Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Campaigning In (and Out of) Tune

It seems that a lot of "alternative" music - a form of popular music that's not really popular - is making its way into the presidential campaign.
Political commentator Amy Walter referred to a song from the Death Cab For Cutie, "The Sound of Settling," in a column explaining how the Republican and Democratic presidential nomination processes will likely end up endorsing the establishments' choices for the nomination after everything settles.  The PBS Newshour's Gwen Ifill, who read the column, asked Walter on the Newshour last week what the heck she was talking about.  Specifically, what was Death Cab For Cutie?  Walter had to explain to Ifill that Death Cab For Cutie is an indie-rock band, though she didn't explain where they got their name from.  (For the record, they got it from the title of the song the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band played in the strip-club scene in the Beatles' TV movie Magical Mystery Tour.) Walter encouraged Ifill to listen to Death Cab for Cutie some time.  "I'll . . . see what I can do," Ifill replied with some trepidation.
Walter is white.  Ifill is black.
There's probably something to take away from the fact that white people have embraced soul, R&B and hip-hop over the years but black people don't seem to want to have anything to do with white music, but I don't know what that takeaway is.  
But there's definitely a takeaway from Martin O'Malley's recent video interview with the Web site Fusion, in which he revealed his own tastes in current popular music. O'Malley, who talked about America's social problems with his daughter Grace, a teacher in the Baltimore City public school system, by his side, was asked to show off his guitar skills - he leads an amateur Irish rock band - by playing a Taylor Swift song.  Instead, he played "Scare Away the Dark," a hopeful song about humanity from Passenger, another current artiste.  He tried to get Grace to sing along with him; she refused, only smiling with some embarrassment.  
Oh, yeah, here's the clincher: Passenger is not a group. It's the pseudonym of Michael David Rosenberg, a British folk-rock singer-songwriter.  And it's lilkely that you didn't know that, because Passenger probably only sells one record for every two thousand records Taylor Swift sells.  And that's the problem.
Back in August, I wrote, "The idea of O'Malley trying to distract attention from Hillary Clinton is, for the time being anyway, like a folk singer trying to get attention while standing in the same room as Taylor Swift." The metaphor is all too apt.  O'Malley loves a lot of the current folk-rock acts and also digs Celtic punk-rock, but he apparently doesn't know any Taylor Swift songs so he can party like it's 1989.  His tastes in current music, impeccable though they are, don't reflect what's on the pop charts, just as his candidacy doesn't (not yet, anyway) reflect Democratic presidential preferences in the polls.   His musical tastes may even be a political liability.  So, in this interview, all O'Malley did was show how he keeps up with the latest acts but likes the ones that don't sell out arenas and stadiums.  His daughter's resistance to his exhortations to sing along with him on "Scare Away the Dark" and her overall embarrassment at his song choice made the candidate look like an uncool dad, which could scare away young voters. 
I at least give Marty credit for being into current musical acts, even if they're not popular with the kids, rather than stick to the tried and true classic rock canon.  I'm actually thrilled that O'Malley likes the American Celtic punk band the Dropkick Murphys and that the band has encouraged him to use their music in his campaign events, especially after they told now-former presidential candidate Scott Walker to stop using their music in his events.  "We literally hate you," they told Walker.  And they literally love O'Malley.  But when a candidate not yet setting the world on fire becomes associated with alternative and indie acts who may never do so, that might not be the best way to attract attention or voters. At least not until he draws bigger crowds than his favorite musical artists do.   In the meantime, he should get Taylor Swift to take a selfie with him before Hillary gets her to take a selfie with her.
Also, I've thought of another O'Malley joke, a joke relevant to this post that I'd better tell before his opponents tell it to make fun of him.  Question:  What's the difference between Ted Nugent and Martin O'Malley?  One is a white guy over fifty who plays the guitar and makes political statements that no one cares about.  The other is a rock star from the seventies. 
And how does Marty feel about Death Cab For Cutie?
As if Gwen Ifill would want to know. 

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