Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Article on WSJ. Palin sent him a shout out from Twitter once. Now we know who he is...
Jon David is not his real name.
The guy in the spotlight singing "American Heart," it can now be revealed, is 42-year-old Jonathan Kahn, a Hollywood screenwriter, director and scribbler of songs whose faith in America doesn't extend to the place he calls home.
Fearful of being ostracized in the town where he peddles his songs and scripts, Mr. Kahn has gone sub rosa on the rally circuit. "It's for protective reasons," he says. "In Hollywood, being a conservative is the kiss of death..."
He debuted his song on stage in Quincy, Ill., at a tea-party rally in September. "All those flags, those good folks," he says. "It moved me beyond belief."
He went on to open for Ms. Palin, the former Alaska governor, at the Tea Party Convention last February in Nashville. He was the main musical act two weeks later at the $275-a-seat Presidential Banquet at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. "American Heart" now has its own website and is big on YouTube.
Ms. Palin called the tune "an amazing love song for America." Red Sox pitching legend Curt Schilling said it's "as powerful and moving as anything I've ever heard." Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton recommends it to foreigners "who want to know how the real America feels."
Mr. Kahn's older brother, Bob, isn't sure how he feels. The 8th-grade science teacher says he is proud of his brother, but concedes this new career path has caused distress at home. "Jon came back from one rally with a picture of him with Palin and my wife flat out refused to look at it," he says. "She ran into the other room."
"She thinks I'm a right-wing nut job," Mr. Kahn says of his sister-in-law.
His queasiness over his political persona isn't unusual for a town famed for its liberalism and fund-raising prowess for Democratic presidential candidates. It's also a place that lives and dies on image.
"His dilemma is the dilemma of countless people in my life," says Andrew Breitbart, the conservative columnist and provocateur who runs a website, Big Hollywood, devoted to airing conservative grievances about Los Angeles. "You can survive here as a conservative, but it takes guile."
One person stunned to hear of Mr. Kahn's double life as a tea-party troubadour is top Hollywood record producer and Grammy Award-winner Walter Afanasieff. The two have worked on projects for years and are now midway through writing and producing an album for a young singer.
"And I'm just finding out about this now? Oh my God, I'm getting chills hearing it," Mr. Afanasieff says, when informed of his friend's sideline. "I mean, he's a member of a huge, Democratic, liberal organization called the Los Angeles entertainment business."
After digesting the news, he adds, "It's very wise he's going incognito."
Mr. Kahn grew up a doctor's son in Pacific Palisades, home to Sunset Boulevard, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. His topspin forehand earned him a slot on the Stanford tennis team. His first film, a 30-minute male-bonding movie called "The Chili Con Carne Club," earned him raves.
Two of his scripts became full-length features, including a 1998 teen drama he directed called "Girl," for which he wrote much of the soundtrack. One reviewer described it as "awash in a haze of teenage confusion, guitar feedback, and cigarette smoke." His rock band, The Color Green, has released three albums.
Politically, Mr. Kahn says, "I've lived in the shadows my whole adult life." His politics are a frothy blend of patriotism and self-reliance, formed partly by the rough-and-tumble of trying to make it in Hollywood. "I don't believe in handouts," he says. "I believe in personal responsibility."
He hates what he sees as Hollywood's core hypocrisy: "how it benefits so much from capitalism and bashes it at the same time."
Mr. Kahn penned his patriotic ode in a late-night rush early last summer after a woman confronted him at a Venice Beach barbecue. "She listed what was wrong with America going back to the dinosaurs," he says. "I asked if she liked this country, and she said 'No.' I was shocked..."
The big Missouri rally earlier this month, it turns out, marked a turning point for Mr. Kahn's alter ego, Jon David.
After belting out his anthem to a packed hall of some 5,000 faithful, Mr. Kahn got a big high-five backstage from Ms. Palin, the evening's main attraction.
After her speech, she saw him without his signature shades. "Where are your glasses?" she asked, posing with him for a photo.
"I'm burning my boats," he replied.
After much agonizing, he explained later, he has decided to chuck the glasses, the hat and the fake name. "It's time," he says. The double identity has become confusing. "I have two email addresses, two post-office boxes. Sometimes I go to parties and say I'm Jon David."
Less clear is what his Hollywood career holds. After Mr. Afanasieff, the record producer, heard the news about his friend, he sent Mr. Kahn a text message: "Tea Party? Really?"
Yep. Really. :)