we are one
18 January, 2009
The last time I heard Fanfare for the Common Man, I was closing down Shea Stadium. Today, it was fitting and appropriate and elegant to open this performance in tribute and in celebration of the incoming administration. Fanfare for the Common Man is perfect because it is dramatic and brief and clears the palate, it sets the tone, it invokes solemnity, it invokes purpose.
The efficiency of the HBO-produced show took me by surprise, and after the President and Vice Present Elects had taken their seats and the stage facade slide open to display a choir, I was not expecting to see Bruce Springsteen on that stage already. My immediate thought was OMG BRUCE + GOSPEL CHOIR and then, selfishly, thankgoodnessitsnotmoreoftheusual, likeLOHADonacousticguitar. I am a snob, I know. I am demanding, I know. But I am also well entitled to expect the best from one of the legends of American rock and roll, and today we got it. “The Rising,” transformed into its fullest potential, a hymn of hope and salvation. It was stunning. It was magnificent.
But, wait – it was the first song in the show??
“Don’t worry,” said the boyfriend, who had run into an unfortunate spoiler of the dress rehearsal online, “He’s coming back.”
Bettye Lavette can, clearly, sing anything. Love Reign O’er Me at the Kennedy Center Salutes was the best non-who interpretation of any who song, ever. Hearing Sam Cooke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, this song in particular, was making my frozen toes warm up… until her singing partner appeared onstage, I lost my breakfast and Sam Cooke turned over in his grave. As an anonymous poster in an online forum noted, ‘The only thing that could have improved this so-called ‘Bon Jovi duet’ was the absence of Bon Jovi”. His voice is fine, I know he did a lot for the Democrats, but everyone in that crowd wanted to hear the song about the robot horse or the one about baseball. Jon, take a lesson from Garth Brooks (more on that later).
Here’s the thing: there were just so many unexpected moments in a day I expected to slog through until the good parts. Copeland again, a live orchestra performing, Stevie Wonder singing Higher Ground – I mean, I couldn’t even hate Sheryl Crow today. Garth Brooks, however, kicked ass. He roused the crowd, he had a good time, he put on a show and had everyone in the crowd – and I do mean everyone, from the college kids who showed up because they live down the street to the grizzled ex-hippies proudly clutching video cameras – waving their arms and singing along to the improbable medley that was “American Pie” (not all of it, don’t worry) and “Shout”. Mellencamp earned his spot and did it right and looked great and sounded fantastic.
The readings between performances were to the point, brief and informative, the crowd attentive (seriously, you could have dropped a pin where we were standing, about 100 ft from the steps on the edge of the reflecting pool). And the moment I had come for took me by surprise, but I hear Samuel L. Jackson talking about Dr. King and being on these steps and I don’t hear the rest, apparently there was an actual introduction, but out there in the crowd, all of a sudden the stage backdrop parts and instantly there is Edge and then Larry on screen and Adam and there is Bono, and of course they slam into “Pride” and there is Bono singing about MLK on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the day before Martin Luther King’s birthday, and it is awe and goosebumps and joy and, indeed, pride, pride for this little rock band from Dublin who are playing their hearts out. I try to see the crowd in their eyes, stretching all the way down the mall, up the hill to the Washington Monument, and wonder what it feels like to them today, up there, in this moment, if they are as overwhelmed and overjoyed as I am right now.
I am oblivious to the rest of the crowd while trying to, in fact, film the crowd, because I am anticipating crowd participation that will dwarf, say, Live Aid, but there is no enormous communal singalong. I think in part that was due to the fact that everyone in our area had been there for hours, and was cold, and the audio delay between the stage and our location (even as close as we were). A little disappointing but nothing could take away what it was like to witness that moment for this band.
And then, we were hoping for more, and thinking it would be “Beautiful Day” and then delighted it was “City of Blinding Lights” – it fits, it fit as well as it did seeing them sing it at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge (only learning later that it was by specific request, even better), and we are doing our best imitation of geeky U2 fan crowd participation, not caring very much what anyone else thought at that moment, if anything feeling sad that they were depriving themselves of being in that moment with the band today.
Bono being Bono. Stalking the stage. Mischievously stepping up to one of the official podiums. Going for the camera on the crane, whose operator clearly forgot that This Was Bono before bringing it down and letting the cat play with the mouse. Given the constraints of the broadcast, i was delighted that he couldn’t leave it alone, that he had to cause a little trouble, bring a little U2-ness to the day.
And then it was over, and I am breathless, and glowing, and and my knees are warm again.
But then, the man we all came to hear – the crowd is chanting “O-ba-ma” while they were messing with the bald eagles – is speaking to us. This is where it was all overwhelming, where all of it came together, that on Tuesday the country will be changing, that we won the election, that so many terrible things will be coming to an end very soon. I did not get to dance in the street election night, and wanting to be part of this inauguration in some way was a big motivating factor to get us into the car and down to DC today. It wasn’t closure, you know, and there is still so much anger at the previous administration,- but today I didn’t fe but I felt finality, I felt some relief, I felt hopeful and optimistic.
Everyone today had on their party manners for the most part, the crowd of people near us were on their best behavior. No one talked inappropriately, not even during the readings or the other serious parts, and I will tell you with certainty that more people yak during Bruce Springsteen’s concerts who call themselves Bruce Springsteen fans than the people standing near us today. The crowd cheered Biden and Obama louder than they cheered the performers, or at least as loud. I know none of this is going to mean a damn thing if people go back home and don’t do something to help change the country, but I, for one, was heartened.
But not over, not really, before another choir and Bruce is back, this time with Pete Seeger, and we are going to sing “This Land Is Your Land,” dammit, we are going to sing every line of every verse, I love that this is the answer to “God Bless America” (because as we say in our house, God blesses Pakistan every bit as much as he blesses America), and everyone is going to come out to sing it with them. And this would be fine, you know, this would all be very good indeed, except it’s not, there is one more, and Beyonce is singing “America the Beautiful” in a manner that would have made Brother Ray proud.
Then it was time to gather our wits and our possessions and make our way off of the mall and out into the street and onto the Metro and back to the car and up 95 home to Brooklyn, one very long day behind us (we left that morning at 3:30am) and a memory more priceless than we ever imagined in our grasp.
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Tags: #inaug09 #dctrip09