October 26, 2010

How Barack Obama is like Joan Jett

The following is from a Huffington Post blog from 2008, but it's still pretty interesting. The author is entertainment industry lawyer Jackie Fuchs. After graduating summa cum laude from UCLA, she went to Harvard Law School at the same time as Barack Obama. Previously, however, as a teenager under the name Jackie Fox, she had been the bass player in the notorious all girl rock group The Runaways. The most memorable thing about The Runaways when I saw them in 1977 was rhythm guitarist Joan Jett. As a non-singing rhythm guitarist, she was kind of a fifth wheel in the band, but she radiated so much I-Love-Rock-N-Roll charisma that she upstaged the lead singer and lead guitarist. I wasn't surprised that Joan became a stadium rock star in the 1980s and even outacted Michael J. Fox and Gena Rowlands in the 1987 movie Light of Day

Jackie Fuchs/Fox writes:
... Barack Obama reminds me of Joan Jett. They are the only two people I've ever known who have affirmatively chosen to give themselves a larger-than-life persona and then grew to fill it. I saw this a little better with Joan, given that she was a younger age when I knew her than Barack was when I knew him.

Joan in late 1975 was a perfectly ordinary Valley girl. You would never have looked at her and thought you were seeing a future rock star. If you'd even noticed her at all you probably would have thought she was a bit of a mouse. She had brown hair cut in a competent, if unremarkable, shag and she had that slouched-over bad posture that seems to be the working uniform of the shy. In the early days of the band Kim Fowley was always yelling at her to stand up straight.

When I saw the Runaways play as a three-piece band at the Whiskey, I thought they weren't terribly interesting. Both Joan and Sue Thomas (the future Michael Steele of the Bangles) were ordinary and unassuming. The only member of the band that really stood out was Sandy, and she was stuck behind her drum kit. The response to the band was a bit lackluster and it's no surprise to me that Kim decided that the band needed more of a visual standout up front.

By the time I auditioned for the band they had added Cherie and Lita, both of whom grabbed your attention immediately. Joan kind of faded into the mix, and I doubt that the addition of a fifth band member, especially one who was tall, smiled and wore skirts, helped on that front. Cherie was blonde and beautiful in a sulky, fragile way, and Lita had enough personality for ten girls, not to mention lots and lots of curves. Plus they were the lead singer and lead guitarist, respectively, the two instruments that soloed on every song. Who was going to notice a shy, brown-haired rhythm guitarist with bad posture?

I don't remember which came first, the persona or the black hair, but they pretty much went hand-in-hand. One day Joan just decided to become a bad-ass rock star. She dyed her hair black, bought a leather jacket, and started scowling. She turned her slouch from that of a shy person to that of a rocker who wears her guitar slung just a bit too low. She started standing at the front of the stage and doing the most talking in interviews. It was a noticeable and calculated transformation and if it seemed a bit silly and over-the-top at first, it has served her well over time. Act like a rock star long enough, do it unfailingly and well enough, and you become one. ...

I do have to wonder sometimes if that's the Joan that was always there hiding under the shyness and brown hair, like the butterfly hidden inside the caterpillar, or whether she had to give up a significant part of Joan Larkin in order to become Joan Jett. And if so, was it worth it or does transforming yourself like that make it impossible for a question like that even to make sense?

When I met Barack Obama, in our first year of law school, he had already put on his big-time politician act. He just didn't quite have it polished, and he hadn't figured out that he needed charm and humor to round out the confidence and intelligence. One of our classmates once famously noted that you could judge just how pretentious someone's remarks in class were by how high they ranked on the "Obamanometer," a term that lasted far longer than our time at law school. Obama didn't just share in class - he pontificated. He knew better than everyone else in the room, including the teachers. Or maybe even he knew he didn't know, but knew that the leader of the free world had to be able to convince others that he did. Looking back now I can see that he had already decided that he was a future president, and he was working hard at filling that suit.

I wonder -- was there a moment in his life when he did the presidential equivalent of dying his hair black and putting on a leather jacket? I'm betting there was, but he'd already done it by the time I met him. I'm sure Barack as a child was perfectly ordinary, just like Joan was. Until the moment he decided that he was a star. The Barack with whom I went to school wasn't the Barack that debuted on the national stage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, but the president suit was already on, even if it was still too big for him.

