Curtain Up

November 7th, 2008

Okay, glad to hear about Rahm Immanuel.  Good to know the transition team’s in place.  Delighted he’s already given a press conference.  But now let’s get serious.

Who’s going to perform at the inaugural?

This isn’t an idle question, or at least I hope it isn’t, since I’m the one who thought of it.  The last two weeks notwithstanding, most Americans pay much more attention to pop culture than they do to politics.  These people may not keep abreast of Obama’s every declaration about what’s happening with the economy, but they’ll all know which acts he chooses for his inaugural gala.  And those acts will be discussed, scrutinized, analyzed, held up to the light, and ransacked for symbolism.

This is not a president who can get away with some slightly-fading stadium band doing “Free Bird.”

So who should appear?

Come on — he asked for our money, our support, our guidance, and our votes.  He’s asking that we put our shoulders to the wheel for the next four (or eight) years.  Let’s suggest the act or acts we’d like to see at the First Inaugural Gala for Barack Obama.

I’ll start it with someone who might seem like a counter-intuitive choice: Bob Dylan.  And another: Emmylou Harris.

Let’s hear from you.

31 Responses to “Curtain Up”

  1. Lisa Kenney Says:

    I vote for Tracy Chapman!

  2. Thomas Says:

    Great suggestions, Tim. I would watch it. However, Dylan is too anti-establishment and Harris is not commercial enough. The masses prefer make-up over substance. Remember that we live in a popular culture dominated by American Idol and it’s various off-shoots. Tracy Chapman is also a great idea. Imagine hearing her on the Capitol steps belting out a 2009 version of talking about a revolution. Still, she belonged to a past time when protesters still made a difference and anyone still gave a damn. What they need is established style with cultural recognition. Bruce Springsteen is too political but otherwise a good choice. Tina Turner has the right genes and credentials but is too rock n’ roll. The only one that remains is Aretha Franklin and the best we can hope for is to not have to suffer through yet another karaoke-version of Respect. My vote is on Aretha. Tasteful, politically correct, bi-partisan approved, and easily forgotten on January 21st.

  3. Stefan Says:

    My first thought is that the new White House dog, George “Dubya” Bush, should be introduced. Freshly neutered (if Cheney didn’t do it years ago), he can sit, shake, roll over, beg for treats, and chew happily on dog biscuits.

    Other than that my mind spins into the surreal. Crank up the time machine and bring back Thelonious Monk circa “Brilliant Corners.” If Aretha’s voice is still vibrant she’d be a good choice, although with my time machine I’d put Martha Reeves and the Vandellas up there belting out “Nowhere To Run” while Dogya looks frantically for his doghouse. But my new favorite Motown band is The Contours, and they wouldn’t suit because their subtexts are just too salty.

    Stax-Volt would be a better choice, and what a shame Wilson Pickett didn’t live to see this. Not to mention James Brown, and the twisted Nigerian genius Fela Anikulapo Kuti. You really couldn’t have Fela perform in any case (he once declared his home an independent country, this irked the Nigerian government) but his oeuvre shovels the work of King Sunny Ade in the novelty camp, where it belongs.

    Still, James Brown at his prime singing “Living In America,” imagine that.

    I’m still trying to come up with a band that could actually perform, with no luck. The parlous state of the economy indicates that a song related to fiscal conservatism would suit, but you can’t have The Contours doing “First I Look At the Purse,” or Barrett Strong singing “Money.”

    OK, if they can still play, how about Booker T and the MGs? As backing band for most of Stax/Volt (Aretha, Otis, Wilson, etc) they’ve got the cred, as an instrumental band, no lyrics to be interpreted or misinterpreted. They were, without apology or explanation, a multiracial band from the Deep South in the 60s, and My America is a lot more Booker T than Sarah Palin, you betcha. They could come out and play “Green Onions” and then Aretha could appear and hit “Respect.” Then Dogya, Cheney, Ashcroft, Gonzalez, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and all the White House press secretaries could march across the stage in jailstripes, chained together while Aretha sings “Chain Of Fools.”

    How’s that?


  4. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Okay, so here’s my long hair suggestion:
    The New York Philharmonic, a world renown American Orchestra, playing a program of Gershwin (a Jewish composer who blended African and European music into a distictly cheeky, American style that makes him the most performed American composer to this day) and Copland(who created another populist American style that has influenced most American concert music and film composers to this day. I think this would speak of the eloquence and the charisma of our new president. Possibly, for an encore, the title theme from “JFK” by John Williams.

