Friday, July 23, 2010

"Heartworn Highways"

Heartworn Highways, a documentary film by the late James Szalapski came out, I read, in 1975, the year Diamond Studs splashed in New York City. The film-stock was exposed back in the early to mid '70s: bus rides with David Allan Coe behind the wheel and a prison concert with Coe which features some of the most amazing music and off-the-cuff ranting I've ever seen; an interview with Townes Van Zandt and his girl friend and various other passersby which happens to include him singing "Pancho and Lefty" and "Waitin' Round to Die,"the former of which he introduces as "a medley of my hit"; time spent with Guy Clark, talking, singing off stage and on, repairing a guitar, reveling with a very young Steve Earle during the Christmas Season; backstage and on with a Charlie Daniels who can actually play the fiddle (versus the geezer who made the ad for Geico); a classic Gamble Rogers performance bit. And there's of course more. Recently there's been a sort of sound track produced by recording the songs off the movie and then doing studio magic to make it all work on the CD player.

I rented HH from Netflix because I'd seen a wonderful documentary about Townes and noticed there was some of him in this movie too. Mostly the Townes stuff was used in the documentary. Oh well. It's the David Allan Coe material that just blows me away. I had no idea! I think the first time I ever heard of Mr. Coe was via his hit, "You Never Even Called Me By My Name," which got quite a lot of air play back in the day. As I'd met Steve Goodman a couple of times, my ears certainly pricked up when I heard him referenced re Coe's famous "last verse," which probably made the song as certainly as Mark Knoffler's breaks made "Sultans of Swing." But Knoffler's breaks are actually still a joy to hear, and after you've heard Coe's schick in "Never Even Called Me" about 10 times or so, that's about all you'll need to be quenched for the next ten years. I never heard anything else by him that grabbed me, and it was only just now that I found out he wrote "Take this Job and Shove It," which is certainly a great song in it's own right.

Then, at some time in the last fifteen years or so, I saw some pictures of Coe as he's, ummmm, "developed." These days he looks pretty grotesque--tattooed to the extreme, seriously over-weight, and then it turns out he's in the midst of a controversy over whether he's a "racist" or not based on some songs he tossed off thirty years ago and marketed on the back of some biker periodical which probably featured women humping Harley seats near the staples in every issue. "I'm not a racist," he replied to some inquiry. "I have pictures of Michael Spinks all over my bus, with my kids." It's for sure that he's not a politician at any rate. Put him and Brietbart in the same room and it's Mr. Coe who walks out eating a chicken leg and grinning. I'd actually really like to see that bout. It'd be better than Tonya Harding TKOing Paula Jones.

So to me, Coe's the story of the documentary, except that documentary unfortunately didn't get made, just this road diary slice-of-life. Coe also says, re the racism thing--"I don't hate black people, I mostly just hate people, generally." That's him today. He's about my age. He's been on his long strange trip just like all us geezers. Plus, his trip started with a very messed up family and a stay in prison at the young age of 18. Like he tells it in the prison concert, "when I walked into the cafeteria everything got quiet. They thought I was Marilyn Monroe."

It's not too hard to squint and read between some of the lines. Coe gets out of prison with his life, he is a very smart kid who's been ground into the dirt but has a vision and can write. He works hard day jobs. He gets to Nashville. He sells "Field of Stone" to Tanya Tucker and she gets a hit. He's a hell of a performer, so he gets a good band together and starts trucking, driving his own bus no less. Everything he can earn he earns because, he believes, he knows how to SELL. And over the years, it gets a little out of hand to at least a lot of people, and he gets kinda marginalized. (These days there's an argument over whether he killed some guy in prison--an alleged fact which adds to his dark lustre but is apparently not checkable by reputable media reporters, who've tried.) Which doesn't mean he doesn't have a devoted following, because he's obviously charismatic as hell, but he knows he owes his particular base, so he makes damn sure they recognize him. And he makes a decent living making music, including some royalties. That's how it works, most particularly when you graduated from prison when you're 18.

You may or may not have a single good opinion of David Allan Coe. But you've got time to watch a movie now and then, so watch Heartworn Highways, particularly every bit of footage on David Allan Coe, including the extra bits at the end that they couldn't figure out how to fit into the movie itself. I won't be surprised if you watch him singing "River" a dozen times, like I did. The cinematographer did one fine job on that. Look at Coe's eyes. And as far as who and what he seems to have become. Well, it makes me think of those blowfish that get all huge and spikey when bigger fish happen around. Ain't nobody going to fuck with David Allan Coe. That's what he learned, a real long time back.

