Stairway to Vice President
AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long
She was a fast machine
She kept her motor clean
She was the best damn woman I had ever seen
She had the sightless eyes
Telling me no lies
Knockin’ me out with those American thighs
Taking more than her share
Had me fighting for air
She told me to come but I was already there
There are plenty of policy based reasons to disagree with or even dislike Paul Ryan. If you need to rehash those arguments, feel free to Google them yourself, or just read this recent opinion piece from FOXNews. Instead, let’s look at a different and more obvious reason to distrust the Republican candidate for Vice President: his complete failure to understand rock music.
Shortly after his selection as VP candidate, there was a small dust-up over Ryan’s stated affections for Rage Against The Machine. This was firmly rebutted by the band’s Tom Morello. (Headline: “Tom Morello: ‘Paul Ryan Is the Embodiment of the Machine Our Music Rages Against’“) One might have thought such a simple episode would be enough, a hint to Ryan perhaps to stay away from those types of pop culture references since they’re so often loaded. Not to mention that it follows on a history of unfortunate Republican expropriations of rock music, such as problems with the McCain campaign and Jackson Browne in 2008 and Newt Gingrich and an argument with the band Survivor earlier this year.
No such luck for Paul Ryan. Instead, at the Republican National Convention last week, he said this: “We’re a full generation apart, Governor Romney and I. And, in some ways, we’re a little different. There are the songs on his iPod, which I’ve heard on the campaign bus and on many hotel elevators. He actually urged me to play some of these songs at campaign rallies. I said, I hope it’s not a deal-breaker Mitt, but my playlist starts with AC/DC, and ends with Zeppelin.”
Now, I believe it is possible to separate and distinguish between art and its politics: to seek and find aesthetic value in a work of art, even if I disagree with the artist’s politics. I’m no monarchist, yet the works of Velasquez, court painter to King Philip IV, still wow me. I find Wagner’s anti-Semitism despicable but some of his music appealing. And I think Ted Nugent is on the lunatic fringe of American politics, but I’ll own up to owning two of his songs.
But most of us don’t pretend. We don’t use our cultural likes or dislikes to help shape our public persona for the purposes of getting elected. Unlike Paul Ryan, I don’t espouse a view of the world that sounds more like an imaginary portrayal of pre-Hoover America, when there was not only no rock music but no safety net for those citizen in poverty, out of work, or in dire need of medical help. I don’t espouse politics and policy that are aligned with the hard-right elements of the Catholic Church, a group that no doubt has some very firm and erect positions on AC/DC’s delight in “American thighs.”
Paul Ryan, you will recall, is self-identified as an observant Roman Catholic. Ryan touts his “heartland” roots–though in fact it was often in “heartland” places like Janesville, Wisconsin that there were objections to the introduction of rock-and-roll music. Ryan and I are roughly the same age, so we are both too young to recall personally the era when Ed Sullivan didn’t want to show Elvis Presley to a “family audience,” and The Rolling Stones had to change the lyrics to “Let’s Spend The Night Together” for a live broadcast. We are too young to have experienced it personally, but not too young to know the history. And those examples–AC/DC, Elvis, the Stones–are not even political, they just reflect the cultural conservatism that Ryan also likes to display proudly. Except when he’s flaunting his AC/DC.
I would also like to know if Paul Ryan has any U2 on his iPod, and if so, what he thinks when he hears Bono on TV talking about our collective responsibility to help the poor around the world. Bono, after all, has taken his celebrity and notoriety and used it to raise the profile of many issues Ryan scorns. Bono presumably recognizes that Ryan-esque ideals of self-reliance are great–but unrealistic when you are hungry, have little access to food or clean water, and lack housing, health care, or any of the other assets that Paul Ryan and the rest of us largely take for granted. Oh, right: and Bono is someone who considers himself a Christian, too, and finds his faith and the life of Jesus meaningful in guiding his path. One can only admire how Christianity can embrace such divergent points of view; talk about a “big tent”!
Finally, Paul Ryan didn’t mention The Who, but I would definitely love to know if he has “Who’s Next” on his iPod. Can’t you picture it? Maybe he’s out for a run–on Capitol Hill or perhaps back home–and he’s plugged in and totally stoked. Out for a six mile run, and he’s in the last quarter mile, and the adrenaline is pumping. And there it is, shuffle serves it up: Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, loud and proud with Won’t Get Fooled Again:
There’s nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss
Yes, I can see it all before me. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve been there myself. But meet the new boss? Not quite. Take a bow, Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. But know this: I cannot possibly vote for someone who thinks he can appeal to me through his playlist and yet is so disconnected from what it all means.