NEW YORK, September 14, 2009 -- Kanye West interrupted President Obama's speech to the New York City investment banking community today, grabbing the microphone just as the President was launching into prepared remarks about the need for regulatory reform of America's financial markets.
"I know we're all gathered here today to discuss financial regulatory reform," Mr. West said, after seizing the microphone from the President's podium. "And I respect that."
The singer, dressed in sunglasses and a sequin-studded jacket, glanced to his side and continued. "So, excuse me, please," he said, lowering the microphone and casting a searching gaze around the auditorium before returning the mike to his lips.
"But I have something to say."
Members of the audience, comprised mainly of executives from large banks and Wall Street investment firms, could be seen looking at one another in confusion, shrugging their shoulders, and reaching for their Blackberries. A few rolled their eyes.
"Don't get me wrong!" Mr. West said, raising his voice, "I'm all for regulatory reform of our financial markets."
"But for Kanye," Mr. West continued, "the issues are bigger than that."
Mr. West then launched into an extended dramatic monologue, which began with the events of the evening before, when he interrupted Taylor Swift as she was accepting the award for Best Female Video at the MTV Video Music Awards.
"Taylor Swift is a talented young lady," Mr. West explained to the gathered Wall Street executives. "But she's only 19. Her entire career is in front of her."
"But Beyonce," Mr. West said, pausing for effect. "Beyonce is the queen."
Mr. West then put his microphone down, lowered his sunglasses, and looked out at the audience.
"Tell me who this guy is again?" Lloyd C. Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, said to Richard S. Fuld, Jr., the CEO of Lehman Holdings, Inc., who was seated next to him.
"No idea," Fuld replied.
Mr. West continued his monologue, discussing such varied subjects as his relationship with his mother, his genius for self-promotion, and that one time he took forever to come on stage, all in a melodic and syncopated style that kept a steady beat. Midway through his recitation, he was joined by three female backup singers, a dj who scratched out a hip-hop beat, a drummer, a saxophonist, and a trumpet player.
Mr. West finished to tepid applause, murmurs, and the sound of throat-clearing.
Mr. West's impromptu remarks received a mixed reception among the Wall Street executives gathered to hear Mr. Obama speak about the state of the economic recovery and the need for industry reform.
"He's definitely got something," said Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of the Department of the Treasury, who was sitting in the front row of the auditorium to hear the President's speech. "It's just difficult to say what that something is."
Others said they didn't mind the interruption, as it gave them a chance to catch up on their e-mail, or check the latest market conditions on their Blackberries and Iphones. Others said they thought Mr. West had talent, and that he only needed to find his direction as an artist.
"Art is about communicating something universal to your audience," Bank of America Chairman Ken Lewis said, emphasizing a point that many of the executives made. "You can't just talk about yourself the whole time."
Erin Callan, former Chief Financial Officer of Lehman Brothers, said she was familiar with Mr. West's work, but was disappointed in his performance. "With Kanye, it's usually about something larger," she said. "But this seemed to be all about Kanye, and nothing more than that, really," she said.
The President, for his part, seemed unperturbed, saying only that he thought it a little odd that a popular entertainer was interrupting him during an important public policy speech.
"It was unusual," the President said, "but Kanye has promised me it won't happen again."
Michael Steele, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, immediately criticized the President's remarks, claiming he should take a harder line.
"For anyone to interrupt the President while he is speaking is an outrage," Mr. Steele said, "and shows great disrespect for the office of the Presidency. We as a nation should not tolerate this kind of behavior."
Taylor Swift could not be reached for comment.
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