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March 04, 1993 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 1993-03-04

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The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - March 4, 1993 - Page 5

A
by Marc Olen

'Jewel' of an author

der

The Mac is back! Prez Clinton brought Stevie Nicks and Company back in style.
ie

Fleetwood Mac's "Don't S top
Thinkin' about Tomorrow" was the
soundtrack to lastsuminer'sDemocratic
National Convention and for the ensu-
ing presidential campaign. I couldn't
have been the only one who laughed
openly (in the privacy of my own living
room, to the annoyance ofmy party-line
parents) when, after Clinton had fin-
ished up his keynote, the Mac's poofy
'70s hit flooded the airwaves. And it
isn't just the unpurgeable memory of
Hil andTipcuttin'arug in their compli-
mentary primary colors that still makes
me cringe, but the sheer cheesiness of

the choice of songs.
I think it was around 1984 when it
suddenly became hip for politicians to
co-opt pop and rock for their own pur-
poses. Ronald Reagan's Secretary of
the Interior, James Watt, rescinded the
administration's invitation to the Beach
Boys to play at a 4th-of-July Gala, say-
ing that they might draw, "the wrong
element. " But faster than you can say,
"sex, drugs and rock-and-roll," Reagan
turned around and tried to convince us
that "Born in the USA" was a patriotic
sog. Four years later, George "hep-
cat" Bush tried to give his campaign a
boost by using adecent song from a bad
movie: "Don't Worry, Be Happy."
Alas, neither attempt at breaking
through that iron curtain of hipness
which separates each generation from
the next was terribly successful. Bruce
wondered aloud in concerts and inter-
views if the President had actually lis-
tened to his lyrics. Bobby McFerrin,
whose goofy ditty was fun in context,
but horrifyingly ironic when played at
GOP rallies, demanded that his music
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not be usedas Bush's theme song. In the
end, it didn't really matter. The people
Reagan was trying to reach through
Bruce voted to trade in rebellion for
what they saw as stability, and
McFerrin's target audience just didn't
vote.
So, in 1992, along came the first all-
baby-boomer ticket, and itactually made
sense that rock should play a part in the
campaign. Things were gonnabe differ-
ent. Instead of Old White Guys in Brooks
Brothers' suits looking asif they wanted
to yell at their kids to turn the stereo
down, probably mumbling toeachother
things like, "I don't know why people
don't like Dino and Frank anymore,"
wegot Somewhat-Younger White Guys
in pricey threads, doing the white-man's
overbite andprobably mumbling to each
other, "Man, they don't write 'em like
this anymore." Okay, so the big differ-
ence was, they not only had the ap-
proval, but the blessing of the artists to
use their material. Clinton wasn't wor-
But, if our new prez
really wanted to live up
to his revolutionary
roots, and convince us
that Change is his
middle name, you've
got to ask yourself, why
Fleetwood Mac instead
of Bob Dylan or Neil
Young?
ried about "the wrong element" raining
down on his parade; he and his friends
were the wrong element in their day.
Now, don't get me wrong. I like the
song, and I was as excited as anyone
who lived through the '70s could be to
see the Mac reunited (if only for one
night) at the Inaugural Gala. Having
been born far too late to have seen them
in their heyday (well, before the advent

of MTV), it was kind of a thrill for me
to see them all on the same stage. But, if
our new prez really wanted to live up to
his revolutionary roots, and convince us
that Change is his middle name, you've
got to ask yourself, why Fleetwood
Mac instead of Bob Dylan or Neil
Young? Why "Don't Stop" rather than
'The times, they are a-changin"'?
Was it just Clinton's desire to play
up the hope angle-give his generation
something to feel good about? I don't
think so. Rather, the song seemed to be
the perfect, all-encompassing, all-in-
clusive sound bite. Sure, some of the
lyrics sound like they could have been
penned by the Brady kids, but hey -
it's rock and roll. Our Music. Whoever
WE happen to be; and that's the point.
It's not specific to anyone's politics, but
ithas abeat, and you can dance to it. And
you can bet it's not on the PMRC's hit
list.
But Bill was also covering his own
ass. Borrow Dylan's material and re-
mind people that, at one time, he was a
foe of the "Establishment"? Invoke a
Jackson Browne tune and let people
think he might actually be a Liberal?
Even suggest to the voters that he might
share some of Joan Baez'views? Can't
give the other side any more ammo than
necessary, after all, and that music was
(and, if there's any justice, still is) fight-
ing music.
Okay, boys and girls, here's today's
listening assignment: go out and find a
theme song for the new Administration,
one that you think Bill & Al ought to
arrange for their own band to play at
White House receptions. Remember,
they're going tobe around forfour more
years, so it should be a timeless classic
that won't lose its spark before Clinton
fills all of his Cabinet posts. Send me
your suggestions, I'll do some number
crunching and get back to you before
the term's over. Until then, keep your
mind and ears open.

