By Brian Ives
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz went on CBS This Morning yesterday to discuss his already-in-progress campaign. Toward the end of the interview, Gayle King asked him about his taste in TV shows (he enjoys House Of Cards) and music. It was the subject of music that gave the interview one of its more interesting moments.
The Texan said he used to listen to classic rock, until 9/11. “I didn’t like how rock music responded,” he said. “And country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me. I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘These are my people.’”
Country music’s response to that tragic event came in the form of Alan Jackson‘s classic “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning.)” The song resonated with nearly everyone, including people in markets where Jackson (a country megastar) wasn’t well known at the time, notably New York. “Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day?” Jackson asks in the song’s lyrics. “Did you stand there in shock/At the sight of that black smoke/Rising against that blue sky?”
Jackson’s song topped the country charts and even was a Top 30 hit on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100, a rare accomplishment for country artists at the time.
There was also the more aggressive “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)” by Toby Keith. “You’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A,” Keith sings, “’cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.” It also topped the country charts and made Top 30 the Billboard Hot 100.
It’s understandable that Cruz would gravitate towards those anthems. But it’s curious he felt rock artists did not address the tragic events of that day. Because let me tell you right now, they did.
In fact, it was predominately rock and pop artists who led massive fundraising efforts in the days following 9/11. For instance, the telethon America: A Tribute To Heroes took place on Sept. 21 and featured Bruce Springsteen, U2, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Billy Joel and Paul Simon (along with Willie Nelson and Faith Hill). A month later on Oct. 20, The Concert for New York City saw Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Who, Elton John, Billy Joel, James Taylor, David Bowie and Eric Clapton.
All in all, many of the biggest living icons of Cruz’s formerly beloved ‘classic rock’ world were very quick to respond.
Both of the above events saw the artists performing their classics, many of which took on added weight post-9/11 (Bowie’s “Heroes,” Billy Joel’s “New York State Of Mind” and “Miami 2017”). Others covered songs that seemed appropriate (Bowie’s take on Simon & Garfunkel‘s “America,” Neil Young’s version of John Lennon‘s “Imagine”).
And some artists did attempt to process the events of 9/11 via brand-new songs. Below is a breakdown of some of those efforts.
Bruce Springsteen – “My City of Ruins”
Bruce Springsteen opened America: A Tribute To Heroes with this song. Many assumed that it was written about 9/11, because it fit the situation so well. In fact, he’d written it in 2000 about his hometown of Asbury Park, New Jersey. The “Rise up” refrain referred to the city falling into such poor condition in the decades since Springsteen started his career there. But the song had never been released and had only been performed a handful of times, so it was new to almost everyone. He would later release a studio version on the 2002 post-9/11 rumination The Rising; the song has come to serve as an anthem and prayer for anyone who has lost someone. And nearly every song on The Rising was a nonpartisan reaction to 9/11, looking at the lives of those affected by the attacks. Was there any line more devastating than “Too much room in my bed, too many phone calls,” in “You’re Missing,” sung from the perspective of a 9/11 widow(er)?
Cruz Rating: 8 out of 10 Even with the points Bruce surely lost after criticizing President Bush, not to mention endorsing the Kerry and Obama campaigns, we’d think Ted would have to be OK with a song that invokes prayer so strongly: “With these hands/I pray for the faith,Lord/We pray for your love, Lord!” We’ll give this one a 8 out of 10 on the Cruz scale.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Red White and Blue”
This is one we figure Cruz would have noticed. Johnny Van Zant sings, “Well my hair’s turning white/My neck’s always been red/My collar’s still blue,” and he then later asks, “What are they complaining about? Yeah we love our families we love our kids/You know it’s love that makes us all so rich/That’s where we’re at/If they don’t like it they can just get the hell out!” It’s surely a sentiment Cruz would agree with.
Cruz Rating: 20 on a scale of 10 “Get the hell out”? That could be his campaign slogan. It could apply both to anyone who doesn’t agree with him, and also immigrants!
Neil Young – “Let’s Roll”
Those who lean to the right tend not to roll with Neil Young, but this song was inspired by Flight 93 and rush-recorded and released in the days following 9/11. The following year, he’d play the song nightly with Crosby Stills Nash and Young, the prototypical hippie band from the ’60s. A few years later, though, they’d part ways with the jingoistic crowd when they toured for Young’s Living With War album, which included “Let’s Impeach the President.” Perhaps “Let’s Roll” would have struck more of a chord with Cruz had it been recorded by a country act.
Cruz rating: 9 out of 10 The lyrics include this line: “No one has the answer but one thing is true/You got to turn on evil when it’s coming after you/You gotta face it down and when it tries to hide/We gotta go in after it and never be denied” Chasing down the bad guys gets major points, but Neil loses one for the “no one has the answer” bit. Ted doesn’t like uncertainty.
Paul McCartney – “Freedom”
“This is my right, a right given by God/To live a free life, to live in freedom/Talking about freedom/I’m talking about freedom/I will fight, for the right/To live in freedom/Anyone, tries to take it away/Will have to answer ’cause this is my right!” Repeat over and over. If you didn’t know who wrote those lyrics, you’d probably presume it was a country singer, not a Beatle. Nope, Paul wrote it in the days after 9/11 and premiered it at the Concert for New York City.
Cruz Rating: 10 out of 10 God, freedom and rights? It’s perfect (for the Tea Party)!
John Mellencamp – “To Washington”
Other than Skynyrd, no one on this list is as country as Mellencamp. Until you get to his lyrics, that is. Although he’s lived in Indiana his entire life, never moving to New York or L.A., it’s certainly not because he shares political beliefs with the majority of those in his very red state. But Mellencamp doesn’t back down to anyone. In 1989, for instance, he slammed Ronald Reagan in “Country Gentleman,” singing “He ain’t a-gonna help no poor man/He ain’t a-gonna help no children/He ain’t a-gonna help no women/He’s just gonna help his rich friends.” Years later in 2003’s “To Washington,” he took aim at President Bush, singing, “So a new man in the White House/With a familiar name/Said he had some fresh ideas/But it’s worse now since he came/From Texas to Washington/And he wants to fight with many/And he says, it’s not for oil/He sent out the National Guard/To police the world/From Baghdad to Washington.” At the time, most Republicans found it outrageous that any musicians would criticize the President, although they have likely changed their tune in recent years.
Cruz Rating: 0 out of 10 That’s right, if Cruz is elected, Mellencamp can expect a deportation notice. Maybe he could move to Canada, now that Ted lives here.