Rockin' in the Free World

Oh, yes, Election Night 2004. No doubt many of you will be having parties on this, the most momentous Tuesday since 9/11, and Racket is here to give you the blueprint for a Decision '04 Mix Tape. And fear not: Unlike other members of the liberal media, I'm taking no sides. Don't look for bias here -- whether you jam Red State-style or Blue, I'm your man.

Let's start with the pro-Dubya mix. Contrary to popular belief in the snide world of hip music, not all Republican music blows putrid chunks like Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." It goes on first anyway, though; after all, you can't really have a Red State soiree without it. Still, Racket has extreme misgivings about this song. Even if you forget about its lyrics -- which to me equate with the sort of patriotism practiced by self-righteous winos trying to scam you out of Mad Dog money -- "God Bless the USA" is one crappy piece of music. Can't some Republican DJ, if such a creature exists, remix the goddamn thing?

If there is no "DJ GOP" out there, I'm prepared to throw my hat in the ring: While I lack technical remix skills, I think I get the concept, so here's what one of you Grand Old record-wreckers should do: Drop some samples from Zell Miller's fire-breathing Republican convention speech over the music of "God Bless the USA." It could be like one of those sound montages Clear Channel Radio's always cooking up whenever the shit hits the fan -- as the strings swell and the kettle drums rumble on Greenwood's anthem, you could have Zell Da Original Wild Eyed Southern Boy ranting things like "George Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat and not let them go to get a better grip," "It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest," and "They claimed Carter's pacifism would lead to peace. They were wrong. They claimed Reagan's defense buildup would lead to war. They were wrong. And, no pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than the two Senators from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry." And then Greenwood comes back in for the chorus: "I'm prooouud to be an American, where at least I know I'm freeeeee…." Edit in some Republican-friendly sound effect like fireworks blasting and F-16s roaring overhead…

Excuse me, I've given myself chills. Damn, that's good stuff. Really rather excellent, if I do say so myself. As a matter of fact, it's kinda all downhill from there for this mix tape. Just slap on a mixed bag of Southern rock (.38 Special, ZZ Top, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Dickey Betts Band and the remnants of Skynyrd all played the Republican convention), country from Travis Tritt, Loretta Lynn, Hank Jr., Charlie Daniels, Lee Ann Womack and Mark Chesnutt; some whitebread pop from Britney and Jessica, white-boy blues from Jonny Lang and Aerosmith, some Ramones (in honor of Johnny), some Alice Cooper, a little token rap from Kid Rock and almost every form of Christian music and you'll be done. Oh, yeah, you'll need some Nuge, too. (It's interesting to note that at the Republican convention, it was generally the Christian performers that played at the official event. The hell-raising acts mostly were confined to the parties around the fringes.)

A few suggested cuts: "Sweet Home Alabama" because it praises George Wallace, the architect of Nixon's Southern strategy; Hank Jr.'s "A Country Boy Can Survive" and Charlie Daniels's "The South's Gonna Do It Again" for their sheer-ass redneckery; and, last but not least, ZZ Top's "Pearl Necklace," because Republican ladies love their "jewelry" and Republican men love to give them these gifts. Lynne Cheney, Libby Dole, Condoleezza Rice, and yes, even Barbara Bush -- they all love their pearl necklaces. Hell, Bar usually sports two or three of 'em at the same time.

And we're done. Festoon your house with red bunting, round up the gun club, lay in the Coors and Coke and red-meat chow and party down, GOP-style.

So that leaves us with the Democrats. Hmmm. This one's tougher, mainly because you've got so much to choose from -- you've pretty much got all of hip-hop and every other African-American genre (except, maybe, for blues), dance, folk and punk, as well as most rock and alt-country, so making a Dem Mix Tape is about exclusion, not inclusion.

