There is a story, certified and true, that when a friend of mine got married, her mother looked into hiring a rock band and was told by the booking agent that they were, in the lingo, "heavy." To this, she turned up her nose more in consternation than in revulsion and said, "I don't care how much they weigh, what do they sound like?"
It is in the spirit of that woman's ignorance, so innocent and so delightful, that Interior Secretary James G. Watt is forgiven for thinking that the Beach Boys represented hard rock. The man knows so little about so many things, he should not be expected to know anything at all about rock music.
But it is a far different matter to ban the Beach Boys, a group of excruciating wholesomeness, from performing the Fourth of July concert on the Mall and substitute instead Wayne Newton on the specious grounds that he is more typically American than they. If Wayne Newton is typically American, we are all--Jim Watt included--doomed.
It is Wayne Newton, after all, who performs in saloons before drunks. Now I know that for some reason Secretary Watt prefers a shouting drunk to a kid who is both mellow on--and sitting on--grass, but the distinction escapes me. They are both drugs, although as anyone can tell you, the effects of alcohol are worse than those of marijuana.
It is true, of course, that someone has to decide who is to perform on the Mall during the Fourth of July festivities. It is probably true, also, that there would be more arrests following a Beach Boys concert than after, say, a Kate Smith concert. And it is also true, as Secretary Watt says, that the Beach Boys draw a younger crowd than Wayne Newton would . . . or does . . . or will, presuming he draws any crowd at all if people are not allowed to show up on the Mall dressed loudly, holding highballs, squeezing women they have rented for the occasion and yelling, "Bring momma a seven." And despite Secretary Watt's assurances that Newton will draw a family crowd, it is a fact that youngsters are as unknown in Vegas as Newton is to them. It has been years since he's had a hit.
It is Wayne Newton, not the Beach Boys, who can find an audience only in gambling centers like Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, hardly all-American cities. Newton has tried to sing elsewhere, but outside of the casino circuit he is a bust and could not fill the Merriweather Post Pavilion here last summer. No matter. In Vegas alone he makes several million all-American dollars, singing before people who have come to participate in the all-American pastime of gambling.
Wayne Newton is a major owner of Arabian horses. This is an all-American hobby, indulged in by lots of all-American folks, many of whom live in mobile homes or who are, at the moment, out of work. They all love Arabian horses as much as, or even more than, they love croquet or polo, two other all-American sports.
But I digress. The real point the secretary is trying to make is political, not musical. To him there is an "American" kind of music--a "wholesome" music "for the family and for solid, clean American lives." Rock is not it, although for some reason "Danke Schoen," a Newton song sung in the language of a former enemy, is. And there is also a sort of age and life style that is more American than other ages and other life styles. To Watt, you are more American if you are middle-aged, middle-classed and middle-browed than if you are anything else.
The trouble is that these are judgments made on appearances and the sound of things. But if Watt thinks long hair and a fondness for loud music are synonymous with radicalism, he ought to talk to these kids. Many of them are downright reactionary. And if he thinks that Bermuda shorts and gray hair are synonymous with conservatism, he ought to talk to the Gray Panthers.
Of course Watt can say who can sing on the Mall and who cannot, but he cannot say what is and what is not American. Watt has never understood that some things are above politics. Music is one.
The wilderness is anothe