My head is full of snot due to a relapse of some weird flu that is going around. It is a few
days from summer and it is already hitting 100 so I am lethargic from the heat. I rig an
antenna on the back of my TV because I am too cheap to shell out for cable and what’s
the use anyway? I have the choice of two channels. On one channel are a couple of
freshly scrubbed yuppies chirping away about today’s “news.” The “news” is crime
stories interspersed with “good news,” i.e. human interest stories about WWII veterans
or what some Boy Scout troop is doing for a bunch of cripples. In other words, schlocky
bullshit designed to make us feel good while the world prepares to blow us up.
On the other channel is the final funeral of Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of
these United States and the most popular leader this country has had since Franklin
Roosevelt, if you don’t count the blip that momentarily appeared as John F. Kennedy.
Reagan’s popularity is part of the reason this funeral is the last of a series of funerals: a
pathetic farce which requires his corpse to be dragged from coast to coast, so that poorly
dressed fat people could stand in lines in order to one day say that they saw the hearse that
carried dead Ronnie. They wave their plastic American flags made in Taiwan and chant
“USA USA” as the corpse cruises past. Then they go home filled with some sense of
accomplishment and wait until Monday to focus their hate on Scott Peterson, the cuckold
that allegedly snuffed his wife and unborn child. In other words, these funerals are
Roman circuses or the Spectacles or Wag the Dogs whatever overused metaphor you
want to throw up to describe this distraction from the frightening reality that is today's fucked up world.
I think of all this while I look at a frail Nancy Reagan sit on the edge of a chair, staring at
the preacher standing in front of the box her late husband is sealed in. She looks like a
depressed muppet and I feel a bit sad for her. I think of her wiping the shit off Reagan’s
ass for the last twelve years, as he descended into a second childhood thanks to
Alzheimer’s. But perhaps, Nancy as nanny is pay back for her wretched “Just say No!”
campaign, her puritanical crusade against sex and drugs. The moralizing was bad enough,
but it was compounded by the hypocrisy of a woman who, according to Peter Lawford
and others, worked her way through Hollywood by giving the best blow job in town, and
was rumored to have sucked off Frank Sinatra in the Oval Office. With that in mind, the
thought of Nancy cleaning out Dutch’s ditch doesn’t make me feel so bad.
Being a teenager during the Reagan years meant either being a complete bonehead or
scared shitless for your future. The US was not at war - at least not directly - and it was
not under attack. However, the fear, created in equal parts by right wingers in
government and left wingers outside, was thick. If it wasn’t Reagan or Cap Weinberger
warning us about the Evil Empire and the March of Communism, a domino or two away
from Our Defeat, it was Lefties creating visions of a post-nuclear apocalypse and an
impending draft where all young people died for the cause of United Fruit. Of course,
there was no nuclear war between the US and the USSR. The Soviet Union fell apart
trying to keep up in the Arm’s Race and compete with America for empire. There was no
draft. The US employed proxies to fight counter-revolutions or to keep revolutionaries
from tossing American corporations out of their countries. The Domino Theory never
became reality and the March of Communism stalled where it started. All the above is
hindsight, however at the time the fear was real.
That fear helped fuel punk rock and pretty much served as one of the seeds of American
(and then worldwide) hardcore. Coupled with the boredom of suburbia, Ronald Reagan’s
world lead to two things: An overwhelming sense of
what-the-fuck-let’s-just-get-drunk-and-fuck-shit-up nihilism and hatred of Reagan. The
former lead to the Meatmen/GG Allin school of punk; the latter to what we now think of
as “Reagan bands.” In the case of the Reagan bands, it didn’t matter about how informed
a band was, following the lead of the Dead Kennedys and others, hundreds of teen bands
turned out “I Hate Reagan” songs. There is no way of know exactly how many punk
songs were written about Reagan - recording technology was not yet cheap enough to
document them all - however it is probably pretty safe to assume that no other American
president has had that much musical attention devoted to him, at least by teenagers.
It is difficult to come up with one best Reagan song. There are influential ones, such as
the Dead Kennedys’ “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now.” There are very well known
ones, like Suicidal Tendencies’ “I Shot Reagan", The Ramones' “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,”
and DRI’s “Reaganomics” (later covered by the Happy Flowers). But the best ones lurk a
bit below the punk rock mainstream.
Certainly the Crucifucks’ “Hinkley Had a Vision” (sic) should be counted as a prime
Reagan song. Implying that would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley had the right idea,
the Crucifucks launched into an attack on America’s Religious Right, a movement
ushered in and embraced by Reagan. “Can you believe we're being plagued by religion
still? These Christians aren't about to give up. It's the same countless fools go on and on
and on and on...Closest thing to witches I've ever seen. Let's get out the gas and set them
on fire! Aw, teach me how to pray, good Christian. If it works you'll all be dead...I wanna
take the president, chop off his head. And mail it to them in a garbage bag. Hinkley had a
vision. Hinkley had a vision.” Nowadays such a clarion call would have the FBI kicking
down your door and you on trial for making threats to the president.
A few other Reagan assassination song worth noting are Demented Youth’s
“Assassination Attempt,” which starts with the words. “Mr. President! Mr. President” and
then descends into musical chaos and Ism’s smart ass “John Hinckley, Jr. (What has
Jodie Done to You?).” Then there are the “I wish the president would get assassinated”
Reagan songs in the mostly incohearant “Kill the President” by the Menstral Cycles and
“Libyan Hit Squad” by Tongue Avulsion.
