One of their four touring groups of former congressional aides turned singing political satirists will be in our area just six weeks before the election (Saturday night at the INB Center, Tuesday night at Beasley), so when I scheduled an interview with Mark Eaton (who's been a Cap Step for 15 years), I figured, here's my chance: an audition over the phone.
"OK, Mark," I said, starting my pitch, "imagine Sarah Palin lamenting how she has lost the upcoming election." And then, with gratitude to Burt Bacharach and a certain tune about San Jose, I sang:
Do you know the way to Wasilla?
I'm going back to find some moose to shoot in Wasilla
D.C. is a huge bureauc'sy
Bring in tons of pork, not such a leap
In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a veep
... And all the guvs that never were
Go back to Nome to spread manure.
I finished my over-the-phone rendition. Silence.
More silence. A faint laugh.
But I had spent an entire 12 minutes on those lyrics, and I wanted some advice.
"Well, when you twist 'San Jose' into 'Wasilla,' it just doesn't work," Eaton said. "The hook has to be recognizable.
"You gotta get a laugh on the cover. Then you get a couple of jokes loaded into it and something funny in the chorus, and you've got a nice little song that you can use."
I must've loaded in the jokes wrong. And there's another teensy problem: I can't sing.
"Well, it wasn't that awful," Eaton said. He was trying to console me. "But you have to stay as close to the original as possible."
At least I was right to go with Palin. The Steps had to be pretty happy that she had popped up on the national scene.
"It was a bit of a gift," Eaton says, explaining that the group looks to caricature the extremes in a politician's personality. "First it was this hot librarian vibe she throws out. And then we started thinking, at her first debate, she'll probably let her hair down, toss it around a bit.
"And then there's the pit bull thing, and field-dressing a moose...."
OK, then, Mr. Professional Singing Satire Guy, what's the secret? "There's no set process, but you start with a name or a word -- there's a million ways to rhyme 'Barack' [sings "Love me like Barack....."]. Sometimes you get it from just a word in the chorus -- that's how we put Vladimir Putin into 'Midnight Raid to Georgia.'"
Sometimes the group just knows when it has hit the satirical jackpot. "We're working on this song for McCain and Palin based on the old Hot Chocolate song, "You Sexy Thing" - you know, [sings] 'I believe in miracles / Since you came along / You sexy thing / Miracles right before my eyes / You sexy thing, got me hypnotized....'
"When you look at those words and imagine McCain singing that to her," Eaton says, laughing, "it's almost like you don't have to change anything."
So satire only seems difficult. Eaton himself came up with a gem eight years ago. "When Bush was first elected," he says, "I was looking through some old Elton John stuff and came up with 'Don't Go Faking You're Smart.'"
And the Steps are still doing it. Here's Sarah Palin's "dream of the future," set in the year 2027, with a melody from a country song of the 1960s: "Though Alaska once had icy stormin' / Thanks to years of global warmin' / It's good to touch the green, green grass of Nome."
I had to admit their Nome reference was better. But not all of the Capitol Steps' spoofs are aimed at politicians. Here's the chorus of a familiar ABBA tune sung by the Washington press corps:
Oh-oh, Obama Mia!
Here we go again
My, my, how can you resist him?
I was inspired. Suddenly, I figured feisty Joe Biden would be a good fit for Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting," and I was all ready to give it a whirl when Eaton interrupted, saying he didn't really have time just now for any more auditions.
Satire is so hard, man.
The Capitol Steps will snark up the songs on Saturday, Sept. 20, at 8 pm at the INB Center. Tickets: $25-$39. Also appearing on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 pm at WSU's Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum in Pullman, Wash. Tickets: $30. Visit www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.