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BY JONAS BEALS
One of my favorite election-year games is to listen to the music candidates use. Campaign theme music is, sadly, a thing, which means that any candidate who wants to seem the least bit hip must turn to some form of rock 'n' roll, an idiom that is pretty much anti-establishment by definition.
This has led to some hilarious misunderstandings.
In 1982, the mayor of Allentown gave Billy Joel the key to the city because of "Allentown," a song that deals mostly with unemployment.
Heart asked Sarah Palin to stop using "Barracuda"--a song that is either about an incestuous lesbian affair or a stalker--during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Perhaps most famously, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" became a touchstone for Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign, despite lyrics about a Vietnam vet struggling to find a connection with his country.
It's no surprise, really. We tend to gloss over the lyrics of most songs, and few pop tracks get analyzed in any meaningful way. Still, candidates for political office seem to be particularly terrible at choosing an appropriate song.
There are plenty of songs out there waiting to trap the unwitting candidate. Here are a few of them.
"America" by Simon and Garfunkel
Seems easy enough--our country is in the title! Who could say anything bad about the greatest country on Earth?
Not so fast: It's a lovely travelogue peppered with people looking for America, but it's not clear those people find anything but loneliness.
"Rockin' in the Free World" by Neil Young
This is probably a long-shot for campaign use, as it was already awkwardly co-opted in 1989 as the theme for the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Not so fast: Neil Young never pulls punches when it comes to criticizing the Unites States, so it's unlikely any competent handler would allow a candidate to get close to one of his songs. Besides, this one is highly critical of then-President George H.W. Bush and a government that turns a blind eye to environmental issues and needy citizens.
"This Land Is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie
Again, it's unlikely that a song by someone with a reputation like Guthrie's would be used by a politician, at least these days. With his love of the working man, his songs can enter dangerous "protest" territory in a hurry. Regardless, this is just a simple song about our beautiful country, right?
Not so fast: Most of us know the benign first couple of verses and the way they describe our fair country. But then it gets dicey. Guthrie turns the whole thing on its head, suggesting this land does not, in fact, belong to you and me.
"Party in the USA"
Say you want to court the youth vote. No better way to get to today's high-schoolers than through the singing TV star they grew up with: Hannah Montana. What can possibly go wrong?
Not so fast: What can go wrong? Nothing. This song is perfect. You're welcome, candidates.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036