A Washington Ringtone Symphony

By Mike Musgrove
Sunday, April 29, 2007

Do cellphone ringtones reveal anything about their owners? Maybe they do, and maybe that's why a lot of official Washington avoids the things.

"Please," offered political-thriller novelist Brad Meltzer by e-mail. "Only a fool isn't on vibrate at all times. Especially in D.C."

I conducted a highly unscientific survey over the past few weeks and found that while image-conscious politicians generally follow Meltzer's line of thinking, plenty of other prominent Washingtonians do not.

Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren's phone rings to "Hello Dolly" when her sister calls, the "Twilight Zone" theme song when her brother does, and the William Tell Overture when her producer rings. When her husband calls, her phone belts out the "American Bandstand" theme.

There's a thought process behind some of these selections. Her producer gets William Tell when she calls because it's a ring that sounds appropriately important, and "Hello Dolly" was a song she heard around the house as a kid. As for "American Bandstand," there's no real explanation. "It just makes everybody who hears it laugh," she said.

Emil de Cou, associate conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra, hears B.B. King's "Lucille" whenever he gets a call. The bluesman's guitar licks have, on occasion, popped up during rehearsals, de Cou admitted, when he's forgotten to turn off the phone's ringer.

De Cou says his colleague Leonard Slatkin had part of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" as his ringer for a while. "It was very strange as a ringtone," de Cou said. "It didn't make you want to pick up the phone."

Jason Caddell of the local indie band Dismemberment Plan, which reunited this weekend for a benefit gig, has a few ringtones selected as private jokes with his friends. There's Duran Duran's "Rio," Mountain's "Mississippi Queen" and Run DMC's "It's Tricky." But most of the time, he said, his phone is set to vibrate.

My calls to Washington politicos didn't turn up as much.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign team declined to look into the matter, and Sen. Barack Obama's team didn't respond, though I did wind up on the "Obama for America" e-mail list. Rudy Giuliani's people say he has some normal default ringer on his phone -- they know this because it went off by accident while he was giving a speech Tuesday.

Also, in case you ever wondered: The White House says the president and vice president do not carry cellphones.

In lobbying circles, the chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, Mitch Bainwol, has a song by "American Idol" finalist Chris Daughtry: "It's Not Over."

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