  5. suzanna Says:

    Can we pick more than one? How about three?

    Well, I’ll let you decide from my short list how many you’d consider and a few please definitely not contenders too.

    Please, no Beyonce. The woman can’t sing, sorry. I know she’s volunteered already but, please, please, please, no.

    Jennifer Hudson great singer, young Chicago native, going through a rough time but it would give her something to look forward to.

    Bruce — he’s already done a number of performances at Obama’s rallies and probably helped him get more than a few votes. His acoustic solo performances knock me out. Maybe he’ll write a new song for the occasion but I’m sure he must have a number of ready mades.

    No one with a cowboy hat, unless it’s Emmy Lou.

    Stevie Wonder, of course.

    Patti Griffin singing Up to the Mountain.

    I’d vote for Tracy Chapman or Dylan.

    India Arie.

    All for now.

  6. Shadoe Says:

    Patty LaBelle, Al Green, ZZ Top, Dr. John, Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Brian Wilson, And Aerosmith.

  7. greg Says:

    Since he can probably get into the country without a hitch by then, I vote for Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) closing his set with, “Out on the edge of darkness there rides a Peace Train.”

  8. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    I will personally shoot anyone who nominates Britney or any of the other empty bottle blondes.

    Hey, are we limited to musical acts? I just came home from the USAF Thunderbirds Friends and Family airshow. Can I nominate the T-birds?

  9. Sharai Says:

    Wow! Choreographing music is way more fun than politicking,(as hilarious, moving, and well written everyone’s words have been), I was really getting into a soulful duet from Aretha and Emmylou with Tracy & Tina doing a bit of a rap as back up, dancing too of course. Then BAM Stefan jumps in there and tears that all up, his last paragraph got me tho’, that’s gotta be in. Thankfully? The next scenarios are looking more like reality, in my world. I haven’t a clue what kind of music Barack likes, I must be terribly out of the loop!

    What am I doing on this site at midnight anyway?!!!! Unquestionably this is the best place for laughs and inspiration. Thanks you guys, whoever you all are.

  10. Jen Forbus Says:

    I’d love to see Obama invite someone literary like JFK and Clinton did. Let’s emphasize his strong beliefs for education!

    I also would like to see Jack Johnson up there. He makes me think of Obama with his laid back mannerisms – taking everything in stride…and they both have some Hawaiian ties!

  11. Peter Says:

    I’d been thinking about this vital question since I heard NPR foisting ABBA on its listeners just before the election and explaining that McCain had chosen “Take A Chance On Me” as a theme song for the waning days of his campaign.

    Now, this song is even more grating than Bill Clinton’s choice of “Don’t Stop” some years ago. If a candidate has to choose a bad Fleetwood Mac song, I’d have liked to see the Obama campaign show some puckish humor and start playing “Landslide” once McCain started with the Abba.

    Of the above nominations to play the inaugural, I can think of none better than Stevie Wonder. Or if any of the Chambers Brothers are still around, a nice 10-minute jam on “Tim Has Come Today” could help the Obama gang get its ya-yas out before getting down to the business of running the country.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  12. Peter Says:

    Er, make that “TimE Has Come Today.” That was a typo, not an homage to the keeper of this blog.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:


    Great ideas. I love almost all of them.

    Chambers Brothers? Killer. Stevie Wonder? Essential. Literary figure — who? Maybe (to think black for a moment), Suzan-Lori Parks, who won the Pulitzer for drama a few years back (and who came THIS CLOSE to buying my last house).

    “Chain of Fools” sung over images of the previous misadministration is hilarious, although not, perhaps, consistent with the note of reconciliation Obama will probably want to sound. Also Fela Kuti or another great African musician, and Booker T and the MGs — tasty to a fault.

    Patty Griffin is wonderful. Aretha is Aretha and probably indispensable to any event she’s willing to attend. Tracy Chapman is a genius idea. “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” indeed. Bruce Springsteen would nail the whole thing down.

    Brian Wilson and Patti LaBelle are both American geniuses. Jennifer Hudson, absolutely. And, no, Cynthia, we don’t have to restrict ourselves to professional entertainers — something like the Thunderbirds would be great, although difficult to get into the ballroom. But that’s a great way to think, and they could fly over the White House.

