What Politicians Can Learn from American Idol

At a time when polticians and public figures are often accused of pretense and misdirection, it seems a fair time to point out they all have something to learn from “American Idol” (hereinafter AI) , the popular television talent show teaches us there is one way sure way to put yourself into position to win an election, whether it be for singing superstar or public office: be who you are, not who you think folks want you to be.

 But, first let’s backtrack…many of you have already seen this clip of Hillary Clinton speaking in Selma, Alabama:


Senator Clinton spoke at the First Baptist Church in Selma as part of the commemoration of the Montgomery to Selma Civil Rights march that ended in bloodshed at the Edmund Pettis Bridge.  After listening to Mrs. Clinton, several commentators suggested she attempted to adopt a “southern accent” as part of her speech.  Although I am no Hillary fan, let me state that the suggestion is ridiculous, but it draws attention to why she does need to pay more attention to AI.

One cannot adopt a southern accent.  A southern accent is felt deep to the bones, and is the product of living in the region.   In fact, I suggest there is actually more than one type of southern accent.  The outlander may think they all roll together, but the typical non-southerner will assume you have an accent even if all you do is say “y’all”.  I bet you could put your native New Yorker in a room with folks from Tidewater, Richmond, the Piedmont, the Southside, the Valley, and Big Stone Gap and he would identify each one as having a southern accent.  What would be ignored is the subtle differences in pitch, pace, and tone that a native of Virginia would readily identify.  Imagine the range that would kick in if you included folks from other states in Dixie!

Perhaps the final word is best left to Johnny Cash and Tom Petty, who generations apart once sang:

There’s a southern accent, where I come from
The young’uns call it country, The Yankees call it dumb
I got my own way of talkin’ But everything is done,
with a southern accent Where I come from

What Hillary did attempt to do is to imitate call and respond type speech pattern that is native to the Southern Baptist church and used by a wide number of churches across Dixie. It is easy to recognize but takes a little instinct to accurately execute. The basic idea is that the speaker puts out their idea in a rising ladder of signicance, and audience response grows louder and more involved as the speaker builds toward a mighty conclusion.

I first encountered the style up close and personal at the 1988 Mock Democratic Convention at Washington and Lee University. Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta, former Congressman and UN Ambassador, was the speaker. I was sitting down front with Powell Starks, a W&L seven year man and native of Louisville, KY.

I noticed that Mayor Young seemed to be getting annoyed with the predominantly anglo crowd, even though it was being respectful and responding frequently with loud applause and cheers. I mentioned this to Powell, who said, “He is upset because we are breaking his rhythmn.”

I said I didn’t understand. Powell said, “Politicians disguise sound bites as speeches. They want to have their speeches broken up by applause, and plan them that way. Mayor Young is an ordained minister…he wants us to to respond in a lower key fashion-and “amen” might not be inappropriate”-while he builds to his conclusion. Then he gets big applause, and he starts in on his next major point. That way he builds up momentum, and part of the momentum is the rhythmn. By applauding as frequently as we are, we are breaking up his rhythm, and that is why he is annoyed.”

If you listen objectively to the Hillary C. clip above you can see that is exactly what she is trying to do. However, this is a pattern and practice that is so identified with the South that when someone who does not have the right accent-instead, has an accent from Chicago cross bred with almost a lifetime in the North-it sounds like an attempt at an imitation. She comes across as trying to be something she is not.

Which brings us back to AI…

Devotees of AI (hello, Vivian!) regularly see the eager applicants attempt to sing songs they like or that they think the judges will like without giving much thought as to whether they can actually sing the song well. Each season someone rolls out Whitney Houston songs and Celine Dion songs, and almost all of them crash and burn because they don’t have the big vocal presence to make it work. Contestants pick songs they like, and not necessarily songs they can sing well. Contestants pick songs they think the judges will like, rather than songs they can sing well. Contestants try to be what they think the judges want to see, instead of being themselves and impressing the judges with their talent.

Political candidates are the same. They do all type of superficial things to make us feel a connection, when what we want is a leader. We want to be impressed by quality of their ideas and the content of their character, and not whether they ate crabcakes in Baltimore or a Po Boy in New Orleans or a Cheese steak in Philly w/o getting cheez whiz on their tie. Those who want to lead us focus on the superficial while ignoring the fundamental. They try to be what the voters want them to be and tell the voters what they think voters want to hear. What we want is for them to be honest and show us who they are and where they want to lead us.

Is is my hope that as the campaign season rolls on toward Election Day 2008 that the ever narrowing number of candidates will consider AI and all those failed contestants who focused on what they thought the judges liked. I hope those that aspire to the nation’s highest offices will choose to trust the will of the voter and not the siren of their ambition, and be straight with us about who they are and where they want to go.

If you don’t, Simon Colwell-the mean AI judge- may just end up with a new career as a political consultant. Hillary, take heed!


The State Song Should Be…

It seems that my delegate David Marsden has decided to begin the session by breaking into song…on behalf of a song.

