Do you realize how much trouble can be caused when politicians get messed up with music? I am not talking about asking your local council leader to DJ your party, though that might be disastrous too. Politics showed its most foolish side in the US state of Oklahoma, with a brouhaha about selecting the official State Rock and Roll Song (their capital letters, not mine). Oklahomans are not short of official songs to represent their state, so you might think they must be pretty slick when it comes to approving a new one. They already have an official State Folk Song (â€œOklahoma Hillsâ€, Jack and Woody Guthrie, adopted 2001), and an official State Country and Western Song (â€œFaded Loveâ€, Bob Wills, adopted 1988). Of course, they have long recognized the most pro-Oklahoma song any of us are ever likely to hear. Way back in 1953 they proclaimed the official State [Open Category] Song should be “Oklahoma”, the theme from the musical “Oklahoma” by Rodgers and Hammerstein. If you are not familiar with the song, it begins by bellowing the name “Oklahoma!” as loud as possible, and then rapidly listing a lot of reasons why Oklahoma is great, including the immortal lines:
And when we say Ay yippy yi ki yea,
We’re only saying:
You’re doin’ fine Oklahoma
Oklahoma you’re okay.
I doubt there was much controversy on the day in ’53 when they picked that song. Returning to the present day, I imagine most people were surprised at the political ructions caused when the state’s citizens were asked to vote on what should be their official state rock and roll song (sorry, I meant official State Rock and Roll Song). The overwhelming winner was a mellow ditty called “Do You Realize??” by Oklahoma’s best known veteran oddball rockers, The Flaming Lips. Official confirmation seemed assured when the Oklahoman Senate unanimously endorsed the choice. But when the decision was sent to the Oklahoman House of Representatives to ratify, it failed to garner the 51 backers needed to pass the motion, with 39 Representatives deciding to vote against the song. What angered them so much? It was not the anodyne lyrics, which include such lines as:
Do You Realize – that you have the most beautiful face
Do You Realize – we’re floating in space
Apparently, some of the Oklahoman Representatives got upset with the bass player’s choice of apparel when observing the Senate’s vote. He wore a t-shirt with a hammer and sickle emblem, which some took to imply the band has communist sympathies. Others did not like that the lead singer apparently swore at a previous public event. That puts the important work of politicians into perspective, does it not? Are politicians there to sort out the big things, like crime, or healthcare or even keeping the streets clean? Or are they there to vote for or against an official state song (sorry, I meant official State Song) which was picked by the public, because they do not like what the band members wear and one naughty word they said?
I imagine most people outside of the US know pretty much nothing about Oklahoma. In addition to trivia about state songs (or should that be State Songs?) and The Flaming Lips, I only know three things about Oklahoma (and I have been there):
1. They have a big cattle market.
2. It is flat.
3. One of their public buildings was blown up by a terrorist. He killed 168 public workers because he had a grudge against government. The terrorist was of the white, Christian, American variety.
I was only in Oklahoma one night, but I did conclude that some Oklahomans must be as knowledgeable about the rest of the world as I am about Oklahoma. Whilst waiting for my car to be retrieved from the hotel garage, I engaged in a conversation with the hotel’s porter. He told me, without prompting, that he was intending to join a mission to bring God to the sinful continent of Europe. I will not dispute that Europe is full of sinners, but you think he might have found some sinners closer to home. Hopefully American evangelicals are now more aware of global warming and will soon restrict their missions to locations within the range of an electric car. When I told the porter that European sinners might not be susceptible to the persuasive skills of an Oklahoman teenager on his first journey outside his home state, he refused to be discouraged. The porter was still not discouraged even when I suggested Europeans who spoke English might consider themselves superior to him, and that the others would not comprehend his brand of monoglot oratory. He said he did not understand the last bit of that sentence, to which I replied: “hence inadvertently demonstrating my point on both counts”. He did not understand that either. Practicing what I myself was preaching, I gave up on discouraging him and instead asked him what he was doing about bad people in the USA. He agreed there were plenty, but told me all the evidence pointed towards there being a lot more bad people in Europe. I decided there was little value in asking about where he got his evidence from. Needless to say, I did not give him a tip.
It would be unfair to judge Oklahomans based on one conversation with a teenage hotel porter, just as it would be unfair to judge the worthiness of a song based on one errant fashion decision or a single slip of the tongue. The Gospel according to Matthew says that Jesus taught the following:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, â€˜Let me take the speck out of your eyeâ€™, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Those are wise words, whatever your religion. If I understand them correctly, then I should not judge Oklahomans in general or the particular Oklahomans who sit in their House of Representatives. However, the words of Jesus are wise simply because people often are quick to judge one another. Some Oklahoman Representatives made some foolish judgments about a rather innocuous rock band. Did they realize how the story would be reproduced all around the world, and the negative publicity it would create for Oklahoma? Did they realize that, outside of the USA, more people are familiar with the back catalogue of three-time Grammy winners The Flaming Lips than they ever will be with any of the good work done by the people sitting in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives? Did they realize that, outside of the USA, and probably by most people in the USA, and probably even by most Oklahomans, their behaviour would be judged to be rather silly and backward? What should have been a minor attempt to garner good publicity for Oklahoma has turned into a bigger story about the foolishness of Oklahoman politicians. Luckily for the people who voted in the state poll, The Flaming Lips, and for lovers of music and democracy in general, the good news is that common sense will prevail. The Governor of Oklahoma has intervened to set things right. Governor Brad Henry has announced he will sign an executive order to make “Do You Realize??” the official State Rock and Roll Song. He said of The Flaming Lips:
A truly iconic rock’n’roll band, they are proud ambassadors of their home state. They were clearly the peopleâ€™s choice, and I intend to honour that vote.
Perhaps once he has done that, he can get back to more important business. If you live nearby, you can show your support by heading down to the Oklahoma History Center on Tuesday at 2pm, when the Governor will be making it official. For everybody else, you can enjoy Oklahoma’s official State Rock and Roll Song by taking a look below. Enjoy.