Occasion: Speech by Hillary Clinton
When Hillary Clinton took the stage, she did so to the theme from “New York, New York,” the 1977 Martin Scorsese movie that has a title song sung by Frank Sinatra. The movie follows an aspiring musician (Robert DeNiro) who meets and falls for a dazzling USO performer (Liza Minelli) on the last day of World War II. After a brief courting period, he joins the band she sings for, they marry, and, by the end, he is leading the band. All of which comprises a tidy metaphor for the relationship between Bill Clinton (the Minelli character) and Al Gore (DeNiro). It’s facile, sure, but it works, distracting us from recalling the time Hillary Clinton stiffed that waitress up in Albion.
Additionally, certain critics have argued that Scorsese’s movie is best understood as his homage to the 1930s and ‘40s MGM-era movies starring people like Judy Garland (Minelli’s mother). Witness the movie’s wealth of full-tilt, big-production numbers in the classic movie musical style. The prominent presence of music in the movie can only be seen as clear justification for paying ridiculous quantities of attention to music in any production.
Occasion: Speech by Tipper Gore
Potential First Ladies choose one cause to devote their time to should their husbands get elected. The DNC needed to select a song in synch with Gore’s mission: understanding and caring for America’s mentally ill. Gloria Estefan’s “Turn the Beat Around” does just that.
The Estefan song has become an anthem for mental illness understanding and caring since it appeared in “Sweating It Out”—episode #129 of “Beverly Hills 90210,” a popular program formerly broadcast on the Fox television network. During this episode the characters Kelly and Valerie attend a psychology seminar. Valerie laughs off the professor’s philosophies and decides to leave, but Kelly takes his words to heart because of her recent experience in a fire, where she suffered burns on her wrist, ear, and the side of her neck. “Turn the Beat Around” was a featured song in this episode, and drove home the fact that Kelly’s lingering fear and associated mental concerns were assuaged, or, if you will, turned around, with the help of a licensed psychologist.
Estefan, who is as reclusive as J.D. Salinger, author of books such as The Catcher in the Rye, refuses to comment on the metaphors in her song, but countless critics have persuasively argued that “beat” is code for “mind” while “turn” translates to “cure.” It does not escape their notice that Estefan entered the University of Miami in 1975 with the dream of becoming a psychologist. True, she tossed this dream aside during her freshman year, when she joined a precursor of Miami Sound Machine, but still this can be no coincidence. And surely Estefan had Freud on her mind when she wrote the lyrics for “Turn the Beat Around.” To wit: “Flute player play your flute ’cause / I know that you want to get your thing off.”
Occasion: Speech by Bill Bradley
During the primaries, Bill Bradley briefly suspended his campaigning due to a previously-undisclosed irregular heartbeat. Luckily, the condition corrected itself, and he didn’t need treatment. Still this hurt Bradley’s chances of defeating Gore, as voters have tended historically to be wary of candidates with even one irregular heartbeat. Thus, playing “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones was a clever nod to Bradley’s heart, and a way to cheer him up. Like the song says: “I can’t compete with the riders [candidates] in the other heats [states with a lot of delegates]/ if you rough it up [if his heart is beating arhythmically],” but that “if you start me up [let him rest for a bit or aid him medically]/ if you start me up I’ll never stop.” Once “started up,” Bradley and his heart can then be said to “ride like the wind at double speed / take you places that you’ve never, never seen.”
Not to be overlooked, however, is the fact that “Start Me Up,” like most Stones songs, is co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Over the decades, Jagger and Richards have had a contentious and at times resentful relationship. Although the two strive for the same goals, they often butted heads and contradicted each other in the press. Jagger is the band’s showpiece, or frontman if you will, while Richards is the creative, more musically inclined engine behind the frontman. Plus, the two had a personal problem involving a woman, Richards’s then-wife Anita Pallenberg, with whom Jagger reportedly had an affair. Pallenberg would later say, “From the first time I met him, I saw Mick was in love with Keith. It still is that way.” She also suggested Mick would like to be the way Richards is, “tough and macho.” Although Gore is not known for his sentimentality, “Start Me Up” is clearly his touching ode of love to Bradley, whose tough past playing for the New York Knicks he envies.
Occasion: Performance by Stevie Wonder
Wonder performed “Higher Ground” to an audience of shocked, baffled, and even angry TV viewers who already permanently and poignantly associate the song with the career of George Prescott Bush. (See “Understanding the Official Soundtrack of the Republican National Convention.”)
Occasion: Speech by Joe Lieberman
Okay, Joe Lieberman, like Elizabeth Dole, came out to the theme from Chariots of Fire. I know I kind of flubbed the Dole analysis, re: Chariots of Fire, so this time I took the extra step of renting the movie. As it turns out, it is much more than a story about athletes digging deep to come up with the power and spirit to win. It is also a drama wherein the challenges that the athletes face come not only from competition, but also from inside of their selves. The film takes a personal look at the values and desires of two Olympic runners (British) at the 1924 Paris Games. One runner competes because he feels it glorifies God, while the other runs in order to prove his own worth. Both of them win gold medals. True story. Nice film. Lord knows what any of it has to do with Lieberman or Dole.
Occasion: Speech by Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg
Breaking the mold of using immediately identifiable music, the Democrats reached deep into their bag of tricks and pulled out a nearly forgotten instrumental, the theme from the musical hit “Camelot,” to accompany Kennedy Schlossberg to the stage. Sure, there’s the fact that the selection immediately conjures up a world of brave deeds and gallant adventure. But really—why, of all things, “Camelot”? A very close look at the facts reveals what could become a staple of the White House in years to come.
Fact one: During the time in which “Camelot” is set, rulers were chosen by the principles of primogeniture. If you were the king’s son, then you would become the king when he died.
Fact two: Kennedy Schlossberg comes from a family whose progeny consists mainly of politicians or politically-associated professionals.
Fact three: In her speech Kennedy Schlossberg said all of the following [italics added]: “When my father and mother were first getting to know each other, two of the helpful matchmakers were Al Gore’s parents, Albert and Pauline”; “It is up to each and every single one of us to… work as hard as we can to… create… ideals”; and “If we want… the freedoms in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, including the right… to make our own reproductive decisions, then it is up to us.”
Fact four: We have a theme here: breeding, and the use of breeding to create these so-called ideals. Kennedy Schlossberg may denote these people “matchmakers,” a rather quaint, old-fashioned, and harmless term, but there are a lot of other, sicker words that come to mind, too.
Fact five: Recall the 2000 Westminster Dog Show. Who was the winner in the Best of Breed category? Do you know? It was a Maltese named Omen—that’s right, Omen—one of several entrants from a breeding conglomerate known as none other than Camelot Maltese. That’s right, Camelot. We will have our own “omen” on our hands if Al Gore is elected president, especially when the matchmakers make the new presidential pet a certain extremely well-bred Maltese puppy.