Thursday, December 24, 2015

Capitol Steps – "Seventy-Six Unknowns" (2015)

Seventy-six unknowns will be candidates
With a hundred and ten more set to declare
In Des Moines every weekend morn
They’re lined up like rows of corn
And most just do not have a prayer

In 1981, Congressman John Jenrette’s soon to be ex-wife, Rita, posed for Playboy.  In the article that accompanied her pictorial, Rita claimed that she and her husband had once had sex on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during a break in an all-night session of the House of Representatives.  (By the time the article appeared, John Jenrette had been convicted of taking a $50,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent.)

Rita and John Jenrette
In honor of the Jenrettes’ trysting spot, a group of six congressional staffers who wrote song parodies inspired by current events in their spare time decided to call themselves “The Capitol Steps.”  

The group performed that December at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s staff Christmas party.  Today – 34 years later – the Capitol Steps are still performing.

Rita on the cover of Playboy
Last week, my daughters took me to see the Capitol Steps perform at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in downtown Washington.  By coincidence, the performance we saw was taped for the group’s annual New Year’s Eve show on NPR stations across the country.  (If you miss the radio broadcast, go to this Capitol Steps webpage and you’ll find a link that will allow you to download the show from iTunes for free.)

The original Capitol Steps were all Republicans, but their shows have always targeted politicians from both parties equally.  The night I saw them, they ridiculed Trump, Christie, Huckabee, George Bush, and other Republicans, but also skewered Obama, the Clintons, Joe Biden, and other Democrats.

A recent Capitol Steps performance
I think my favorite number was the one depicting Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor waiting on the third female justice, Elena Kagan, to come out of the Supreme Court ladies’ room.  (Ginsburg speaks longingly of the days when she was the only female justice and had the bathroom all to herself.)  Suddenly, the two women admit to one another that each has a big crush on conservative justice Antonin Scalia, warbling “(We Both Love a Man Named) Scalia” to the tune of “(I Just Met a Girl Named) Maria” from West Side Story.

“Seventy-Six Unknowns” – a song about the oversupply of Presidential candidates currently cluttering up town meetings and church suppers in Iowa and New Hampshire – is based on “Seventy-Six Trombones,” the most famous of all the wonderful songs from The Music Man.  While the Capitol Steps normally keep their lyrics relatively clean, the closing lines from “Seventy-Six Unknowns” show that the group isn’t afraid to be politically incorrect:

Seventy-six unknowns will campaign for months
And most of these candidates really stink
They’re not doing us any good
So we wish Bill Cosby would
Take them all out for a drink

Here’s “Seventy-Six Unknowns”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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