“We’re gonna fly it right into the fucking cliff,” Joe Scarborough promised Thursday night, prompting his television wife and offscreen bride-to-be, Mika Brzezinski, to murmur a cringing, giggling “OK!”—as in, Please, for the love of God, watch your tongue.
“Hold on, sister!” Scarborough shot back.
And so, having likened his latest venture to a commercial-airline catastrophe, the namesake of MSNBC’s political-insidery Morning Joe program launched Mystified, his inaugural rock ’n’ roll EP, with an album-release party and live concert by the nine-piece Joe Scarborough Band at the Cutting Room—and, not coincidentally, a bit of Regis-and-Joy shtick that defines the Joe and Mika Show.
“Joe lost his voice,” the platinum-blond, blue-jeaned Mika, acting as emcee, told the sweaty, standing-room-only crowd from the same stage on which Sheryl Crow and Lady Gaga once belted out tunes in the storied Manhattan venue. “So his voice is a little weak but his songs are great,” she added, noting that Joe had been battling laryngitis.
“Don’t talk too loud,” she admonished her future second husband. (The parents of multiple children and recently divorced from other spouses, they became officially engaged at the beginning of May during a weekend jaunt to Cap d’Antibes—Mika wore the diamond sparkler to prove it—but, while they might have booked the band, they haven’t yet set the wedding date.)
“I’m not gonna talk too loud,” replied the 6-foot-4 Joe, who would have towered over her even without the lofty pompadour—his untucked white shirt flowing rakishly over daring purple-plaid rocker pants.
“By the way, Phil, thank you for giving me this,” Joe added huskily, addressing MSNBC President Phil Griffin, who apparently had been suffering from the same infection.
“It was by telephone that we talked!” Griffin insisted theatrically from an audience that included not only such Morning Joe regulars as Willie Geist, Republican analyst Elise Jordan, Ayman Mohyeldin, Today show correspondent Ronan Farrow, Daily Beast columnist Mike Barnicle, and advertising guru Donny Deutsch, but also a couple of Fox Newsers—namely Shepard Smith and Eric Bolling—who’d crossed enemy lines to be on hand.
“But we made out earlier in the week,” Joe quipped at Griffin.
It wasn’t the sort of coruscating banter that one associates with Oscar Wilde, or even Benny Hill, but the crowd lapped it up anyway and chuckled appreciatively, having been plied by free drinks at the bar and endless supplies of pigs-in-a-blanket, bite-size burgers, and other treats passed around by an army of servers, courtesy of the generous hosts.
“This has been one of Mika’s favorite weeks, because I haven’t talked in the past three days,” Joe went on. “She finally has a chance to get a few words in. So hasn’t it been special?”
“Continue that,” Mika played along.
“No luck. My voice is gonna come back, I’m sure.”
And indeed it did.
For those who might have been expecting a vanity production, Scarborough’s rollicking interpretation of his own songs—crooning on-key in a smoky baritone that bristled with the sort of manic energy one associates with old-school VH1 rock videos, while he strummed his Gibson guitar and occasionally dropped to his knees—wasn’t bad for a 54-year-old former Republican congressman with a bad back.
It had more than a patina of professionalism, and a confidence borne of months and months of studio work and live performances, nearly every Thursday night, at the Upper West Side club Prohibition.
As Scarborough fronted half a dozen of the more than 400 tunes he has written and arranged since he was an aspiring 14-year-old troubadour in love with the Beatles (he plans to release four songs from the Scarborough catalogue every month from here to eternity), this was undoubtedly an improvement on your typical bar mitzvah band.
Although it was well-nigh impossible to distinguish Scarborough’s lyrics in the noisy, sweaty room, where fifty-something revelers danced near the stage, some of his titles included “LA Song,” “Girl Like That,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” and “Superbad.”
It helped, of course, that Joe is well-paid enough by MSNBC (a rumored $8 million a year) that he’s able to hire accomplished backup singers, along with a lead guitarist, percussionist, keyboardist, saxophonist, and trumpet player to produce something akin to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.
Taking in the concert from the second-floor balcony overlooking the stage was actor Chris Noth, best known as Mr. Big from Sex and the City and a co-owner of the Cutting Room since its founding in 1998.
“I’m a huge fan of MSNBC,” Noth told The Daily Beast—after Mika had polled the crowd for Republicans (a smattering of upraised hands), and Democrats (a loud convulsive cheer). President Donald Trump, for once, hadn’t dominated the discussion the way he has done every single day on Morning Joe for the past two years, initially as a friend (whose communications talents Joe and Mika continually praised during the GOP nomination race) and more recently as a malign and spiteful blot on the body politic.
“I think they’re the only thing between us and dictatorship sometimes,” Noth continued concerning Joe and Mika’s cable network. “I love what they’re doing in these troubling times… I think they’re based in reality, and I don’t think Fox News is. And what exists in reality is so beyond the pale that, of course, you’re outraged.”
Shep Smith, who joked that he’d been “manning the tambourine in the little section over to the left,” parried a question about Fox News by saying, “I don’t want to talk about work. It’s Joe’s night.”
And Eric Bolling, who had been dancing with Mika and schmoozing with Phil Griffin (“It’s an amazing time,” they told each other), explained his presence by saying, “I’m a fan. I’m a fan of the show. I’m a fan of Joe’s,” as he left for the night.
After the show, Joe took Mika by the hand and led her to the Cutting Room’s basement green room, where the couple, at once keyed up and drained by all the excitement, recuperated on the well-worn sofas along with Mika’s college-age daughter Emelie and her boyfriend, Graham.
“I’m now playing live and I never really played live before,” Joe said. “I don’t consider myself a great musician or a great singer. Everything is about writing the songs. I want to get my songs out. I actually decided to do this when I turned 50 and realized, ‘Wait, I’m going to die at some point. And the other thing is my kids never heard any of this, so at least let me get some of this down.”
“I was sort of pushing him to do it. He really felt uncomfortable about it,” Mika confided about Joe’s fledgling rock-star adventure.
“Because it’s something I really care about,” Joe explained. “If somebody says, ‘You’re terrible on television,’ I don’t really care.”
“Or ‘I don’t agree with you,’ ” Mika added.
“If somebody says ‘I hate you,’ I don’t care,” Joe continued. “Even when I was campaigning and they said, ‘I’m not going to vote for you,’ I was like, ‘Good! It’s a democracy! I don’t care. Don’t vote for me!’
“But if I was playing something I wrote and they don’t immediately go, ‘It was great,’ I would immediately turn it off and a black cloud would go over me. I really couldn’t handle the rejection.”
The black cloud, happily, was nowhere in evidence.