The day after declaring his intention to seek the 2016 GOP nomination, Ted Cruz spoke about how his taste in music has changed.
In an appearance on CBS This Morning, Cruz told Gayle King that he grew up listening to “classic rock” but that all changed one Tuesday morning in September 2001. “My music taste changed on 9/11,” Cruz said. “I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded. And country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me.”
As with anything Ted Cruz says, the Left wildly overreacted. On the Now with Alex Wagner program at MSNBC, guest Jamilah Lemieux said, “Nothing says ‘Let’s go kill some Muslims’ like country music, fresh from Lynchburg, Virginia. Someone who obviously does not want to be a polarizing candidate, he wants to bring people together, I mean — really? That’s absurd.” Within minutes, the network issue an on-air apology.
Over at Salon, Heather Digby Parton (no relation to Dolly) hits a similarly discordant note:
But I’m hard-pressed to think of any rockers, classic or otherwise, who were disrespectful in the aftermath of 9/11. Certainly it wasn’t Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney or Neil Young or Fleetwood Mac or literally dozens of other rock and pop artists who penned heartfelt songs about the event. But then Cruz undoubtedly didn’t want to hear poetic songs about loss and pain. He wanted songs of revenge and killing, like Toby Keith’s famous anthem, “The Angry American” which featured the kind of language that gets Cruz and his voters very, very excited.
For his part, Cruz did not elaborate as to which classic rock artists offended his sensibilities and which country artists are his favorites. Digby does have a valid point where it concerns the artists she mentions who participated in the Concert for New York as well as the likes of Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, The Who, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Billy Joel, and, dare I say it, James Taylor. None of these artists signed the Not In Our Name Declaration opposing the War in Afghanistan and other post 9/11 policies embarked upon by the Bush Administration. Most of the musicians who did sign were those long identified with the Left such as Pete Seeger, Odetta, Steve Earle, Laurie Anderson and Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine. The only artists who signed the declaration who could be remotely identified with classic rock would be Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead and Bonnie Raitt and that would be stretching it. If Cruz truly has expunged classic rock from his playlist does that also include Ted Nugent who is very nearly as well known for his conservatism as he is for “Cat Scratch Fever”?
But if there is a song that associated with 9/11 then it’s Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American).” As much as it was about the mood of the country after 9/11, it was also a tribute to his father, a veteran who had been killed in a car accident six months before the attacks. Although the song has often been derided (most notably by the Dixie Chicks) for being jingoistic, it must be noted Keith has generally supported the Democratic Party most of his life and praised President Obama during the 2008 campaign.
Those of you who are familiar with my writing will know that I became politically active as a teenager in Canada subscribing to the socialism of the NDP. In 1995, I would serve as Alexa McDonough’s convention youth organizer for her successful for the leadership of Canada’s NDP. I would carry these social democratic inclinations with me when I moved down to Boston 15 years ago. I even cast a ballot for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election. (I hold dual citizenship.) But 9/11 profoundly shook my political faith from the moment when McDonough criticized the United States only hours after the towers collapsed stating, “No country should appoint itself judge, jury and executioner.” In the coming months, I would be further alienated by the knee jerk anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment that came from broad segments of the Left. I read Michael Walzer’s Dissent article, “Can There Be a Decent Left?” and could not answer his question in the affirmative. When I looked for a voice of reason I invariably found it among conservatives. It didn’t happen overnight and I do retain some socially liberal views (i.e. gay marriage), but the events of September 11, 2001, would ultimately transform me from a Canadian socialist to an American conservative.
For a number of years, I was a regular on the open mike poetry circuit in Boston & Cambridge and soon earned a reputation for being the only poet who would stick up for George W. Bush, the United States, and Israel. When First Lady Laura Bush invited a number of poets to read at the White House shortly before the War in Iraq begun they not only declined her invitation, but launched a website called Poets Against The War. In response, a gentleman from Michigan named Charley Weatherford established a site called Poets for the War and I would soon become an active participant. This would result in interviews on BBC Radio and NPR. For a time, I was referred to as the Rumsfeld of Rhyme.
