Song of the Day: If A Song Could Be President


If A Song Could Be President If a song could be president
We’d hum on Election Day
The gospel choir would start to sway
And we’d all have a part to play

The first lady would free her hips
Pull a microphone to her lips
Break our hearts with Rhythm and Blues
Steve Earle would anchor the news

We’d vote for a melody
Pass it around on an MP3
All our best foreign policy
Would be built on harmony

If a song could be president
We’d fly a jukebox to the moon
All our founding fathers’ 45’s
Lightnin’ Hopkins and Patsy Cline
If a song could be president

If a song could be president
We could all add another verse
Life would teach us to rehearse
Till we found a key change

Break out of this minor key
Half-truths and hypocrisy
We wouldn’t need an underachiever-in-chief
If a song could be president

We’d make Neil Young a Senator
Even though he came from Canada
Emmylou would be Ambassador
World leaders would listen to her

They would show us where our country went wrong
Strum their guitars on the White House lawn
John Prine would run the FBI
All the criminals would laugh and cry
If a song could be president

Song, which appears on duo’s The Trumpet Child album, has unexpected timeliness during 2008’s extended-play election season

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — A loyal and growing legion of fans of Ohio’s most independent-minded band, Over The Rhine, has cited “If A Song Could Be President” as a standout track from its new album The Trumpet Child. The story of this song hearkens back to the duo’s unlikely invitation to the White House in 2005. Now, as the nation sets out to elect a new president in the fall, the song has a special salience.
But how exactly did a moderately well known band from Ohio come to be invited to the White House to begin with? “We were as surprised as anyone,” band member Linford Detweiler says. “It turns out some junior staffers were fans. They had also extended invitations to Bono and Peter Gabriel, who had both previously accepted, and they wanted to sit down with us as well and have a conversation. We were hesitant to accept at first because we had taken issue with a number of the policies of the Bush administration, but we soon realized that so often missing from our current political climate in America were opportunities to sit down face to face and engage in real conversation. How could we possibly be critical of folks we weren’t willing to have a conversation with?”
So the band headed to Washington, DC and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There they saw secret servicemen, snipers with machine guns and binoculars on the roof of the Oval office, concrete barricades strewn about that made the whole place feel like it was under siege. They saw FDR’s desk that Richard Nixon had defaced installing a hidden microphone.
“According to our hosts,” Detweiler adds, “the talk behind the scenes in Washington often revolves around the enviable direct access to people — and therefore the power — entertainers and musicians have. This caught us off guard. We think of people in Washington as having power, and here they’re telling us that we had power.”
The band’s White House hosts asked what Over The Rhine had hoped to accomplish with its music.
“We said that maybe first and foremost, we try to give people permission and encouragement with our songs not to live in fear,” says Detweiler. “We expressed our disappointment at how we perceive fear as a manipulative force in so much policy-making in Washington — not to mention the steady drip of fear that informs the way so much of the news is presented on television.” Reportedly, there was an uncomfortably pregnant pause.
But the band members soldiered on. They discussed some of the charities with which they had partnered in the past. They looked for common ground — anything hopeful. The White House hosts then talked about why they were fans of certain Over The Rhine albums. The band heard stories about why they believed in the political process and why they wanted to be involved. It was an actual discussion.
What the band took away from the experience was this: American music is one of the last remaining communal enterprises in this country. Music and songwriting still have the potential to bring incredibly diverse people together.  Check out an Al Green concert in Cincinnati, an Emmylou Harris show in Indianapolis, a jazz club in St. Paul. Or walk into an Over The Rhine show just about anywhere, for that matter.
Detweiler continues: “As we recorded our latest CD, The Trumpet Child, we got to thinking of all the great music America has given the world as a nation — all the musicians who could have only come from here: Louis Armstrong, Patsy Cline, John Coltrane, Johnny Cash, Mahalia Jackson, Bill Monroe, Bob Dylan — all this great music we can be proud of anytime, anywhere. American music!”
So as Over The Rhine walked away from its meeting at the White House, members Detweiler and Karin Bergquist wrote an odd little song that celebrates American music and gives a shout-out to a few of their personal faves: Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Prine, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Patsy Cline, to name a few. “We hope you like the song,” they conclude.
The song is called “If A Song Could Be President.”
The band hopes it will be adopted as an anthem of positivism in a political season in which we can expect negativism and cynicism. After all, whether a politician plays Elvis on the saxophone or “Sweet Home Alabama” on the bass, music is a potentially unifying factor. A song can indeed make the president if not be the president.
Over The Rhine will spend the spring, summer and fall months on the road, crossing America, and looking forward to finding commonality in music. A capital idea.

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