Jon Huntsman on the keyboard.

We're still months away from the first meaningful votes in the GOP presidential primary, and a full 14 months away from 2012 election. But it's never too early to start scrutinizing the field. We've written pretty extensively on the various candidates' views on gay marriage, civil liberties, foreign policy, and (most notably) the economy. But in our effort to leave no stone unturned, we got to thinking: Where do the presidential contenders stand on music?

Here's an incomplete guide to their musical careers, their tastes, and the bizarre music they've inspired:

Jon Huntsman, keyboard: When Jon Huntsman was 18 years old, he dropped out of high school to join a prog rock band called Wizard. It was only a matter of time; Politico talked to a former classmate who "recalled the long-haired, diffident Salt Lake City high schooler sitting next to him in history class 'hitting his desk as if it were a piano.'" Now, watching the former Utah governor and US ambassador to China slog through a Republican primary that doesn't seem to have a place for him, you almost get the impression he's secretly plotting to ditch the campaign thing entirely and get the band back together.

Tinariwen sound-checks like any other band: Musicians filter onstage one at a time, adjust knobs, tune up, play little melodies. It's a scene of subdued chaos, like the pleasant cacophony that precedes a classical orchestra performance. But the last musician to step into the soft blue stage lights of Bimbo's 365 Club in San Francisco isn't noodling. A faded old Fender Telecaster hangs from frontman Ibrahim Ag Alhabib's shoulder, but for now it's silent. His dark eyes stare absently out at the empty hall from under a shaggy Jimi Hendrix mane. The look says, "I'm here, but I'm a million miles away."

Really, it's more like 6,000 miles: Tinariwen hails from the harsh, windswept deserts of northern Mali, and despite a decade touring the world the band is still fixed—musically, spiritually, politically—to that spot. Watching the group perform early this month was like experiencing a hallucinatory mirage; intellectually I knew I was in San Francisco, but all my senses told me I had landed somewhere deep in the Sahara. This is the central irony of Tinariwen: that a band that so keenly communicates a sense of place could be formed by members of the nomadic Tuareg people, who have for centuries (and still today) wandered restlessly through the desert with nothing but a few belongings and a fierce disdain for anything remotely static—including the Malian government.

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

Rambunctious Garden
Emma Marris

Imagine an untouched stream. If you're picturing a tortuous channel with high banks, environmental journalist Emma Marris will tell you how wrong you are. Almost everything we think of as natural has been altered by humans, she argues. In the case of the winding stream, the high banks are probably a relic from seventeenth century mill dams, and we have only come to think of them as natural over centuries of environmental amnesia. Marris insists that if nature is impure, this calls for a new approach to conservation.

For her manifesto out this week from Bloomsbury, Rambunctious Garden, Marris trots from Hawaii to Yellowstone National Park to Poland in search of fresh conservation styles. Each spot illustrates a different set of environmental priorities, and Marris uses them to prove one of her central points: that wildly different ecosystem management styles can exist on the same planet. In fact, we need to try strategy we can think of in order to find out what works.

Water cooler fodder and petty gossip are two constants in an office environment—and thanks to the advent of Facebook and other social media hubs, coworkers have new ways to expel their work-related gripes. Yet nothing is sacred when words hit the web, and now those words are coming back with a vengeance. According to a National Labor Relations Board report (PDF) that came out last week, businesses have started to fire employees for their online trash talking.

Take the case of this luxury car dealership. In early June 2010, one of its salesmen, who I'll call Fred, snapped photos of a customer accidentally driving a car into a pond at the dealership. Later that week, the dealership hosted an all-day event to introduce a new car model. According to employees, the dealership's low-budget refreshment choice—hot dogs, cookies, and water—sent the wrong message to clients and negatively affected their sales and commissions. Fred combined the photos of the pond incident and the inferior sales event in a Facebook album and added snide comments reflecting his disapproval of his boss's decisions. In an inevitable turn of events, someone at a neighboring dealership who was Fred's Facebook friend mentioned the album to his supervisor, who then told the luxury dealership employer about the Facebook smear. Even after Fred agreed to take down the photos, he was fired.

