The producers and writers of “Bill Clinton: Rock & Roll President” have plumped up comments by President Clinton with appropriate news clips, shots of music celebs and former schools into a fairly entertaining format. With pop music biggies, politicos and reminiscers participating, there’s not much in the way of rock musicians themselves.
Excellent editing fills in Clinton’s remarks, and host Carly Simon opens with, “He’s the first baby boomer president, the first post-World War II president; to me, Bill Clinton’s the first rock ‘n’ roll president.”
Clinton talks of how much his mother loved rock ‘n’ roll and Elvis Presley, and Clinton ticks off names of tunes he’s liked over the years.
Program’s punctuated by various musical personalities’ observations edited into the work, with beaucoup de clips. Mention of any top vocalist or musician is the cue for unrelated footage to be briefly dropped in to sustain the moment. Device, at times forced, keeps the pace up.
Clinton speaks of his teenage choice between becoming a musician with a classical and a pop repertoire. The Hot Springs High School band director, Virgil Spurlin, recalls Clinton asking him for outside lessons to help improvise in his sax solos.
Two reasons held Clinton back from a music career: He didn’t relish the night-for-day lives of saxophonists, and his lack of conviction that he was that good. More, he was “interested in politics, in public service, consumed in issues of his childhood including the Cold War, the civil rights revolution, the social upheaval, the war in Vietnam. … You couldn’t be alive and not be concerned about great public issues.”
He traveled with the school Pep Band and played with the Stardusters as well as being “first chair, tenor sax, state of Arkansas,” as one old friend tells it. It’s soon apparent that rock music wasn’t and isn’t his sole music interest, that he likes jazz, swing, mellow music, gospel singing, blues. Only things left out are the waltz and the gavotte.
In Georgetown he heard Cass Elliot as lead singer with the Mugwumps before she became Mama Cass, and, surrounded by music, he knew its importance to himself. Judy Collins comments favorably on Clinton’s musical taste, as do Nancy Wilson and Peter, Paul & Mary, and Joe Cocker, with whom he appeared on the “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”
Others names surface fleetingly, and Clinton seems happy to look back over his and his family’s devotion to music and to appear on the VHl spec. But no one asks any questions. It’s an interesting enough program, but the surplus related footage is often fill-in and overkill.
Roger Clinton speaks up, and former Georgetown roommates happily recall those college days. But it’s Clinton who dominates the proceedings with his easygoing manner shored up by all those clips.