Rick Nielsen was here to commemorate a resolution that Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, introduced Tuesday to proclaim April 1 “Cheap Trick Day” in Illinois. But his appearance was more of a mid-day party for aging fans. And it was chance for Nielsen to polish his routine.
Rick Nielsen entered the Capitol like the rock star he is: The flashy man in a zebra-stripe jacket, trademark ball cap and dark sunglasses had to remove his jewelry to clear a metal detector at the building’s main door.
Then the Cheap Trick guitarist and Rockford native was off and for the next two hours Tuesday shook Illinois government free from decorum with a stream of wisecracks about sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll and even criminal activity.
The 60-year-old rocker charmed state officials, lawmakers, legislative staff and bystanders during his first visit to the Capitol. He hugged and stood for photos with hordes of people who lined up for a glimpse.
When he first gawked upward at the building’s glowing stained glass dome, he lay on his back for a unique view. A rock star sprawled on the floor of the Capitol rotunda, as government bureaucrats went about their work, is something you certainly don’t see everyday.
Officially, Nielsen was here to commemorate a resolution that Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, introduced Tuesday to proclaim April 1 “Cheap Trick Day” in Illinois. But his appearance was more of a mid-day party for aging fans. And it was chance for Nielsen to polish his routine.
When Senate GOP staffer Lisa Sims approached Nielsen in a corridor, held out her cell phone and asked him to say hello to her boyfriend, Nielsen put his mouth to the phone and asked, “Can I put my clothes on first?”
Then he chuckled and moved on with his tour.
Senate Secretary Deb Shipley blushed like a teenage girl when Nielsen autographed a copy of the Senate’s daily calendar and handed it back to her. And when he showed up for a meeting with Senate GOP leaders, the pols cranked “I Want You To Want Me” — a Cheap Trick hit — on an office stereo.
Then they bounced to the beat in their loafers.
Syverson said he wanted to recognize Cheap Trick for keeping Rockford as its home, even after becoming a pop sensation in the 1970s and 1980s. The band’s latest album, released last year, is called simply “Rockford.”
With that, Syverson handed Nielsen his moment before the Illinois Senate.
“I’d like to announce that there is a new dress policy,” Nielsen said from the Senate president’s podium, tugging at his jacket to highlight his “Beatles” T-shirt. The Senate has a strictly enforced dress code: Each man in the chamber must wear a jacket and tie.
Nielsen added, “You can have the rest of the day off with double pay.” The senators cheered, and he threw fistfuls of guitar picks down at them and their staff.
Referring to the members of Cheap Trick, he announced, “None of us have had a felony within the last 10 years.” He said he had, indeed, paid all his taxes.
Nielsen said he picked April 1 to be the band’s official day because it’s April Fool’s Day — a perfect fit for the showman who, even while presiding over the Illinois Senate, refused to take himself seriously.
“April Fool’s Day just hit it right,” he said. “If people believe it, we’re on April 1. If they don’t believe it, we’re on April Fool’s Day.”
On his way out of the Capitol, Nielsen stopped for a private meeting with Syverson in the senator’s Capitol office. When he emerged, he made a scene of coughing as if the two of them had just smoked reefer.
A reporter asked Nielsen, “Was it that bad?” He grinned and replied, “It was that good.”