Crazy-quilt of sound bites puts words in George's mouth


September 11, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

There's no mistaking the voice. With its slightly nasal tone, bureaucratic diction and subtle hint of a New England accent it's obvious that Fresh Bush -- the vocal half of Fresh Bush and the Invisible Man on the single "Hard Times" (IRS, in record stores Tuesday) -- is Our Man George at the White House. Not even Dana Carvey is this close.

But wait a minute: George Bush rapping?

It seems impossible. Yet there he is, droppin' rhymes over a percolating funk/pop rhythm track, and never missing a beat. They're pretty good rhymes, too:

Politics is higher taxes

Politics is fewer jobs

Federal regulations, surely

Congress is doing drugs.


With the nagging cost of freedom

With the nagging cost of health

With the nagging threat of nuclear war

I almost peed myself.

Funny stuff, no doubt about it. But seriously, that isn't really George Bush rapping, is it?

Well, sort of, says the Invisible Man. It is the president's voice -- he just wasn't using it at the time.

In other words, "Hard Times" is a sort of verbal collage, which the Invisible Man painstakingly pieced together by pulling individual words -- and sometimes mere fragments -- from dozens of presidential speeches, press conferences and sound bites.

Hard work? You'd better believe it. "If you look at it in the full picture," he says, "it took over a year. But the actual creating of the sentences, editing them down until they were as smooth as they are, took three and a half months. It was the most work I've ever done in my life."

How the Invisible Man got to that point is a story in itself. A New Jersey-based musician (who prefers, for the moment, to remain anonymous), he makes most of his living writing jingles, music for documentaries and the like, and didn't really think of doing anything political until he was hired to handle the music for the gubernatorial race in Hawaii.

"Fred Hemmings hired me to do his whole campaign," he says. "What we would do is, he would come over and sit with me for maybe an hour or so, and just talk randomly about the various changes and things, policies he wanted to do for the state of Hawaii." When Hemmings left, I. M. would sift through the recorded conversations. "I would pull out what I thought was the best of what he said, and then write music around it," he explains.

But just before he had to make his presentation to the campaign committee, an impish thought occurred to him. "As a joke, I took his voice and I created a be-bop song," he says. "It went something like this. He was snapping his fingers and he's going, 'This country, this state, was made great, by its people. . . .' It was a riot."

"Hard Times" came about through a similar process. Like most Americans, the Invisible Man had been swept up in the drama of the gulf war, and so spent a lot of time watching the news.

"I heard that the State of the Union address was coming up, so I decided to tape it," he says. "It was, in fact, a pretty incredible speech.

Whether any of it was true -- whether it was just a put-on or whatever -- it was an incredible speech. I taped the whole thing, and from that point on, I started taping every possible sound bite and interview and speech that he gave."

Eventually, he had three and a half hours' worth of speeches, and the germ of an idea. So he began going through the tapes, and breaking Bush's statements into component parts -- "phrases and sentences and everything, labeled and categorized," he says.

"You know in 'Hard Times,' how everything just kind of falls right together, and is in sync? A lot of the reason for that is because with the smaller words that I used, I logged maybe five or 10 individual inflections, so that when it came time to finally put all the components together, I could find the right 'and' or the right 'the.'

"I got down to such a microscopic level of categorizing the sounds -- the beginnings of words, attack sounds like 'sh' or 'wh,' 'g,' stuff like that, and then vowel sounds -- that at the end of the whole thing I had the components to put together virtually anything that I wanted to make him say."

But even though he could have had Bush say just about anything, he didn't. Unlike "Read My Lips" by A Thousand Points of Night -- the Don Was-produced single that uses Bush soundbites to underscore the president's flip-flops on issues like taxation and abortion -- "Hard Times" doesn't have a particular political axe to grind. Because for all his interest in the current presidential campaign, the I.M. wanted neither to praise Bush nor to bury him.

"It isn't really Bush-bashing," he says. "I'm not in any way also trying to come off as a Bush supporter, either. I think what I tried to do was create a fair, well-balanced, political satire."

George's words

A few verses from "Hard Times" by Fresh Bush and the Invisible Man:

The men and women of Desert Storm

Fought faithfully for valor

They hit the ground and sucked the dust

And knew their share of horror

And after 40 days in the desert sky

Our taxes had increased

But the Arab world and Israel

Sat down to talk of peace

. . . But we have heart

We have style

We have class

We have soul

We have faith in our society (yes!)

We're a nation of rock and roll


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