A quarter century ago, Billy Ray Cyrus teamed with songwriter Don Von Tress for his feel-good country smash “Achy Breaky Heart.” Now he and Von Tress have co-written a very different sort of anthem for the modern age, “Goddess of Democracy,” and they’re getting to the aching, breaking heart of this country’s fractured, fragile political climate.
“‘Goddess of Democracy’ really seems to have found a time when music and a song sometimes matches a mood, an era, a moment,” Cyrus tells Yahoo Entertainment, as Yahoo premieres an acoustic performance video of the song in the final days that Americans have to still register to vote. “‘Achy Breaky Heart’ did that in 1992, which coincidentally was also written by Don Von Tress; it was just a moment where the world kind of needed a fun song. Well, all these years later, Von Tress and I go full circle.”
Notable lyrics to this new statement song, which Cyrus stresses has a positive message, include: “The Goddess of Democracy was bound to take a fall/She almost landed on top of me/Crown of thorns and all/She blew a kiss then shook her fist/And danced into the flames/Saying, ‘Follow me, I’m democracy/And I’ll be back again.’” Cyrus points out that his “singing about democracy shouldn’t come as a surprise” and that he’s “not a Johnny-come-lately to this,” since his father, Ron Cyrus, a Democrat, served on the Kentucky State Legislature for over 20 years. “I’ve been born and raised in politics in Appalachia my whole life,” he notes.
Billy Ray Cyrus has had connections with both Democrats and Republicans. He received the Bob Hope Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society from George Bush in 1995. He rode the campaign train with Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and performed with his always outspoken daughter Miley at a children’s inaugural concert for Barack Obama. And George W. Bush even used Cyrus’s song with Waylon Jennings and Montgomery Gentry, “We the People,” as his official anthem. With that unique worldview, Cyrus feels there is one thing all concerned U.S. citizens can agree on.
“The last thing the world needs to hear from me is my opinion on which side, or which tribe, I’m on,” Cyrus begins. “But one thing I do know is that for this rare moment, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, there is one commonality. And it is the fact that everyone agrees that democracy is in a volatile spot. Democracy is somewhat under siege. And this is the moment where we as Americans take our democracy back with our vote. Everyone agrees that democracy is under assault, and it’s worth fighting for, and it’s worth standing up for. And let’s take it back — one soul and one vote at a time. … I choose to believe the better days are ahead. We can work together, and solve a whole lot more problems than we can by dividing.”
Voting is a subject near and dear to Cyrus, which is why he has chosen to premiere his acoustic “Goddess of Democracy” video right before the registration deadline. “You have to go out and register on Monday, and be ready to go vote, because you’re going to feel better. That’s your first step in being the change you want to be,” he stresses. “Miley and I had a big record a few years ago that we sang together, and one of the lines was ‘Be the change you want you to be. Be the change.’ And that’s what this election is about now.
“It’s a very exciting, unique, and powerful yet scary moment when the most powerful four-letter word isn’t love, you know? There are several other four-letter words; I’ll let you just think of your own,” Cyrus continues with a slight chuckle. “But there is one four-letter word that overshadows them all right now, and it’s vote. And never has the word vote meant so much to so many. It is a beautiful moment that people can stand up, and if you vote, then you get to complain. That’s your voice: voting. It’s been fought for, and it’s the foundation of our democracy.”
When asked about his fears for America in these dark times, Cyrus pauses and takes a moment to reflect. “My grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher, so certainly I was very aware of the Book of Revelation. And you look at our world right now, and read that book, and you’ll see a lot of similarities,” he muses. “Regardless, it’s a moment where it takes everyone pulling together. I think the most important four-letter word should be love. I think if love could just rule for a moment, that could just solve a lot of problems. Look at the devastation from this tsunami and earthquake that just happened. Look at what the folks have been dealing with in the Carolinas. I mean, it’s just been one right after another. It’s been tough. And love is what needs to prevail through of all of this.”
And as for what “makes America great” in 2018? Cyrus looks no further than his songwriting partner, two-tour Vietnam veteran Von Tress (“He’s the man that earned the right to really speak to this moment”), and Von Tress’s brave peers. “Look at our men and women in uniform. Look at the service and sacrifice that they make day in and day out to make this country great,” says Cyrus. “If you want to look at something that’s great about America, look at our military.”
Von Tress himself perhaps sums it up the message of Cyrus’s new single best. “As co-writer and producer of ‘Goddess of Democracy,’ I am privileged to continue a tradition of American citizen writers, poets, and musicians who, through time and their works, have chosen to report and comment on the condition and direction of country and culture,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I hold to the hope that, while our national conscience and tone is an ever-changing tapestry of conflicting goals, ideologies, and political divisiveness, the heart of the goddess is sacred, and that it beats safely in the living document that is our Constitution. I also believe that, if the Constitution is the heart of our democracy, then the right and responsibility of her citizens to speak out, vote, and hold government accountable is the lifeblood. Please vote. Please protect and respect our Constitution and the spirit in which it was written. Let the goddess of democracy dance.”
This article originally ran on Yahoo Music.