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Facing The Future or Reaching For the Past?

Anti-Establishment Performers, Centrist Politicians Provide Odd Combination, Strange Moments

By C.r. Mcfadden, Special to The Crimson

BOSTON--Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry's (D-Mass.) "Victory '96 Concert" was about finished when 1970s rocker Carly Simon strode to the stage, nodded at Kerry and turned to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 (D-Mass.), the state's senior senator.

"Thank you, Senator Kerry. And thank you, President Kennedy," she said, drawing snickers from the 13,000 loyal Democrats who packed FleetCenter Saturday night.

It was a long, strange trip, with Simon's gaffe epitomizing the entire affair: The music was decent, but the musicians and their musical selections just didn't make much sense.

You can't really blame Simon for confusing Kennedy with President Bill Clinton. Or Crosby, Stills and Nash for forgetting the exact date of the election. After all, they're entertainers, not politicians.

And entertain they did--playing the tunes of the sixties and seventies that defined Kerry and Clinton's generation, from "Blowin' in the Wind" to "Teach Your Children Well" to "Puff the Magic Dragon."

But the audience never really tuned in or turned on. No grooving in the aisles. No Bic lighters in the night.

And they sure hadn't dropped out.

From college students to union members to corporate executives in three-piece suits, the crowd plunked down as much as $1,000 per seat mainly to hear the candidates' stump speeches.

"The music is really secondary. We heard them the first time around," said Christopher J. Daly, 52, of Gardner.

Crosby, Stills and Nash showed some political savvy, dedicating "Helplessly Hoping" to Republican presidential nominee Robert J. Dole.

But most of the entertainers' messages were far out, man.

Don Henley said Democrats were the party of amphibians. Whoopi Golbderg blasted Republicans for taking "ugly pills." Peter, Paul and Mary called Kerry "our own magic dragon," who still "lives and frolics by the sea."

At times, though, the musicians seemed oblivious to the irony of their words. "Puff the Magic Dragon" was played despite the "I didn't inhale" President's vulnerability on the drug issue. Joe Walsh sang of cities where "when you're down, that's where you'll stay" to a crowd somewhat upset at welfare reforms that cut $60 billion from the programs.

Some of that was to be expected, since Kerry and Clinton are working to deflect charges they are bleeding-heart liberals, a moniker most of the performers are all too happy to accept.

Still, the same musicians who fought the establishment in the sixties were playing before it Saturday, singing the same songs supporting civil rights and environmentalism, opposing Vietnam and imperialism.

In that sense, the Crosby, Stills and Nash song "Been Here Before" was fitting.

But Clinton ended the evening by saying he wanted to move into the 21st century and repeating a decidedly moderate message of limited government and greater personal responsibility.

"Are we going to build a bridge to the future or reach back into the past?" the President asked.

Judging from Saturday night's garbled message, the answer is still "Blowin' In the Wind."

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