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(West Wing Theme)
We welcome you to our Inauguration Day episode with the theme song from “The West Wing,” perhaps the greatest and most optimistic drama about our government and the power and belief in its highest ideals.
Although, we could have just as easily opened the show with the main title from “Star Wars: A New Hope!” Because, in a way, it feels like we have been in a science fiction movie these past four years. The only difference is our Emperor didn’t shoot lightning bolts from his fingertips, just bullshit out of his mouth.
But January 20th, assuming there is a January 20th – we’re recording this on Saturday, January 16th, so you’ll excuse me if the outgoing President and his merry band of idiots attempt a second coup by the time you’re hearing this – but, January 20th is as important a turning of the page as we’ve ever had in this country. More than 81 million people rose up to say “Enough is enough,” voting illegally, of course, using socialist voting booths provided by Venezuela and posing as their dead grandparents. 81 million people, more votes for a candidate than anyone in the history of our country.
Of course, 74 million people voted for the guy who spent the last 10 months ignoring a public health crisis that gets worse by the day, not to mention that whole, y’know, trying to steal the election and topple the government thing. We may be turning the page, but we’re still writing entries in that same disturbing journal.
There was a lot to worry about with the outgoing President, well before he ever considered running for the highest seat in the land. The racism, the lying, the nefarious motives, as awful as they were we kinda knew that going in, and they would reveal themselves in greater detail over the course of his tenure in the Oval Office.
Early on, however, one of the most telling and terrifying things he said, of which there were plenty, was that his father gave him a “small, million dollar loan” to help him get started as a businessman. A small, million dollar loan. That was it. In a country where nearly 40 million people live below the poverty line – a family of four earning less than $25,000 by the way – this guy was really saying that a million dollars was completely inconsequential in his success. Not just out of touch, but so filled with hubris. It told the whole story.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one listening and getting worked up. Ben Gibbard, the main force behind Death Cab for Cutie, making their second straight appearance on the podcast, immediately pulled out his pen and wrote this scathing takedown, “Million Dollar Loan.”
(Death Cab for Cutie – Million Dollar Loan)
A few years ago, I was helping out during the 4th and 5th grade student board elections in the school where I work. A bunch of kids lined up in the cafeteria, excuse me, the multipurpose facility, giving speeches and trying to get the votes of their peers.
The things they were promising were hilarious. No homework. Better lunches. Extra recess. A laundry list of items they had absolutely no control over, no way to accomplish. And, of course, it didn’t matter: they were selling personality, charisma, entertainment. Those things they were promising, ah, don’t worry about it. Just like real politicians!
Somewhere in the middle of these speeches, my comedy brain took over and I started to wonder: what would it be like if Donald Trump ran in a school board election?
“Vote for me, and you’ll have so much chocolate milk, chocolate milk like you wouldn’t believe. You’ll be writing with those beautiful number two pencils, tremendous. You’ll have so much recess, so much recess you’re going to be sick and tired of recess. You’re going to come to me and say, ‘Mr. Class President, please, we don’t want recess anymore. It’s too much!’”
He’d start talking about the other kids running in the election:
“My opponent, Finger Painting Freddy, said the other day that I have tiny hands, okay. Well, lemme tell you something folks, my hands are very normal size, so normal, the most normal, in fact, better than normal. And, in case you’re wondering about the size of anything else…” ::Teacher Voice: Ok, um, thank you Donald.
“Many people, many people. So many, okay? Many people. Many people. And nobody’s saying it. So many people, people, purple people eater, people like you wouldn’t believe.”
Broken promises. Ineptitude. Pure villainy. There’s a lot of reasons to write a protest song about a sitting President.
Throughout the history of recorded music, our keenest and most outspoken observers have used their words, their instruments, and their voices to speak out against the injustices of the administrations of their times. Go back to the 1940s with the Almanac Singers, among them Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, the 1950s and the New Lost City Ramblers. Protest songs are about as patriotic and presidential as the office itself.
