Lesser-known Inaugural Traditions

Barack Obama took the oath of office today as the 44th President of the United States, continuing an unbroken succession of leaders dating back two centuries.

George Washington started many traditions in the inaugural inaugural in 1789, including using a Bible. It is worth noting that “So help me God” is not part of the official oath, and is one of the many traditions adopted by Washington’s successors.

Some other Inauguration Day traditions were not as well-publicized, however, and I include them below.

Thomas Jefferson (1801). Dubious of Christ’s divinity but also of residual leanings toward the monarchy in the young country, took oath of office on a deck of cards with the four kings removed. When Chief Justice John Marshall, an ally of defeated president John Adams, asked about the jokers, Jefferson replied “Well, I do speak of the pompatus of love, sir.”

William Henry Harrison (1841). In place of “So help me God” said, “Unless I die of pneumonia in 30 days and am of no use to you, sir.”

James K. Polk (1845). Instituted practice of having someone else pay for pre-inaugural brunch, but would cover tip.

Abraham Lincoln (1865). The 16th president’s more relaxed second inaugural included a Rose Garden game of Catch Mary Todd with a Butterfly Net, Because She’s Crazy. Mary Todd would continue this tradition until James Garfield’s inauguration in 1881, at which point Vice President Chester Arthur caught and subdued the former First Lady, but good.

Grover Cleveland (1885). When Chief Justice Morrison Waite administered the oath of office, said “Grover. Really. Your name is Grover.” Presidents until Calvin Coolidge (1923) would ceremonially offer a coin to the Chief Justice just before the oath and declare “Verily I say unto thee my name be not Grover.”

Benjamin Harrison (1889). Like his relative William Henry, showed a gift for prophecy when he quipped “Feels like a Grover sandwich up in here” in his inaugural address. Having narrowly defeated predecessor Cleveland in the election of 1888, was succeeded by Cleveland in 1893.

Warren Harding (1921). As the new president’s entourage headed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Harding suddenly withdrew a pistol and shot a donkey between the eyes, but only wounded the animal. The “Wandering Donkey” would be wheeled out and shot at by presidents until Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural (1945), at which point a cranky, ailing FDR simply rolled over the beast with his wheelchair.

Lyndon Johnson (1965). Roped a secretary from the typing pool, dragged her length of a regulation longhorn pen (325 feet). Tradition continued until Gerald Ford (1974) confused the practice with Harding’s and shot Secretary of the Interior Rogers Morton between the eyes.

Bill Clinton (1993). Took a bite out of inauguration poet Maya Angelou, thinking “she was a lifesize cake.” Echoed apocryphal story that John F. Kennedy (1961) did the same to poet Robert Frost. Some evidence of this exists, as Frost delivered a speech two weeks later at the University of New Hampshire with a sizable bite taken out of him.

George W. Bush (2001). In keeping with manner of acquiring the presidency, stole bath towels, tablecloths, and warming trays from each hotel his family stayed in between the election and assumption of office. Also added “Says You” to each line of oath.

Barack Obama (2009). Heard to mutter “What do we pay you for?” to mush-mouthed Chief Justice John Roberts, continuing occasional under-the-breath barbs to Chief Justice traditions of John Quincy Adams/John Marshall (1825), Rutherford Hayes/Morrison Waite (1877), and William Howard Taft/Melville Fuller (1909), who said “Dullard,” “You’re fat,” and “Fuller my boot in your ass” respectively.

Living presidents in the news

Barack Obama’s recent photo opportunity with the current (for 12 more hours) and three former presidents is part of a journalistic tradition that delights in getting like things in the same place, like squishing puppies together.

Throughout U.S. history there have never been more than four former presidents in the same room with the current one, and that was during the term of the first George Bush, when Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon all picked up their dry cleaning on the same historic day.

That said, in 2000 and 1994 there were five living former presidents along with the sitting one, just not in the same room.

Mostly, though, presidents haven’t lived long enough to collect more than a few at a time. Here is a picture of Theodore Roosevelt (left) with William Howard Taft, his successor. Note that Taft, our heaviest president, looks more like Teddy than Teddy does. The guy in the window also showed up in “Three Men And A Baby,” as part of the just-as-revered presidential tradition of homage to the undead.

