Saturday, January 24, 2009

Just Blocks from the White House - Can You Hear the People Sing?

The Washington Post essay titled Taped Inaugural Music Is Live Issue prompted me to leave the following comment/rant on the venerable paper's Web site:

So what are you saying - that the performance wasn't authentic, that all we want to see "live" is a performer crash? The reporters who contributed to this essay have never created music outdoors. If they had, they would realize the immense number of problems that crop up once a soloist or group leaves the protection of a concert hall. Sure, the Marine Band wasn't taped - that's because there's safety in numbers. And Ashley Simpson wasn't ridiculed for lip-syncing - she was ridiculed for lack of professionalism, for messing up so blatantly, which was rather inexcusable considering the amount of money and/or publicity she receives. This whole "the quartet wasn't actually playing live" thing is a totally manufactured controversy.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The View Just Blocks from the White House: The Day, Part 3

Read Parts One and Two .

In a government known for its bureaucracy, for systems of checks and balances that prolong ever getting anything done, for page after page of reports, contracts, and applications, the actual presidential inauguration ceremony is surprisingly short.

Just a few words, your left hand on a bible, your right raised, and you're president. Heck, once the populace elects and the Electoral College confirms and 12:00 noon rolls around on January 20, you're The Man. (We'll leave it to Constitutional analysts to figure out whether or not Mr. Obama was president or not at that moment.)

Back on the Mall, standing on the Monument grounds, facing the Capitol. The ceremony is racing ahead and the quartet finishes and Biden says "so help me God." And then, without warning, it's time for Barack Obama to take the oath. Nobody moves. It begins...

...and was that a mistake? Did they hesitate, start over, do the verbal version of that dance to the left and right we sometimes do when approaching someone and not sure which way to pass?

It was hard to tell. The speaker in front of me delivered the audio, and there were speakers behind me too, and they repeated the words. Throughout the hour or so, everything echoed, wonderfully, because everything was so important it had to be said twice.

So it wasn't until I came home and heard on the news of the flub, the "Greedo Shot First" of the Obama Inauguration.

But it didn't matter, because now Bush was out and Obama was in.

The crowds broke up immediately after the speech. Pity that poor poet, who had the toughest follow-up act of the last hundred years. We responded "amen, amen, amen" at the end of the benediction. But it was cold and history had been made. The walk home was long and freezing, as thousands moved north on the numbered D.C. streets, the lettered streets blocked by National Guard, possibly to provide unfettered escape routes.

And passing Constitution Hall, I saw a man holding up a posterboard sign, artless in its execution, surgical in its precision. It read:

"One Nation, Under a Groove."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The View Just Blocks from the White House: The Day, Part Two

Read Part One here...

When last we saw him, our hero was standing in the cold on the Washington Monument grounds, facing the Capitol, wrapped in multiple layers, waiting for the ceremony to start.

I was thankful at that point for the coverage on the jumbotrons, which carried the children's chorus and the Marine Band, alternating with shots of the presidential motorcade advancing toward the capitol.

The winds picked up, and the weather predictors were right, it dropped the temperature even further. But the sun was out, and when the wind died down, there was heat from the sun you could feel right on your face.

I alternated between this welling excitement and calling all my willpower not to check the time.

A few around me had blankets and sat on the ground, but almost everyone else stood, looking at the Capitol dome. I could see the long red-white-blue banners hanging above the presidential podium.

Sure, it was watching TV on your feet out in the cold wrapped in more clothing than most of us wear on a typical D.C. winter's day.

But then the announcer started, loud and clear: Ladies and Gentlemen! in a voice one reporter likened to the Barnum & Bailey ringmaster.

Suspense was building, the rising action of senate and house members, past presidents, other dignitaries, climbing the ladder to the outcome we all knew beforehand but was not spoiling our excitement for the knowing.

"Ladies & Gentlement: President Carter!" Cheering in the crowd!
"Ladies & Gentlemen: George Bush Sr!" and the crowd was silent.
"It wasn't him," said the man next to me. "He wasn't so bad. It was his son!"

Our silence at his announcement brought forth a kind of amazed laughter, as we realized how we had suddenly, collectively, voiced a complex opinion.

And yes, we boo'd when Bush was introduced. Disrespectful? I'm a D.C. resident (and native), and he made no attempt to get to know my home town. He never appeared in restaurants, or read books to children in the public schools. At the Kennedy Center Honors I performed in, he looked bored, about to fall asleep. A resounding boo may have been the most respectful thing we could offer at that moment, instead of voicing the full fury many of us felt.

But there was too much excitement in the cold clear air to drive us down for long.

A shot on the jumbotrons of where we stood on the Monument grounds instantly prompted us to raise our hands and wave and cheer and then laugh as we knew how ridiculous it was, since we registered as no more than a mush of pixels. But we knew we were there.