    Yusuf Islam is just a sensational idea. Let’s see Homeland Security keep him out if he’s coming in to perform for the inauguration. The New York Philharmonic (or maybe a young orchestra) playing Gershwin would represent a whole braid of American strands.

    And Peter, you’re spot on: Fleetwood Mac and Abba are precisely the kind of stuff we don’t want. I personally thought “Take a Chance on Me” was funny as hell for McCain, but I would have preferred “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”.

    I wanted Dylan, first, because he’s Dylan, and second, because he WAS anti-establishment and it seems to me that Obama’s presidency is a sign that the establishment he was anti is long gone. And Emmylou is the greatest living country singer — and, given how red most of the South was, I think someone from country is essential. Vince Gill, anyone?

    I’d also like to suggest Morgan Freeman, reading the Gettysburg Address, which has new meaning, considering the war we’re presently fighting; BB King because (a) he kicks ass, and (b) he’s lived through so much, historically speaking; and a recording of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” because of what it says and also because it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of singing ever recorded.

    AND NOW FOR A FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: Anyone got any ideas how this could be done for, say $4.98? I think it would be great if Obama had the most memorable and moving inaugural ever, and it cost pretty close to nothing. This is no time to spend half a million dollars on a party.

    (And thanks for the subconscious homage, Peter.)

  14. suzanna Says:

    I don’t know Vince GIll’s work but if you say he’s okay I’m sure he’ll be alright. I guess he can wear his hat.

    I like the idea of a literary moment. I’ll never forget Maya Angelou reading at Clinton’s inaugural. I’m out of touch when it comes to contemporary poets but the Morgan Freeman idea strikes me as something appropriate — if he could read something about renewal and commitment.

    What a time that’s going to be. A friend of ours who was absolutely bonkers for Obama early on bought tickets to DC almost six months ago to attend his inaugural. I guess she was pretty smart to do that ahead of time. She said if he didn’t win she would still go to DC and tour the DC museums instead.

    Costing 4.98? How about the first time ever White House Potluck? Ha ha, just kidding. Well, maybe not such a bad idea.

  15. maria aguayo Says:

    Poet Maya Angelou reading her new
    inspirational verse at the inaugural.
    Bruce Springsteen has possibly already
    been asked for the celebration party.
    The idea of “Time” by the Chambers Brothers is a wonderful idea. Obama
    was a little baby when they were first
    around….my how old I feel.
    The New York Philharmonic playing
    any of Gershwin would be in keeping with
    the nostalgic groupings for all of us
    whose hearts were broken during all the
    60’s criminality.
    Obama has been so somber lately. I
    imagine the inaugural will be that type
    of event. I cringe when I look at the
    news. How much worse can it get and
    it’s still a few more months to go.

    I imagine beautiful music so the tears
    running down our faces will be accompanied by a choir of angelic voices
    singing “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”
    (Battle Hymn of the Republic).

    Followed by Morgan Freeman saying anything.

  16. suzanna Says:

    I asked Maya and her friend (both age 16) who they would want to perform at Obama’s inaugural. Their response: Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Bob Dylan.

  17. Larissa Says:

    I think I missed the whole love affair thing with Maya Angelou. I dug her in High School. I’m over it. I’m sure that makes me an ass. I totally dig the idea of Morgan Freeman because he rocks and he’s timeless and he doesn’t try so hard as some of the other not-quite-as-talented speakers seem to do..he’s less self-aware when he does it. It’s natural. I think Jack Johnson would rock out-what about a cool jazz band ensemble? hehe.

  18. Jen Forbus Says:

    I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing Harry Connick Jr and his jazz buddies with our new Prez!

    Suzanna, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Vince Gill wear a cowboy hat. Maybe I might have seen him in a baseball cap, but no 10-gallons for Vince. Vests and boots, yes. He’s incredibly talented regardless of his attire.

    Maria, I hear you on the state of the Union. I don’t envy Obama, but I do admire his gung-ho attitude so far. He’s not waiting for anything. The headlines today say it all, though…he has a tough decision on exactly WHAT to attack first. Bush and his cronies managed to make an absolute mess out of most everything! O.k., everything!

