Published, in altered form, in Delusions of Adequacy Jan. 10, 2005
Yikes McGee — “The Bad President”
Piñataland – “Little Know Ye Who’s Comin’”
Roughly a month ago, and what a rough month it’s been, George W. Bush was reelected (or elected, depending on your view) to the presidency and ever since, many on the Left have been making the painful transition from laying curled and weeping in the fetal position on their bedroom floors into a kind of zombie-like, unfeeling trance that will last well into 2008.
Well, what better way to reflect on the hopeful pre-election socio-political climate (and aid in the mourning process for those of us still grappling with defeat) than to reexamine some of the cultural artifacts created by the Bush/Kerry race?
While MoveOn and a host of 527s will surely reference their TV and web ads, some will cite Eminem’s blistering “Mosh,” and many readily will recall the on-the-stump contributions of big-name celebs like Bruce Springsteen or Leonardo DiCaprio, what we can’t forget is how much artistic fervor the Bush/Kerry race stirred up on all levels, and especially within local communities of independent music.
While Yikes McGee surely is just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of musicians to circulate their protest songs on-line in the last few years, his plain-spoken assault on the first four years of the W. administration is indicative of much of what was out there pre-Nov. 2.
Dubbed simply “The Bad President,” the 90-second offering is all semi-spoken/semi-sung vocals and shuffling acoustic folk guitar, an obvious descendent of luminaries like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
(It’s available for download, alongside some other politically charged material, at http://www.yikesmcgee.org )
Rather than attack Bush on issues or platforms (or try to rhyme real couplet-killers like Abu Ghraib or Kyoto, never mind the more obvious Osama or Saddam), McGee goes after the Commander-In-Chief by plainly debunking what’s perceived as his character, his abstract view of reality, his religious fervor, and his quick ascendancy to power.
“We got a president, so bad/ Gotta be the worst we ever had/ Got the job because of his Dad/ Now we’re all in danger,” sings McGee, in one of his broader critiques. There are some more issue-driven and politically loaded criticisms (I personally enjoyed “Compassionate conservative? My ass/ And executions unsurpassed/ Surplus gone, so fast/ Divided not united”), but McGee probably is at his best in the song when he swings a more blunt-ended object.
The song’s chorus, repeated twice, speaks more to hope than to anger, something that I wonder if McGee has tweaked in the weeks since Ohio’s close margins (thank you, electronic voting!) gave Bush the Electoral College edge.
“Put him in a straitjacket, there’s no doubt/ Let the psychiatrists figure him out,” it goes. “Listen while the demonstrators cheer and shout/ We’ll all feel better in the morning.”
Well, maybe we won’t.
The New York-based ensemble Piñataland, whose brilliant full-length Songs From The Forgotten Future Vol. 1 was arguably the best record of 2003, even threw their hat in the political ring, choosing (unlike many) to wax more pro-Kerry than anti-Bush by adapting an 1824 John Quincy Adams campaign tune for the new millennia.
While the acoustic guitars of the online-only offering “Little Know Ye Who’s Comin’” aren’t far removed from the coffeehouse protest of McGee’s “The Bad President,” that’s about where the similarities end.
The song — posted in the midst of the race and updated with accompanying text at http://www.pinataland.com/downloads/littleknowye.html after Bush’s victory — is a sometimes-subtle and carefully rendered track, something that’s fleshed out enough to fit alongside the history tunes of one of the band’s engaging full-length outings.
While Piñataland, in true imitation of the JQA (that other President’s son) tune, claims a Bush election/reelection would lead to famine, plague, slavery, wide-spread fires and robbery, and battles with pistols, guns and knives (among other second-term niceties), it’s really, really surprising to hear how toned-down the presentation is.
Most of the two-minute song’s choruses (“Little know ye who’s comin’/ If John Kerry not be comin’”) are delivered in a near-whisper and only once (during the verse that claims a Kerry-less presidency will bring with it tears, fears, plague, pestilence, hatin’ and Satan) does the band get overpowered slightly with anti-Bush sentiment and lose a bit of their cool. It’s a beautiful thing.
The band also deserves applause for being what is probably the only act to perform an angry missive against the Republican “war president” while employing the tender weeping of a pedal steel guitar.
Sadly, though, Piñataland’s “Little Know Ye Who’s Comin’” now also may provide a subtext to many of 2004’s protest songs and a sad closing thought on much of the artistic response we’ve seen and heard in the last year or so.
It’s another song they’ve created for a forgotten future.