Thanks, W, for all the great music

October 23rd, 2008

I’m not in the business of predicting politics, but I think there’s a fairly decent chance Barack Obama will be the 44th president of the United States.

Predicting popular culture? I’m game for that. So here goes: If Obama is elected, popular culture—music in particular—will become a lot less political.

The last eight years have yielded some of the most intense protest art since the 1960s. Everything from “Fahrenheit 911” to “American Idiot,” George W. Bush has been nothing short of an inspiration to America’s left-leaning arts community (and late-night comics). Even more so than Reagan, I’d venture.

Some of Bush’s greatest hits:

Pearl Jam made its best and most immediate album in more than a decade with 2006’s “Pearl Jam.” Neil Young’s “Living With War.” Radiohead’s “Hail To The Thief.” Eminem’s “Mosh,” (which kind of stood out like a sore thumb among “Encore’s” songs about flatulence). Against Me’s “New Wave.” And, of course, the album, which for some defines the Bush era (and redefined Green Day), “American Idiot.”

Many of the artists who’ve come out against the Bush administration are supporting Obama. That’s not a shocker. So what happens when (and if) Barack Obama takes the oath of office Jan. 20? As his campaign promises, things are going to change… at least at first.

Take Green Day, for example. The band is (finally) at work on its “American Idiot” follow-up with producer Butch Vig. Vig, who manned the boards for Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream” is also the drummer/head studio geek for Garbage. A Vig-produced Green Day album could sound incredible. I’d also say it’s a safe bet it won’t be anything like “American Idiot.” And why should it? Bush, toward whom most of the “American Idiot” anger is directed, will be back in Texas when the next Green Day comes out.

The adage goes something like “there are no second acts in show biz.” Well, unless you’re Green Day or Pearl Jam and George W. is in the White House. Point is, as much as a lot of these artists dislike the president (and I get the sense from a lot of them that it’s fueled on personal dislike and policy disagreements), he’s done wonders for their ca-reers.

It’s true then. If McCain is elected you’ll have more of the same. Heck, under George W. Bush, even They Might Be Giants sounded like Rage Against the Machine at times.

But if Barack Obama is elected, only Rage Against the Machine will sound like Rage Against the Machine. Remember during the Bush/Gore campaign, when Rage said there wasn’t much difference between either candidate? I don’t think many left-leaning artists are saying that now, about McCain and Obama.

If Obama’s elected, Rage will still be protesting. They’ll probably be alone at first. But what happens on Jan. 21 when our troops are still in Iraq? What happens when these musicians realize Obama’s not exactly a peace-loving flower child and he’s just as committed to winning the War on Terror as his predecessor (although in very different ways)? Will a perpetual war on terror equal perpetual protest singing?

Other than Rage and some punk bands, I don’t think so. Unless the music is anti-establishment to begin with, I’m guessing we’ll see a de-politicalization of pop-music. In some cases, this is a good thing—who needs a political Barenaked Ladies? (In fair-ness, “Take it Back” is their best song in years). But when that passion and fire are gone, do bands like Pearl Jam and Green Day go back to making the same inconsequential re-cords over and over again?

Will these bands ever mobilize against a President Obama, the way they’ve done with President Bush? Unless he mandates abortions for all 12-year-olds or declares war on Mexico, I seriously doubt it.

So, in that spirit, let’s enjoy our remaining months with W and the great music he’s inspired (not to mention movies like “Team America,” “Fahrenheit 911” and “W”). But, here are my five favorite songs:

»The Decemberists, “16 Military Wives.” Check out “Rushmore”-inspired video where America’s geopolitical bullying is satirized in a high school Model UN conference. It’s on youtube.

»Mike Doughty, “Move On” is passionate, plainspoken and seeping with emotion. Probably my favorite of the Bush-era political songs.

»Green Day, “Holiday.” The lyrics “Seig Heil to the president Gas Man” might be a bit extreme, but it’s only a fraction of Billie Joe’s anger.

»Arcade Fire, “Intervention” might not be the most Springsteen-y track on “Neon Bible,” but it’s the most explicit in its politics.

»I’m also including The Beastie Boys’ “An Open Letter to NYC” as well. Yeah, there are explicitly anti-Bush songs on their 2004 album “To the Five Boroughs,” but political songs don’t necessarily have to be “anti.” They just have to capture the spirit of events and the emotion of the artists. The Beasties are better when they’re positive, anyway, so let’s remember some of the good to come out of 9-11.

And, three of my least favorites:

»Ben Folds, “All You Can Eat.” Dude, I love you, but stick to character sketches and break up songs.

»Bright Eyes, “When The President Talks To God.” I know a lot of people love this song, but this is Conor Oberst at his most grating.

»Public Enemy, “Son of a Bush” might have the dumbest hook ever: “He’s the son of a bad man/He’s the son of a Bush.” Pass.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072 or jeiserike@insidenova.com.


4 comments to “Thanks, W, for all the great music”

  1. Sorry dude, but I really fail to believe that any of the anti-Bush music has really been good or memorable. This generation of musicians was so desperate to re-create what their parents got to live through that they were willing to jump on any bandwagon and lob insults at anyone. Their parents had some real gripes–a military draft, civil rights struggles, etc. Our generation has trust funds, music video awards and reality shows. These musicians wish they could mimic the most prolific music-making era in modern times, but, just like the person towards whom they had so much venom, they failed miserably.

  2. Listen to “Pearl Jam” and tell me it’s not better than anything since “Vitology.” Likewise “American Idiot” and “Dookie.”

    Although I agree with you about the musicians willing to jump on the bandwagon (didn’t really address that). My point is simply that there’s been some fantastic music to come out of the Bush years– which you disagree with.

    And I’d probably think “New Wave” was the best album ever if I’d never heard of The Clash.

  3. Haven’t heard the Pearl Jam album, but wasn’t impressed by American Idiot. If the album wasn’t about hating Bush (i.e., same exact music with different lyrics) no one would have ever cared.

  4. “Jesus of Suburbia” was a big step forward for Green Day. I liked it not so much for the content but for the story. It was fun to listen to.

    Check out the Pearl Jam album. If you liked their early stuff you’ll like this. It doesn’t have anything as memorable as “Jeremy” or “Alive,” but it’s solid.