Since I performed my “Ballad of the Tea Party” at the Chicago Tax Day Tea Party in Daley Plaza on April 15th, the YouTube video has been viewed thousands of times. Many people have also asked me where the inspiration for the song came from.
The idea came to me when I attended the rally against the health insurance bill in March in Washington, DC. I did not see any of the racism or homophobia later alleged by the left, but I did sense a lot of frustration that needed some kind of positive expression.
[youtube SAxz8FSJxag nolink]
Every great protest movement has had a musical accompaniment. The civil rights movement, for example, had gospel and folk. Rock-and-roll was the soundtrack to the anti-war movement in the U.S. and the anti-communist underground in Eastern Europe.
It struck me that day, standing on the lawn of the Capitol, that the Tea Party might be more effective if it had a song--not an official anthem, but a singable ballad that could convey the spirit of the Tea Party and what it stood for in a fun, humorous way.
A few days later, I began to tinker on my cheap acoustic guitar. I revived a little melody I had started writing as an undergraduate at Harvard. I had composed it at a time when I was exploring both the Boston folk scene, and my disenchantment with the left. It went:
Well, our mothers and fathers protested the war
But there ain’t no more fighting that we’re drafted for...
I never got much further than that. The debate among fellow lefties on campus at the time was about whether, and why, our generation of students was less politicized than our parents’ generation. Rather boring, and rather thin material to write a song around.
Now, the melody came back to me with sudden urgency, and the words came almost as quickly. I decided to tell the story of the original Tea Party, leaving contemporary politics to the end, so that the song might have broader appeal and relevance beyond Tax Day.
Last, I had to write a catchy chorus--and to practice. Playing live music is always hard, but it’s also huge risk to take as a political candidate. I warmed up on the bus on the way down to the rally, teaching the song to everyone on board. They dug it.
At the rally, when it was my turn to speak, I introduced the song: “This is not a country song--it’s more of a backwards country song. You know what happens when you play a country song backwards? You get your wife back, you get your job back, you get your house back... You know, I think you could run on that platform and win!”
And with that, I was strumming. It went just as I had practiced, with a few minor slips. The crowd sang along at the chorus, and everyone seemed to have a good time.
A friend came up to me afterward and said, “You took the negativity right out of this thing.” And that, basically, was the goal--to put the party in the Tea Party. The issues America faces today are serious, but we shouldn’t let our frustrations overwhelm us. There’s nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what’s right in America.