The Inauguration and the Arts

I wasn't going to cheapen the historic moment of the Inauguration by a cultural critique, but when I talked to Rob just now, he said, "Did you hear Aretha Franklin?"

"Yeah, she was okay," I said.  "A little showboat-y."

"What do you mean? She was awesome -- way better than that Yo-Yo Ma trio!"

"Quartet!"  I corrected him.  "And no way.  Aretha Franklin is most famous for demanding respect -- Yo-Yo Ma is a world-class cellist, and Itzhak Perlman is universally acclaimed as one of the most accomplished violinists of our time.  Their music is moving.  And it was so American -- a classic Shaker melody immortalized by one of our greatest symphonic composers, arranged by the composer of some of our most popular cinematic themes, with a nod to the roots of jazz in their choice of a black clarinetist and an improvisational pianist -- how can you not appreciate the musical significance of all that talent?"

There was a long silence.

"So, do you still want to go see Mamma Mia next time we go to New York?"

Point taken.  I guess there's no accounting for taste.

Aas long as I'm dissecting the moment, I want to say a word about poetry.  I hadn't heard of Elizabeth Alexander before today, but her name sounded regal enough that I thought she might be classy.  She did read with distinction and simplicity (no convoluted theatrics a la Maya Angelou) but I was disappointed in the lack of rhyme and meter.  (Here's the text.)  Why has modern poetry disintegrated into babbling sentences that take no note of grammatical rules ("the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of")?  Come on, real poets.  I know you're out there somewhere.

For eloquence, Dr. Joseph Lowery far outdid her in his prayer of benediction.  His glib little rhyme at the end merely tarnished what was an incredibly thoughtful and insightful opening, which quoted from "Lift Every Voice and Sing" before continuing on to preach repentance and humility -- two themes I also heard in the opening prayer and the president's speech itself.

What a thing, if the American people were to suddenly take responsibility for poor choices and bad decisions -- and then to ask forgiveness and pledge to change their ways.  I can't believe I'm seeing it.  I hope it's not just talk.