Weird enough, but not true

Sorry folks, it is too good to be true. I mean, of course, that outrageous-sounding quote from the Independent Pornographer that’s been bouncing around the e-mail grapevine, which your friends keep shoving at you. In the unlikely event you missed it, it read:

“Public media should not contain explicit or implied descriptions of sex acts. Our society should be purged of the perverts who provide the media with pornographic material while pretending it has some redeeming social value under the public’s ‘right to know.'”

—Kenneth Starr, 1987, 60 Minutes interview with Diane Sawyer

“What’s been posted is completely bogus and wrong,” says CBS News archivist Jane Bradford. “Sixty Minutes never interviewed Ken Starr in the 1980s.” Whoever fabricated the quote could have at least tried to sound plausible. “Purged of the perverts”? C’mon. Whatever Starr may think, he surely knew better than to talk like that. And he didn’t come into the limelight until 1989, when, as President Bush’s solicitor general, he was considered next in line for the US Supreme Court: “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Right-Wing Agenda,” BusinessWeek titled its 1989 Starr profile.

Still, the fact that so crude a hoax could travel so far is a sign of these Tripped-up times, when rumor is stranger than fiction and the truth stranger yet. And Time did share a few Starr zingers in 1994, when he was appointed to replace Robert Fiske as Whitewater (remember “Whitewater”?) special counsel. Starr talked about how he “identified with Richard Nixon” (a shared zest for secret taping, perhaps?) and imagined Dan Quayle getting Bill Clinton’s job: “If President Quayle asked me to become the solicitor general again, I’d do it.”

Would Starr have done more damage to the Republic if he had gotten the lifetime justiceship that instead went to David Souter? It’s hard to imagine. And he bids to make a career out of being special counsel; if he can just rope Gore into “Whitewater,” who knows when it will end?

Anyway, Souter voted with the rest of the court not to stay Paula Jones’ bogus lawsuit against ex-Gov. Clinton until the end of President Clinton’s term—on the grounds that, despite all the constitutional arguments against dragging a sitting the president into court, this little case was “unlikely” to divert the president from his duties. Ha. Starr artfully used the Jones case to trap Clinton in his “no sexual relations” dodge. Now Kosovo bleeds, Russia crumbles, the world economy totters, domestic governance drifts, a terrorist war brews, and not only the president but the whole damn country is mired in the case that Starr built.

Sharing the blame

Still, Starr is as much the Democrats’ creature as the Republicans’—and an object lesson in payback and the pitfalls of hardball politics and reckless derision. If the Demos hadn’t borked Bork, Bush wouldn’t have been so wary of nominating another right-winger to the court. If they hadn’t nailed Bob Packwood and hoisted Clarence Thomas for (arguable) sexual harassment, the guns wouldn’t have been drawn for Clinton. And if they hadn’t crowed so (along with the press) when Starr tried to retire to Pepperdine University. . . .

Starr’s literary mentor

One more mystery remains: Where did starchy Ken Starr learn to write prose like “Their sexual encounter began with a sudden kiss. . . . The president unbuttoned her blouse and touched her breasts without removing her bra.” Now it can be told. In one of his any previous DC incarnations, Starr reviewed Bob Packwood’s diaries for the Senate Ethics Committee.

Frankie and Bobby

OK, I admit it: I traffic-surfed down to Puyallup (Route 167 makes I-5 look like an open raceway) to see Bob Dylan perform at, of all the chicken-fried venues, the Western Washington Fair, where a Grand Funk Railroad reunion or Eddie Rabbit tribute would seem more appropriate. But after missing him for all these decades (he was lying low in my prime concert-going years), I figured I had to catch him before one or the other of us was past the point. Many bands and players provided the soundtrack (as exploited by untold movies) for the maddening decade between Kennedy’s demise and Nixon’s disgrace. But for better and worse, Bobby Zimmerman/Dylan wrote the script.

And yes, it was a warming spectacle to see the sort of teenyboppers who just said, “Huh?” to Dylan 30 years ago turning out for him now, along with 20-year-olds looking straight out of Woodstock, and my peers with kids in tow, and Bobby’s peers with silver hair, potbellies, and golf shirts. They even hummed along to “Masters of War,” not just “Blowing in the Wind.” And yes, the bard at 57 still had no potbelly or golf shirt; he rocks more and seems to have more fun then he did back then (that’s not saying much), and still finds new ways to rasp out the old songs, not to mention new songs.

But it was also one weird excursion into generational wire-crossing. The first song to rouse the fans, the one that had them standing up, singing along, smiling at strangers, and waving lighters, was “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” This is, along with “Positively Fourth Street” and “(Just Like a) Rolling Stone,” one of the great kiss-off songs of all time. It takes an anthem of rejection to bring us all together. . . .

The next big crowd pleaser was “Rainy Day Woman nos. 12 and 35.” Thirty years ago, when my father heard the refrain “Everybody must get stoned,” he strode to the turntable and smashed the LP. At Puyallup I saw flocks of people who are now the age he was then, and doubtless just as much against drugs for their kids, stamping, clapping, chanting along—and, maybe, looking just a little sheepish.

But the last encore put a cap on gloomy musings, and we strolled out humming a wishful tune: “May you stay . . . forever young.” Nice thought, but this generation’s problem will be growing old. Say what you will about Sinatra’s cocktail-courtier world—the world that Dylan shook us loose from—Frankie sang a great handbook on growing old with grace. Let’s see how Bobby does.