Sarah Palin and her candidacy to become the next Vice-President of the United States has been a nigh-inexhaustible saga of comedic absurdity since her selection by John McCain a month ago. The latest pinnacle of farce came over the weekend, when Tina Fey continued her celebrated multiweek cameo lampooning of the Alaska governor on Saturday Night Live with a spoof of Palin's interview with Katie Couric on CBS, using the candidate's own words for a near-verbatim skewering. These kinds of antics are infectious, though, and Madison songwriter and performer Ken Lonnquist has joined in on the fun.
"I write lots of topical songs, but the way this one came about was quite unique," explains Lonnquist, who is well-known for his kids songs performed with The Kenland Band and other ensembles as well as through his work as a musical playwright. "I'd forgotten to wish a friend a 'Happy Birthday' last Monday, and remembered to call her Wednesday afternoon. I always make up a little ditty to sing to friends and relatives on their birthdays, so on this occasion I began with the idea of finding excuses for my belatedness. Sarah Palin came to mind: 'I've been busy sayin' 'Thanks, but no thanks...' and the song was off to the races."
After successfully delivering the birthday wishes, Lonnquist knew he had the makings of a complete song, and after some tinkering, went on to debut the new tune on The Mic 92.1 with Lee Rayburn last Thursday morning. A music video was the next step, on which Lonnquist promptly started working, rounding up a team of accompanists to this tribute to moose and mavericks. Joining him in the video are piano player extraordinaire Dave Adler, his bandmate in The Kenland Band and O'Darby as well as a member of The Gomers, along with Abby and Sam Taylor as the "crazed chorus-ters" and The Wasilla Kid approving the message. Their dad, Andrew Taylor, served as producer and photographer of the video.
Sung from the perspective of a perch across the shores of Russia's back door, "Brain to Nowhere" bathes in the continuous stream of scandals and tartuffery that has been the Palin candidacy, starting with her support for the Gravina Island Bridge before she was against it. Creationism, book banning, pregnant teens, and senior moments are all invoked too.
Lonnquist ups the ante, though, by singing the ditty in the north-of-Yooper brogue that outdoes even the mellifluous voice of Marge Gunderson. "Well, I'm no Tina Fey, but the accent had to be at least an approximation of something 'Palin-esque,'" he says. "And it's awfully fun to say 'maverick' and 'nowhere' in her tone of voice."
The music video for "Brain to Nowhere" follows, complete with a terrific nod to Ray Bolger's Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.
There are five more weeks before this campaign season ends, and there are likely to be plenty more laughs and gaffes along the way. Particularly anticipated is the lone Vice-Presidential debate this Thursday, October 2, which will pit Palin against Democratic candidate Senator Joe Biden of Delaware in a showdown at Washington University in St. Louis. For persons perhaps interested in singing-along during this contest, or any other time to keep their minds off of the sinking economy, here are the complete lyrics for "Brain to Nowhere":
I been busy saying "Thanks, but no thanks" to the bridge to nowhere
Shootin' moose & skinnin' grizzly bears
Bannin' books in public schools
And teachin' 'bout creation
Stylin' a beehive in my hair
Vote for Palin-McCain! He's a maverick, I'm the Brain… Brain To Nowhere
I been keepin' tabs on Russia
From my front porch with binocklers
I'm expert in Homeland Security
I been applicatin' lipstick
on peculiar kinds of critters
To learn what makes 'em
different than me
I been carefully explainin'
No such thing as global warmin'
Teachin' teens to cross their legs & pray
Though polar bears are drownin'
And my high school kid is knocked up
Reality will not stand in my way!
When Grampy's pants get damp, he's gonna need someone to change 'em
And I'm the Veep
on whom he can depend
'Cause change is what I'm all about
The perfect backup maverick
Ready when he goes 'round the bend
There's a lotta shakin' up to do
To fix the old red, white and blue
So put your trust in my IQ
Your Brain to Nowhere
"Brain to Nowhere" is by no means the first song by Lonnquist touching on, or simply wholesale lampooning, a contemporary political issue. Last December, the musician wrote and recorded "Oh, Isthmus Tree" about the official renaming of the centerpiece December decoration in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda as a "Christmas tree." He also describes himself as a Minstrel for the Environment, creating and performing tunes about nature for audiences of all ages.
After debuting "Brain to Nowhere" on the radio, Lonnquist went on to perform the song last Saturday at the grand opening of the new Goodman Community Center on the east side of Madison as well as at this year's Pagan Pride Day in Middleton. He is also hoping to share the tune during the "crowd warm-up before the appearance by progressive talk radio host Ed Schultz at the Barrymore Theatre on Wednesday, October 15, which coincides with the third presidential debate, barely three weeks before Election Day.