Round the Dial
Wednesday 11 December @ 11:16:26
Keep on rockin' in the Free Worls: The sordid relationship between the White House and pop music
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The inspiration of great music can help to inspire a fervor for the spiritual values in our way of life; and thus to strengthen democracy against those forces which would subjugate and enthrall mankind. Because music knows no barriers of languages; because it recognizes no impediments to free intercommunication; because it speaks a universal tongue, music can make us all more vividly aware of that common humanity which is ours and which shall one day unite the nations of the world in one great brotherhood.”
-—Franklin D. Roosevelt
SONG OF THE WEEK: “This Is My Country”
Y’know, I never realized what a rabid music fan current President George W. Bush was until I read the other day about his massive CD collection at Ye Olde White House—apparently, all (both) of America’s major record labels make it a practice to regularly stock the Prez up with the latest, greatest releases they have to offer. The “library” is also well-stocked with “the classics,” which surely includes Stravinsky, Bach, and Beethoven, but probably also features Sam The Sham, the Beatles, and Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over, Beethoven.” And hey, I’m not complaining. I mean, yeah, I think it’s kinda slimy that this cat who’d love to ban all music that doesn’t agree with his personal philosophy has access to all those free CDs when the segment of our population who most needs to be educated and informed about music and art—the youth—are ensnared in an evil corporate web of plasticized, placebo R&B, gutless, vapid rawk, and porn-laden poo pop. But on the other hand, my interest was piqued by the thought of G.W. kickin’ it with sycophantic, sourball-sucking sidekick Ari Fleischer in some secret, black-light equipped room and crankin’ out the tunes.
'Joe Frank.' Uh huh huh huh huh. Uh huh huh.
Of course, the notion of music in the White House is nothing new—every Prez from Washington through Clinton tried their best to at least give the appearance of concern about the loudest of the arts. It wasn’t until JFK brought Camelot to those hallowed halls in the early ’60s, though, that an administration actively involved itself in current music and entertainment. Everybody knows the story of Marilyn Monroe crooning “Happy Birthday” to Jack, but while researching this column, I found some even more interesting anecdotes about the Kennedy family’s attempts to “groove in” with the times in a piece called “Music At The White House” by Elise K. Kirk, a few of which got me to thinkin’ about the hilarious tales we’ll surely one day hear about G.W.’s musical faux pas—that is, if the country, and the world, are still here to talk about it. Here’s a sampler:
*With all their innovative finesse, the Kennedys, like other presidents and their wives, had their share of criticism. Objections were made to “twisting in the historic East Room” to the vigorous beat of Lester Lanin’s orchestra. While the president did “NOT,” as the press emphasized, dance the twist, he did go in to get a look at the new fad. Twenty-six-year-old Andrew Burden, who had the reputation of doing “the best Twist in New York Society,” showed the president how it was done. Kennedy however, preferred to dance the more conservative steps...”
*There was more criticism of the “finger-snapping, sweatshirt-and-sneakers jazz ballet,” performed in Jerome Robbins’s Ballet USA, however, than of any social dancing at the White House. Robert Prince’s snappy New York Export, Op. Jazz, was presented for the Shah and empress of Iran after a state dinner, on April 11, 1962. A slightly flabbergasted reporter from the Washington Star wrote that the “hipswinging, torso-tossing” Robbins choreography at times seemed rather strong stuff to be serving up to visiting royalty.
*The accusation by Republican Representative William E. Miller in October 1963 that “Sinatra types were infesting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” was mere mud-slinging, however. Frank Sinatra’s intense loyalty in top political arenas is legend. Labeled “a skinny kid who looked like he still had milk on his chin,” the crooner’s first association with the presidency was in 1944, when he had tea at the White House with FDR. He also backed Truman and Adlai Stevenson and later Nixon and Reagan, but with his endorsement of John F. Kennedy’s campaign in 1960 came real political power-or so it seemed. Sinatra participated generously in Kennedy’s inaugural gala, the “super-benefit of all time” despite a snow storm that left rows of empty seats and forced Leonard Bernstein, who had been marooned in a stalled car with Bette Davis, to conduct his “Fanfare of Inauguration” in a shirt two sizes too big.
