COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa. It’s 6:45 on a Thursday night here in the state that jump-starts the race for the Presidency every four years, and a crowd of generally overweight men in blue jeans is milling about the entrance to the Grange Hall, waiting for someone, or something.
Grange Hall: “What exactly is a ‘beto’ anyway? A unit of measure?”
“I’m not gonna get all excited like back in 2016,” one man says to another in a skeptical tone.
“Me neither,” says the other. “I thought our time had finally come, but my hopes were cruelly dashed when he quit on us.”
Huckabee: “Hey guys–I know ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’!”
Despite their appearance and the locale, the men are musicians–bass players–not farmers. The subject of their backwards-glancing reverie is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a bass player who won the Iowa caucuses in 2016 only to fade when he offered nothing new to voters besides a slightly-reworked vamp on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” The man for whom the crowd gathered last night was Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, the bass player with the best chance among a crowded field of contenders to emerge from this summer’s Democratic convention in Wisconsin, a territory that was granted statehood shortly before the 2016 presidential race and thus flew beneath the radar of Hillary Clinton, the party’s nominee.
Clinton: “If it’s a ‘W’ state, it’s supposed to be in the upper left-hand corner of the country.”
As a demographic, bass players are “up for grabs” according to Iowa State University political science professor Charles Turner. “They are typically the moodiest and least attractive members of rock bands,” he notes, “and must survive on scraps of groupies discarded by lead guitar players and singers. As a result, they are suckers for pie-in-the-sky promises of government benefits and all-you-can-eat motel buffets, and end up overweight, at least by the flyweight standards of rock bands.”
O’Rourke: “Not a lot of guys play bass with their wrists.”
The last physically attractive bass player was Paul McCartney of The Beatles, a losing streak that causes low self-esteem among bass players, and makes them susceptible to demagogues according to Jim Spaulding, who writes on the bass scene for Guitar Magazine. “They keep to themselves, and rarely speak above a mutter,” he says. “If you do a Google image search for Bill Wyman”–the former bass guitar player for the Rolling Stones–“you’ll come up empty.”
Jack Casady: He played for the . . . um . . . Strawberry Alarm Clock?
O’Rourke may be the man to change all that, as his tall, slim frame may help bass players overcome poor self-images and finally take their place next to drummers, or at least rhythm guitarists, in the pecking order of rock musicians. “We’re criticized for being mulish, taciturn, and phlegmatic,” says Mike O’Dwinan, bass player for The Shadows of Doom as he reads from notes that he pulls from his 46″ waist jeans. “No, wait, those are my sixth-grader’s vocab words.”