Wednesday, June 4, 2008

(Ba)rock 'n' roll in St Paul

It's 10.30 pm. Less than an hour ago, I left the Xcel Energy Center in Downtown St Paul MN.
Over 5 hours ago, I took my spot on the sidewalk, waiting in line to get into the Xcel center to hear Barack Obama deliver his final primary speech.
My girlfriend and i were one of the 20,000 lucky ones to get in. Luckily for the 15,000 left outside, the giant screens outside delivered the words of the big dazzling technisupercolor.

We took our place in line around 4ish, and crowd management was in full swing. With the amount of merchandise vendors and teenagers, I had what was to be my first flashback from my rock festival-going days, and not my last suspicion that politics might be the new (Ba)rock 'n' roll.

We stood, read, watched the helicopters, listened to some pretty imaginative t-shirt sales pitches ("Buy one now while i have your size") until at 6pm, with the line stretching 8 to 10 blocks, the doors open and we started to move slowly forward..

As we approached the door,we were advised what we were allowed and not allowed to bring in; cameras and phones no problem. no flags or banners.
No flags or banners? How come I always see 'em on TV? Guess I'm just naive.

Finally, we're in, and one word springs to mind; Truck - O - Saurus!!!!!!!!

I guess a hockey stadium is a hockey stadium is a hockey stadium, and this one was filling up steadily, feeling just like a stadium event . The last time I was in a stadium was to see the Police, and that wasn't a capacity crowd. Mind you, Stewart Copeland is the son of God.

Before we took our seats, after standing outside for about 3 hours, a bathroom break was called for. On my way, a loud cheer rose from the stadium floor, sending hundreds running to see what the commotion was. Of course, as any rock festival devotee knows, it was nothing more than a TV camera sweeping the crowd.
I was still having trouble adjusting ; political rally! political rally! No two-fingered salutes. No air-guitar. Keep it together, Pats.

Finally sitting , with a good view of all there was to survey. directly above the podium, a bank of multi-directional screens and lights hung from the ceiling, keeping us informed with TV news feeds. As the news showed snippets of the days oratorial action from around the nation and its prospecive candidates, the assembling hordes here in St Paul reacted accordingly; cheering their man, and hissing at the bad guy. Summer, the season of the Punch and Judy show, was finally here.

at 7.31, the news tells us that Barack Obama is just nine delegates away from clinching. An hour and a half to the gig, i mean... the...well what would YOU call it? Anyway, plenty time to scan the terrain.

in the seats directly behind the podium and directly in camera shot, the flag wavers were being rehearsed by the flag-waving guy. ( wait a minute- flags? What sorcery is this?)

" 'kay so it's.....left, right....left, right....."

" Waddya think, Bawb, a bit more wavy, maybe? Huh? Ah c'n make it more wavy lookin'..."

Once the news was over, the screen could then devote itself entirely to heightening the Obama-love. First up was the song "Yes We Can", a song whose lyrical bones are made up of Barack Obama's speeches, the bones of which were in turn made up of Martin Luther King jr.'s speeches and were now being sung with studied emotion by such rock icons as John Legend and Johannsen, and a host of other airbrushed celebs practicing their screenshots. The only one I recognized as having actually earned iconic status was Herbie Hancock ; the other son of God. Presumably different mothers.


Time was rolling on and the excitement wqs palpable. No mater how you sliced it, we were all present on a historic night, no matter what happened. At this point none of us knew the exact delegate count.

At 8 o' clock it said this.

At boiling point it said this.....

Of course the crowd here was loving it, being carried on a wave of optimism and hope. Could it be that Rock 'n' Roll could make a difference? Clearly, not on it's own; it would need Barack Obama for that. Mind you, given that Rock 'n' Roll would seem these days to hold the same place in youth consciousness as a candy bar, that's hardly surprising.

"Waddya mean, no beer tent?"

But cynicism is easy, and with a quick scan of the unfolding proceedings, effortlessly squashed.
20,000 people had gathered with faith that the future's looking good, that there is real hope for an improved country and that this guy will light the way.

of course this is common to any political rally, but unlike the concert atmosphere, the common bond goes far beyond fan - adoration. most of the 20,000 people here, along with the 15,000 people outside have at some point sat down and thought " This guy could help us all improve the country we live in." - a far more powerful unifying thought than " Dude, I have all their albums."

Finally, the time had come. At 9.11pm , Barack and Michelle Obama took to the stand. The cheers were long and deafening. Michelle left the stage and Barack took his place.

"Can you tape Law & Order? I'll be home in an hour ..."

5 hours earlier, I had begun my wait. As a friend of mine once said to Dave Van Ronk, "This better be good...." . Once the hysteria had faded a little, he spoke.

Each sentence was concise and to the point, and the man delivered each point with clarity and confidence exuding graciousness, strength and calm, respectful to his opponents, eager to meet the challenges ahead, and in a calm steady voice he declared " Because of you I can stand here and say that I will be the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States of America". In a sea of ecstatic support, incessant chanting, and teenage girls losing their shit, he presented himself as a rock, a beacon in the maelstrom, and I was left thinking," Barack, if you can walk it like you talk it, there's some fine days ahead."

He spoke for exactly one half hour and said goodbye, which was met with the chant "YES WE CAN!" rising from the arena. As an immigrant without full citizenship, I feel my sole chant of "NO I CAN"T" was probably a little lost.