Gays in the Military (and In Your Speakers)

The first cardinal rule of campaign commercials is to look as patriotic as possible. In the US, this can mean a lot of things: shots of the candidate standing in front of the American flag, clips of good ol’ down-home folk harvesting corn or herding cattle, accent colors of red and blue, and, of course, patriotic music — something to grip viewers at their emotional core, saying “Yes, this is America, and I’m the best person to be in charge of this great country of ours.”

Some may argue that Yankee Doodle or a John Philip Sousa march might be the music that most symbolizes America, which to be sure is what a lot of candidates go for. Aaron Copland is probably the most elegant choice, though — it’s beautiful, lyricless, and tends to remind you more of a feature film than a high school band in a local parade. Here’s an example you’ll undoubtedly recognize:

One of the world’s great ironies is that Aaron Copland, the composer of those manly harmonies so often used in commercials for beef and pickup trucks, was openly gay.

It will fill many of us with glee, then, to hear which soundtrack Rick Perry decided to play behind his latest anti-gay ad:

To be fair, this music is not actually composed by Aaron Copland. It’s an homage, a knock-off, a Mona Lisa in whimsical sunglasses. But it’s very, very close. You can hear many of the same motives at 4:50 in this video of Appalachian Spring and some at the beginning of Billy the Kid.

While Perry professes that “There’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school,” (our kids can do both, by the way) and “Faith made America strong — it can make her strong again,” he’s unintentionally demonstrating how complex and multifaceted “real” American heritage really is. Copland was gay, an active Communist, and a political dissident, and nobody cares — his works are some of the most classic examples of Americana we have. That is American heritage.

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

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  1. Wow. Great job Smashley! This ad gets funnier (and sadder) every time someone new picks it apart. By the way, “Mona Lisa in Whimsical Sunglasses” is my Loverboy cover band.

  2. Fun fact!

    Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein were an item, back in the day.

    See, when Bernstein was an undergrad at Harvard, Copland came to visit as a guest artist. Bernstein crashed the faculty party afterwards, sat down at the piano, and played Copland’s extremely tricky Piano Variations from memory.

    Total meet cute. 🙂

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