It is not, on first sight, the sexiest of instruments. It is played by making the air inside the instrument vibrate, and has a sliding mechanism to change the pitch. Typically positioned towards the back of an orchestra, the trombone is up against the flighty, flirty violin, the seductive flute. A stalwart of the brass family, at one point in its long history the poor thing was called the sackbut (literally ‘push-pull’), the name producing a number of delicious variations such as sackbutte, sagbut, shagbolt, sacabushe and shakbusshe.
Last week, I watched the trombone section from the National Symphony Orchestra play in a bar on U Street as part of their ‘In Your Neighbourhood’ community engagement program. They did a nice line in Mendelssohn and Beethoven, got the audience swaying with some Gershwin, then surprised the crowd with their take on Lady Gaga, The Police and the James Bond theme tune. It was ace. I shall not be able to look at a trombone in the same way again.
A few days later, humming a Gershwin number, I read an article on White House efforts on gun control and it struck me: Vice President Joe Biden is the trombone of the White House orchestra. JOE BIDEN IS A BIG OLD SEXY TROMBONE.
President Obama may be the conductor and Hillary the first violinist, but Joe is the reliable, solid man at the back, the longest-serving member of the orchestra, occasionally let loose to perform a solo piece to entertain the audience.
A fixture in the Senate for over thirty years, Biden can claim to be the most experienced politician in the White House. Margaret Thatcher famously proclaimed “Every Prime Minister needs a Willie“: Joe Biden is Obama’s Willie. His empathy and relaxed manner, his ability to connect with blue and white-collar America, hides a rough determination and ambition that has carried him successfully through four decades of politics. He is the behind-the-scenes point man, sent by Obama to lead negotiations on complicated and sensitive issues, most recently with respect to the fiscal cliff and now on gun control. Biden knows how to play his adversaries and his colleagues, often winning with charm and sense rather than relying on politico-babble and blunt comments (although he can do blunt pretty well, eh Paul Ryan?); he convinced wavering Democrats on the fiscal cliff talks with “This is Joe Biden and I’m your buddy“.
The sound of a trombone can be brassy, brilliant, powerful and overpowering, yet beguiling and soft when required. The trombonist uses the lips and facial muscles in a particular way to play the instrument. This is called the embouchure. Biden is a master of this. He is guaranteed to open his yap and embouchure the pants off a grandmother, or utter completely the wrong thing at the wrong time. Joe being Joe is the trombonist’s version of water build-up in the instrument’s spit valve: it’s gotta come out sometime.
Two of my favourite Joe spit valves:
“Stand up, Chuck, let ‘em see ya.” – Joe to Senator Chuck Graham, who is in a wheelchair.
“A man I’m proud to call my friend. A man who will be the next President of the United States — Barack America!” – Joe at his first campaign rally with Barack Obama after being announced as his running mate, 2008.
Biden’s performance during the election campaign and since – saving Obama’s ass by creaming Paul Ryan during their debate, his photo calls with bikers and babies, those aviator sunglasses, his fiscal cliff triumph – has set him on the path of national treasure-hood. If further convincing were needed, look no further than this:
Hot or what. There is even a White House petition for a Joe Show:
We petition the Obama administration to: authorize the production of a recurring television program featuring Vice President Joe Biden.
Vice President Joe Biden has a demonstrated ability to bring people together, whether at the negotiating table or at the neighborhood diner. We, therefore, urge the Obama Administration to authorize the production of a recurring C-SPAN television program featuring the daily activities and interactions of the Vice President with elected officials, foreign dignitaries and everyday American families. Such a program would educate the American public about the duties and responsibilities of their Vice President, while providing a glimpse of the lighthearted side of politics even in the midst of contentious and divisive national debates.
I met Joe Biden a few times in my former life. I was officially working, so had to be all professional and sensible and fuckity-dull. But if I could have, I would have LICKED HIS FACE.
I leave you with the three most important players of the last four years.