In law school the only thing I would have voted for Obama to do would have been to shut up. When he made that speech [2004 Democratic Convention keynote address] almost exactly four years ago, I wanted to vote for him. For something, for anything. Now, as his vision of himself becomes a real possibility, though, I find that he may have filled out that suit all too well. It's hard to see the humanity underneath. Even the humor feels calculated now. And again, just like with Joan, I have to wonder - is he so focused on the goal that he has to live that persona every moment of every day?

42 comments:

Dahinda said...

Joan Jett always seemed a little fake to me. When she first became well known I thought that maybe she had handlers who told her how to act.

anony-mouse said...

In 'The Finkler Question' (I bleieve) there is a character who has a job as a celebrity double. He doesn't look like any specific celebrity. Its just that can stand-in for any celebrity because he looks like a celebrity is supposed to look regardless of who the celebrity actually is.

travis said...

Obama didn't just share in class - he pontificated. He knew better than everyone else in the room, including the teachers. Or maybe even he knew he didn't know, but knew that the leader of the free world had to be able to convince others that he did. Looking back now I can see that he had already decided that he was a future president, and he was working hard at filling that suit.

But might that simply be Obama's default mode? Why does she assume he's black by nature and Yankee by nurture?

RKU said...

When I met Barack Obama, in our first year of law school, he had already put on his big-time politician act...One of our classmates once famously noted that you could judge just how pretentious someone's remarks in class were by how high they ranked on the "Obamanometer," a term that lasted far longer than our time at law school. Obama didn't just share in class - he pontificated. He knew better than everyone else in the room, including the teachers. Or maybe even he knew he didn't know, but knew that the leader of the free world had to be able to convince others that he did...In law school the only thing I would have voted for Obama to do would have been to shut up.

Yep, typical AA empty-suit, just as I'd always known. You can spot them a mile off. Given how "Mr. Empty-Suit" has been doing in the Big Chair, I wonder if that HuffPost columnist now regrets her vote, or has updated her recollections.

The only thing I can say is that since McCain probably would have already started WWWIII right now with the Russians and/or Chinese, Thank God for Barack!!!

elvisd said...

I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch
CHERRY BOMB!

Thrasymachus said...

It's still too big for him.

Peter A said...

Supposedly in high school Obama was nothing special - a stoner athlete. So he must have pulled a "Joan."

Geoff Matthews said...

Wow.

Anonymous said...

Totally off-topic, but NCIS had another dispicably anti-WASP* episode tonight.

And I noticed that ALL of the political commercials were for the local DEMs.

Ironically enough, the writer of tonight's episode [Nicole Mirante-Matthews] is listed with 16 credits as a supervising producer of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

You know, in the early days, NCIS seemed like a pretty hardcore GOP show, but since Bellisario & McGill jumped ship, and the career Bolsheviks at CBS moved in to replace them, the show has headed straight down into the sewer.


*SPOILER: The murderess was the gorgeous, slender, blond-haired chick with the high cheekbones.

Anonymous said...

Supposedly in high school Obama was nothing special - a stoner athlete.

He wasn't even an athlete - he couldn't land a starting position on the Punahou High School basketball team.

What's more, there were no more than about 25 students [about half of whom were girls] in his entire high school class.

In real life [the REAL real life, not the fake real life which was shoved down our throats by The Powers That Be], the guy is just a total loser.

Anonymous said...

First saw the Runaways at the Rat in Boston October '76 (I was only 17 myself). Joan Jett didn't even register other than she was drunk by the time the second set started. Lita and Cherie were definitely the focus. They were quite the hot ticket; in the crowd were all the guys from Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band.

I saw them again a couple years later sans Cherie and Jackie Fox, and they were by then Joan Jett's band. Rocker charisma as opposed to sexiness, which was all Cherie Currie had to sell.

The comparison is not apt at all. Obama is the product of the Axelrod/Plouffe marketing machine. Joan Jett created herself.

Brutus

Truth said...

"I'm your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch
CHERRY BOMB!"

Settle down, Whiskey.

Anonymous said...

In real life [the REAL real life, not the fake real life which was shoved down our throats by The Powers That Be], the guy is just a total loser.

Right, he is so much a total loser that he became the president of the United States.

Whiskey said...

The difference is Joan Jett is actually a good singer and guitar player. That alone puts her above a lot folks, just on sheer self-taught ability. She has craft. Then there is the charisma.

