Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, takes the elevator down as he leaves the Senate floor as debate ends on the Senate immigration reform bill on June 27, 2013.
Photo by Bill Clark/AP

‘My music taste changed on 9/11’

Presidential candidates tend to field all kinds of semi-personal questions on the campaign trail, which are usually intended to help the public get to know White House hopefuls beyond just policy priorities and positions.
 
So when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the only major Republican candidate to officially kick off a candidacy, was asked this week what kind of music he likes, most expected a pretty generic response. Adam Howard noted late yesterday, however, that the far-right senator took the opportunity to offer an unexpected response.
Politicians and pundits often say “9/11 changed everything.” In Sen. Ted Cruz’s case, it apparently even meant a change in his taste in music.
 
The Texas Republican, who announced Monday he would seek the GOP nomination for president in 2016, told the hosts of “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday that the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon turned him into a modern-day version of the John Lithgow character from “Footloose.”
As the senator explained, “I grew up listening to classic rock, and I’ll tell you sort of an odd story: My music taste changed on 9/11. I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded.”
 
Cruz added, “Country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me. I had an emotional reaction that said, ‘These are my people. So ever since 2001 I listen to country music.”
 
Somewhere, Rudy Giuliani was no doubt watching and saying to himself, “I should have thought of that.”
 
And while I don’t doubt Cruz’s sincerity – if he says the political/social  reaction to the terrorist attacks among entertainers actually changed his musical preferences, that’s certainly his business – his response did get me thinking.
 
Or more accurately, Jon Chait’s reaction to the response got me thinking.
[T]he thing about classic rock is that it mostly didn’t respond to 9/11 at all, since most of it was written in the decades beforehand. To the extent that it did respond, it was in keeping with the patriotic spirit of the moment. Many of the biggest classic rock stars participated in “America: A Tribute to Heroes” ten days after the attacks. As the name of the event implies, the event was not exactly a Chomsky-esque exercise in attributing the attacks to blowback caused by imperial overstretch. The single biggest classic rock star, Paul McCartney, wrote a song the next day, “Freedom,” the proceeds of which he donated to families of the victims and the NYPD.
 
It is true, however, that, in general, rock stars did not reach the jingoist heights of their country brethren. The rockers were mourning victims and celebrating freedom; country stars were demanding blood. That was a real partisan cultural divide. That divide overlaid a related cultural trend during the Bush years, during which the Republican Party defined itself as the representative of “real America,” as represented by pickup trucks, NASCAR, small towns, country music, and the most rigidly nationalistic forms of patriotism. It is easy to forget now just how important (and frequently ridiculous)) heartland cultural authenticity, and corresponding disdain for decadent urban intellectual elites, was to Republican Party identification at the time.
This harmless little personality-focused question during a morning-show interview was supposed to let us know a little something extra about a presidential candidate. We apparently ended up with more information than expected.
 
We’ll probably never know for sure, but part of me wonders what happens when Cruz, when he’s alone in a car, hears a classic-rock song on the radio. Does he actually change the station because rock stars didn’t respond to 9/11 in a way he found emotionally satisfying?
 

Pop Culture and Ted Cruz

'My music taste changed on 9/11'