Before discussing “Catholic Day” by Adam and the Antz, I want to mention one of the songs included on the Turn Me On, Dead Man compilation Conspiracy A-Go-Go, available as a free download on Bandcamp, “Five Bullets” by Eye Ocean, from the 2010 release The Smoke in Your Eyes. The song is called “Five Bullets” because, according to songwriter Pascal Cormier, “John F. Kennedy was shot in the throat, twice in the back and then twice in the head simultaneously.” Cormier sees a broad conspiracy at work in the JFK assassination, “I believe that JFK was assassinated by people he knew, I believe the CIA, Cardinal Spellman and the Vatican were definitely involved, using the Roman Catholic Mafia and some U.S. Military. I believe one of the shots he got to the head was done by the driver.”
Pascal’s conspiracy theory is not obvious in “Five Bullets”. Instead, the focus here is on Kennedy’s views on the relationship between religion and the state. JFK was the first Catholic elected President despite considerable prejudice among the electorate. A Gallup poll taken in 1959 showed that a quarter of Americans would not vote for a Catholic president. Kennedy confronted this issue at a key point in the 1960 presidential campaign. In an address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, JFK made clear that he believed the separation of church and state “is absolute”. The effect of JFK’s speech was to reassure many voters, as the percentage of those opposed to a Catholic president had dropped to 13 percent by the time JFK had taken office. “Five Bullets” uses passages from that speech:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President — should he be Catholic — how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote…. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
This speech became an issue in the 2012 presidential primaries, as Republican candidate Rick Santorum was quoted as saying that Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the separation of church and state made him want to “throw up“. Santorum deservedly received considerable criticism for the remark and admitted, “I wish I had that particular line back.”
Which brings me to “Catholic Day” by Adam and the Antz, included on the 1979 album Dirk Wears White Sox. “Catholic Day” also samples a Kennedy speech, JFK’s final State of the Union address, which he delivered on January 14, 1963. “For you and I are privileged to serve the great Republic in what could be the most decisive decade in its long history. The choices we make, for good or ill, may well shape the state of the Union for generations yet to come.” Here, Adam Ant presents a more cynical view of JFK, suggesting (if I’m interpreting the lyrics correctly) that JFK’s words would come back to haunt him—that the choices he made resulted in his assassination. Adam Ant suggests that JFK’s image was style (His “sporty young hairstyle” and Levi’s Sta-Prest jeans) over substance. Repeated over and over is the line “I see the chickens have come home to roost”, but the listener is left wondering what it is exactly that Adam Ant thinks sealed JFK’s fate. Perhaps it was JFK’s affairs, notably Marilyn Monroe (“No more messing round, playing with Monroe”), or maybe it was his use of “soft drugs” or “playing the space race” that resulted in his assassination, but none of these things provide a satisfactory explanation. Perhaps the most pointless thing about “Catholic Day” is that the events described in this song have nothing to do with JFK’s Catholic faith. Ironic that a song with the conspiracy-theory title “Five Bullets” would be all about JFK’s faith and a song called “Catholic Day” would have so little to say about it.