I hope Mr. Coe's having a real great summer this year, with his family. That's what he deserves. If only because of this one moment long ago:

It's even better in the movie, so consider the vid a trailer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Brietbart, Sherrod, Obama

I'll admit that when I first saw the secretly edited video of Mrs. Sherrod's speech, my first reaction was that she should be dismissed from her Ag. Department job. And actually, since the story I happened to see, which included the video of the speech, also reported that she had been sacked, my reaction was--well, that was a good reaction on the part of the Obama Administration to something that was obviously unacceptable. The edited speech cast Mrs. Sherrod in a vivid and fairly well known stereotype--a lot of people, I'm assuming, have run into the mid-level beurocrat who takes out her "issues" on the random people who have the misfortune of getting into her line. White people are always bitching about the black secretary or office functionary. I expect black people find the same characters amongst the white counterparts. And. There is certainly some truth in a stereotype. What's false is the stereotyping activity. It's a mistake humans make, and can be traced back to the old lizard brain. "If they move, kill 'em." (Every line in the Wild Bunch tells a deeper truth.) And let me stress--"his" can replace "her" in the above paragraph, anywhere you wish. This isn't about gender stereotyping either, although I think Brietbart surely had that in mind as well.

It is with great relief that I learned last night of the secret edits to the Sherrod speech. My reactions were several. First, how could Breitbart get away with this yet again? Even with Fox News no less. And isn't it about time he can be actually charged with something, or at least sued in civil court. An awful lot of very ordinary and very innocent people--most of them black--are being slandered by his now predictable media games. There's the hundreds of Acorn employees. There's the folks down in the political offices in New Orleans. Now there's a very good person, Mrs. Sherrod, who's been cold-cocked by a public media frenzy which was entirely duped, and cold-cocked again by the NAACP, and yet again, by the Obama Administration. This is what liable laws are for, isn't it.

Hopefully by the time of this writing, Mrs. Sherrod already has her job back. I mean if she wants it--if it was me I would consider retiring and getting as far away from all this crap as possible. That's just me. The NAACP apologized with some elegance last night, live on Rachel Maddow in the person of Ben Jealous. It simply must be that the Administration will do likewise. And one would also hope everyone with even a modicum of good will will now view anything emerging from Office Brietbart as, per se, a likely lie or subterfuge, to be dismissed and stepped over like an unexpected puppy offering on the sidewalk. Mistakes which are grounded in sophisticated lies are not, in themselves, cause for stonewalling. Mr. Obama--fix this p.d.q.

But even more important, it seems to me that this event, now exposed, should be a learning moment for everyone who is not already committed to the full bore racist camp, hoping for some kind of idiotic "race war," aiming to convince everyone to take a bull shit "side." As Mr. Jealous said last night, the argument about the Federal Budget is an argument which has various sides. It can be held by economists and others without resort to much purple rhetoric, and no resort to the kind of signage we've seen far too much of in the Tea Party rallies--pictures of Obama as Hitler, the tossing around of hot words like "socialism" and "fascism" which have no relevance to the dry numbers that make up a budget. Certainly it's obvious that some people are worried about the national deficit and the national debt. But these worries should not prevail as policy choices via race-baiting. As Mr. Jealous put it, the Tea Party would actually be a better movement without the racism. To which I have to say, absolutely!

But even deeper, this exposure of Brietbart ought to teach us all something. I realize, of course, that whether people can actually learn these lessons permanently also depends on the old lizard brain. It blows my mind that after Vietnam we could still, as a nation, get behind the Iraq War, or even the Afganistan War, or that George Bush, who was at least present during the Vietnam era, could have grinned and called himself a "war President" as though he'd found the meaning of his life. But this is what he did. So it's hard to have but so much hope, but here's a big teaching moment, as they say. Let's look at how even people of obvious good will jumped to the wrong conclusion about Mrs. Sherrod. And also how the fine white farmer family she aided thirty years ago stood up for her, in the face of all this blather, which originated from a relative handful of folks with zero good will--people who were just fine with pushing her under the bus to serve the political end of damaging Mr. Obama's Administration.

The serve has been made. The ball rushes to Mr. Obama's end of the court. This is his moment.