Obama has basically your Affirmative Action hire "self-confidence" which is not Charisma. Moreover, he has no political skill. In a time when a "hail mary" political initiative could easily turn things around for him (say, massive military build up and "foreign policy by intimidation") to put folks back to work and calm the international scene (announcing ten new carrier groups has that effect) he has nothing.

Jett knows when to shift focus from a slow, softer song to an anthem to pump them up, or vice versa to slow them down. Obama can only reach Black and Hispanic voters. Already Instapundit has coined his 2012 slogan: "Get Whitey! Vote Obama!" Expect more White-baiting which as a Black President is self-defeating. People already want him to shut up. His Harris Poll numbers are at 37% approval. Likely to drop more. He's getting worse not more skilled as he ages.

McCain start WWIII? McCain is a RINO, through and through. He has to check the front pages of the NYT to find out what he believes in this day. He craves nothing more than the approval of David Brooks and Tom Friedman. His entire post-imprisonment life has been careful, NYT-trimming, RINO-ism. That's who he is. Every ounce of initiative and fight was taken out of him during imprisonment, where he depended on fellow prisoners for survival. Which is exactly WHY he's such a RINO. He figures the NYT are his fellow prisoners he just hasn't reached yet.

Kevin B said...

Fascinating. I wish she (or others) would say more. If he had his own derisive nickname, that outlived his stay at Harvard, then he must have been known by many of the students.

Jackie at 20 while attending UCLA. I think this was shot post Runaways.

Kylie said...

Anonymous said..."Right, he is so much a total loser that he became the president of the United States."

Right. Just like Bush.

LonewackoDotCom said...

As far as rhythm guitarists for 80s Valley Girl bands are concerned, 2:06 of this beats Joan Jett from Studio City to Chatsworth and back about a hundred times.

P.S. I went to an Obama appearance in L.A. 3.5 years ago, intending to ask him a question about how those linked to foreign governments helped organize an immigration march he spoke at. I'd like to think that if I'd gotten the chance to engage him in debate he wouldn't have looked good at all. However, there was no Q&A session. And, despite spending hour after hour on it, I was unable to find anyone else willing to simply go to one of his appearances and engage him in debate designed to show how he's wrong. Empty suit or not, he's definitely got something that his major opponents don't have.

Anonymous said...

Obama stood out among gunners at HLS. Wow.




I'm not sure non-lawyers can quite fathom what that means and how ridiculous it is.

Wandrin said...

I wondered who he reminded me of.

Steve Sailer said...

"As far as rhythm guitarists for 80s Valley Girl bands are concerned"

I saw the Go-Gos almost three years later to the day, New Years Eve 1980 at the Whiskey.

I especially like the rhythm guitar and piano break in their last hit, "Head Over Heels."

Anonymous said...

Her description of Obama describes perfectly a "friend" of mine from high school, who apparently had decided to put on a similar act quite early in life, and who also went to law school. In high school it impressed a lot of people. 15 years on it no longer does.

Incidentally, he's a huge Obama supporter. He's white, though, so he's stuck being a mediocre lawyer.

agnostic said...

Susanna Hoffs. Now there's a southern California rocker babe who never came off as a persona. (Not that Joan Jett was a bad act.)

That's probably why she melted more hearts than any other, not just due to looking super-cute and girlishly tiny. She appears more sincere, genuine, and nonchalant-and-mysterious, like a '60s Playboy "girl next door" who played in a rock band.

Anonymous said...

@Whiskey: "McCain start WWIII? McCain is a RINO, through and through. He has to check the front pages of the NYT to find out what he believes in this day. He craves nothing more than the approval of David Brooks and Tom Friedman."

Start WWII = attack Iran. What do you think Brooks and Friedman want to do, Whiskey? The New York Times has been working hand-in-glove with the neo-cons for decades on foreign policy, and supported/repeated the lies that got us into Iraq, and are supporting/repeating the lies currently directed at Iran.

McCain's a RINO? Sure - a neo-con RINO, though, not a pacifist or isolationist RINO.

Bush was a RINO, too, and he invaded Iraq.

If you think that the New York Times is pacifist and isolationist, you haven't been paying attention to ANYTHING the NYT has been doing over the course of its long history.

