Rock and Roll politics.

Oh boy. Another anniversary is on the horizon—and another thirty-year marker. November 7, 1978 was election day in Connecticut, the conclusion of my breakthrough campaign for governor of that state—the most rock & roll campaign in state history.

I've previously mentioned the auspicious beginning of my candidacy. My independent campaign had picked up speed later that summer when I encouraged David Sewall to run with me for Attorney General.

We had crossed paths in college a dozen years earlier (in Astronomy class to be exact) and knew immediately that we were destined for greatness together. I was an Ancient Greek major and he a Music Theory major, so it was obvious even then that we could be a powerful political team with a practical grasp of the burning issues of the day.

As it turned out, the campaign was a huge success in nearly every way. With David's support I took on the controversial topic of driving safety—a third rail issue that most candidates wouldn't touch—along with a pledge to lower the drinking age. My support for these issues together was considered groundbreaking—if not confusing—to a sleepy electorate, slowly waking up to a new force in local politics.

Now I should point out I didn't technically win the election. The incumbent, Ella Grasso, somehow managed to pull it out by a mere 189,000 votes, but I nevertheless finished a surprisingly strong fourth, from write-in votes alone. (For years many of my bar-dwelling constituents assumed I had won so I never had to pay for a drink in New Haven for a decade.)

The campaign proved to be an important source of entertainment that season, especially for the Connecticut news media which had endured insufferable boredom covering local politics up until then. It marked the end of an era when Connecticut candidates had to be informed about issues, including boring statistics and numbers.

I exemplified a new breed of candidate, one who transcended knowledge, information, and—some would say—character, in order to demonstrate a more detached, what-me-worry approach to campaigning. I was proud to be a candidate whose mind remained uncluttered and unbiased by facts.

Since then, of course, there have been many political aspirants—including one I can think of who's currently in the national headlines—who have meticulously copied my blueprint for success.

The most memorable highlight of the campaign was election night itself.

It was the thrill of a lifetime to watch election returns at my makeshift campaign headquarters in the New Haven Diner, where I staked-out a booth and set up my portable tv.

All my campaign workers were there giving me encouragement and support, and I returned the favor (and zeroed-out the campaign budget) by buying drinks for both of them.

After it became obvious that I would not be unseating the incumbent governor, I headed to the local nightclub, Toad's Place, to celebrate my moral victory in the most moral environment I could find.

I was soon joined by Brian May and Roger Taylor of the rock band Queen, who no doubt were looking for some uplifting political dialogue at Toad's Place after their sold-out concert at the New Haven Coliseum that night. (This is quite common for bands on road, who are often on the prowl for late-night intellectual stimulation.)

I don't remember much of that evening (don't draw the usual conclusions from that—it's been thirty years), but I do recall Brian and Roger being appropriately honored at the privilege of celebrating a major campaign triumph with a candidate for governor who also happened to be a veteran rock musician. (It's quite possible that given my ebullient spirits they had assumed I had won. I didn't dare dampen their enthusiasm by telling them otherwise.)

After that night I decided to go into political seclusion, only to emerge two years later as an independent candidate for US President—in a stunning political comeback that rivaled that of my hero—the late, great Richard Nixon. More on that rock & roll campaign in a later post.


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24 Comments

  1. I remember going to Toad's Place in the 1970s and 1980s. Best rock club in New England for years. Saw Michael Bolton, NRBQ, Jake & the Family Jewels there - and a lot of national and UK acts. Too bad you didn't win. You could have performed there as governor.

  2. John - how can I put this politely? I wonder if rather too many mood and memory changing items were ingested on that evening? You say you met up with, "...Roger Waters of the rock band Queen..." Now, although this would have been around the time he was acrimoniously falling out with the rest of the Floyd, I wasn't aware he'd joined Queen. Of course, there was a Roger in Queen (drummer Roger Taylor) but the idea of Roger Waters in the band is an intriguing one.

    Did you talk to Brian May about astronomy? He quit his Ph.D in astrophysics to join Queen and recently completed it so is officially Dr. May!

