less private, but a steady beat in the background would probably improve my technique.
I might as well give up on this; there are only two jobs that entitle you to theme music. The first: pro-wrestler. Before his home life became a dysfunctional carnival of horrors, Hulk Hogan would prepare for a long day of Hulkamania by dropping an atomic powerslam of rock onto the audience. Everyone in the arena, from the youngest fan to King Kong Bundy would know that he was a real American who felt strong about right and wrong and some other stuff that may have rhymed.
William Taft, who weighed in excess of 350-pounds, was serenaded with "Get on a Raft with Taft" around 1909. The other job that comes with a theme song: Presidential candidate. If you're attempting to become the Commander-in-Chief, I guarantee you a think tank of PR professionals and image consultants has already picked out a song for you that's catchy, uplifting, and cannot be interpreted in an offensive way. In other words, Obama's not going to make his entrance to a fundraising dinner to "Smack My Bitch Up," no matter how much money Prodigy donates.
With politics very much on everyone's mind right now, I thought I would look into the theme songs that politicians in the past have chosen. America's bipartisan political system might be driving a wedge into the national identity, so you need to know what to put on your iPod on Election Day.
Back in the nineteenth century, campaign songs were so important that Glee Clubs were organized to introduce them. I don't know exactly what a glee club is, but I'm almost 90% sure it has nothing to do with illicit homosexual bathhouse encounters. Examples from this era include "Yankee Doodle," and "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." For most of these politicians, abolishing slavery was slightly less important than choosing just the right combination of silly words.
During this era, a candidate's campaign song was most often used to besmirch his opponent. And woe unto the besmirchee. If history were written according to the lyrics of campaign songs, every student would learn that Abraham Lincoln was a killer ape creature, Martin Van Buren worshiped Satan, and Herbert Hoover's name was synonymous with sucking. Actually, that last one may be a modern concession.
John Quincy Adams' ominous theme, "Little Know Ye Who's Coming," catalogued what would happen if Adams didn't win. This included fire, swords, plague, plunder, pestilence, and something called knavery, also known as the AIDS of 1824. In fact, Adams' "vote-for-me-or-you'll die" list was only one robot holocaust short of getting him elected for life.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln was called, in song, "that baboon in the White House" and "murderer of women and children." I'm no expert in American history, but from what I could gather watching Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Lincoln was not, in fact, a murderous simian. His enemies sang "Tell us any lie you want to, In any kind of mixture, But we pray you, God we pray you, Don't show us his picture." Lincoln is said to have retorted: "Yo mama."
William Taft, who weighed in excess of 350-pounds, was likewise serenaded with "Get on a Raft with Taft" around 1909. Because, you see, that would be a sure recipe for sinking. Ha ha ha. This song is probably lost to history, but as a writer, I take comfort in knowing that fat people were easy punchlines even at the turn of the century.
In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the upbeat ditty "Happy Days are Here Again" to gladden voters' hearts during the depression. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens were boiling used handkerchiefs to make soup. Decades later, The Fonz would teach America the true meaning of "happy days." Roosevelt's selection seems especially poignant now that the economy has kind of jumped the shark again.
In 1960, John F Kennedy campaigned to the showtune-y "High Hopes." As an Academy-Award winner for Best Song, this was a showbiz tune for a showbiz candidate. It would later show up in such cultural achievements as "Laverne and Shirley" and "Antz." And if you know the song, you'll agree that a deluded insect was a fitting symbol for 1960's society.
By 1964, Lyndon Johnson started using a new technique: adapting existing songs to fit stupid names, with "Hello Lyndon," which was a retread of "Hello Dolly," as sung by suspected mummy Carol Channing. Incidentally, I don't know if the Dalai Lama is entitled to a theme song, but if he is, "Hello Dolly" would be a perfect choice.
Had it been around in 1968, Richard Nixon probably would have stolen Darth Vader's theme. But he didn't exactly reinvent the wheel when he campaigned to a song called "Nixon's the One." Comedians of that era added the words "with unshaven jowls, slumped shoulders, and a furrowed, sweaty brow." Just so voters wouldn't confuse him with JFK.
Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford continued the trend toward boredom in 1976 by using "Ode to The Georgia Farmer and I'm Feeling Good about America," respectively. Both songs were alleged to have been written by Blandy McDrab and the Snoozetones.
