Monday, October 27, 2008

print bedia

In the October issue of SPIN (which is about to vanish off the racks right about now), I wrote four of the blurbs for their "Strange Bedfellows" section, exploring where politics and rock have heinously intersected over the decades. I wrote about Willie, John Denver, Dickie Goodman, and the Beach Boys. Here are earlier drafts of what ultimately ran in the mag:

White House Goes Green
In September of 1980, after dueting with first lady Rosalynn Carter, redheaded outlaw (and future IRS-bust) Willie Nelson snuck out to light up a "big fat Austin torpedo" on the roof of the White House. A frequent guest of President Carter (himself a big fan of Willie), Nelson knew full well that the Secret Service observed him partake on numerous occasions. When asked about that time, Willie now cites (with that sly grin): "short-term memory — I don't remember a lot that happened then."

Political effectiveness: While the Carter Administration went down in history as ineffective, Willie ascended to stoner patron saint. But what would've happened if a dope from Texas had become President?

Rocky Mountain Snide
Wholesome folkie John Denver seemed unlikely to commit political subterfuge. But on his debut album,1969's Rhymes & Reasons, nestled alongside his future hit "Leaving on a Jet Plane," Denver sings two songs for the newly-elected Republican ticket. On "Ballad of Spiro Agnew" Denver bellows only: "I'll sing you a song of Spiro Agnew and all the things he's done," the song abruptly over in 15 seconds (lasting about as long as his term as VP), while "Ballad of Richard Nixon" is just five seconds of silence. "Agnew" songwriter Tom Paxton recalled: "John could be blunt in expressing his feelings through song." And as for penning a current VP ballad, Paxton says "it might be very short; something about what Cheney could go and do to himself."

Political effectiveness: Folk and protest go together, but anticipating Watergate by five years is pretty punk...for a Muppet-lover.

Black President Elected!
Before Girl Talk was born and when Steinski and Weird Al were still tots, copyright-trickster Dickie Goodman was already sampling and subverting pop songs (he had a #3 Billboard pop hit in 1956). For 1973's "Soul President Number One," as the Watergate investigation of Pres. Nixon intensified, Goodman used soul and funk samples to 'elect' the first black president. The new president "quotes" Barry White and Ohio Players, appoints Superfly head of FBI, gets Tricky Dick to park his car for him. "There was a huge groundswell of opinion for impeachment," Steinski says. "So Goodman capitalized by adroitly jumping on the bandwagon in an amusing fashion."

Political effectiveness: If we do elect our first black president, it remains to be seen if Barack Obama can quote old funk hits.

"Kokomo" Cocaine Codeword?
Claiming they attracted "the wrong element," when White House Secretary of the Interior James Watt refused to let the Beach Boys perform at the Washington Mall on Independence Day in 1983, there was a national uproar, even from the first lady. While Watt was correct to cite that they didn't want "to encourage drug abuse and alcoholism" (both Brian and Dennis Wilson were in bad shape), he was lectured to by President Reagan about the Boys being a "national treasure." While Mike Love protested, "we sing about patriotic themes-like 'Surfin' U.S.A.'" the Wilson brothers no doubt skipped Nancy's "Just Say No" speech.

Political effectiveness: Fortified both the president and the Beach Boys's wholesome Californian image in the American heartland and gave the band a huge boost in popularity. But it still doesn't excuse their "Full House" appearance.