Remember when campaign songs used to be somewhat silly and inconsequential? How H. Ross Perot chose Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” as his campaign song? And Bill Clinton chose Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop?” I could be wrong, but I think George W. Bush’s was Jimmy Buffett’s “Math is Hard.” In today’s climate, getting involved in politics is not only responsible and necessary, but it’s also cool. Political Science sections of bookstores are now packed to the gills with new product as demands grow. It seems as if you can practically sign up to vote anywhere. I was approached to register both in front of a local record store and at a local indie rock show! Rock and Roll and politics are becoming closer and closer entwined. MTV got in on the act years ago with their “Choose or Lose” campaign, rockers like Bono, Sting, and Eddie Vedder have been on the political stump for quite a while, and now even `The Boss’ is getting involved.
Future Soundtrack for America, a CD put together by the good people at Barsuk, McSweeney’s Publishing (a.k.a. Dave Eggers), Music for America, and MoveOn.Org, has just been released and is available in a number of ways. I got a copy by donating to MoveOn.Org. You can also get a copy by purchasing the McSweeney’s book, Future Dictionary of America, which for a literature nut like me sounds like the compilation of a lifetime. The book features some of my favorite writers including Kurt Vonnegut, Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Safran Foer, Rick Moody, Sarah Vowell, Richard Powers, Jonathan Ames, and even Stephen King! You can also pick up the CD at most fine record stores. The proceeds from the CD go to what the disc calls “non-profit progressive organizations working to involve more Americans in our political process, to advocate for ordinary people and traditional American values, and to help keep the United States a country all of us can be proud of.” The McSweeney’s website says that all proceeds go “directly to groups devoted to expressing their outrage over the Bush administration’s assault on free speech, overtime, drinking water, truth, the rule of law, humility, the separation of church and state, a woman’s right to choose, clean air, and every other good idea this country has ever had.” Amen. I think one’s being a little more honest than the other. The CD does its best to be non-partisan and even writes, “Whatever you believe, please get involved in or give money to causes that are important to you.” I’ll put it this way, if you object to Bush’s presidency and want him removed, while at the same time enjoy indie music, you pretty much have an obligation to buy this record.
So what kind of music did they choose for the CD? Well, the cover says that it selected new, exclusive, and rare recordings. Good! At least it’s not just a compilation of stuff we might already have! OK Go contributes “This Will Be Our Year” as the first track and shows a newfound maturity for the pop band. David Byrne follows with “Ain’t Got So Far To Go”, a song that could have fit in easily with his great album Grown Backwards. Jimmy Eat World covers Guided by Voices with “Game of Pricks” as they continue to do their Weezer imitation. Barsuk band Death Cab for Cutie contributes “This Temporary Life”, almost equally as stirring as the songs “Transatlanticism” and “Styrofoam Plates.” This is one of the best tracks on the collection. The next track had me scratching my head. It’s a mix of Blink-182’s “I Miss You,” their Cure impersonation from earlier in the year. Pretty much every other song has something to do with politics, but this is what they contributed? Well, I suppose I should simply applaud them for contributing at all. Good for you, Blink! Another standout is Mike Doughty’s “Move On.” Doughty has not lost anything since the disbanding of the brilliant Soul Coughing and is still underappreciated.
R.E.M. gives a sneak preview of a song on their upcoming album release in “Final Straw.” They Might Be Giants covers a campaign song from 1840 in “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Always timely those two Johns! The Long Winters, another Barsuk band, add another new favorite of mine with “The Commander Thinks Aloud (future mix).” Clem Snide offers a well written little poem, sans music, about how the secret rulers of the world whisked his girl away in a black limousine. Fountains of Wayne play an amazing acoustic version of a song from their first album called “Everything’s Ruined.” Unlike Blink-182’s song, this one translates well enough from a relationship song to a political essay. The Flaming Lips contribute a BBC live version of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” It’s a nice version of the song and an apt allegory. The newly reunited Old 97’s sing obscure band Opal’s “Northern Line.” The beautifully-voiced Laura Cantrell contributes her rendition of John Prine’s “Sam Stone,” a haunting story of a soldier who comes back from fighting overseas, wounded in mind and body, turns to heroin and overdoses while the government that sent him to fight sits idly by. Perennial favorite Tom Waits, another excellent storyteller, gives us “Day After Tomorrow”, another soldier’s story and a song that will appear on his upcoming album Real Gone. The album ends with a song that of course, nearly brought me to tears. It’s a different mix of Elliott Smith’s “A Distorted Reality is Now a Necessity to Be Free” and is worth the price of the CD by itself.
No big brother is gonna bring me down now
Other items you should pick up or see:
Nicholson Baker’s book Checkpoint
McSweeney’s publication Future Dictionary of America
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11