An Inauguration Playlist

Unlike many of my fellow Americans, I am not super-excited about the upcoming Obama presidency.  I'm very happy to be done with the W years, but it's fairly obvious we're not going to the get the crazed liberal socialist that right-wing radio promised us, and that I actually wanted.  I'm totally into things like universal health care, environmental protection & sensible energy choices, and a sustainable national food policy. So while I'm happy that things will no doubt be less horrible than they have been, I don't really believe that I'm going to wake up Wednesday morning to a world filled with rainbows, unicorns, and a federal budget surplus.

All that aside, I'm still moved to celebrate the inauguration of our first African-American president and our latest (nominally) liberal one with a playlist.  (Props to Mrs. Creative DC for the idea). Please enjoy some songs that I think have special relevance this week, as we welcome to DC (well, he was already in DC, but whatever) the man who may not save the world, but is no doubt going to change it forever, as most American presidents do.  Let's hope it's for the best.

Explanations of my song choices below.

Cinderella - The More Things Change  In addition to taking me back to the days when I used to watch Headbanger's Ball every Saturday night on MTV, this song sums up how the cynical side of me (it's a big side) views the whole "Change" meme.  I guess I'm a change agnostic:  I'll believe it when I see it.

The Who - Won't Get Fooled Again  "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss."  OK, that's probably not remotely fair, given who the old boss was, but let's face facts:  Obama is still an American politician.  They're not all that different from each other.  [Editor's note: gross generalizations brought on by several days of frozen pipes at my house turning me more cynical than usual.]

Alice In Chains - Down In A Hole  Not one of my favorite songs of theirs, but I think it adequately sums up the position in which our country finds itself economically and in other respects.  I don't want to be down in the hole, I just think that's where we're at at the moment.  

Nas - Black President  One of the few recent Obama-themed songs I can stomach.  Seriously, I can't handle that will.i.am song.  I like Nas's line "America, surprise us, and let a black man guide us."  It still strikes me as sad that most of the news coverage in 2008 was more or less "Wow, a black man or a female might be President!  Ain't that some shit!"

The Magnetic Fields - Washington, D.C.  This song is not really about DC at all, it's about love.  But given that my city is considered cool for the first time in the nearly 9 years I've lived here, I felt it deserved a musical shout-out.

Extra Golden - Obama  This band is made up of members from Washington, DC and Kenya, so it seemed perfectly appropriate that they compose an ode to the Senator who lived in DC and had Kenyan roots in his family tree.  Obama also helped some of the band members obtain visas so they could enter the U.S. a couple years back, so this song was their way of returning the favor.

Super Furry Animals - Presidential Suite  This song is about the excesses of those in power; in particular Clinton and Yeltsin get name-checked.  It's not really relevant for Obama (yet) but I love the romance of the chorus:  "You know that we belong/In a presidential suite/Armed guards in the street/Waving back at crowds who greet." I blogged about a great remix of this song a while back.

Eric B. & Rakim - Eric B. is President  Truth is, I just wanted to include this song.  But I'm willing to go the extra mile for my readers and come up with a thin justification for its relevancy.  I think these lines actually do seem like Obama in both his seeming unflappability as well as his ability to draw and motivate giant crowds of people:  "I don't bug out or chill or be acting ill/No tricks in '86, it's time to build/Eric B easy on the cut, no mistakes allowed/Cuz to me, MC means move the crowd."

They Might Be Giants - James K. Polk  A bit of presidential history, and a good reminder for us cynics that sometimes presidents can surprise you.  Sometimes.

Billy Bragg & Wilco - Christ for President  This just in from every media outlet in the world:  Obama walks on water!  Obama raises the dead!  Obama turns water into wine!  Etc.  [Editor's note:  there may be some sarcasm going on here.]

David Bowie - Changes  I've never been able to decide if this is an optimistic song or a pessimistic one, so it seemed a perfect fit for my ambivalence at this time.  Either way, it's a great song, and it's about change, so it makes the list.

Cloud Cult - Hope  A beautiful song, even though it doesn't make a ton of sense.  However, the optimist in me (I actually am an optimist, just a cynical one) loves the line "Just hoping makes me better for it."  It's important not to let the cynic run the show all the time, or it gets really boring (see: middle seasons of Six Feet Under).

Pavement - Harness Your Hopes  The cynic's back, and he brought a friend!  "Harness your hopes/On just one person/Because you know a harness/Was only made for one."  I sincerely hope that everyone else is right and I'm wrong on this one, and at this time next year we'll all be talking about what a kick-ass president we have.  That's my hope.  This song also features the line "The freaks have stormed the White House/So I moved into a lighthouse," which makes me laugh.

Changes - 2Pac  It seemed only right to include this, since without this song Nas wouldn't have his song, and so it goes.  I've always loved this song, because it manages to be both deeply pessimistic and somehow hopeful at the same time, and sometimes, I can relate.

Scorpions - Wind of Change  Yes, at this point, I'm just getting silly.  But there was a time when I would have talked your ears off about how meaningful this song was.  Seriously.

Jesus Jones - Right Here, Right Now  Remember when we all thought the future had arrived and history was over and everything was going to be cool from now on?  I feel some of that sentiment going on in America today, though a very different version of it.  Still, this song never sounds outdated to me.

Steely Dan - Change of the Guard  Yes it's a (relatively) terrible song, but the optimist in me is insisting that I end this thing on a high note, so here goes:  
"If you listen you can hear it
It's the laughter in the street
It's the motion in the music
And the fire beneath your feet
All the signs are right this time
You don't have to try so very hard
If you live in this world
You're feelin' the change of the guard"
So, what are you listening to for the Inauguration?  Are you hopeful?  Cynical?  Bit o' both?  Tell me in the comments.


Mr. Emily said...

Yeah, at best he's a moderate.

But it's still better than any other options right now...

Unknown said...

I must be more cynical than you, because I genuinely don't believe that a true left-winger could get anything done in this country. I'd rather an imperfect health care proposal get passed than the perfect one fail and leave us with the same piece of shit system we have now (o hai, 1993!)

Then again, maybe you can file me away with the "a black man could never get elected in this country" crowd, who assumed "oh, the country will *never* go for that! We'd better give them something inferior yet palatable!" But then maybe the country is smarter than I give them credit for, and really would go for actual smart policies if they heard them. But probably not. Not yet, anyway.

Newmanium Reveler said...

The kool aid is strong with me. Not because of results, necessarily, but because of all the ways in which Obama's election vindicates one of my fundamental beliefs about the U.S. It's easy to pinpoint when intellectual prowess and competence stopped being important traits in a candidate. And hopefully, it'll be easy to pintpoint the moment where those characteristics started to matter again.

Incidentally, I made a much cheesier mix. Nas was on there (de rigeur) and the Otis Redding version of "Change gonna come." I dedicated "Up the wolves" by the mountain goats to karl rove, "sold american" by kinky friedman to john mccain. "Harness your hopes" just missed making the cut...

99 said...

i'm not interested in talking about obama. but i will share two of my favorite songs about optimism, both written by a bitter and vicious cynic.

two by Roger Waters: "The Tide is Turning" and "Each Small Candle." read the lyrics if you don't know the songs - pretty wild from the guy who wrote the "animals" album.