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Published 06 August 2012 06:43, Updated 16 August 2012 04:16
Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan last week cited Bruce Springsteen as his political inspiration. I guess, after the effort by Swan’s cabinet colleague Craig Emerson a few weeks ago to invoke the spirit of Skyhooks in respect of the Carbon Tax, we should be grateful the treasurer didn’t sing.
It would hardly surprise if the politician formerly known as Swanny were to sing an ode to Australia’s seventh-largest river, which lies in his home state of Queensland – “Don’t cry for me, Diamantina”.
After all, it’s not unusual for politicians to resort to song. Some do it for fun, if not to demonstrate musical prowess. Colin Powell sang a parody of the Village People’s YMCA at an ASEAN Regional Forum (complete with the immortal line: ‘Don’t hold your breath for the EU. . .’). Some do it out of duty. Hillary Clinton has sung the Star Spangled Banner many times, no doubt and she did it again while campaigning for the presidency in 2008. This time, however, she was holding a microphone that was turned on.
Some politicians sing to keep the party faithful, well – faithful. South African President Jacob Zuma’s trademark song is an anti-apartheid Zulu struggle song Awuleth’ Umshimi Wam’, Bring me my Machine Gun, which he has a penchant for turning on at ANC rallies and even in the odd press conference.
But there has long been a link between male politicians and singing. It’s almost a symbol of virility and machismo. Populist former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi was quite partial to singing in public – and told audiences he sang one particular song while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris to pay his way – but music also turned out to be a great means of ridicule, as this clip posted – with lyrics – on You Tube after his resignation last year shows. And even while living in exile in Hawaii, after his ousting from the Philippines, a country he had done his kleptocratic and authoritarian best to ruin, Ferdinand Marcos tried to keep up with his wife Imelda’s singing, but as an observer remarked in 1988, “he usually got tired before the end of the song.’’ Marcos died in 1989.
If they see it as a symbol of potency, macho political leaders often also regard music as a political threat. In 2005, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who had already banned opera and ballet, added recorded music – as well as lip-synching – to the blacklist, saying it would damage culture in the desert state that he has ruled since Soviet times.
A year and a half ago, Vladimir Putin sang Blueberry Hill at a charity event in St Petersburg. At present, the Russian president’s government is seeking to jail a girl punk rock band, Pussy Riot, who stormed the altar during a service at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox cathedral in February, performing a ‘punk prayer’ calling for Putin to be driven out of office.
Some politicians come from artistic backgrounds. Eva “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” Peron (Evita) was an actress before she married politician Juan Peron in 1945 and subsequently became a political heavyweight in her own right.
Music is a lovely thing. It’s soothes the mind and raises the soul. Politicians resort to it publicly for many means. But when used as a distraction to the issues of the day, it’s never a sign of strength. Quite the opposite. In fact, it can almost be viewed as their own political swansong.
And this is something of which the deputy prime minister should take note. After all, Nero fiddled while Rome burned.