But it was not long afterward that the Kennedys cooled in their attitude toward Sinatra, mainly because of his alleged Mafia connections, a rejection Sinatra never quite got over. He tried to produce a recording of the inaugural program for a price of $15 a copy which, he said, “should bring us some loot,” but nothing came of it. The White House was edgy that the notorious “Rat Pack” was making its nest in the great mansion. And while Sinatra attended a luncheon at the White House on September 18, 1961, which included Peter Lawford (the president’s brother-in-law), Walter Pidgeon, Franchot Tone, and Henry Fonda, a White House memo of this date indicates a snub may have been more in order; “Frank Sinatra is also coming. Tish said there was no way she could keep from asking him as he was in Peter Lawford’s room when she called him about the luncheon.
Kennedy’s connections with the Rat Pack notwithstanding, G.W.’s recent fawning over dope-addled heavy metal godfather Ozzy Osbourne has to take the prize for sheer, ballsy hypocrisy. I mean, come on, the mumbling, incontinent shrieker was once deported back to his native England after pissing on The Alamo—do we really believe that a rabidly loyal Texan like G.W. could ever forgive such a trespass? I think not. And I really doubt if Bush and Fleischer are diggin’ deep into the Ozman’s back catalog—tunes like “War Pigs” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” would hit just a little too close to home. Naw, G.W. is more comfy hosting safe, toothless acts like slick city blues-man B.B. King and, I’m sure—whether it’s been publicized or not—pretentious little un-jazzers like Kenny G. Hell, even Sixties holdout Eric Clapton’s played the White House—though I can’t for the life of me figure out why, when he works with cool musicians like Duane Allman, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and John Lee Hooker, they die, but when he works with dorks like N’ Sync and Gloria Estefan, they live forever. That’s some %@!#$&ed-up mojo for a dude they once called “God.” Not that I wish harm on anyone, but let’s be real—I could live with one less BackStreet Boy if SRV was still pickin’ an’ kickin’.
But I digress—the rest of my Bush/Fleischer black-light-rock-room fantasy includes the pair spending an evening pawing through the official White House CD Collection and learning to use the Official White House CD burner to put together G.W.’s first Official White House Mix. Of course, neither know the first thing about “good music,” so one should assume that, (A) most of their picks would be “oldies,” or artists they recognize, (B) some of their picks would be purely because of the CD cover art, and (C) Ozzy Osbourne would not be among their choices. Here’s Round The Dial’s Fantasy Bush Mix CD List, with able imaginary help from that weasel Ari Fleischer:
“CURIOUS GEORGE LEARNS TO BURN, VOL. 1”:
1. “Take The Money And Run” by The Steve Miller Band. G.W. experiences a cocaine flashback listening to this slick, over-produced ’70s chartbuster, and crumbles into fits of hysterical laughter. When he recovers, he tells Fleischer to “Get Homeland Security on the phone—tell Ashcroft to put out an APB on that-there Billy Joe an’ Bobby Sue...” and that he “...really, really likes that Miller kid’s rock ’n’ roll vest.” Fleischer hides the disc before G.W. spots “The Joker” and demands the karaoke machine be brought out.
2. “Jesus Entering From The Rear” by The Feederz. G.W. has no idea who The Feederz are, but loves the album cover—a compilation disc called “Let Them Eat Jelly Beans” featuring a glorious photo of Uncle Ronnie Reagan—and song titles like “Police Story” (Black Flag), “Nazi Punks—%@!#$& Off” (The Dead Kennedys), and “Persecution—That’s My Song” (BPeople). Besides, every good mix should have at least one Jebus song—when you’re busy destroying the world, ya gotta cover yer ass.
3. “Don’t Pull Your Love (Out On Me Baby)” by Hamilton, Joe Frank, And Reynolds. Fleischer recommends this one, telling G.W. that he can play it for his “Saudi friends, in the hopes that they’ll continue to support the manifest destiny of this great land...” G.W. just thinks the name “Joe Frank” is funnier than %@!#$&, and will proceed to drive his staff, political cronies, and Laura completely up the wall in the coming weeks by repeating the name at the most inappropriate times and—you guessed it—crumbling into fits of hysterical laughter. Example: “Ladies and gentlemen, members of the German government, we’re here today to commemorate the horrific loss of civilian life due to firebombing during WW2 here at the former site of the Dresden Sausage And Frankfurter Company—say, do you folks think there was ever a fella working there named JOE FRANK? HA! HA! HA!”
