Aimee Mann – Can’t You Tell?

Old school hipsters will want you to know that like them, you should appreciate Aimee Mann. She led 80’s new wavers ‘Til Tuesday, but has a longer, more distinguished, if low-key, solo career.

Today, with this song, Mann is singing as if she was 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

It is part of an artist’s campaign, sort of like these social media challenges of posting inspirational happenings for one month. This one, is 30 Days, 30 Songs, wanting a “Trump-Free America.”

Mann imagines “The Donald” as a sociopath who has no plan for America beyond winning. He can’t stop the damage he is wreaking, and would wreak more, if president. But that, Trump has a conscience and truly, privately wishes someone would put a stop to him getting the top political job of the land.

Who is to blame? Trump for, sure. But Mann as Trump suggests his supporters carry responsibility, too, wanting to crown Donald Trump and troll and lambaste his detractors. That’s an interesting point: Donald Trump is who he is, but what is it in the American political culture that has put this person in prominence?

One could argue, this instalment of 30 Days, 30 Songs could try to get into the minds of Trumpsters to better understand their feelings and motivations, and support for Trump. What gave rise to their stridency?

Mann doesn’t like Trump, and by extension, maybe his adherents, too? But the song even accords some humanity to the man. This is not just from it suggesting Donald wants off this runaway train, but through the tune’s fluid, effortless melody and soothing, jangly instrumentation.

It might be one of the sweetest salves of a protest song, despite Trump being so abrasive in style?

John Lennon – Gimme Some Truth

From 1971, John  Lennon rants against politicians that speak with rhetoric instead of being honest.

Rhetoric is like using language skilfully to convince someone to agree with a case or point being made. The arguments being made for an issue or cause may be weaker than they appear, when figures of speech and other creative ways of speaking (and writing) are employed.

Lennon just wants the truth. Of course, one suspects he would also reject the pure views of the politicians of his day he was protesting. On the other side, politicians may be limited in speaking their truth given political party allegiances, media attention, constituent views and other practical considerations such as finances.

All in all, the situation can breed cynicism about politics. However, speechifying is but one part of politics, and hopefully there is some respect for healthy political institutions such as an independent judiciary, free press and even an accountable legislature and executive branch of government.

Chicago – Hard To Say I’m Sorry

Yes, this is a #1 Billboard hit ballad from 1982, an ostensible love song with a narrator seeking to make amends to a disappointed lover. Politicians typically have trouble accepting responsibility for their own mistakes and lapses of good judgement.

“Stonewalling” is a common communications tactic that denies, denies, denies responsibility, until accountability is forced. This encourages media speculation not based on evidence, and heightens our cynicism of politics, even if many times in our personal lives we also try to avoid having our feet held to any fires we started.

In these ways, politics remains a quintessentially human activity conducted by fallible people.

Company Flow – Patriotism

Caution: strong language.

Brooklyn hip hop outfit Company Flow sound off on just about everything they can think of; they are considered abstract, experimental and underground artists. It would take time to dissect all that’s raised, including:

…weapons, Cuba, advertising and the media, censorship, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), religion, party politics, assembly line manufacturing, sweat shops, dairy products, the justice system, sexuality, electronic surveillance and privacy, unmanned drones, economic sanctions…

Perhaps this line sums up the 1999 tune: You just stepped into the spectrum of paranoid word rainbows.

Castaways – Liar, Liar

This classic 1960s garage rock tune by one-hit wonders The Castaways is clearly about a man disappointed in his philandering girlfriend.

Voters hate when politicians lie and expect from them an absolute honesty at all times. Voters have a higher standard of their elected representatives than they do of themselves! Perhaps cognizant of this double standard, citizens often return dishonest politicians to office come election time. As if to sing, from this song:

In spite of your cheatin’, still love you so
I’ll be unhappy if I let you go

Talib Kweli – Beautiful Struggle

We must move past indecision to action. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response – Martin Luther King

From 2004, using ‘revolution’ in its broad sense (see The Clash, Revolution Rock), serious rapper Talib Kweli figures change has to come from people, for a few reasons:

  • American political parties, like the Democrats and Republicans, are interchangeable
  • Religion is preoccupied with gossip
  • Black history organizations are moribund and ineffective

Kweli’s disappointment in these institutions failing to bring change is manifested in the hook: he feels like laughing at their empty change rhetoric. Perhaps we’d have to look to other tunes by him to find his prescriptions.

William Blake – Jerusalem

Considered the unofficial anthem of Britain, this song is actually music by Hubert Parry (around 1916) and words by poet William Blake (1808). The lyrics are commonly thought to mean Britain would be like heaven if Jesus visited. The anthem had been used to build troop morale back in the First World War. And British political parties of varying ideological stripes have also sang the lyrics at meetings and conferences since.

Another WWI song reviewed here: Paul McCartney, Pipes of Peace