With the sensational success of Milk, an Oscar contender if ever one rolled on a projector, we have new project for Mssrs. Penn and Van Sant – another ode to a governmental folk hero in the making. For nothing captures these early Depression Era II days of strange municipal doings than a little side project I like to call Blago! (The Musical).
Now, I’m not generally a fan of musicals – in my experience, people don’t generally break into elaborate song and dance routines during the grind of everyday life. But I’m thinking of something more along the lines of Blues Brothers, a great Chicago musical movie with its big pay-off in Richard J. Daley Plaza – maybe a State House rock opera in the style of Quadrophenia, with the mod/mad Guv driving his heavily-mirrored career scooter over the cliff to the crash of the last power chord.
Not since Chicago mayor Anton (Tony) Cermak traveled to Miami in early 1933 – during the great lame duck last days of Herbert Hoover – has Chicago blood spilled so liberally during a presidential transition. Of course, back in ’33 it was poor Mayor Cermak’s literal blood that washed into Biscayne Bay, as he was shot to death shaking hands with President-elect Roosevelt by an assassin named Giuseppe Zangara – thereby taking a bullet to preserve the life of the man who would converse so famously with the American people about “fear itself” just a month later.
These days, even as we anticipate with barely-concealed glee the next stirring inaugural address, the Chicago blood is all political in nature – that is to say, metaphorical. Yet, as in all great musicals, you can see the next big number coming. Blago! (The Musical) would certainly include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s political death scene, perhaps a fumbling Mercutio’s lament after the self-inflicted wound of barring Roland Burris at the schoolhouse, er, congressional doors for lack of a permission slip from the Illinois Secretary of State.
Rod Blagojevich deftly out-flanked Senator Reid in appointing Burris, the former Illinois Attorney General who seems a decent – if a bit obsessed with grave rubbing and divine ordination of appointments – semi-retired public servant. Now, Blago faces his own public trial by the Illinois Legislature…and you have to wonder if that August body, production plant for Lincoln and Obama, has fallen into yet another clever Blagojevich trap. The incoming President (who has a Swiss watch of a political instinct compared to Reid’s primitive sundial) can hardly be happy about the potential for long Blago defense in the well of the Illinois State Senate. What theater! What drama! What a distraction from the disaster facing the American economy!
Maybe it’s a distraction we need – I, for one, will revel in the political theater and envision the ultimate casting for Blago! (The Musical). Dan Aykroyd’s a little old for the title role, but I think he could’ve done wonders in his Fred Garvin salad days, perhaps throwing down a few Little Walter harp shrieks in the musical numbers. Ditto Kevin Costner, who played the stiff-backed Eliot Ness in The Untouchables and who would’ve made a fine Patrick Fitzgerald. The brilliant Don Knotts is sadly no longer breathing, so we’ll have to cast about for Harry Reid. In my script, Barack Obama would remain serenely off camera, entirely absent but for occasional clips of his best speeches – a one-man center of morality, a uniform Greek chorus. (But I’m really tempted by Nick Nolte in the Bill Ayers part).
So OK, it’s just a concept thing right now – but can’t you see it? Can’t you hear it? Cultural diarist M.A. Peel did some wonderful location research during a visit to the state capitol in Springfield:
We stopped by an office on one of the floors, and the guide made a point of saying that this the “actual working office” of the governor. We were allowed to take pictures of the anteoffice, and there is a portrait of good old Honest Abe next to a statuette of Elvis, which the guide made a point to say is an important possession of the governor.
Under the watchful eye of the great Lincoln, the ego is the Las Vegas Elvis, with all the undertones of the delusions of kingship. That pretty much sums up the Blago. New Yorkers can’t really throw stones at governors these days—the era of Mario Cuomo being long over. But, woah.
Blago ended yesterday’s press conference with Tennyson’s Idyls of the King:
“Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”
That’s the same way that Frasier Crane ended his last radio show. This is one pop culture kind of leader.
Yeah. And, if we’re not careful, Blago (a man with a sense of comic drama) might become another midwest cultural hero, an electoral Clyde Barrow. After all, he’s legally innocent – and as Lance Mannion says, “he’s written Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel into his story and with his appointment of Roland Burris he’s added the entire Democratic membership of the United States Senate to his cast of characters.”
And he’s dancing one hell of a political two-step. Cue the Muddy Waters soundtrack. Opening Scene: the Governor’s office, Chicago, Illinois.