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January 25, 2001

The Column That Wasn't
Inaugural parties don't mean shit ... and that's just fine by me

By Mike Haney

This week's column was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be a no-brainer. I mean, c'mon, an inauguration party for George Bush had to be filled with lame music acts. The guy is a boring hick. He quit doing coke. He doesn't drink anymore. His vice president has such a weak heart he's physically incapable of being anything but dull.

Bush is from Texas, the state where everything that's not Texan doesn't really count, including its beloved cowboy music.
And Bush is from Texas, the state where everything that's not Texan doesn't really count, including its beloved cowboy music. Sure there's bohemian Austin, the city that hosts the annual South By Southwest music fest that's spawned such decidedly non-country local acts as Fastball and Sister 7. But Austin is also the state capitol, so even when you're stumbling out of the Jungle Brothers show on Sixth Street, you're still right under the shadow of ten gallon hat conservatives.

It stood to reason, then, that Mr. Texas was bound to throw what northern elitists like me would consider a ripe-for-the-rippin' country-fried inaugural party, chock full of tear-in-my-beer songs and sporting more sequined shirts and tight jeans than us Yanks can bear.

The plan was simple: rip Dubya a new one for throwing such a worthless, out-of-touch inauguration celebration, and then reminisce back to the good old days, when sax-wielding MTV president Bill Clinton really knew how to throw a party. I was sure further research would show how forward-thinking and hip Bill was in his inauguration entertainment, how he really did have his finger on the pulse of the nation's youth. (So much so, in fact, that he would never even use clichéd phrases like "finger on the pulse of the nation's youth.")

With that contrast established, I would launch into a quasi-academic argument about how the incoming president's inauguration entertainment choices are an insightful glimpse into how he will run his administration. And surely with a few simple clicks around the Internet I could dig up at least one or two other historical examples of this phenomenon ... prove how solid this theory was; make myself look real smart. Yessirree, she was a fine plan.

And then the truth fucked me.

Sure, his official and unofficial balls all around the nation were heavily cast with hillbilly entertainers, from modern stalwarts like Brooks & Dunn to senior citizens like the Oak Ridge Boys. And maybe that alone should have been enough to prove my point about Bush being lame. Country music is always an easy target, especially on a site that posts Chill Out album reviews.

But what about the rest of the acts? Ricky Martin and ZZ Top. Wayne Newton and Jessica Simpson, 98 Degrees and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the goddamn Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and Destiny's Child. Something was amiss.

A look at Clinton's past festivities revealed the same odd mish-mash of entertainers. In 1997, his entertainment ran the generational spectrum, from Tony Bennett to Bob Dylan to Michael Stipe. Even in 1993, when he was riding high on the youth vote, his biggest act was the reunited baby-boomer band Fleetwood Mac (a show that would have been monumentally cool any day other than the one that followed eight months of utter abuse of their song Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow during Clinton's campaign.)

And then it hit me: Bill didn't have his finger on the pulse of anything, and Dubya was no worse than the rest.
And then it hit me: Bill didn't have his finger on the pulse of anything, and Dubya was no worse than the rest.

The musicians that herald a new administration aren't reflective of what the new president actually listens to and therefore can't be an accurate indication of how he'll perform in office the next four years. If they were, surely 2 Live Crew would have headlined at least one of the Clinton balls. Rather, inaugurations are simply a new president's one last lavish effort to get everyone behind him as he starts the new job.

And while that truth screws me out of an effortless column, it does give me hope for the next four years. Not because Bush asking Destiny's Child to perform means that he's really in touch with the hopes and struggles of America's hip-hoppin' youth, but because the fact that he asked Wayne Newton doesn't necessarily mean he isn't.

If those choices mean anything, it's that despite his own affinity for hillbilly music, he recognizes that he serves more than just Texans now. It is a testament that even a man from the most arrogant southern state in the union will put up with a little R&B if that's what the kids are listening to nowadays. The only honest conclusion I could reach from this last weekend's events is that like his predecessors, Bush didn't let his musical preferences taint his first duty in office.

Now I'm an arrogant prick who doesn't care to have his half-informed arguments disproven, but this is one I'm glad I got wrong. Imagine the consequences if my theory had been right, and worse, if George really was in touch with the current music scene.

Would you really want to see Dubya rollin' down Pennsylvania Avenue smokin' endo sippin' on gin and juice?
Think of the terrifying domestic policy that would be born from a president who's already in the pocket of the NRA if he also enjoyed staying up late at night to thrash out to Break Stuff. Or how much anti-discrimination legislation would be vetoed by a chief executive who thought Eminem was "brilliant" and Dre was a god. Would you really want to see Dubya rollin' down Pennsylvania Avenue smokin' endo sippin' on gin and juice? (Well, maybe once, but after that it might get a little pathetic.)

Can you imagine Dick Cheney telling Democrats they were going to make him lose his mind, up in heah, up in heah? Or Colin Powell briefing the press on the latest peacekeeping efforts while aides belted "Who Let The Dogs Out?"

It would be ugly indeed, but chances are good that George Bush wouldn't catch a single one of those references, and that's okay. I didn't vote for him, and I don't share his musical tastes, but I'm afraid I just can't rip him this week.


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