"We learned more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school."
-- Bruce Springsteen, "No Surrender"
I finished watching the John Kerry acceptance speech in Boston last night and my first reaction was . . .
Can we please Please Please call a truce on the use of The Popular Song to establish that a politician/political party is hip-hep-happening-relatin'-to-you-baby-and-ready-to-fulfill-your-every-hope-and-dream?
The Kerry speech concluded and what did the Official Party DJ launch into, presumably with the approval of or under instructions from the Kerry-Edwards campaign? U2's "Beautiful Day". "Arrrgh!" sez I to myself sez I. "Why is that?" sez you. Allow me, if you will, to elucidate:
Now, let it be stipulated that this is a Pretty Good Pop Song. I like U2. I've liked the band since their first album. I can say, for instance, that their "Achtung Baby" is an album that had All Sorts of Meaning for me during a Difficult Time (upon which, like Aeneas, I now look back and laugh - "ha!") when it first came out. And "Beautiful Day" is a song that is very good in the particular way that U2 songs can be very good.
But why, I wonder, other than the central phrase of the chorus -- "It's a beautiful day" -- would one play it following this speech by this candidate? After all of the promises, miracles and wonders that the good Senator offered up -- affordable health care, prescription drugs growing on trees, better pay and shorter hours, and the like [yes yes yes, this is something of an unfair exaggeration, but bear with me please] -- after assuring voters that he will give them things that they want and don't currently have, why oh why should the Senator feature a song whose secondary chorus is:
What you don't have you don't need it now
What you don't know you can feel it somehow
What you don't have you don't need it now
You don't need it now, you don't need it now
If that's the message, the Kerry campaign might just as well have chosen "You Can't Always Get What You Want."
In its way, this use of "Beautiful Day" is as much a misappropriation as when the Reagan reelection campaign latched on to Bruce Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A., a song that sounds like an Up With America affirmation until you actually examine its lyrics, which are rather more jaundiced than any vision to which Mr. Reagan subscribed. The Clinton campaign, in contrast, was dead on with its selection of Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop [Thinkin' About Tomorrow]," a song that has little of substance to it but that is exactly as upbeat and hopeful as it sounds. That is likely to stand as the best campaign song choice since FDR's "Happy Days are Here Again." Overall, Senator Kerry's musical choices were -- as some say of his approach to policy issues -- too nuanced for his own good. A further example:
Bruce Springsteen was also in the house for Senator Kerry's entrance to the podium, which was accompanied by "No Surrender". [Peter Jennings on ABC: "Mr. Kerry says it's his favorite song." (Emphasis Jennings'.)] The song is, to my way of thinking, a sort of second-string "Born to Run," and for all its talk of "blood brothers . . . with a vow to defend" and the seeming resolution of its chorus ("No retreat, no surrender"), it is ultimately a song about growing older and more weary and wanting to recapture the dreams of your youth by . . . playing in a rock 'n' roll band:
Now young faces grow sad and old and hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
I’m ready to grow young again
And hear your sister’s voice calling us home across the open yards
Well maybe we could cut someplace of our own
With these drums and these guitars
[repeat chorus omitted]
Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim
The walls of my room are closing in
There's a war outside still raging
you say it ain't ours anymore to win
I want to sleep beneath peaceful skies in my lover's bed
with a wide open country in my eyes
and these romantic dreams in my head
A large part of the purpose of the Democratic National Convention was to introduce us to "the real John Kerry." Given that he did play in a rock 'n' roll band in his prep school days, his choice of this song may actually tell us somewhat more about his hopes and dreams than we really want to know.
I am not the only one annoyed by the Kerry campaign's tin ear for lyrical content. Also weighing in on the inappropriateness of "Beautiful Day" are popular kids like Andrea Harris and Matt Welch
The campaign is beginning to display evidence of Serial Springsteen Abuse: a clip of a smiling candidate Kerry on yesterday evening's network newscasts was backed by Springsteen's Glory Days, which is at least as much of a downer as "Born in the U.S.A." Are these the shapes of things to come for Kerry/Edwards?
Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye . . . .
* * *
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days