One way to narrow the field is to get rid of all the weenie, pointy-eared intellectual Phil Ochs-influenced stuff. One of the main reasons the Dems can't have nice things is that crappy, hectoring protest music wherein some white woman with hairy armpits and three advanced degrees actually attempts to rap about the Carlyle Group, Enron, Ashcroft, Bush and the bin Ladens. (I'm not clever enough to make this up -- a recording of this song actually sits on my desk as I write, and if you ever listen to Democracy Now!, you've heard plenty of this stuff used as bumper music.)  

I'm convinced that the same guy who writes Rush Limbaugh's song parodies churns this stuff out for the Dems, too; Lord knows this music is far more harmful to them than the stuff Rush beams to his choir. At any rate, it's the music corollary to what seems like a law on TV: Every liberal on every "hollering pundits" show on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC has to be a nagging, superior wimp or a polysyllabic nincompoop, unless he's James Carville.

You should also excise all classic rock. Just about everyone under 45 -- and I'd wager, a lot over 45 -- is sick to death of '60s protest rock. Before you baby boomers get your knickers in a twist, I'll grant you that all that stuff we've been hearing on classic rock stations ever since we can remember is great stuff. "For What It's Worth," "All You Need Is Love," "Get Together," etc., are all really good songs. You've told us so for more than 30 years now. You've also told us how nothing we could ever come up with could ever come close to those "heavy sounds" your "groovy" generation "laid down." And by now, decades of nonstop radio play have eroded away their edge; they are now worn as smooth as a stone in a creek over which millennia of whitewater has rushed.

So, what are we left with? Well, just as you can't have a Red State Mix Tape without Greenwood's "God Bless the USA," neither can you have a Blue State tape without Springsteen's "Born in the USA." While it's nowhere near as bad as Greenwood's atrocity, I've never really liked it, so I'm gonna have to take my remix skills to the other side of the political aisle for this one. This time, Barack Obama is my guest rapper of choice -- I'll splice in the Illinois boy wonder saying things like "I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America." Throw his "audacity of hope" bit between Bruce's choruses, and you'll have another hit on your hands.

And after that, what have you got? Still too much. In a way, the glut of music of different styles illustrates the disarray that the Democrats have been in since the 1960s. There's a bunch of styles that mostly cancel each other out, taste-wise. Put too much alt-country on there, and you'll piss off the hip-hop crowd; weigh it down with too much fashion rock and dance, and you'll lose the punks. There are generational fault lines too -- many youngsters today don't give a crap about the Beatles, much less Buffalo Springfield. Despite all Bill Clinton's efforts to unify the Democrats, musically the party remains a hodgepodge of special interests, all out for themselves and to hell with the rest of you. So I guess you'd just have to make a hodgepodge of a tape consisting of songs from a wide variety of styles all conveying the Dems' theme, but more on that a little later.

The Republicans' strong suit -- both musically and as a party -- is its appeal to traditionalism. Most of the musicians who played in or around the GOP convention harked back to times gone by. These days, almost all country is a deliberate anachronism, as a vast majority of the population is now urban or suburban. And then there's Southern rock, which was rootsy when it debuted in the early '70s and has grown three decades hoarier since then. And bland bubblegum pop à la Simpson and Spears has always been around. Republican music is comfort music, and like comfort food, it can be great or terrible, but it never challenges, it only consoles. It wants to take you back to the good old days that never were. In short, the Republicans believe in yesterday, when all our troubles were so far away.

Contrast that with the Democrats, who perpetually promise you a future that will never be. Think of the Kerry campaign's use of Springsteen's "Land of Hope and Dreams" ("Leave behind your sorrows / Let this day be the last / Tomorrow there'll be sunshine / And all this darkness past"). Then there's Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," which sunnily and famously ushered in eight years of Clintonism. "It'll be here, better than before," the Democrats want you to believe. "Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone." At any rate, that would be your Democrat mix tape -- a bunch of uplifting songs about tomorrow, including the ones listed above. (And Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up," which should be the Democrats' eternal fight song forever and ever, but isn't.) Sounds nice, but in the interest of fairness and balance, I must quote the Beatles again: "Tomorrow Never Knows."  

Too bad neither party seems all that ready or eager to have "Right Here, Right Now" as its campaign song.

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