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MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER: Notes on an inaugural
The signature drum rolls and majestic horns that begin Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” would have been enough to bring me to tears. However, watching the opening of the “We Are One” pre-inauguration concert broadcast by HBO from the Lincoln Memorial, it was hard not to be incredibly moved by the shots of so many thousands of people lined up on either side of the Reflecting Pool. When they cheered, when they waved and when they sang, I was just plain envious: Watching it on television just didn’t cut it.
Oh, to have been there! There are not many opportunities in a lifetime to be with so many people having such an obviously great time in such celebratory circumstances.
On television, at least, it seemed that most of the performers were dwarfed by the imposing surroundings. But a few, with their amazing gifts, were able to overcome the distance between stage and audience. I think Renee Fleming, Beyonce and Bettye LaVette were divine, and the combination of Pete Seeger and “the Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, was fabulous. “This Land Is Your Land” has always been like a glorious, raucous hymn to me, and they did it proud.
In 1993, I was part of the group of artists that performed at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate President Clinton’s inaugural. I have some memories of that experience that are like little picture postcards — they are short and sweet and treasured.
During the rehearsal call the day before, everyone was instructed to gather in a big white tent on the Mall, and it took some hours to get things started. This was because it was like old-home week for a lot of participants — greeting friends and acquaintances, hanging out with each other and soaking in the natural excitement of being there. Finally, there came a booming announcement: “It is time to begin rehearsal! Would all entourages please leave the tent so that we can begin rehearsal! All entourages please leave the tent!”
Never before or since have I heard someone beg an entourage to leave. In my case, my “entourage” of one was in a scuffed-up black Volvo station wagon circling the Mall, searching in vain for a parking space.
The day of the show, I remember Dylan shuffling around backstage encased in a huge down jacket with an Eskimo hood and black sunglasses. You couldn’t see his face for all the fur around the top. I imagine that was the point.
As the end of the show approached, we were lined up on either side of the stage with live mikes. I was standing next to Aretha Franklin, who was wearing the largest fur I have ever seen outside of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Even allowing for my membership in PETA, this was beyond the beyond.
What was equally alarming was that as we stood there, I could see the mike cable that ran right beneath our feet start to curl and shorten. Whoever was onstage ahead of us was pulling too much cable their way. If I didn’t move fast, the Queen of Soul would get lassoed and fall down on top of me, and I was going to die of suffocation by a mink coat. I dropped down to my knees and grabbed the cable, pulled it away from her feet and started feeding it by hand toward the stage. Whew! Crisis averted.
But back to the present — I have to say that my favorite moment of all the coverage of Barack Obama’s inauguration was an “on the street” interview. A local reporter asked a pretty young white woman why she was braving such temperatures and inescapable lines to bring her young children to the Mall. She said that on the morning after the election, she woke up her kids and said to them, “Darlings, last night while you were asleep, Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream came true!” And they all decided they had to go to the Mall on Jan. 20 and be a part of history.
• For more information on Mary Chapin Carpenter, check out these links:
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Taxpayers must pay the freight for over-budget train projects
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