Sunday, January 12, 2014

At a Discrete Distance

This post from Eric Loomis should remind everyone of the strange situation we are in, here in the belly of the beast:

Back in '77 I went with the other Red Clay Ramblers on a long, fairly hilarious "tour" of much of western Europe. It included a stop at Luxemburg, where a German customs agent was assured that all our LPs were just "promotional," and that we'd just toss 'em into the Mosel if we had to pay duty on them. It included a bird's eye view of a "waiter's race" in Lausanne, Switzerland, where waiters ran through the steep streets carrying trays with a bottle of wine and a filled glass, and a trip to see the Bern bears themselves. It included a very long ride in a Volkswagon van from the Swiss-German border up to Stockholm, which took about twelve hours longer than we had calculated, and which included an accidental opening of the sliding side door, and an an accidental departure of some boots onto the autobahn, never to be found again. This wonderful leg of our tour ended at Israel Young's place, in Stockhom, where I found to my amazement a copy of my first LP, "The Fuzzy Mountain String Band," in Mr. Young's record collection. It had arrived here before I had, to this beautiful place in the far north. Mr. Young loved Sweden and its sensible governmental structure, which provided among other good things free child care and medical care for his wife and child. Mr. Young, at that moment, believed that the Khymer Rouge, in Cambodia, was building an Asian people's paradise. He based his beliefs on sketchy reports, and no doubt revised them as more information became available. The war in Vietnam had only ended two years earlier, and Mr. Reagan was an aging retired actor and former governor of California. At that distant time, shirts and blue jeans were still manufactured in the United States, and, indeed, in the South. Now and then we did a great song called "Cotton Mill Colic":

Payday comes, you pay your rent
End of the week you ain't got a cent
To buy fat-backed meat, pinto beans
Cook up a mess o' turnip greens

I'm a-gonna starve and everybody will
'Cause you can't make a livin' in a cotton mill

Pete Seeger sang this version. We went back and got the original, recorded on a '78 by David McCann (or McCarn). The 78-rpm recording was said to have sold "briskly" during a strike in Danville, Va. To "colic" is to complain. Down the road from Charlotte lies Gastonia, NC, where there was a cotton mill or two in the '20s and '30s. Here's a long article, first published in the magazine "Southern Exposure," which details the strike at the Loray Mill in Gastonia:

Although it wasn't Mr. Reagan's idea, by the 1980s basic manufacturing industry was moving from the United States to distant places where, to put it in unemotional language, people had a lower standard of living. When Mr. Clinton finally brought a Democratic Administration back to office in Washington, he had accepted as a fait accompli that the movement of manufacturing from the United States to the "third world" was simply an economic fact to be lived with; it was quixotic to resist this fundamental economic trend. And so this bipartisan agreement has reigned supreme, no matter the political party in national office. Mr. Romney, a man who made his millions surfing the wave, was rejected for national office, but Mr. Obama has no interest in tilting at this long-term trend.

Meanwhile Amiri Baraka died this past week, age 79. He wrote an acclaimed play in 1964 called "The Dutchman." In it a white liberal woman stabs a black man to death on the subway. This pretty much sums up Mr. Baraka's way of looking at things. Here's a picture of him dancing with Maya Angelou, which I think is pretty neat. It comes from the New York Times obituary.
Chester Higgins took the photo.

After being discharged from the Air Force for being a suspected Communist--Baraka was reading suspicious books--he went on a life-long journey of art and politics which led, much later, to his decision to "be" a Marxist, whatever exactly that might mean in the life of a celebrated if cantankerous black American man of letters. The New York Times obituary is here:

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