This picture of a children's folder set comes courtesy of my friend who is currently browsing Walmart's back-to-school section while waiting for her tire to get patched:

Holy school supplies, Batman!Holy school supplies, Batman!A little Googling reveals that this slogan is not just limited to folders: You can also get t-shirts and bumper stickers. There's also this Facebook page.

The Infamous Stringdusters at Outside Lands.

Chris Pandolfi doesn't need to focus too much attention on tuning his banjo. We're talking backstage at the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco, and as he cleans strings and plucks chords, he never stops the flow of conversation, never gives a glance to the beautiful, well-loved instrument in his lap. The bluegrass licks that subtly interrupt us seem to issue from somewhere else, because to look at Pandolfi's face you could never tell he was playing them. Perhaps that's because Pandolfi is a thirteen-year veteran of his instrument, but it's also probably because tuning up for big festival shows has become increasingly de rigeur for him in recent years.

Pandolfi makes up one-sixth of the rollicking bluegrass ensemble The Infamous Stringdusters, a group that has been on a steady uphill climb since being named 2007's Emerging Artist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association (their first album, Fork in the Road, also snagged top honors that year for best song and album). This summer, the band has done its time on the festival circuit, playing in Telluride, Grand Targhee, and most recently, performing with established rock stars of the Yonder Mountain String Band at Red Rocks. You might think a rise to the top would distract the band from its musical foundations, but as far as Pandolfi is concerned, nothing could be less true.

Witnessing Imelda May's live performance felt like attending a séance for the early blues label Chess Records and legendary rock label Sun Records—and it was one hell of a party. Beginning by cooing the last syllable of Howlin' Wolf's "Poor Boy" with the same legendary ache as the man himself, the singer didn't take a second's pause before diving straight into her signature rockabilly romp, "Psycho." Then, with a quick snap of a cymbal, May mellowed the mood with "Kentish Town Waltz," relishing every note as the audience sashayed to her husband Darrel Higham's guitar riffs and multi-instrumentalist Dave Priseman's trumpeting.

It's May's ability to revamp standards from the classic big bands and meld them with country rock, surfer punk, and blues that makes her an emerging force. With her two-toned coif and Betty Paige pinup looks, an infectious Irish brogue, three rock-solid albums, and a rippin' backup band (check out double-bass player Al Gare's blog for live updates on the band's shenanigans), she's much more than just a new twist on an old theme.

Mother Jones sat down with May before her August show at The Independent in San Francisco to dish on performing at burlesque clubs, producing albums, and her early beginnings with Ronnie Wood. 

Mother Jones: You've surrounded yourself with the absolute best in the business, performing with Jeff Beck for a Les Paul tribute, hanging with Dr. John in New Orleans. What's it like to rotate in the legend's circle? 

Imelda May: It's terrific, absolutely terrific. I'm glad my music has gone the direction I hoped it would. I know it's a specialist kind of music, and I didn't want it to be a novelty act, which can happen to bands. This is what I've done all my life and I would have been disappointed if that was the take away. There's an awful lot of women in the music business—it can be all about style and fashion, and I didn't want that to be the focal point. 

MJ: Like a gimmick, so to speak.

IM: Yes, I didn't want it to be gimmicky. I don't care about gossipy stuff. It's absolutely brilliant to be surrounded by people I've admired for years. Funny enough, I started performing when I was 16, 21 years ago. I was in this little underground blues and rockabilly club in London, way too young to be there, but my brother would sneak me in and take care of me while I performed. One night, the lovely Ronnie Wood came in, jumped on stage and started jamming as I was singing. I spoke to Wood recently when I was with Jeff Beck for one of his shows, and when I was telling him the story, he was like "No way! You're not that same girl! I remember that night and couldn't believe there was this young child singing the blues!" So I started off on a good note.

MJ: Are you and Jeff Beck working on an album? 

IM: We're not working on anything at the moment. He asked me to sing on his album, Emotion & Commotion. We've jammed and recorded stuff, but I don't know what he's going to do with it. 

MJ: Any other artists you'd kill to collaborate with? 