Update--as driftglass points out, the racism strain in American history and politics is long and deep, and seems to fight for its survival with a will of its own. There is something sickeningly familiar to a southerner about the way so much of America found it so damned easy to see 9/11 as justifying an attack on Muslims. Even as we speak, the "Mosque at Ground Zero" "issue" is nothing more than yet another racist style argument, and Mr. Hannity makes it every day to the end of furthering Republican political interests.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Santa Claus on the 4th

My old pals down at the Texaco were grumbling as to how President Obama made a mockery of the "Founders" in his recent 4th of July speech, because he mentioned that they were all men of wealth, and that it took Mr. Lincoln and the Civil War to free the slaves. I don't know whether he mentioned that it took a Constitutional Amendment in the 20th Century no less to free the womenfolk, but of course that's the truth too. Apparently these plain historical facts are not to be brought up during celebrations of our Independence Day.

But I have no idea why? Oh I do realize that the right-wing punditry has made this judgment out in radio and teevee land, but the boys at the Texaco say they never never ever listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck, or any of those people. For them it's just country music 24/7, preferably Hank, Jr., and gospel on Sundays after church. And these fellers do think for themselves. I'm sure of it. They all hate Jimmie Johnson, for example.

So it beats me, but I'll just ignore the punditry and cut to the chase, because it seems like a strange kind of mistake to get upset with Obama for pointing out that the people who rebelled in 1776 and signed on to the Declaration of Independence were, indeed, men of wealth. Who ever said that was a bad attribute anyways? It's just the deal. And those men, who eventually lead the colonists to victory against a big world power of that era (proof that Mike Steele is right about undertaking a land war in Asia), knew that there were contradictions between the glorious Declaration and the much more detailed Constitution that they wrote some thirteen years later.

The way to understand 1776 is to see those men as striking a match. The Declaration of Independence is not a law. It's a metaphysical statement--a credo, an assertion of some basic beliefs--so basic, it is so asserted, as to be deeper even than the Laws of Great Britain which were the laws under which the writers of the Declaration lived, as citizens of the Empire. These truths are self-evident it is said. All men are created equal. It is said. And this would include and still includes not only white male Americans of wealth and taste, but Mexicans who just snuck under the fence of freedom, black people who didn't get un-owned until 1864, women who didn't get to vote in the United States until 1920.

So doesn't everyone above the age of eight or so quite understand this rather complex but very understandable fact? Namely, that the very man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, actually owned slaves as he took pen in hand, and moreover, actually had a long-standing intimate relationship with at least one of those slaves, producing children and a line of Jeffersons which still exists today and knows, in their family history, just who great great grampaw was: The Louisiana Purchase, the Third President, Monticello, UVA, the man on the $2.00 bill? None of this is a secret, not even the parts that the ummmm "white Jeffersons" tried to keep secret for nearly 200 years. (As Homer Simpson says about DNA, "Dhoahhhh".)

And of course what is any of this but to say that the founders of our country were not statues on court squares, made of alabaster, frozen at their perfect moment of being, mute because nothing is left to be said, cold because blood betrays. They got their blood up against the government of Great Britain, operating at too great a distance and with too high a hand, under a King who was not particularly capable. They were not in perfect agreement either--thus there's a Canadian border today. And as many of them were big land owners operating agri-businesses on a scale requiring either slaves or mechanical inventions still deep into the future, their fathers and grandfathers had kidded themselves into thinking that it was better to be a black man working in a Mississippi field in July than a "savage" hiding from a lion or a crocodile in the "dark continent."

Go read "The Sot Weed Factor" I mention to one of the Texaco boys--the guy with the DeKalb hat. "I don't read no books," he says. And there ain't no slot in the cash register for no $2 Bill neither. Why's that, I wonder? I get 'em at the bank now and then, on purpose, and keep 'em in the tip jar when I play gigs, back when I thought it was fun to play all night for 25 buckaroos. One guy says "Americans didn't make slavery, that was the British." Ahhhhhhh. Where's my Homer Head Slap key? What's the point of telling any of them that Robert E. Lee was the rightful heir to George Washington, that his revolution in defense of slavery (ummmm, er, states rights) was Jefferson's next and predicted cycle of revolution. Arlington National Cemetery was once Lee's plantation, where all the marble men lie forever at attention and at rest, blacks and women included, JFK's flame an eternal flicker lighting all with the obscurity of shadows.

