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The Whole World Is Watching
"We gotta get you laid," Monica said.
"Oh, God," Linda Tripp said, "wouldn't that be something different? New and different. I don't know. After seven years, do you really think that there's a possibility I'd remember how?"
"Of course you would."
"No," Linda Tripp said.
My friend Jann Wenner, the editor and publisher of Rolling Stone, the rock and roll bible, called me excitedly the day after Bill Clinton was nominated for the presidency. He had spent the previous night at a party, celebrating with Clinton. "He's one of us," Jann said. "He'll be the first rock and roll president in American history."
I had come to the same conclusion. He was one of us. Even if, on occasion, he tried to deny it. Of course he had dodged the draft, just another white Rhodes Scholar nigger who agreed with Muhammad Ali and had no quarrel with them Vietcong. Of course he had smoked dope, inhaling deeply, holding it in, bogarting that joint.
Bill Clinton, Jann told me, had always read Rolling Stone, so I smiled when, shortly after the election, he was photographed jogging in a Rolling Stone T-shirt, the same T-shirt I had worn to my son's Little League games. Well, this really was a cosmic giggle: Good Lord, we had taken the White House! After all the locust years--after Bebe Rebozo's boyfriend, after the hearing-impaired Marlboro Man, after that uppity preppy always looking at his watch--America was ours! In the sixties, we'd been worried about staying out of jail. Now the jails were ours to run as we saw fit.
Carter had given us false hope for a while, but Bill Clinton was the real deal: undiluted, uncut rock and roll. Carter, we had discovered, wasn't one of us. Oh, sure, Jimmah allowed his record-mogul pal Phil Walden and Willie Nelson to smoke dope on the White House roof, and he had told Playboy he had "committed adultery in my heart many times," but the unfortunate, terminally well-intentioned dip was such a cheesy rube, definitely not rock and roll, with his beer-gutted Libyan-agent brother, his schoolmarm wife, and the Bible-spouting sister who was secretly having sudsy, lederhosen romps with married German chancellor Willy Brandt. No, definitely not rock and roll, proven forever when he fell on his face jogging, claiming breathlessly that a bunny rabbit had jumped in front of him, falling on his face while wearing black socks.
His Secret Service agents nicknamed Bill Clinton "Elvis," but we knew better. Elvis had been Sgt. Barry Sadler's ideological sidekick, a slobby puppet on a carny barker's strings, in love with his nark badges, informing on the Beatles, toadying up to Nixon, The Night Creature. Those wet panties hurled onstage at his concerts were size 16 and skid-marked. Bill Clinton wasn't Elvis. With his shades on and his sax gleaming, Bill Clinton looked like a pouchier Bobby Keyes playing backup for the Stones. No, that wasn't quite right, either. Not Bobby Keyes, but a pop-gutted Jumpin' Jack Flash and graying Street Fightin' Man . . . Bill Clinton was Mick on cheeseburgers and milk shakes, Taco Bell, and Chef Boyardee spaghetti.
Rolling Stone called his inauguration "the coming of a new age in American politics." Fleetwood Mac was playing "Don't Stop." That was Fleetwood Mac up there, not Pearl Bailey or Sammy Davis, Jr., or Sinatra or Guy Lombardo or Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. That was rock and roll we were hearing, not the Sousa Muzak the big band-era pols in the smoky back rooms had forced on us for so long. Dylan, our messiah, was there. And that was Jack Nicholson at the Lincoln Memorial, Abe's words brought to life by our lawyerly Easy Rider. Bill Clinton's White House was rock and roll, too, full of young people, full of women, blacks, gays, Hispanics; a White House, as Newt Gingrich's guru, Alvin Toffler, said, "more familiar with Madonna than with Metternich." That was just fine with us. It looked like Bill Clinton was continuing what he had begun in Arkansas, where he'd been criticized for having a staff of "long-haired, bearded hippies" who came to the office in cutoffs and patched jeans. The boss himself had been seen in the governor's mansion barefoot, in jeans and a T-shirt.
