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The Romney “Believe in America” bus may have been on the road right until the end, but in the last weeks of the campaign it was clear from the laughable musical forces gathered under the slack Republican banner that the wheels had already come off his presidential hopes.
The lowest of many low points came on October 26th when Romney found himself on stage with Randy Owen from the band Alabama and the cowboy-hatted country stars Big & Rich, a duo whose name perfectly encapsulated the campaign’s lofty ideals. The wildcard in this pack of good ole boys was a recently politicized Meatloaf. Obama’s supposed extremism pushed the rocker into action. It is a sign of the times that the man who got his start in Hair and who would be immortalized in his motorcycle breakthrough to sing “Whatever Happened to Saturday Night” in the Rocky Horror Picture Show could be seen and heard—to the obvious astonishment of the candidate himself—to stumble, bumble, and bellow around a Republican campaign stage four decades after those youthful triumphs.
Meatloaf has become a classic, but a rancid one. Even at the time of his self-proclaimed “comeback” of the 1990s he’d already been too long in shrink wrap at the back of the rock n’ roll fridge. The mold could not simply be scraped off, but was deep inside the meat. This much was proved by his 2004 tour (and DVD) featuring hits done with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Even that rich symphonic sauce couldn’t mask the unhealthful mass beneath. Warning: this fare should be sampled on YouTube only after taking full course of aural antibiotics.
At the end of Romney’s campaign appearance in Defiance, Ohio on that fateful Thursday less than two weeks before election, Randy Owen started into “America the Beautiful.” While emitting a sound that only charitably could be called singing, Owen repeatedly crouched down and straightened up as if suffering from excruciating abdominal pain. With his flights of ersatz soul, he inflicted still greater off-key torture on the ears of those listening, not least Romney himself. The Republican nominee grinned gamely, but through his clenched teeth must have been cursing those aides who had allowed this to happen.
Even at the start of the ill-fated number, Meatloaf interjected “Go ahead now brother!” — seemingly in encouragement of his fellow musicians, but in fact a bald-faced attempt to slop into the limelight. The Loaf’s diction was that of a black preacher, but his utterances only confirmed how whitebread he and the other singers truly were. Big or Rich (I’m frankly not sure which is which) tried to get Romney to join in, but Owen’s mauling of the melody made this impossible.
As things went badly awry, Owens exchanged his microphone for a fresh one, as if trying to pin the blame for his embarrassing departure from the key on the technology. As the crowd was urged to join in, Meatloaf could contain himself no longer and hijacked the patriotic hymn with his apocalyptic vibrato. His throat is a musical weapon of mass destruction: dread and fear registered on all faces, but Meatloaf’s. Romney turned his back in embarrassment, disguising the gesture of contempt and shame by waving to the crowd that encircled the stage. In the immediate aftermath of this debacle, Romney’s sweaty hug with the musical murderer sealed the Republican’s electoral fate. The Youtube clip went viral. Meatloaf had buried Romney’s chances. Let’s hope that he’s also buried America the Beautiful.
Meanwhile, the musical army arrayed on the Obama side was a fearsome one, routing the youth, minority, and women’s vote towards the supposedly safe haven of the Democratic ticket. Bruce Springsteen hopped aboard Air Force One to tour the heartland with songs like “No Surrender” and “The Promised Land,” urging crowds of as many as 20,000 people “To vote for the man who killed Osama.” The Boss knows how to give a quick accounting of Obama’s foreign policy as nuanced as that offered by the President himself.
In Ohio, the Boss was joined by Jay-Z, who hip-hopped into swinging Columbus to do his hit “99 Problems.” It opens with a radiant pro-woman manifesto:
“If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you son
I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.”
That would have been the perfect send-off for Hillary Clinton from the State Department, but the fixers would not let the poetry stand unchanged. The Obama camp has shown a masterful talent with the political airbrush, and Jay-Z duly applied it to his catchy lyric, substituting “Mitt” for “bitch.” It’s a textbook example of the Democratic tactic of claiming to be progressive by flogging the opponent. A musical lyric that is deeply anti-women is cynically retouched and duly accomplishes its mission: women flock to the polls to cast their vote for Obama, conveniently ignoring the misogyny underlying Jay-Z’s song.
Among other pop mercenaries fighting for the Dems was Katy Perry, who flew into Milwaukee to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” while wearing a form-fitted blue latex outfit with the Obama campaign slogan of “Forward” printed on it. Earlier in the year Obama had sung a snatch of the song at an appearance in the Apollo theatre in Harlem. As in 2008 when he occasionally deployed his singing voice on the campaign trail, Obama knows how to accumulate large quantities street cred with a burst of song. That was the effect of short contribution to Sweet Home Chicago at the White House blues night in February of this year in front of B. B. King and other assembled legends. But while song in the Presidential throat fools many in to thinking they are hearing his true, caring and carefree self, it is in fact the product of careful calculation: far from warm it emits an intense, elegant cold.
Over the weekend before the election, the campaign’s field marshal Stevie Wonder was airdropped into the battleground of Ohio and to do his “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered.”
The tune has been the Obama campaign’s anthem, and it blared over the loudspeakers on Tuesday night as the First Family strode onto the stage at Obama’s campaign headquarters before the newly re-elected President could make his pompous More Perfect Union victory speech. The venue was revealing: the Democrats had retreated to their own fortress from the massed Hope of Grant Park after the 2008 landslide, where John William’s score from the Mel Gibson’s Patriot resounded in open air. In 2012 there was a circling of the partisan wagons and reefing of the ideological sails: the rhetoric of the Tuesday’s speech was as lofty and pretentious as it had been four years earlier, but electioneering had triumphed over the supposedly revolutionary vision of 2008 that had been given a rosy hue by Hollywood’s most patriotic sonorities.
The choice of Wonder’s song for the campaign trail and its final reprise on Tuesday said everything that needed to be said about the Obama era. The song has a vibrancy that is driven along by Wonder’s left hand at the keyboard and the urgent horn section: the groove represents the sexual energy of the lyrics describing a lover returning to his beloved after “saying goodbye” and wandering off. He sings that he’s “done lot of foolish things”: in Obama’s case that means getting into bed with any number of right-wingers of both parties.
The opening lines of the song sum it all up:
Like a fool I went and stayed too long
Now I’m wondering if your love’s still strong
Oo, baby, here I am, signed, sealed delivered, I’m yours!
After whoring around for the last four years, Obama came back looking for love even from a Ms. America sorely disappointed in him. She made him a squirm on the threshold, before beckoning him in and throwing back the covers. But come morning, he’ll be gone again.