The problem with being a Conservative, besides the fact that you spend all your time trying to ruin things for everyone else, is that, let's face it, you're really square. You probably have a million sexual hang-ups, you're always 50 years too late to claim credit for any social movements that improve the lots of people whose votes you desperately need to win, and worst of all, you have the most terrible taste in music.
The list of hugely essential musical genres and artists that conservatives hated when they were still relevant could fill 20 libraries. Hell, they still hate rap despite the fact that every third rap song is about mansions (and Tupac bitched about taxes). But oh, they hated rock music with terrible fury.
Too bad for them, because Rock became the most popular music in the country. And if you want to win people's votes, you need to make at least a cursory effort to pretend to get whatever it is they're into–which is why every election cycle, America marvels at that most hallowed tradition: Total conservative squares reaching desperately for hipster populist cred by using a rock song as their campaign theme.
Usually, it just makes them look lame, since they inevitably choose some ancient clunker from the era before personal computers, as though the music Baby Boomers listened to before they graduated college is still the epitome of hipness. But sometimes, we get the greatest gift of all, a venal, right wing sociopath who tries to use a song written by a political liberal only to suffer hilarious humiliation when the artists makes it known to everyone that hell-no-I-don't-endorse-them.
It's hard to pick the absolute best of the best from that group, but we did it anyway. Here are the 5 Most Hilarious Republican Attempts to Co-opt Rock Songs:
5) Ronald Reagan: Bruce Springsteen's “Born In the U.S.A.” -1984
In 1984, Ronald Reagan was running for reelection and he needed a song that really conveyed the kind of hopeful, optimistic vision he had for the America. The kind of song that was not only wildly popular, but wildly patriotic and easy to chant when you're angrily justifying breaking the law to sell weapons to our enemies and introduce crack to the inner city. He found it in Bruce Springsteen's 1984 hit “Born in the U.S.A.”
“Born in the U.S.A.” was a sensible choice, since it celebrated how totally awesome and kick ass America is at everything, especially at waging war in Southeast Asia. We're kidding of course, it's actually about how completely fucked up the Vietnam war was, and how it completely fucked up the soldiers sent to die so Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger could feel like studs. Which only made Reagan's statement on the song even funnier:
“America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”
On the bright side? Everyone with ears ridiculed the hell out of him (even Johnny Carson!), and references to the song were quietly dropped from Reagan's speeches. The bad news? People were especially stupid in the '80s, and Reagan was reelected by a historic landslide. And we're still enjoying the lovely bountiful benefits to this day.
Win some, lose some. On the other hand? At least people don't think The Boss is a fascist. And that's almost enough. Here, just enjoy the damned video and try to pretend the entire country isn't morphing into 1870s London, OK?
4) Sarah Palin: “Barracuda” by Heart – 2008
It's hard to imagine a better combination of stuffy, out of touch squares than Angry Old Man John McCain and his 2008 running mate, Alaskan-fundamentalist Christian-grifter Sarah Palin. They were the yin and yang of conservatism, he the avatar of bloodlust and racism, she the embodiment of hostility to information, theocracy, and endorsing behavior she doesn't actually follow. But one of the things that makes Sarah so insufferable is how she tries to have it both ways, by being both a stuttering idiotic theocrat and, like, a totally rockin' rebel.
See, long before she was babbling about mama grizzlies and how Paul Revere bravely informed British Soldiers about their second amendment rights, she and her people were calling her Sarah barracuda, or just plain “Sarahcuda.” Because she's fierce! So in the least imaginative move ever, they used Heart's “Barracuda” to roll her off and on stage at the 2008 Republican National Convention. Get it? Sarahcuda? Baracuda? Ha-haw.
Normally, this would have been a cut and dry case of the band telling her to stop. And at first, it was. But then the song's co-writer, Roger Fisher, appeared on a Seattle radio show and gave Sarah the ultimate free-market dis. He explained that he was “thrilled” because the RNC's using the song not only paid significant royalties, but also gave him the chance to state publicly that he supported Obama. OH SNAP SON!
Seriously, Republicans, when you get royally dissed from both the left and right, you've failed miserably, just like Sarah and McCain did the following November. Fortunately, Obama would do everything possible to ensure that Democrats continued to act like enormous weak-livered chumps, ensuring that Republicans would still get to set the national agenda despite being rejected by the entire country. So that was nice.
3) and 2) A Michele Bachmann Twofer! – 2011
Michele Bachmann is kind of an easy target, since she's clinically insane and a raving hypocrite. But there are a lot of crazy fundamentalists in America who hate democracy, so she's a very serious candidate for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination. And as befits all very serious candidates, she's tried to grab some populist magic for her campaign by using rock songs to spice up her otherwise boring attempt to make convert-or-kill non-Christians and outlaw-homosexuality national policy.
And she failed at it. Miserably. And twice in the same week.
On Monday, she kicked off her Presidential campaign for reals, and the fact that she thinks John Wayne Gacy is totally awesome was only the second most hilarious thing about it. She ended her first official campaign speech to Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's “American Girl”, likely giving the rubes in attendance the impression that Tom Petty has given his support to her attempt to destroy the country. But not so! In actual fact he was as surprised as the rest of us – within hours of hearing about the unauthorized use of his classic song, he told her to stop it.
Most of us would take that as a hint to vet the music we use for our campaign, but not Michele. She turned hilarious-song-use-fails into song-use-fails-ade, by switching immediately to using '80s pop classic Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves. The problem? Katrina is a liberal feminist who, like most Americans whose hearts haven't been shrunk by greed, bloodlust or a desire to kill brown people for their resources, definitely doesn't support Michele Bachmann for president. Yesterday, Katrina joined Tom Petty for a rousing rendition of stay away from my music. And we love her song even more for it.
We only hope that next week, Michele goes for a threepeat. Might we suggest “Kill The Poor”?
And the most hilarious attempt goes to…
1) Charlie Crist: The Talking Heads' “Road To Nowhere” – 2010
We understand that conservatives are inherently out of touch. You don't dedicate your life to taking away other people's rights and ruining the economy when you've actually had sex or made genuine friendships. But even the most hopelessly clueless old square has to know that David Byrne does not endorse your Republican bullshit.
Or, at least they do now, because in 2010, Florida Governor Charlie Crist helped everyone learn. He was running for the US Senate in a heavily contested three-way race. Losing badly to the eventual winner, Teabagger Marc Rubio, Crist needed something, anything, to get him some desperately-needed cred. So he did what any reactionary old jerk would do in his shoes, and used a Talking Heads song in one of his campaign commercialWAIT WHAT?
Yes. And he did it without getting permission. Of course that ended well… for David Byrne, that is. Bryne filed a very pricey lawsuit against Crist almost immediately. The suit was finally settled in April, 2011, and while Byrne received an undisclosed settlement, the best outcome of the case was what he forced Crist to do by way of apology.
It's one thing to make someone stop doing something. It's another thing altogether to make them eat a mountain of shit in front of the whole world at the same time. David somehow pulled that magnificent feat off, and the only downside is that the actual winner of that election, Marc Rubio, is so right wing he makes Crist look like a hippie anarchist. Oh well, we don't live in Florida anyway, and schadenfreude is delicious. David Byrne, we salute you.