IM: I would love to work with Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, B.B. King. I'd love to do something with Arctic Monkeys, Miles Kane, and The Last Shadow Puppets. If I got a call from Juliette Lewis or PJ Harvey, or Chrissie Hynde, that'd be a thrill. 

MJ: Who's poster did you have on your wall growing up? 

IM: My foremost heartthrob was River Phoenix. It was the movie Stand by Me, and I really loved the soundtrack and Ben E. King; it got me into that kind of music. 

MJ: Your music pulls from multiple influences: country rock, rockabilly, jazz. Did you have a punk phase? Or were you into '80s hair metal? What was your thing? 

IM: I had a big time punk-rock phase and psychobilly phase. I used to go mad for the Guana Batz. I love loads of music: Blondie, The Clash, The Cramps. I tried to be a goth for a while. I'd pour baby powder on my face and paint my lips black, but that didn't last long. I thought I looked cool at the time. But then you look back and wonder, "Why did anyone let me out of the house looking like that?" 

MJ: What's it like to be from the Liberties? If I were to visit, where would you take me? 

IM: It's a great place, really strong community: proper working-class, hard-working people who haven't had the easiest of times. But it's rich in character and rich in people. My family has been there for generations. And where I'd take you, definitely to Brazen Head. It's the oldest pub in Ireland, right in Liberty Village. That's where my brother plays traditional Irish folk music, and I'd go and join him when I'm in town. 

MJ: Are your parents musicians? 

IM: My dad was a dancer and instructor. He didn't make any money off it when the '60s arrived, because everyone started dancing on their own, so he became a painter and a decorator. And my mom was a dressmaker and seamstress. They're both retired now. Back then, they weren't allowed to speak during work time, so they would sing with their friends constantly. My mom sang to me all the time. Even now, she'll go to bed and lie there for two hours in bed, every night, singing along to the radio. You can hear her singing in the dark. 

MJ: How do your parents feel about you reviving the classics they grew up with? 

IM: They love it. They gave me Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, all the big bands, so I got that love from them. The record collection in my house was huge. One of my brothers was into David Bowie, Meat Loaf, the other was into Elvis. I have two brothers and two sisters, it was the seven of us in a two-bedroom house, and it was a great upbringing for music and good songs. We partied a lot, and even now when we get together, we sing together; just about everyone in the family has a song that they sing. 

An image of "The Burger King," used in an Internet meme with the "Where is your God now?" tag line.

"The King" has just abdicated his television throne. On Friday, Burger King announced that it has discontinued appearances of its sneaky, off-putting, and large-headed mascot, in an attempt to revamp their advertising strategy.

According to the Associated Press, the character's farewell is part of the struggling fast food giant's effort to "refocus its marketing" in order to reach new customers after declining sales. The new series of ads—produced after Burger King changed advertising agencies in July—will start airing this weekend and will keep the focus on BK burgers.

Honestly, the overthrow of the King is long overdue. The character, which debuted in 2003, has been blamed before for the company's sagging profits by such sources as The Atlantic and Gawker, which noted that the commercials were "bizarre" and "vaguely disturbing."

Even Friday's impartial AP obit makes the King seem like a huge, law-breaking nuisance that nobody's going to miss, noting that he "recently has become a more prevalent and somewhat creepy presence in ads—showing up in people's beds and peeping in their windows."

Still, the mascot managed to take on a life of its own over the last seven years, appearing in several Xbox 360 games, inspiring satirical Internet memes, and even getting its own Simpsons incarnation.

To honor the toppling of the long-ruling monarch, here is a quick video tribute to the thoroughly unsettling ad-culture fixture. Because all of the following ads include situations that in real life would result in pepper spray and arraignments, it's rather surprising that Burger King stuck by him for nearly a decade.

Here's a 30-second ad in which he gets into bed with a complete stranger without the man's consent:

In this video, his new target—alone, unsuspecting, in the dark, and at an ATM—understandably assumes His Majesty is there to attack him:

Below, "the King" assumes the role of a trespassing Peeping Tom:

And at the end of this one, His Royal Highness nearly commits a hate crime:

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)