On dark barroom evenings, my eye is unconsciously drawn to the brightest thing in the room. Which generally is not the guy sitting on the next stool. And that was the scene, one night, when I glanced up at a television tuned to MSNBC. One of those news bites was crawling across the bottom of the screen:
PARIS HILTON’S DOG FOUND IN WOODS AFTER BEING MISSING FOR WEEK
I do love dogs, although not at bestiality levels. And it’s certainly easy enough to get selfishly caught up in news of Afghanistan, thousands dying of starvation in Somalia, your job outsourced to India and the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s birth certificate, to the point we forget that celebrities have problems, too.
But, as a 21st Century Renaissance Man, the onus is on you to raise the level of the conversation. Turn to the person sitting on the next bar stool and ask, “Why would Paris Hilton’s designer dog run away in the first place, choosing a life of hunting rodents to eat? I think we’re not getting the whole story here.”
As Dr. Timothy Leary said, “Question authority.” Even better, be authority. And as an authority figure — the 21st Century Renaissance Man must be an agile authority on all manner of subjects — you’d be well advised to lead the discussion.
Imagine, for the rest of this space, you are president of the United States. The current fellow, Barack Obama, seems to be an intelligent, well-rounded individual whose Facebook page reveals interests in Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, literature (Moby-Dick), film (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and TV (SportsCenter). Not bad. But as a true 21st Century Renaissance Man, weilding all of that power, here’s how you might get the job done:
I’d hold a press conference the first moments after my swearing in, and congratulate my press spokesman on his new job. Then I’d fire him. Or her. Immediately. You’ll never read, “The White House said today…” during my presidency. You ask me a question — “Who do you consider to be the five most important figures in rock and roll?” — and you get a direct response: “Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, James Brown and Patti Smith.” The follow-up question — “What about Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and the Beatles?” — is what I call a healthy First Amendment in action.
While we’re on the subject of Willie and Dylan, I’d put them on the road again as “The Rolling Thunder Barbecue Tour.” No pork-barrel politics in my administration. Just smoked pork ribs.
Speaking of smoke, ever wonder why crop circles don’t turn up in pot fields? I mean, isn’t that where you’d expect to find that kind of thing? I’d turn our top scientists loose on questions like crop circles and UFOs and Bigfoot and disco and whether there really are alligators in the New York City sewers. We’re an advanced society, we have a right to clear up these uncertainties.
Another thing: My first amendment to the Bill of Rights would be the elimination of Obama’s favorite show, SportsCenter. I don’t make a big deal out of this, but I used to be a sportswriter, and have witnessed first hand the time wasted on watching sports, arguing about sports, listening to sports-talk radio, buying sports jerseys. This ruling would have an inspired impact on the hip-hop scene. Kids would no longer be compelled to buy reproduction sports jerseys. They would have to buy sport coats with the names of their favorite poets stitched on the pocket. “Walt Whitman.” “Amiri Baraka.” “Sylvia Plath.” “Rod McKuen.”
See how we’re elevating the national discourse on the arts here? WriterWear (Trademark Pending) would eliminate all of those Allen Iverson shirts worn by dumpy white guys. If you’re gonna wear a sports jersey, you should at least look like the guy.
In other sports news, I’d urge that we keep the Summer Olympics every four years, to be held exclusively in the event’s ancestral home of Greece, where the athletes will compete in the nude. Just like the good old days. The TV ratings for the uneven parallel bars would vault through the roof.
I’d issue an executive order allowing dogs in all public places, including restaurants. Even Paris Hilton’s dog, who probably needed a good meal after his adventure. I’d be the compassionate cuisine president.
I’d call for James Bond movies (Sean Connery only), free to the public, projected on a huge sheet draped from the White House balcony each Sunday night at dusk. Midnight showings would feature hip little flicks like Vampyros Lesbos. A 21st Century Presidency should be a model of diversity.
I’d be the arts president, establishing collection points for Thomas Kinkade’s horrific paintings (those mass-produced Hobbit cottages in the woods) and exchange each one for real art by real artists. Paintings would be distributed through random drawings. You might get a vibrant, impressionistic, wilderness landscape by Tom Thomson or one of Canada’s inspiring Group of Seven. You might get some bizzaro outsider art from a guy who lived in his mother’s attic for 45 years, doing little except painting space aliens. Both are worthy, in very different ways.
I’d be the music president, picking the lineup for the Presidential Inauguration Festival. Raise the level of the government’s musical awareness. A 21st Century summit of the music of thinking men and women, starting with my all-time favorite rock band, Pere Ubu. The party would welcome the Allman Brothers, David Byrne, Los Lobos, Dave Alvin, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Jon Dee Graham, Buddy and Julie Miller, My Morning Jacket, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Tom Waits, Loudon Wainwright III, Bill Frisell, Emmylou Harris, the Decemberists, the Asylum Street Spankers (I know you’re already googling, this is a learning experience), McCoy Tyner, Mojo Nixon, Tom Russell, Lucinda Williams, Sonny Rollins, Catherine Russell, k.d. lang and Steve Earle.
Although, I don’t know whether Earle would have the time, because he’d be my attorney general. I want a guy in my cabinet who says the death penalty is wrong, imprisoning marijuana users is wrong, the war in Iraq is wrong and bluegrass is cool.
In welcoming the contrarian point of view to America, my Inaugural Ball would include the Dixie Chicks and Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen and the Roots and Patti Smith. All of those musicians who have been criticized for having ideas, and tell ’em to speak out on the issues of the day. Because art poses questions, and artists lead the discussion.
That’s a pretty good first day. Before impeachment proceedings could begin, I’d resign on Day Two, and hand the keys to the presidential limo to my bipartisan pick for vice president…. 17th Century Renaissance Man Ted Nugent. Let’s set aside human evolution for the moment, he’ll bring handmade bison sausages for everyone. Except you, k.d. lang.