Sunday, January 18, 2009

Blogging the Inauguration: The Concert

How to describe the event at the Lincoln Memorial today… it was clearly part rock concert, with Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Stevie Wonder and Beyonce heading up the excitement that had people even out at the Washington Monument dancing and jumping around. At times the playlist also veered – unabashedly, I might add – deep into wedding reception territory; “American Pie” and “Shout” both were received with great enthusiasm. (Though a certain Wisconsin contingent could be heard yelling, “What, no chicken dance?” Or perhaps I just imagined that…)

The event was also part A&E special, and not always a good one: Samuel L. Jackson soared in his retelling of the civil rights movement; but Tom Hanks’ halting, repetitive recitation of Abraham Lincoln’s words mystified. A heaping, at times unctuous dollop of the style and structure of the overall event came from the Academy Awards – star after star walking out to deliver sober presentations, Jamie Foxx lightening it up with his humorous, repeated call for Chicago to “STAND UP”, and Bono making a controversial, unrehearsed comment about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict while wearing outlandish sunglasses. But it never jumped the shark.

Click on this for the big picture.

In the crowds, which were massive, the mood was celebratory, even as people squinted or climbed things to try and see the events going on down the Mall. Massive crowds of hundreds of thousands upon thousands of people were incredibly well herded into long lines snaking back and forth and back again along Connecticut Avenue. National guard stood on the other side of the gates at about every fifty feet, mostly standing easy, enjoying the moment themselves. And when the wheels came off around 2pm, and most of the entrances on Connecticut Avenue were closed without warning (or announcement), people responded with little animus. For quite some time people just stood there, waiting for things to proceed. Then, some bristled, but most simply improvised, heading toward the “jumbotrons” at the Washington Memorial.

It was all a bit like a Lollapalooza, call it Obamapalooza, a happening. People wandered around, meeting new people, taking endless photos, singing along. But when Obama himself stood to speak, the whole lot grew still and silent. Even as his comments repeated themes and phrases he’s been using for some time now, they stayed that way. Everyone seemed hungry – for what? For a word of inspiration, I think, for comments that yet again accurately captured the situation we’re in and called us to be our best selves.

How often does a leader get an audience who is so open to his message, so willing to be not only led but challenged? Maybe not since Kennedy has this country experienced such a moment. Pundits have gotten in line to tell Obama what he needs to say on Tuesday. I look at the occasion as a unique opportunity he has to give this receptive, hungry audience, which will stretch not just down the Mall or across the country but across the globe, a goal to pursue, dreams to chase, a world to build. They, we may not accurately appreciate the costs involved, but it’s clear we are ready to try.


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