Wednesday, November 25, 2009

David Bowie Has Still Never Attended A State Dinner At The White House


Lou and Vaclav

One of the "big" news stories yesterday was the State Dinner President Obama gave in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who, like CNN's Sanji Gupta-- a guest-- is a doctor. 400 people were invited-- probably 200 + 1 each, but I'm not certain-- and it was in a heated tent on the lawn. I have a half-baked reason for telling the story of the state dinner I went to in September, 1998 but if it's too boring just skip to the bottom for the politically relevant point. The one I went to wasn't in a tent though.

My secretary buzzes me to say the White House is on the phone. "Is that that damn Daisy doing an imitation of President Clinton," I asked. "No, no," she said, "it's the office of the White Houses social director." Skeptical, I picked it up. I was listening to an advance CD of the next Chris Isaak album, Speak of the Devil and was totally engrossed in "Don't Get So Down On Yourself" at that moment. The voice at the other end of the phone told me President Clinton had asked her to call me and request my assistance in arranging for Lou Rawls to come to the White House. Lou Rawls? I have nothing to do with Lou Rawls. But the President said I did so there was no getting around it. "You sure he doesn't want to meet Joni Mitchell again," I asked. No, Lou Rawls. I checked the old rosters and asked the old timers but Lou Rawls had never been on the Reprise label or the Warner Bros label. I called the White House back but they weren't buying it. Apparently, if a president says so, it's so. "Wait," detective Klein asks; "what's this all about?" The president wanted Lou Rawls to perform at a state dinner and he said I was the man who can arrange it. "Hmmm... who's being honored with a state dinner?" It was a secret. "Give me a hint." It turned out she let slip that it was Vaclav Havel, the President of the Czech Republic. I guess there would be no way to get Bedich Smetana but as soon as he mentioned Havel, I understood exactly what President Clinton wanted-- and delivered. Havel and Lou Reed, a Reprise artist and a friend of mine, had such a powerful bond that Havel actually credited him with being part of the inspiration for the Velvet Revolution that freed Czechoslovakia from Soviet domination.

So a month or so later I was on the reception line cracking up President Clinton with an off-color joke and then sitting in the East Room next to Dick Lugar who was dancing in his seat to a red hot performance of Dirty Blvd. (Live Version)
Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel
He looks out a window without glass
The walls are made of cardboard, newspapers on his feet
His father beats him 'cause he's too tired to beg

He's got 9 brothers and sisters, they're brought up on their knees
It's hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs
Pedro dreams of being older and killing the old man
but that's a slim chance he's going to the boulevard

He's going to end up, on the dirty boulevard
He's going out, to the dirty boulevard
He's going down, to the dirty boulevard

This room cost 2,000 dollars a month, you can believe it man it's true
Somewhere a landlord's laughing till he wets his pants
No one here dreams of being a doctor or a lawyer or anything
they dream of dealing on the dirty boulevard

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em
That's what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death
and get it over with and just dump 'em on the boulevard

Everyone was grooving out (Henry Kissinger, Ted Stevens, Eric Holder, Kurt Vonnegut, Jane Harman, Chuck Hagel and 2 generals, John Shalikashvili and my new pal, Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)-- not just Lugar-- and I kept wondering if anyone had any clue what the lyrics were. Clinton certainly didn't. He got up onstage and played his sax.

Afterwards there was dancing not in seats. Tipper Gore's social secretary approached me and asked if she could introduce me to the second lady. I guess she didn't remember that we had already met in less pleasant circumstances, six years earlier when I had been at Sire Records and was executive producer of Body Count's eponymous album (the one with "Cop Killer") and she was the self-proclaimed censorship czar with Joe Lieberman. But at the party she wanted to know if I would be supporting Al in the election. I was so rude that I'm still embarrassed.

And I still hate censors. So I wasn't especially overjoyed this morning, more than a decade later, to read that the vampiric lawyer who tried pinning a suicide on Judas Priest, Ken McKenna, is running for Congress-- as a "Democrat." The incumbent in NV-02 (basically the whole state minus the Las Vegas metro) is Republican Dean Heller and the DCCC had pretty much settled on an elderly former state legislator, Jack Schofield as his opponent. But, having once tasted fame, McKenna's making a grab for more. I wonder if the balloon boy will ever run for office. There's nothing about McKenna that sounds even vaguely Democratic. In fact, he sounds like an exceptionally reactionary Republican.
McKenna made a name for himself in the 1990s when he represented a Reno woman who unsuccessfully sued the heavy metal band Judas Priest claiming subliminal messages in their music led to her son's suicide.

McKenna said he will run on a platform of replacing the federal income tax with a sales tax. He said he's been battling the IRS for 10 years over a personal tax delinquency.

"Everyone pays sales tax with no loopholes, that's fair," McKenna said in his news release.

Alas, David Bowie wasn't invited to the White House:

OK, OK-- last night's menu:

Potato and Eggplant Salad
White House Argula with onion seed vinaigrette
2008 sauvignon blanc, Modus Oprendi, Napa Valley, California

Red lentil soup with fresh cheese
2008 Riesling Brooks "Ara" Wilamette Valley, Oregon

Roasted Potato Dumplings with tomato chutney
chick peas and okra
green curry prawns
carmelized salsify with smoked collard greens and coconut aged basmati
2007 granache, Beckman Vineyars, Santa Ynez, California

Pumpling Pie tart
pear tatin
whipped cream and caramel sauce
Sparkling Chardonay, Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia

Petits Fours and Coffee
Cashew Brittle
Pecan Pralines
Passion Fruit and Vanilla Gelees
Chocolate dipped fruit

Guest Chef: Marcus Samuelsson, the celebrated chef/owner of Aquavit in NYC (my favorite Swedish restaurant) who was born in Ethiopia (as Kassahun Tsegie) and was adopted into a Swedish family in Gothenburg. He wrote The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa.

Here are some photos from the event.

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At 6:51 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

What did Lou have to say about the secretary thinking Clinton wanted to invite Lou Rawls? (I presume you told him the story!)

At 7:02 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

I don't think I mentioned it. But he does read this blog sometimes so he'll probably read about it.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

All those clowns ignoring the meaning of the song. They woulda fit right in at the Palace of Versailles before the French Revolution.

At 8:43 AM, Anonymous Susan said...

The important thing is Vaclav Havel knew the lyrics, and together you pulled off a very subversive coup. Great story!

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Bula said...

Any pictures of you at the event? Wearing a leather coat?

At 12:02 PM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Bula, I was all dressed up fancy. But I never saw any photos of me at it.


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