Mojo

Funky President?


What did the music at hisinauguration tell us about Obama? By MOJO's Mick Farren...

An ancientPete Seeger, accompanied by Bruce Springsteen, helped close last weekend'sInaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial with Woody Guthrie's "This LandIs Your Land," and he sung it in full, including every last one of Woody'spolitically charged but rarely heard verses. The song was apt for a countryscared witless about another Great Depression, and investing monumental FDRhope in their new president. Seeger, Springsteen, and U2 joining the marchingmilitary and the politicians in black overcoats, amid the epic architecture ofWashington, also made clear that people with electric guitars are now, underObama, fully part of American pomp and circumstance.

Springsteenalso opened the Lincoln Memorial show, setting the tone for this newly bestowedrocker gravitas, and doing it in minus-zero temperatures. A frozen Bruce, withhis guitar, his own overcoat, and a hundred-plus gospel choir, treated theInaugural Celebration as if it was US-Aid--America throwing a giant benefitconcert to make itself feel better.

Freezingbut with a sense of history, Jon Bon Jovi turned puce in his hoodie, Mary J.Blige performed professionally in snakeskin boots and a $5000 pea coat, JamesTaylor entered like a Cossack with a Stratocaster, Sheryl Crow did the bikergirl, while Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder simply looked frozen. Usherresembled a hip banker facing a cold day on Wall Street, but Will.i.amapparently didn't feel the chill. Garth Brooks' cowboy hat kept him warm, buthis cover of American Pie failed to impress the president. Obama also wasn'tamused by Bono's overacting during "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and hishistrionic reference to the bloodshed in Gaza.

But what ofthe star of this show, Barack Obama himself? Where Jack Kennedy hung withSinatra, and Bill Clinton was all-Elvis-all-the-time, Barack is tough todefine. He was on his feet and swaying for Stevie Wonder, but he's no rocker.At each of the many inaugural balls, Obama danced with his wife Michelle "oldskool" to the slow torch song "At Last." Facing a crowd, Barack is cool,ultra-controlled, and hard to assess. It took Jamie Foxx's spot-on impressionof his victory speech in Chicago'sGrant Park on election night fully to reveal his vocal dynamic.

BarackObama delivers his carefully crafted words in short precise bursts, three, fiveor seven at a clip. He lifts the crowd with rising crescendos, but afterwardsdrops away to let the listener think about what he's said. If anything hisstyle is measured, articulate be-bop, and a jazz connection may not be as oddas it sounds. When I first saw Obama at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, I noted the sharpness of his suits, and wasreminded of the young, pre-Afrocentric Miles Davis.

Obama'sinauguration speeches have been darker, without the utopian optimism of thecampaign. Now he's asking for sacrifices from his audience and that's not easyfor an entertainer. Barack Obama, however, isn't an entertainer. He's thepresident who must save America'ssorry and damaged Union, and, charm andcharisma not withstanding, that dire responsibility made him the star aboveeven Bruce and Bono.

Musicfiends! Check out MOJO4music.com. Oh, and Mick Farren blogs at Doc40.blogspot.com

View Comments