Aretha and The Hat, a wild confluence of sound. She sounded hoarse, but it could have been distortion from the giant speakers as they tried to broadcast the thick range of sounds from her lush accompaniment.

And then the part of the ceremony I had my doubts about. Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman (and others), performing "Air and Simple Gifts" arranged by John "Star Wars" Williams.

Perlman's violin began a questioning yet hopeful phrase. The notes cut through the cold air and rhetoric, a bright gold wire of sound, simple, zizzing from the Capitol to the Washington Monument and off to the Lincoln Memorial. It was an incredible thing to hear, and no one around me spoke or moved.

Then on to the reason we were all here...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The View Just Blocks from the White House: Here's Something You've Probably Never Seen Before

The week continues to be seismic. became today, and if you hover over "The Agenda" and click on "Civil Rights," scroll down and you'll see this:

Support for the LGBT Community

  • Expand Hate Crimes Statutes
  • Fight Workplace Discrimination
  • Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples
  • Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage
  • Repeal Don't Ask-Don't Tell
  • Expand Adoption Rights
  • Promote AIDS Prevention
  • Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS
I could have linked you directly to the Civil Rights page, heck, I could have even linked you directly to the list of LGBT Community items.

But I wanted you to walk in through the front door.

The View Just Blocks from the White House

I love this picture (#3). Note the desk top - polished and reflecting. Just a few papers, the phone, and space.

The new neighbors have moved in.

The View Just Blocks from the White House

Exhaustion sets in. At work, I almost fell asleep during the staff meeting. I looked at papers on my desk and couldn't read them. Then I realized - I didn't just go to the Inauguration yesterday. I wandered The Mall on Monday. I wandered Capitol Hill on Sunday. Parties. Endless hours clicking between CNN and MSNBC.

I'm tired...time for some more zzzzzzz's...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The View Just Blocks from the White House - The Day, Part One

On TV this morning, I saw so many people already on the Mall, I feared I wouldn't get near even the Lincoln Memorial.

I dressed in countless layers and headed down 17th street. A scattering of walkers moved south, their numbers growing until diverted to 18th street, where their numbers exploded.

Ahead, all I could see was a moving mass, packed together. My hopes were low as I could imagine reaching Constitution Avenue and being forced by security to turn back. I tried to ignore the sinking feeling as I envisioned witnessing this day via cable.

Later I would learn of all the people who had to turn around, go back to hotels or into restaurants to watch the seismic event on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC...

Still, I reach Constitution Avenue, where a torrent of a crowd flowed toward the Washington Monument. We weren't like sardines, though, and I quickly found myself climbing the Monument's hill, making my way toward a huge jumbotron.

To my left, I could see The Ellipse and The White House. There was plenty of time before the ceremony would start. And I couldn't see the Capitol.

I forged ahead, along with three Philadelphians who struck up a conversation with me.

"Have you ever seen anything like this?" they asked.

"I'm native, and I live here, and I haven't - this is huge!" I said.

We parted company and I moved forward, around the Monument. The wind sliced across the crowd, dropping the temperature even further. But the countless layers of clothing I wore deflected it.

I soon found an ideal spot - with a view of two jumbotrons and in front of two massive speakers. I wanted to hear most of all, and the view of the screens and the Capitol was perfect.

Then came the long wait.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The View Just Blocks from the White House: Wandering the Mall

I spent a big chunk of today just wandering The Mall.

Got really close to the President's parade reviewing stand. A guy dressed as the grim reaper and holding a sign with the words Bush, Cheney, Death, (among others), was getting photographed as much as those cardboard cutouts of PEBO.

Stopped at the MSNBC setup and got on TV (although I don't think anyone who knows me actually saw me.)

Caught the stunning Kenyan Boys Choir performing for CNN's remote setup. With the Capitol in the background, these guys came all the way from Africa to bring their cool vocal blends and a song about Obama, and broke into some great dance moves to accompany it. You could tell they were excited to be here - their effortless smiles and infectious energy raised the temperature twenty degrees. One singer's shoe flew off his foot and sailed over my head and barely missed a couple of others, which prompted some to wonder out loud "was that a reference to Bush?"

Browsed the t-shirts, sweatshirts, and inaugural memorablia at the "Official Inauguration Store," where I bought inauguration mementos to hand out later.

Stopped at a Jumbotron to watch, once again, The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington back up Josh Groban and Heather Headley at yesterday's Lincoln Memorial concert. Picked out more friends singing up there. (Here's hoping HBO identifies all the choruses that performed when they re-cablecast the event and make it available on DVD.)

Was generally rather amazed at how easy it was for a pedestrian to wander around the Washington Monument grounds, the Ellipse, Pennsylvania Avenue near the reviewing stand, and right up to the seating area at the Capitol. And all in spite of the massive security.

Walked home. Not sure of my strategery for tomorrow. But at this moment, I'm planning on Being There.