Ed note: for those of you who haven’t been following along, Exquisite Chord is our take on Exquisite Corpse. Thought up by Chris Klimek, we’re building a playlist of sorts, using each song suggested to inspire the next pick. Today, Jason Linkins takes his cues from Ian Buckwalter’s Billy Bragg selection.
Woo, yay! I’m very glad to get to play in this Exquisite Chord game with you, today. And I’m very pleased that Ian has set me up with Billy Bragg, who I’ve long admired. Bragg was never finer than when he took the stage alone with his shimmering electric guitar that fought fascists and sought justice. And if he sometimes belted out his refrains with the “melancholy-sounding call to action” that Ian spoke of, it was because he was also, essentially, an able chronicler of his own lovesick heart. He’d fallen, hard, for a little time bomb, in a world that already demanded so much of him.
At the intersection of pop and politics, there are all manner of pitfalls. Very recently, in some of the more obscure corners of the right-wing bray-o-sphere, President Barack Obama found himself in such a place, when, in his interview with Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner, he copped to the fact that he had some hip-hop music on his iPod, along with the safe fogeyist fare that it’s okay for a Democrat to like — like Dylan and Stevie Wonder and Maria Callas.
But it was the Jay-Z, the Lil Wayne, and the Nas that brought the ire, which was comical to me, because, seriously — Lil Wayne? Isn’t that, in 2010, just awfully suburban? These tunes found their way onto the President’s iPod courtesy of his body man, Reggie Love, and — no disrespect — I think you’re seeing what happens when someone who rode pine for the Duke Blue Devils stretches himself to make the POTUS a mixtape.
Fortunate thing, really, that Obama wasn’t rocking such Bragg chestnuts as “A Pict Song” or “The World Turned Upside Down” or his rework of “The Internationale” (though wouldn’t you be a little bit comforted if it turned out he knew the words to “The Marching Song Of The Covert Battalions”?). Those songs would straight up make a Sean Hannity lose what’s left of the soup, sloshing around his cranial cavity.
I always wonder: what’s the stuff that gets me disqualified from public office (I mean, besides my long history of being a rampant dick). Any one of the aforementioned Bragg songs will do. Beyond that, I have to think I’d be done in by the Crass or the Clipse or the Christ On A Crutch. And that’s only the C’s.
Of course, when you boil it down, the DQ can come from almost everywhere in the culture, if it deserves to come from anywhere. As Adam Serwer put it:
It’s an important question, obviously — the president’s consumption of offensive content is an outrage. But it really doesn’t end with Lil’ Wayne. Last year the president was favored with a performance of content produced by an artist who has written some of the most atrocious things — a monologue from a character who murdered his own wife. This artist has written about cannibalism, rape, incest, domestic violence, torture, murder, and warfare. His work is peppered with sympathetic portrayals of characters who carry out these crimes — not to mention explicit sexual references and bawdy jokes. Bawdy. Jokes.
If you’ve not surmised the joke, here, Adam is referring, of course, to William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, who never much shied away from discussion of “country matters.” In fact, may I have a moment, to take an interlude?
This is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 135:
Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy ‘Will,’
And ‘Will’ to boot, and ‘Will’ in overplus;
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea all water, yet receives rain still
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in ‘Will,’ add to thy ‘Will’
One will of mine, to make thy large ‘Will’ more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one ‘Will.’
See the way he repeats the word “Will,” over and over again? Yeah, most of the time, he is talking about his cock. On a few occasions, he’s talking about where he’s going to put his cock. But it’s mostly just cock cock cock cock cock. IN OVERPLUS. It’s worth pointing out, in addition, that Shakespeare was a celebrated bisexual who would cold slide his dick into just about anything. Why wouldn’t he? We’re talking about a man who gave all of the genitals around him HIS OWN FIRST NAME. So he was one brilliant, bawdy, baller of a poet, unless of course someone else wrote everything, in which case that guy had a nice dick that he got a lot of use out of. Anyway, that’s the end of the interlude.
Where Was I, Again?
Oh, yes. The intersection of pop and politics, which I can now maybe think about more clearly, now that I’ve had my Shakespeare cock-catharsis, like Aristotle would have wanted me to. Ian notes that President Ronald Reagan was something of a “punk rock hero,” in that he inspired many of the ripping tracks that now have found their way onto my iPod and are now disqualifying me from doing anything about Gramm-Leach-Bliley. It’s worth noting that Reagan was also earnestly lionized by many musicians, even some punk rock ones. As Benjy Sarlin pointed out:
There’s actually a grand tradition of members of musically radical musicians taking rightward political turns. The Ramones were famously divided over politics, with the late Johnny Ramone, an outspoken right-winger who backed Reagan, clashing with the more liberal members. Accepting his entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he told the crowd “God Bless President Bush.”
Shit, man. It goes deeper still! Joey Ramone rather famously penned a song for and about CBNC’s Maria Bartiromo. “What’s happening on Squawk Box?” Ramone sang, adding, “What’s happening with my stocks? I want to know!” (Lucky for Joey, he shuffled off his mortal coil seven years before AIG sent all that scrilla to money heaven.)
Here, you’ll find Brad Feld saying that the news of Ramone’s affection for Bartiromo made his “head spin around in circles,” but is it really so crass or so unusual? Not too long ago, actual credible people suggested that Bono might be a good choice to run the fucking World Bank, no doubt because of the prodigious skill he displayed housing his lucre at any number of Continental European tax shelters. That’s where his head is at, these days. Anyone who listened to U2′s last album, which i think was called How To Remantle The Atom Bomb We Had Previously Dismantled, Quatorze!, would tell you that he’s clearly much more into running Elevation Partners than he is making music.
SIDEBAR: Tell me, when you got finished listening to The Unforgettable Fire for the first time (GAH, DATING MYSELF), did you think, “Yeah, this shit is hot, but I’d really love to see what this band can do with a private equity firm?” I know I did, because I was all up in your mid-1980′s discography like Malcolm Goddamned Gladwell.
Anyway, the most recent example of some storied artist pulling a massive WTF with their sudden and surprising political leanings has to be Maureen Tucker of the Velvet Underground, who has lately re-emerged into society as some sort of Tea Party Patriot type. On one level, it’s surprising. But when you think about it, the Velvet Underground, when they weren’t writing songs about being on speed, were writing songs about being on heroin, and poor Mo Tucker had to play the drums throughout all of that. That’s the kind of thing that can do some mental damage. Well, the VU is one of my favorite bands, obviously, and my favorite album of theirs is their 1968 release White Light/White Heat, and hey — as long as we’re on the subject about being totally fucking lobotomized, I think I’ll leave you today with “Lady Godiva’s Operation.”
And now, for our next trick, I think I’ll tap TAP’s Phoebe Connelly.