Wednesday, July 21, 2004


The Raitt Wing

ANOTHER BUSH BASHER. We told you we were going to keep track, and so today we bring you the word on Bonnie Raitt, who found it necessary to mock the president during a concert in Sweden. The Associated Press reports::

Winding up her summer tour across Europe, Bonnie Raitt drew thunderous applause at the Stockholm Jazz Festival for dedicating a classic to President George Bush.

We're gonna sing this for George Bush because he's out of here, people!" Raitt crowed Tuesday night before she launched into the opening licks of "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)," a cover that was featured on her 1979 album, "The Glow"...

Raitt's comments resulted in a round of applause and even whistles from among the estimated 3,000 concertgoers at the Swedish capital's annual jazz event held on the banks of the downtown Skeppsholmen island.

Swedes are skeptical of Bush, and the Scandinavian country refused to support his efforts in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

There are a couple of points to be noted before we get around to Ms. Raitt. First, the reporter's reference to whistles is interesting, because Europeans generally use whistles as a form of booing. Second, the blanket statement that "Swedes are skeptical of Bush" is a perfect example of AP style -- a sweeping generalization which may be mostly true but can't be as unanimously true as the usage would indicate. One gets the feeling the reporter approves heartily of the Swedes, whose bent toward pacificism is so strong that they permitted the Germans to use their railroads to invade and conquer neighboring Norway in World War II. Something has happened to their spines since the days of the Vikings.

I have no doubt that Bonnie Raitt would make the same remarks at a concert in El Paso, but it is particularly obnoxious when American celebrities insult their president in foreign lands. Yet they seem to become especially voluble about politics when they encounter the press in some European capital. Michael Moore, Sean Penn, Kate Hudson, Johnny Depp, Madonna, the Dixie Chicks and now Bonnie Raitt belong to an elite travel club -- "Let's take this huge fortune we made in America and fly off to an exotic destination where people will think we are smart because we have contempt for the American president and the idiots who support him."

But Bonnie is no latecomer to the leftist bandwagon. She was born on it. Her bio puts it very prettily:

Born to a musical family, the nine-time Grammy winner is the daughter of celebrated Broadway singer John Raitt (Carousel, Oklahoma!, The Pajama Game) and accomplished pianist/singer Marge Goddard. She was raised in Los Angeles in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism. A Stella guitar given to her as a Christmas present launched Bonnie on her creative journey at the age of eight. While growing up, though passionate about music from the start, she never considered that it would play a greater role than as one of her many growing interests.

In the late '60s, restless in Los Angeles, she moved east to Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a Harvard/Radcliffe student majoring in Social Relations and African Studies, she attended classes and immersed herself in the city's turbulent cultural and political activities. "I couldn't wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements," she says. "There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late '60s in Cambridge." Also, she adds, with a laugh, "the ratio of guys to girls at Harvard was four to one, so all of those things were playing in my mind."

She was already deeply involved with folk music and the blues at that time. Exposure to the album Blues at Newport 1963 at age 14 had kindled her interest in blues and slide guitar, and between classes at Harvard she explored these and other styles in local coffeehouse gigs. Three years after entering college, Bonnie left to commit herself full-time to music, and shortly afterward found herself opening for surviving giants of the blues. From Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, Son House, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker she learned first-hand lessons of life as well as invaluable techniques of performance.

Does the term "limousine liberal" ring a bell? A child of celebrity, reared to lean left, goes off to America's most prestigious university to become a folksinger-activist and look out for the little people. Three years of that is enough -- social relations and African Studies are two of Harvard's most grueling courses of study, after all -- and then it's time to become a white star in a hitherto black vein of music. I'm sure she doesn't see it that way, of course, but is there, or is there not, some whiff of the poor little rich girl striving mightily toward an authenticity that could only be found in another culture, another race? Congratulations are due if she found what she was looking for, but it cannot be the case that her experience speaks for very many of the rest of us.

And who does Bonnie see as a finer, more capable leader than George W. Bush? The answer is so obvious that you'll all be surprised you didn't think of it right away. Bonnie supports Dennis Kucinich, the boy mayor of Cleveland who staked out a strong and lonely position to the left of Howard Dean in the Democratic primaries. Bonnie may have voted for him if she was in the country at the time, but no one else did. No one else thought a withered adolescent should be allowed anywhere near the White House. But, then, most of us didn't go to Harvard.

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