  19. Dana King Says:

    Tower of Power. No explanation should be needed.

  20. Sharai Says:

    $4.98 sounds about right! I would love to see this inaugural be about people working together to have the best killer pot luck, local talent, in their own back yards, gatherings ever! Minus the glitzy, money schmoozing, debauchery hoe down DC style status quo. Maybe Maria Shriver can help out. She did a great job here in CA while her lunk of a hubby was in traction for his inaugural!

  21. suzanna Says:

    Hi, Jen

    Sorry if my goofy remarks about cowboy hats offended you. I am a huge country music fan and western wear but I suppose my snark was a lame disguise for my observation that one or two of the musicians that supported McCain and the RNC were clad in cowboy hats. Also realize that there were other cowboy wearin’ musicians who supported Obama, like Toby Keith for instance, so it really was an inappropriate comment all around. By the way after Tim mentioned Vince Gill I checked him out on youtube and I agree he is a great singer.

  22. usman Says:

    You won’t kill me, I’m sure if I say Paris Hilton 🙂 The girl needs a break.

    Seriously i would recommend some fusion, like someone from America and Asia doing a joint song togather.
    Example; Aretha with Salamat Ali Khan from Pakistan. The guy can sing some top classical musical, some sufi notes mixed with Aretha’s voice. That would be new. tha would be CHANGE.

  23. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    The National Pot Luck — what a great idea. All over the country, pot luck gatherings to celebrate the inauguration — nothing fancy, just whatever you can make at home and bring along. Good food and fellowship — what a great way to put an end to the Bush years. And it would be cool if a dozen restaurants in Washington would each provide a dish for the dinner there, so there’s no astronomical food budget but people still get to chow down.

    And people can wear any old hat they want. But no white guys in backward baseball caps, looking like they walked into a wall.

    I think we’ve got enough entertainment for four inaugurations, but what about Chrissy Hynde and whoever the Pretenders are now? She is so in tune with the spirit of the times on the new CD. Maybe we could also do an alt-rock/alt-country inauguration with Conor Oberst and Calexico and Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis.

    And maybe for the mainstream event, someone should figure out how to use America’s two most beautiful harmony voices, the Everly Brothers. Talk about a national resource. Maybe they could sing “America the Beautiful” a capella or something.

    I think it’s really interesting that a bunch of 16-year-olds went for Dylan and Etta James and Aretha. Those kids know their stuff.

    I love this topic. You guys have been amazing.

  24. Lisa Kenney Says:

    Chrissy Hynde!!! I heard the first track off of the new CD and I thought it was awesome! My girl can still rock. But she can’t sing “Ohio” — that would probably be a bummer.

    And I don’t think we can’t let Tracy Chapman sing “Revolution”. I think the lyrics would cause a conservative meltdown 🙂

    Here’s another one: Aimee Mann could write something incredible for the occasion. I love the female singer/songwriters, can you tell?

    BTW, I’m pretty sure the current Poet Laureate of the US is a lesbian and I think she lives in California.

    I think the national potluck idea is great too — count me in.

    Oh and Riss, you’re an ass. I’m kidding!

  25. maria aguayo Says:

    It’s more than power. At this point
    in my life time, there has to be an
    address to spirit to the right action
    and honest action to live by, Obama
    has inspired that movement in millions
    of people. Imagining that figure being
    behind what you believe in. It’s a
    huge responsibility. Bringing it in
    to an established crumbling order of being is not only near impossible but needs a willingness to see heads roll. We will need to watch his back..our backs.

    I shutter to think it. Another fallen
    hero. I couldn’t survive it. I am too
    old to be naive. Too jaded to refresh
    my weary brain of countless ironies,
    forgotten/broken promises, all because of the steel walls of a compromised bureaucracy that won’t or can’t be
    torn down.

    Celebration. My prayers and wishes
    are for courage, honesty, focus and
    a continual commitment by the celebrated
    millions who have contributed their
    meager donations that piled up. The non-
    parallel golden vote that couldn’t
    be tampered with and helped light the
    torch of a new order. What a concept.

    A song reflecting all that is in my
    aspirations for this new day….I haven’t heard it yet. Perhaps, one of
    all those mentioned above will grapple
    with the responsibility of igniting
    and fusing our commitment with a
    singular catchy tune. I would love that.