He had a Yippie-like zaniness about him we could identify with. Out on the golf course in Arkansas, one of his partners noticed that he could see Bill Clinton's underwear through his pants. "They weren't bikinis he had on," the partner said, "but it was some kind of wild underwear." Bill Clinton's favorite joke was one he had told over and over on the Arkansas campaign trail, a joke closer in spirit to Monty Python than to the Vegas lounge meisters favored by so many other presidents: "There was a farmer who had a three-legged pig with a wooden leg. And he bragged on this pig to everybody who came to visit. The farmer would tell how this pig had saved him from a fire. People would be amazed! And he'd say, 'Well, that's not all; this pig saved my farm from going bankrupt.' And the folks would be amazed. And the farmer would say, 'That's not all; this pig saved the entire town once when the dam broke.' Then somebody said to the farmer, 'Well, gosh, it's pretty amazing that you have this pig, but you never did explain why it only has three legs.' And the farmer said, 'Well, hell, you wouldn't want to eat a pig this special all in one sitting!' "
He certainly was a rock and roller. The light blue eyes, the lazy, sexy smile. The lips that were called "pussy lips" in Arkansas. Girls loved him. At age twelve, a classmate said, "Little girls were screaming, 'Billy, Billy, Billy, throw me the football.' All the girls had crushes on him. He was the center of their attention." A reporter covering one of his Arkansas campaigns said, "You could see the effect that he had on people in the eyes of the teenage girls who came to see him. Their eyes would light up. You would think that a rock star had just come into the Wal-Mart." He had rock and roll habits, too. Gennifer Flowers remembered the time he told her, "I really got fucked up on cocaine last night." There was even a Jagger-like androgyny he allowed some of his women friends to see. He put on girlfriend Sally Perdue's dress one night, high on grass, and played Elvis on his sax. He asked Gennifer to meet him at a bar dressed as a man, and he liked her putting eyeliner, blush, and mascara on his face. Underneath it was a rock and roll restlessness, what Gennifer called his feeling that he was "bullet-proof," which allowed him at times to flaunt his relationship with her.
There was no doubt he loved the music. Janis's "Pearl" . . . the Seekers' "I'll Never Find Another You" . . . Peter and Gordon's "A World Without Love" . . . "Here You Come Again" (which reminded him of Gennifer) . . . Steely Dan . . . Kenny Loggins . . . the Commodores' "Easy" and "Three Times a Lady" . . . Joe Cocker . . . Jerry Lee Lewis . . . anything by Elvis. He had his own band when he was a kid, called The Three Kings, which the other kids called Three Blind Mice because they all wore shades. A high school friend said, "I remember driving down this road and Bill singing Elvis songs at the top of his voice. He loved to sing. He just liked music and he was always playing music. I think that was one of the reasons he went to church so much as a kid. To hear the music."
One of the things that attracted him to Gennifer was that she was a rock singer with her own band--Gennifer Flowers and Easy Living--at about the same time that his little brother, Roger, had his band--Roger Clinton and Dealer's Choice. Roger was like Chris Jagger to Mick: He wanted to be a rock star, but he wasn't very good. Roger's taste leaned to Grand Funk Railroad, REO Speedwagon, and Alice Cooper. But Roger shared his love of the music. Bill Clinton's memory of his first appearance on The Tonight Show was that Joe Cocker was there. "He was telling me about the show," Arkansas Democrat columnist Phillip Martin said. "He was telling me about Joe Cocker's band. He said 'Man, they were bad; they were just a kick-ass band, man!' You know, he really wanted to play with Joe Cocker rather than going out there and playing 'Summertime' on his sax. But he was afraid to ask. He was really in awe." And when Stephen Stills asked Roger up onstage once, he said, "I was so excited, I thought I would pee my pants."
He was one of us, it became apparent, in another special way, too, the classic sixties child in love with, addicted to, the pleasures provided him by his penis, which he called "Willard." There was even a cartoon flyer circulated around Arkansas early in his political career that showed Bill Clinton looking down and saying, "Dick, you kept me from being the President of the United States."
From the Hardcover edition.