Top Ten Songs To Play Loud After Accidental Exposure to Bill O’Reilly
was hunting for a bottle of wine at my local liquor store when I caught sight of Bill O’Reilly on the TV opposite the counter and was instantly bewitched. (O’Reilly is not especially privileged in this; the TV in our apartment connects to nothing but a DVD player, and the small-box magic of slick graphics, whizzing tickers, and shouting heads is beguiling no matter whose teeth are bared).
That slammed-shut face, the slicing hand gestures, the frown of wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command: what a fucking rush. Needn’t hear the words: like a shooting on your street, O’Reilly sets the pulse rate soaring, reminds you that somewhere nearby battle lines are drawn. I would even posit that his shtick works the same adrenaline-shot magic for his adherents as it does for those of us who would like to have a moment in control of the microphone and the soundboard.
So, in honor of Bill O’Reilly, the early start to America Votes 2008, and my local liquor guy (who says O’Reilly’s OK, but he really can’t stand Sean Hannity), herewith a FOX News post-exposure list to stoke the indignant home fires, spiced with knee-jerk servings of liberal dogma and careful attention to the yin-yang relationship between grievance and defiance. For best results, listen in the indicated order.
10. Radiohead – 2 + 2 = 5.
It takes a live performance to hammer home the full impact of the “You have not been paying attention, paying attention, paying attention…” refrain: there is something truly awe-inspiring about thousands of people all shouting a salient and simple political truth. Unlike the Bush-ist bent of the body of the song, the refrain embodies the piquant ambiguity of who, exactly, “you” is; one of the implicit messages of the O’Reilly index finger is the willful blindness, the perverse ignorance of, well, just about everyone.
09. Tricky – How High
A punch-drunk paean to passivity, “How High” is hardly Tricky’s best work, but makes up for it with two-chord directness and grinning, cocksure pop thuggishness. Throughout, Tricky wears the smile of one who knows you know he knows you’re going to do just what he says because you don’t know any better.
08. Mr Lif – Home of the Brave
Lif proves that Mr. O’Reilly is not the only one who can knit together assertion, suggestion, and bald-faced innuendo, but unlike Fox, Lif is backed by a sample of Laurie Anderson’s baddest riff to give the finger-waving extra clout. Lif is a political bully who gleefully overstates his case, but then this isn’t exactly “60 Minutes.” His sermonizing is so dense that when he debuted the song in Boston in early 2002, he cut the music to do the last two verses a cappella, just to make sure people heard every furious, acid word. Especially the grand finale: “And you can wave that piece of shit flag if you dare / But they killed us because we’ve been killing them for years.”
07. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – The One Who Got Us Out
“The One Who Got Us Out” is a political opera in microcosm, encompassing a panoptic range of hopes and fears: young soldiers and their anxious parents, the working class, Leo’s liberal guilt, and the limp justifications of an exhausted state (“They say it’s the only way / They play like it’s a game”), all tumbling out in a cramped yelp of high-velocity verbiage timed to the Pharmacists’ panicked punk heartbeat, a near-perfect rendition of the exhilaration of political angst.
06. Björk – Joga
Björk is one of the only musicians with the artistic acumen to convey the unwonted wonder of crisis. An album earlier, she might have pushed the song’s ecstatic climax into beat-driven nirvana, but instead the melodic promise of the song is described in full yet never realized, so that even the apotheosis of disaster, of emergency, remains forever just out of reach.
05. Tom Waits – Hoist That Rag
Waits combines dogged defeat and bloodied patriotism in a potent stew, his singing like disemboweled fado, the chorus a regimental marching song for demons, and the dead, falling into call and lockstep response. The guitar solo at the core is steeped in lugubrious Latin drama, but struggles within the bars of the song like a tiger pacing its cage, all resistance bottled and concealed.
04. The Clash – Guns of Brixton
An inevitable choice that nonetheless makes the cut because Simonon’s somber, hectoring delivery is every bit as self-righteous as O’Reilly’s furrowed declamations in its unshakeable certitude that they are, indeed, coming to kick in your front door. For the Clash as for O’Reilly and others, the battle lines are always drawn and the only choice to be made is with or against.
03. The Small Faces – What’cha Gonna Do About It?
The Small Faces’ first single exhibits a disinhibited disregard—for its blatant derivativeness, for the feelings of the desired (“I want you to come / Whenever I call”), for Steve Marriott’s pipes—formulating the chorus as an all-embracing challenge to do something about an all-embracing it. Not a love song at all, despite the (hackneyed, irrelevant) lyrics, the song’s not-quite-two minutes of bloody-minded determination are hell-bent on remaking the world in the image of Marriott’s ravenous, anarchic voice.
02. PJ Harvey – This Is Love
A gloriously tribal stomp that posits love, or sex, or lust, as the end-all/be-all, obliterating anything else in its path: “I can’t believe life is so complex / When I just want to sit here and watch you undress.” But Polly Jean, for all her pelvic bar-chord thrusting, can’t shake the sense that her love/lust is imperiled by the world outside, beating on the bedroom walls: “Come on out, come on over, help me forget / Keep the walls from falling as they’re tumbling in.”
01. Leonard Cohen – Democracy
A misplaced classic that requires little more than Cohen’s ponderous whisper to bury the dagger deep between the shoulder blades: “Democracy is coming to the U…S…A…,” turning that infamous anapest of basketball games and bombings into something sly, ominous, creeping, a transference of optimism to the child’s harmonica theme that reaches up from Cohen’s profundo depths for something: glory or victory or light.