It’s Not All Right Now: Thinking about the Republican Convention’s Choice of Songs

In History & Politics by eric holmberg0 Comments


Donald Trump attends the Hank's Yanks 1st Annual Golf Classic at Trump Golf Links on Monday, July 6, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Greg Allen/Invision/AP)

Among the things I struggled with during my foray into the Republican Pleasure Dome this past week was the music that was played throughout.

Imagine having Ted Nugent direct the house band at a PETA/Vegan conference. There were times during the convention where I could relate.

As someone whose grew up under the musical sermons and discipleship of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix (among many others), I know first-hand how music can help influence and even fashion a person’s worldview and actions. (I have produced videos and written numerous articles on the subject.) Under their tutelage, I became the person your mother warned you about. It took Jesus and the Bible to renew my mind and heart and keep me from some form of the tragic end that met both of the talented but lost men.

I get that the RNC was meant to be in part a big party. And loud, high-energy, evocative, dance-able and sing-along-able pop songs are an important part of the mix. And the party also doesn’t want to come off as straight-laced or un-hip by only covering Gospel-inflected rock. People are going to want the Beatles, the Stones, Sly, Springsteen, Creedence, Wonder, the Whites Stripes, Arcade Fire, etc.

Thankfully, there are thousands of “great” (in the sense of checking off the five boxes just mentioned) songs available to choose from that are reasonably “safe”–that don’t just set out to celebrate the “sex, drugs, and rebellion” ethos that rock ‘n’ roll is unfortunately known for.

But the set list during the convention featured several deplorable picks. I don’t know if they were chosen by the RNC, Team Trump, or were–in the case of some of the live music–an act of subversion by the bandleader: the talented, formerge-smith-rnc house guitarist on Saturday Night Live and William Defoe’s doppelganger, G.E. Smith. But the cognitive dissonance and lack of attention to detail that was on display sonically had me wondering—along with other things—if this “Make America Great Again” thing had a snowball’s chance in hell of working.

Here are four examples:

  1. G.E. Smith’s band covered David Bowie’s Station to Station. Ironic to see the party of Christian family values grooving to occult references (“Kether to Malkuth”), semen imagery (“white stains”) and drugs (“It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine, I’m thinking that it must be love.”)
  1. AC/DC, You Shook Me All Night Long: We’re not talking here about dice, hands or a drink shaker. The song is rife with not-so tender, loving, or family-friendly references to “shaking walls,” being knocked out by “American thighs”, “fighting for air”…I could go on, but you get the point.
  1. Bad Company’s I Can’t Get Enough of Your Love was covered by the house band on the last night during the ramp up to Trump’s unveiling. Opening stanza: “Well, I take whatever I want, and baby, I want you. You give me something I need. Now tell me I got something for you.” As the song proceeds to make clear, that “something” is not a box of chocolates or wedding ring. (I wondered if the song was perhaps—intentionally or accidentally—a message to the American people.)
  1. Perhaps most incredibly of all, as Trump finished his speech and his family and running mate joined him on stage, as the balloons dropped and the confetti fell, what song was chosen to usher in this new era of promise? Free’s All Right Now—a song that celebrates a one-night-stand between a couple that barely know the other’s name.

Again, I wondered if the song might be unintentionally prophetic.

In the cosmic scheme of things, these unfortunate musical choices might seem pretty inconsequential. Certainly there were other, more important things—policy decisions involving war, immigration, trade, globalization, the economy, law and order, etc.—that deserve our careful attention and consideration. But as it’s often noted, “the devil is in the details.” And these particular little devils got me wondering about the party of Trump’s sincerity concerning its pro-Christian and pro-family platform and well as their clarity on the bigger issues.

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