J. Lester Feder, author of a piece on the politics of country music for the Prospect, called us this morning to explain the story behind Barack Obama's use of the song "Only in America" by country music duo Brooks and Dunn.
Nashville songwriter Don Cook was amused when a song he co-wrote with the duo Brooks and Dunn followed Barack Obama's acceptance speech last night. "I can imagine blood pouring out of the ashes of my Republican friends, mainly the two co-writers of the song," he said in between chuckles in a phone interview. Cook's longtime partnership with Brooks and Dunn in some ways exemplifies the "purple America" Obama described in his speech last night: Cook is a founder of the Music Row Democrats, while Ronnie Dunn is known to be a staunch Republican.
While conservative front-men like Dunn are the familiar face of country music, there are a good many Democrats working behind the scene in Nashville. Cook founded the Music Row Democrats in 2004 in part to help these Democrats come out of the closet at a time when they felt especially under siege. But the city's political climate has cooled in the past couple of years, Cook says, so much so that the Music Row Democrats are no longer a necessary support group. Republicans have lost their swagger, Cook explains. "It's just hard to champion an administration that has created such negative change," adding, "I'm sorry that it takes something like that in our culture to lower the level of anger."
Within hours of hearing he'd provided the soundtrack for the Democrats' exuberant political spectacle, Dunn fired off an e-mail to Cook saying, "You framed me." The shoe once was on the other foot. President Bush used to use "Only in America" for his own political events, much to Cook's chagrin. The songwriter relayed a message to the president that he was giving his royalty money to the Democratic Party. This prompted an uncharacteristically bipartisan response from Bush, who wrote Cook a note saying he liked the song and would continue to use it anyway.