‘Our House’ connects presidential campaigns and pandemics

By Richard Lee

In Week 4’s paper and online panel discussion, Phillip G. Payne related how Warren G. Harding conducted a “front porch” campaign for the presidency in 1920. Rather than traveling around the country, Harding chose to campaign from his front porch in Marion, Ohio, and use the media of the day – silent films, phonograms, radio – to reach voters.

In 2020, as Payne explained, Joe Biden has been forced to employ a similar strategy. Because of the pandemic, he essentially is campaigning from his home and relying on today’s media – cable television, the internet and social media – to reach voters.

With this in mind, my search for a song to illustrate Payne’s article focused on compositions that celebrate homes and hometowns, such as John Mellencamp’s Small Town and Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown.

But the most appropriate song I found was Graham Nash’s Our House, which he wrote in 1969 about the home he shared with Joni Mitchell.

Nash’s composition, which appeared on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 1970 Déjà Vu album, is filled with warm and fuzzy images that evoke the comfort of one’s home – a fireplace, flowers in a vase, a cozy room, sunshine pouring through a window and, for good measure, two cats in the yard. In Nash’s words, it all makes for “a very, very, very fine house.”

Our House took on a new meaning this year when the pandemic hit and forced people to stay home.

“Talking about staying home, why don’t I sing Our House?” Nash asked during a performance on In My Room, an Instagram series that features musicians performing from their homes during the COVOD-19 pandemic.

Our House works on several levels to illustrate Payne’s essay, The Politics of Remembering the 1918 Pandemic and Forgetting the 2020 Pandemic?

Harding campaigned from home in 1920; Biden is campaigning from home in 2020, and the coronavirus has been keeping people at home for months.

And two lines from the song offer a hopeful glimpse into a future without masks, social distancing and staggering numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths: Life used to be so hard. Now everything is easy.

Richard Lee, executive director of the Jandoli Institute, is a former music journalist who often writes about the intersection of music and current events.

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