The blood betrayed Lee too. Henry Adams, John Adams great grandson, said they should have hung Marse Lee. The abolitionists' blood boiled too, up in the rocky country where the big field crops couldn't grow. Some nitwit down in Charleston decided to shell Fort Sumter and it was by gawd ON. The Congress--same as it ever was--came out to watch First Manassas be the end of the rebels, and a few of them ended up being captured and hauled off to Richmond when it turned out that Stonewall Jackson knew a thing or two about war from his years at West Point and his time down in Mexico in the '40s. This same Jackson, and Lee as well, knew the whole damn thing was a mistake, but they understood that it was a union of States, and they knew a State was sovereign and could by gawd leave the dang party if they wanted. Which was Jefferson's idea. Jackson's own men, who loved him, killed him by mistake after his victory at Chancellorsville. Thus, he missed Gettysburg. Thus doth history's wheel turn with mysterious and inexorable precision.

So then, why the hell not celebrate the end of a contradiction, which was the match which lit the fuse, July 4th, 1776. And what a gentle, sweet-tea way Obama put it, the other day. He might have rightly and correctly said that on the 4th of July we celebrate the slave-holding, slave-fucking crackers who begat this great land of ours with an out and out lie, and led us eventually to a Civil War which killed and maimed a huge great number of very ordinary people on both sides who were swept up into a meatgrinder cranked up by jackasses who mostly lived down in Charleston, SC, far far away from the fighting until Tecumseh Sherman rolled into town from the south no less, some years later. What would have been the difference in the punditry's reaction, I have to ask--the pundits nobody at the Texaco ever listens to of course.

"Turn on the teevee," the guy at the Texaco hollers. "The green flag's about to drop, and Junior is on the pole." Don't tell any of them that there's no Santa Claus either.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fiber-optic Sewer Lines*

The folks at Driftglass have bothered to connect some important dots for us. The ones at the end are particularly significant--where the point is made that infrastructure is now in the minds of many, "socialism." Meanwhile, it is suggested on the Right that Sarah Palin replace Michael Steele as Republican National Party Chairman, because Mr. Steele tends to say impolitic things.

On my teevee--and I'm meaning to give it a watch soon, once all the sports is overwith for the year--there's a dramatic story unfolding with monkeys as the main characters. Set in India, a tribe of monkeys struggles with life's various travails. Here's a link to the show:

Yesterday, swooping past on the way to Major League Baseball, I stopped briefly at the face of one of the main characters, apparently deceased, flies buzzing around his or her eyes (shades of "Idiot Wind", which could have been the theme song of the episode perhaps). The blurb on the show calls these critters (rhesus macaque) the "troublemakers" of the animal kingdom. Perhaps the writers didn't want to be too pointed with the audience for the show. Perhaps Mr. Driftglass will connect these dots in a future episode, if he deems it necessary. Mr. George Allen has of course already introduced the familiar term to the public, with delightful and disastrous results for himself.

Idiot Wind might serve as the background music for Mr. Driftglass's post:

Read em and weep.

*From a song by Mike Craver

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fireworks (The Moment)

Warren Oates' birthday is July 5th. Here is a review of one of his best movies, which is also one of Sam Peckenpah's best movies (though not quite the utter masterpiece of The Wild Bunch, which also stars Mr. Warren "Tandem??" "Wal Prozet!" Oates.) Here's a great review of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, from which the photo comes. The youtube link is the trailer to The Wild Bunch.

Not many people have even seen this movie. I'm not sure what Pauline Kael thought of it, although I'll bet she at least liked it some. She got ole Sam.


Congrats to Kevin Harvick for actually managing to battle through that mess of a Firecracker 400 last night. He said before the race that he needed to start pushing. His lead in the Chase had dwindled to almost nothing, and it was kind of embarassing to the whole concept of the Chase that he still had a lead with only one win, given than others have a good handful of wins and can't catch up. Now Kevin has a cushion, and maybe he'll actually win The Chase, although I'm picking Denny Hamlin and JJ as co-faves. Sam Hornish needs to get his own track, with electric bumper cars.

And congrats to Germany for utterly demolishing the myth of Argentina, which still lives in the hearts of its players and Coach Maradona, which must be like having Felini for a coach. Can the Netherlands defeat Germany just once, for a change? Guess we'll see.

Update--dang if Germany didn't go down like lambs to Spain, yesterday. One just never knows, do one.