Party Music: Look What They Done to My Song, Ma

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It used to be that we gauged a person by the company he or she kept. Then it became books. A quick perusal of someone's bookshelves revealed all we needed to know. (For example, a copy of "Our Bodies Our Selves" was a moderately reliable indication that the owner was unlikely to be a devotee of Phyllis Schlafly.)

But these days nothing defines one's personality like music. Which is why both major parties are so careful in selecting music for their conventions. But what the casual observer is unaware of is the fact that the composers whose work is performed often have no say in the music that is so carefully deployed at the conventions — and may indeed object violently to the misperception that he or she has endorsed a repellent platform or candidate.

This has now become an especially topical issue because the Latin American songwriter of "Livin' La Vida Loca," Robi Rosa, is going loco at the Republicans for using his recent hit song "The Cup Of Life" (a sort-of "Livin' La Vida Java") as a centerpiece of their convention. The upbeat tune was blasted out at the conclusion of George W. Bush's acceptance speech. Rosa pointed out that he had not given permission for the usage and labeled the connection "perverse." He specifically lambasted the GOP for "trying to forge a connection to the Latin community with the use of my song and by parading famous Latinos on stage."

His complaint will not be alone. I noticed several bizarre abuses of music during the Philadelphia convention. One morning I snuck into the arena and caught the orchestra rehearsing. It was quite surreal. Three tunes especially caught my ear.

John Williams — longtime composer for George Lucas and noted Democrat Steven Spielberg — was represented by his ever-popular "Star Wars Theme," though it was unclear if it had been selected for its subtle call to arms for the impending battle against the evil empire of liberalism or because it was perceived to be a campaign tune promoting the SDI program.

The newly inclusive Republican party offered a warm hand of welcome to the staggering 3 percent of their delegates who happened to be African-American by including the O'Jays 1973 hit "Love Train" ("People all over the world/ join hands/ and start a Love Train...") However it was without doubt the World's Least Funky Version ever. It made the Percy Faith Orchestra sound like Limp Bizkit. Which is quite a feat.

(Judging by the perpetual scowl on Newt Gingrich's face all week as he scoured the convention corridors looking for cameras to pontificate in front of, a more apt selection from the O'Jays' oeuvre would have been their 1972 hit "Backstabbers.")

The orchestra did acquit itself with more aplomb with a rousing version of John Lennon's 1969 Beatles tune "Come Together," which eventually materialized as the build-up to Dick Cheney's climactic speech on Wednesday evening.

However there were several rather salient points which appeared to have eluded the GOP brass (and the GOP strings for that matter!).

A) The song was written by John Lennon — an avowed socialist — who was known for his lifelong detestation of conservatives and Republicans.

B) Disgraced Republican president Richard Nixon spent several years illegally using the FBI and the INS to harass and try to deport the ex-Beatle in the early '70s because of his opposition to the Vietnam War and Nixon's 1972 reelection bid.

C) The song is rife with explicit references to sex and drugs.

D) The song was originally commissioned from Lennon by his pal Dr. Timothy Leary as a campaign theme for his intended 1970 gubernatorial bid in California against.... Ronald Reagan!

Who says irony is dead in America?!

Will the Democrats offer more appropriate music next week? Will we get Barbra Streisand wailing "Hava Nagila"? We will have to wait and see.

But there may have been an early clue in Joe Lieberman's speech at the Tennessee veep announcement. He confided to the world that the day he received the phone offer from Al Gore had reminded him of "that Beatles song 'Magical Mystery Tour.'"

Rock on, Joe! Who would have thought that an Orthodox Jew would have known a less celebrated Fab Four song? I'd pegged him as a fan of Genesis....