During the Memorial events for President H.W. Bush, the TV picture always had a banner running across the screen proclaiming him to have been a President and a Patriot. Both titles are embedded in history below his name.
But the themes of the eulogies were memories of the man. His kindness, his warmth, his friendship. The following is a story of these attributes of this man told to me by a friend and union brother, Steve.
At this time, Steve was the head rigger for the Beach Boys. He was responsible to see that the sound and lights were hung safely in the best positions possible in the venues, and for setting up the portable stage for outdoor events.
In the early 80’s, the Beach Boys played the July 4th concerts on the National Mall in Washington D.C. A few days prior to one of those concerts, the band was invited to give a mini-concert for the Bushs and some friends at the Naval Observatory House where the Vice President lived in D.C..
Steve drove the rental truck with a small set up to the front of the house. He went to the front door knowing full well that it would be opened by a butler telling him to go around the back to unload. He was surprised when Vice President Bush, himself opened the door, introduced himself to Steve and the other hands, as if that was needed, and told Steve to bring the equipment through the front door. Closer to the ballroom, he explained.
When the crew went into the ballroom, Bush introduced them to the house electrician Steve had requested. Best the house electrician do the electrical hook-up. The last thing Steve wanted was to have an electrical outage in the V.P.’s residence.
Then Barbara came into the room and once again George made the introductions. Barbara told the men that there was a buffet with a chef standing by down the hall for whenever they wanted a meal or just a snack.
‘Catering, Honey,’ her husband teased. ‘Catering is show business talk for food. And there’s also a full bar and a bartender in that room too, guys.’
‘Thanks, Mrs Bush,’ Steve said, ‘But we have to setup first. The band will be wanting to do sound check in a couple hours.’
When they did go into the catering room for a meal, the first thing the chef asked was how do you want your steak? And the bartender looked a little disappointed when the hands that drank just wanted beer. Sure beat what the rock promoters considered catering.
Steve said it was less like working a gig and more like being invited to a friend’s house. Everybody was so friendly, especially the Vice President. Even the Secret Service men in their customary dark suits, had occasional smiles as they handed out the stickpins with the head painted the color of the day. These ID’s had to be pinned where they could be seen.
Vice President Bush was in the ballroom almost all the time. He watched the crew setting up everything and had a million questions. ‘If I learn how to be a roadie, will you hire me?’ he kidded. ‘You know, this being a Vice President really stinks. Worse job I ever had.’
‘You’re hired,’ Steve said. ‘How’s your golf game? We play a lot to golf on our days off.’
‘My kind of men,’ the Vice President said. And naturally the talk turned to golf.
Steve asked if Mr. Bush had ever played Willie Nelson’s golf course outside Austin. When the Vice President said no, Steve proceeded to tell him about it. ‘Only course where it is all rough. Strict rules: Like no more than 12 to a foursome. No bikinis or see through dresses – unless they’re worn by women. Drinking and smoking is not allowed – unless it is shared.
‘Next time I go to Austin, I will have to play that course,’ George said. ‘I’ll tell Willie that I am a friend of the Beach Boys crew. I miss my Texas. This job wouldn’t be half bad if I could do it down in Texas.’
When the Beach Boys arrived they were greeted by the Vice President and Barbara and where showed the room where they could tune their instruments. And also told about the catering and the bar.
“Now where’s Dennis? George asked. ‘They told me I could always tell who Dennis was because he always wore a Texas hat.’
‘Sick. Something he ate didn’t agree with him,’ was the excuse that was given. Dennis Wilson had a grave alcohol problem and the band didn’t want him to embarrass himself in front of the Vice President. Dennis died a few years later. He was was drunk and went scuba diving alone.
‘Oh! Oh! Guys, I got something to tell you. I got talking with your crew about golf. They said they got Monday off so I gave my country club a ring. All you have to do is tell them you’re the Beach Boys and crew and you can play a round on me. They said they would work in you in throughout the day. And the nineteenth hole is on me.’
It was evident that as the actual concert approached, Vice President Bush was feeling mellow. He met each guest, about 50 all toll, encouraging each on to ‘have a drink’. When the concert started he sat in the front row tapping his feet to the music and mouthing the words of the songs he knew or thought he knew.
After about six songs he stood up and went up to the band. ‘In honor of my wonderful wife, Barbara,’ he said pointing to her in the chair next to the one he just got out of, ‘Play my favorite of the Beach Boys. BARBARA ANN.’
Almost as if on cue, Mike Love, and Al Jardine quickly joined Carl Wilson at the front mic.
‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann. Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann.’
By now, Vice President George Bush had got to the mic and grabbed the mic off the stand.
‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann,’ he sang, drowning out the startled entertainers. His voice left a lot to be desired but not his energy. The only words he knew where the chorus which he kept repeating over and over until one of the singers started a verse. Then George stopped. Only to jump right in with the chorus when the verse ended.
It was probably the longest rendition of the song ever. The audience and the band and the crew were all smiles. The only one in the room that wasn’t smiling was Barbara Bush, who sat still with her hands folded on her lap. At last George stopped singing to his lovely wife; not because he thought he reached the end of the song, but rather because he was out of breath and wanted a drink. As he sat down Barbara slapped his knee and shook her head.
The concert went on and when it ended they played BARBARA ANN as their encore. They signaled to have the Vice President join them and the audience applauded. George Bush got up, went to the mic, and sang his favorite line several times.
‘You know, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘That is the best song you ever wrote. On behalf of myself, Barbara, and all our guests, I want to thank you all for a great time.’
The Boys, the band, and the crew applauded their thanks. Nobody told him that they didn’t write BARBARA ANN. It was a do-wop song by the Regents.
The next Monday the band and crew played golf courtesy of Vice President George Bush.
In April of 83 the Beach Boys were forbidden to play July 4th on the National Mall. The least popular member of the Reagan Cabinet, James Watt, Interior Secretary, declared that rock and roll bands were not welcome anymore on the Mall because of the element they attracted. Drunken rowdies and smokers of illegal substances. He wanted somebody more patriotic like Wayne Newton, who was a big Republican donor.
Vice President George Bush led the outrage against Watt’s decree, declaring, ‘These men are my friends!’ First Lady Nancy Reagan declared herself to be a mega-fan of the Beach Boys. Mike Love argued on behalf of the band by saying they played a lot of patriotic songs…like SURFING U.S.A.. Watt lost.
There was an attempt made to get the Beach Boys back to play the Mall but it was too late. The publicity made the band the hottest item in the country and they were booked at Atlantic City on the 4th to the largest crowd in the history of the event. And the Beach Boys began to be called America’s Band.
As for James Watt, a few weeks later he made what he thought was funny, racist terms about a committee that opposed his Interior agenda. Watt lost his Cabinet position and went to teach in a university out west. Both he and the band give credit for starting the uproar to Vice President Bush declaration that ‘These men are my friends.’
And whenever the Boys were in the D.C. area, George Bush made it a point to see they could play a round of golf at his country club.
Like the banners proclaimed ‘President and Patriot’, and as the eulogies said, ‘friend and a wonderful human being’.
R.I.P. George Bush
True and fearless Patriot