The challenge was announced six months ago in the heat of the hottest summer on record. A fearless few and a foolish many answered the call immediately.
Within minutes trauma hotlines were jammed with calls. The night was filled with the scream of ambulance sirens. Emergency rooms filled to overflowing. Legions of other healthcare professionals were summoned from their beds. Scores of psychiatrists took early vacations and fled the country on the first available flight. Medications flowed at unprecedented rates and liquor store shelves were emptied of all bottles holding spirits of 86 proof and above. Fire departments were inundated with calls to rescue cats from the highest trees.
The cost to the American economy and the harm inflicted on the collective mental health of the populace has yet to be calculated. No one can begin to estimate the damage. No one dares. Think tanks and social scientists refuse to embark on research that involves such hazardous materials.
Undaunted by the dimensions of the crisis and the tales of personal and communal suffering, I have been in full training for the last half year to undertake this necessary work. Aside from subjecting myself to a range of unmentionable primal scenes and oedipal fears, I have watched—in ever-increasing length and volume and with my body strapped into a dental chair and my eyelids propped open like Alex’s in A Clockwork Orange—archival video of the Gores and Clintons dancing in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock on Election Night 1992 to Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” With this horror show playing in front of me, I have been force fed gallons of root beer jello while having my toes tickled by fake feathers as the air is misted with Thierry Mugler’s perfume Angel— at fifty bucks for half a fluid ounce, an expensive but necessary addition to my regimen. In between these sessions I have endured countless hours of real fingernails on real chalkboards in alternation and combination with the toxic footage of the legendarily awful comic Gallagher’s most infamous routines.
After all these weeks of training it was time to put myself to the test, now with just a few days remaining before the free world’s most important electoral ritual when the flame of democracy burns its brightest—the Iowa Caucuses!
At 3a.m. in a secure basement facility I turned it on: Hillary Clinton’s Official 2016 Spotify Playlist.
Warning: if, in simply reading the phrase “Hillary Clinton’s Official 2016 Spotify Playlist” CounterPunchers have any of the following symptoms—nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, flushing, or an erection lasting more than four hours—look away from your screen and seek immediate medical help.
As a precaution, I have included no links to the tracks or images from the Playlist in this column. Those who go to Spotify or seek individual songs in conjunction with the name “Hillary Rodham Clinton” do so at their own risk.
Even after my weeks of endurance training the Playlist has hit me hard. I am currently suffering from what my attending physician assures me is temporary partial paralysis, and I am typing this column with only the first two fingers of my left hand.
Things had started well. The list begins with the happy, edgy sounds of “Believer” by a band called the American Authors. Pure posturing, of course: as if someone on Clinton’s musical staff had typed in keywords “America” and “Belief” and hit paydirt with a youthful track with a pinch of urban grit: easy listening for the hipsters of Brooklyn. My foot started to tap, my shoulders shucked. I arose, Dr. Strangelove-like from my chair and began to gyrate. Then I noted a tambourine in the mix, and the apparition of Stevie Nicks seeped into the room. The blond musical ghost of the Clinton-Gore past might have incapacitated a less resilient researcher, but it was just the sort of eventuality my training had prepared me for. I danced on with Stevie’s blond ghost “I’m just a believer / That things are gonna get better” sang the Authors, and who could begrudge them the sentiment, the hope of youth? If these white Brooklynites like Hillary why shouldn’t every cool person? Dance on, bro!
Feeling almost invincible after a two-and-a-half minute round with the Authors, I squared off against Gym Class Heroes doing “The Fighter” featuring Ryan Tedder’s breathy soprano rising wanly from the muddle of adolescence towards the dolor of adulthood. This fighter landed repeated low blows with the unsportsmanlike claim that Hillary is the underdog , and then allowed the candidate to taunt the last poll percentages of the electorate that want to see her go down: “Half the population’s just waitin’ to see me fail/Yeah right, you’re better off trying to freeze hell.” But I was still dancing.
After these pierced and painted boys sauntered off it was time for track three and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” I was equally as prepared for this loyal Democratic lioness with the stars-and-stripes bustier who’s been roaring big for Hillary for interminable months: “You held me down but I got up.” The most powerful woman in the world as the dark horse: I’d seen this silly swipe coming a mile away, clenched the gut and boogied off.
Indeed, divorced from its association with Hillary, this list fizzes like a fun teen party: you dance to a generic message of hope and mass sentiment marketed as individuality. You even have the chance to shake it inclusively to Jennifer Lopez and her former husband Marc Anthony on two separate tracks getting out the Hispanic Vote.
Physically you’re fine, but it is the mind games that lame you in the end. Spotify doesn’t just offer millions of songs, it curates your taste. From an initial sample of songs you’ve listened to, the service’s algorithms make recommendations, and before you can blink you’ve been formed as a musical consumer.
Hillary’s Spotify List is simply the musical manifestation of the Clintonite phenomenon of hugging your opponent: now she does it on the dance floor. The young should hate this retread of failed policies and plodding imperialistic menace, but there she is undaunted, going nuts under the strobe lights.
But then you start thinking about Hillary herself. If you are what you eat, you are just as much what you listen to you. The music you love makes you the person you are. It does this when you are teenager still in the formation of the adolescent muddle referred to above. Hillary’s music is not the American Authors (Believer, 2014) not even the ageing JLO, but that of her own youth. Even Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” was from 1977 and that was the chronologically appropriate sonic bunting for the ascendancy of Clinton 1. I just know she wasn’t really listening to any of that.
As the dance tunes of the Spotify Playlist sped by in my predawn basement, I couldn’t help but see Hillary at sixteen, a volunteer for the Goldwater campaign, turning seventeen just weeks before the election. It was the year 1964 and atop the charts were the Beatles with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” In third spot was Louis Armstrong and “Hello, Dolly!” and down at number six “Everybody Loves Somebody” sung by Dean Martin: “Everybody loves somebody sometime / Everybody falls in love somehow,” he croons.
You know Hillary wasn’t really into the Beatles back then with the cool kids, but instead singing along with Dino and the Goldwater gang.
You didn’t train for this surge of sentiment, and it’s in the midst of track four—Zedd’s “Break Free” also from distant 2014 and yet again conjuring the satirical scene of the Clinton Behemoth throwing off the Lilliputians’ shackles—that you realize you’re losing feeling in your left foot …