clap clap blog: we have moved

Wednesday, May 12, 2004
...and some people from The Sopranos, for some reason

Last night it was humid and hot. It rained and then stopped. It was generally unpleasant to be alive in NYC, and you'd think the last thing one would want to do would be cram into an old theater with a full house and no air conditioning.

But no, last night was awesome.


Because last night I went to the Apollo, and I saw a program featuring, among others, Bill Clinton and John Mellencamp. And it was awesome.

We'd heard about it a while back and decided to make the plunge--the tickets were a little pricey, but a) all proceeds went to an organization working to register low-income folks to vote, which is always nice, and b) it sort of sounded perfect. And oh, it was.

First off, the situation: 125th street really has been taken over; it's hard to feel too badass when you realize you're walking past an Old Navy. Keepin' it real. I waited outside for a while and quickly felt poorer than I have in quite some time, the event being a fundraiser, after all, and primarily attended by affluent-looking NY liberals.[1] And younger! I think me and my lovely companion were the youngest people there not brought by parents. It was kind of fun to wait outside[2], though--I saw this couple get out of a car, and the woman was foxxy, but the guy was wearing this heinous neon-green-and-purple shiny shirt under a jogging suit, and I thought, "Who's that dork with her?" Then I looked closer and thought, "Oh, it's Lou Reed. Hi, Lou!"[3][4]

The event itself basically got Right To The Clinton, after about four introductions from Rosie Perez, Willem Dafoe, a state senator from Harlem, and maybe someone else, although I might just be remembering when the stagehand came out and moved the podium so everyone could see. And then President[5] Clinton walked out.

He started speaking, and it was great. Great rhythm, great points, lotsa laugh lines. And then I looked down at the podium (had a good view of the top of it from the second balcony) and realized...he had no speech. Not even notes. And he spoke for a good 30, 40 minutes, and he used a whole lot of fairly specific statistics. And it all just flew. He started off by saying, too, that he'd been "locked in writer's jail" for the last two weeks, trying to finish his book, so this was like a furlough. That was funny, but it also suggests that he just came up with what he was going to say on the car ride down. Wow.

So what did he say? Well, he started off by mentioning that his office was two blocks away, and so he welcomed us to the neighborhood, which was all kinds of awesome. He talked about a guy who said, "They told me that if I supported your health care plan, my costs would go up. Well, I supported it, and they've sure gone up!" He talked about how we'd all been united after 9/11 and how, despite the thin margin of victory, it had been used as an excuse to drive the country to the right. "They saw our patriotism and took it as weakness," he said.[6]

He talked about the two stupid tax cuts, but one of the cool things was he didn't say "their tax cut," he kept saying "my tax cut" or "my $5,000," as in, "They took 300,000 kids out of after-school programs to protect my $5,000. Now they want to take another 1.2 million of the neediest children out of those programs." Pretty awesome. At one point he said, "You know, those people were so mean to me when I was in office, and now that I'm out all they can think about is protecting my $5,000!" He talked, too, about how the tax cut was pushed through at the expense of keeping cops on the street, of checking containers for hazardous materials...good stuff.

What else? Oh, his overarching theme was how easy it should be for Democrats to win the election. (He only mentioned Kerry once, but this was ostensibly a non-partisan event.) He laid out how we had 45% of the country already, and the Republicans had 45%, and so we just needed to focus on getting that 45% out to vote, and on capturing enough of the 10% undecided. He said that all we need to do is let people know what the administration has done by taking cops off the street, by abandoning needy children, by failing to protect us from terrorism, by getting our sons and daughters and friends and neighbors killed. He didn't mention Iraq very much, but in many ways, he didn't need to; I think he laid out a much-needed, and very convincing, case on how vulnerable Bush was on domestic issues.

I'm blanking on any more specifics, but suffice to say it was really amazing. He's just an incredible speaker, informal and intimate, warm, funny, and smart as fuckin' hell. I remember that he said, in the course of laying out his case for how easy it should be for Dems, that we don't need to be angry about it, because all we need to do is tell the truth. "Don't be venomous; smile; be glad."