On the subject of Nancy Reagan and sex, we are blessed with the Sun City Girls’ “Nancy
Reagan,” from the album Horse Cock Phepner. Not really a hardcore song but something
a bit experimental (back when experimentalism was embraced by punk rock) with
spoken lyrics about Nancy blowing Mr. T and others and Ronnie going along in games of
ass play, etc. The San Francisco band, Angst also had a great tune in “Nancy.” The lyrics
were a simple chant of “Does Nancy perform acts of oral copulation?”
For pure teen spite, go to Wasted Youth’s “Reagan’s In,” Government Issue’s “Hey
Ronnie,” DI’s “Reagan der Furhur,“ JFA’s “Jody Foster’s Army,” Wasted Talent’s “Off
to War,”and Youth Brigade (DC)’s “Moral Majority.” A little more “sophisticated” are
Shattered Faith’s “Reagan Country,” Reagan Youth’s “Reagan Youth,” Rebel Truth’s
“Reagan Youth,” Sector 4’s “White House” (with a nice “Fuck you Reagan” tagged on
the end) and the Fartz’ “Battle Hymn of Ronnie Reagan.”
There is also the Minutemen’s “If Reagan Played Disco,” The Accused’s “Reagan’s War
Puppets,” Chronic Sick’s “Reagan Bands,” Teenage Depression’s “Reagan’s Gestapo,”
No Direction’s “Reaganomics,” Modern Warfare’s “Moral Majority,” MIA’s “Last Day
at the Races,” Moral Decay’s “America,” and Lennonburgers’s “Reagum.” Oh yeah, I
can’t forget (though I know I’ve forgotten others) TSOL’s “Superficial Love,” a song that
has absolutely nothing to do with Ronald Reagan other than the classic end line,
“President Reagan can shove it!”
Reagan wasn’t the only world leader at the time that received punk rock attention.
England’s Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher got her treatment from the Subhumans,
Conflict, Flux of Pink Indians, Icons of Filth, and others. Crass filled up albums full of
Thatcher songs. Americans bands such as the Dead Kennedys ("Kinky Sex Makes the
World Go Round") and obscurities like Switzerland’s The Decay ("Marareth Thatcher") had
Maggie tunes. Hell, even the hopelessly moronic Exploited felt obligated to do a few
Though Jimmy Carter was president during the late Seventies punk explosion, there are
few songs dedicated to him. In fact, the only song I could find about Carter is the
extremely idiotic “Mr. President” by the appropriately named DC band Da Moronics.
Other than that, most of the songs that I found are songs are on “Carter issues,” like the
Neutron Bomb and the Iran Hostage Crisis. I even had a hard time finding any songs
specifically pertaining to the Ayatollah Khomeni (though the Hates did include a cool
“The Hates in Iran” comic book with their “Panacea” LP). However, I am happy to note
that there is at least one song dedicated to Idi Amin, that by Black Randy and the Metro
Squad, and, in my opinion, the best song dedicated to a “world leader.”
What is also surprising is the lack of George W. Bush songs. Certainly, we live in a time
that is visibly more dangerous than it was in the Reagan years. The United States has
experienced an attack on its own soil. It is currently engaged in three wars worldwide
(Afghanistan, Iraq, and Columbia). This country is hated and feared abroad. Millions of
people worldwide hate Bush and there are plenty mobilized against him. In the polls,
Bush is less popular than any president since Richard Nixon, and much less popular than
Reagan at his lowest ratings. So you would think that with someone as loathed as Bush,
and with the world so fucked up, we would be swamped with Bush songs. That is not the
case and I have a few guesses why.
Punk rock exhausted itself on Reagan. As noted, his presidency spawned hundreds of
punk rock songs, but to what end? Any idealists who thought that waving a fist in the air
and singing bad things about the president would actually bring down a president or even
alter the course of history was faced with 8 years of Reagan, 4 years of Bush the Elder, 8
years of conservative Democrat Bill Clinton, and the election of Bush the Lesser.
Hundreds of Reagan songs did nothing to stop America’s Right Wing political slide.
What hope punkers had for change through music was certainly squelched by the first
Gulf War. Punk had an effect on the level of personal politics, fashion, cultural, social
and musical change. It politicized people, but it did not change politics in the sense of
what goes on in Washington, London, Moscow, or Baghdad. In other words, change does
not come through slogans, even if those slogans have a nice beat to them.
The beat behind my viewing of Reagan’s final funeral is being made by some obscurity
called the Assholes. They were a late 70s/early 80s Southern California band and what I
am listening to is a collection of songs thrown on a CDr by one of their former members.
It sounds like primitive punk that is more moronic stumbling than arty but nowadays
would be called art punk just because it is so off. The songs are also eight minute long
jams spliced together with incidental noise, bleeps, sound clips and other things. I don’t
know if these things were made back in the Reagan years or assembled on a computer
last month. However, they make a perfect bed to soldiers schlepping Reagan’s corpse
around one last time. Nancy places her hands on the casket one last time and her children
crowd around her as she weeps. The camera pulls back. The Reagan library, where the
body is to be laid to rest, sits on top of a Simi Valley hill. The hill is orange: It looks like
scorched earth, a fortress in a post apocalyptic world painted by some teen hardcore band
from Iowa. Ronald Wilson Reagan is dead.
Hinckley did have a vision. And it finally came true.
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