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Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The Audience Laughed at Lester Maddox Too 

I wish I could say the last of the good old boys died, but, alas, that will probably never be the case. However, the death of Lester Maddox removes one racist from the face of the planet. It's too easy to write Lester off as a product of his times - his times are our times, and we shouldn't forget that the vast majority of Americans were born and lived in the era of segregation, of "separate but equal."
Slight of stature, Mr. Maddox was nonetheless direct and outspoken in the defense of his convictions, which he wrapped in a states' rights banner. These included the view that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites, that integration was a Communist plot, that segregation was somewhere justified in scripture and that a federal mandate to integrate schools was "ungodly, un-Christian and un-American."
This is not the view from "days gone by." This man died today, and many of those who supported him, voted for him, and believe as he believed are still here, still believing.

In 1974, Randy Newman released Good Old Boys, with it's scathing opening track, "Rednecks." In 1974, Lester Maddox was four years from the Governor's house, and running for reelection. Randy Newman has never pulled punches, and his lyrics from "Rednecks" are as pertinent now as they ever were:
Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart ass New York Jew
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too
Well he may be a fool but he's our fool
If they think they're better than him they're wrong
So I went to the park and I took some paper along
And that's where I made this song

We talk real funny down here
We drink too much and we laugh too loud
We're too dumb to make it in no Northern town
And we're keepin' the niggers down

We got no-necked oilmen from Texas
And good ol' boys from Tennessee
College men from LSU
Went in dumb, come out dumb too
Hustlin' 'round Atlanta in their alligator shoes
Gettin' drunk every weekend at the barbecues
And they're keepin' the niggers down

We're rednecks, rednecks
And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, we're rednecks
And we're keeping the niggers down

Now your northern nigger's a Negro
You see he's got his dignity
Down here we're too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the nigger free

Yes he's free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he's free to be put in a cage on the South-Side of Chicago - and the West-Side
And he's free to be put in a cage in Hough in Cleveland
And he's free to be put in a cage in East St. Louis
And he's free to be put in a cage in Fillmore in San Francisco
And he's free to be put in a cage in Roxbury in Boston
They're gatherin' 'em up from miles around
Keepin' the niggers down

We're rednecks, rednecks
And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, we're rednecks
And we're keeping the niggers down
I'd like to think that the death of Lester Maddox just renews the calls for true equality, for real justice. We've come a short way in a short time, and it's been a long time coming. If the afterlife were just, Saint Peter Claver and Saint Martin de Porres would chase him out of heaven with an ax. That would be the only fitting way to great such a right bastard.

Monday, June 23, 2003

All the Way to Boylan Heights 

As summer approaches (it takes it's time to reach Maine), I always recall seeing The Connells at The Boathouse in Norfolk, VA in the summer of 1992. Summers in Tidewater Virginia can be downright hellish. Cruising down I-64 through Hampton and diving into the cavernous mouth that sucks you down below the James River, you emerge to see Norfolk rise in steam and ripples in front of you like the city of Dis on the river Styx. For those who never have been to The Boathouse, it was/is (I haven't been there since '94, so I will use past tense) a relatively good sized (2500?) venue with mediocre sound and some pretty atrocious sight lines (I mean, it was a big rectangle, ceilings about 15' high, supporting polls throughout, with a six foot high stage in the middle of the venue, along one of the long sides), and I went there as often as I could. Well, back to the story at hand.

I went with my friend Jon to see The Connells. It was a benefit show, with anyone who brought a canned good getting in for 99ยข. Jon and I set out on a typically hot (98 or so) Williamsburg evening to see the show. We popped in Check Your Head to accompany us (I remember this clearly because Jon could do a perfect imitation of the voice the Beasties used for "Well I think it's booty - Boot/boot/boot/booty, that's what it is"). When we emerged from the tunnel it was at least ten degrees hotter. Miserable. We reached The Boathouse, and could feel the heat of the place blasting us as we approached the door. The ticket guys thanked us for the canned goods, we paid our two bucks and got the warning that it "was hot in there." Thanks. If you happen across this, thanks again. Really. As I have been around blast furnaces that were cooler than the air blowing out of the place, thanks for the warning.

Jon and I went quickly through and ducked out a side door - along with 35 sixteen year old girls and their dates. We didn't quite fit the shows demographics - Jon was 22 looking like 35, I was 19 and had just shaved off my 14" mohawk, leaving only a long blonde braid off the back of my bald head. At least we were both wearing sandals. Regardless, we struggled to hold our place on the edge of the inferno. As showtime approached, we were sure that it would be canceled or postponed. We guessed it was at least 110 on the floor and had to be hotter under the stage lights. But right on time, The Connells took the stage. Jon and I maneuvered ourselves to a happy midpoint between the PA and an industrial airport hanger fan (you know those five foot metal fans from all the old movies? There had to be a dozen of them throughout the club). After the first song, the band looked done. Absolutely shot. There was some patter, along the lines of, "Sure is hot! Are you all hot?" The band started into a second song, then a third and fourth. The crowd was ignoring the heat, jumping up and down and singing along. People started to collapse from heat exhaustion, and The Connells stopped and called security to help.

