Above is a photo of Chase and Keane Yahn-Krafft, the children of our hippie composting friends Michelle and Steve at the Inaugural Parade this afternoon in ultra-lefty Santa Cruz, California. They're all coming down to L.A. this weekend and are staying with us. I hope they bring the sign! had no intention of writing a post today but I’m sitting here with my daughter Leah and she is literally forcing my hand, refusing to let me go to bed until I write something on my blog. “You have to write a post, Dad, it’s a historical day! You know how you are—you’ll want to look back and see that you marked it in some way! You wrote one about Bush, you HAVE to write one about today!”
When I dropped Leah off at her progressive school this morning in North Hollywood, they were projecting the inaugural festivities on a wall in the gym and the kids were going ballistic. Most of them were wearing Obama-related clothes and paraphernalia (including full face Sharpie tattoos and letters spelled into hair with spray dye). The entire student population was carrying on like they were in the opening scene in “Hair” and were welcoming the Age of Aquarius. “…then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars!” Oy. I only hope that like President Obama, they will have a more sober approach to the changes that are at hand, knowing that the road will be slow and painful at times.
Leah was six when George W. Bush was “elected” and she can’t remember anyone else ever being President. She’s 14 now and if Obama serves two terms she’ll be 22 when he leaves office, a full adult! (But, as she just reminded me with acrid bitterness, she’ll never be able to vote for him because at the next presidential election she’ll be one month shy of her 18th birthday).
After dropping her off, I had to work in the library all day but I pulled into a Barnes & Noble parking lot and listened to most of the Inauguration in my car, sobbing uncontrollably at several points, and looking around to see several other people sobbing in their cars. Now I feel wasted, both emotionally and physically, but in honor of my daughter’s request, nay, demand, here are a few random thoughts of the day.
I feel very “in the closet” about this among my liberal friends, but I just couldn’t get into that much of a lather about the choice of Rick Warren to do the invocation. Sure, I hated that he supported Proposition 8 and I don’t agree with many of his views, but as popular evangelicals go, he strikes me as someone who may be willing to enter into dialogue with people with opposing beliefs, unlike many of the other pastors who think gays and lesbians will be turning on a spit in eternal hellfires. There was a lot of ballyhoo about whether he’d use the “J-word” but the way in which he invoked Jesus didn’t bother me that much either since he clearly couched it in terms of how Jesus has changed his life, not the role Jesus plays in the life of Americans in general. On the other hand, why do we even have these religious invocations at all? All this Heavenly Father talk at national events does make me squeamish, can’t we keep it in church? Leading the nation in the Lord’s Prayer at the end was questionable but on the other hand, that is one well written prayer. It’s almost impossible to read it aloud and not sound brilliant. “…for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.” Damn, that’s good.
Aretha Franklin’s voice, figure, and ego have seen better days but I, for one, am thrilled that she was there. She is an American institution. I remember her singing her guts out at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral in 1968 so to have her there today was especially poignant.
How did Dianne Feinstein get the MC gig? She did a fine job but I admit that whenever I hear her slightly grating voice for more than a second I am taken back to that awful day in 1978 when she made that brief, shocking speech in San Francisco: “As president of the board of supervisors, it is my duty to make this announcement. Both Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot and killed.”
How beautiful was that number with Yitzchak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma? (Oops, I can’t remember the names of the other musicians.) I love that Obama became President as he was listening to them play. The Constitution says it happens automatically at noon even if he hasn’t taken the oath of office. I hope that bodes well for the arts in the coming four years.
What was with Chief Justice John Roberts? For a split second I wondered if he was screwing up the words of the oath on purpose, but then I thought better of it. For a while I was worried someone was going to say that since Obama didn’t get the words quite right he’s not really President. Poor Roberts—he was reciting it from memory instead of reading. Next time bring some notes, John. And what was with the way he asked Obama at the end “So help you God?” Um, that’s not in the Constitution, Mr. Constructionist. Was he trying to make sure that President Obama believes in God?
I thought Obama’s inaugural speech was moving and hit the right notes, but I don’t think it’s one for the ages like Lincoln’s or Kennedy’s. Maybe that’s just as well. He’s been doing everything in his power to lower people’s expectations that he’s some kind of Superman who will immediately fix the country’s ills. I wonder how different my perspective would be on the speech and other parts of the day if I had been watching it instead of just listening. The negative stuff at the beginning of the speech about all the problems we’re facing was necessary but went on a bit too long for my tastes. You don’t want to drive your nation to mass suicide during your first fifteen minutes in office! But the rest was great. I believed what he said about how we’ll approach foreign governments differently, how we’ll work alongside people of poor nations. That alone is reason to rejoice after the last eight years. And I cried at the simple, predictable, but breathtakingly moving statement that not long ago his own father would have been denied a seat in a Washington D.C. restaurant and yet here he now stood as President of the United States. God love him for wanting the job!
The speech contained multiple implicit jabs at former President Bush (ah, that’s the first time I’ve written that beautiful word—former!) but as two human beings standing there, they could not have been more cordial and even affectionate with each other. Cheney, on the other hand, in his wheelchair, looked like Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as I heard someone mention, waiting to steal the $8,000 from the Bailey Building & Loan and then blaming George Bailey for it. Some people say Obama needs to spearhead war crime charges against Bush and Cheney but I’d stake my life that this will never happen. There’s nothing in it for Obama and I think most of the country is too eager to see Bush fly off to oblivion in that helicopter. Moving on.
I was moved by poet Elizabeth Alexander's “Praise Song for a Day.” I think her reading would have benefitted from my seeing her on television instead of just hearing it on the radio. Was that slow, stilted style partly because she was nervous performing her work for millions just after the most anticipated speech of the decade, or was it more intentional than that? I tried to get Maya Angelou’s gorgeous inaugural poem “On the Pulse of Morning” out of my head so I wouldn’t compare it to Alexander’s. I liked the simplicity of the images (“Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges...”) and her snapshots of American moments that ended with “A teacher says, 'Take out your pencils. Begin.'”
I know a bunch of people who were there today and who I assume are dancing the night away at the balls. My sister and brother-in-law didn’t go in the end because Jeff was still recording in New Zealand and is only coming home tomorrow after six weeks there. I’m still hoping for a Wilco command performance at the White House at some point during the next four years. Hear that, Mr. Rahm? But I heard reports today from my ex-wife Sophie and from other friends in Washington who were in the thick of it.
Here are three random shots of the day stolen from Facebook. The first was taken on the mall by my friends and former colleagues Bob Clark and Maria Sosa. The next one was taken by my cousin Tammy Korolnek (she’s not the Redneck), and the third by my neighbor who worked so hard for the Obama campaign, Roger Stewart. Roger was there with his wife Marguerite and their young daughter Makende who one day, many decades from now, will be able to tell her grandchildren that she witnessed some history being made.