In the wake of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ upset victory over the Golden State Warriors, a minor squabble has erupted over the 10-story tall LeBron James banner that presently hangs on the Sherwin-Williams building in downtown Cleveland. Mega-paint company Sherwin-Williams had initially intended to take down the banner and replace it with a giant company advertisement in time to welcome attendees of the Republican National Convention set to begin on July 18th. Concerned that a perceived slight to King James in his moment of triumph would send a million enraged Ohioans into the waiting arms of competitor Benjamin Moore and Co. Paint, however, Sherwin-Williams has since reversed course on that plan.
But the proposed advertisement (pictured) did make its way into a thousand news articles on the controversy, and it is downright terrifying. Republican conventioneers are no doubt big on patriotic displays, which unsurprisingly led the company to use a red, white and blue theme. The vertical stripe design, however, causes it to look like a 10 story high French tri-color flag with the blue and red reversed. Fraternité, égalité, liberté, as it were. Not what the GOP was probably going for, given their slanderous claims of French cowardice in the World Wars (1,357,800 French soldiers died defending their country in WWI) and the tri-color’s presence in the late 1700’s when a lot of rich assholes got guillotined.
That’s weird, but not scary. What is scary is the phrase “THIS LAND IS OUR LAND.” Weird totalitarian overtones for sure, but more importantly an unpardonable assault on our country’s musical heritage. Republicans do a lot of awful things, but I thought that even they would draw the line at ripping off Woody Guthrie.
Yeah, that Woody Guthrie – legendary folk musician Woody Guthrie, leftist political activist Woody Guthrie, Great Depression troubadour Woody Guthrie, this machine kills fascists Woody Guthrie. The guy who wrote “This Land is Your Land,” America’s greatest song. America’s secret national anthem, the song that the unloved, the unwanted, the poverty-stricken, the women, the children, the minorities, the protesters, the heroes, the people sing while rich Republicans hold hands and screech out Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Our priceless, precious, song being stolen by low-rent paint peddlers and racist thugs and warmongers like Donald Trump. Bastards.
Guthrie, of course, wrote the song because he was sick of hearing Kate Smith sing God Bless America” on the radio at the height of the Depression. The song originally had the sarcastic title “God Blessed America for Me.” It went "[o]ne bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office I saw my people. As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering, if God Blessed America for me."
On the subject of Trump’s Make America Great Again, Guthrie wrote other songs. You might remember from your history class that Charles Lindbergh flew the first solo trans-Atlantic flight in the plane Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh was also a Nazi (not a figurative Nazi, a did-stuff-for-Hitler Nazi) who started the America First party to keep the U.S.A from joining WWII on theside of the Allies. In “Mr. Charlie Lindbergh,” Guthrie observed “[a]nd I'm gonna tell you workers, 'fore you cash in your checks, they say 'America First,' but they mean 'America Next!'”
In other appalling news, the RNC’s logo for the convention itself features a red elephant walking on what appears to be a left-handed Fender Stratocaster guitar, or at least half of one. The guitar part is presumably a reference to the presence in Cleveland of the soul-crushingly lame Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, itself sited in Cleveland because it was there that DJ Alan “Moondog” Freed purportedly invented the term “Rock ‘n Roll.”
More to that story too, of course. Freed used the success of his show to get the hell out of Cleveland and move to New York as soon as he could, where he would be prosecuted and taken off the air for his part in a payola scandal. If you aren’t familiar, payola was a practice in the late 1950’s of record labels bribing DJ’s with cash, cocaine or shares of songwriting royalties to play their artists records on their shows.
Unlike the guitar stomping Elephant, payola makes some sense in the RNC context -- large corporations using bribery to force Americans to listen to shitty music. The difference being that in Cleveland you can visit that music 60 years later in a museum the Sex Pistols referred to as “urine in wine.” Like Republicans, except that Atlantic Records doesn’t condemn hundreds of thousands of people to their deaths in vainglorious foreign wars. At least not yet.
I revel in the Cav’s victory, but it is still overshadowed by the evil and violence to come in July. Cleveland’s benediction may well remain Johnny Rotton’s: “[w]e’re not coming. We’re not your monkeys and so what?”