Thanks to President Barack Obama, January-February 2009 has been a great time for American popular music. It’s well known he’s got big ears.Â But Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and Herbie HancockÂ at theÂ Lincoln Memorial, Aretha Franklin singing at the Inauguration, Paul Simon and Esperanza Spaulding among those paying tribute to Stevie Wonder, winner of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize — who himself tore it up on “Superstition” and “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” — Â at the WhiteÂ House!?! What other U.S. leader has so valued and spotlit our internationally popular vernacular music?
W. seems to have been as tone deaf to music as to public policy — he certainly didn’t do much to exploit one of our country’s most powerful arts-for-export.Bill Clinton plays tenor saxÂ badly,Â digsÂ othersÂ who do it better and remains a deeplyÂ soft-rock kinda guy,
The composer labored hard toÂ give full effect to his weird production; his bald pate bobbed from side to side, Â and shone like a bubble on the surface of a calm lake. At times his shoulders would be raised to the line of his ears, and his knees went up to the keyboard, Â while the perspiration rolled in large drops down his wrinkled cheeks.
The ladies stared at the maniac musician, as they, doubtless, thought him, and theÂ president scratched his head, as if wondering whether wicked spirits were notÂ Â rioting in the cavern of mysterious sounds and rebelling against the laws ofÂ acoustics. The composer labored on, occasionally explaining someÂ incomprehensible passage, representing, as he said, the breaking up of the frozenÂ river Niagara, the thaw of the ice, and the dash of the mighty falls.Â Peace andÂ plenty were represented by soft strains of pastoral music, while the thunder of ourÂ naval war-dogs and the rattle of our army musketry told of our prowess on seaÂ and land. Â Â
The inspired composer had got about half-way through his wonderful productionÂ when Mr.Â Tyler restlessly arose from his chair, and placing his hand gently onÂ Heinrich’s shoulder, said;Â “That may all be very fine, sir, but can’t you play us a good old Virginia reel?” Â
Had a thunderbolt fallen at the feet of the musician, he could not have been moreÂ astounded.Â He arose from the piano, rolled up his manuscript, and, taking his hatÂ and cane, bolted towards the door, exclaiming; Â “No sir; I never plays dance music!”Â
Fortunately, Stevie Wonder has no such qualms. President Obama and his charming First Lady sat in the front row holding hands, maybe bobbing heads and shoulders as Wonder and ensemble funked it up, but the notably young and pan-ethnic White House staff, as seen on the PBS broadcast, was movin’ hips/with a feeling/from side to side. Could this spectacle possibly disconcert any American with life still in ’em? Isn’t it a glorious, immediate manifestation of the stimulus package?