I forgot to mention that the only water available was $3 a pop from the concession stands. The band called for water for the crowd, and the workers at the venue were hesitating. The band called again, and the crowd took up the call. Before long, bottled water started flying out to the crowd and they even set up a hose over to one side (well away from any equipment) to just hose people down. The Connells went back to playing, four or five in a row, with the crowd dancing and singing, soaking wet, half naked and passing out. The band called for everyone to pay attention, and pulled out a thermometer. Doug MacMillan held it up for the people in the front to see, and said, somewhat dumbfounded, "It's 128 on stage." (now, please don't quote me on this - I remember it as 128, but it could have been 118 or 123 or something. My mind, ten years later, has settled on 128, and I couldn't find anything to check it by on the net). As crowds of teenagers are want to to, they cheered and started dancing. The Connells started playing again, and didn't stop until they had been on stage over two hours. Looking back at it now, I remember Jon and I sharing a look of amazement as The Connells got better as the show went on, feeding off the heat and the crowd. The only song I can see clearly in my mind's eye is "Scotty's Lament," with Doug draped across the microphone stand, his legs literally shaking, sweat running off his bent elbows onto the stage and crowd.

I went back later that summer to see the Beastie Boys, with L7 and House of Pain (who cancelled, on account of their sucking too much to "Jump Around" live). The Beasties complained about the heat, and I laughed. I would swear there were Connells shirts for sale at the Beastie Boys show, with 128 on it in big letters.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

More Apologies 

I just reread that last post and I want to apologize most profusely for the second-rate Greil Marcusisms that litter that whole piece like the popsicle sticks that signify the trail of the Good Humor Man. I doubly apologize for the bad poem that leads off the piece - I leave the post up as a reminder not to take it all so seriously. I promise not to make allusions the The Hairy Ape ever again. In summation, I choose Muswell Hillbillies over Exile on Main Street as my portrait of America as seen through British eyes, and that pretty much caps it.

Monday, June 16, 2003

If life's for livin' then what's livin' for 

It seems a life ago I made a break from The City
No more chipped and fading formstone facades
No more crushing crowds
No staggering drunkards serenades
No vibrant culture clashes
Working poor on after-dinner stoops comforting the crying Queen in glittery platforms
(a sob is a sob, and every man's shoulder brings comfort and peace)
No suits of lavender
Or chartreuse hair
Or Easter Parades
Cherry blossoms and smells of cake and sawdust
Sweet tang of sugar burning in the air

From millions to 70,000 is a only a cutting of extremes, of highs and lows. The dreams are the same - escape to a place that is different, a place that must be better, livelier, where dreams come true. A country man may think of The City as opportunity, a city girl may dream of the time when she can escape the confines of brick, concrete and steel. Happiness in escape, in change of air and opportunity. Listening to Muswell Hillbillies exposes the lie of The Grail, of redemption through escape. London boys hoping to escape the city of mechanization, uniformity, conformity - to be extraordinary in a world of ordinary. Where to escape? West Virginia? Oklahoma? The classic beach Holiday in Brighton fails - we can't even bring back memories now, the boardwalk a burnt ember, sparked on land and doused in the Atlantic. America - across the sea, land of opportunity - a country riff or slide guitar will take us there like James' Peach on the waves of belief.

Is there a better evocation of hopes and dreams, of shattered men with broken lives where no decision leads to a better outcome? These are the fathers of Sam Lowry, the children of Yank. Ray Davies sings without the hope of redemption or freedom except in the mind. It is the voice of determination, not desire, an almost blank acceptance that in this way lies madness. The recognition of this is the escape itself, knowing that the schizophrenia and degeneration are the way to deal with societies traps and games. In a 1972 Circus Magazine interview, Davies said, "Leaving Rosie Rooke behind is like leaving everything behind. She symbolized all that for me." The new evolution crushes the old dreams and hopes, replacing them with concrete convenience.

It fails in reverse as well - the country dreams of the city fall victim to barred windows and broken glass, the crushing uniformity that absorbs and swallows and the next generation dreams of "Country Roads." Escape is never possible, and Davies never sang of happy sanity. It's all a fool's game, and you have to enjoy the playing, not the role or the outcome.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Mr. Deadly 

First, apologies to any who have checked here for new posts - things beyond my control limited my ability to post. I will try to be more consistent. Consider it an unplanned break in broadcasting.

"Mr. Deadly" is a track from Robyn Hitchcock's Invisible Hitchcock that just emerged from my computer speakers as I was tweaking the template for this weblog. I just put my 6800 mp3's on random and let my computer "entertain" me when I'm doing mundane tasks like updating links, and was blindsided by this song. I've probably heard it at least 100 times, and I've never really taken a shine to it. Hitchcock's greatest songs tend to be (understandably) guitar driven. "Mr. Deadly" is all keyboard - moody chords, flat early eighties drums (the sound to me was always a bongo with a sock on it) - complete with a vocal echo & multitrack chorus, and a Tones on Tail menacing atmospheric wash.
Randomly the radio that wanders through the stations like a train
Flickers on the dashboard as the melody dissolves into his brain
"Mr. Deadly" has surprised me. It's the case of a certain song finding a way to be heard, a way to connect to a listener at a specific time and place. Today is overcast outside, my mind is tired and sluggish, and a slow miasma of a knowing step-outside the lines of convention and expectation has invaded my cells through porous walls. I may hate it tomorrow, a trite and cheesy eighties mistake. But oh, "Mr. Deadly", you're comfort and succor keep me whole.
And all who hear him say you must be further gone then they
And all who hear him say he must be mad to be himself around today
Around today
Around today
Around today