4. “Rockin’ In The Free World” by Neil Young. Fleischer, recalling Young’s bizarre support of the Reagan administration, urges Bush to include the acoustic version of the Canadian-born singer/songwriter’s scathing portrait of violence and societal breakdown on the Mix “...in case some of those dumbass liberals who voted Republican this time around wanna hear some granola rock.” Bush has no idea what he’s talking about, but likes the line, “We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand...” so the tune stays.
5. “Let’s Talk About Me” by Toby Keith. G.W. really, really, really likes Nashville No-Neck singer Toby Keith. So much so, in fact, that he’s got copies of Keith’s ubiquitous TV commercial appearances on a special DVD, which he plays on Air Force One while drinking non-alcoholic beer and pinching the asses of half-crocked female network reporters who don’t appreciate the attention. Keith, however, does appreciate the attention, but has no idea this Bush is a different Bush from the Bush who was in the White House back when he was a large woman from Akron, Ohio, who followed Kenny Rogers around on tour. But hey, he’ll gladly talk about him—er, her—if ya wanna.
6. “North To Alaska” by Johnny Horton. G.W. wants to adopt this one as his administration’s official “Black Gold Rush” theme, and play it over Bogen loudspeakers while work-starved Texan oil riggers set up gigantic, dinosaur-like wells over the top of some of America’s last remaining nature preserves. His second choice, Soul Asylum’s “Black Gold,” gets dumped when Fleischer tells him that SA frontman Dave Pirner once dated “that skanky, doper shoplifter Winona Ryder...” Bush, afraid Pirner will get his hands on his daughters, has the Minneapolis band’s entire catalog deleted from the White House library. Pirner, who reportedly has the same reaction to the name “Ari Fleischer” that G.W. has to “Joe Frank,” couldn’t be reached for comment.
7. “Heart Attack” by Olivia Newton-John. G.W. isn’t actually moved much by Newton-John’s music, but relishes the thought of remotely cranking this track up to 10 on VP Dick Cheney’s Air Force 2 headphones while shouting, “JOE FRANK! JOE FRANK! HA! HA! HA!” Fleischer makes a mental note to direct the White House physician to up G.W.’s daily dose of Xanax.
8. “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything” by Barry White. King George doesn’t really “get” soul, R&B, or funk, but knows that everytime Barry White’s voice comes booming out of some TV burger chain commercial, Laura scampers to the bathroom and then comes back to bed ten minutes later ready to “romp with lil’ George...” G.W. makes a mental note to only play this track around her once a month. A fella doesn’t want to interrupt the “swing of things,” now does he?
9. “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone. G.W.’s first 45, bought for him by Uncle Strom Thurmond’s secretary back when the boy still had a drinkin’ problem. Georgie still loves Debby for her quote, “I was a teenage coffee addict. Once I started, I wanted it always...it was such a great high. Sometimes I couldn’t write my name on a check because my hands were shaking so much. Finally, I decided to go cold turkey.”
10. ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” by Steely Dan. G.W. digs this one because ,(A) it gently reminds him that other people are slow-witted, lazy, and forgetful too, and (B) because he can identify with Steely Dan’s album title, Pretzel Logic, which he takes to mean that “...logically, anyone can manage to choke on a tiny piece of soft pretzel and nearly die, and anyway, that’s not the stupidest thing a sitting president has ever done.” When Fleischer suggests G.W. follow it with Supertramp’s “The Logical Song,” Bush balks because he thinks they’re making fun of him with the line, “One-two-three-five!” “I can count, Ari.” He says with furrowed brow. “It’s readin’, writin’, spellin’, and talkin’ that I have a hard time with—you know that!”
So there ya go, folks. An imaginary peek inside the black-light equipped musical inner sanctum of the Bush administration, and some pure-dee heavy insights into the working relationship between G.W. and his little buddy, Fleischer (who also moonlights as Milhaus’ dad on Fox-TV’s The Simpsons). Of course, it’s all fantasy—everybody knows that Norm Coleman actually puts together Bush’s CD Mixes, and that there’s nothing but Joe McCarthy speeches interspersed with cuts from Dave Matthews, Phish, and James Taylor on them discs. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he? Until next time, make yer own damn news.
If you have music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to complain that G.W. hasn’t put your band’s songs on his Mix CD yet, send replies to TMygunn777@aol.com or someone who gives a damn.