Wednesday, January 12, 2005

No Thank Your For the Music

I know little about presidential inaugurations. I do know there's one due this month. I reckon there's going to be a parade in there somewhere, involving lots of marching bands. I think it's traditional that the president chooses someone rockier or poppier to wrap things up. For example, Bill Clinton chose Fleetwood Mac for one of his, and Bush senior gave the nod to the Beach Boys. I remember the following couplet from that event: 

I've got Bush vibrations
He's the one to lead the nation.

That's probably as good an explanation as any for why he was a one term president.

Now I like a lot of American music - rock, pop, country (if it's Johnny Cash), blues (especially if it's Tom Waits) soul, funk, jazz, and even industrial and hardcore. Marching bands - one form of music that American has made its own - isn't one of those genres. There's nothing wrong with them. It's just that I don't relate. I wasn't brought up in a culture where they were common - like say, high school football matches. They're extremely appropriate for Anzac remembrances, but that's just one day in the year. The sad thing is that I KNOW this country - with it's so-rich-it's-stinking musical tradition - is going to be represented at the inauguration by the the safest, most controversial, and (dare I say it) most boring musical style it has. It's tradition, I guess, and any move away from it would frighten some of the more impressionable people from the Red States. But still, it's a shame.

(Oh, it would be lovely if a president chose music that I really liked. For example, they could reform P-Funk and paint that White House Black. But life is pretty bland in the middle of Chocolate City - George Clinton's name for Washington, D.C.- and attempting such would be "courageous". In the Sir Humphrey meaning of the word.)

Still, there was no harm in learning, so I did a bit of searching. There's the Inauguration Website, although I found the "Biographies" page nauseating; I think it should have been called "Hagiographies". I also disliked the way they hijacked every semi-patriotic buzzword in naming the Balls. For example, we have the "CONSTITUTION BALL", the "FREEDOM BALL", the "INDEPENDENCE BALL", the "TEXAS WYOMING BALL", the "LIBERTY BALL", the "DEMOCRACY BALL" and the "PATRIOT BALL" - caps in the original. Or in Newspeak, "Conball", "Freeball", "Indeball", and so on. Wouldn't naming them after deceased presidents be a move of humility and decency becoming the event? Mind you, I'm curious about "AMERICA'S FUTURE ROCKS TODAY". As if they have a time machine build specially for basalt and granite.

Better coverage (both for the mind and the stomach) can also be found at The Guardian. But the thing that piqued my interest was this snippet on MSNBC:

Guy Hovis, a vocalist from Tupelo, Miss., who performed on the Lawrence Welk show, will sing, “Let the Eagles Soar,” a song written by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Now, I've been curious about the song even since I heard about it. It's been the subject of praise and scoffing (in unequal measures) for the best part of a year. I musn't judge without observation, so the first thing one does is to start with the lyrics:

Let the eagle soar,
Like she's never soared before.
From rocky coast to golden shore,
Let the mighty eagle soar.
Soar with healing in her wings,
As the land beneath her sings:
"Only god, no other kings."
This country's far too young to die.
We've still got a lot of climbing to do,
And we can make it if we try.
Built by toils and struggles
God has led us through.

Now, it's too easy to scoff. The metaphor of America as an "eagle" is a standard cliche. "Soar with healing in her wings" would be true in 1945, but not in 2005. Some of the atheists in the U.S. would be happier with the line "No gods nor other kings". Bonus points accrue to him for self-deception beyond the call of duty.

But it is heartfelt. Watch to the music for yourself. I admit, I was half dreading the pomp and bluster of a John Philip Sousa-wannabe. But to my (pleasant) surprise, it sounded like it would go down a treat in Vegas. The clip shows Ashcroft crooning along - eyes half closed - to his song. He can carry a tune, hold the notes, and there's enough projection to make it work. He was really getting into it.

Maybe I'm too easy on Ashcroft. Maybe my musical nerves have been dulled over the years. Or maybe they're under strain at the moment. As stated before, I had a promise of marriage ceremony last month. For the event, they produced a ceremonial VCD. And the producer decided to mix Richard fucking Marx into the soundtrack without asking me. The song he chose for this was the atrocity known as Right Here Waiting  - with more syrup than all the maples in Canada, and more oleaginous than Saudi Arabia's entire oil produce. It's the worst fucking song in the world. Maybe under the stress of it all, I am being too easy on Mr. Ashcroft.

But you must admit: he's a better singer than attorney-general.