Friday, February 24, 2012

Should we keep the microphone away from the president these days?

I remember from my stint in Springfield, Ill., the “antics” of now-former state Rep. David Phelps of rural Eldorado.
OBAMA: The singing politico?

He and his brothers were part of a singing group when he wasn't doing the governmental equivalent of making sausages, and the fact that Phelps didn’t have such a bad voice invariably caused him to be called upon to sing something just about any time it could be justified.

IT ACTUALLY BECAME a semi-tradition for the Illinois House of Representatives to have Phelps sing “Happy Birthday” to them on their members’ birthday anniversaries.

It got to the point where I can’t really remember much of what Phelps accomplished as a legislator (he later served a few terms in Congress from Southern Illinois). His voice overwhelmed.

While Barack Obama has a long way to go before he reaches that point, I’m starting to wonder if that’s the direction he’s headed in.

For it seems that Obama is willing to warble a few lyrics whenever a microphone is put near his mouth.

THERE WAS THAT moment last month at Harlem’s Apollo Theater where he did his best Al Green impersonation in giving us the opening lines of “Let’s Stay Together.”

Now this week, he felt compelled by Mick Jagger (of all people) to handle a couple of lyrics from that overly-generic blues tune “Sweet Home, Chicago.”

I call it overly-generic because it has practically become Tune Number One on the “set list from Hell,” the nickname given by many blues musicians of about a dozen songs that it seems like all the tourists visiting blues clubs want to hear so they can say they had a truly seedy experience.

Although on a side note, Obama with Jagger reminds me of the time that then-Gov. George Ryan was at Chicago’s Double Door club and got to meet Stones’ guitar player Keith Richards. Does that make Illinois politicos by nature Rolling Stones fans?

THIS MAY BE the evidence that hanging around too closely with the Rolling Stones leads to “no good.” They’ve got Obama feeling the need to throw his musical “chops” behind such a tawdry song.

If you really want to hear “Sweet Home, Chicago” done properly, you need to dig up the record of the Magic Sam Blues Band – which many decades ago was a big deal on the West Side.

Unfortunately, they’re long gone (deceased). So a recording (which I actually own both on vinyl LP and on compact disc) is what we have to settle for.

Listening to other bands try to cover the song is just such an inferior experience. They turn the song into a blues cliché. Invariably, someone will let their guitar solo skills go overboard.

AND NOW, OBAMA is a part of the over-commercialization of a song about a truly wonderful experience, returning to “Sweet Home, Chicago.” (And no, that line is NOT meant to be sung).

Although I am pleased to know that all those blues musicians were present at the White House, giving a concert in the East Room that the nation will get to watch on Monday on their local PBS affiliates.

For those who would argue against the blues being performed in such an “elegant” setting, I’d argue that it is merely equal time for when assorted country & western singers were at the White House for a similar concert held last year.

It may well be one of the perks of being president that you can get “big name” and “significant” talent to come to your official residence and play music for you.

BUT IT DOESN’T mean you should feel compelled to join in the show – even if Mick Jagger himself (whom I don’t really consider a blues singer, even if the Rolling Stones’ earliest records consisted of covers of old blues tunes) was the one who stuck the microphone in the president’s face.

There is just one good thing, from Obama’s perspective.

Suppose the group had been performing the old blues standard, “I Just Wanna Make Love to You?” Just imagine how harshly the ideologues would be ranting these days if Obama had sung along to that song?


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