Ted Cruz claims 9/11 completely flipped his tastes in music. In an interview with CBS This Morning, the Texas senator and Republican presidential hopeful said he grew up listening to "classic rock," but his musical interests shifted after the September 11 attacks.
"I actually intellectually find this very curious, but on 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded," he said during a rapid-fire round of questions. "And country music, collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me.
"I had an emotional reaction that said, ‘These are my people,’" he continued. "So ever since 2001, I listen to country music."
In an attempt to understand just how Cruz's musical taste could have flipped so completely, we examined the major rock and country songs about 9/11 released in the year after the attacks.
Here is the list of songs we ended up with:
The Charlie Daniels Band, "This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag"
Alan Jackson, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"
Kristy Jackson, "Little Did She Know (She'd Kissed a Hero)"
Toby Keith, "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American)"
Paul McCartney, "Freedom"
The Clarks, "Hey You"
My Chemical Romance, "Skylines and Turnstiles"
Rush, "Peaceable Kingdom"
Sleater-Kinney, "Far Away"
Bruce Springsteen, The Rising (album)
Suzanne Vega, "Songs in Red and Gray"
Neil Young, "Let's Roll"
Not a single song on either list has held up well since its release. This is mostly a list of duds, and there's not a song on this list that could be a hit in today's musical climate because they are largely boring, albeit sympathetic. In fact, only one song on this list hit the top 25 at the time.
That song is Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American)," perhaps most famous for the lyric "We'll put a boot in your ass / it's the American way." The song was controversial upon release, mostly because it put Keith in direct conflict with the Dixie Chicks, whose lead singer, Natalie Maines, said the song was "ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant." The Dixie Chicks later got even more blowback after they openly slammed President George W. Bush.
Some of the country songs are sad and reminiscent — particularly Alan Jackson's single. But the tracks on this list that charted well on Billboard's top country list, Toby Keith's and the Charlie Daniel's Band's, support military intervention in the Middle East.
The rock songs, on the other hand, are mostly about feeling sad. Neil Young's "Let's Roll" is a tormented, groovy song about sorrow. The Rising, while not one of Springsteen's best efforts, is largely an apolitical album about the weight of grief. This distinction, given Cruz's support of a muscular national defense program, makes sense.
Thus, it would seem what Cruz is saying is that country music after 9/11 was quicker to line up behind military intervention in the Middle East, and that factor won his favor at the time. But to Cruz's credit, country music had a wide and deep history of patriotic songs that could be dug out of the archives and put on the radio in the wake of 9/11. Country stations could play Lee Greenwood oldies that could have, theoretically, converted Cruz, while rock stations didn't really have that history to draw on.
But the way country music "responded" after 9/11 wasn't anything spectacular. What seems to matter most isn't actually the songs themselves but rather what feelings they created in the hearts of Cruz's most desired voters.
Correction: The list of country songs originally included "I'm Already There" by Lonestar. This song, though championed after 9/11, was released in March 2001.