Tuesday, October 17, 2006

how do you tell a room full of millionaires to shut up?

OK, to be fair, the room was not full of just millionaires—there were film producers and movie stars, literary figures and journalists, ambassadors and former cabinet members filling out the crowd (but I’m not going to name drop, ‘cause I’m not that kind of blog)—and for all I know the millionaires weren’t the ones doing all the jabbering, anyway. But there we were, all 400 of us, or maybe more, crowded into a tenth floor reception room in the super-ugly Time Warner building, to honor producer Jane Rosenthal and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and to support the work of FilmAid International (more on them in a minute), and to be honored ourselves with a performance by Elvis Costello.

Yes, that Elvis Costello. Just him, an acoustic guitar, sittin’ on a stool, singing a few songs to those of us who chose to stand a few feet away. . . or, rather, to those of us who chose to listen!

OK, maybe I am just not world-weary enough.

I was lucky enough to be invited to this event (a Gala, they called it) by a friend—and I consider myself very lucky, indeed. It would have been cool to just put on the dog, drink cocktails, hear Ambassador Holbrooke speak, and see an old friend, but the chance to hear and see Elvis Costello in such an intimate setting was just outrageously exciting to me.

Clearly, I was in the minority.

Though the room was quite full, as the FilmAid board members and honorees spoke, people managed to be relatively attentive. And well they should have been. FilmAid does great work, bringing mobile, open air movie theaters to refugee camps, using the power of film to provide entertainment and diversion (via feature films and cartoons) for uprooted people, while also seizing the opportunity to promote health and community-building with educational films and public service announcements. They also do indoor educational screenings and workshops, and sponsor participatory video projects to help the displaced tell their own stories. (And more than all that, really—check out their website, and maybe even toss them a few dollars if you can spare it. Thanks.)

But after the serious matters at hand had been explained, the honorees honored, and the thank-yous exchanged, it came time for what I thought was a rather beautiful reward: a short performance by Mr. Costello.

Now, I admit, I have been a big Elvis enthusiast for decades, and I have seen him perform live countless times over the years, but whether you are big fan or a casual one, have seen him nine dozen times or never, surely you can appreciate his talent, his donation of his time, and the fact that he’s singing his heart out five yards away from your face!

I mean, I could appreciate that, but at least half the crowd (and I am probably being generous there) could not. Almost as soon as Elvis started singing River in Reverse, a loud wall of walla—noisy chitchat—went up in the room. Elvis sang louder—they all talked louder. Even (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding—a rather popular anthem these days—couldn’t get them to shut the hell up.

And it was a short set—as it was expected to be—but it was clearly too long for the glitterati who just desperately needed to talk for those twenty minutes to whomever it was they were standing next to. I mean, are they all really so jaded as to not be kind of just a little thrilled to have Elvis Costello support their cause and sing to them from a low stage within spitting distance? (Sorry, that’s the old punk in me.)

And I wanted to turn around and tell them all to knock it off, show a little respect, enjoy the privilege they’ve been permitted—but I didn’t know how. Still don’t, I’m afraid—and, gosh, if Elvis can’t get them to pay attention, I hardly expect I would have had much effect, anyway.

Still, you can’t help but want to quote that song—clichéd though it may be.


Blogger dnmiller said...

right on!

6:08 PM  

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