One quick and easy way to go American is to lose the diacriticals. Born with a suspicious Umlaut, Mehmet Öz does business on tv—whether as celebrity host of his own long-running health show, or now running for U. S. Senate in Pennsylvania—as Dr. Oz.
Öz means “self” in Turkish—a fitting label for someone running for political office, since narcissism is generally a prerequisite for candidates. When I lived in Germany I often shopped at a Turkish supermarket called Öz-Gida: “on your own.” A wealthy television star who also married into a vast fortune, Dr. Oz is not exactly doing it on his own. He’s getting by—by the narrowest of margins in the Republican primary—with more than a little help from his “friend,” Donald Trump.
Airbrushing out the floating two dots gives us Oz, which, in the American psyche, gleams with magical possibility, conjuring a fantasy land in which the road is paved with yellow bricks—ersatz gold. But Oz also evokes the charlatan rehabilitated when the truth emerges after the curtain has been pulled back on his fumbling machinations. Even after the revelation of fraud, the fantasy continues: Dorothy can be returned home in a hot air balloon to her Kansas home. America can be made great again.
Tripping down the Yellow Brick Road with the spritely Dr. Oz, one is tempted not just to raise the voice, but also raise questions about the carpetbagging Pennsylvanian Senate candidate’s commitment to the sonic arts. I’ve long maintained that musical tastes and talents make for a valuable sounding barometer not just of policy, but of moral bearing.
Alongside his high-achieving academic program, Dr. Oz childhood’s education included sports and music. He had ten years of piano lessons and played duets with a sister with whom he’s now battling over the family inheritance.
Those black-and-white keyboarding days are long behind Oz. The only pronouncements I’ve been able to find are about his boyhood musical calling card—“The Turkish Minuet.” Whether this ethnic association was foisted on him by his teacher or sought out by him is unclear, as is the identity of the piece itself. He probably means instead Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca, that perennial favorite now cleansed of the frisson of Janissary terror that animated Viennese Rococo drawing rooms of yore. One can get the charge of exoticism in present-day performance on late eighteenth-century pianos still equipped with cymbals and bass drum activated by a pedal: these historically accurate toys have, like Dr. Oz’s Umlauts, been removed from most old instruments by high-minded purists.
Since those energetic piano days, the ever-fit Dr. Oz’s musical tastes have mostly mellowed. He has sought to reclaim, in much different aural garb, the restorative powers of music recognized by the Ancient Greeks and the musical healers of his Central Asian equestrian forbears. In a Billboard article from 2017, Oz described how he played music over the speakers in the operating room for the weekly surgeries he performed. The playlist, like his opportunistic politics, is utterly unoriginal, though he can probably be forgiven for deferring to the zeitgeist, aka spotify algorithms and the allure of highly infectious viral videos.
Curating his musical persona as carefully as he does his workout regime, Oz is at least keeping his profile current—a clever ploy that comes in pursuit of at least few elusive non-AARP-age voters.
Topping the Oz surgery 2017 playlist was Ed Sheehan’s “The Shape of You,” then firmly ensconced on the billboard top 10, and as of this Friday morning counting 5.7 billion YouTube hits. Aside from its amorphous-feel-goodery and buoyant, but by no means hectic, pace (seemingly out of step with the boxer dancing at the heavy bag seen in the video), the choice speaks to his disarming, even troubling literalism that, in the political sphere, finds expression in his late-breaking mimicry of Trump. After years of supporting women’s reproductive rights, gun control, and even a tepid form of socialized medicine, Oz has gone all-in with the ex- and would-be future president.
Just imagine Dr. Oz, scalpel in hand standing over the patient as the song’s lyric fills the operating room: “I’m in love with the shape of you / … Although my heart is falling too.” Oz is a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Another song on the list is Lady Gaga’s “The Cure,” which begins: “I’ll undress you …”. It’s all very on the nose, even if that body part is not the Dr.’s specialty. In the chorus, Gaga promises that, “If I can’t find the cure, I’ll fix you with my love.” Oz’s pitching of discredited dietary supplements have come under vigorous criticism from the medical establishment as has his support for homeopathy.
Before going under, patients asked him if the music would continue through the operation, and Oz then had the bright idea of recommending music to help them recover post-op.
His now discontinued show’s website includes a discussion of “Music, Healing and Longevity” and a playlist for “focusing.” On several of these tracks the cello sings forth in calming, waffling tones, like those of “Nothing Else Matters” from the Finnish symphonic metal band Apocalyptica.
Calm and collectedness should also accrue to those who listen to the 2 Cellos musing before a stadium crowd about what it would be like to be “With or Without You.”
This lukewarm sonic suspension bath comes in stark contrast to Obama’s highbrow cello tastes: Bach’s solo suites.
Yet beyond these putatively holistic instrumental and and anti-Obamacare cello prescriptions, the lyrics loved by Oz claim not just medical value but political resonance. Gaga’s hit closes by repeating the incantation: “Promise I’ll be the cure (be the cure) / Promise I’ll be the cure (be the cure).” Through this ultra-Democratic songstress sing the candidate’s deepest political desires. And the pandemic would have run a different course had Oz been dispensing his fairy tales.
Gifted with fame and fortune , Oz is living those very dreams. Fashioning for himself a glowing, mythic name and the recognition that goes with it, the Dr. has brains, accomplishment, talent and energy. Youth, too: at sixty-two he’s a veritable babe-in-arms compared to Biden and Trump.
My diagnosis is that he has cocked an ear towards the White House. After the musically arid presidencies of Trump and Biden, Öz would bring song and dance back to the bully pulpit and the East Room, where the last concert I remember watching took place in 2010 with Bob Dylan and the ubiquitous Democratic songster and piano man, John Legend. When Oz arrives in DC, and eventually pulls into the White House, song will return too: his senatorial/presidential music will present as sincere, sentimental, healing—and it will be very, very scary, and not just for the body politic.
(David Yearsley is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Sex, Death, and Minuets: Anna Magdalena Bach and Her Musical Notebooks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)