In his facebook status my friend wondered about my reaction to the Inaugural Music. Here’s what I’ve got so far: and now with more commentary!
First music of the day. At 11:35 am, the Times Live Blog reports that the “brass band picks up as if to drown out the boos” when Bush and other Republican leaders join the crowd on the dias. They play “Hail to the Chief” for the last time during a Bush administration. (Please, god.)
After the start of official proceedings, the Times Live Bloggers report: “Aretha Franklin took the stage and overwhelmed the audience with a version of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” She was set off in a dove gray outfit, topped by a bold chapeau with a giant bow edged in what we assume are rhinestones.” I love that they wrote “chapeau.” They’re so prissy, even on their toes. I thought, and I know I’m not alone, that she was not in good voice. Flat, is how I would describe it, although you’d never know it, to read the Times. And although I actually liked the arrangement, her delivery left me wanting. Here’s the deal: Aretha has lived too long to be a real person effectively inhabiting her persona. That is, her performances are bound to fail as musical performances. With enough nostalgia (et cetera) one can find them quite satisfying, as persona performances. (‘Persona performances’ as in: I was on 23rd street and who did I see but ARETHA FRANKLIN. It was crazy! There she was, just getting into a car, as if she wasn’t ARETHA FRANKLIN!) It is the magnitude of her contributions that has caused the problem. If she were just a little less important to the nation–especially in moments like this–she might could pull it off.
Then, “A classical piece by John Williams is now being performed by one of the most extraordinary quartets ever assembled – Itzhak Perlman on violin, Yo Yo Ma on cello, Garbriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet.” A friend texts me: “could the musical ensemble look any more like a Benetton commercial? they got the woman, the jew, the black guy and the asian. i think the hispanics are going to feel left out (unless the woman is latina)”. And, in fact, she is Venezuelan-born. The piece, “Air and Simple Gifts” is composed by John Williams who based the song on the “familiar” 19th century Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” by Joseph Brackett. People will describe this piece as “familiar” because it earlier appeared in Copland’s ballet Appalachian Spring and you’re supposed to have gone to this one, or at least left PBS on in the background while you did your taxes. I thought this was a pretty moving bit of music, and I’m pretty sure it was the reason my TA was weeping quietly, next to me. But I kept thinking: won’t the instruments shrink? How do you get the strings to work right? Isn’t it too cold for classical?
Later, after the oath of office, Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, (co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Dr. King and pastor of Atlanta’s oldest predominantly Black United Methodist congregation) gave his benediction. As Jay has already noted, there was a musical reference in the ending of his remarks. ***ACK*** [See below] The song appears in a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film called Swing Time, and served as the theme song for the short lived variety show The Johnny Carson Show (1955-6). And I have no idea why that reference was apropos of the moment. Help?
Finally, we had the Navy Sea Chanters leading us all in a round of “Star Spangled Banner.” You may know them because they performed at the ceremony celebrating the return of the Iran hostages. Or…maybe not. I know I’m supposed to like men in uniforms, but singing? I would’ve preferred a sea chanty, honestly. Wouldn’t that be more fun, as a national anthem? “Yo ho ho, America!”?
After the ceremony, the time has come for the Bushes to leave. While their helicopter takes off, the crowd chants, “Na Na Na Na/Na Na Na Na/Hey Hey Hey/Good-bye.” Of course, this song (technically, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”, Steam, 1969) is best known as a crowd anthem among White Sox fans, and the Bananarama version that was a Top 10 hit in the UK despite (a) not breaking the Top 100 in the U.S. and (b) being a b-side. I think Dave Grazian’s next book will have a networked longitudinal exegesis of this song, or was it the one by Led Zeppelin? Anyway, now you’ll buy his book.
“Ruffles and Flourishes” is played for the Bidens as they enter the lunch. Ruffles are played on drums, and flourishes are played on bugles. So, “Ruffles and Flourishes” isn’t a song as much as it is a kind of percussionary tourettes. And then, “Hail to the Chief” is played for the first time for President Obama. I personally think this song deserves an album of cover versions. I’d like one each from Randy Newman, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Carole Channing….er….
AND LET ME SAY JUST ONE MORE THING:
I frankly don’t have the ability to do soup-to-nuts inauguration concert coverage (this bitch works for a living), but I need to tell you just one thing more:
The performance by Beyonce of “At Last” was simply beautiful. Stunning. It was love.
OKAY ONE MORE THING:
Let’s not let Shakira sing covers anymore, m’kay? Because this train wreck cover of “Bright Side of the Road” is suggestive of an acid trip at a State Fair circus performance. I keep throwing up, but I can’t tell if the problem is what is going in, or what is coming out. And this “sing along” interlude isn’t helping. Even the gospel chorus members are looking at one another like, “Is this happening? Really?”
MAYBE THIS IS GETTING BORING, BUT…
Joe Biden and Dr. Biden dancing to “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You”? I feel like they just carved out a little part of my heart, covered it in sugar, and set it out for the bees.
AND AND AND
Who is it that buys Faith Hill albums? Because I’d like to have a word with you. Actually, I just saw them. They’re those 20-something drunk Washington staffers who were howling the lyrics. If my heart had wings? Are you serious? If your heart had wings, it would fly out and come to my house, where we only listen to good music which features unfucking TRITE SIMILES.
Ah. Now I see the problem. OBAMA was the dude who included a reference to the Dorothy Fields song, linked in my earlier post and which appeared in the film. Prof. Rev. Lowry was citing an old phrase, turned into a song, and which was repeated to me as: “If you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re brown, stick around. But if you’re black, get back.” I really, really appreciate the help with this.