A lot of people have said a lot of things about Rod Blagojevich these past couple weeks, but as far as I know only David Lineal, of the local pysch-pop band Bird Names, has made a whole album about him.
I played in Bird Names for a short time, and when the Blago bomb dropped, I thought of Lineal almost immediately. He recorded For the Love of Rod, a bizarre song cycle celebrating the governor, after quitting his front-desk job at the Hotel Monaco in 2005. He gave CD-Rs to a few friends, but the music never saw a proper release. Within hours of Blagojevich’s arrest, though, he’d posted it as a free download on the Bird Names site. When I called him, asking to get together and talk about the album, he was flush with vindication. “Oh, man,” he said. “This is its moment.”
Written and recorded in three feverish days, For the Love of Rod explores Lineal’s complex but one-sided relationship with a politician he sees as essentially vapid. “The basic premise,” he explains, “is that we already have a connection. This person Blagojevich, with a ridiculous name, who’s basically just a haircut—who doesn’t ever say anything except ‘the hardworking people of Illinois’—we have a connection.”
Blagojevich isn’t the first politician to capture Lineal’s fancy—he also has an unusual affection for the hard-drinking Ulysses S. Grant—but G-Rod presented him with an empty vessel into which he could pour his imagination. The peculiar mythology Lineal constructed—in one song the newly elected Blagojevich rides a white horse down to the governor’s mansion—now seems by turns outlandish, prophetic, and poignant.
The album was intended for an audience of one: the governor himself. Lineal mailed it to Springfield, accompanied by a five-page letter. “I went song by song, explaining: this is about our relationship, and each song represents a different dimension of our relationship,” he says. He insists he had a “deep confidence” that he’d receive a reply.
“I wanted to reach out into the ether and grab this abstraction by the shoulders and shake it,” he says. “I figured it couldn’t be ignored. There would have to be some sort of red flag.” He imagined one of the governor’s aides hearing For the Love of Rod and saying, “What the fuck—Rod has to hear this.” But if he did, Lineal never heard about it.
The album has the unpolished urgency of outsider art, without the dense, cough-syrupy orchestration of Bird Names’ recordings. Lineal didn’t actually bother researching his subject, and it shows. The album opens with “Rod’s Theme,” which, Lineal says, catalogs everything he knew about the governor in May 2005. “His name is Rod Blagojevich, he’s the governor of Illinois... and, like, his hair.” The rest is pure fantasy.
The cowboy-flavored “Ride, Rod, Ride” imagines Blago’s triumphant journey to Springfield, “the fine people of Illinois smilin’ and wavin’ at him.” Though he encounters rattlesnakes and “black-hatted men” (surely covert FBI operatives), “Rod didn’t bring no guns/ Because Rod had a way of resolving his problems using words.” The delirious girl-group-style romp “Sadie Hawkins Dance” culminates in the backseat of Rod’s car, where the female protagonist coos, “Sometimes going fast means going too far.” On “We Toast the Governor’s Hair,” Blago congratulates himself on his celebrated do: “I’m thankful for car windows and ordinary mirrors/ For by the grace of light, they let me know I have good hair.”
The sixth and final track is the pseudoreligious “The Great Rod Inside,” a meditation on political transience that proposes a Blagojevich governorship in heaven. Today it feels like the most timely song on the album. “Rod will end,” Lineal explains, “but in a way, it suggests that he won’t end”—a troubling thought for scandal-weary citizens.
When I played in Bird Names, Lineal would often fantasize about hitting pay dirt with a novelty record. This may be the closest he comes. The songs’ optimism creates a delicious contrast to the shitstorm Blagojevich now faces; the governor’s assertion shortly before his arrest that “there’s nothing but sunshine hanging over me” reads like a lyric Lineal might’ve written for one of them.
Lineal bristles when I suggest there’s a touch of scorn in the tone of his album. He admits that it’s supposed to be funny, but he insists that his subject was the idea of Blagojevich—his “mythic meaning”—rather than the man himself. “He’s not a man to me, and he’s not a man to most people,” he says. “Even though he is a man, his life as a man is irrelevant. He’s totally abstract. He’s a spirit.”
Blagojevich’s arrest has given Lineal an excuse to dust off For the Love of Rod, but beyond that he seems almost indifferent to the governor’s fate. “It does make him more interesting,” he allows. “I like that he swears.”v