By Michael Alan Goldberg
Not long ago, a three-CD, 50-track collection of America-themed songs that’s titled, appropriately enough, Song of America, arrived in stores. What’s so special about that? Well, aside from the fact that it features freak folker Devendra Banhart (“Little Boxes”) and Springsteen acolytes Marah (“John Brown’s Body”) alongside the likes of soul diva Bettye LaVette (“Streets of Philadelphia”) and Chevy rocker John Mellencamp (“This Land is Your Land”), the set was executive produced, oddly enough, by Clinton-era Attorney General Janet Reno (no, “Burning Down the House” isn’t on there, but thanks for playing). Apparently, she and her niece’s husband, a record producer, conceived the idea a few years ago, and even made a trip to the 2005 Grammys to get artists to sign on to the project. “I just hope that people will have the opportunity to hear [Song of America] and to see what songs can do to inspire and to motivate and to give people a sense of themselves," Reno recently told NPR.
Janet Reno: Patriotic matriarch of song?
But then, we thought, wow, Janet Reno gets to decide which songs define the American experience? Certainly, the current administration must have its own musical vision of our great nation they’d like to impose upon -- I mean, share with us. So we imagined that we rang up the White House and got Dubya on the horn, and we pretended he was a great sport, and that he quickly rattled off a hypothetical handful of tunes he’d include in a similarly themed collection, and even explained his choices:
The Circle Jerks: “Killing for Jesus” “Y’know, Jesus helped me to quit drinkin’, and as a way of sayin’ thanks to Jesus, I started bombin’ the holy hell outta all those non-believers over there in the Middle East. It’s the American way, my friend -- we like to give thanks. Perhaps you’ve heard of a little holiday called Thanksgiving? Heh, heh. That’s what we do.”
Lee Greenwood: “God Bless the U.S.A” “I’m hoping that before I leave office, Congress will ratify a new amendment to the Constitution that makes this song our new national anthem. I mean, come on, what the heck’s a ‘rampart,’ anyway? I can’t remember half the damn ‘Star-Dangled Banner,’ but I sure as heck know these incredibly eloquent, poetic words: ‘I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.’”
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Men Without Hats: “The Safety Dance” “My job as president is to keep America safe at all costs. See, there’s an old saying by one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, maybe you know it: ‘Those who are at liberty to essentially…,’ …uhh…‘Those who would purchase some safety don’t deserve it unless…,’ …umm…look, we gotta be safe. What? Men Without Hats are Canadian? Ehh, scratch that one.”
“Hail to the Chief” “Let me give you a little bit of history -- this song has been played to announce the arrival of the President of the United States ever since one of our best presidents, James J. Pork -- I believe he was our nation’s 59th commander of the chiefs in the 17th century -- began the tradition in 18…umm, 18-something. Wait, no, is the century number higher than the year thingy or lower? I can’t ever remember that one, heh heh. But I believe this is one of our most important songs, because the President of the United States is the smartest, the greatest, the most importantest, and the most powerful person on Earth, who can put you in jail forever for no reason, and so he should be hailed by everyone all the time. I’m hailing myself right now, heh heh…heh heh.”
The Team America soundtrack: “America, Fuck Yeah!” “Every time I get a little bit down about the war in Iraq, Vice President Cheney slips this one into the boombox on my desk and it cheers me right up. Now, don’t get me wrong, unlike Dick, I believe that the use of swear words coarsens this great nation of ours, and I could do without the licking of the butt and the sucking of the balls, but since I am the decider and that can be a tough job sometimes, I’m decidering to pick this one. You just can’t argue with any song that goes, ‘Terrorist your game is through ‘cause now you have to answer to America!’” Fuck yeah!! I mean, heck yeah!!”
George W. Bush: Doesn't he just look like such a rock 'n' roller?