30 August 2006

Al Gore: One Hip Dude?

So I realize I'm hardly the first person to mention that Al Gore has gone from "wooden almost-president" to "sexy environmental crusader responsible for the third-biggest documentary in American film history."

However, I was still surprised by his celebrity playlist, posted this week on iTunes.

For one thing, is Al Gore a celebrity now? Yes, he was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, but I thought that was kind of ironic. Are politicians even allowed to be celebrities? I mean, other than Fred Dalton Thompson, of course.

(Side note: I briefly joined the... umm... Young Republicans club at my high school because they had scheduled a field trip to the Outback Steakhouse in order to meet Mr. Thompson. At the time, he was a Tennessee senator and the co-star of "Feds," a movie I had seen about a thousand time on cable. To me, it seemed worthwhile to join a club that would let me leave school in the middle of the day, eat cheese fries that I didn't have to pay for, and shake hands with Agent Bill Bilecki. Plus, the day after that event, I dropped out of the organization. Turns out cheese fries couldn't coat over the taste of my rampant liberalism.)

But back to Al Gore. His apparent celebrity status notwithstanding, there were a few more things that surprised me. Here's a quick sampling of songs on his playlist:

(1) "I'm Alright" by alt-country chanteuse Kim Richey. "It is a perennial on my playlist because it makes me feel good," he writes. Mine too! Who knew that the former veep and I both shared a fondness for obscure-yet-talented singer-songwriters?

(2) "UMI Says" by Mos Def. Gore writes, "I chose this song to blow Mark's mind." Well, not really. But Al Gore may be the only person over forty who even knows that Mos Def is a brilliant rapper, not just that guy who was in "Topdog/Underdog" on Broadway. Plus, remember how Tipper Gore was responsible in the 1980s for inventing that warning label for CDs? The one that says music contains explicit content? Does Tips know that her husband is listening to music with... language?

(3) "Gone Going" by Black Eyed Peas. Now this is surprising because of Gore's explanation. "I also love the fact," he says, "that the Black Eyed Peas wrote such a great song and wrapped it around a hook that comes from Jack Johnson, who is one of my all time favorite singers and songwriters."

I think that comment poses the biggest quandary. Is Al Gore cool for liking Black Eyed Peas and Jack Johnson? Because on the one hand, those acts skew pretty young. But on the other, they're not exactly the hippest groups on the block. Catchy? Yes. But also the kind of act you might expect your mother to enjoy. Well, as long as she doesn't know what her London Bridge is.

You know what I mean? Jack Johnson and Black Eyed Peas hover in some gray zone where they are both hip and unhip at the same time. I think it's because they're both so obviously packaged to be unthreatening. Even the Peas' most aggresively sexual songs are silly and playful, and Johnson wrote an album's worth of material for the "Curious George" movie.

But they're popular. And they make shiny videos. And they make accessible versions of hip-hop and folk. That makes them hipper than someone like Celine Dion, whose inoffensiveness resides in the uncool ghetto of adult contemporary balladeering. Plastic hip-hop will always be a little awesome. Even if just a little.

But since Al Gore already cops to liking hip-hop and folk artists with unassailable cred, his embrace of BEP and JJ makes him a little less cool. (No need to send letters. I'm aware that I'm in the same boat. But my lack of coolness is not in question.)

However, I think Al Gore has coolness to spare. I mean, he is saving the environment. And didn't he invent the internet? Or blogs?

So rock on Al, and keep surprising us all. I can't wait to see you on tour with Bono, simultaneously running the World Bank and doing a sweet guitar solo on "One."



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