Now, Dwight David Einsehower, you probably wouldn’t have him at the top of your list when it comes to guys people couldn’t wait to sing about. JP Lenoir, a Chicago blues artist, wrote his controversial “Eisenhower Blues” at the peak of the President’s popularity – in fact, his record company refused to release it with that title, changing it instead to the more milquetoast “Tax Paying Blues.”
A few years later, some kid from Hibbing, Minnesota listened to President Eisenhower’s farewell address, and felt his blood boil upon hearing Eisenhower praise the “military industrial complex.” Combine that with the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and an intensifying Cold War, and you have “Masters of War,” perhaps the angriest, and most direct, protest song in his incredible songbook.
(Bob Dylan – Masters of War)
There have always been two Americas. From the minute the founders wrote that “All men are created equal,” and forgot to include, you know, all men, not to mention the other half of the population, this has been a country of haves and have nots. We witnessed the absolute horror of this reality on the steps of the Capitol and throughout 2020; we’ve been seeing it for decades.
In the early 70s, James Brown and Stevie Wonder, they’d seen enough. They’d lived through Jim Crow, segregation, and it was only getting worse with Richard Nixon in office.
Now, Richard Nixon was, and I don’t know if you know this, not very popular. He was the subject of a lot of protest songs at the time, perhaps most famously “Impeach the President,” by The Honey Drippers. That song would go on to influence countless artists over the next four decades, sampled by the likes of Will Smith, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Prince, TLC, and, yes, Stevie Wonder.
Both his “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” and James Brown’s “Funky President” serve as journalistic accounts of the two Americas, as well as brutally honest reviews of the Commander-in-Chief.
Sadly, these songs are as relevant as ever. They still need to be heard, and need to be sung. And they are: Wyclef Jean would later pick up the thread of Stevie’s song with “President,” as would so many other change-oriented hip hop artists, from 2Pac and Killer Mike, to Public Enemy and Kendrick Lamar.
They, like all of us, owe a great debt to these two legendary artists, and these next two songs.
(James Brown – Funky President)
(Stevie Wonder – You Haven’t Done Nothin’)
“Ronald Reagan? The actor?!”
A lot of our sharpest songwriters and entertainers saw Ronald Reagan coming. DEVO, of all bands, sensing the dangers of Reaganism looming during the 1980 campaign, wrote ”Whip It,” in part, as a song of encouragement for Jimmy Carter, a sort of “Hey Jimmy, get your shit together,” as lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh tells it.
Once Reagan got into office, however, the original meaning behind the song faded quickly, as did popular musicians’ response to his election.
You’ve got to remember, it was fairly uncommon in early-1980s America to speak out so publicly, particularly in song, against a sitting president. During the 60s and 70s, dozens of artists made careers out of it; but, after Vietnam, things had quieted down. Americans needed escape, and they found it in the form of synthesizers, disco, and dance pop.
As Reagan’s run for reelection began; however, some of the most important artists on the scene cashed in some of their hard-earned collateral to comment on the events of the day. Minneapolis’s own Prince, surprisingly enough, was one of the first who spoke directly to President Reagan in song. “Ronnie, Talk to Russia” is less a protest song than a desperate plea, imploring the President to figure out how to end the Cold War before it’s too late.
Later that decade, criticism for the President came from another unlikely source, about 1,200 miles east of Minneapolis in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
In May of 1985, Reagan was set to visit a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany as part of a trip to honor victims of the Nazis, and boost relations with West Germany. Buried in the cemetery, however, were 2,000 German soldiers, including 49 members of the combat arm of the SS. In the weeks leading up to the trip, protestors began chanting “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” a sly reference to the name of a character played by a chimpanzee in a 1951 movie that co-starred, yes, Ronald Reagan.
