I love getting up in the morning and running downstairs to my computer to see who contributed to the Blue America ActBlue page while I was asleep. Sometimes someone donates $500 and the other day someone left $2,700. More often, a dozen small contributions come in, starting my day with a huge smile and a feeling of overwhelming inspiration. And sometimes it's an actor or a radio host or a writer or a rock star. And one day, not long ago, it was SpongeBob SquarePants. Yep, apparently Ned Lamont and Jerry McNerney are big favorites in Bikini Bottom; must be their environmental policies. Well, I'm half joking, of course. But only half. Actor, comedian Tom Kenny is the voice of SpongeBob and he's the Lamont and McNerney fan. He's also about to become a rock star.
Teaming up with producer/musician/songwriter Andy Paley, Tom has just released an album, The Best Day Ever by... SpongeBob SquarePants. The songs are all sung by the characters of the TV show-- and written from their points of view-- and I'm not sure if the album is more for toddlers or college age stoners. Both, I guess.
My all-time-favorite SpongeBob song, "The Best Day Ever," making a reprise from the movie soundtrack, always sounded like a suspiciously Democratic song to me. I ran into Tom in the hood yesterday and I got to ask him. Tom laughed; "I hope I'll be singing it in November, the morning after election day."
Tom reminds me that SpongeBob SquarePants isn't a political show. "He's a cartoon character on a comedy show. Of course," he adds with a smile, "your politics inform how you look at the world and how you interact with your fellow man and it's the same with the [writing of] songs for the album. SpongeBob's creator, Steve Hillenberg has a way of looking at the world that's reflected in the character and that has a lot to do with the popularity of the show. If there are any politics reflected in SpongeBob's character, it's the politics of inclusion. He's a complete oddball, outside the mainstream-- literally a square peg. It's a show about embracing your inner freak. He's really tolerant of the quirks and foibles of everyone around him and he sees the world in very positive, can do terms. Part of what makes SpongeBob so endearing and funny is how he embraces positivity in a way that drives the more cynical characters crazy."
The album's title track, "The Best Day Ever," is a perfect example. When SpongeBob gets out of bed in the morning, it's always the best day ever... and if it doesn't turn out to be, well... it will be tomorrow. "In our world today," explains Tom, bringing us back from Bikini Bottom to George Bush World for a moment, "if you don't believe positive change is a possibility-- albeit an extremely difficult one-- you just couldn't get out of bed in the morning. People who tilt at windmills, like SpongeBob, drive cynics, like Squidward, crazy."
Tom's really thought a lot about this talking sponge living under the sea. I ask him why the hell SpongeBob hasn't joined a labor union. I mean my second favorite song, "Employee of the Month," sounds like a plea for a good union! Andy and Tom both break into song:
I broke my back
I gave my all
Now that's my face
Up on the wall
"Yep, there are no health benefits at the Krusty Krab. Accidents," Tom warns me, "are unreported 'cause you'll get fired. This song's all about the loyal enthusiastic worker bee who's underpaid and over-worked and is proud to have a plaque on the wall. SpongeBob loves his job and he doesn't see any irony in that. He thinks it's a high honor to work yourself into an early grave and get an imitation gold watch. My dad was like that. You fought for your country in World War II and you were loyal to your job and you just thought the corporation was going to take care of you."
Some of the other characters' offer a sharp contrast to SpongeBob's charming naiveté. Mr. Krabs isn't exactly an evil villain; he's just a greed-obsessed Republican type. His song, "Fishing For Money," is like a celebration of Republican political philosophy-- amass all you can, just for the sake of doing it. "He's like Halliburton," laughs Tom. "He's unchecked, unthinking, unregulated capitalism. Everything is about the bottom line, not about what's socially responsible. I mean if you have to turn a couple school sites radioactive in the pursuit of profit or destroy a Great Lake or two... it's just business; nothing personal."
But there is a real villain on The Best Day Ever. Tom is sure he and Andy didn't write Plankton's song through Karl Rove's eyes. "Rove would never express it out loud. Plankton is a familiar type to political observers. The tiny, small-minded control freak who's certain that he's entitled to a disproportionate say over everyone else's lifestyle and destiny. But his plans for world domination are never all that well thought out so they stall and fail, luckily for us all. He's venal-- and just competent enough to get his evil plans in motion... and succeed to a degree."
Tom and Andy wrote each song in character. And Plankton's song, "You Will Obey!" clearly has someone in mind for Plankton to emulate. "He pretty much has only one goal: to take over the planet and dominate. We thought," Tom revealed to me, "he's like Dick Cheney. It's all about 'sit down, shut up, I know what's best for you; I'll do the thinking for you... I'll do the imagining for you.' Somebody like Dick Cheney would love the line 'What part of do it don't you understand?' The conservative Republican/Plankton construct is seriously befuddled by why we won't shut up and let them do the driving. We always pictured Plankton having a framed, signed picture of Cheney on his desk: 'We must go hunting sometime... to Plankey from Dick.'"