Kerry Shoots for the Hip | Deadline Hollywood | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Kerry Shoots for the Hip 

The candidate know what’s cool, but are the kids buying it?

Thursday, Jul 29 2004
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TALK ABOUT DESPERATE. The news networks succeeded only in embarrassing themselves by working way too hard to attract a younger demographic to their ass-backward coverage of the Democratic convention. A badly shaven but well-informed Ben Affleck blew the bow tie off conservative wanker Tucker Carlson. A flop-sweated Mo Rocca flipped lame one-liners to Wolf Blitzer. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart failed to get any laughs out of Tom Brokaw, who’s apparently now deaf as well as Botox-frozen. And there was something positively creepy about septuagenarian Larry King slobbering over the two Kerry girls while determining which daughter had appeared nearly naked in that photograph on Drudge. What a shame the only semi-serious coverage was on philistine Fox News, where Bill O’Reilly interviewed Dick Morris, one slime bucket to another.

But what about the candidate? Is there anything real there for young voters?

Well, he does a dead-on impression of Father Guido Sarducci from the old Saturday Night Live (while washing dishes on vacation). He watches West Wing (though logs more hours on the History Channel). He listens to Bon Jovi and U2 (but has nothing against rap and hip-hop). He puts up signed posters of Bruce Springsteen and the Grateful Dead (but only on the walls of what’s known as his “hideaway” Senate office). He goes to concerts by Don Henley, Sheryl Crow and the Rolling Stones (during their Bridges to Babylon tour). And Paramount chairwoman Sherry Lansing, his longest and most loyal supporter in Hollywood, claims Kerry has “good taste” in movies. “Because he came to our Sum of All Fears premiere and loved it,” she tells L.A. Weekly while shamelessly plugging her studio’s product. “And he couldn’t wait to see Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers.”

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It’s as if John Kerry wears popular culture as comfortably as his leather motorcycle jacket. Jeez, the guy actually knew John Lennon. But is he really feelin’ it or just trying to get one over on the kids?

“Unlike George W. Bush, he is not a square,” close pal Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul & Mary tells L.A. Weekly. “He’s very alert to what is going on. I’d say across the board in terms of pop culture — music, movies — he’s a very youthful guy.”

 

It may well prove a gigantic mistake come Election Day that Kerry waited until only very recently to demonstrate any purported hipness unless it’s been sports-related. The windsurfing, the snowboarding, the bikes, the Harley have all been duly documented by news cameras. But, whether out of shyness or insecurity or whatever, he has long eschewed any showy display of even rudimentary with-it-ness.

Yarrow recalls one night in 2001 when, at an intimate gathering at Kerry’s home in Washington, D.C., even close friends couldn’t convince the senator, a prep-school garage-band bass player (that’s garage, not grunge, ’cuz the guys wore blazers and turtlenecks), to pick up a guitar during a folk-song sing-along.

By the start of 2004, just as the Democratic presidential primaries were in full swing, Kerry seemed content to let the other candidates pander to the 18-to-34 crowd at an MTV Rock the Vote debate, like when General Wesley Clark flashed some superficial hip-hop knowledge about behind-the-scenes friction inside OutKast (pundits said later Clark’s son had planted it).

But that was then and this is now. Former deputy assistant secretary of the Navy and Kerry’s Vietnam crew mate Wade Sanders, who is now a San Diego attorney campaigning full-time for the Democratic ticket, told L.A. Weekly that the senator recently stopped classical guitar lessons, bought an electric Fender and began brushing up on his ax skills. “So he could get up with a rock & roll band and at least be as good as Bill Clinton was with the saxophone,” says Sanders, himself a musician. At the celeb-studded July 8 fund-raiser for his campaign held at Radio City Music Hall, the senator strapped on a flame-red guitar and played along with an all-star rendition of ‘‘This Land Is Your Land’’ in front of pros like the Dave Matthews Band, Mary J. Blige, John Mellencamp and Jon Bon Jovi. It wasn’t a cringe-worthy performance, either.

“I can certainly speak to that side of John Kerry,” stresses Sanders, who at one time was a Hollywood music-industry attorney. “I know that he appreciates pop culture and contemporary music, and it goes back a long way.”

Way back to the Mekong Delta, where the officer in charge of a PCF-94 crew had orders to go up river and travel deep into enemy territory and try to win the hearts and minds of the Viet Cong as part of a psychological operation. Kerry’s boat was equipped with not-very-high-tech loudspeakers and unintentionally comedic tapes that when played were supposed to encourage the enemy to throw down their arms and give up. “The idea that anyone would think that would work is amusing enough. But the tape that was the biggest hoot had these legendary ghosts moaning and woo-hooing and telling the VC it was useless to fight,” Sanders recalls. “John took those tapes and threw them away.”

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