Monday, January 19, 2009

How Cool is Our New Prez?

Having sat through the last (LAST!) insufferably weird and awkward TV appearances of the totally lame George W. Bush, a new tone of cool has already been set for the new administration of Barack Obama and his Posse. The opening event of the three-day inaugural celebration featured a free rock/soul/country/folk concert at the Lincoln Memorial that had people recalling the 1969 Woodstock festival with a lot more vibrant color and less mud (not sure about how the quality of available drugs compared).

Seriously, though, if there are any doubts about the smartness of Obama and the people he has surrounded himself with, this event should do a lot to dispel them. In short, THIS huge musical event is exactly what was needed right now - in the days between our last good riddance to Bush and the necessarily staid swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday. The artists appearing truly derived from the widest range of styles, genres and generations that could be expected to headline any event. The political messages were upbeat and unifying with passages read from past significant speeches by Kennedy, Lincoln, Roosevelt and even Reagan. There was just enough religious and spiritual content to satisfy those who adhere to religion while not alienating those of us who are duly tired of the gross religiosity that has come to pervade so many governmental functions like this. If there was not something for everyone it was not for lack of trying.

The highlight of the program for me was the always fabulous Stevie Wonder crooning his funky-licious 1973 hit "Higher Ground" that pulled the Obamas out of their forced "oh so adult" presidential shell and got them up on their feet shakin booty like a couple of kids for just a few minutes.

I am always surprised by my reaction to Country Pop star Garth Brooks whenever I happen to catch a glimpse of his live performances. If I had to pick a representative from the CW genre to bring cool to the stage I might have to go with somebody like the Dixie Chicks but old Garth is pretty cool (and total bear eye-candy). With his rendition of "Shout!" you just can't avoid resurrecting the spirit of John Belushi dancing on his back, shaking hands & feet in the air... Party on, Garth!

Of course, there was the obligatory appearance by Bono and The Edge bringing a hint of Irish pop star U2 rebellion to the show while also reinforcing every other allusion to the bygone days of America's Camelot the spin meisters are making (Kennedy? Irish-American? Duh.) Auctung, Baby!

With all this feel-good, fun-filled, inspirational inclusiveness and hope does anybody else start to feel a wee bit nostalgic for the bad old days when the most fun we got to have at an inauguration was hurling vulgarities at the Commander-in-Thief as he slinked past the angry mobs gathered in protest along the parade route?

Well, just so we never forget what we are saying good riddance to, let us preserve a couple of videos from Bush's inauguration festivities...

Ah, good times huh? May we never have to go THERE again.

Coming back to the future now, imagine how different yesterday's concert might have been if, God forbid, John McCain had won the election. From his list of favorites this might have been the scene on the Mall...

Of course, we would just have to have a Youngbloods tribute band leading the alternative inauguration concert bringing back the spirit of the Hippie From Olema

Well I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate

We don’t watch commercials in Olema
We don’t buy the plastic crap they sell
We still wear our hair long like folks used to
And we bathe often, therefore we don’t smell

Well I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re ragged
We can’t think of anyone to hate

We don’t throw our beer cans on the highway
We don’t slide a man because he’s black
We don’t spill our oil out in the ocean
’Cause we love birds and fish too much for that

And I’m proud to be a hippie from Olema
Where we’re friendly to the squares and all the straights
We still take in strangers if they’re Haggard
In Olema, California, planet earth

In the real world, though, yesterday's concert for the future closed with an appreciative bow to the ancient but ever-cool Pete Seeger (turning 80 this year) leading the Jersey Shore's Bruce Springsteen in Woody Guthrie's folk classic anthem, "This Land."

Of particular note was the surprise (to me) inclusion of Washington DC's Gay Men's Chorus, uncredited as all the back-up ensembles were. But if your gaydar failed to identify them as gay (I had no problem at all) the 100 male singers provided a helpful clue: each one wore a red AIDS ribbon on his lapel when they sang "My Country Tis of Thee" behind Josh Groban and Heather Headley.

All in all, the concert was a pretty good start on washing out that bitter after-taste left in our mouths still burning from the ultra-toxic uncool Bush years.

It is incredibly smart to use musicians and popular music to convey the message of unity. If for no other reason, it is smart to put on such a show because even celebrity musicians, if they possess any amount of serious musical artistry, tend to be innately inclined to appreciate the artistry in other serious musicians despite their ethnic cultural or racial differences. It was a very effective symbolic example of example-setting for those in this country who still hold irrational prejudices on those bases.

On a very deep level, even the most reasonable and enlightened of us still crave symbolism and meaningful rituals in our lives. But these human necessities are too often subverted by the enforcement of empty dogma such as that which brought us the despicable Bush regime and his religious-right fundamental crusaders. American popular music in its many divergent styles that appeal to distinct audiences almost always finds a way to meld in various kinds of fusions while also acting as vehicles for new informal rituals and communities around the music, not necessarily supplanting religious fellowships but providing adjunct relationships where identities are established and propagated.

Presenting this concert as part of the initiation of a new era was a stroke of genius.

Our long national nightmare is over - Rock on to the future!

Rock on, Barack! Rock on!

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