POLITICS

Campaign Flashback: Republicans And Rock-N-Roll

10/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A few days ago, I delved into the awkwardness that occurred on the campaign trail when the McCain campaign's use of the song "Barracuda" ran afoul of that song's authors, Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart. One of the bands I namechecked in that article was Scarsdale NY's Too Much Joy, best known for their contributions to a lost art form called "college rock radio." Well, much to my delight and surprise, this morning I received an email from TMJ's lead singer Tim Quirk, who has since gone on to be a significant player in music technology and the VP of programming at Rhapsody. The speed of his reply sort of makes me want to encourage bands the world over to send me their promos! But the content of his reply forms a wonderful story of how pop music and politics intersect, and how his band got caught up in the middle of it.

The story (which originally appeared in TMJ fanzine Joybuzzer, and which you can get in its entirety by clicking here) begins in the summer of 1994 with a man named Jeff Holland. Holland was a contractor attached to the National Republican Campaign Committee, tasked with staying abreast of the congressional races and raising cash for the Republican Party. One night, leaving the NRCC headquarters, he happened upon a gaggle of staff "standing around drinking beer and eating a pizza," openly "lamenting about how sick it made [them] to watch Bill Clinton dance at his victory party" to "Don't Stop." Apparently, this triggered something of a strong reaction in Holland.

"Yeah, it might be a cheesy Fleetwood Mac song," I said. "But it's a hell of a lot better than anything our party has come up with. The best we can do seems to be Lee Greenwood. Let's not kid ourselves. Republicans are totally out of touch with cool music."

He went on:

"We need a cool Ramones sound. Something that will jump-start our political engines. Something that says 'Fuck you we're Republicans and we are going to make sure the DEMOCRATS LOSE because they're ruining the country. We are going to win and we don't care about the aftermath. That's what punk rock is all about."

Yeah, that take on contemporary punk rock is likely to set a few sets of teeth on edge. (I can already imagine, and welcome, Spencer Ackerman's response.) But consider this: unbeknownst to Holland, Johnny Ramone was actually a Republican!

Anyway, Holland, inspired went to his car and pulled out Too Much Joy's Cereal Killers album, returning to share the song "Theme Song," which despite having a first verse that Holland realized at the time didn't exactly scream out "GOP," ended up being a huge hit with the staff.

Here are the lyrics:

Meet our band of merry men, shake the hand of every one.
We'll eat your food and steal your wife, buy us beers we're friends for life.
We only shoot when shot at, we give away what we don't need.
We live for fun and freedom, we stamp out feer and greed.

To create, you must destroy. Smash a glass and cry "Too much joy!"

We sleep on floors and live on crumbs, we're a bunch of ugly bums.
A great idea when we were smashed, turning anger into cash.
We ain't seen much, but we don't starve,
We drive around, in our mom's cars.

To create, you must destroy. Smash a glass and cry "Too much joy!"

Uhm...like I said: there's not a whole lot in the verses for the typical Republican to hang their hat on. (Holland admits: "I mean let's not kid ourselves.") But for those gathered with Holland, that chorus, "To create, you must destroy. Smash a glass and cry 'Too much joy!'" caught fire. And from there, it basically went viral.

We played the song for Newt and his guests. And when he smiled, a twinkle came to his eye, and he said "That's exactly the sentiment we need if we are ever going to win a majority." Those were his exact words. And I will never forget them.

...

Theme Song never made it into campaign commercials, but it became a fast cult favorite around headquarters. Someone even made one of those computer-generated banners that said "To Create, you Must Destroy" and hung it on the wall among the campaign signs from the various GOP candidates that decorated the offices.

The story would end, there, were it not for the fact that Holland decided to send the band an official thank you letter, on campaign stationery.

The letter, signed by Gingrich, began:

Dear Tim:

I am writing today to thank you and the other members of Too Much Joy for the extraordinary contribution you made to our overwhelming victory in the 1994 elections.

Thanks in part to Too Much Joy, our party accomplished a feat few thought possible. In a single election, we picked up 52 seats in the House of Representatives, winning a Republican majority for the first time in 40 years.

...

Too Much Joy had captured the entire essence of our 1994 campaign in a single line: "To create, you must destroy."

...

It may not have been reported on the news. But your song - through the spirit it created - had a tremendous impact on the 1994 mid-term elections, and as a result, will have a tremendous impact on the future of our great nation."

Can you imagine receiving this letter, out of the blue?

Holland delivered the letters to Quirk at a DC gig, who passed them on to their record label, who put out a press release. And this drew the attention of reporters. Understandably. Holland puts himself in the head of the press: "Could it be possible that Newt Gingrich was a fan of a punk rock band that has a song called Take a Lot of Drugs and has a cartoon of two naked teenagers just finished with having sex on the latest album cover?"

As it turns out, it was a point of interest, and before long, Gingrich's office was furtively denying the story. For Holland, the unkindest cut of all was probably the denial levelled at him: "A spokesman for the NRCC even went as far as postulating that 'Jeff Holland is probably a Democrat operative.'"

For the band, of course, things were different, as Holland relates:

When I told the guys in Too Much Joy, the New York-based punk/pop band who wrote Theme Song that their recording had become a "cult favorite" campaign song among GOP staffers in Washington, they looked at me in a way they might have had I just told them I planned to rape one of their daughters.

All I can say is that hopefully, all the stuff that bummed Quirk out fourteen years ago, doesn't still bug him today.

Suggest a correction