For us Kansans, the presidential election is a reminder we’re flyover territory – if a White House candidate stopped here, it was to refuel on his way to a state that matters.
Pile on millions spent by Not-so-Super PACs and a local ballot issue on water fluoridation, for crying out loud, and it’s enough to make one want to pack it in on this Election Day.
But, thankfully, there’s always some music to rouse my rabble in uncertain times. Musicians follow the news, of course and they’ve got the microphone and the tape to let us know how they feel.
Setting the tone is some advice from Chicago bluesman SUNNYLAND SLIM, “Be Careful How You Vote.” As a black man born in Mississippi who spent five decades pounding pianos in the joints of Chicago, he likely knew well of what he sang. Good advice, whether you’re in the 1 percent or the 47 percent. Push that voting button with care, but be sure to listen to Slim first.
RY COODER’s been making excellent roots music for four decades now, in the beginning putting his slide guitar and stamp on old blues and country songs and making them his own. For the last decade, though, he’s been writing short-story-worthy albums that tell stories of his native California and its people. It’s music with edge and a strong viewpoint, none more so than the recent Election Special.
Cooder, like many Americans, is none to happy with the state of the nation, and the powers-that-be that be doing it to regular folks. Song titles like “Guantanamo,” “Take Your Hands Off” and the “The Wall Street Part of Town” do more than hint at his displeasure. “Mutt Romney Blues” takes a poke at Mitt from the perspective of his roof-riding dog, and “Brother is Gone” slowly and surely swipes at Wichita native sons Charles and David Koch with its deal-with-the-devil tale.
Also on my mind — and never far from my heart, as he opened my first two concerts in 1979 – is IAN HUNTER. The English-born rocker made his rep with Mott the Hoople of “All the Young Dudes” and “All the Way from Memphis” fame at the turn of the 1970s, and has spent the past half-dozen years in a mighty artistic renaissance. Not that he ever went away, as he’s been kicking out solid to better records for many years, but he’s been writing and rocking with even greater vigor, it seems. Seems this guy of 73 tapped a fountain of youth (fluoridated, one hopes).
Hunter’s spent the past three-plus decades in America, and like any taxpayer he’s got the right to sing what he believes – in his distinctive rasp. Those “Cleveland Rocks” and “Once Bitten Twice Shy” royalties have, I’m sure, kept him in a good tax bracket. His most recent record is When I’m President, and it’s his usual excellent mix of rockers like “Comfortable,” “What For” and “Wild Bunch”; midtempo songs such as “I Don’t Know What You Want” and “Just the Way You Look Tonight”; and introspective, often slower, ones like “Life” and “Fatally Flawed.”
Hunter’s been called a journeyman rocker, which means he’s made a lot of fine records but only brushed the big time. Maybe that’s where the populist streak running through the title song comes from, with lyrics such as “I’m going to lean on the 1 percent, when I’m president” and “Hell you can’t take it with ya, so give a little extra.”
Hunter may have come from Over There, but he’s as true blue and red-blooded when he tells how another election year’s left him feeling: “I’m a stranger in a strange land. I feel like an alien.”
Hear all of Ry Cooder’s “Election Special” here.