Hillary and Joni

by Charles Kaiser
Slate Magazine
April 17, 2000

Charles Kaiser teaches at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and is the author of The Gay Metropolis. David Nicholson, a former book reviewer for the Washington Post, is at work on a novel about black men and violence called The House of Eli.

From: Charles Kaiser
To: David Nicholson
Subject: Hillary and Joni
Posted: Monday, April 17, 2000, at 7:37 a.m. PT


The cultural news has it all over the political news today. The New York Times gets the prize for this morning's duh! headline--"Technology Sell-Off May Bring Shakeout of Dot-Com Concerns"--but the big news is the color photo in the bottom corner of the Times front page, where the world gets its first look at Frank Gehry's new design for a Guggenheim branch at the foot of Manhattan. It's a stunner: twisted titanium again, just like Gehry's masterpiece in Bilbao, but even bolder. The New Yorker's Paul Goldberger and the Times' Herbert Muschamp both love it, as does practically everyone else who got a peek at it before today's unveiling. Muschamp calls it "a plan for crunching through rigid streetscapes and frozen minds." Muschamp also says there's no guarantee it will get built, but I'm betting it will: The sheer architectural power of this building--combined with worldwide Bilbao envy--should overwhelm New York's infamous bureaucracy and ensure that it becomes Manhattan's most spectacular new landmark.

This morning's political news also comes in a cultural wrapping, although it wasn't reported in any newspaper I've read so far. Did you watch last night's tribute concert to Joni Mitchell on TNT? It was the perfect salve for all those yuppies recalculating their retirements after Friday's blood bath. I was in the audience when they taped the concert 10 days ago, and I've been waiting to relive the experience ever since. James Taylor, Elton John, and k.d. lang all did decent star turns, but the show was actually stolen by none other than Cyndi Lauper, with a brilliant "Carey" from the album Blue. If Blue isn't the greatest pop album of all time, it's certainly among the top ten, and Lauper's version of one of its classics more than held its own against Joni's original. But that's not the political news. The whole evening had an unspoken subtext--a convocation of Powerful Women, with people like Susan Sarandon, Rosie O'Donnell, and Sandra Bernhard occupying the best seats up front. (Sarandon got so excited she actually jumped up on stage to give Joni a hug at the end of the concert; that and the indelible image of Joni munching on a banana in her box were both edited out of the TV version.) But the shocker came when the music suddenly gave way to a larger-than-life video screen, featuring none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton. In this unpaid political announcement, barely disguised as another tribute to Joni, the first lady revealed that the first daughter got her name from another Mitchell composition: "Chelsea Morning." With free publicity like that, her surge in the polls against New York City's doleful mayor will surely continue.

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