Leave it to political abuses of power and cultural unrest to serve as the catalyst for one hell of a compilation album. The Future Soundtrack of America is, by definition, a fundraising project for progressive organizations such as MoveOn.org and Music for America. The disc boasts a reputable cast of artists, including R.E.M., David Byrne, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, Fountains of Wayne and Elliott Smith.
It is certainly one of the best indie-music compilations in a long time, with artists contributing more than the usual throwaway album track. With titles like "A Distorted Reality Is Now a Necessity to Be Free," "Final Straw" and "This Will Be Our Year," the songs fit the project's agenda.
John Flansburgh, one half of the duo of Johns that make up the core of They Might Be Giants, helped organize the disc and contributed a TMBG track, "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." A few months ago, he spoke to CityBeat from his vacation home in the Catskill Mountains in New York, where he was escaping the sea of conservatives who invaded New York City for the Republican National Convention.
"I approached this in a way to raise money for a good thing," he said. "I'm not particularly interested in telling people what to think, beyond what seems like common sense to me. I didn't do this project to put myself forward as a role model. I did this project because I had the facility to organize a group of artists to make a recording."
Flansburgh, who describes himself as a political moderate, added, "I'm a patriotic person. I care a lot about this country and I care a lot about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I love the idea that this country is based on and want to see it preserved."
When it came to the Bush administration-which may or may not have ended as of press time-Flansburgh had a humorous metaphor for what he considers a group notorious for its reckless behavior:
"I've got a hornet problem in my attic. I don't go up into my attic with my broom and start mashing hornets' nests thinking that's gonna solve the problem. Sure, there are a lot of problems in the world, but you're not going to solve them by stirring up every possible antagonist and making everyone mad at us as they can possibly be."
Flansburgh suggested that the Bush administration has alienated a lot of America's allies, which is a "terrible situation" for the country to be in.
For a disc filled with excellent, eclectic contributions, Flansburgh cites Soul Coughing singer Mike Doughty's "Move On" as a standout on Future Soundtrack.
"Most of his songwriting... [is] abstract, kaleidoscopic and psychedelic," he said. "And that song is incredibly direct. You could not write a simpler, more immediate song about the topic at hand. It's so passionate, sincere and heartfelt. It sort of speaks volumes about this issue of having a thoughtful dialogue. It's very respectful of whoever would be listening. It's a very thoughtful plea to make change."One-hundred percent of the proceeds from the sale of Future Soundtrack of America go to progressive organizations like MoveOn.org. We decided to print this article the week after the election as a reminder that just because Nov. 2 has passed, the future of America is still a work in progress.