Thursday, November 15, 2007

REV: One-upping Lyle? . . .

Even Julia Roberts Didn't Love Him Like That
By Dana Milbank, Wednesday, November 14, 2007; Page A02

Fresh from his appearance Monday night at the Birchmere, Lyle Lovett had a gig at the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday -- and the stage proved uncomfortably crowded with performers.

The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, movie actor and ex-husband of Julia Roberts had come to testify about music copyrights. But the lawmakers, in the presence of a captive celebrity audience, turned the hearing room into an amateur talent show. "My parents forced upon me trombone lessons," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) informed the country music star. "I learned how to play the guitar," he added, because "the opposite sex was not attracted to trombone."

"I gave the keynote address at the ASCAP national convention one year," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a writer of patriotic Christian hymns, told Lovett. "The place went wild. I mean, they screamed and shouted and stood on chairs."

Though nobody asked, Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) disclosed that he, too, is "a big music fan."

"We all enjoy the music," seconded Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Still, he couldn't help but wonder whether "we might have a better public response if we let the performers perform as opposed to hearing the senators do too much talking."

Not a chance of that happening.

Lovett and his warm-up act, Chicago singer-songwriter Alice Peacock, wanted a law requiring radio stations to pay royalties to singers. To help her case, Peacock grabbed an acoustic guitar and, from the witness table, sang a love song to the four men on the dais: "Baby, I've never felt so alive/It's joy, it's ecstasy, it's truth, it's destiny."

Peacock's rich voice and Lovett's famous visage distracted the senators from copyrights. The star-struck lawmakers competed to display their musical savvy.

"Texas has produced a large number of our nation's most famous musicians," Cornyn announced, and then proceeded to misidentify the father of Texas swing, the late Bob Wills of the Texas Playboys, as "Bob Willis." Murmurs spread through the crowd. "Excuse me! I don't know why I said Bob Willis," the embarrassed lawmaker apologized, before recovering enough to ask Lovett whether the singer Robert Earl Keen "was your housemate at Texas A&M?"

"We lived down the street from one another," Lovett testified. Without objection, this salient fact was entered into the record.

Lovett must have known he was in for some idol worship. Senators, celebrities in Washington only, love to have the attention of actual celebrities. This explains the stream of recent visitors through the Capitol: Bono to talk about foreign aid; Richard Gere to see the Dalai Lama; Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash to talk nukes; and, to highlight various issues,Sheryl Crow, Kate Bosworth, Drew Barrymore and even porn star Jenna Jameson. Even as Lovett testified yesterday, Bo Derek was spotted in the same building.

A couple of hours after Lovett departed the congressional stage, Stevie Van Zandt (of Springsteen and "Sopranos" fame) entered the Capitol escorted by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). The two told Van Zandt, who had come to promote music education, about how they sang Sinatra at a chamber of commerce dinner. "I know that you've got a good front man in the band, but if he gets sick or wants to take a day off, call us," Menendez proposed.

"Anybody going to invite us to sing as a group?" Lautenberg asked reporters.

"Last year, I had Dionne Warwick visit with me," boasted Menendez, pronouncing her name "Diane."

Van Zandt, luckily, had to indulge senators' banter for only a few minutes; Lovett had to do it all morning. "My staff heard you last night at the Birchmere and gave you rave reviews," Leahy, chairman of the Lovett fan club, told the witness. Lovett, wearing a black business suit and reading glasses low on his nose, smiled politely.

When Peacock supplemented her opening statement with a few lines of music, Leahy wondered aloud how the stenographer would get that into the hearing record. "The last time somebody spent part of their testimony in a hearing like that was my late friend Harry Chapin, and it brings back memories," he told Peacock.

"There hasn't been [a hearing] I've enjoyed personally as much in a long time," Cornyn, who singled out singer Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, sitting in the first row and wearing a white cowboy hat.

Hatch -- the chamber's reigning musician since the departure of John "Let the Eagle Soar" Ashcroft -- made clear that, "as a songwriter," he felt a special bond with the other artists in the room. Hatch -- author of the famous lyrics "Heal our land/Please keep us safe and free/Watch over all who understand the need for liberty" -- recalled the delirious reception he received at the songwriters convention when he showed them his first royalty check, for $57.

Specter couldn't resist needling his colleague. "Ms. Peacock, you say you perform for passion, not for money -- sort of like senators," he said, putting his arm around Hatch.

Hatch wasn't amused. "Can I interrupt?" he later asked Specter. "I have one gold and one platinum record, but I've been told I would have more if it wasn't for piracy."

Lovett was duly awed by the senators. "It's really quite impressive," he said after the hearing. "What brilliant speakers they are."

And what does Lovett think of Hatch's music? The songwriter laughed, then stammered. "Ah," he finally said. "Music is such a subjective thing."

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