One of the recurring jokes in my life is that, despite having worked in the broad field of digital media for almost 10 years, I have a formal education in political science. I pursued political science for the most obvious of reasons—I enjoyed talking about, and debating, important issues in and out of the classroom with anyone who’d take the time to share their thoughts. More than that, I was a news junkie and I would watch cable news the way that one watches sports. On some level, it was sugar and a pill wrapped in one—an often immensely entertaining way of consuming the news. During slow periods at my summer job waiting tables, I’d switch a television from ESPN to CNN Headline News to check in on the latest brewing political conflict. It was a competition that, unlike sports, extended out into a real world of consequences. It was a sort of anti-escapism that gave layers of color to the general dullness of policy-making. By watching pundits trade barbs, I was doing homework. It’s not that I didn’t realize that so much of these televised debates were purely manufactured—quite the opposite. By watching the likes of Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson go at it, I was figuring out what it was like to win a prize-fight of ideas. It’s a skill that would come in very handy at Grad School.
But, sometime after September 11th, the sort of political tête-à-tête that once served as a form of entertainment started to take on a different shape. The stakes were raised, and the tension ratcheted up for years and years throughout the Bush administration. Gradually, the game of politics that was once a sort of alternative to sports for me started to seem more like professional sports than, well, professional sports. That is, characterized by loyal factions with a blind and intense dislike of the opposing team, bordering on irrational. It was like fans of the sport had turned the whole operation over to fans of the team. It didn’t matter that a good game was played, only that the correct team was the declared winner. Politics became a shouting match. I gave up on cable news completely.
More than that, I also stopped talking politics with all but the closest of friends. Suddenly, there was simply no way to have a constructive disagreement. Bringing up politics was like choosing to wear a Yankees hat to Fenway Park—an invitation for conflict. By the time I had grinded through three very stressful years in state government during that period, I emerged as I am today—more or less apathetic to it all. I did, however, did get much more into sports than I had been at any time since my teens. I’m much happier now.
That’s why I’m so surprised by how much I still enjoy Michael Franti’s “Oh My God.” At first listen, it sounds like a total polemic. Franti rattles off cutting lines like “Politicians got lipstick on the collar/ the whole media started to holler/ But I don’t give a fuck who they screwing in private/ I wanna know who they screwing public.” The release of “Oh My God” predates September 11th by a few months and in some sense it could have only been made in the days before. At it’s core, it’s downright incendiary.
But, it’s also strangely idiosyncratic. Franti is marching to the beat of his own drum when it comes to politics and doesn’t neatly fit into a recognizable ideology (though, he certainly is to the left of most everyone). To wit, seemingly pro-life lines like:
you can make a life longer, but you can’t save it
you can make a clone and then you try to enslave it?
stealin’ DNA samples from the unborn
and then you comin’ after us
shares the same runtime with the pro-weed “Sellin’ firewater but outlawing the bong.”
Show me the venn diagram of this constituency, please! Pot-smoking Christian fundamentalists? Hippies in Vermont who moonlight as self-fashioned revolutionaries? I want to know more, Michael.
“Oh My God” has some other great things going for it, too:
1. I literally have no idea what genre this song is. I’m not sure I even knew what genre Spearhead is to begin with, let alone Franti’s quasi-solo version of the band. Neo-Hippie-Rap-Soul-Funk?
2. This song veers directly into corny territory before making abrupt, visceral u-turns back in the other direction. Then it goes into conspiracy theory land, back to corny, and then back to visceral again. It’s kind of like a ride.
3. “Oh My God” is loosely associated with “The Wire,” my personal pick for best television show ever. (It’s on the soundtrack, but I have no recollection of ever hearing it on the show.)
4. Michael Franti’s voice. Baritone! Why are there not more people who sing baritone with record deals?
An on it goes. It’s a unique, unfiltered vision. It’s everything cable news is not and it feels totally genuine and sincere. If you can appreciate this song, we should talk politics sometime.
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