Presidential wives tend to outlast their husbands, but even though Lady Bird Johnson and Betty Ford were alive when this photo was taken, widows don’t get to come to the photo opps.

Funerals are also good for getting presidents together, as in the case of Richard Nixon’s in 1994.

Inaugurations, not so much, as many immediately-former presidents tend to high-tail it out of town. Still, at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1963, both Kennedy’s Republican predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ike’s Democratic precursor, Harry Truman, were on hand.

Truman, who lived to be 92, returned to the White House during the administrations of Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Here’s Franklin Roosevelt and the tremendously unpopular (at the time) man he replaced, Herbert Hoover. The Roosevelt/Hoover connection is most often compared to Obama/Bush, as Obama, like Roosevelt, is inheriting a financial catastrophe from his predecessor. Whoever thought to put these two in the same car was an idiot, but it was the Depression, and maybe they needed to carpool?

William Henry Harrison, who took office in 1841, gave a rousing two-hour speech in the cold without his overcoat, and died of pneumonia 30 days later (although he did not fall ill for three weeks after the inauguration). His was the shortest term of any U.S. president. He wasn’t around long enough to get his picture taken with anybody.

Mean streets of Primm

Growing up on the hardscrabble streets of Primm can be gritty, and mean, and grim, not to mention hardscrabble. It is not lost on local residents that “grim” even rhymes with the name of their town.

“Not lost on me at all,” said Whiskey Pete’s croupier Vera Morgan. “In fact, before I got into Sudoku I would randomly rhyme words together, and ‘grim’ was the first word I landed on after I said ‘Primm.’ Sometimes I even forgot to go for the obvious one, ‘prim,’ because it just didn’t seem appropriate.”

I will be hosting an 18-part series on the history of this Nevada border town that is more roller coaster than town. In fact, I will even launch a website called Grim Primm. I see it’s available. In fact, I see the rest of my life neatly laid out before me. You would be envious of the certainty I possess.

One gets so full of ideas after a long drive and a stop for coffee in Hesperia and nowhere to relieve oneself, doesn’t one?

Bumble, Saruman decide on Hesperia

The leader of the Istari says, “It reminds me of the foothills of cruel Caradhras, under which dwells the Balrog of Moria. Hesperia is a town of shadow and flame” while the scourge of Yukon Cornelius calls the San Bernardino County hotspot “the Glendale of the high desert.”

See also: The City of Hesperia

Between Clark And Hilldale — Love Reimagined at the Whisky

Love-forever-changes-marty-barrettLast night’s Arthur Lee benefit at the Whisky a Go Go captured the lawlessness of the 60’s Sunset Strip and the flawlessness of “Forever Changes.”

Lee, the genius behind 60’s psychedelic band Love, is battling leukemia and has no insurance, so a benefit was put together at the last remaining Sunset Strip club from the L.A. band’s heyday.

The Whisky, where The Doors and hundreds of other bands first played Hollywood, is located “between Clark and Hilldale” Streets — the title of one of Love’s songs from the glorious 1967 album “Forever Changes.” Its third LP, “Forever Changes” is considered Love’s masterpiece. Like The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” from 1966, “Forever Changes” is thematically sound and a real band effort, less disjointed than “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” released in June, 1967, just a few months before Love’s opus.

I was sad to find out that Love aficionados Calexico, Cake, and X were asked but did not agree to participate in last night’s benefit.

When Lee got out of prison in 2001 (he had done five years for gun possession), he toured North America, Europe, and Australia with an excellent backup band called Baby Lemonade, who played last night with original Love lead guitarist Johnny Echols.

Ironically, it was Lee’s original reluctance to leave hometown L.A. that is blamed for the band not becoming 60’s royalty.

Baby Lemonade are a very tight band, and they even brought along a trumpet player for songs like “Alone Again Or.” Seeing Johnny Echols was great, too. He now looks a little bit like a kinder Felix Barbosa from “Deep Cover” (or Chano from Barney Miller).