    I make no apologies for this rant.
    Well, except for dear Tim, who has
    opened the cyber-waves, and did ask
    for some fun.

  26. maria aguayo Says:

    National Pot Luck Inaugural Party! I’ll bring some pico-de-gallo and my new found rage:
    Talapia lightly rice-floured and served with a garnish of finely chopped parsley,mint,a sprinkle of salt and plenty of lime.

    I’ll even get out from under my hermit

    Where’s the party?

  27. Stefan Says:

    The $4.98 inaugural:
    Tim, this is a stellar idea. Obama is already in motion, planning to use executive powers to undo at least a portion of the Bush Malfeasance.

    But, a potluck dinner with Wash DC restaurants contributing, that’s great. A message of fiscal responsibility is what’s needed, even if it will be difficult/impossible to staunch the flow of the USA Deficit, which seems to have become some version of The Andromeda Strain.

    So, the talent. To bring it in under budget, the entertainment industry will have to involved, although they too MUST demonstrate the pro bono nature of the proceedings. How’s this: a truncated aspirational reality show, judges: Aretha, Mavis Staples, and Martha Reeves (Wikipedia says: “Since 2005, Reeves has served as an elected councilwoman for the city of Detroit, Michigan.”). Talent performs vocally to tunes selected by the judges, they’re voted off one-by-one and the one selected by the judges performs at the inaugural.

    And the $4.98? Donated to the ASPCA, to honor Obama’s magical comment about wanting to get a dog who’s “a mutt like me.” I literally shouted with laughter when I saw that on my TV here in Hong Kong. Where did this guy come from?! How the heck did the party who proffered Dukakis, Gore-the-bore and John “Moaning Tree” Kerry as prez candidates suddenly pull someone as intelligent, charismatic and FUNNY out of a hat?

    We’re still riding the wave here, folks. Had lunch with a good pal who’s English, he went to a comedy club here which is heavily Brit and the comic thanked Americans everywhere, before launching into us for removing a prime source of derisory comic material.

    Like Obama, I’m a Chicagoan, a mutt, and damn proud of it. The man can have whatever inaugural he likes: if he wants Hilary Clinton to get up there and karaoke-duet with Aretha on “Respect,” that works for me. The kids get the puppy, but the world gets an articulate spokesman as US chief executive, at a time when we desperately need an intelligent, globally minded person on the world stage. I can’t WAIT until President Obama makes his first overseas tour and is welcomed by world-leaders. The ratcheting-up is palpable, let’s hope it’s sustainable.


  28. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Can you still buy a copy of “Good Vibrations for only $4.98!!!” on Ebay?

    And yes, Usman, I will shoot you for suggesting Paris Hilton. I probably won’t hit you, but I’ll still shoot you!

  29. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Maria — You’re right – we have to watch his back. That’s a great national image. We all need to be the Secret Service. And pico de gallo is an essential dish for the national potluck. My assistant, who’s African-American, points out that on election night there was probably more fried chicken eaten than on any other night in American history. So definitely, some soul food.

    Lisa, Chrissie Hynde is as good now as she ever was. And Aimee Mann was accidentally left off my alt-rock/alt-country inaugural lineup.

    Stefan, how could no one have mentioned Mavis Staples? Yikes, the voice of a generation. Although I don’t know about the vote-off — I couldn’t bring myself to decide. And how about that “mutt” remark? My God, a president with a sense of humor.

    Usman’s co-cultural haydown sounds great (Stefan had a response about it, but I accidentally deleted it. DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW to retrieve deleted comments in WordPress?

    But I’m with Cynthia on Paris Hilton. And, Cynthia, “Good Vibrations” can be downloaded for free on your fillings if you’re sensitive enough. At every second of every day for the past 35 years, that song has been on the air somewhere.

  30. Timothy Hallinan Says:


    Suzanna found a site that lists three of Obama’s musical favorites: Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, and The Fugees.

    Not much we can do about Miles, and the Fugees aren’t speaking, but they might reunite for this (Earth to Lauren), and I still think Dylan is a quintessential choice.

    This HAS been fun.

  31. Cynthia Mueller Says:

    Deleted comments are deleted for good, unless you have enabled the option in your “settings” to be notified via email when you get a comment. One of the settings will actually keep a copy of the comment until you delete the email. Let me know if you want further info….

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