Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Clinton and Bush Sr. face the music

Praise be to the Independent Film Channel (IFC) for recirculating a lot of great indie classics such as this.

One year after Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker (who also did Don't Look Back, Ziggy Stardust and Monterey Pop) came out with The War Room, a behind-the-scenes look at the Clinton campaign, focusing on his strategists. You couldn't find more diverse styles than James Carville (the Ragin' Cajun) and George Stephanopoulos (the demur boy, future White House spokesman and ABC News host). Though I'm a political junkie and note that the Democrats can definitely learn useful lessons for the '06 and '08 elections, I'm a music junkie too and note some poignant musical moments there also.

- After H. Ross Perot's concession speech, the music that he and his wife dance to is Patsy Cline's "Crazy." Carville and crew of course find this hilarious as they watch it on TV with Carville calling Perot's $60 million campaign "the biggest case of public masturbation in American history."

- After a TV interview, Republican consultant Mary Matlin shakin' it and singing (actually pretty well) "Hey Good Lookin'." Presumably, this was aimed at her love and rival Carville.

- Grateful Dead music blaring at one of Clinton's final campaign stops. Presumably, they DID inhale and the association had to be a sly joke on the pot controversy.

- Jerry Lee Lewis fan Jason D. Williams belting out a song at a rally (his bio says that he later played at the White House too), firming up Clinton's rock and roll connections.

And of course there's the Arsenio Hall performance where Clinton donned shades and belted out "Heartbreak Hotel" in another brilliant sop to the boomers. The performance itself wasn't very good but for cultural significance, it was defining. Once again, style overpowers substance.

And then there's Clinton's Democratic Convention appearance. In his 4500 word acceptance speech, these are the words, almost at the end, that you remember: "I still believe in a place called Hope," he says figuratively and literally (referring to his home town). And then the convention hall fills with gentle piano tones and a caressing string synthesizer as Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" begins. You couldn't ask for a better piece of political theatre. Even watching it today, it's very moving.

Who cares that Christine McVie almost certainly had no intention that it was a political song? Its context was wrapped in up the brutal emotional outpourings over perfect pop music that made up the Rumors album. But as you know, context is always up for grabs once a song is out in the market.

Not long after the Democratic Convention, Bush Sr. decided to take some cheeky shots at Clinton, playing the music card. Harping on his many stances on the political issues, Bush quipped that he (Clinton) was all over the place and there was more sightings of him than Elvis. Of course, the connection between the King and Gov. Bubba was already cementing in his favor and Poppa Bush was probably unknowingly playing into that. Bush I went on to say that after the November election, Clinton's theme song would be Buck Owen's "Crying Time." You have to wonder if Bush himself wasn't hearing that when HE lost that November.

When Clinton appeared at the Govenor's mansion in Arkansas to deliver his victory speech, the proceedings did in fact end with a song. It was the same Fleetwood Mac tune heard at the convention months earlier.


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