You're not very bright, Whiskey. You are only capable of thinking in two dimensions - goodies (us) and badies (them). You're so wrapped up in your two dimensional ideological war, that you have long since lost any perspective on what our national interest really is. Your blindspot on the swej is a big cause of this.

headache said...

Whiskey, our armchair general at it again:
(announcing ten new carrier groups has that effect)

This as the US and other western navies are worrying about the survivability of their carrier groups in the face of lethal Chinese and Russian surface anti-ship missiles, and high-speed torpedoes such as the Russian Shkval and the German super-cavitation device. Building carrier groups for all-out war is like paying off AA-hires, a total waste of money.

Anonymous said...

@Kevin B: "Jackie at 20 while attending UCLA."

What a great find! She's a smart and tough cookie and pretty obviously Jewish.

DCThrowback said...

Jackie Fuchs responded to some comments on her post. One comment was in response to someone asserting that the transformation of Barack Obama was contrived:

"No, it isn't contrived, it's calculated. There's a big difference. These were my musings on why some people turn into such larger-than-life public figures while others with the same or even more intelligence, talent, etc. don't. I don't think you can fall into greatness by accident, I think you have to choose it and you have to aim high.

I started thinking about this when watching Obama on t.v. made me think of Joan, and it finally occurred to me why. I have been blessed in my life to witness two people in an early stage of achieving greatness (not just success -- lots of people in my law school class have achieved that in spades), but since I don't know either Barack or Joan anymore, it's impossible for me to say how much of what started out as an idea of themselves is still just an idea. I do know from personal experience that once you achieve any kind of fame it's almost impossible not to put on a game face when you are in the public eye, but what happens when you are in the public eye almost all the time?"

Very interesting thoughts to say the least. Nice find Steve.

Anonymous said...

I worked in the Columbia University Bookstore in the early 1980s. Obama used to come in to browse in the late afternoons. He stood out because most black students just came in to get a book that was required and immediately purchased it and left, while he came in pretty frequently just to browse. (I also kept an eye on blacks in the store because shoplifting was disproportionately committed by them. I never saw Obama attempt to shoplift.) Obama browsed through mostly the political science sections and the Marxism section. This was NOT atypical. By the way, Columbia required all students to take a course called "Contemporary Civilization" in which we read from Tucker's Marx Engels Reader. Anyway, my sense of Obama, at that time, while he was an undergraduate, was that he was very quiet and serious, and wanted to give off the persona that he was intellectual. While he did not seem confident, he did not outwardly seem insecure either. This is "two cents" from a guy who remembers him from back then.

dearieme said...

I can think of one outstandingly intelligent, mature and wise thing O has said in office. When he was asked whether the opposition to him was racist, he replied along the lines of "I was black when they voted for me."

Mr. Anon said...

"Obama didn't just share in class - he pontificated. He knew better than everyone else in the room, including the teachers. Or maybe even he knew he didn't know, but knew that the leader of the free world had to be able to convince others that he did."

In other words, he is an arrogant blowhard.

And by the way, those leftists who like to say: Of course he's not a drip - he got elected President didn't he; that's more than you've ever done. Those people need to take back everything they ever said about G.W, or they need to shut up about Obama. It is quite possible for a talentless non-entity to be elected President. In fact, I think it is getting more difficult for anyone but a talentless non-entity to be elected.

David said...

>Act like a rock star long enough, do it unfailingly and well enough, and you become one.<

Rah, rah, rah for Nurture. This schtick is ubiquitous in America, land of The First Black President (in America).

Maybe we can get seats on the board of Goldman-Sachs if we act properly, eh?

Anonymous said...

Obama stood out among gunners at HLS. Wow.
I'm not sure non-lawyers can quite fathom what that means and how ridiculous it is.


You are correct. That is fascinating to me, as was the whole post.

Marc B said...

I don't know why re-inventing oneself is so hard to understand for people raised in a culture that believes, despite significant evidence to the contrary, that humans are blank slates, and that in the right environment we all can sew the seeds of greatness into crops of personal success.


A Kim Fowley quote that sums him up:

"I look at making music like making shoes — all kinds of people have needs for their feet. I never wanted to be a star; I succeeded. I never wanted to be famous; I really succeeded. What I wanted to do is make a living in music; I succeeded. When I'm dead, when I'm not around to be overbearing or obnoxious, people will better appreciate this. Am I a businessman or an artist? I'm both."

Anonymous said...

