John Leo
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Mr. Answer Man, I see in the newspapers that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones complained “George Bush doesn’t listen to us.” What does he mean by that?

I think he means that despite their tremendous body of work, singing all those songs of youthful rebellion for more than four decades (a gas, gas, gas, in my opinion), the Stones are still not consulted on political and military policy. Nobody in Washington even wants to know their opinion of CAFTA. It must be galling.

I bet it is. I’m sure that if President Bush had just come out of his ranch house in Crawford, Texas, and said a few words of comfort to the Stones, this new “Sweet Neo Con” song of theirs wouldn’t have ballooned into the giant controversy it is. What’s a sweet neocon, by the way?

Nobody really knows. Everybody thinks the Stones are trashing Bush, but the president isn’t really a neocon, and the word sweet is a real stumper. One theory is that Jagger has a crush on Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, or Condi Rice. Probably Cheney, since the name Halliburton pops up in the lyrics. A demeaning song probably isn’t the best way to declare one’s affection, but then, romance among musicians of the ’60s often takes a strange path.

So far, the complete lyric hasn’t been legally released. The new record A Bigger Bang, containing the song, goes on sale September 6. But Jagger said on the TV show Extra that “it’s not really aimed at anyone in particular. It’s not aimed personally at President Bush. It wouldn’t be called ‘Sweet Neo Con’ if it was.” But if it isn’t aimed at anyone in particular, why should this unidentified generic neocon be considered sweet? Do you think the Stones just needed a one-syllable adjective to put in front of neocon? Maybe they just couldn’t bring themselves to say “bold” or “bad.”

That’s probably it. All the great negative adjectives have several syllables. Maybe the Stones pulled an all-nighter, debated “sweet” versus “sour” and finally settled on sweet.

What about the word the song uses to rhyme with hypocrite?

Wasn’t that clever? The lyric goes this way: “You call yourself a Christian / I call you a hypocrite / You call yourself a patriot, well I think you’re full of s - - -.” I imagine Mick considered rhyming hypocrite with inarticulate or maybe little twit, and then a burst of inspiration hit him and he said, “Keith, what’s that short word for human waste that rhymes with hypocrite?” Richards was able to remember, and voilà!-an innovative rhyme. As far as we know, no other lyricist has managed to make a charge of moral duplicity rhyme with a bodily elimination product. Before long, hundreds of songwriters will be doing it, but remember, somebody had to make the breakthrough.

Speaking of breakthroughs, this seems to be the first clearly partisan song by the Stones. Don’t you think it was a long time coming? Bob Dylan got his antiadministration songs out early. But here are the Stones, in their fifth decade on tour, deep into W’s second administration, in the third year of the Iraq war, finally discovering they are political and don’t like what they see. Aren’t they a bit slow?

You can’t always get what you want. Let’s just say the Stones don’t rush into political controversy. You should consider that a blessing. But despite the Stones’ 43 years of political restraint, some critics just aren’t happy. John Gibson over at Fox News said, “Since when is the world’s biggest troublemaker getting all dewy-eyed and singing peace ballads?” But it apparently isn’t a peace ballad. It’s a heartfelt, somewhat cloudy political song by someone who doesn’t like Halliburton or conservatives. Besides, the Stones’ career is based on nostalgia. Maybe they think the antiwar bandwagon of the ’60s is rolling again and it would be a mistake to be left behind. They’re on tour again, you know, and a bit of controversy doesn’t hurt.

Now that the Stones have crossed the political divide, do you think they will offer further political guidance, like what to do about Iran and North Korea, the apparent failure of the European Union, or the future of the Commerce Clause?

Not likely. You know, it’s hard to warble about complex matters, and most people aren’t deeply interested in the political stances of their entertainers. What was the title of Laura Ingraham’s memorable book on the subject?

Shut Up & Sing. Always a good idea. Over to you, Mick.

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John Leo

John Leo is editor of MindingTheCampus.com and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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