Singer-songwriter Conor Oberst had an early aughts hardcore band called Desaparecidos, and their new song is this horribly titled but sort of catchy protest of Maricopa County, Arizona's mini-dictator, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Oberst, known for singing in an overly-breathy and tearful voice as Bright Eyes is no stranger to protest songs. In 2004, he gave us "When The President Talks to God", an anti-George Bush anthem that is a pretty poor man's early Bob Dylan.
Here's a sampling of the lyrics to "Marikkkopa":
We got to round 'em up!
Door to door tonight we're ready"
Knock Knock Knock
"Drag them from their beds
They got some nerve to say they were here first"
"We're gonna round them up!
Hiding in the semi-trailers"
Knock Knock Knock
"Beat it in their heads
We keep our word and Maricopa pure
They're sweating in Sun City cause they just got off the course
Saying "Sheriff Joe it's awful and it's only getting worse"
"Oh did you hear about Rob Krentz? They left him bleeding in the dirt
These Spics are brave and getting braver"
Turns out that even the clunky title has something to it. In 2007, Arpaio, in an interview with Lou Dobbs, mentioned that it was "an honor" to be compared to the KKK, because "it means we're doing something." Oberst uses that soundbite at the end of the track.
Somehow the ticked-offness of "Marikkkopa" makes its hammering point work a little better than you might think. The Huffington Post interviewed Oberst and asked why he is angry:
[Immigrants] are without a doubt a net positive to our American way of life. I have many friends who are both Mexican and Mexican-American and others who, I guess you would say, are somewhere in between. The ironic thing is that all three of those categories often exist inside of the same family. I've seen with my own eyes how our unjust immigration system tears these families apart, separating mothers and fathers from their children and leaving all involved in a state of helplessness and despair. I'll never understand how destroying families through deportation benefits our society. How we treat the undocumented says a great deal about us as a people and whether or not we'll continue to fulfill the fundamental American promise of equality and opportunity for all. Considering our history, I can think of nothing more American than an immigrant.
He also says:
I think we should be pushing for amnesty and a path to citizenship for every undocumented person residing in the United States who has not committed a violent crime; with a special emphasis on keeping families together. This isn't just the only practical solution, it's also the only moral one.
There's no need to pay the slightest bit of attention to a (probable lefty) musician's views on politics, sure. But Oberst could come off a lot worse in the interview, as he also gives a shout-out to cutting defense spending and changing drug laws.
Why care? Well, Joe Arpaio is awful. He's the old, smug face of the tragic idiocy of "tough on crime." Lawsuits against him and Maricopa County have cost taxpayers millions. He is obsessed with rounding up illegal immigrants, but brushed off scores of reported sexual assaults. Follow his Twitter feed and you'll get gems like "My deputies again seized over a half ton of marijuana and arrested a 16 year old illegal alien." Worse still, the Department of Justice's lawsuit against Arpaio means one has to root for Obama's DOJ (including Attorney General Eric Holder) or Arpaio, and in that world….well, the only way to win is for a chasm to open in the earth.
Also, protest songs, or political songs in general, tend to suck. Post-9/11 we had our choice of Toby Keith-style jingoism or Neil Young-style heroic stiltedness. Later came the Bush rage, which had its moments as long as it didn't get too over-the-top. (I'm still a sucker for Green Day's "American Idiot", but the less said about Neil Young's entire cranky at George Bush album the better.)
Still, you got to wonder if Oberst, clearly one of those liberals who at least remembers he's supposed to care about things like immigrants, wars, and drug laws, would ever bother to write a scathing song about President Obama. Turns out, definitely so much. Oberst was a big Obama supporter in 2008. If you're feeling really, really generous, you can remember that this was at least before Obama deported 400,000 immigrants last year alone. But also, Arpaio is a doughy-faced, tubby little tyrant, and the president has a charming enough smile, so railing against Arpaio is just about the best the protesting left has to offer. (Not that there aren't anti-Obama songs out there…)