September 6, 2008
Brooks & Dunn’s “Only in America” has been used for both the re-election campaign of President Bush and the current campaign of Senator Obama. That’s caused a bit of a stir, given the Republican leanings of Kix Brooks & Ronnie Dunn, but I think that Kix Brooks reacted perfectly. Check out this piece from Chris Willman, the best country music writer this side of Jonathan Keefe:
I wrote about the partisan use of “Only in America” by the Republicans in a book I penned shortly after the 2004 election called Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music. Here’s how I described it then: “…Bush’s recorded intro and exit music — along with an occasional live rendition straight from the horsemen’s mouths — was Brooks & Dunn’s ‘Only in America,’ the unofficial Bush theme song. Funnily enough, that number was cowritten by a buddy of theirs, Don Cook, who went on to found a fledgling organization called Music Row Democrats. Having ‘Only in America’ drafted as the new ‘Hail to the Chief’ wasn’t really what Democratic activist Cook had in mind for his song (which isn’t even that gung-ho — listen closely, and there’s an ambivalence about the American dream to be found in the lyrics). But in Nashville, even of you’re on the other side of the aisle, sometimes it’s hard not to give at the office.”
I got Don Cook, the cowriter and Democratic stalwart, on the phone today to talk about the tune… and about how Brooks & Dunn themselves reacted to Obama’s use of it. Since Cook was a little taken aback when the GOP adopted it, does this feel like turnabout is fair play? “That’s exactly what Kix Brooks said to me when he called,” said Cook. “He said, ‘You had to endure George Bush using it, so it’s only fair that I would have to endure Barack Obama using it.’ But he said it in a real light-hearted way. For us as writers and them as performers, truthfully, we’re proud when anybody uses our song for something that’s substantial. Even if you’re diametrically opposed politically to the person who’s using your song, the fact that they like it well enough to use it at an important place in their life, you have to love that.” But not everybody necessarily feels the same way. Cook related to me a story about John Rich, the one country star who’s been a strong campaigner for John McCain already. “John Rich sent an angry text message to Kix last night, saying why did Kix allow that song to be used? And Kix said ‘I had nothing to do with it — that was their right.’ I sent John a text message today saying ‘If you enjoyed last night, you’re gonna love Kix’s version of ‘Ba-Rock My World, Little Country Girl’” (taking off on another Brooks & Dunn hit).
I think that music is a unifying thing. When you’re singing along at a concert next to a complete stranger, for all you know that person holds completely opposing views to you, but you find common ground in your common groove. In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to pick theme songs that represent the best qualities of each presidential candidate.
A caveat: If you can’t bring yourself to be less than snarky about a candidate you don’t support, then please don’t pick a theme song for them at all. I’d like this to be a positive thread, so be forewarned: rude and insulting posts will be deleted, whether they’re aimed at a candidate or a commenter.
I don’t have a personal favorite, but I see good qualities in both men. If you only see them in one, just pick a theme song for that gentleman. Have fun!