Does anyone -- ANYONE -- think Obama would have gone far in politics without his radio-announcer voice? It's all in his presentation.

gramercy said...

"...Columbia required all students to take a course called "Contemporary Civilization" in which we read from Tucker's Marx Engels Reader."

I read the last bit as "Tucker Max's Engels Reader". Been reading too many Roissy threads.

mansizedtarget said...

Apropos of nothing, but I think Joan Jett was a really hottie in her youth!

David Davenport said...

Baracka Flacka Flames,
from Ann Althouse's http://althouse.blogspot.com/ :


The NYT finds it appropriate to praise a blatantly racist YouTube parody about President Obama.

I watched the video "Head of the State" because the Times sent me there, and now — in addition to fighting nausea — I'm marveling at the embarrassing writing made possible by the newspaper's perversely politically correct need to appreciate rap music and culture:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQ-hPNrKdZI

Anonymous said...

Joan isn't a great guitarist. Chrissie Hynde even does a substantially better job, although if she were a he she'd not be remarked on guitar wise. Mick Jagger plays guitar about that well. No one calls him a guitar player.

I'm surprised Joan hasn't acted more, since she did a good job in her one mainstream film. Pat Benatar also did a good job albeit in a good but art house film (Union City, 1980).

Then again....look at Debbie Harry, also in Union City, who has more film credits on IMDB than her cinematic idol (the current Vanity Fair cover girl-who has been dead 49 years and if she were alive would be about as sexy as Andy Griffith, _exactly_ the same age) and her megafamous imitator from Detroit combined. She can't get arrested outside New York or a gay enclave. She is regarded as box office strychnine-even really good films she did, like Heavy or Six Ways to Sunday have tanked. Maybe Joan sticking to the stage is a good idea.

Paul Mendez said...

I ran into Cherie Currie in a used record store in DC in the early `80s. She was shopping with her mom(!) Cherie was looking for one of the Runaways albums. She said someone stole her only copy. So much for R&R stardom.

Anonymous said...

Debbie Harry+"Box Office Strychnine"? No, her art house films do okay for art house films. She sticks to art house films because, one, she really doesn't want a colossal level of fame and two, she doesn't like living outside NYC for extended amounts of time. Plus, she is a singer first and foremost-acting is a hobby. She's done better than alright considering all that.

She has achieved exactly the success she wants, no less and no more. She can walk down the street anywhere in America and not get bothered. She makes enough money to pay insane NYC rents and that's enough.

Whoever wrote this has posted the exact same comments about this woman before and I find it tiresome. If you don't like her way of doing things don't pay attention to her. She is not Marilyn Monroe and she is not Madonna and she is not Meryl Streep. Get over it.

And Blondie is not the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith either. They are not about selling out barns in St. Louis. Blondie is an art band and they have done phenomenally well for an art band. They don't want to be a mainstream arena act. Again, get over it.

I've known Debbie (and Chris and his wife) for most of my life and I think they are wonderful people. You seem to have a fetish for slagging them because they don't do it how you would. Please, go away.

Anonymous said...

Who was Jackie Fox?

Oh right. The unattractive one. Figures she would become a lawyer.

Anonymous said...

Debbie is 30 years older than I am, I don't have the hots for her.I find her interesting on the level Steve finds HBD interesting. She's an outlier on several fronts.

As a rock and roller, Chrissie hynde, Stevie Nicks, several others are way ahead. Gwen Stefani even. Sorry. But they are not movie material.

Her career is interesting because of the timing. She became, for a little while, next to Farrah Fawcett the biggest female in show biz despite a very late start, and despite her odd looks-she is pretty but in an odd way. Renee Zellweger is that way too but less so. Also, she has done a lot of movie work and has had a few really good roles, yet remains an unknown in Middle America.

In Europe she's huge. Then again so is David Hasselhoff.

A couple of interesting roles allegedly originally intended for Harry were those done by Michelle Pfeiffer in 'Scarface' (Elvira) and Isabella Rosselini in 'Blue Velvet'. It's also said that Meryl Streep read for 'Union City'.

Anonymous said...

The entry re BHO's browsing in a bookstore is indeed interesting. My impression is that there are astonishingly few direct observations about him from persons brought in any degree of direct contact with him. It is unclear what enduring bilateral social relationships he ever had before, say, age 22, other than his interactions with his mother, his maternal grandparents, and Frank Davis.