Alright, it’s not Wednesday. But tomorrow is, and it’s the Inauguration of our 46th president, and of all the bands in the world Joe Biden could have requested to close out the event, he asked Gregg Alexander to reform New Radicals and play their 1998 hit “You Only Get What You Give.”
Your first thought, like mine, was probably “why?” They’re a one-hit-wonder, they only released one album and disbanded just before their second single was released. New Radicals was hardly even a “band,” for that matter, it seems to be basically Alexander plus whoever else was around at the moment (often Danielle Brisebois). Then—like me—you remembered how damn good that song was. Any band or songwriter should be thrilled to have one such success. But still… why them, why now, 22 years later?
Turns out the song was a favorite of Beau Biden, and became the Biden family’s rally song through Beau’s cancer treatment and 2015 death. Coincidentally (or not?) Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris’ husband and our first Second-Gentleman-elect, used the song as his walk-on music during the campaign.
So it all starts to make sense, and honestly I’m pretty excited about it, largely because the video is a masterpiece and has always been a favorite. As you may have ascertained by now, it features some scooters.
The video features Alexander leading a smiling group of diverse, hip young adults as they overthrow the Staten Island Mall. While the tone of the video is as light-hearted as can be, I’m sure politically-minded people can easily picture Jared Kushner and Ivanka as the yuppies put in dog kennels, and Kayleigh McEnany as the Karen who’s pinned down and forced into barista duty. Trapping a mall cop in a net is the first step in defunding the police, right? I like this world these guys live in. Soft-serve from the tap for everyone!
But—of course—the best part is the scooters zipping around. I remembered hearing at the time that Gene Merideth was somehow involved. Gene was the longtime owner of Scooters Originali (located at the time of the video in New Jersey, but later in Pennsylvania, and now under different ownership in the Pacific Northwest). Gene sold me my second scooter back in 1996 or so. He’s in England now, so I texted him to see what he remembered:
“Richard Agerbeek was the one with the hook up, and he brought John Melville along and got me to bring John Wilson so that we had a few scooters for the shoot,” Gene remembers. “Wilson’s was green, John Melville had the blue and white Li3, and Richard had the gold Vespa.”
Sadly, Gene didn’t get much time in the video, as it took the crew a long time to rig a camera to his purple and white Lambretta’s crashbars. On the plus side, the low angle shots from his Lambretta-cam as it dollies through the panicked crowd look amazing, and prominently feature Gene’s feet.
Wilson, Melville, and Agerbeek get more screen time riding through the mall and menacingly circling the bourgeoisie. Agerbeek gets several closeups, and (to reinforce the point that the New Radicals’ lineup was fluid-at-best) he can be seen playing a green bass behind Alexander in the performance shots. Hopefully they bring him back for the inauguration!
Even without the scooters, the video is a wonderful, happy time capsule. I’m sure glad this song is out there. It all feels surprisingly relevant. We need the positivity. Bucket hats are really big right now. “Health insurance, rip off lying/FDA, big bankers buying,” holds up even if the celebrity disses are a little dated. Hey, Beck, Courtney Love, Hanson, and Marilyn Manson weren’t invited to the Inaguration, so Alexander won that battle.
Joe Biden isn’t as new or radical as I would have preferred, but he and Kamala Harris are a hell of an improvement, here’s hoping the next four years are as progressive, fun, and scooter-filled as this video.
UPDATE: A week later…
Gene found this photo of his TV with the camera rig:
Pretty astute use of grip arms there, it never occurred to me that Florida bars are pretty much MADE for that. Thanks again, Gene, for helping to document this important moment in American motorscooter history!
As far as the actual performance on Inaguration day, I clearly set my expectations too high, ha. I figured it’d be a soundstage video segment and not a live performance, and I was right. New Radicals’ performance itself was perfectly fine (Danielle Briseboise sighting!) but it was just a brief clip buried in hours of other clips of Cub Scouts and dancing retirees. The whole “parade” was appropriately heartwarming, but it didn’t transcend the Covid-era slapped-together video clip-show genre and didn’t feel tethered to the actual inauguration events. But it’s always a joy to hear that song.
Rolling Stone posted a surprisingly in-depth interview with Alexander, and the full version of the video (the broadcast version was edited down a bit) that’s worth a read/watch.