Not that I would ever want to, but there's now yet another reason I could never run for office.
No longer satisfied with judging politicians by the "content of their character," now - in addition to being judged by their hair, their marriages, their religion and other matters closely associated with public policy - we're judging politicians by the content of their iPods.
About a year ago, some reporter asked President Bush what he was listening to as he rode his bike on the Crawford "ranch," it hit the wire services, and a new level of political discourse was created. Sen. Hillary Clinton shuffled into the spotlight this spring, sharing samples from her collection. Now, every politician's playlist is fair game. (Roger Eddy, be prepared for your next call from a Daily News reporter.)
In researching this disturbing topic, it struck me that despite his administration's skill at message control, Bush's list - or at least the on-the-record part of it - seemed the more honest one, if that's the word you want to use. According to the New York Times, his iPod is heavy on traditional country singers like George Jones and Alan Jackson, as one might expect, but with some surprises. There's the obscure "Circle Back" by the unjustly obscure singer-songwriter John Hiatt - a lovely, complex, wistful song. "I lost my thread/ And I've lost some time/But it takes a lot of ground/For me to change my mind," the chorus goes. Hmmmm...
He's also got Joni Mitchell's cover of the Lieber/Stoller classic, "You're So Square (Baby I Don't Care)," from her mid-career "comeback" album, Wild Things Run Fast. And then there's the Knack's 1979 hit "My Sharona," that (apart from being a borderline filthy song) just shows that baby boomers, even Yale-educated ones who wear suits to work and lead the Free World, can be prone to severe lapses of taste.
Bush's more problematic selections are from John Fogerty (he likes "Centerfield"); Fogerty, according to the NYT, was part of the anti-Bush "Vote for Change" tour in 2004 and whose song with Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Fortunate Son," carried an antiwar message along with some jabs at "folks born silver spoon in hand."
But, as Bush media strategist Mark McKinnon told the Times, "if any president limited his music selection to pro-establishment musicians, it would be a pretty slim collection."
Clinton played it safe, as Clintons are wont to do, at least politically. She said her iPod included Aretha Franklin's "Respect," tunes from the Beatles and the Eagles, and some "classical masterpieces," according to the New York Post. She also says she likes U2's "Beautiful Day," but one wonders just how far into the band's catalog she gets, really - anything from October? Boy?
"I'm a child of the '60s and '70s," she told the Post, which can mean anything you want it to mean - another wise political move.
Both Bush and Clinton probably played it safe - in what they shared with the press, and probably in what they put on their playlists to begin with, lest their iPods fall into the wrong hands. As boomers, they know that not only can the music you listen to tell more about you than the most thorough psychological workup, it's also wide open to interpretation - always dangerous for politicians of any persuasion.
So that's why I'll never grab for the brass ring. It would be too hard to swallow my musical independence and give the people what they want to hear. I got curious about what would happen at my first press conference if I shared the first 10 songs that came up in my "shuffle" this week:
1. "Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings," Lucinda Williams: I might be okay until someone discovered the word "heroin" in the lyric - or if they went to the World Without Tears album and stumbled onto "Atonement," with which the Religious Right would have a field day.
2. "Couldn't I Just Tell You," Todd Rundgren: This song is pretty safe power pop, but Todd's quite an adventurous artist - and he did spoof Bush I's famous line by titling one of his albums No World Order.
3. "Blue Orchid," the White Stripes: "You need to do something/Try [to} keep the truth from showing up," Jack White sings - could be helpful advice for a politician, but darn that ol' media, they'd probably take it the wrong way.
4. "Look Sharp," Joe Jackson: The title contains more good political advice, and so might the chorus: "You gotta have no illusions/Just keep going your way, looking over your shoulder."
5. "Terrier," the Moaners: This is a Southern Gothic punk-blues duo - think Iggy and the Stooges meet Flannery O'Connor. Might be hard for the press corps to get their heads around, to say the least.
6. "Surgical Focus," Guided By Voices: A nice, hopeful love song, finally - but a fair number of Robert Pollard's songs clock in at less than two minutes, and the pundits might begin speculating about the candidate's attention span.
7. "Fly Me Courageous," Drivin' n' Cryin': This one might boost my Southern cred in a nationwide campaign, but it does contain the line, "Mother America is brandishing her weapons."
8. "Thought It Would Be Easier," Shelby Lynne: Nice blue-eyed soul that might fit well next to Aretha on Clinton's playlist, but Lynne's songwriting can be too honest for comfort. And connections do matter: Lynne's sister, singer-songwriter Allison Moorer, is married to singer-songwriter Steve Earle, who can't put pen to paper or step on a stage without creating a political controversy.
9. "Games Without Frontiers," Peter Gabriel: They'd jump on this as a description of my foreign policy.
10. "Waiting for the Sun," the Jayhawks: A majestic alt-country anthem, with bright. soaring harmonies, but the chorus' "walking on down the road" refrain might bring to mind former Gov. Dan Walker, for better or worse.
So anyway: Welcome to the new political landscape, where what "plays in Peoria" takes on a whole new meaning.