It wasn't until 1984 that presidential candidates started using actual songs again, as opposed to loosely coherent rhetoric set to music. Ronald Reagan never officially used Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," but nevertheless praised its patriotic imagery. Perhaps he was too preoccupied with jellybeans to realize that the song is actually kind of a dark take on the fractured American dream. The Boss kindly asked him not to use it, which is a tactic Gorbachev should have tried during the Cold War.
Bill Clinton made great use of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop." That's also what Monica Lewinsky said, years later. 1984 also saw sad-sack Walter Mondale use "Gonna Fly Now," also known as "The-Rocky-Balboa-climbing-the-steps" theme. And while I think America was ready to support the Italian Stallion in his various training montages, Mondale wasn't nearly as successful. He lost the election in a landslide, and I'm pretty sure Clubber Lang threatened to eat his children.
Ross Perot probably didn't help his cause by walking onstage to "Crazy" by Patsy Cline in 1992. Keep in mind, it's not like this short, mushmouthed trophy-head stood a chance at winning anyhow. That's probably why he made such a baffling choice. But if he wanted to piss off the electoral system, he should have chosen a campaign theme that was truly inexplicable, like "Big Balls" by AC/DC, or the sound of Rush Limbuagh ripping an enormous fart.
Bob Dole used Lyndon Johnson's technique with a bit more panache when he used "Dole Man," a riff on Sam and Dave's "Soul Man." This is another catchy tune penned by Isaac Hayes, before he traded a great gig on South Park for the majesty of Xenu. I hope Dole chose this song with a nod to irony, as the man has less "soul" than an elderly oompah-band from Bavaria.
Bill Clinton made great use of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop." That's also what Monica Lewinsky said, years later. (This joke brought to you by Jay Leno, circa 1998.) I'll admit, it is a catchy song with a nice message. But according to Wikipedia, it was also part of the animatronic show at Chuck E. Cheeses in the early nineties. And if there's one thing that will earn you my eternal hatred, it's fraternizing with rodent-shaped singbots who will probably go berserk and tear the arms off an entire birthday party.
Al Gore, recently outed as the secret identity of environmental hero Captain Planet, opted to use BTO's grammatical minefield "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet." Historians should note that this is the only campaign song in history that I've received a lap dance to. But to be fair to Gore, the stripper in question seemed like she would have been a democrat, if they were allowed to practice politics in her native Uzbekistan.
George W. Bush, on the other hand, had a few different campaign songs in his political jukebox. One of them was Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." Of course, Petty threatened to sue Bush if he didn't stop using the song, whereupon Bush promptly backed down. W also used "Right Now" by Van Halen, a passable campaign song tarnished by the fact that it was performed by an alcoholic band known for it's hatred of brown M&Ms and firing its lead singer every few months.
Which brings us to today, when you might hear John McCain get introduced to ABBA's "Take a Chance on Me." As a pundit and one of only a handful of human males to escape uninjured from Mamma Mia, I can safely say that McCain should not be so concerned with winning the "gaywad" vote. Earlier in his political career, McCain used "The Liberty Bell," a jaunty march meant to evoke McCain's military background. Of course, no-one bothered to tell him that this was also the theme from "Monty Python's Flying Circus," leading to mass snickering on the part of unwashed nerds everywhere.
Obama, on the other hand has been heard to use "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" by Stevie Wonder. Now, this is as good a campaign song as there has ever been. First of all, whether he's playing halftime at the Super Bowl or casually jamming with the Cosby kids, everyone loves him. Second, Obama can get a lot of mileage out of Stevie's endorsement, noting that even a man with funky-ass retinas can see who the better choice is. Finally, Wonder's duet with Paul McCartney "Ebony and Ivory" may be just what Obama needs to reassure redneck voters that he's not going to join the Black Panthers in a fried chicken-fuelled attack on Capitol Hill.
|Essential New Word of the Week:|
tabarshit! interj [tæber'šit]
Our latest essential new word is a catchy mélange of English and French invective, perfect for when you stub your toe or drop your newly-microwaved burrito on the floor. You see, swearing has become so pedestrian that even when you do it in a foreign language, it still lacks impact. But I know a guy who combines languages to create a hybrid breed of super-curses!
You start with tabarnac, a good, all-around utility swear word in Quebec. Then you add shit, which I have to think you're familiar with. The result is a new exclamation, good for cursing out your boss just enough so that he'll know he's being insulted, but not how, exactly. Profanity never sounded so good.