The opening band was Vince and the Invincebles. Vince Flaherty fronted the band, which was made up of two older female backup singers, one of whom kept trying to be the yenta for various audience members during the long sessions when the band was getting its shit together onstage, two younger dudes with dreadlocks, a drummer and an older guitar player. The band itself was fairly solid, though, as a unit, their personalities were all over the place.

It was announced that Spencer Davis was in the audience.

“We love you, Spencer,” the dreadlocked white guy guitarist said, and started to noodle “Gimme Some Lovin’.”

Lead singer Vince Flaherty was a mess. I polled various older folks in the audience, people with gray or white hair and tie-dyes, about who this guy was and what right he had to waste our time.

“I think he knew Arthur before Love, or played on the same bills with him,” one man said.

Flaherty dropped the microphone so many times that his younger bandmates started making fun of him. Flaherty was surly and forgot his lyrics. He shambled around the stage. The white-haired sound tech for the Whisky kept crawling onstage to retrieve dropped microphones and stands, looking like he wanted to kill Mr. Invinceble.

Flaherty had the attitude of someone who gets more and more angry with the audience the more he screws up. It was painful.

I’d read that Baby Lemonade announced they would no longer perform with Arthur Lee the crazier he got. I wonder how long the Invincebles will stay around. I saw one of the Invincebles outside.

“We’re kind of the de facto backup band for people from the 60s,” he said, but was interrupted before I got any more information.

Somebody was videotaping the show for Arthur Lee and the camera would occasionally pan the audience during the numerous breaks in the Invincebles’ set. “We’re sorry, Arthur,” one audience member said.

Baby Lemonade, both by contrast and on their own, were fantastic. They played the entirety of “Forever Changes” and came back for an encore with Echols and Ware.

From the opening track, the late Bryan Maclean’s beautiful “Alone Again Or” (some of MacLean’s relatives were in the audience, but not his half-sister, Lone Justice’s Maria McKee) to “You Set the Scene” (as well as an encore of the protopunk “7 And 7 Is” from Love’s second album, “Da Capo”), the band outLoved Love, playing with a fan’s adoration and attention to detail.

It was good to be in a truly all-ages audience at the Whisky. I hope Lee recovers, but I hope he doesn’t shoot Vince.

UPDATE: Both the sound technician, Rick Beck, and Mr. Invinceable himself have responded to this post. Vince pointed out that the street in the title does not have an S in it – it’s Hilldale, unlike what I originally wrote.

Rick Beck writes:

I’m the white haired sound tech that Marty Barrett misrepresented crawling on stage to retrieve Vince’s dropped microphones “looking like I wanted to kill Mr. Invincible”. It’s funny how a person like yourself with a bigger head than insight spins things. The same problems with the sound board and the microphones continued with Willie Chambers where the double mic fell out of the mount while he was singing.

You must have talked the people I saw who were gaping at Vince and the Invincables as if they had never seen humans. Before the show I heard a lady say that Vince was keeping everyone waitingShe said they missed sound check. Later I found out Vince refused to sign a last minute contract giving the right to control the recording of his band. They were told they would not be performing unless he signed the contract. Cheap last minute music biz trick. It took at least 2 hours to get permission for the Invincables to take the stage and during that time a few people in the audience were understandably. I’ve never seen vibes like that in a pre show audience before. You are right about one thing, Vince was pissed by the time he got on stage. He was demolishing the mics because they were messed up and the audience couldn’t hear the vocals anyway. I thought it was part of the act and it was great. I’ve been to a lot of concerts and despite the bad vibes this one was one of the best shows I’ve seen in my life because of the contrast between the style of the two bands. They were both very good. I mean it and that’s the truth unlike Marty’s silly remarks.

Rick Beck

UPDATE 2015: Arthur Lee died in August, 2006. “Love Revisited,” featuring Baby Lemonade with Johnny Echols, has been touring Southern California with trumpet and string section performing “Forever Changes” in its entirety. The band returns to Hollywood’s El Cid in early 2015.