- James Rustad
If this year's presidential election were decided by the number of musical tributes each candidate has inspired, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would win in a landslide. Alas, at least for Bernie supporters, becoming the leader of the free world involves more than amassing YouTube hits and downloading free songs on Bandcamp.
With Super Tuesday on the horizon, we scoured the web for some of the best — or at least funniest — Sanders songs we could find. As is our wont here at Seven Days, we mostly stuck to homegrown fare. But because the Sandman is a national phenomenon, we sprinkled in a few notable contributions from the 99 percent around the country.
Wilfrid Cyrus, "Bernie Damn Sanders"
We begin, well, where (we think) it all began, with "Bernie Damn Sanders" by Michigan-based DJ, rapper and producer Wilfrid Cyrus. If Cyrus' song wasn't the first ode to Bernie, it was certainly among the earliest to emerge after Sanders threw his hat into the presidential ring. It appeared on YouTube in July 2015.
Two things make the video great. One is the song itself. The anthemic hip-hop club banger presents an entertaining contrast to the curmudgeonly U.S. senator. And the hook, "It's Bernie damn Sanders, throw ya damn hand up!" is wildly catchy. It might also describe how ties are broken in certain democratic caucuses. (#BERN!)
The second great thing is that the video was compiled using ancient footage from the archives of Burlington's CCTV Channel 17. It opens with a young-ish Bernie clumsily referencing Rambo and "Sylvester Stallone-y." But it also includes nuggets from decades-old speeches suggesting that Bernie damn Sanders has been pretty damn consistent in his politics over the years.
Bernie Sanders Singers, "This Land Is Your Land"
There can't be a more moving tribute to Sanders than the one his Burlington constituents recorded in January ahead of the New Hampshire primaries. Spearheaded by Brett Hughes and Kat Wright, the slow-Berning, gospel-tinged rendition of Woody Guthrie's iconic "This Land Is Your Land" — reportedly Bernie's favorite song — is simply stunning.
Singers of the caliber of Wright, Hughes, Dwight & Nicole, Francesca Blanchard, Marie Claire Johnson, Kelly Ravin and Stephanie Lynn Heaghney — not to mention the cast of ace backing musicians — are worth the price of admission. But we appreciate that the all-star ensemble included a variant of Guthrie's original verses. Most people are only familiar with the song's opening verse, which is widely misinterpreted, and misappropriated, as a patriotic tribute to the United States. But "This Land" was written in 1940 as a pointed rebuke of Irving Berlin's flag-waving anthem, "God Bless America." Witness the closing verse: "In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple / By the relief office, I saw my people / As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking, / Is this land still made for you and me?"
Violint Wednesday, "Feel the Bern"
Many Vermonters have strong personal connections to Bernie. Emma Sky is a Vermont expat and violinist living in Brooklyn. She grew up just down the street from Sanders in Burlington. And when she was born in 1985, the then-Queen City mayor sent her parents, Steve Goldberg and the late Rachel Bissex, a handwritten note of congratulations.
That small gesture serves as the foundation of "Feel the Bern," a song Sky recently penned and recorded with her band, Violint Wednesday. "You sent a card to my parents in 1985 / 'Congratulations, it's a girl!' / They were so happy to live in a place / With a mayor who cared about every single life," she sings, opening the song over a wailing violin.
From there the tune picks up, morphing into upbeat ska-punk. And Sky continues in similarly plainspoken and personalized fashion. "Waterfront open festivals, concerts in Battery Park," she sings. Then, "My parents played at your wedding on the beach / you cleaned up." Then comes the singsong chorus: "Thank you, Berrrrrrr-nie!"
Patrick Heltz, "I Saw Bernie Sanders at Al's French Frys"
Burlingtonians are well accustomed to seeing Bernie around town. But Sanders sightings are special these days.
That's the premise of "I Saw Bernie Sanders at Al's French Frys" by local songwriter Patrick Heltz. It's a quirky little tune about spying the senator ordering takeout at the retro burger joint. When the cook asks what he'll have with his order, Bernie has an unusual reply: "Income and wealth equality / Fair immigration policy / Get kids in college tuition free / Change politics / Restore democracy."
To which the cook responds: "Bernie, now that's a tall order. / But I meant anything for your burger?"
Jacob Berger, "Where Ya At? (Future Parody)"
Search "Bernie Sanders songs" on YouTube, and prepare to disappear down a cavernous rabbit hole from which you might not return. There are hundreds of Bernie-related musical tributes and parodies out there. One of the best, and most viewed, is "Where Ya At? (Future Parody)" by actor Jacob Berger.
As the title implies, the cut is a parody of "Where Ya At" by Future with Drake. And it's just about pitch-perfect. The video features Berger as Bernie rapping atop a building with his crew, which mimics the original Future video. Also like the original, Berger's version is a dis track, taking aim at Bernie's opponents on both sides of the political spectrum, from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie and Ben Carson.
Schmaltz and Schlepper, "Whatta Mensch"
"Whatta Mensch" by Schmaltz and Schlepper comes to us by way of Weekends for Bernie, a Seattle-based performing arts coalition that hosts weekly Bernie events. "Whatta Mensch" is a play on the En Vogue/Salt-N-Pepa hit "Whatta Man," with three cartoonishly Jewish middle-aged women stepping in for Salt, Pepa and DJ Spinderella. Oy vey.
Julia Kate Davis, "The Bernie Sanders Song"
Julia Kate Davis is a songwriter from Ohio who has recently relocated to Vermont. It didn't take her long to feel the Bern. Her tune, "The Bernie Sanders Song," has attracted more than 23,000 views on YouTube since May 2015.
To illustrate Bernie's democratic socialist platform, Davis uses a relatable metaphor: cake. Here's the opening verse:
"Imagine it's your birthday party and someone brings a cake / It looks so good and you just can't wait for a piece / Time comes to cut it up and something goes terribly wrong / 20 people at the party, 10 don't have any cake at all / Five people just have a bite, four have tiny slices / One greedy bastard has got the rest of the cake in a vice grip."
James Rustad, "Can You #FeelTheBern Tonight?"
James Rustad is a Florida-based songwriter and political satirist who honed his chops in Burlington. He is also likely responsible for more Bernie songs than anyone else. As of this writing, he's posted eight Bernie parodies to YouTube, along with several other tunes lampooning the likes of Trump, Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Carson.
But his magnum opus is undoubtedly "Can You #FeelTheBern Tonight?" a parody of the Elton John hit from The Lion King, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." It's ... well, it's exactly what it sounds like.