A rock star is someone who can light up a crowded room just by walking in. So what do you call someone who can do that to a room full of, well, rock stars? Last night, the answer to that question was "Mr. President" — Mr. Former President, to be exact. There were tons of stars at Chelsea Piers’ Pier 60 for the Food Bank for New York City‘s annual awards dinner and auction, which raised over $1 million for the deserving charity, but the celeb other celebs wanted to hang out with was William Jefferson Clinton.
An EW colleague and I grabbed the first empty seats we could find in the spacious dining room, only to discover that we happened to have landed directly next to the mother of all power tables. Just a few feet from our elbows sat Bill himself, along with cool, confident daughter Chelsea (sporting a "Hillary ’08" button); U2 guitarist The Edge (pictured, center, with Jimmy Fallon, left, and David Bowie); Elvis Costello and Diana Krall; Iman and Bowie; and wealthy producer (and Liz Hurley babydaddy) Steve Bing. Sadly, the room was too noisy for us to overhear what appeared to be an uproarious, non-stop banter session between our lofty neighbors, though we did catch a glimpse of proud new papa Costello showing Clinton some snapshots of his and Krall’s infant twins.
Bill took occasional breaks from chatting to sip his Diet Coke and enjoy speeches from chef Mario Batali, former SNL-er Fallon (one of the night’s two major honorees), and R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. (For details on the all-new music that Fallon’s working on, check EW.com’s exclusive news story.) When he finally ascended to the podium to make his own speech, the room erupted in cheers. What followed was a fleeting taste of classic Clinton — some disarming humor, some stirring calls for social justice, and some truly impressive words of praise for the night’s second major award recipient, The Edge. "U2 has been particularly good to me," Clinton said. (He’s a fan? Who knew?) He reminisced about meeting the band in Dublin 12 years ago, when they gave him an inscribed copy of William Butler Yeats’ plays, and he waxed poetic about The Edge’s instantly recognizable guitar tone. "In my opinion, there is no way he can ever get enough credit for the success of U2," he said, "and there’s no way he’ll ever get enough credit for the goodness in his heart."
As soon as The Edge accepted the award with a short speech of hisown and returned to his table, star after star rushed over to pay theirrespects to him and Bill. "Sorry to interrupt," Denis Leary offered ashe darted eagerly between the pair. Josh Hartnett came over to shakeBill’s hand, too. "It’s like meeting the pope or something," he gushedto me a few minutes later. (In fact, Hartnett clarified, this was thesecond time he’d had the pleasure — they golfed together in Jamaicalast year.)
We got up for a stroll around the room and soon bumped into a series of A-listers, who shared all kinds of tantalizing tidbits:
- Stipe is excited about R.E.M.’s forthcoming 14th album,which they’ll start recording next month. "We’re writing. Right nowwe’re working on the chorus of one song. It’s going to be better afterthis event is over; he and I have a little meeting afterwards," he saidas bassist Mike Mills sidled up to us.
- The Beastie Boys’ Mike D is also feeling his band’s newone, which they just finished recording for a June release. "Somedifferent s—" was his tight-lipped description of the album’s sound;when I asked if Beastie fans should expect any cool guests, he tartlyreplied, "Nobody cool, only uncool." How about a title? "I don’t knowif I’m allowed to disclose it, but we do have one. I wrote like 12titles last night."
- The Edge had some fresh U2 tunes on his mind, though hecautioned that they were still in "early days." "We’re not really surewhere it’s going yet," he said. "We’re just going to write a lot ofstuff and see where the music goes." U2 bassist Adam Clayton volunteered that the band hopes to head into the studio at the end of this summer, once Edge and Bono are done writing their Spider-Man musical.
- Best of all, "Little" Steven Van Zandt, a.k.a. Silvio Dante, told us how The Sopranosis going to end! "Just between me and you, Furio comes back and takesover," he whispered with a grin. "Don’t tell anybody, though." Whoa.Seriously, though, what’s next for Steven after Silvio’s final bow? "Ifsomebody comes to me I’ll certainly consider [acting again], but Ican’t pursue that. [The Sopranos] spoiled us." In the meantime,he’s focusing on his satellite radio show — and possibly regroupingwith Bruce Springsteen and the rest of his E Street Bandmates to recordtheir first new album since 2002′s The Rising. "We’re talking about it. We work very quickly… I would guess within a year or so we’ll have something going."