Brother Marsden has introduced HB 2662 State Song that will designate “Virginia, Ever Enshrined” as the state song of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I have listened to it. It won’t wash. It is neither catchy, nor martial, nor grand. It is a non-starter. Sorry about bruised feelings…but better to deal with the pain than wallow in impossible hope.

Having said that, what song should be selected?

The Shad Plank suggested “Highway to Hell” would be a good alternative, but since they have widened significant portions of Va. 58 I don’t know we can pull that off.

So, since “Shenandoah” has been disallowed for the fact that it doesn’t refer to Virginia, I renew my suggestion that after all the pretenders are wiped away that we put into place the rightful state song…the song that has kept drunk frat boys shagging for thirty years…you know it, you love it, say it with me…

!!!!!!!!!!! Sweet Virginia Breeze !!!!!!!!!!c
It’s already the unofficial state song, let’s make it official! 

For those not familiar with this party classic, you can find music and lyrics here. If you think you have heard a different version, you may have. Robbin Thompson and Steve Bassett recorded this together in 1975 on the album “Together”.

Then when the two sent their separate ways each recorded it individually, Robbin Thompson on the disc “ITwo B’s Please” and Bassett on “Steve Bassett’s Virginia Breeze”, so there are as many as three versions out there by the guys who wrote this song.

Togethertwo B’s Pleasesweet virginia breeze
“Sweet Virginia Breeze” was a regional hit in the Southeast, and has been a staple at social events for over a quarter century.

I admit a sentimental attachment to the song…but I know whether played at the normal pace or at a more stately rate it captures the spirit of those of live in and love Virginia. Besides, if not the state song, then why not the official state rock and roll song? If Washington can claim “Louie, Louie” for that purpose, why doesn’t Virginia grab this one?

To me, this song is not just entertaining, easy to sing, and fun, it is a real song. It was written to be sung and performed just for the sake of doing it, and not created out of whole cloth for the sole purpose of being submitted as the state song.  I like the idea of a song that has had people on their feet dancing and singing and not a prim recital piece that would not exist but for someone wanting their little piece of immortality.

So, Delegate Marsden, after the pretenders flame out, put up the real thing.  Made in Virginia, vibrant for years, guaranteed to please-“Sweet Virginia Breeze”.

Songs Your Parents Love

Do you remember the songs your parents loved? I use the past tense, because the only time this is a concern is when you are a teenager…because there is just a chance that they might like music that you like, or that is at least popular at that time, and how embarassing would that be?

The thought comes to mind after reading Whitney Pastorek at Entertainment Weekly discuss how her mother-who apparently was really trying to find common ground with her music-crazed daughter-took to liking Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

Ms. Pastorek’s pastoral meanderings on the subject brought to mind my folks. For me life was bit different, because they didn’t just try to like current songs-they embraced and sang the songs. The bizarre thing was that the songs they liked were songs they liked instantly, and those songs almost always went to #1.

Ours was a musical household. Both my parents sang (in their day) in HS, College, and church choirs. My mother was an ace on the piano and pipe organ, and she loved the Beatles and Rachmaninoff. You may have met my father-he is the fellow you hear at the back of the church singing the tenor line in every hymn. My sister was Virginia All-State Chorus, and I was in the glee club in college and could spell Virginia All-State Chorus-as my sister’s selection was as close as I ever got to being selected.

Mom fell for two pop songs, and sang them incessantly around the house. No others-just Roberta Flack’s Killing Me Softly and later the Captain and Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together. She heard them on the while being compelled to listen to WPGC (95.5 on your FM dial) on the car radio, and adopted them immediately. Within six weeks each had hit #1. Dad got a kick out of Elvin Bishop’s I Can Help, and drove my sister crazy with it, and all the while the song hit #1 on the country charts and then crossed over into the top ten on the pop charts.

Understand that if Mom or Dad loved a song, they would likely belt them out whenever they heard them on the radio-regardless of where we happened to be, and regardless of the embarassment it might cause their children. As you might imagine, the impromptu singalong my mother created in the Manassas Harmony Hut took a long time for me to live down. How bad was it? Rent My Best Friend’s Wedding, watch the Say a Little Prayer for You scene (less the lobster claws), and you will have some idea.

Amazingly enough, no record company ever offered either of them a job to help them select songs for recording.

Tempus Fugit…Dad’s getting up there these days, and seldom sings…except when I bring the WMD to visit, and then he is likely to break into a Big Band tune, like Duke Ellington’s Caledonia. Mom’s been gone now for over 20 years, and she never saw her grandchildren. But I find myself singing roberta flack to the WMD to get them to go to sleep at night, and like to think that somehow Mom’s with me singing to them…and I hope that I get the chance one day to help her sing to her great grandchildren.

Remember those songs, for one day they will be more than a memory-they will be an heirloom.

Lucas Davenport, murder mysteries, and Rock and Roll

For those who enjoy Police Procedural novels, the Lucas Davenport “Prey” novels by John Sandford are a huge hit. Typically, Davenport-based in Minnesota-solves some heinous act, while solving a secondary crime along the way.