Upon leaving for Germany, hoping to put the controversy behind him and focus on the supposed positives of the trip, Reagan said that the soldiers buried at Bitburg “were victims, just as surely as the victims of the concentration camps.” He continued, giving his version of the “they were simply soldiers following orders” speech. So remember that the next time someone tells you that Donald Trump doesn’t represent the modern Republican party.
Well, down in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a few Jewish members of a pretty famous punk band were more than a little pissed off at that. Joey and Dee Dee Ramone took the sitting President head on, singing:
“Better call, call the law
When you gonna turn yourself in?
You’re a politician
Don’t become one of Hitler’s children”
Here’s Prince, with “Ronnie, Talk to Russia,” followed by The Ramones with “My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg).”
(Prince – Ronnie, Talk to Russia)
(The Ramones – Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)
There have been a lot of “new Dylans” since the original one came on the scene in the sixties. People are always looking for the next great thing, a new administration to carry on in the footsteps of the previous one. Bruce Springsteen. John Prine. Tom Waits. Warren Zevon. Billy Bragg. Leonard Cohen. These are just some of the artists who were forced to carry the burden of being dubbed the next Bob Dylan.
Perhaps no one was more deserving of being compared to our greatest musical philosopher, nor wore the title more impressively, than Connor Oberst, better known as Bright Eyes. In just a few years, Bright Eyes went from an underground hero, a kid writing incredible songs filled with imagery and wordplay more suited for poetry, and recording them in what sounded like the shower at his momma’s house, to sharing a stage with Bruce Springsteen, REM, Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, Neil Young and more during 2004’s Vote for Change tour.
It was just a year earlier that the Bush administration essentially replayed Vietnam, misleading the public into an unnecessary, never-ending war. Many of our greatest musicians united themselves in voice and song as if it were the sixties again, speaking truth to power in an effort to get Bush out of office one way or another.
Of course, the Vote for Change tour failed; George W. Bush easily won a second term, and John Kerry went back to playing Herman Munster and windsurfing. Look it up, one of those is true.
Most of the artists on that tour continued to write songs and speak out about the atrocities of the Bush administration, but perhaps no one did it better than Bright Eyes in this next song.
(Bright Eyes – When the President Talks to God)
You know, if little Donnie Trump got elected class President in our mock school election earlier, what would he do when it was time to go to middle school? Would he throw a hissy fit and refuse to go? Would he incite a riot at recess?
“The election was rigged, okay. Miss Bonneville, she wasn’t very nice to me, okay. She never liked me, Miss Bonneville. You know what I call her? Batshit Bonnie, I call her, that’s right. Batshit Bonnie, she brought in a bus full of kids from another school, and they voted in our election. They were pouring in, believe me folks. Pouring in, and nobody’s talking about it. We’re going to march to the jungle gym at recess, ok? We’re gonna march, we love marches, don’t we? We’re going to march, and I’ll be there with you, believe me. We’ll march, and you have to be strong, okay, be strong and show force. Now, excuse me, the bell is about to ring for lunch, and I want to be first in line. ”
Speaking of, I was watching Food Network the other night, and one of the chefs mentioned that he cooked for President Obama. Could you imagine if one of these guys came on and was like, “Oh yea, I cooked for President Trump?”
“Now here he is, ready to beat Bobby Flay, the line cook at the Route 22 McDonald’s in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, it’s Josh Jenkins!”
We survived four years. Inauguration Day, is a new page. A new beginning. A new hope. For the first time in what seems like forever, there are brighter skies ahead. But, there are still plenty of dark clouds, and many rivers to cross; it isn’t going to be an easy journey.
You know that flag flying over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone
Who we are, what we’ll do, and what we won’t
At our best, as Americans, this is our guiding scripture. We know who we are. We’ve seen what we aren’t. Now, it’s up to us to decide what we’ll do.
It’s gonna be a long walk home. We’ll be seein’ ya…
(Bruce Springsteen – Long Walk Home)
The Flyover Podcast is recorded and produced by Kyle Pucciarello in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, please visit www.theflyover.site, official_flyover on Instagram, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.