I am a 24-year-old junior investment banker. Stephanie is a 21-year-old Columbia undergraduate. We are both at a John Kerry benefit aboard the Intrepid. She shifts back and forth in a pair of Jimmy Choo high heels as I squeeze the final drops of life from a lime into my gin and tonic. She doesn’t affect the aura of a policy wonk, and I decide to ask just what has brought her here tonight.
I do this in as flirtatious a way as possible because I am attracted to Stephanie. I bounce off of a heel, shoot her a wry smile, and tilt my head thirty degrees to the right, as if I might kiss her neck. This I plan on doing repeatedly later in the evening.
“Stephanie, I have trouble believing that a nubile young thing like you has nothing better to do with her Thursday night than listen to John Kerry say nothing in as many words as possible. Might you be here just to listen to Moby?” She giggles. Her friends giggle. They are all just here to listen to Moby. We are all just here to listen to Moby. Even the volunteers are mostly young professionals from around New York who slapped on pins and buttons for the evening so that they too might listen to Moby.
Moby: the bald, vegan, pacifist technopomp who took the David Byrne/ Brian Eno masterpiece My Life In The Bush of Ghosts and updated it for Generation Y. Where Byrne and Eno created an acoustic backdrop of sound bites and commentary against which the policies of Reagan’s America could be contextualized and questioned, Moby used the same musical engineering techniques to offer a great hook-up album. Like most who enjoy it, his work is totally devoid of meaning but exciting in other, more visceral ways.
This is why the Intrepid was packed with young professionals sucked from Pastis and Balthazar into the belly of a decommissioned warship to give $100 to the decommissioned warrior who would be president.
Perhaps to avoid scaring these urban effetes, or maybe to avoid upsetting Moby the pacifist, thick black sheets were draped over the paintings and exhibits paying tribute to the finer fighting moments in the history of the American navy. All aboard the HMS Disco, Captain: DJ Party Starter Kerry.
Someone rang a bell, and the 200 young urbanites were herded away from the cash bars toward a large stage with the American flag as a backdrop. Moby entered with a bleached-blonde punk-babe from the West Village (I imagine). He stepped up to the microphone and apologetically told us that there would be no sensual techno tunes tonight. Rather, he had prepared some cover songsand watch out because some were written by Republicans. A few minutes into the secondhand act he introduced John Kerry as The Next President of The United Sates.
Kerry emerged with his guitar and joined in. He had all the stage presence of the sixth member of Herman’s Hermits. At this point I had a general revelation: Moby, John Kerry, and I are all cosmically doomed.
Moby is doomed because, in choosing to play “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and “Ring of Fire” (homage to Johnny Cash), he upset 200 of his most ardent fans in New York City. He is doomed because he spent a full night hanging out on a battleship that once served meat at every meal and was used to (gasp!) fight: embarrassing stuff for a vegan-pacifist. Moreover, (and this is not new) Moby is doomed because Eminem fans keep coming to his concerts and beating him up. I looked around the room and wondered if we would be lucky enough to have some of them there so that the ghost of Johnny Cash might have vengeance for what Moby did to “Ring of Fire.” No luck.
Now, John Kerry is not only doomed because his George Hamilton tan makes his face look like the death mask of Agamemnon, but also because his campaign platform has become his own political sarcophagus. No one stole the agenda-setting power of this campaign from him, he is simply playing Hamlet with issues of global importance and is consequently unable to set any agenda at all. The man who said on the eve of the Iraq war that “we need a regime change in the United States” chose to throw a fundraiser on a major U.S. aircraft carrier. The mixed messages grew ever more perplexing as he thrust a worker’s fist to the crowd and promised to put an end to George Bush’s ravaging of the economy. I could hear the buckles of Gucci loafers rattle in applause, as somewhere in after-hours trading the New York Stock Exchange added to its three-month rally.
Strangely, the most resonant chord that Candidate Kerry was able to strike came from his criticism of Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Patriot Act. It became clear that my generation now views itself as a collective Winston Smith on the run from Big Brother Ashcroft. Yet judging from the preponderance of bankers and lawyers in the room, it was difficult to imagine anyone there having the requisite time for a personal life worth invading. Later in the evening, the fundraiser filtered out to a handful of exclusive New York nightspots, where for all of his evil, invasive power, it was clear that even the mighty Ashcroft was powerless to enforce upon the brazen, educated, and beautiful even the most elementary narcotics laws.
That was when I realized that I was doomed. Mine is a generation that cannot distinguish a political rally from a downtown lounge, a cover song from the original, an album from its inspiration. Our parents were Democrat Hippies, and we have become Meritocrat Zombies of the Ivy League who cheer like good proles for an empty candidate just so we can listen to a hypocrite bard play other people’s music. Our elite educations have taught us never to judge because all is relative and therefore subjective. But what will we do if the nation ever encounters a crisis that demands values, judgments, and critical thinking? Shed a tear for the young men of Athens.
At the end of his performance with Moby, John Kerry walked into the crowd to shake our hands. The hundreds of muscles in his face did a smile for perhaps the ten-thousandth time. His lips parted to reveal a set of teeth bleached so brilliantly white that it was briefly conceivable that he had lived his entire life on soft foods. The bright lights poured watt after watt down upon him, and he moved through the crowd toward me. I offered him my laborless hand, which he grabbed, smiling. Then he walked through the crowd, holding my hand, his hair a thicket of gel and mousse, his chemically bleached teeth shining brighter and brighter.
Dana B. Vachon writes from New York.