About five years ago, I was invited to give a reading at the Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge. Emphasizing my conservative politics, the host made a point of playing “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue” before introducing me. I felt awkward about the choice of music. So when I was invited to give another reading at the Out of the Blue Gallery about fifteen months later during the height of the Occupy Movement, I made a point of asking the host not to play that song. I’ve got nothing against Toby Keith, but that song just isn’t on my playlist and doesn’t reflect my musical tastes.
Although I love the written word, when it comes to music it is the melody and arrangements that make or break a song for me. Based on these criteria, most country music (particularly new country) doesn’t resonate with me on an emotional level. Of course, there are exceptions such as Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe,” “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” by Charlie Rich, and Dave Dudley’s trucking classic “Six Days on the Road.” Country music has certainly influenced my musical tastes. Among my favorite albums is Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skylinewhich opens with “Girl From The North Country,” a duet with Johnny Cash who championed Dylan’s music from the beginning of his career. In more recent years, I’ve spent time listening to The Fantastic Expedition of Dillar & Clark by Doug Dillard and Gene Clark as well as the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace of Sin.
So while my politics have changed after 9/11, to borrow a phrase from Led Zeppelin, the song remains the same. I still listen to the same music I had listened to for as long as I could remember be it the Beatles, the Byrds, the Moody Blues, America, Chicago, Bob Dylan, the Guess Who, Harry Chapin, Harry Nilsson, Three Dog Night, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Richie Havens, Simon & Garfunkel, Carly Simon, Jim Croce, and Led Zeppelin. Throw in some jazz by the likes of Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis, Chuck Mangione and Moondog. In adulthood, I have paid more attention to other lesser known artists of that era such as Emitt Rhodes, Big Star, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Iain Matthews, Evie Sands, and the Small Faces. As you have probably observed, most of these acts recorded their music from the mid-1960s to early 1970s. Indeed, most of this music came to light before I was born. There is an intangible quality in the mood of the music recorded during this period that I seldom find in music recorded since then. Occasionally, I come across a contemporary artist like Jake Bugg who captures that mood. When I first heard “Lightning Bolt,” I thought it was a missing classic from the ’60s.
Of the artists of that era that I’ve mentioned who are still alive, I doubt there is a conservative among them. If I let political opinions get in the way of my enjoyment of music then I probably wouldn’t listen to any at all and I would be the poorer for it. Digby argues, “But come on — nobody changes what music they like for political reasons.” Now I don’t know what kind of music Digby likes, but what would happen if a performer Digby liked announced he or she was supporting Ted Cruz? Digby would toss out that performer’s CD faster than you could say government shutdown.
Now all of us have certain boundaries. Where I draw the line is when musicians boycott Israel. So if Annie Lennox, Elvis Costello, or Roger Waters are performing in concert then I’m not going. But that won’t stop me from listening to “Sweet Dreams,” “Radio Radio,” or Dark Side of the Moonwhen the mood strikes (although it doesn’t happen often).
The musician about whom I feel the greatest ambiguity about is Cat Stevens. How could a man who recorded an album full of songs of peace and contentment like Tea for the Tillermancall for Salman Rushdie’s execution or support Hamas? When Stevens announced last September he would be touring the U.S. for the first time in nearly 40 years, it took three months of debate with myself to decide whether or not I would attend his show. I decided to put aside my distaste for his views for one night in the hope there was still a glimpse of the man he once was. It is possible to admire a man’s art without admiring the man.
As for Ted Cruz, the Left has no admiration for his musical tastes much less anything else he says or does. When it comes to Cruz, the leftist critique is incoherent and illogical. A few paragraphs after Digby argues that Cruz “wanted songs of revenge and killing” after 9/11, she concludes “it’s very hard to believe that Ted Cruz has any interest in music at all.” Such observations say a great deal more about Digby’s closed-mindedness of someone with whom she disagrees than they do about the musical tastes of Ted Cruz. Honestly, Ted Cruz could have Ani DiFranco’s entire discography on his iPhone and the Left would find a way to accuse him of planning the next phase of the imaginary war on women.
The events of September 11, 2001, profoundly changed the outlook of many Americans. Yet the nature of this change took on different forms in different people. If 9/11 could change my political point of view but not my musical tastes then it is certainly possibly that 9/11 could have changed Ted Cruz’s musical tastes but not his political point of view. But some people will never listen.