In the recent novel “Broken Prey”, Davenport has a different sideline. He has been given an IPod and a $100 gift card. As a matter of discipline he has decided to use the card to purchase the 100 greatest rock and roll songs. Throughout the novel he gets input from various characters, shocking all with his unwillingness to include any Beatles songs. As he puts it [paraphrase] “In rock and roll there are two types of musicians-butt shakers and finger snappers. I like the former, the Beatles are the latter.”

The link at top takes you to the list, but in case of a dead link use this and populate your IPod!

Lucas Davenport’s “Best Songs of the Rock Era”
From the book epilogue: “In no particular order, except that, as any intelligent person knows, any decent road trip will start with ZZ Top.”
1. ZZ Top, “Sharp-Dressed Man”
2. ZZ Top, “Legs”
3. Wilson Pickett, “Mustang Sally”
4. Crash Test Dummies, “Superman’s Song”
5. David Essex, “Rock On”
6. Golden Earring, “Radar Love”
7. Blondie, “Heart of Glass”
8. Jefferson Airplane, “White Rabbit”
9. Jefferson Airplane, “Somebody to Love”
10. Derek and the Dominoes, “Layla”
11. Doors, “Roadhouse Blues”
12. Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”
13. Aerosmith, “Sweet Emotion”
14. Aerosmith, “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”
15. Bruce Springsteen, “Dancing in the Dark”
16. Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run”
17. Bruce Springsteen, “Thunder Road”
18. Police, “Every Breath You Take”
19. Tom Waits, “Heart of Saturday Night”
20. Van Halen, “Hot for Teacher”
21. Who, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”
22. Gipsy Kings, “Hotel California”
23. Tracy Chapman, “Give Me One Reason”
24. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Down on the Corner”
25. Eagles, “Lyin’ Eyes”
26. Eagles, “Life in the Fast Lane”
27. Dire Straits, “Skateaway”
28. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”
29. Janis Joplin, “Me ‘n Bobby McGee”
30. The Doobie Brothers, “Black Water”
31. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”
22. John Mellencamp, “Jack and Diane”
33. Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”
34. Pink Floyd, “Money”
35. Billy Joel, “Piano Man”
36. Eric Clapton, “After Midnight”
37. Eric Clapton, “Lay Down Sally”
38. AC/DC, “You Shook Me All Night Long”
39. AC/DC, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”
40. The Hollies, “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)”
41. Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”
42. Bob Dylan, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
43. Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
44. The Rolling Stones, “Satisfaction”
45. The Rolling Stones, “Brown Sugar”
46. The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”
47. Sex Pistols, “Anarchy in the UK”
48. Grateful Dead, “Sugar Magnolia”
49. The Pointer Sisters, “Slow Hand”
50. Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
51. Elvis Presley, “Jailhouse Rock”
52. David Bowie, “Ziggy Stardust”
53. Bob Seger, “Night Moves”
54. The Everly Brothers, “Bye Bye Love”
55. Jimi Hendrix, “Purple Haze”
56. The Kinks, “Lola”
57. Jackson Browne, “Tender is the Night”
58. The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie”
59. George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “Bad to the Bone”
60. Metallica, “Turn the Page”
61. Lynryd Skynyrd, “Sweet Home Alabama”
62. Queen, “We Will Rock You”
63. The Allman Brothers Band, “Ramblin’ Man”
64. Led Zeppelin, “Rock ‘n Roll”
65. Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”
66. Steppenwolf, “Born to Be Wild”
67. U2, “With or Without You”
68. Black Sabbath, “Paranoid”
69. Foreigner, “Blue Morning, Blue Day”
70. Billy Idol, “White Wedding”
71. Guns ’n Roses, “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
72. Guns ‘n Roses, “Paradise City”
73. Guns ‘n Roses, ” Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”*
74. Lou Reed, “Walk on the Wild Side”
75. Bad Company, “Feel Like Makin’ Love”
76. Def Leppard, “Rock of Ages”
77. Van Morrison, “Brown Eyed Girl”
78. Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, “Devil With a Blue Dress On”
79. Aretha Franklin, “Respect”
80. John Lee Hooker and Bonnie Raitt, “I’m in the Mood”
81. James Brown, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”
82. The Righteous Brothers, “Unchained Melody”
83. Prince, “Little Red Corvette”
84. Chuck Berry, “Roll Over Beethoven”
85. The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man”
86. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Ohio”
87. Buddy Holly, “Peggy Sue”
88. Jerry Lee Lewis, “Great Balls of Fire”
89. Roy Orbison, “Oh, Pretty Woman”
90. Del Shannon, “Runaway”
91. Run-DMC, “Walk This Way”
92. Otis Redding, ” (Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay”
93. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
94. Paul Simon, “Still Crazy After All These Years”
95. Bo Diddley, “Who Do You Love? ”
96. Brewer and Shipley, “One Toke Over the Line”
97. Ramones, “I Wanna Be Sedated”
98. The Clash, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”
99. Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”
100. Dmitri Shostakovich, “Jazz Suite No. 2: Waltz 2”
* Yeah, yeah, Sandford know it’s on the list twice.