MOVED TO melody
SONGWRITER RON LYTLE
IN the campaign of 2016, headlines about music have mostly involved composers who protested when the Republican candidate used their pieces at rallies without their approval. As best we can tell, only one bona fide campaign song has been published all year: “Make History With Hillary and Me!” It has its own website (www.hillarycampaignsong.com), through which interested parties can acquire it as sheet music in four key transpositions, as an iTunes download, and as a CD (“4 Fabulous Versions of the Hit Campaign Song that’s Sweeping the Nation”), along with such ancillary swag as bumper stickers and pens.
We wanted to know more about this energetic march-song, which sounds like it could have been written some 90 years ago, so we tracked down its composer, Ron Lytle (rhymes with “title”), who resides on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. He has written a number of musicals, including “Oh My Godmother” and “The Brody Bunch on Willigan’s Island,” and currently serves as the resident playwright for the East Bay Children’s Theatre. On his website, he announces that should you need “a song or script for your Theatrical or Corporate event, Retirement Party, Bar Mitzvah or Ice Cream Social,” he is available.
Pasatiempo: Was “Make History With Hillary and Me!” commissioned by anyone — like, for example, Hillary Clinton?
Ron Lytle: No, I just wanted to do it. I supported Hillary eight years ago and made my little donations. This time around, I thought, what can I do that might make a little bit more of a difference? And I said, ‘Well, I’ll write a song.’ That’s what I did. We released it on September 23, and it’s been languishing in obscurity ever since.
Pasa: Did you contact the Clinton campaign to get official status for your song?
Lytle: I never had any delusions that we would be granted official status. By chance, I had some wonderful contacts who were right there in the advance team of the campaign, and I reached out to them, and they were enthusiastic, but then, nothing. The song hasn’t gotten tweeted out. Pasa: How did you get into the songwriting business? Lytle: For years I was a performer in musical theater. At one point in the ’90s I was living in Las Vegas — not my kind of town — as part of a theater company to provide entertainment for children at a major casino. The idea was that parents could just leave their children unattended. My group was given a script that was so bad I couldn’t imagine standing on stage and performing it. So I told the entertainment director that it reminded me of a script I had written, which maybe we could consider for our next show. He asked me to bring it in. So I ran home and wrote it. That was a Friday, I gave it to him on Monday, and he immediately decided to do that script instead. That was the first thing of mine that was produced. You could say I did it out of self-preservation.
Pasa: Your CD includes vocals by Glenna Murillo and John Erreca, who are … ? Lytle: Friends of mine from the theater community in the Bay Area.
Pasa: And also a lusty accompaniment from the “Stronger Together” Marching Band, which is … ?
Lytle: I’ve worked with John Erreca on a number of projects over the years. He has a wonderful “virtual orchestra” on his computer, and that is what we used for the “Stronger Together” Marching Band. I’m kind of against the whole “virtual musicians” thing because I think musicians should have jobs. But those are his virtual instruments.
Pasa: Did you research earlier campaign songs as this piece was germinating?
Lytle: Ever so slightly. I knew “I Like Ike,” the Irving Berlin song, which was a show tune that got adapted. And I remembered “Hello, Lyndon!” set to “Hello, Dolly!” I listened to a few. I found myself thinking about the Sherman Brothers, who wrote the music for Mary Poppins and lots of Disney scores. They had a movie in the late ‘60s that included some mock campaign songs they had written, like “Let’s Put It Over for Grover.” My approach was maybe a little tongue-in-cheek. In that sense, mine is kind of a tribute song — and it’s a little campy. Friends have called it a “camp”-aign song. Pasa: Was this your first foray into the arena of political songs? Lytle: When the younger Bush was first elected, I was writing a song titled “Don’t let W Trouble You.” But then 9/11 happened, and I just put it away.
Pasa: I notice you also seized on a revered practice of campaign songs, which is to work in a reference to an established patriotic song. In this case, it’s in the run-up to the climax: “Let the banners fly, the time is nigh! Oh say, can’t you see? To make history, with Hillary and me!” And “Oh say, can’t you see?” is set to a rising figure, just like in our national anthem.
Lytle: I love that little tradition. When we were recording it, I had to point out to the singers how that was in there. They hadn’t made the connection. Irving Berlin used to do that kind of thing.
Pasa: Your song makes a nod to the feminist moment: “What’s that sound above? That sound that we all love? It’s the sound of a glass ceiling that is breaking!” Yet I notice that you did not craft a rhyming couplet involving “female” and “email.”
Lytle: Oh. Well, I wanted it to feel like this song had been unearthed, so I tried not to have modern references or up-todate language. And I didn’t want it to be unkind in any way — including to her opponent. I also did not write “So don’t be a chump and vote for Trump.”