Behind closed doors

As a presenter at the Country Music Association awards in 1975, at the height of his career, Charlie Rich committed a drunken act of music criticism. When he opened the envelope to announce the winner of the Entertainer of the Year award — the award he himself had won the previous year — he found that John Denver was the winner. After announcing the winner (“my good friend John Denver”), Rich set the certificate naming the winner on fire. In terms of commercial appeal, Rich’s career never quite regained its footing.

Rich had hit the big time after twenty years in the business. The hits came courtesy of producer Billy Sherill’s “countrypolitan” sound and the songs “Behind Closed Doors” and “The Most Beautiful Girl.” Although I love those songs, if you only know Rich from the hits, you don’t know him at all. He was equally at home with jazz, blues, soul and country music. When it comes to the Cosmic American Music, Charlie Rich is the real deal.

Take, for example, the song “Life’s Little Ups and Downs.” Rich’s wife Margaret Ann wrote it for him, and it carries a frankly autobiographical element that makes it all the more poignant. It reflects the quality that Scott Billington, the producer of Rich’s last recordings, found characteristic of Rich’s work as a whole: “Charlie had the ability to go for a feeling. Something that each and every one of us have felt, he could distill and put in front of you, so that you would feel it more acutely than you’d ever felt it before.”

In the new issue of the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes tells the story of this week’s closed Senate session, borrowing the title of Rich’s megahit for the article: “Behind closed doors.” Hayes reports that the session was only a preview of coming attractions that will come with the release of the Senate Intellgence Committee Phase II report later this month:

The Phase II report will likely be released by the end of November. In his own press conference last Tuesday, Senator Levin did the White House a favor by signaling that Democrats will focus on the Bush administration’s claims about Iraq’s support for terror, particularly the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. “There’s a lot of evidence that the administration went way beyond the intelligence that was provided to them,” said Levin. “We know that the intelligence was way off, it was false in many, many ways. But the administration went way beyond the intelligence, particularly as it relates to any relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.”

Levin hasn’t always felt this way. “We were told by the intelligence community that there was a very strong link between al Qaeda and Iraq,” he said on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on June 16, 2003. But that comment came at a time when Levin was still claiming that the Bush administration had pressured intelligence analysts to shape their assessments, something three authoritative reports have since debunked.

It is hard to imagine a more serious charge than the one Senate Democrats are now making: The Bush administration took the country to war in Iraq on the basis of lies. The White House seems to hope that by refusing to engage seriously in this debate, it can somehow make the issue go away.

It can’t.

It may just be time for President Bush to take a cue from the fabulous Charlie Rich and light it up.

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