I can’t listen to The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” anymore without wincing. Ignoring Mick Jagger’s protests, Donald Trump co-opted this ode to excess and turned it into an anthem of darkness during his presidential campaign. Not since Francis Ford Coppola used Wagner’s “Song of the Valkyries” to harken the helicopter attack in “Apocalypse Now” has a piece of music carried with it a feeling of dread and impending doom.
Now it’s Elton John who must be up in arms over the use of “Rocket Man” as a derivative of Trump’s bastardization of pop music and culture for his own political ends. This is what you get when you elect a reality TV star to be president — respect for the arts is thrown to the wind in order to get ratings.
When we were first dating, my wife loved Elton John and “Honky Chateau” was a well-worn album, especially where the needle was haphazardly placed on the grooves for “Rocket Man.” That song used to hold a special place in my heart — no more. Sorry, Nuala. Songs like “Rocket Man” and “You Can’t Always Get…” are now just grim reminders of white supremacy and cultural oppression.
If Adolf Hitler had employed a pop culture consultant, and had escaped the bunker to survive into the 20th century — maybe he would have ascended the steps to the Nuremburg rally stage while the klieg lights danced to “Hey Jude.”
Speaking of The Beatles: For decades you would never hear a Beatles song being used to promote anything until Nike used “Revolution” in a 1987 commercial to sell expensive sneakers. Ironic that it was that song, since John Lennon’s precursor to “Give Peace a Chance” spoke of his indecision on political violence: “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out — in.”
“Revolution” was written to be political. We never made love or gave birth or had a bar mitzvah to “Revolution.” However, when Nike’s “Revolution” ad aired, the three surviving Beatles sued despite having lost control of their intellectual property to Michael Jackson two years before.
George Harrison was prescient: “Every Beatles song ever recorded is going to be advertising women’s underwear and sausages. We’ve got to put a stop to it in order to set a precedent. Otherwise it’s going to be a free-for-all.”
The sausage Harrison predicted has Cheetos-orange skin and is the darling of any white supremacist who has registered to vote, and the hordes who can’t figure out the registration process. God forbid if Trump ever defiles the Beatles.
Music and politics have been strange bedfellows for eons. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. We can only guess what will be on Trump’s jukebox when he decides to immolate innocent North Koreans instead of pursuing focused diplomacy. But being a true Stones fan, Trump will probably be playing “Their Satanic Majesties Request.”