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When Bart Chilton was 13, he played piano in a band called Shades. The band members always wore sunglasses. They played mostly in Chilton's living room.
Today, Chilton says, he plays a little piano, a little guitar and a little harp, by which he means harmonica. He has a day job as a commissioner of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission.
The CFTC is the federal regulator for derivatives, which makes Chilton responsible for overseeing one of the most complex and important corners of modern finance.
Chilton has a habit of sprinkling his speeches with references to popular music. It can be a bit jarring to see a reference to, say, Tom Petty, in a speech called "Statement by Commissioner Bart Chilton Regarding Anti-Fraud and Anti-Manipulation Final Rules":
There is an old Tom Petty song, "The Waiting" in which he sings, "The waiting is the hardest part," and later "Don't let it get to you." Well, I'm trying not to let it get to me and very pleased that today we are moving forward and we may not have to wait any longer.
And there's this, from a speech earlier this month:
The thing is: in order to reach an agreement, to reach that balance, sometimes it is sort of like that old Rhinestone Cowboy lyric, "There'll be a load of compromisin' on the road to my horizon." For those of you who were too young, or don't recall the song, made famous by country singer Glen Campbell, it is your loss. It was a huge hit. By the way, I saw a neat tee shirt last weekend. On it was written, "I'm old, but I got to see all the cool bands."
Chilton has worked in government for most of his adult life. I called him the other day to ask him about all the music in his speeches.
"A lot of times people just think [derivatives] are so scary complicated," he told me. "I try to communicate in a way that allows people in on what's going on. What's better than references to popular culture?"
Other Chilton speeches have included allusions to the Dixie Chicks, the Beatles, and (whisper it softly) Dave Matthews.
Which leaves, to account for, the hair.
Is it a mullet?
"I hope not, though sometimes it's been referred to as that," he said. "The guy who cuts my hair doesn't think so. When I told him that one time, he sort of shivered."
Ok. But still. It's sort of a rock-and-roll cut.
"It's definitely longer than the buzz cut you see most of the time in the federal government," he allowed. "I would pale in comparison to rock and rollers with my haircut. I would be a lightweight."