Saturday, February 23, 2008

Barack Obama: The Soundtrack -- A Mr. Dilettante Seminar

I am fortunate enough to have completed my college education before the semiotics and post-structuralist craze totally took over the English departments of American universities, but the irritating vapors of Derrida, Foucault and other similar folks were already starting to seep into my beloved Beloit College when I studied there in the early 80s. Much of the theory that these guys traffic in is risible, but I've always been fond of the notion of deconstruction, which is an intellectual parlor game where one takes things from one context and tries to strip it down to its "text." Derrida, Foucault and their buddies were mostly interested in subverting any ostensible Western values in works of literature and replacing it with nothing in particular beyond their own vaguely Marxist nostrums.

I know that's not a fair summation of what they argued, but it's about as fair as what they argued about most literature. But I completely understand the allure: it's a lot of fun to take ideas, images and words and throw them into the Waring blender. A lot of what comes out can be unintelligible goo, but sometimes wonderful things can emerge from the recontextualizing.

So what does that have to do with Barack Obama? Patience, grasshopper, we're getting to that.

We've already used music to discuss the Obama campaign twice in this feature, using Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" and Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" as songs that have resonance for understanding Obamamania. The redoubtable Anonymous Truck Driver suggested R.E.M's "It's the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine." All fine thoughts. But that's not enough for a full campaign soundtrack. And that's what I want to establish, along with a few helpful suggestions from the vast worldwide Mr. Dilettante audience.

So, to get things started, I offer a few more ideas, all of these coincidentally from 1976:

"Step Right Up," by Tom Waits, in which our favorite dissolute neo-Beatnik offers a series of promises only slightly more outlandish than some of the things one typically hears on the hustings. And the accompanying video is plenty strange, combining Waits and "The Matrix." YouTube is a Foucault playground. Change into a 9 year old Hindu boy?

"The Rubberband Man," by the Spinners. So much rhythm, grace and debonair for one man? Lord. The video, from "Burt Sugarman's Midnight Special," is just a hoot -- gotta love the 1970s.

"Golden Years," by David Bowie. Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel. And yes, that's David Bowie on "Soul Train."

The floor is open for nominations. And if you can find silly video to go with it, even better!


Leo Pusateri said...

ya gotta have this in the mix:

Daria said...

Here for your consideration are five tunes with videos that capture the spirit of a Obama cult rally:

For the Annoited One's grand entrance Bonnie Tyler starts things out with Holding Out for a Hero. This video captures the essense of an Obama rally. I can visualize this playing on the Jumbotron as Barack enters the arena. Note the swooning women just ready to go syncoptic on que.

The the evening with Obama continues with Todd Rundgren's Hello It's Me as Obama greets his flock. Todd works the crowd with Obama-like charisma.

After the grand entrance Dan Hill, who is also of mixed race and looks kind of like a hipper 1970s version of Obama, captures the feeling of love in the air with Sometimes When We Touch. The supporting musicians really get into it as do those in the Obama posse.

Meat Loaf then describes the substance of the Obama speech with I Couldn't Have Said It Better.

Finally, Mr. Loaf captures the mood of the gathered masses as the Annoited One Leaves the Building with this emotional rendition of
Not a Dry Eye in the House.

- D

Mark said...


Love the Sammy! And that's exactly right -- talk about your childhood wishes.


Five excellent choices. Bonnie Tyler! What more can you say?

I'd almost forgotten about the Todd Rundgren cult - I went to school with a few Todd devotees and their allegiance to "A Wizard, A True Star" as Todd so modestly referred to himself was stunning. And that video is exactly right, as it captures what I remember being quite puzzled about all those years ago.

"Sometimes When We Touch" is just brutal. And perfect.

And Meat Loaf? The booming operatic voice? The grandeur? The wild overstatements? Hard to argue with that.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

If Barack Obama is the answer, what is the question? I think the question is, "Who Will Save Your Soul?" by Jewel. Sorry, the link is just for the actual video, and I seem to not know how to do this HTML-style.

Anonymous said...

Two More:

Neil Diamond's "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show"


Paul Shanklin's "Barack the Magic Negro" parody of Al Sharpton's jealous mockery of Barack Obama to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon" sung through Al's ever present bullhorn.

Gino said...

but nobody brought up the most obvious one.
Your Own Personal Jesus, by depeche mode.

Anonymous said...

I think you dropped the ball on the Bowie pick.
What about 1980's Fashion?

There's a brand new talk, but it's not very clear
Oh bop
That people from good homes are talking this year
Oh bop, fashion
It's loud and tasteless and I've heard it before
Oh bop
You shout it while you're dancing on the ole dance floor
Oh bop, fashion

Fashion! Turn to the left
Fashion! Right

We are the goon squad and we're coming to town

Listen to me - don't listen to me
Talk to me - don't talk to me
Dance with me - don't dance with me, no


Mark said...

Good point, Rich. You could do one of these only using Bowie songs. Golden Years, Fashion, Changes ("turn and face the strange changes"), Young Americans ("do you remember your President Nixon"), This is Not America, I'm Afraid of Americans, etc. And there's probably more than that.

Anonymous said...

"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside."