By Richard Lee
“A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over.”
– Joe Hill, songwriter and labor activist
In the spirit of Joe Hill’s quote about the power of song and with all due respect to the excellent reporting done on the campaign trail, here is a musical look at the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential candidates.
(Click here to listen to my May 17 radio show about the presidential race or keep reading to learn what songs I played – and why.)
We begin with Bruce Springsteen’s Man at the Top. The refrain, “Everybody wants to be the man at the top,” is out-of-date, given the number of women in the race, but the sentiments in the lyrics fit the bill for all those who hope to get to the Oval Office: “From the big white house to the parking lot, everybody wants to be the man at the top.”
It’s a crowded race. More than 20 candidates have thrown their hats into the ring, so they can be part of the crowd – or The In Crowd that Dobie Gray describes.
Election Day is more than a year away, but the candidates are off and running with the pack.
Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and other “Young Dudes” bring youth to the race.
At the other end of the spectrum are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Biden has jumped to an early lead, but like his namesake in Hey Joe, he may be haunted by incidents of his past, albeit incidents not nearly as extreme as described in the song’s lyrics.
Too Old to Rock’n’Roll: Too Young to Die may be how some of the younger factions of the Democratic Party view Biden and Sanders.
Although we live in the 21st Century, women still are held to different standards than men – in politics and other fields. For Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren or Marianne Williamson to win the nomination, they may need to prove they are the type of Superwoman that Stevie Wonder sings about.
Lesley Gore was in high school when she had hit singles with It’s My Party and Judy’s Turn to Cry. In 1963 at the age of 17, she delivered a different message about teenage romance with You Don’t Own Me – a bold statement for the time and a potential anthem for the women in the 2020 presidential race.
The title, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, suggests another song about the women in the race, but the lyrics could easily apply to criticism and attacks that every political candidate faces:
Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone you just like they said they would
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home
And they’ll stone you when you’re there all alone
The Long Run is an accurate description of a political campaign.
Anyone who has run for office, worked on a campaign or covered one knows the feeling of Running On Empty in the final days of the race.
In the end, regardless of party, we’re all just Holding Out for a Hero to lead the nation.
Richard Lee is an associate professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonmaventure University.