The USA is tottering towards surely the most consequential election of our lifetimes with all the grace of a newborn giraffe — and what awaits it there, as Crikey observed earlier this week, is “an electoral system designed in the 18th century and not much modified since … an out of control pandemic, a mendacious president, a gangster administration and a stacked Supreme Court”.
An illustrative detail, among many: Walmart has pulled guns and ammunition from its shelves, preparing for civil unrest.
Crikey submits this latest edition of our Yesterday’s Papers playlist as a soundtrack to these times.
We start with “For The Love Of Money” by Philly-soul legends The O’Jays, which served as the soundtrack to the only job Donald Trump has truly excelled at — a cartoonish rich guy villain on The Apprentice; an extended riff on the character he’s been playing in Pizza Hut ads and kids’ films for decades.
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Joe Biden, looking as doddering and as white as he ever has — which is saying something — started a speech at a Hispanic Heritage Month event by playing 2017 megahit “Despacito” on his phone and sort of dancing for an agonising 10 seconds or so.
A more successful musical cue was the use of a re-jigged version of The Black Eyed Peas “Where is the Love?” on a campaign ad. While one questions if the “unsmiling celebs looking directly down the camera lens in black and white” shifts as many votes as politicians think it does, the song accompanies a genuinely good speech, and it’s impressive the campaign included quite a bit of police brutality in its “look what has happened to our great nation” montage.
Trump often uses Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA” in his rallies. A song from — and very much of — 1984, from the America of almost psychotically patriotic films like Rocky IV and Rambo II and stage-managed wars, the culture and politics of a country trying to drown out the first groans of its decline with triumphalist spectacle. It is no surprise, then, that Trump uses it. He is simply the latest, increasingly desperate echo of that impulse.
Kanye West is included here in his capacity as a presidential candidate, on and off Trump supporter and latter-day evangelical — his religious music evincing a faith based on prosperity and the individual, the kind frequently favoured by people whose prosperity seems to make them very lonely. He’s also included in his capacity as a musical genius, for whatever that’s still worth.
We include Bob Dylan’s version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”, partly to free us up to include Guthrie himself on a time that the US was less equivocal about fascism. But also because at 20 Dylan already sounded every bit as mournful as he would on “Murder Most Foul” over 50 years later.
A nod to the musical wit of De La Soul, et al, using on “Remove 45” a flipped sample of The Honey Drippers’ funk classic “Impeach The President”.
After months of fairly solid listening, I can say with some confidence the name Donald Trump does not cross the lips of either member of Run The Jewels for the length of RTJ4, their mid-year album from which “walking in the snow ” comes. But the omission is much the same as the absence of the word “mafia” from The Godfather. RTJ4 has taken the America that gave us Trump, and the America that Trump gave us, deep into its bones, painting a country febrile, farcical and sinister, radiating the threat of Buchanan’s parched grasses, smoothed by a dry wind, awaiting the spark.
So when Killer Mike gasps the line “I can’t breathe” (recorded in 2019) he’s referring to something that happened in 2014. The phrase had once again become a rallying cry, via “a taunt of history” as Guy Rundle put it, by the time RTJ4 was released.
And finally “Is that all there is?” an odd, distinctly late 1960s ode to anhedonia. Featuring jazz legend Peggy Lee listing various momentous occasions good and bad that left her feeling practically nothing, it’s a song that Trump apparently loves. It perhaps reveals more about him than he intends.
As the election looms it’s hard to shake the first verse, where Peggy recalls watching her house burn down as a child. Shivering in her pajamas, watching “the whole world go up in flames”, she thinks nothing more than this : “Is that all there is to a fire?”
Listen to the full playlist below. Warning: this playlist contains many swears.