“I remain an unrepentant conservative,” the 54-year-old MSNBC host, sometime rock ‘n roller and prolific songwriter insisted on Monday, a few hours after his latest tune, “Stand,” a rousing call to action against tyranny and oppression, was played on Morning Joe over scenes of this past weekend’s women’s marches protesting the Trump administration. “But I think conservatives, moderates and liberals alike can all look at what’s going on and have their concerns.”
Scarborough added: “That’s what’s so interesting about this time—you find yourself often on the same side with people you have been on the opposing side from for 25 years. And you see certain conservatives who are standing up and speaking out against some of the more flagrant attacks on our constitutional norms and you’re pleasantly surprised: ‘Oh my gosh, let me mark that down for the next time I start getting short with this guy ten years from now.’”
Scarborough, who can sometimes be prickly with filibustering guests (and once hung up on Trump during an on-air phone interview), spoke to The Daily Beast a week after Saturday Night Live opened its Jan. 13 show with a wanton sendup of himself and Mika Brzezinski, his cohost and fiancée.
They were played lasciviously—and hilariously—by Alex Moffat and Kate McKinnon. The spot-on sketch—which certified Morning Joe’s place in the popular culture after a decade on the air—also starred Fred Armisen as Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff and Bill Murray as sacked Breitbart executive chairman and erstwhile White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
“Those are always interesting,” Scarborough said about SNL’s satirical take on Morning Joe—not the first time the iconic comedy show has taken them on—adding that he and Brzezinski didn’t see it until Sunday, when they watched together. “I think we would probably enjoy them if we didn’t have children. We get uncomfortable because of our children—so it makes us wince.”
While Scarborough said they laughed at the portrayals of Wolff and Bannon—“that was very funny,” he said—“Mika and I get very self-conscious…Fred Armisen as Wolff was absolutely hilarious, and it was exciting to see Bill Murray.”
Scarborough and Brzezinski, both divorcees who announced their engagement last May, have yet to set a wedding date: “Everything is moving so fast, and we’re working so much, we just haven’t had a chance,” he said.
He dodged a question about longtime Morning Joe panelist Harold Ford Jr., a former Democratic congressman who was fired from his Wall Street job at Morgan Stanley last month for violating company policy after an allegation of sexual harassment emerged—an allegation Ford has denied.
“I’ll let NBC and Harold talk about that as the story progresses,” Scarborough parried.
Scarborough, who with Brzezinski started out during the 2016 presidential campaign as a booster of Trump’s chances and political talent, has ended up a bitter critic of the reality-show president, regularly slamming Trump’s alleged authoritarian streak, lack of competence, apparent racism and ignorance of policymaking, and speculating that the 71-year-old commander-in-chief is suffering from dementia.
Although Scarborough’s new song doesn’t name-check Trump, it amounts to a hooky anthem of opposition—complete with trumpet and backup vocals—that was inspired, he said, by the the galvanizing 1989 protests in China’s Tiananmen Square and Bobby Kennedy’s moving 1966 speech against apartheid in Capetown, South Africa, among other freedom-hailing events.
“Once In your life,” the lyrics begin,
“You may get the chance to stand
Against a column of tanks
Holding up your hand
And once in your life
You may get the chance to say
Words locked deep within your heart
That change the outcome of the day.”
Scarborough said he wrote the song a couple of months ago, and recorded it with his band late last month. He collaborated with his regular bandmate, horn player Ben Kibbey, on the trumpet part. Scarborough composed the melody and worked out the lyrics, but as usual, didn’t write down the actual musical notes.
“As I’ve got an extraordinarily talented group of musicians around me, I say to all of them, ‘You took music theory so I don’t have to,’ ” Scarborough said.
But he said he didn’t expect that “Stand” would be featured on today’s installment of Morning Joe.
“It was a surprise to me,” he said, when he realized, shortly after 7 a.m.—and then repeated after 8 a.m.—that his folk song would be used to accompany the sights and sounds of the anti-Trump marches in Washington, New York, and across the nation, along with snippets from Trump, Stephen Miller, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and even Whoopi Goldberg. “Mika called up [executive producer] Alex Korson sometime this weekend and thought, ‘See if this works.’ And he said, ‘It works great.’
“I had not seen it before this morning,” Scarborough continued. “I’m always very nervous when things like that go off.”
Scarborough, who usually has a thick skin for political and even personal attacks but is exquisitely sensitive to criticism of his music, said he was skittish for about 10 minutes—that is, until jazz great Branford Marsalis tweeted at the MSNBC host: “Good tune, @ JoeNBC. I hear your influences, which is cool.” (Marsalis later defined those “influences” as Bob Dylan and Tom Petty; Scarborough told The Daily Beast that he was also inspired by Paul Simon.)
“When that tweet came across, it was ‘OK, OK, I’m feeling a little less self-conscious now,’ ” Scarborough recalled.
Not that the kudos were universal. The Mediaite web page, for one, posted a snarky story about the song headlined: “Morning Joe Airs Montage of 2018 Women’s March Featuring Cringeworthy Scarborough Single.”
“It’s always a tale of two cities,” Scarborough said about the response to his tune. “If you’re on Twitter, everything is usually overwhelmingly negative. But on Facebook and Instagram, it’s overwhelmingly positive. The people at Sony/Red [Scarborough’s record label] were very excited. And I’ve heard some very positive things from people who matter to me. So far, so good.”