Dear Lionel Richie,
I think that you just might be the man to save the world. I never considered this until yesterday. I thought that you were primarily known in the 21st century as Nicole’s dad with a few gold records hanging on your wall. But then, I read that you are The Man in the Middle East.
According to John Berman of ABC News, “Grown Iraqi men get misty-eyed by the mere mention of his name. ‘I love Lionel Richie,’ they say. Iraqis who do not understand a word of English can sing an entire Lionel Richie song.”
Okay, I loved Brick House – what tall woman with a little junk in the trunk like me does not love one of the first love/lust songs to a big strong female? But you sort of lost me at Dancing on the Ceiling. Perhaps I misunderstood – I really thought that song was utter crap. But maybe it was just me… say you, say me… oh gosh, Lionel, now you have me doing it.
"I'm huge, huge in the Arab world. The answer as to why is, I don't have the slightest idea."
While the U.S. military ponders bigger and badder weapons to use the control the Iraqi insurgents, you could be the big Kahuna of peacemakers, Lionel. The Bob Marley of easy listening. The Elvis of Bagdhad. Hell, Iraq might enjoy your little daughter too. I suspect that a little charity work might be good for Nicole’s self-absorbed soul – think The Simple Life: Fallujah. Maybe a few days in a war-torn city could be good to stimulate her lagging appetite.
We could export you, the aging king of soft squishy pop music before you get tempted to sign your soul over to polyester Vegas tourists. You could spread a little peace, love and Jeri-Curl and tell those bomb-clad potential terrorists to be cool and dance awhile to a slow jam. Take Diana Ross with you – but be careful not to let her bitch-slap any Iraqi policemen - and recreate that marshmallow of duets, Endless Love. All those U.S. soldiers who have overdosed on the testosterone military soundtrack of 50 Cent and Metallica could spill tears in their beers and think about their sweethearts back home. No more Kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out. Lionel, you could be an Anger Management course with a full-on orchestra. Arab couples could slow dance and sing along with Three Times a Lady. You could spread your eighties suave all around the place, wear Cosby sweaters and smile beatifically.
Your songs in the post-Commodores years were so unfunky that some folks have called you the black Barry Manilow. Your music does not inspire a frenzy of booty-shaking, but rather glides across the consciousness… maybe that’s it: your music makes Middle Easterners feel safe in an unsafe place.
And safety is what we all want these days – the way you stood up recently at the New Orleans Jazz Fest as the closing act, taking over when Fats Domino was having a bad day. Some newspapers reported that you came through, sweating and singing the hits while festival-goers looked at each other and wondered whether dancing to your music would render them, well, uncool. But then they danced anyway.
You are comfortable like an overstuffed Lazy Boy – easy like Sunday morning. The world wants comfort and security and your music is like a soft bolt of polar fleece.
You’ve already performed in Dubai. Qatar. Morocco. Libya, in front of the ruins of Muammar Quaddafi’s home to mark the 20th anniversary of the American bombing of Tripoli. I don’t even want to know why. I just know that the Lionel Richie je nais se quoi works well in the desert heat.
Lionel, the Iraqis said that they were playing All Night Long in the streets when the U.S. military rolled into Baghdad back in 2003. Something must be gained in the translation: Everybody sing, everybody dance/Lose yourself in wild romance/Were going to party/Karamu, fiesta, forever/Come on and sing along! This, while in contrast, the big song blaring from U.S. fighter jets was reputed to be Drowning Pool’s metal hit Let the Bodies Hit the Floor.
I don’t understand why some people never get tired of pictures of cute puppies. I don’t understand why Lawrence Welk ran on television for decades. And Lionel, I don’t really get why the Arab world loves you so much – but our government needs to consider this, and get deep inside the Middle Eastern mind, and try to understand and learn. You should go Jesse Jackson on us and try to save the world.
Brick House, not Bombs.
Debra McCorkle is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared in Alternet, Hip Mama, and the San Francisco Chronicle.