If he actually became president, his financial plans would devastate our economy in a month or two. And let's face it: He probably sexually harassed those women. But there's still something inherently hilarious about Herman Cain. A lot of it has to do with his lackluster pedigree—being CEO of the world's worst pizza franchiser qualifies you to be president?—but he's also the figurehead of one of the most ineptly managed presidential campaigns in modern history, and he's still, somehow, a wildly popular candidate among the teabaggy Republican base. For some unknown reason, this catchphrase-spouting motivational speaker could become his party's nominee for president of the United States of America. Um, ha?
At the end of October, comedian Tim Heidecker (of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!) finally noticed Cain "because of that stupid smoking commercial." People on Twitter asked Heidecker if he was responsible for the ad, which features Cain's slurring campaign manager talking about nothing in particular and taking a drag from a burned-down cigarette. In the background, an '80s-aerobics-video anthem kicks in, and a comically impassioned vocalist named Krista Branch begins singing, "I am/America/One voice/United we stand." The spot concludes with a tight shot of Cain's face, which takes seven excruciating seconds to blossom into an unbelievably creepy smile. "I could see why people thought we had made" the ad, Heidecker says over the phone.
So he took to his home recording studio "to see if I could make up something crazier than that. I wanted it to sound kind of like a mental patient had made it." What he came up with, a one-minute chugger called "Ride the Cain Train," is exactly not the kind of campaign song a presidential candidate would want written about him: It's layered with eerie wails and mournful, desperate pleas.
Once Heidecker finished the song, he kicked himself for not including the phrase "Cain is able." "All these puns started floating in my head," he said. "I just had to see it through." The "it" in question is a nine-track album titled Cainthology: Songs in the Key of Cain, which Heidecker produced in a week and a half. (Possibly in order to deflect the inevitable Republican cries of victimhood, Heidecker is donating all proceeds to the Violence Intervention Program's clinic for abused children and Community Mental Health Center.) He rushed the process because he "wanted to see how quickly I could start and finish something," and also because he was worried about Cain's viability: "I kept expecting him to disappear."
Heidecker's model for Cainthology was the Beatles' White Album. It's a drunken go-cart ride through any number of genres, from the honky gospel of "Lord Cain" to the psychedelic Jesus Christ Superstar riff of "Cain Is Able" ("Look in his eyes/Bright white light shines from his heart... He's the original lord/Sent from the Lord/Give him a sword/Put him on a horse") to the faux-sexy synth groove of "My Master, My Master!" to the weird infantile rap-rant of "Cain Mutiny."
The lyrics are inept, often confusing Cain with Jesus and Elvis. The singer reaches for highly inappropriate rhymes with an off-kilter adoration ("High on cocaine/Herman Cain!"). In addition, the album is littered with bad celebrity impersonations. Ronald Reagan and Al Pacino urge listeners to climb on board the Cain Train with all the creepy unctuousness of a clown trying to get kids into his ice cream truck. The paranoid character Heidecker creates in just more than 20 minutes is as fully rounded a portrait of Cain's teabagger base—unhinged, violently passionate, uninterested in reality—as you'll find in any journalism.
Heidecker says he's "not a fan of political comedy," and it shows—the album isn't especially topical—but Cainthology does call back to two centuries of demented folk music written about presidential candidates, from "Follow Washington" to "I Got a Crush on Obama." Just the atrocious amateur songs written in support of Richard Nixon alone (for example, "We Want Dick, We Want Dick, We Want Dick") would be enough to fill a decent-sized anthology.
When I ask Heidecker how he would feel if the Cain campaign actually played one of his songs at an event, he at first defers. "It's so bad and off-message and not cool," he says, adding that he specifically designed the "midtempo, dark, and weird" songs to kill a rally. But when I press the point—this is a campaign by and for idiots, after all, where seemingly nobody is in charge and the candidate proudly flaunts his lack of preparation for public speaking events—Heidecker admits, "I'd be really surprised, and a little depressed, that they're that dumb."
Let's hope that Cain won't be an issue once Republicans start voting on January 3. But the party is in disarray and a horde of howling ingrates has seized the cauterized brain stem of the organization; there's a chance the Cain Train may keep wheezing along. What will Heidecker do then? "If he stays in, I think I might do a concert. We'll see. If he's around by early next year, I might do something." A silence drops over the line as we both take a second to consider the horrific possibilities.