A lot of big things happened at the Republican National Convention last night — delegates opposing Trump spoke up, but were quashed by fervent cheers of “U.S.A.,” Duck Dynasty‘s Willie Robertson spoke, Melania Trump gave a speech that led the Internet to erupt in examples of striking similarities between her words and Michelle Obama’s speech from the 2008 Democratic Convention — but one slightly subtler oddity also went down. The Republican Party has become notorious for playing music for political affairs that are totally unaligned with Republican views. But yesterday, the band at the Republican National Convention did something that may strike you as even weirder: they played Bowie.
Led by ex-Saturday Night Live musical director G.E. Smith, the band broke out in a version of “Station to Station,” singing the lyrics, “It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine/I’m thinking that it must be love.” Of course, barring Christian Rock and perhaps Kid Rock, it’s hard to find popular music that aligns with contemporary Republican mores — given that popular music tends to be, you know, about having fun (and said fun usually doesn’t involve shutting down abortion clinics and bullying minorities with race-biased policies) and/or going through a rough patch as a person who once knew how to have fun. So one can understand how any classic rock song or contemporary pop song might jar at such a convention — but playing the work of a queer icon — that openly mentions drug use — particularly stands out. (It should be mentioned that Trump also played Queen’s “We Are the Champions” — a song that at least makes more sense as a premature victory anthem, though its origins certainly do not.)
The question is, was G.E. Smith trying to mess around with the Republicans? He himself has spoken about seemingly not being a Republican, following his last stint as the Convention’s bandleader. He told Guitar World in 2013:
I have an 11-year-old daughter and she’s going to be going to school for a long time. And it’s expensive, so I have to work. Last year I did the Republican National Convention. When they first asked me to do it, I turned it down. And they offered another really good offer, which I turned it down. They came back with one more and I said no. It wasn’t so much political but rather that I had just been away for two years and I wanted to go home. I’d just made a bunch of money so I didn’t feel the pressure. And then they came back with an insane final offer. And I thought, Well not only will this pay for several years of Josie’s school but I can hire six or seven of my friends, and give them a really good pay day too. So we went and played the Republican convention. We may not be Republicans, obviously, but it was really interesting. I got heavy flack from some people for doing it.
The album that “Station to Station” comes from — Station to Station — is notorious as Bowie’s album recorded on heavy amounts of cocaine, and for the late musician claiming to have not remembered any of the creative process behind it. The one thing that might make sense, if we’re really scrutinizing all this, about the song in that context is that Bowie’s Thin White Duke phase (the persona he embodied on the album) bore a controversial fascination with fascism and particularly Nazi symbolism. Could Smith have been implying something?
Watch the performance:
Hear the original: