By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
He may not be out there peeing in public, he doesn't have his own brand of self-named beer, and he hasn't taken any personal loans from Libya.
But that doesn't mean Roger Clinton is any less noticeable than the last notorious presidential brother, lovable buffoon Billy Carter. Goodness knows (that's one of Ol' Rog's favorite expressions), Bubba's half-brother has seen to it that the spotlight has landed on him plenty in the last two years. There were the much-publicized tales of an almost Keith Richardsian coke habit that landed him a stretch in prison, the frequent bad-boy nights of booze and babes, the firings from low-level jobs while Bill (no saint himself) rose through the ranks.
But unlike fellow Southern brother Billy Carter, Roger doesn't play the role of the Hee Haw rube, purposely going too far just to show he don't give a damn about no high-falutin' Office of no Presidency, blood kin or not.
Roger, overwrought goofball that he may seem to be, only wants the best for the half-brother who is ten years his senior. You saw Roger up there onstage at the Democratic Convention, weeping openly and leading the jubilant crowd in song while holding hands with Bill. Or maybe you've caught one of his self-help speeches, the "A Change Is Coming" talk that led Roger around the country (at $10,000 a gig) sharing inspirational secrets with the confused.
But this week, 37-year-old Roger Clinton will reveal to the American people his true labor of love, the thing nearest and dearest to his heart: Good Things Don't Come Easy, an album that represents the culmination of 21 unheralded years in the music business. (Apparently, titles don't come easy; according to Clinton's press kit, the CD is called Nothing Good Comes Easy. And Ringo, by the way, was not involved with the project.)
So. Is it any good? Easy is a collection of agreeably mellow, adult contemporary music. Which is just fine, if you like agreeably mellow, adult contemporary music. On the two cuts prereleased to the press, Clinton shows himself to be the owner of a pleasant, high-pitched tenor, sort of a laid-back Michael Sembello. Or a Christopher Cross, without as much guts.
But you've got to give him credit for trying, even though it was probably just pure coincidence that Roger landed a record deal after his brother moved to Washington, D.C.
It's easy to take pot shots at Roger Clinton--he's grown used to it--but on the last phone call in a grueling day of nonstop interviews, he is friendly, polite and downright charming. So he's been a little naughty over the years? So he may wear his heart on his sleeve a bit much? So he may not be exactly a Daryl Hall in the blue-eyed-soul department? He's sincere as hell. Oh, and his brother's the president.
New Times: So you're a happy man?
Roger Clinton: It's the most exciting time of my life. I just had a son three months ago, I got married five months ago, now I got the album coming out. It's the greatest time of my life.
NT: A lot of people think you'd be nowhere if it wasn't for your brother.
Clinton: I choose to believe that there's not that many [of those] people out there, but I'm going to have to deal with that group, that small percentage of people, one way or the other. But I think that's going to be the same group--if I didn't take advantage of all these opportunities that present themselves--that would be the same group of people lining up to criticize me years from now for not taking advantage of all the opportunities I had. These people need to realize that I've been singing professionally since I was 16 years old, and they just started hearing about me when my brother was elected president.
NT: And your first professional job was in a topless bar?
Clinton: A topless bar called the Black Orchid in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
NT: Did that make working there, uh, hard?
Clinton: Oh, my gosh! Are you kidding!? Sixteen years old? I was getting blinded by the light, you know what I mean? It was hard, but to tell you the truth, I was so scared of performing at the time, I hadn't gotten to the stage where you just learn it, rehearse it and then feel it onstage. At that time, I was so worried that I'd forget some lyrics.
NT: What do you listen to these days?
Clinton: I listen to Talking Heads, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Charles. I still listen to Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley were probably my two biggest musical influences growing up. NT: Do you ever get sick of your brother being president?
Clinton: No. That'd be like him being sick of me having an album out.
NT: But it must be a pain in the neck sometimes.
Clinton: Not too long ago, I started finally realizing that everything has two sides or more, and you can't just deal with the one side. You might be a completely positive person, but you can't ignore the negative or it'll get to you when it comes up. You have to be able to deal with it, weigh them both and realize that the good outweighs the bad. But I'll tell you what--the personal attacks [on Bill] get old. They come from people that just don't even know him. It's tough for me to deal with; I just try and concentrate on my music.
NT: What's your Secret Service code name?
Clinton: I don't think I have one. I asked mother not too long ago--certainly before Christmas [Clinton's mother, Virginia Kelly, died in December]--and she said, "I don't think we have one." Letterman said, "I hear your code name's 'Headache,'" and knowing it was Letterman, I absolutely thought he was kidding. But I think it sorta caught on after that, and people started saying, "Is your name really Headache?"
NT: Are there any babes in the Secret Service?
Clinton: Oh, ho! Uh, yeah, there are! There are, but they're as serious as the bulldogs. Very rarely can you speak to any of them, because that's their life. And they'll tell you that.
NT: You've got quite a rep as a ladies' man.
Clinton: Well, I always have had. In one respect, I was always proud of that because that is absolutely what prohibited me from getting tied down with anyone or jumping into a relationship. . . . So I've always had that, and I think I'm going to continue to have that. That's the way it's always been for anyone in this kind if situation, so I can't expect it to be different. But I have a beautiful child and a stable, secure relationship with my wife.
NT: So Bill got the brains and you got the looks?
Clinton: Ha, ha! Don't put me on the spot, ha, ha, ha! I think my brother's a very handsome man, I really do. I think he's very charismatic; he's got that dignified look.
NT: You've said that Bill acted as both an older brother and a father figure to you. If your ages had been reversed, do you think you'd be more reserved and he'd be the wild man? Clinton: Going by my heart and my character, I think we would have been the same if the ages were reversed or not. However, the situation in my family, the adversity in our lives from our father being such a violent alcoholic, there was one specific time when my brother stood up to him. He put me and my mother behind him and said, "You will not hit my mother or my brother again, and if you do, you will go through me." That was when he was about 15 or 16 years old. He accepted the leadership role in the family right then and there. NT: That was about when he met John Kennedy at the White House. Do you remember when he came home from that trip?
Clinton: Oh, yes. When he returned from that and we saw the film of him looking the president in the eyes, it was almost as if he was saying, "I know what I have to do and I'm going to do the best of my ability." It was the highlight of his life to meet John F. Kennedy.
NT: What did you think about it?
Clinton: Well, I didn't have much reaction. I thought it was neat 'cause he thought it was neat, but I didn't know anything about it, for goodness sake. I was just getting out of grade school. [Editor's note: When Bill met Kennedy, Roger was 6 years old. Perhaps Roger confused getting out of grade school with getting out of preschool.] I was heavy into junior high, I was losing weight--I lost 40 pounds. A man that helped to get me started singing told me one day, "Roger--girls don't like fat boys." And I dropped 40 pounds before the next school year!
NT: Though you're about to hit the road, why haven't you and your band Politics been playing out?
Clinton: We've played [warming up] for TV shows [audiences] the last few years; I try and stay out of nightclubs. I've played 'em for so many years, and TV shows are the best of both worlds. You don't have to put up with people drinking and fighting and talking or dancing while you're performing. We warm up studio audiences, and the clientele there is usually more conducive to the right place at the right time scenario than a nightclub.
NT: Do you ever wonder where your career will be if Bill doesn't get reelected?
Clinton: No, I never worry about that. I didn't worry if he got elected this time or not. I wanted my music and my heart to be ready if these opportunities presented themselves, and I felt like they were. Whether he's reelected or not, it's still going to be up to my ability to stay here or not. If I'm not worth a flip, if people deem me unworthy musically, then it doesn't matter what my brother does. I'll get a desk job, but I won't be able to put out another album. I've worked hard at my music, and people are going to be able to tell immediately that I just didn't pick up a microphone.
NT: You've played and partied at the White House, but when you've stayed in the Lincoln bedroom, did you see his ghost?
Clinton: No, I didn't, but that's why everyone wants to stay up there, to see his ghost. And I think Mary's still flying around up there somewhere. There's a waiting list to sleep in Lincoln's room.
NT: So it was a letdown, spookwise?
Clinton: Yeah! There were no spooks, I didn't see any spooks.