Sing a Song of Howard Dean
From the January 19, 2004 issue: The revival, if you can call it that, of campaign songs.
Jan 19, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 18 • By MATT LABASH
No fewer than 10 songs mention that Dean's a doctor, and rarely do they do so in the poetic, rock'n'roll sense (such as the Thompson Twins' early '80s plaint, "Doctor, Doctor, can't you see I'm burnin', burnin'"). Some get painted into unfortunate lyrical corners. Denny Zartman, an AM radio-board operator from Smyrna, Ga., sings in "We Want Howard Dean": "We're gonna need a doctor to fix us up quick / We need to remove our Bush and our Dick." But many of the doc references come off like the boasts of beaming old women in the bingo parlors of their assisted-living complexes--as in, "My son's a doctor."
If Dean songwriters don't come in all colors, they do come in all stripes. Dan Tyler, author of one of the "The Doctor Is In"s, exhibits sturdy songcraft and is an accomplished writer, having penned hits for the likes of LeAnn Rimes and the Oak Ridge Boys. As a performer, he could pass for Guy Clark if you had a few beers in you--perhaps the only legal way to pleasantly make it through an afternoon at songsfordean.com.
Then there's "Pi," who does not, as her name suggests, represent the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle. Rather, she says via email (in true Deaniac fashion, I interviewed a good many songwriters via email), she is a Pisces. Her real name is Lisa Marie, after Elvis's daughter, so she understandably sticks to the nickname. A self-described "child of liberal hippies" and "international it-girl," Pi would like to be in charge of Dean's inauguration music, where she would mix it up: some old-school rock, some Missy Misdemeanor Elliott, some Groove Armada "so people could dance," and a variety platter from trip-hop to jungle. Convinced that even she, a "lowly, flaky musician," would make a better president than Bush, she has turned out "Dean 4 Prez." To a swing-songy Nelly Furtado-ish beat, she sings that Dean represents "the Party People's Party," and stays with his résumé motif ("here's a list of his qualifications" goes one line), baldly asserting that "Dean thinks that you should sleep with who the hell you want." Party people, indeed.
While most of the singing Deaniacs say they have never lent such support to another political candidate, some are downright sheepish that a reporter spied their work. When I contacted the author of "Sleepless Summer," 52-year-old media designer Marc Montefusco, he said, "You discovered my guilty secret, and I feel--well, guilty." His song lightly rips off Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band," because "I didn't want to write some fulsome, personal, yucky folk tribute." Like scores of first-timers who have been sucked into Dean's grassroots-charisma nexus, he seems almost surprised that he's gone so far as to post a Dean song: "I haven't told anyone--not my partner, not my friends. . . . It's almost completely unlike me."
Creative people, by nature, create. And so it is that many of the singing Deaniacs have a body of work unrelated to Dean. Carlton Schreiner, for instance, who wrote the Dean-themed "Let's Take Back America," also wrote "Sick Camel," a harrowing story-song about Gaza Strip strife, told from the camel's perspective. Likewise, Bryan Hitchcock, who wrote the Dean-themed "Song For America," is an administrative assistant at a landscaping company who also runs a role-playing website with buddies he's been playing Dungeons and Dragons with since high school. ("Yes," he writes, "I am a geek. LOL.") Not only did he write "Annihilation Rock," about the first Gulf War, but he also dabbles in gothic poetry, with selections like "Scarlet Witch," "Ragnorok," and "two-hundred and twelve degrees fahrenheit," the last of which contains this little snippet of light verse: "Dip my oozing body in your hot liquid soul / so that I may emerge / new and wet / and glistening / with the essence of our union / So that I may wrap you / in my writhing spirit / and engulf you / in my own boiling flesh."
Hitchcock, however, will have his work cut out for him if he aims to be the poet laureate of a Dean administration. That honor will most likely go to David Teller, a New York City subway busker. Like Dean, he seems kind of angry. Several times a week, he says, "I take my guitar into the subway and scream at the world to relieve the stresses" involved in being a full-time caregiver to his disabled wife. In addition to issuing an entire CD of Dean songs, he also writes Dean-inspired limericks. He's got 23 of them in the can. And while it's easy to clown on Deaniacs, as I hope I have demonstrated, scoffers should be mindful of Teller's Dean Limerick #22:
Last month they thought we were funny.
Matt Labash is senior writer at The Weekly Standard.