Last night, Trumpistan was raising money in California around an overpriced Beach Boys concert – or at least what’s left of it, which is basically Mike Love. Whoever, when the group wanted to experiment and take cross roads in the late 1960s, asked this “Don’t mess with the recipe”, that of the easy ritornelles on the beach and the girls who ran the shop. The one that will be described by Erik Hedegaard of the magazine Rolling Stone as “One of the most gigantic assholes in rock history”. The one also who, after bringing together his ex-accomplices Brian Wilson and Al Jardine in 2011 for the 50 years of the group, thanked them immediately after – needless to say that Wilson and Jardine openly dissociated themselves from the concert this Sunday. But more than this programming which is not surprising in itself, what appeals to the final, it is once again the absolutely chaotic and sordid way with which Donald Trump and his team manage the question of music and of which this concert is just yet another depressing episode.
From Carter to Obama
Since the end of the 1970s, music has played a secondary but still extremely revealing role in the American presidential campaigns. Jimmy Carter, nicknamed the “rock’n’roll President,” was the first to play it openly, counting Willie Nelson among his most active supporters, citing Bob Dylan in his speeches and not hesitating to respond to reporters outside his ranch, in a grimy shirt open over an Allman Brothers Band T-shirt. Even before his inauguration, we knew everything about the burning relationship between Bill Clinton and his saxophone and we could see him winning the vote of young voters by choosing to answer their questions live on MTV, at a time when the channel was exclusively musical. We remember how Ronald Reagan hijacked and took back to his advantage the Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen, a harsh critic of the Vietnam War and the fate inflicted on veterans on their return, transformed by the Republican president into a vibrant patriotic hymn. Even George Bush Jr., despite a famous friction with Tom Petty for the use ofI Wont Back Down during his meetings in 2000, had revealed a playlist not cool for a penny but far from dramatic, bringing together John Hiatt, John Fogerty or Alejandro Escovedo.
Obama has made it a major instrument in his image as cool President, inviting Aretha Franklin to the White House, playing the speakers-crooners accompanied by the Roots at Jimmy Fallon, and continuing today by posting playlists which sometimes prove to be much more embarrassing than those of Bush – one day we will have to look at the people who listen to The National. Who are they ? Do they dress exclusively in beige? Why should we only laugh at Coldplay fans?
Pensioner knocked out at the Génépi
With Trump, music only occupies one specific role: that of perpetual embarrassment. We remember, during his inauguration at the White House in January 2017, in addition to the sparse audience, the long list of musicians who had refused to perform for the occasion (Celine Dion, Kiss, Elton John …). Even the B-Street Band, Bruce Springsteen’s cover band, declined. We also remember the many artists to have publicly taken a stand against him, going so far as to bring Taylor Swift out of her reserve, she who had long been modest on the subject. Today, we can no longer count the artists who file a complaint against him for using their titles without permission in meetings, from Neil Young to Rihanna, including Ozzy Osbourne.
We look away, confused, seeing him dancing softly like a pensioner knocked out on the Génépi on the YMCA des Village People. And we measure the vertigo that represents, despite its implacable logic, this pic with Mike Love, thumbs up, belly against belly. Mike Love, the guy who rubbed shoulders with, without realizing it, the geniuses and bullies of his generation, from the Wilson brothers to Charles Manson. This guy who has now made a small place for himself in the presidential campaign that tells the most ruthlessly about our times – the one that walks in the dark, screaming, picking up what she can, telling a thousand crazy stories, leaning on absurd revelations and hordes of lost people. And from which we still want to hope to be able to emerge unscathed. After all, Brian Wilson came back from a lot worse. He even made some very beautiful records.