In Defense of Ted Cruz's Deviant Musical Taste

Presidential candidate says 9/11 changed everything, including his musical preferences. So what?


In my typology of GOP anti-establishmentarians in the 2016 GOP field, I argued that those in the "Petulants" category (the other two being the "Insurgents" and "Crusaders") positively thrive on sneering media dismissals of their very existence. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is vying to become the anti-establishment candidate, is already drawing that unfriendly (but oh-so-helpful!) fire, for the apparent weirdness of declaring on CBS News this morning that "My music taste changed on 9/11"—from classic rock to country—"because I didn't like how rock music responded. And country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me."

Watch Cruz's remarks below:

"Spoken like a normal human being with genuine, relatable interests," snarked Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley. Actually, to the extent that Ted Cruz is capable of speaking like a normal human being, I agree with Mathis-Lilley, only minus the snark.

Musical taste is like voting strategy, or assholes: Everybody's got one, and the other guy's smells worse than yours. One possible mark of tolerance in this world is not wasting excessive breath denouncing the #problematic preferences that individuals express (unless, of course, they won't shut up about Bruce Springsteen). To the extent that our dysfunctional cult of the presidency demands presidential aspirants to open up their music libraries, the decent thing to do is give them the John Cage treatment.

But as long as we're going there, 9/11 is a perfectly cromulent reason to change your musical habits, or anything else about your life. It was a pretty big deal! Sept. 11 was why Pat Tillman quit a good job as a professional football player for more dangerous work in the military. It was why Andrew Phelps went from being a toy soldier to a real fireman, why Michael J. Totten went from mild-mannered Oregonian to globe-straddling independent journalist, and why there are books with titles like Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11.

As it happens, my musical taste (among many other things) was knocked way off kilter by 9/11, too. After spending the previous 15 years very seriously keeping up with new music, going to shows constantly, playing in bands, reading and writing about the subject constantly, buying stuff when it came out…I just all of a sudden stopped. I could without looking tell you the best record (IMO) that came out every year from 1963 to 2001; I wouldn't be able to repeat the exercise for a single year since. (This banal realization came precisely when I attempted to engage in such an exercise one late night not long ago.) I distinctly remember going to a rock club in that terrible fall of 2001, and realizing my heart was just no longer in it. A boring story, to be sure (that's why it's after the jump!), but it appears that I finally have one thing in semi-common with Ted Cruz.

As for Senator rubber-chin's specific reasoning, read Jesse Walker from 2006 on "The political puzzle of country music."