    Wouldn't it be nice to think of Barack Obama flying home on election night and popping out to his local bar to watch the results come in?

  3. Mark, I stand corrected (though I'm sedentary at the moment). It WAS Roger Taylor, of course, and I made the correction. Didn't know that about Brian May, but I'm not surprised. Those guys - like most of the great rockers - were highly intelligent gents.

  4. Yes, slk, Toad's Place was one of a kind. I have fond memories of opening for all those acts at Toad's. Michael had a hard rock band in those days. Jake of course was an alumnus of the legendary Fugs. NRBQ had big Al Anderson then. New Haven rocked that year.

  5. slk, I don't remember the exact number but the registrar told me I got more write-in votes than Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck COMBINED. As a Connecticut resident you know that the mouse vote has always been HUGE there.

  6. I don't want to sound hysterical here, but this mouse problem isn't limited to write-in voting and an occasional elected rodent. According to the radio talk shows I'm listening to, there are an ALARMING number of mouse names showing up on voter registration lists recently (you know - Mickey, Minnie, Mighty, etc.). This may be more serious than you think.

  7. When I lived in New York in the early 1980s I came up to New Haven one night and saw Springsteen on stage at Toad's. I think he just showed up and started jamming with the local band. Pretty cool. Another time I saw Billy Joel record a live album there.

  8. Wow, Reggie, I remember seeing Springsteen at Toad's. I think he dropped by a bunch of times when he was in town. And I saw BJ there too. In the late 70s, early 80s I was a fixture there at closing time. They had a license to stay open an extra hour so all the musicians who were playing other clubs could beat it over there for last call. And that was just the start of the evening.

  9. John, you make it sound like Toad's is a museum. It's still going strong despite some problems in recent years. It was shut down a few times because it served underage drinkers.

  10. slk, don't be snitty. I can't help it if my back goes out more often than I do. Now if I had been elected Governor 40 years ago perhaps the drinking age would have been low enough that these "underage drinkers" would have been legally permitted to enjoy their refreshments at Toad's. What's the drinking age in Connecticut these days, 25?

  11. Cute, John. The drinking age is 21, as it's been for over twenty years!

    So you're worked up over mouse names on voter registration lists these days? You're worried about bogus votes next week?

  12. People are missing the real issue here with these Mickey Mouse names on the voter lists - as a result of overly zealous voter registration drives. The OBVIOUS threat to our democracy is the likelihood of a rodent infestation at the polls.

  13. Good exchange! Funny too! Besides the lack to defraud democracy, it appears that the attempt was essentially to defraud ACORN of dough. It was ACORN, in fact, that brought the discrepancy to the Elections Board.

  14. Well, for starters, Judith, it's time you tip your hand on your presidential pick. BTW, have you noticed there's been zero coverage by the national media of the "non-mainstream" candidates for prez?

  15. Catvibe, I'm sorry to hear that. Hey, I've got lots of buds in Asheville - mostly in the macrobiotic community. Asheville is NC's best kept secret (well, maybe not much longer).

  16. No, it's not a secret anymore. That's why the real estate prices are the highest in pretty much all of NC. But it is a gem, nevertheless.

  17. You know you're right, John. Perhaps the nature of this historic election has eclipsed the independent candidates.

    I did loosely follow Cynithia McKinney (Green Party nominee)and Ralph Nadar. I still remember a question I had in Civics. Who is the advocate of the people? The anwser: Ralph Nader. I got that one right.

    I voted this morning. And, if there is any doubt about about who I voted for, let me very clear. I'M TOTALLY DOWN WITH BARACK OBAMA!

    John, if you'd like a respite go to Cat's site. The images and words are beautiful, thoughtful too.

  18. Always something useful here.

    Like, my third album now has a name: "Mickey, Minnie, Mighty"

    Yes, this is the information place.

  19. Thanks, Judith. Nader was apparently a non factor this time around (thankfully, for Obama's sake). Yes, Catvibe's site is beautiful.

    Spinhead, your third album?? Explain, please.

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