Monday, December 11, 2017

December 11, 2017

This date* may soon commemorate the demise of the internet as we know it, a place where people just toss messages in bottles off piers around the world, messages like even this one, with no aim at all for some financial gain, no teaser for eyeballs, no pay nothing down. It's had its run, this internet, where people just talked and opined. There's still, perhaps, Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, those platforms were likely invented to make way for the new shiny internet slouching towards us from Bethlehem. Sure, you can have a handful of characters. It works for the President, what's your problem? He was elected. QED.

[*In the interest of clarity, it turns out that the FCC decision on net neutrality has been delayed, briefly, due to suits and other issues.]

Tomorrow is Mr. Moore of Alabama's Day. It could still be the day he is rejected by his state, by the voters of Alabama who bother to vote. We'll know tomorrow. Vice News sent Frank Luntz to talk to Alabama Republicans, twelve of them. They told him that the testifying women were all political operatives. It was an operation to make Mr. O'Keefe jealous, since all of his games get sussed out. Some of the Alabama Republicans ask rhetorically, "why do these charges surface now?" That's supposed to be decisive rhetoric. The idea has become, an October Surprise is on the face of it self-refuting. All genuine surprises must arrive by March 1, the rest being folderol by definition. I have an old interest in Alabama. The old band I was in played down there quite a bit. My best guitar comes from a very good guitar shop in Birmingham run by a fine fellow named Herb Trotman. Libby and I sat in his shop and played any number of fine guitars, and came up with my Taylor Jumbo with the maple back. It's a sweet one, particularly for finger picking and accompanying singing, but it's good with the fiddle too.

Back when the old band used to play a bar in Birmingham with a firetruck in the lobby. We also played two big summer festivals that were strong on bluegrass, one at Smith Mountain, one called Horse Pens 40. I saw Jimmy Martin at the Smith Mountain festival. He rode around in a bus called the Widow Maker, and on stage he explained that his band wasn't good enough to record, unlike in earlier times, when he was recording. He also said he'd go around after his set and have a drink with everyone at the festival, a challenge I believe he made the attempt at least to accomplish. At Horse Pens, in October, I watched Ricky Skaggs and his band play a set wearing gloves. The temperature had dropped below freezing. Skaggs could play good mandolin with gloves on! Another time at Horse Pens an Alabama National Guard jet came over about 50 feet above the stage, creeping up on us from the south at such a speed that the sound exploded when it arrived, Horse Pens being a peninsula of the Appalachians ending above the much lower plain stretching off to Birmingham and points south, so that the pilot had plenty of altitude till just before he got to the stage, where the old band was chunking out Bill Boyd's "Wahoo, Wahoo, Wahoo." Our bass player jumped off the stage briefly as I recall, but the band more or less kept going and finished the song to the afterburners. A year or two later we heard a recording of the moment, but it wasn't really how it was, the jet was just a mild woooosh. You hada be there.

I can't particularly imagine those folks who came to see us voting for Judge Moore, but surely a lot of them are doing just that. It's there in the Skynyrd lyrics:

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don't need him around anyhow

That flyboy was saluting bluegrass is the likely theory of why he was there that day, in the sky above us. Back in the '70s The Band like to fly the Stars and Bars, and it wasn't just Levon. It's there on the wall in the Last Waltz. People imagined a space where that was possible without contradiction.

Roy Moore said, during his campaign, that he'd like to repeal all the constitutional amendments after the 10th. He also said he thought America was at its "greatest" during slavery, because in those days the family was "unified," going in the same direction. That's the patriarchy in a nutshell I guess. That's part of Mr. Moore's vote, people who think the women and the black folks ought to just shut up and stop making trouble. That would include the NFL kneelers, noted by the President when he kicked off the Strong campaign (but also kicked off the Moore campaign at the same time, a brilliant example of Trump's ability to live in contradiction, and of a piece with his endorsement of Moore from Pensacola, Florida, just across the line, just in case).

"Which Side Are You On?" the old Civil Rights marching song used to ask. For a while, after Vietnam was over, it seemed like we were all on the same side. That was apparently another grand illusion. Skynyrd was on it early. I hope I'm surprised tomorrow. I hope I can get some news on line tomorrow, without a paywall. Here, in any case, the snow melted, and the cold wet leaves are a thick carpet in the woods around the cabin, and the sun offers watery yellow light from low in the south as it approaches noon.

I see that Walt Koken, the great fiddler and banjo player from the Highwoods String Band, has published a modest memoir of his time touring with his band. Walt writes:

Just wanted to say thanks to all who have ordered my new memoir, Fire on the Mountain, an American Odyssey. It’s going to be a million seller. That means I’ll have a million in the cellar! Seriously, just a reminder to everyone thinking about ordering a copy, get ‘em while they last. It makes for a good holiday present, and an interesting read. Originally intended as a retrospective of the 1960’s and ‘70’s for the old time music community readership, it has brought some compliments from folks outside that scene...

You can get it from Walt at Ask him and he might even write you in an autograph. Walt was at a lot of those Alabama venues. He might well have been there the day the jet came over. I'll have to ask him sometime.


Update (12/13/17)

Roy Moore lost last night. The loss was decisive, which pretty much stops his group of Christianist conservatives from coming up with a reason to steal the election back. (See Florida, 2000). I was expecting Judge Moore to brandish his little silver popper again and call for some kind of rough justice, but the margin was over 20,000, and perhaps that was sobering to him, his ranting wife, and who knows, even Mr. Bannon, who railed about carpetbagging as a carpetbagger himself, which was probably not lost on some Alabama voters. There was much talk on the teevee comparing Alabama with the Virginia election of a couple of months back. It certainly would be a nice Christmas thought to see some turn in the electorate against the destructive, radical anarchy that reigns at the moment in the Executive Branch. I thought, as well, that the lesson of Alabama might one day actually be taken by the country, as we struggle back to some semblance of sanity: the educated urban counties of Alabama are not punished as such centers are nationally. That is, sensible people did not in majority vote in Mr. Trump, but were disenfranchised to the tune of some 3 million voters by an archaic Electoral College system that should be either abolished entirely, or at a minimum re-ordered significantly. Alabama does not give low-population rural counties excessive power over their urban centers. This is a good thing. Jones is likely going to bring a lot of prosperity to his state.

I also meant to mention, in my initial post, the sweetest visit to Alabama our old group made. This would be a trip to Enterprise, the little town which features a bronze statue of the boll weevil in the town center, to commemorate the end of a single-crop economy, which eventually was an improvement. We played at a rural school, mostly black kids as I recall. It seemed as though no one such as an old time string band had ever come out to see these kids, and their delight was wonderful to experience. Underneath all the politics there are always real people. They are the ones that matter.

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