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Presidential Music

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Last week someone posted a list of the Presidential candidates and the music they’re listening to these days. Before I delve any further, here it is:

1. Barack Obama – Soundtrack to Ray
2. John Edwards – U2
3. Mike Huckabee – Evanescence
4. Mitt Romney – Roy Orbison
5. John McCain – Sounds of Summer – The Very Best of the Beach Boys
6. Dennis Kucinich – Willie Nelson
7. Chris Dodd – Soundtrack to Jersey Boys
8. Tom Tancredo – Frank Sinatra
9. Bill Richardson – George Strait 50 Number Ones
10. Hillary Clinton – Into White by Carly Simon
11. Rudy Giuliani – Verdi’s Macbeth
12. Duncan Hunter – country and gospel

13. Sam Brownback – Michael W. Smith
14. Joe Biden – “My sister’s playlist”

The blogger who put up the list commented that it was “irrelevant fluff.” I beg to differ! The music someone listens to is usually of greater significance than his or her alleged “stand on the issues,” about which they frequently lie. Someone’s choice of music can reveal otherwise inaccessible information about them, from their sophistication or lack of same to their burning passions. Knowing what a person’s listening to can tell us what kind of mood he or she might be in, particularly if we’re familiar with the music and know the mood it’s likely to induce.

Only three Democrats on this list, IMHO, are serious contenders to the throne—Clinton, Obama and Edwards. (Dennis Kucinich belongs in the serious contender category, but he doesn’t stand much of a chance; besides, he’s listening to Willie Nelson, to whose music I have a violent visceral negative reaction that nobody else seems to share, so I’m going to pass on him.) Let us look at the other three Democrats’ choices to see what they reveal.


Barack Obama– Soundtrack to Ray
The music from the Ray Charles biopic is completely wonderful. All the songs are Ray’s versions, and they span his diverse musical interests, from blues to country to rock. My first copy of the CD got stolen and I went right out and bought another. Obama scores high for musical taste; further, listening to the music of Ray Charles is probably putting him in a pretty good mood—ecstatic, actually.

But wait a minute: Do you know anyone who doesn’t like Ray Charles? Even redneck racists listen to Ray’s country stuff, even if they disapprove of What’d I Say. A few weeks after 9/11 Ray’s piano was wheeled out into the middle of Yankee Stadium before a game, and he sang America the Beautiful like it’s never been sung before. I ask you, what could be more wholesome and American than singing a patriotic hymn at a baseball game?

The point is that choosing Ray Charles is thoroughly safe, consistent with the way Barack Obama’s been conducting his campaign. He’s cool, he’s hip, he’s deep and he’s sharp; but he hasn’t yet said anything of substance as far as I’ve been able to detect. He knows how to play it safe without compromising his integrity, and Ray Charles reinforces his integrity. He could’ve made a different safe musical choice with, for instance, the Beatles—but that wouldn’t suit his image. The British Beatles don’t carry the aura of a blind black man who grew up poor in the South. No musical choice could have served Obama’s purposes as perfectly as Ray Charles—that is, as long as Obama doesn’t actually play some of Ray’s more suggestive and raunchy songs at a campaign rally.


Hillary Clinton–Into White by Carly Simon
As a Carly Simon freak, my first reaction to Hillary’s selection was, “That’s it! She’s got my vote.” Up until now I’ve been skeptical—Clinton is just too nauseatingly opportunistic for me. And yet I really want to support the first viable woman candidate for president–so I was thrilled to learn she’s listening to my girl Carly, whose music is by turns sexual, spiritual, even a bit political, some of it great for dancing and some for making love.

Again: wait a minute. Into White is, with the exception of two songs, a collection of covers. Almost every song Carly chose to record on this CD is slow and dreamy, from the Everly Brothers’ sweet Devoted to You to the over-sung, overplayed and over-hyped Over the Rainbow. None of the arrangements are particularly original or interesting, even though she gave her two kids a recording venue (talk about opportunistic). Frankly, this CD put me to sleep—something Simon intended, according to her liner notes—so I’m a little worried about Clinton’s energy level. Also, let’s face it, the title isn’t going to please, at least on a subliminal level, a certain segment of Clinton’s constituency. In addition to all this, Hill and Bill are friends with Carly and James (Taylor, her ex): they’ve gone sailing together on Martha’s Vineyard. Simon even mentions Bill in the liner notes. I smell nepotism.

Now, If I knew that Hillary had been listening to Carly Simon for the past 30 years, that she dances in her bedroom to You’re So Vain, tears up over Life Is Eternal and goes down on Bill to Nobody Does It Better, then I might trust her. As it is, I suspect she named this CD to give her pal Carly a plug, proving once again that she’s an opportunist.


John Edwards—U2
John Edwards’ selection tells us he’s sophisticated all right, and he’s not pandering to anyone, since U2 is popular only with a certain kind of person (primarily liberal). In fact, I’d wager that a significant segment of the population dislikes Bono for his political activism. So Edwards gets points for integrity.

Hold it. Edwards is being vague: he hasn’t said exactly which U2 he’s listening to. Is it the U2 of The Joshua Tree era, with trenchant lyrics and pleasing harmonies? Or is he talking about the later U2 , with a more raucous electronic sound? Maybe he plunked down 150 bucks for The Essential U2, with its 450-something tracks. Our analysis depends on the answers, but we don’t—from which we might conclude that Edwards is hiding something.

I hate to believe this is the case; of all the candidates running for President, Edwards is the most genuine, as well as the only Democrat who consistently states his opinions without being cagey. In fact, I’m almost ready to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that, since most of U2’s music is pretty special, so is Edwards. I said almost—after all, the guy’s still a politician.

So even after examining the candidates’ musical selections, I don’t know who I’ll vote for. Clinton’s an opportunist, Obama plays it safe, and Edwards may be hiding something. In the end, I just might revert to knee-jerk feminism and go with the woman. She can’t be any worse than the 43 men who’ve messed up this country. Can she?



2 responses »

  1. Hi Marcy,

    Love your insight. Thanks for sharing this!


  2. what can i say? they got great taste in music…i like carly simon…

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