You are the president of Special America. Which band plays your inauguration? The after-party?
When I hear the phrase “inauguration party,” I immediately flash to an image of Beyonce blowing kisses to the Obamas while singing an Etta James song in an elaborately staged spectacle that was like a cross between a Superbowl Halftime Show and the production numbers on Dancing With The American Idols. “At Last” is a beautiful, glorious song—and, in this context, it became an anthem of those who believed the election meant that “Yes we can” had become “Yes, we did” as if the movement that elected him was now safe to disband.
I also can picture Eleanor Roosevelt serving peanut butter sandwiches to unemployed homeless workers in 1933. At Obama’s party, music was presented as the opposite of a cheap sandwich. It’s more like an expensive dish (look at the price to a ticket to a Beyonce concert) appealing to a consumer desire, a want, than a affordable service for a basic human need. As a fiscal conservative, I know we could create a more affordable and more profoundly engaging musical experience that celebrates the strength of the American character; one that is more healthy than a peanut-butter sandwich, yet more able to address the needs of citizens than the “bigger-is-better” ethos of Hollywood.
The majority of the citizens who elected me are discontent with the economy as well as the corporate culture, including music, of this country. They elected me because I made promises to restore the middle class by bringing back, and updating, the regulations and infrastructure-building jobs-creation programs that characterized the New Deal, especially the Works Progress Administration. Such government programs helped create the most prosperous middle class of any country during the modern era between roughly 1948 ad 1978. It is not a coincidence that this post-New Deal period also produced the most vital, democratic, music culture this country has ever known.
The connections between the economy and the health of this country’s musical culture need to be emphasized. 50 years ago, as older generations know, America had a much stronger locally-based democratic music economy. Almost every city had at least one small record label that could produce a national hit. Small venues and dance-clubs thrived, small businesses such as record labels and radio stations poured money back into the local economy; music was more central to everyday American life, and helped make citizens more productive.
Many of today’s cultural crises (violence, drugs, the hopelessness that comes from disenfranchisement, obesity and other health issues) can be traced to the corporate takeover of the music industry in the last 45 years. We can’t change this overnight, but using The New Deal as a model, we can begin to establish the institutions that can reverse the trends of the past 45 years. In my administration, music will be treated as a basic need that can heal individuals as well as the public sphere, the commons, but that don’t mean it can’t be inspiring, invigorating and fun!
So, who is going to perform at your party?
The party is pointless unless it can be a platform to begin to enact domestic policies that don’t sleep on the agenda that elected me. The choice of individual bands is less important than creating a context to democratize music. Imagine a variety show that can be done cheaply. At the very least, we should do away with the gaudy larger-than-life techno-spectacles, and help create a network of Dance Floors that have a more democratic intimacy (like “Soul Train” or the early days of “American Bandstand” did). This intimacy could be recreated or re-coordinated, with many small parties occurring simultaneously in every municipality, each with their on talent and their own needs.
So, your party will be a dance party?
In a sense, yes. Dance is a more democratic medium than music insofar as one doesn’t need to go to school to learn how to play one’s body as an instrument, and many of the best live performers know that they perform better when people are dancing, or shouting, or are otherwise deeply, physically, engaged with the music. It’s a collective experience. The audience/dancers are not mere “consumers.”
But not everybody dances. Some people need to get drunk to dance. Are you going to mandate dance music?
Of course not, but in my travels across this great country of ours, I have seen over and over how the funk of James Brown and others have had an irresistible power to bring people together during work-out classes in gyms and in pools; old and young, black, white, Latino and Asian, one nation under a groove, and often for health reasons—even in 2014. So, this inauguration party can also serve to further the healthcare agenda as much as my proposal to cover treatment by licensed chiropractors, massage and cranial-sacral therapists in the affordable health care act. In this light, the emphasis on dance liberates music from its association—encouraged by the corporations—with youth culture, from drugs, “sex” and bling. There will also be beds available for disabled people to rock, horizontally.
You mention James Brown? He’s dead. Do you have a particular song in mind for your party, like Clinton’s theme song, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow?”
The woman who wrote that was British; we demand American music: contemporary Country Music and Urban music will be featured, but so will older music that is not advocated by the corporate driven industry because music has a power to educate while it’s entertaining. So, a song that can get people moving, with a message as powerful as “Fight The Power,” should be included. Maybe even that particular song; and if it can’t be performed live, we will play a recording (for some recordings still have more power than much live music).
So “Fight The Power,” is your theme song?
I know the media will jump on me for that, but it’s not merely the content of the words that is the message of that song, but its power to get people to dance regardless of what it is saying. Those who love other music with “profound words” on one hand, and those who love a good beat regardless of words can come together because of a song like this. The corporate driven music culture that has become increasingly deregulated since that time clearly does everything to separate the power of this coalition that elected me.
