The Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded for 2OO6, and they have gone to the usual deserving souls. Of special note is the national reporting award to the Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage for his articles examining how President Bush has used “signing statements” to assert a supposed “right” to bypass provisions of new federal laws. Without Savage’s groundbreaking reporting, the signing statements issue would still be off radar. He deserves this Pulitzer, and he should get another one for breaking the story of how more than 15O graduates of Pat Robertson’s Regent University have been handed high-powered federal government positions since President Bush took office in 2001 — including Monica Goodling, the former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who resigned in disgrace after asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before Congress about his role in the burgeoning U.S. Attorneys scandal.
But there is another American writing who should be getting a Pulitzer along with Charlie Savage for producing journalism that truly reflects the zeitgeist. He’s Texas songwriter James McMurtry.
Of course, there are those who will say that a songwriter cannot be a journalist. Bunk. Throughout history, songwriters have been among the best communicators of news, information and insight. And McMurtry has proven himself to be a worthy heir to that tradition, especially in the past year.
McMurtry’s songs have always had the literary quality that might be expected from the son of author Larry McMurtry, himself a 1985 Pulitzer winner for his novel Lonesome Dove.
In 2OO6, however, McMurtry reframed his writing to tell the story of George Bush’s America. And his topically-charged songs have frequently beaten the mainstream media to the punch.
Well before serious attention turned to the scandalous treatment of veterans of the Iraq War by the Veterans Administration, McMurtry wrote his song, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore,” which opens with the lines:
Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign
Sitting there by the left turn line
Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
One leg missing, both hands free
No one’s paying much mind to him
The V.A. budget’s stretched so thin
And there’s more comin’ home from the Mideast war
We can’t make it here anymore
Or consider the opening lines of another new McMurtry song, “God Bless America,” which anticipated the debate about war profiteering, military contractors and mercenaries that have exploded with the publication this spring of Jeremy Scahill’s Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books]:
Look yonder comin’, mercy me
Three wise men in a SUV
Corporate logo on the side
Air-conditioned quiet ride
That thing don’t run on french fry grease
That thing don’t run on love and peace
Takes gasoline make that thing go
Now bring your hands up nice and slow
McMurtry’s recent songs make linkages between the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq and its dramatic neglect of fundamental issues at home that are far more vivid than anything you will see on the evening news, and far more potent than most of what you’ll hear from even the president’s most virulent critics. “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” is smarter examination of the damage done by corporate-sponsored “free trade” policies than anything you will hear on Capitol Hill.
Now I’m stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
Just like the ones we made before
‘Cept this one came from Singapore
I guess we can’t make it here anymore
Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I’m in
Should I hate ’em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They’ve never known want, they’ll never know need
Their sh@# don’t stink and their kids won’t bleed
Their kids won’t bleed in the damn little war
And we can’t make it here anymore…
McMurtry is honored in the current issue of Esquire magazine as the nation’s “Best Agitator.” But I’d still give him the Pultizer, if only for one line from “God Bless America”:
You keep talking that sh@# like I never heard
Hush, little President, don’t say a word…
John Nichols’ new book is