Elvis Costello is no Marilyn Monroe, but as anyone who attended Hillary Clinton's 60th birthday bash at Manhattan's Beacon Theatre on Thursday night will attest he is as skilled as anyone at turning song into political flattery. "Happy Birthday," he crooned as the evening wound up, "Mrs President".
If Costello, who had the backing on stage from the boys of the Wallflowers, was a bit ahead of himself – the 2008 vote is still a full year away – who can blame him? No one likes to get older, but optimism was the theme of the night and it was reflective of the mood surrounding Clinton these days.
Her birthday in fact was yesterday and she will have awoken with a smile. Polls continue to show even her closest rivals for the Democrat nomination, Barack Obama and John Edwards, choking on her dust. And then there was the warm feeling from the night at the Beacon and the money it had raised.
When Costello and the Wallflowers – lead singer Jakob Dylan, whose father, Bob, was there in the front row – turned up the volume on numbers such as "Scarlet Tide", "Alison" and "Pump it Up", it was mostly grey-hairs and no-hairs who rose from their seats to bop to the rhythm.
Up front, the so-called "Rockstar" seats cost $2,300 (£1,120) apiece ($100 each in the nosebleed section). All told the night raised $1.5m. Those happily shelling out for the evening's entertainment under the supervision of the host, Billy Crystal, the comedian and veteran of Oscars, included diehard Democrats of Wall Street and Manhattan's law firms, including David Boies, who struggled but eventually failed to argue Al Gore into the White House in the botched count of 2000, and other heavy-hitters such as Magic Johnson and the billionaire Edgar Bronfman.
Costello mused that he had learnt it was "impolite" to ask a woman's age. But coyness was never an option for Hillary, whose milestone was just another opportunity to raise cash. Costello knew it too, asking that she "bring back the music to the White House and to the country".
Had his music been a bit loud for this crowd? "Wow. Is your chest still vibrating?" asked Crystal after Costello and the Wallflowers ended their set. He got an answer with a burst of mildly over-zealous shrieking from unruly sorts in the mezzanine section. "That's enough, you've got no more lines." Billy had lines though and returned to the reasons to be upbeat. "You don't know the optimism and how it feels when there is a leader coming in who you trust," he told them. He himself, he went on, had only twice before become truly engaged in an election, first in 1960 for JFK and then in 1992 for Bill Clinton.
At which point, of course, it was time for Crystal to call on the birthday girl's husband. The ex-president – and perhaps Hillary's greatest asset – climbed on to the stage and the audience roaring madly, accompanied by his daughter, Chelsea. Suspended above him were three giant portraits of Hillary: as a baby, all curls and chubby cheeks; a young woman; and as the polished, purposeful candidate she is today.
Bill could afford a little sentimentality. "I'm so proud of you," he began, looking at his wife and suggesting she looked, "I think, very beautiful." He noted that he had first met her when she was 23 years old. "The poor child didn't know any better not to talk to me."
Then it was Hillary's turn. Her birthday suit was sober and she wasn't about to let loose even on this night. Her discipline is one reason why she might win next year. Suddenly the night seemed anti-climactic and there was a sense of slight puzzlement as the audience realised that with Hillary's remarks it was all over. "People," Crystal suddenly shouts stage right, "Go home." And so they did, their pockets a little lighter.Reuse content