Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Republican Like Me is one of those tiny cash register books designed to earn their tiny money and cachet without muss or fuss. It's five by four inches, and I only know it's 76 pages long because I counted. xxdel for space I started it over lunch and finished it listening to Ani DiFranco and watching the Yankees with the sound off. It was written by a 42-year-old anarchist from the Lower East Side who has made his name leading the folk-minimalist band Foamola, instigating a (successful) campaign for poetry readings at Kmart, and running for president.

It is in the final capacity that Sparrow created Republican Like Me, which adds to real letters and diary entries his political speeches xx (including one at Lollapalooza, arranged by his spin doctors at Mouth Almighty, Mercury Records' spoken-word subsidiary), the text of his announcement that his vice-president would be an aborted fetus, "An Anthology Of Terrorist Poetry" that he wrote himself, and an op-ed piece explaining how Bob Dole would balance the budget while decreasing taxes. The Times declined it; I wish I were positive it would have found a home at this bastion of creative journalism. Among Dole's seven revenue-increasing secrets: "The government will find money lying on the ground," "Dead people will win the lottery," and "Mrs. Dole will record a hit album."

Sparrow is a poet by vocation, perhaps even a "good" one, whatever that means. But I love him because he's one of the funniest men in Manhattan--even funnier than his precursor, Tuli Kupferberg. His announcement speech, for instance: "I can beat Bob Dole because anyone can beat Bob Dole--anyone except Steve Forbes, Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes and Richard Lugar. In a bizarre twist of Fate, the only 5 people on earth who cannot beat Bob Dole have run against him." Yet Sparrow's little book isn't by a prankster from Cloud Cuckoo Land. Basing his campaign on the biblical concept of jubilee and an 1847 quote in which Abraham Lincoln sounded kind of Marxist about the laboring classes, Sparrow satirizes the American political system with an oddly realistic edge, and his brief analyses of what makes Dole tick are show him far more acute than most of the pundits to weigh in on that dreary topic.

Over and above everything else, though, Sparrow offers something to believe in:

Bob Dole wants to make this
country great again, but I say no. This country
has tried being great, and it
has failed. I want to make this country small,
embarrassed, slightly befuddled. I
want this country to hum to itself as it cleans
its glasses.

Village Voice, 1997