Music And Memories From The Campaign Trail

Lately a couple of secondary stories from the presidential campaign have kind of combined to jog my rusty memory, causing me to reminisce about my slight involvement in a campaign many years ago.

First, there’s the attention being paid to the music played at the candidates’ appearances — what used to be called their theme songs. Apparently the McCain camp has stopped using a John Mellencamp tune because of criticism from the liberal-leaning musician and others, and are now using something from ABBA. Meanwhile, Obama’s people pretty much have their pick of about any musician around.

The second type of story has to do with the history of negative campaigning, and it always uses the 1964 election as an example.  That was the one which featured Lyndon Johnson’s TV commercial showing the little girl being obliterated by a nuclear bomb, and it pretty much did the same to Barry Goldwater’s chances for election — although as I recall the odds were against him anyway.

During that election, I was working as a DJ at a small-town radio station. We were a tiny operation, but when we heard that Goldwater’s campaign train was going to make a brief stop in a nearby larger town, we were determined to be there. Since I was the closest thing we had to a newsman, I was elected to make the trip.

We didn’t have the remote broadcasting capabilities of larger stations so I had to lug a big reel-to-reel tape recorder into the train station and find an outlet to plug it in, well in advance of the train’s arrival. (This was the same recorder that I sometimes dragged to small-town basketball games to tape the play-by-play for later broadcast — another example of our makeshift way of doing things.)

When the campaign special pulled in, everybody crowded around the platform and Barry came out to talk. I had a huge old microphone that was haphazardly attached to a long rod, and I had to push it in his general direction while fervently hoping no one would trip over my long extension cord. Luckily, the secret service classified me as ‘dork’ rather than ‘threat’ so I was able to tape his remarks, which I’m sure were the same he’d given at every stop of the train. I’ve always wondered if anybody even listened when we later broadcast the tape.

But back to campaign songs. I can’t for the life of me remember if there was any music playing before or after Barry’s speech but according to the record, his campaign briefly used the popular show-tune “Hello Dolly,” changing it to “Hello, Barry.” Unfortunately, they neglected to get permission from the composer so had to stop, and then used something called “Go With Goldwater.” The final slap in the face for Goldwater was when “Hello, Dolly,” was appropriated for use by LBJ and became “Hello, Lyndon.”

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