TV, The Radio and Obama

I have a point I want to make but I’m not sure how I’m going to get there — in case you want to go ahead and get out of the car now, I’m going to try to connect the concert I saw Monday night to the reasons Barack Obama is going to be president. It’s possible that we’ll scrape the guardrails one or two times along the way. Just so you know.

The band above is called TV on the Radio. They’re the kind of band I should keep up with if I want to pretend to be up on music today, but the fact is I knew exactly one of their songs (“Wolf Like Me”) because I watched them do it on YouTube. Still, my friend Vognar had tickets to the show and so we went to see them at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston.

(I’m thinking of adding this to my list of life truths: “There is no such thing as bad live music.” I’d go see pretty much any professional or even semi-professional musician if the price was right — I’d see Barry Manilow if he was in Vegas and somebody comped us the tickets. I’d head for the restroom during “Copacabana,” but still.)

Despite the interesting hair (the dude on the left has cut his shorter — he looks less like Jerry Garcia now, although he sounds like David Bowie), TV on the Radio is your basic ordinary rock band, and I mean that in the best possible way. They’re tight live, the main lead singer (the guy in the middle) knows how to get the crowd moving, they understand the dynamics of a show — here’s a couple of fast ones, now a couple of slow ones, here’s our best stuff at the end.

I’ll admit that I don’t know their lyrics — they could be advocating overthrow of the government in their big power ballad. But I doubt it. They’re a good, solid American band, well worth the price of the ticket. They are also one white guy and four black guys.

In pro sports we’ve had black quarterbacks win the Super Bowl and black coaches win NBA titles, and the three most popular athletes of all time are black (Ali, Jordan, Tiger). But that’s not the revolution — at some point, overwhelming talent is impossible to ignore. The revolution came when black QBs could be the third-stringer or black point guards could come in for garbage time or black pitchers could be 10th-best on a 10-man staff. They could be just OK — no different than anyone else — and they could still make the team.

((Those of you who are from soccer-friendly parts of the world might want to add Pele or Maradona to the Ali/Jordan/Tiger pantheon… what can I say, it’s my list and soccer doesn’t make it.))

Barack Obama is by no means ordinary. No matter what you think of his politics, he’s clearly a smart politician and a gifted speaker. But despite all his talk about change — you might have heard once or twice that he is in favor of change — the fundamental thing that has taken him to the White House door is that he does not seem like all that big a change.

I don’t mean that people don’t want a change in the direction of the country — the biggest thing Obama has going for him is that he’s running against eight years of Bush. But he’s not running a campaign all that different from a generic Candidate X that the Democrats might have run out there. In both debates he has been the calm one, the one whose smile seems less forced, the one who (sorry, Mr. McCain, and thank you for your service) acts more normal. In no way whatsoever is he running as the black candidate, the man who would change history, although of course just by being president he would.

People who know Obama say he’s brilliant. Maybe. The vibe he gives off more than anything is that he doesn’t need to PROVE that he’s brilliant, that just being who he is and putting that in front of the voters is enough to make the team.

There are polls that slice the voting public every which way, and there’s definitely a division on Obama among white voters, but I think the pollsters are missing the key question. I don’t think the split is between Northern whites and Southern whites, or rich whites vs. poor whites, or white-collar whites vs. blue-collar whites. The split is between whites who know a lot of minorities — as neighbors, co-workers, classmates — and those who don’t.

Voters who never spend time with people who aren’t like them are scared of Barack Obama. Voters who spend time with lots of different people think of Obama as the guy from down the street who made good. That Obama-is-The-One thing is long gone, if it ever existed much. I think he’s seen now as just the right guy for the job. And that, by itself, makes history.


3 thoughts on “TV, The Radio and Obama

  1. Tommy,

    I loved this piece because I’m a TV on the Radio fan — ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ (2006) blew me away. But more importantly you artfully turned the band’s membership into a symbol for something happening across the country in more and more places — diversity is becoming less and less of a big deal and just the way it is. Thanks.


  2. I was not sure how you were going to make that connection, but you did. Jealous about the show. I bought their previous album, gave it a few listens and it did not quite sink in. I have been listening to them again and wish I could have seen them live.

    I loved Tunde Adebimpe in Rachel Getting Married. He was very understated and did not have a lot of dialogue, but his relationship with the two sisters was pivotal. And the dishwasher scene was priceless.

  3. Forwarded this link to all my kids — all fans of TV on the Radio, Tommy Tomlinson AND Barack Obama. You missed working in zombies, but I’m sure you’ll get to them in a future post.

    Hey from back home!

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