Last week, there was a minor hubbub over Republican presidential candidate John McCain, when asked a question about Iran at a public appearance, referring to “the old Beach Boys song” and singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb/Bomb bomb Iran” – to the tune of the actual Beach Boys song, “Barbara Ann.”
What he was really referring to was a novelty song by Vince Vance and the Valiants called “Bomb Iran.” Which was “Barbara Ann” with new lyrics pertaining to the then-current Iran hostage crisis at the turn of the 1980s. I don’t know anything about the band – most likely a morning zoo DJ before the term “morning zoo” came into being.
The song itself, at that time, humorously tapped into the rage many Americans felt over the hostage crisis, which dragged on literally to the eve of Ronald Reagan’s election and included a botched military rescue attempt that sealed Jimmy Carter’s political fate. When Iraq rolled around again, I immediately thought of the song, but it didn’t quite apply. Whereas now, with the idiot running Iran doing his best to pick a fight with the U.S. (and I’ve seen a few stories implying that he was one of the student protest leaders in the hostage crisis, which makes sense) … let’s just say everything old is new again.
Below is a popular Youtube piece that works on so many levels, with the title of Hot Country Singer Has a Message for the Troops, apparently by a comedy group called The Dregs (although the tag line says “introducing Sandy Belle”):
The cheap production values are perfect, as are the slightly-used looks of the singer. But whoever wrote the song, hats off, a fine piece of work whatever level you want to take it on, however you feel about all this stuff. Accurate melody and arrangement, and great lyrics ("We'll be getting freaky like in Abu Ghraib.") Anyone from a die-hard anti-war protester to a bunch of guys in a barracks in Baghdad can enjoy this.
Finally, I came across this tribute song regarding last week’s Virginia Tech mass murder.
Phew. We’re all Hokies today? I'm afraid I didn't get that memo. Technically, I’m a Nittany Lion, but honestly, if some maniac murdered dozens of people at Penn State, I really wouldn’t classify myself as a Nittany Lion, nor would I make the larger assumption that “we’re all Nittany Lions today." Besides which, I don’t picture those words fitting into a good soft-rock format that sounds like the theme from Dawson’s Creek.
Am I wrong to feel insulted by this song? I can understand the logic: a bunch of young guys in a band see an opportunity to capitalize on a tragedy, and thus hitch their wagon to Myspace with a song that they’d swear is 100% sincere, but is also deeply cynical and coldly calculated at the same time. (Another life lesson, folks: beware of those who are either completely unaware of their own ulterior motives, or claim to be. Either way, their moral compass is off. Then again, this character trait is a prerequisite for making it in the entertainment industry.)
It sounds like a parody song from South Park. Compare and contrast this song with “Bomb Iran.” Compare and contrast the 1970s and now. In the 1970s when something horrible like the Jonestown Massacre occurred, the fucking Doobie Brothers weren’t writing a tribute song a few days later. There’s something about that time, and I was raised in that time and have that frame of reference, that we would have seen right through a song like that and been deeply offended. Yes, we had stuff like “You Light Up My Life,” “Torn Between Two Lovers” and “Sometimes When We Touch.” But never the twain met between smarmy pop hits like that and mass murders, which probably happened as much in the 1970s as they do now.
The "heartfelt tribute song as meaningful social commentary" trend gathered steam in the 1980s with shit like “Do They Know It’s Christmas, “We Are the World” and “That’s What Friends Are For.” Great causes, terrible songs, this trend should have died right there. It’s not “political.” It’s a questionable mixture of career opportunism, fluff and cultural strong-arming – how could you possibly have an issue with starving children and AIDS? And now, victims of this maniac in Virginia? (When your real issue is these tragedies being used by entertainers for their own nefarious purposes.)
(Sidenote: just remembered a great send-up of the song "We Are the World" that neatly sums up the above sentiments: "They're Not the World" by Culturecide.)
Blame Bob Geldof. “I Don’t Like Mondays” may have been the first very bad, trite, poorly written song about a massacre: in 1979 a girl in San Diego going off her nut and shooting some people. Even then, The Boomtown Rats’ piano player always wore pajamas. You couldn’t take this stuff too seriously. Never was all that nuts about Sir Bob.