After him followed...well, followed a lot of cheering and catching one's breath, and then (gasp!), John Mellencamp, who came out with an acoustic and did "Rockin' in the USA" by himself, then a song off his new album (forgot which one) with a violinist, then "Little Pink Houses" (!!!) with the violinist and three backup singers who walked in during the end of the last song, which is sort of how I want my life to go. How was it? It was fucking fantastic.

Then there were some speakers, none of whom were particularly noteworthy. I think the woman from Voices for Change came out and explained the organization, which sounds great, and then the two MoveOn people came out, and talked about their organization, which was funny because, as my lovely companion pointed out, they couldn't mention the, er, actual issue that started them off because, well, because the person it concerned had spoken previously in the evening. None of them were very engaging, but that's OK.

After they were done, Savion Glover came out, and I was like, oh no, Savion Glover, and he started to tap-dance, but then he did a routine that...well, I guess if I were a McSweeney's editor, I would title it "Savion Glover Hums 'The Star-Spangled Banner' While Pretty Much Going Completely Batshit With The Tapping." It was pretty great. Then Sandra Bernhard came out and tried to do some comedy and was pretty bad. And then Wyclef Jean came out with a three-piece band and did this great, weird set, in which he tried to get the whole crowd of aging affluent white liberals to dance, and succeeded, but...AT WHAT COST? Well, at the cost of me seeing a bunch of old sober people dance, which was awesome. I forget the first song he played, but then he played "If I Was President," and got us singing along, and then he played--swear to god--"Hot Hot Hot," the Caribbean classic once covered by Buster Poindexter. Again, it was awesome. It was like a 15-minute set, but he played the hell out of it.

Then Rosie came back out and did some shoutouts to celebs in the audience and I somehow managed not to yell "Tell Lou Reed to do Kung Fu!"[7] Then Black Eyed Peas came out and did a set that felt weird at first because all the other performers had interacted with the audience a lot, or at least felt like they were really responding to the room, whereas the Peas more felt like they were Doing Their Set. But everyone settled into it after a while, and it helped, of course, that they started off with "Hey Mama," which apparently involves the female Pea doing a lot of ass-shaking, and that was just fine. (Neither me nor my lovely companion had realized how hot she was. She is very hot.) And then they did "Where is the Love," of course, and that was fine. And then they brought Odessa, an older singer of African folk music[8], and they all did "We Shall Overcome" and all the aging hippies in the audience sang along and held hands and swayed, and the whole thing made me feel really uncomfortable, although I suppose I wasn't entirely happy with that reaction. Still, it was a little weird. I'm going to put it down to concern for the architecture.

And that was it! Bill Clinton, "Little Pink Houses," a batshit anthem, old people dancing, and hot girls shaking their booty. Pretty great. I know I'm forgetting a thing or two, but perhaps my lovely companion will add her impressions in the comments.

[1] They're my people, but you know what I'm saying here.
[2] There was also someone from ANSWER out front, which was kind of funny. He was handing out flyers asking "What's the difference between a Republican war and a Democratic war? A matter of style?" Ah, the cute little Maoists...
[3] For Jesse's benefit: 1) no, he did not do kung fu, although I was tempted to yell something; 2) no brown stains on the pants were visible, and 3) I'm fairly certain the foxx wasn't Laurie Anderson, although color me impressed if I'm wrong.
[4] Later I was asked if it was the first time I'd seen Lou Reed in the flesh. I said, "I guess so, but I feel like I see him all the time." My lovely companion stared at me for a second and then pointed out that I have a picture of Lou hanging in my living room, and that this might perchance account for the feeling of deja vu. Oops. Stupid simulacra.
[5] As he was referred to all night, which was kinda awesome.
[6] OK, I got a little teary here.
[7] You'll have to forgive me; I'm really amused by this.
[8] Who I should probably be familiar with, but I suck.