Author Bret Lott does not want any-
thing to come easily in either his life or
his writing. "If every year, EdMcMahon
showed up at my front door, it'd be kind
of boring," Lott said.
This attitude surfaces in his novels,
in which Lott, who has worked his way
from RC Cola salesman to professor,
focuses on the everyday struggles of
living, the very aspects that "keep life
interesting."
In his latest novel, "Jewel," Lott has
created ahard-edgedheroine after whom
the book is titled, based on his real-life
grandmother. Jewel struggles to raise
Brenda Kay, her Down's Syndrome-
afflicted child, in the mid-twentieth cen-
tury South.
"Jewel, the character, is not my grand-
mother," Lott said. "For the sake of the
novel, I had to sacrifice what really
happened for what would make a better
story."
Still, the lives of the two women run
somewhat parallel. In a tradition dating
from his first novel, "The Man Who
Owned Vermont," Lott mixes personal
history with a first-person narrator to
give "Jewel" a sense of authenticity. "It
was culling from what I'd been handed
all my life, stories of my family's lives,"
Lott said.
In preparation for the book, Lott
spent time at his grandmother's Califor-
nia home, attempting to wind her life
into the thread of the novel. "I asked her
a million questions. A lot of them were
mundane, like 'What kind of food did
you eat in the winter when nothing was
growing?"' Lott said, "I thought, how-
ever dull they'd be, they'd lend authen-
ticity to the story."
Running through her life so inti-
mately, however, Lott was exposed to
some oral history he was less than eager
to hear. "She told me how one time, she
and my grandfather went out and made
love in a canoe on a marsh," Lott said.
He later decided this intimate detail was
not one he wanted to cast aside.
"I kind of just filed that away, think-
ing, 'Aagh, I don't want to know that,'
but when I sat down to write the book,
suddenly it made sense," Lott said, "My
grandma is awoman, was married to the
man she loved, and this was part of their
lives."

In "Jewel," Lott also focuses on
sacrifice - what the narrator must give
up to see that her daughter gets the
special attention she needs. Lott said,
"One of the questions of the novel is
'what is sacrificed in order to love?"'
This idea of sacrifice comes from
both Jewel's religious faith and Lott's
own beliefs. "That (sacrifice) is the
theme in all my work. I think we are
tested in this world, and through that
testing, we are either made better or we
fall short," Lott said, "Jewel's daughter
is never not going to be retarded. The
fact is, the tests never disappear."
Lott never before tackled a novel
covering this many years, and perhaps
as a result, the original manuscript of
"Jewel" spanned over 600 pages. He
tried to stick to a formula of dividing the
timeline up neatly, but failed. "What I
ended up doing is clearing my living
room and spreading the manuscript all
over and extracting every flashback from
the book," Lott said.
Lott put flashbacks where they fell
thematically in "Jewel," and arranged
them into an order in which he thought

the title character would think. "Women
think much more cyclically and in
circles. They touch on many things at
once as they're thinking," Lott said,
"Consequently, it (the novel) sort of
meanders through time a lot."
He compares this to his earliernovel
"The Man Who Owned Vermont," in
which the male narrator had few flash-
backs. "Men look at something andsay,
'OK, all we have to do is this and this
and this and this' - 'Just do that.'
Women think through things more and
think more in terms of the whole," Lott
said.
"Jewel" is currently being made into
a movie, with Sally Field as the title
character and the producer of the film.
"(As the book's author) I have the best
of both worlds. If it's a great movie, I
wrote the book, of course," Lott said, "If
it's a lousy movie, well, the book is
always better than the movie."
Bret Lott will readfrom his work
today at Rackham Amphitheatre at S
p.m. and Friday at 7:30 p.m. at
Border's on State Street. Admission is
free.

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