Some people are just turned off by political songs that seem too heavy handed.
This is why I wouldn’t only have a band like Public Enemy or The Coup. This does not mean that there will not be room for romance and for tears at this party. Country pop diva, Carrie Underwood, for instance, could reprise her 2008 hit, “Just a Dream” (with its implicit anti-war message that helped get Obama elected). Nor do the words to every song have to be political. We have three hours to work with.
Yet, it’s important to stress, that since one of my mandates is to create more job opportunities, and institutions for unemployed musicians, I use these songs as examples of the kind of song I’d include. And, yes, as President, I will continue to fight the corporate power—but I cannot do it alone.
What other kinds of music would you include?
Gospel music; some of the best, most uplifting music being made today comes from the church.
Are you worried this would violate the separation of church and state?
No, church and state should be separate, just like corporation and state should be separate. The major corporations have not produced great music; the church has. That’s a fact. That music has not made this country a theocracy; gospel music is a powerful people’s music that can aid in the fight against the corporatocracy. I do believe in municipal music….
Do you mean marching bands playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy?”
If I can avoid it, no! (laughs). But I do mean music from school, after-school and pre-school programs. I ran on the campaign promise of restoring government funds to music-in-the-school programs. Studies show these programs have helped students do better in other classes and prepare them for the “real world.” Furthermore, they serve as an effective anti-violence campaign that reaches kids while they’re young. Because children are not empowered as musicians at a young age, the corporate-driven culture is able to seduce many away from the way it is taught---if it is taught at all—in schools. Kids grow up not knowing about the great music that is being made in their own hometown, but only about the music pushed by the globalized industry, which, like corn syrup, can hook them before they even know what hit them. They’re given little choice; bringing in local musicians to help teach these classes will not only create more employment opportunities locally, but will also provide the children with passionate human role models to apprentice under when they are most open to it. And, yes, some of these school musicians will be invited to the party.
It sounds like you want a lot of amateur musicians at your party.
They will be of the highest quality. I can’t guarantee that all the performances will be better than what we get from the mass media that treats music like it’s sonic wallpaper, but it will offer a clear alternative to this culture. Indigenous populations will be invited to share their music, which has been severely marginalized….
Over and over, you mention your distrust of Hollywood’s mass-culture industry. Will your event be televised?
That may be unavoidable. We’re working on alternatives. Obviously, this event must have a virtual presence. I see it as the first of a series of “Fireside Podcasts,” with music and conversation, with plenty of opportunities for commercial (non-corporate) tie-ins. We will use these podcasts to stimulate the economy by working closely with small, locally owned businesses—especially worker owned collectives, to help provide advertising, and cultural content that address the needs of their local communities.
This is part of the plan to nationalize the music industry, to nationalize all currently licensed commercial radio stations (the vast majority of which are owned by four media conglomerates who break anti-trust laws that are no longer enforced). Once the finite airwaves are nationalized, the price of radio stations will be set low enough so small local businesses and community organizations can buy them. Since vital contemporary music has largely disappeared from the radio dial in the era of the corporate dominance, many people no longer listen to the radio. Yet the radio has two major advantages for music culture in 2014 that the web-only podcasts lack; it’s locally grounded, and there are a finite number of radio frequencies in contrast to the infinite, and largely placeless, podcasts that many currently listen to. This ambitious plan not only fosters competition between locally-owned regulated small businesses, but also can re-establish mechanisms for a more democratic, and less arbitrary trickle-down exchange of recorded and broadcast music. It can bring the price of advertising down to reopen it to small business, while hiring local musicians to create jingles (like many of the iconic figures of 50 years ago did at the beginning of their career). Because of the increased demand for radios, this could also help create jobs by bringing radio manufacturing back to America.
Finally, we know you’re a musician too—would you perform music at this event?
Certainly not as a solo act. Live music, at its most profound, is a collective experience. I would be more than honored to stand in the back and led some trumpet to a dance band, or play some piano or read/improvise a rousing political speech. But it’s important to get people moving first, then we can mobilize—much more than Beyonce could, or that inauguration party that appeared on the TV show “The West Wing,” in which the “singer songwriter” James Taylor is hired to butcher Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” This image becomes an emblem of old-school “liberal” pieties, the kind of “good for you” force feeding that de-spiritualizes both duty and pleasure. It doesn’t have the power to bring people together, but is at best a sideshow.
 Many Etta James fans objected to what they saw as disrespect, but many others supported Obama’s political savvy in appealing to the Hollywood-based contemporary mass-media music culture, since Hollywood was a big campaign donor.