Politics & Policy

Reality Bites

Come a little closer huh, ah will ya huh.

The eternally prescient Henry David Thoreau had contemporary American society figured out 150 years ago. Writing in Walden about the nation’s hurry to build a magnetic telegraph so Maine and Texas could instantly converse, he dryly observed: “But Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”

Hah! Like that would stop us.

Even then, Thoreau knew that “the broad flapping American ear,” gifted with unlimited information, would have no filter for importance, only for novelty. Therefore, the contents of President Bush’s iPod became news this week, much in the same way that Bill Clinton’s preference for briefs over boxers became news in 1992. Both fall in the category of Things We’d Really Rather Not Know.

Still, you have to admire the reporting of the New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller, who apparently was the first journalist to think of asking what’s on the president’s iPod. He’s had it nearly a year now; the twins gave it to him for his birthday, July 6. And Bumiller, no slouch when it comes to delivering news we can’t use, produced a detailed account of the “First iPod,” revealing that it helped the president burn 1,300 calories while cycling on Saturday, cost $300, and contains about 250 songs, most of them country and pop rock.

Which is fine and good. Until you learn that one of them is by the Knack. Running down the length of my thigh, Sharona.


Are there songs less appropriate for the leader of the free world to listen to while he terminates 1,300 calories? Of course. Rick James’s “Super Freak” rapidly comes to mind. And a revelation that the president runs to the soundtrack of any Rocky movie would knock a good ten points off his approval rating.

But before releasing the presidential playlist, someone should have checked all the lyrics. Will we ever see an image of Bush with his iPod without wondering if Doug Fieger is yelping “I always get it up/ for the touch/ of the younger kind” in the first ear?

Thoreau was wrong about one thing: Broad, flapping ears are not confined to North America. The European press–incompetents who have yet to reveal what’s on Prince Charles’s iPod (as if!)–fell onto the story with glee, zeroing in on the Knack, not George Jones or Van Morrison, who also power the president’s workouts.

Das Bild, Germany’s best-read tabloid with more than four million readers, trumpeted it on the front page Monday: “‘Mmm–my Sharona…Ooooooo-ohhh, my Sharona….’ sounds in the ear, when the most powerful man in the world grips dumbbells to steel his muscles.”

Oh, presidential advisers? Didn’t anyone see this coming?

Okay, confession: I, too, have an iPod, and it contains some songs of which I’m not particularly proud. There is, last I checked, ABBA’s greatest hits, which could theoretically be blamed on my ten-year-old daughter, and Foreigner’s “Urgent,” for which I can only blame myself. There is more than one song that iTunes labeled “explicit.” We all have our guilty pleasures. That’s why God gave us earphones.

Theoretically, I agree with presidential adviser Mark McKinnon, who said, “No one should psychoanalyze the song selection. It’s music to get over the next hill.” It’s a good defense, one that I shall employ immediately.

Then again, maybe it’s just a joke. The president doesn’t download his own music; that falls to McKinnon and aide Blake Gottesman, either of whom could have put “Sharona” on there with dark, unknowable motives. Saturday Night Live fans, after all, know the song from the memorable skit “Janet Reno’s Dance Party” in which Will Ferrell’s Reno dances to it to drive away memories of Waco.

So maybe it’s not so much the president’s personal music selection as a withering cut to a previous administration. Maybe the humor of this administration is just too wicked and subtle and sophisticated for us huddled masses. Maybe “Sharona” is not even on the iPod at all!


The New York Times gave the president’s playlist to Joe Levy, an editor at Rolling Stone, for expert analysis. Levy, sounding far too prudish to be in the employ of Jann Wenner, called “My Sharona” “suggestive, if not outright filthy.” That’s a stretch; even iTunes doesn’t dub it explicit. No, “Sharona” is merely annoying; in fact, a couple of years ago, Runner’s World magazine ran an essay bemoaning how the song would get into the author’s head during a run and then stay with him for hours.

That’s the real danger of “Sharona.” Bush could be somewhere significant–say, at a major state funeral–sitting there, outwardly placid, all the while the phrase “Ooh you make my motor run, my motor run” is playing over and over again in his mind.

It must be deleted. The free world is at stake.

Jennifer Graham is a writer in the D.C. suburbs who categorically denies that anything by Cyndi Lauper is on her iPod.


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