From the pages of

Taking The Country (Music) For A Ride
by Martin Lewis
(First published January 12, 2001)

Music is one of the most important elements in our lives. Who we like says so much about us. When we throw a party we are usually careful to select music that projects the image we want others to perceive. It's the sort of thing that leads baby-boomers to put on sophisticated-sounding jazz and hide their dog-eared Melanie albums when cynical friends come around - and causes kids to blast the latest Eminem CD loudly. (Theory: Most kids don't actually like Eminem's raps as much as they like the revulsion it produces in adults.)

That is why the music selected for inaugurations is so crucial. It sets the artistic tone for the following four years. And on that basis - Dubya will be off to a stolidly mainstream start.

For starters he has taken a "Man Show" attitude to that wimpy poetry stuff that is so popular with liberals. Where JFK's swearing-in was capped by a poem read by Robert Frost - and Clinton had Maya Angelou reading poignant stanzas - Dubya regards poems as the 'chick-flick' element of the inauguration - and he has nixed poetry in favor of all-American music. After Bush takes the oath, a choir of 97 Kentucky school kids will warble "Battle Hymn Of The Republic," "America The Beautiful" and the promising-sounding "Elijah Rocks" - all backed up by the Marine Corps Band. If that sounds traditional - that's intentional. This inauguration aims to be the musical equivalent of comfort foods such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The long national nightmare suffered by conservatives for the past eight years is over - and music says that best.

He was country when country wasn't cool (the first time)

The first big musical statement comes next Thursday at the now standard open-air Inaugural Concert by the Lincoln Memorial.

The eclectic list of artists already announced for the show include country stalwarts Brooks & Dunn and Clint Black, Margaret Thatcher's favorite composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber, "two fifths of the 5th Dimension" (no word on the other three fifths) - all topped off with a performance by Latin hunk Ricky Martin.

(By contrast in 1996 super-producer Quincy Jones assembled performers ranging from Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Michael Stipe and Ruben Blades to Harry Belafonte,Tony Bennett and Diana Ross. Music critics will draw their own conclusions.)

But it's in the official and unofficial inaugural balls that the musical choices really start to make a statement.

Las Vegas on the Potomac

High on Dubya's list of favorites is Vegas fixture Wayne Newton who will serenade the President with his rendition of "Danke Schoen."

A slew of big bands have been lined up to play for Republicans who want to cut the rug. And as if to underscore the President-elect's warnings of a recession in the offing - many of the bands offer a welcome link to the comforts of the Great Depression. How can Alan Greenspan and House members who are reluctant to go along with a trillion dollar tax cut - fail to be moved by hearing the familiar strains of the Tommy Dorsey and Guy Lombardo Orchestras? And the Illinois State Society ball on Friday night will make even the oldest member of Bush's seasoned cabinet feel sprightly and young. The Illinois celebration features the musical stylings of the Lester Lanin Orchestra. Lanin is a contemporary of 97-year old Strom Thurmond - and has played at every Presidential inauguration since Eisenhower's 1953 bash.

By far the glittziest ball and the one over-brimming with name musicians is the already sold-out Texas Society 'do' the night before the inaugural ceremony. The "Black Tie 'N' Boots Ball" has already been upgraded from bipartisan state society event to an official Inauguration Ball - and it claims bragging rights to a who's who of country music. While headline writers may wish to have fun with captions juxtaposing the words "George Bush" and "Asleep At The Wheel" - there is no doubt that the appearance by this popular country band will be a highlight. Also scheduled to appear are country music's Sonny & Cher - Clint Black & Lisa Hartman, robust patriot Lee Greenwood ("God Bless The USA") and country's own badgirl Tanya Tucker - who was behaving badly while Madonna was still behaving nicely.

Topping the bill will be quirky country-lad Lyle Lovett. Though there is a spirit afoot of reconciliation and mending broken fences - Republicans will be relieved that Lovett is not planning to bring his ex-wife Julia Roberts as his date. At a Gore fundraiser in New York in September the former Mrs. Lyle Lovett announced publicly the results of her etymological discovery that "Republican" was nestled near "repulsive" and "repugnant" in the dictionary.

It's not only familiar star names who will be performing at the balls. The Texas bash also lists less celebrated musical acts such as the Wildcat Wranglers and The Texas Two Bits.

The Big Tent includes... Roger Clinton!

If you hate country music, Washington will not the place to be during inaugural week - and possibly not for the next four years. Where Clinton presided over a White House that seemed to be an open house to rock 'n' rollers and musicians of color - especially soul and R&B singers - Bush seems to have attracted every performer who ever entered the Grand Ole Opry. The Tennessee state party boasts Travis Tritt, Hank Williams Jr. Ricky Skaggs and the Oak Ridge Boys. A lone hold out is the Arkansas State Ball which is bravely offering a performance by Roger Clinton. I hope he has a bodyguard and a thick skin. That will be one tough crowd.

Of course it's not just the parties and balls which present music. The Inaugural parade features over 30 marching bands - ranging from high school ensembles to military corps bands. The two hour parade will be a never-ending medley of Texan-themed tunes. If you're not fed up with the "Yellow Rose Of Texas" after hearing it played by 15 assorted bands - you never will be.

There are also several ancillary events featuring music. A Political Arts Festival taking place during the week includes a charity night at DC's Felix Lounge where several artists including Washington band Wax will deliver politically-themed tunes. And the hottest unofficial party of the week - the Creative Coalition's "First Party" on Saturday night, has snagged ex-Springsteen Max Weinberg (now bandleader for Conan O'Brien) to provide music. Given the stellar lineup of musicians who regularly support the bipartisan organization - there are already rumors circulating of superstar jams at that invitation-only event.

Luckily, Dubya's no musician

There are a couple of disappointments for music fans. Firstly there is unlikely to be an equivalent to Bill Clinton playing the sax at his own inauguration. Clinton was the first musical President since the piano-playing Richard Nixon - though unlike the reticent Nixon he was shameless enough to blow his horn in public. Bush has not claimed musical proficiency in any instrument - and we will not see him getting on stage wearing Ray Bans to strut his musical stuff.

Secondly - this inauguration will not have one defining musical moment such as the sight and sound of Fleetwood Mac playing Clinton's 1992 campaign theme "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." The success of that song in Clinton's election bid led to the estranged group burying its differences and reforming especially for the Inaugural.

The most popular tune played at campaign rallies during George W. Bush's long march to the White House was Gary Glitter's 1972 classic (often heard at American sports stadiums) "Rock And Roll - Part Two" Alas if the President-elect had any plans to invite Glitter to perform his song in person in the style of Fleetwood Mac's January 1993 appearance - they could not be realized. The British pioneer of glam rock has a previous engagement in an English prison for possession of kiddie porn. One expects that the music Dubya will use in his expected 2004 presidential campaign will be by a good ole country star - more likely to be available to perform at his hoped-for second inauguration.

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