Tim Kaine’s Musical Obsessions: Senator Goes Deep on Top 5 Artists
If elected, Tim Kaine will be the most music-savvy VP in American history. He plays blues harmonica, and he's an obsessive listener who keeps up with new artists (current indie fave: Lucy Dacus). "When I first ran for governor of Virginia I started playing with bluegrass bands all over the state because we have so many festivals," he says on the phone from the campaign trail. "I have six in my briefcase at all times. Even though I'm not very good, bands just kept saying, 'Come on up.'" We asked him to list his five favorite artists, in no particular order. "Twenty would have been easier," he says. "But this is more fun than lots of other stuff I have to talk about."
The first album of theirs I heard was [1983's] Hootenanny, and I got every album after that. I love the combination of really good songwriting and their endearing, amateurish quality to the way they did stuff. I just read a great biography of them called Trouble Boys, by Bob Mehr. One of my sons and I are trading it around since [he's] a huge Replacements fan – he actually lives in Minneapolis. It's a cool book, but it's also a sad book, because they all had their own demons from how they came up. They have always been, ever since they began putting out those albums in the 1980s, a huge favorite of mine.
I was listening to "Bastards of Young" the other day. [Quotes from memory] "The ones who love us best are the ones we'll lay to rest/And visit their graves on holidays at best/The ones who love us least are the ones we'll die to please/If it's any consolation, I don't begin to understand them." Paul Westerberg writes really, really good lyrics. They're a great story of people who had a creative synergy where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.
The Carter Family
When I was a kid growing up in Kansas City, a friend of mine played the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken for me. Many of the songs were Carter Family songs, including the title track. My fascination with mountain and bluegrass music really took hold after I moved to Virginia with my wife, Anne, after law school. So many of the great bluegrass tunes are either Carter Family tunes or tunes the Carters found from others. Some of their melodies have become other peoples tunes, like Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," which is based on a Carter Family song. They were great musical archivists, especially Mother Maybelle, because she learned to play guitar in this great style. I play a lot of Carter Family music on the harmonica and with bluegrass bands.
Dave Matthews Band
I've gotten to know Dave pretty well over the years, and especially Boyd Tinsley, the violin player. They formed in Charlottesville, Virginia, and most of the band still lives there. They have unusual instrumentation for a rock band and are fantastic musicians. Dave has written some great political songs that aren't sledgehammer-y or didactic, and he also does really intimate love tunes and songs about mental illness, too. He has a breadth as a songwriter that is pretty astounding.
I was reading a Rolling Stone in 1997 and they had a review of their album When I Was Born For the 7th Time [by Neva Chonin]. I bought it and then have just proceeded to buy virtually everything they produce. They're kind of odd. They'll go years without producing anything. They don't really tour very much. I've never seen them. I'd love to see them, but the number of live shows they do is very small. I don't know what you'd call their music. It's a mixture of Indian music and hip-hop and kind of funk music. They're a very unique band and I really like Tjinder [Singh], the main guy.
I will go on their website on occasion just to see if they are coming over here to perform, but they do so few live shows. They're kind of perfectionists. They're really focused. They do what they want when they want it, but they're working on their own plan and their own time schedule.
The first time I heard that song "Wog" off Woman's Gotta Have It, I just thought, "These guys are just doing something I have not heard anybody else do." They do some interesting covers. They've done a great cover of a wonderful Kinks song "Waterloo Sunset." They did a cover of "Norwegian Wood" that's spectacular – very true to [the original] except that it's sung in Hindi. They've done some great covers, but their original is always something surprising, always something you haven't heard before.
When he was in Kansas City, Parker was not thought of as a very good musician because he wanted to do something different than everyone else. He worked endlessly on what became bop, which was revolutionary. He was like, "This is the way I hear it, this is the way I'm gonna play it, whether you like it or not." I don't know that you would have Jimi Hendrix if not for bop. Parker had a tragic life, obviously, but his commitment to his sound was very strong, and I have a huge admiration for him. Listen to "Relaxin' at Camarillo" or "Cool Blues" and you can see that the guy isn't just a really good sax player, but also a really good writer.
Watch Tim Kaine talk Trump at vice presidential debate.