Swamped by a Flood of Criticism

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, October 27, 2006

It's been a bad week for the Swedish rock band the Ark, which was forced to cancel appearances in Boston and New York after a tasteless joke sparked a diplomatic incident.

The glam-rock band kicked off a U.S. tour Sunday with an outdoor concert at Sweden's new embassy in Georgetown. Lead singer Ola Salo saw a plane approaching Reagan National Airport and told the audience, "In this country, you don't know where those planes are headed" -- then cracked it was going in the "right direction . . . the White House." The fallout was fast and furious: Salo apologized, Sweden's ambassador Gunnar Lund apologized, and the remark has been front-page news all week in Sweden.

To make matters worse, the band's U.S. work permits expired -- a spectacularly ill-timed coincidence, said manager John Gray. The musicians had permission to perform at the embassy Sunday, but planned to fly back to Sweden, get the proper paperwork and fly to Boston in time for Tuesday's gig. Salo's joke caused such an uproar that they hid out in New York for two days before flying home, and finally got the permits yesterday at the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm -- along with a short reprimand.

The band released a statement later in the day in which Salo admitted he "couldn't resist making a joke," but insisted it was not a political statement. "I'm used to the situation in Sweden, where we have a tradition of mocking authority. It was a totally unserious way of being cheeky toward the White House."

The band headed back to the United States and will resume the tour tomorrow in Chicago. Says Gray: "It's been a bad week, but I think everyone learned a lesson."

John Ashcroft, Ready to Sing For His Country

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft sings
The former attorney general was happy to sing his song "Eagle" for the Gordon-Cornwell seminary in 2002, but not for David Letterman.(Rick Havner - AP)
One lesson gleaned from John Ashcroft 's new book: Making fun of his singing is so not cool. In his new memoir, "Never Again," Ashcroft writes about the challenges he faced as attorney general after Sept. 11 -- including the time he went on David Letterman's show.

The talk show host spent weeks in early 2002 making mirth of a video clip in which the AG sang his own composition, "Let the Eagle Soar," in a strong, clear tenor. Letterman then coaxed Ashcroft onto his show to talk about the Patriot Act -- and by the way, maybe sing a song? Ashcroft writes that he was suspicious of Letterman's nice-guy act and wondered if singing "would expose the office to ridicule." (He eventually agreed to play "Can't Buy Me Love" on the piano instead.)

So it was with some timidity that we approached Ashcroft on Wednesday at his book party, hosted by the National Music Publishers' Association. Any chance the Singing Senators -- his old group with Trent Lott , Larry Craig and Jim Jeffords -- might get back together? Ashcroft smiled warmly. "I hope so! I think that Washington needs more singing these days."

Goodbye Notes for Ambassador Ourisman

"Call Me Madam," the Sequel: In 1949, Harry Truman appointed Washington "hostess with the mostest" Perle Mesta as U.S. minister to Luxembourg, and Irving Berlin wrote "Call Me Madam" for Ethel Merman in her honor. Yesterday, newly minted Ambassador Mary Ourisman -- heading off to Barbados in four days -- was sent off with a musical tribute by longtime gal pals Wilma Bernstein, Ann Hand and Marlene Malek. The party at the Georgetown Club included a performance of patriotic songs and the presentation of a U.S. flag that flew over the Capitol on Oct. 11, the day she was sworn in.

Surreal Estate

SELLERS: Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame

ASKING PRICE: $1.995 million

DETAILS: Washington's high-security-clearance fun couple may not be much longer for this town. Three years after he got into a WMD scrap with the White House and she was unmasked as a spy, the couple are selling their home in D.C.'s Foxhall neighborhood. The five-bedroom Colonial (which they bought new in '98 for $735K) boasts 10-foot ceilings and stunning monument views. Listed for the first time last week at $2.2 million, the price has already dropped slightly, according to their agent's Web listings. Where to now? Wilson didn't return calls, but Roll Call heard whispers they're considering a move to Santa Fe, N.M.

Hey, Isn't That . . . ?

Ralph Lauren nicely asking two high-schoolers if his new store was "too grown up" for them Wednesday afternoon. Sources say the designer toured his Friendship Heights shop with a six-person entourage and talked about how to gain popularity in the teenage market. Lauren told a staffer to give the teens job applications before he headed out, entourage in tow.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company