/ 24 May 2024

God bless the US – and our ears

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally At The Jersey Shore
Throw rock at him: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a rally in New Jersey this month. Photo: Michael M Santiago/Getty Images

If excessively patriotic American songs make you cringe, steer clear of the choices US presidential candidates make. And it is that time again, with rallies being held ahead of the presidential election in November, so beware. 

Each one has a “walk-out” song as part of the pomp and ceremony to help sell them to the voters and create a vibe. Many are simply hideous.

Take Donald Trump’s choice in 2020, Lee Greenwood’s Proud to be an American, a patriotic hit on country music stations since the first Gulf War. Listening to it is the aural equivalent of downing a tin of condensed milk.

But not everyone likes Trump to use their work for campaigning purposes. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to “Musicians who oppose Donald Trump’s use of their music”. 

It is a who’s who of music from the 2016 and 2020 campaigns and includes Adele, Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, Eddy Grant, Linkin Park, REM, Rolling Stones, Rihanna and even the Village People. When the artists are no longer around, their estates say: “No, Donald!”

Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World has been a particular Trump favourite since 2015, and while the progressive Canadian rocker has conceded that he has no legal grounds to oppose the song’s use, he has resorted to a scathing open letter, published in Rolling Stone, which stated: “Every time Rockin’ in the Free World or one of my songs is played at your rallies, I hope you hear my voice. Remember it is the voice of a tax-paying US citizen who does not support you. Me.”

Trump is using another Greenwood song — I wasn’t brave enough to listen to it — this campaign called God Bless the USA

He doesn’t need to worry about any pushback from Greenwood, who is a right-wing Bible-basher.

In fact, so much so, that the two are in partnership selling Bibles at $59.99 a pop. It’s a custom-made God Bless the USA version, which includes a handwritten chorus of Greenwood’s song.

“All Americans need a Bible in their home, and I have many,” USA Today quoted Trump as saying in a video statement in March. 

“It’s my favourite book. It’s a lot of peoples’ favourite book.”

American campaign anthems started in the late 1700s. In 1824, Andrew Jackson ran for president with the first semi-official campaign song The Hunters of Kentucky, lauding his victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans, explained a recent article in Politico

“Jackson was neither a hunter nor a Kentuckian,” it says. “But what politician lets facts get in the way of a good campaign tune?”

After that, other candidates followed suit by getting songs composed for them. For example, Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 ditty I Like Ike

In 1972, there was a change, according to Deseret Magazine when George McGovern started the trend of using popular songs — his was Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water — as campaign tunes or walk-on songs.

Disappearing down that star-spangled rabbit hole of Trump campaigns, and seeing his supporters, brought back not-so-fond memories of the days when I covered right-wing politics for this very paper (then known as The Weekly Mail) back in the late 1980s.

I was often the only journalist at the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging’s (AWB) rallies in some dusty, desolate dorp. Although I dressed down in different shades of beige and spoke better Afrikaans than most of them, they always instantly knew I was an outsider. 

“Kyk daar (check there),” they would point at me. “Dis ’n fokken joernalis (it is a fucking journalist)!”

It must be the fact that the AWB also had their own peculiar type of music at their meetings that jogged my memory. Their leader Eugene Terre’Blanche’s walk-out “song” was a rather puerile, school sport-like chant of “AWB! AWB! AWB!” punctuated with faux Nazi salutes from his khaki-clad supporters. 

They loved ending their meetings with a horrible out-of-tune rendition of a bombastic Afrikaans patriotic song, Die Lied van Jong Suid-Afrika, with the standout line: “En hoor jy die magtige dreuning (And do you hear the mighty roar)?” 

At some rallies, the AWB’s brass band tortured their instruments and our ears, proving the ability to play an instrument was never a requisite.

Fortunately, we will never hear that racket again. Trump and his ilk, on the other hand, are set to torture is until at least the end of the year, if not beyond.