Monday, January 13, 2014

Song to Woody

“I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down
I’m seein’ your world of people and things
Hear paupers and peasants and princes and kings.”
   Bob Dylan, “Song to Woody”

The “Mad Men” episode that mentions the murder of Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers ends with Dob Dylan singing “Song to Woody.”  During a scene one can hear John F. Kennedy addressing the nation on the need for Civil Rights legislation.  One Dylan line mentions “Cisco and Sonny and Leadbelly too,” referencing Cisco Houston and Sonny Terry of the Almanac Singers as well as Huddle Ledbetter.  Then Dylan sings, “Here’s to the hearts and the hands of the men that come with the dust and are gone with the wind.”

This month marks the fiftieth anniversaries of the Surgeon General’s health warning about cigarettes and cancer, heart disease, and other harmful side effects.  Getting more publicity is LBJ’s War on Poverty, debunked by conservatives and mourned by progressives at its incompleteness.  President Obama declared: In the richest nation on earth, far too many children are still born into poverty, far too few have a fair shot to escape it, and Americans of all races and backgrounds experience wages and incomes that aren’t rising.  That does not mean abandoning the War on Poverty.  In fact, if we hadn’t declared ‘unconditional war on poverty in America,’ millions more Americans would be living in poverty today. Instead, it means we must redouble our efforts to make sure our economy works for every working American.”

With less than three minutes to go against New Orleans, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch romped 31 yards to put the Seahawks up 23-8.  The Saints came back and scored, then recovered an on-side kick with just 20 seconds left.  Two plays later, Marques Colson caught a pass near the Seahawks’ 30 yard-line and could have gone out of bounds.  Instead, unbelievably, he threw an illegal pass across the field intended for Darren Sproles resulting in the referees running ten seconds off the clock.  Game over.  I called Chuck Logan to congratulate him; Gaard answered, happy for her hubby, but she hadn’t bothered watching.

Saturday Toni and I saw “August: Osage County.”  Normally she avoids heavy dramas about dysfunctional families, but, a huge admirer of Meryl Streep, she wanted to see it.  Streep did not disappoint, and the first-rate cast included Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis as Streep’s three daughters.  Abigail Breslin (Olive in “Little Miss Sunshine”) plays a precocious granddaughter).

In his Sunday column Carrol Vertrees waxed nostalgic about winters on the farm.  I learned  how impossible it was to collect chicken eggs wearing gloves and how after playing in the snow, kids would stand by the stove until “both sides were done.”  Vertrees quotes these lines from John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Snow-Bound: A Winter Idyl”:
“And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.”

In between rounds of bridge we dined at Sage Restaurant with the Hagelbergs.  The friendly owner insisted on hanging up our coats, and waiter Tony, whom we know quite well by now, mentioned being a psychological counselor but that he makes more money waiting tables.  I ordered strip steak risotto and then asked if it came with potatoes, not knowing risotto is a rice dish.  It was great, and half went home for another day.  Back at our place, Toni served little cheesecakes that Angie had made during the holidays.
Sports Illustrated carried an excerpt of “Wooden: A Coach’s Life” by Seth Davis.  (The Wizard of Westwood,” as UCLA coach John Wooden was called, won an unheard of 10 NCAA titles in twelve years with star centers Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Walton leading the way.  Hailing from Martinsville, Indiana, Wooden was an All-American guard at Purdue and coached at South Bend High School (where he had a losing record) Indiana State before taking the UCLA job.  During the turbulent late-1960s black players demanded to be treated with respect, and Wooden was flexible enough to bend the rules for his stars.  Once asked who were the toughest players to coach, meaning black or white, Wooden answered, “Seniors.”

Ray Smock reported on a housecleaning attempt: Today, after success in throwing away a box filled with old cables to equipment I no longer have, I picked up a box that was labeled AVANT GARDE Magazine. I had not looked at these in 40 years, although I have moved this box from our student housing apartment in College Park, to Beltsville and Laurel and Lanham in Maryland and for the past ten years they have been here in my basement in Martinsburg, WV. I have the full set of 14 magazines published from 1968 to 1971. The publisher was that notorious pusher-of-the-envelop Ralph GInsburg, who was convicted of obscenity for his earlier magazine EROS, and prosecuted by none other than Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, that prude. The magazine is iconic in more ways than one.  It took me back to the 60s, to Vietnam, hippies, sexual liberation journalism, Marilyn Monroe, the prison poetry of Ho Chi Minh, Mohammed Ali, LeRoi Jones ( Baraka Amiri) who died this week, Norman Mailer, Tricky Dick Nixon (before we knew how truly tricky he was), Dick Gregory, Justice William O. Douglas ( who wrote a nice short piece on the power of the folk song in his life, which was later cited as evidence of subversion when conservatives tried to impeach him), a whole issue on Picasso's erotic engravings, followed two issues later with John Lennon's erotic lithographs of oral sex with Yoko Ono.”
David Mitchell (front) with Lennard Davis, Lee Ann Field, Anne Balay, Shannon Snyder,& Riva Lehrer at MLA

Having attended the Modern Language Association conference in Chicago, Anne Balay wrote:Had a great weekend -- panels and friends at the MLA -- sunny runs in the morning -- time with Riva -- meeting with my editor to plan next steps -- then sledding with Emma on the dunes. The semester can now begin, with fingers crossed for happy resolution . . .”

Chuck Hughes from the Gary Chamber of Commerce wants me to speak at an upcoming banquet about the year 1955,as a way of introducing a documentary about the fabled state championship showdown between Gary Roosevelt and Indianapolis Crispus Attucks.  Ike was President then and sent the first advisers to Vietnam, raised the minimum wage from 75 cents to a dollar, and suffered a mild heart attack.  Debuting on TV were “The Mickey Mouse Club” and Elvis Presley.  School desegregation was taking place in Topeka, Kansas, thanks to Brown v. Board of Education, and Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for not yielding her seat on a bus to a white man.  Bill Russell led the University of San Francisco to an NCAA title, and the New York Yankees signed their first black player, catcher Elston Howard.  They lost the World Series to the Brooklyn Dodgers, led by catcher Roy Campanella, the National League MVP.  Pitcher Don Newcombe won 20 games that year.
 "Campy" (left) and Jackie Robinson

At Gino’s with the Merrillville History Book Club, I passed around “The House on Mango Street,” next meeting’s selection, and told members they could buy it for ten dollars at IUN Bookstore.  Ken Anderson had seen Nicole Anslover talking about Bess Truman on C-Span’s “First Ladies” series and hopes she’ll agree to be a presenter.   A board member at the Abraham Lincoln Museum, Ken mentioned that after talking to Jimmy Carter about delivering an address at an upcoming function, another board member was outraged because of the former president’s criticisms of Israel in “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (2011).  When presenter Pam Kosenka expressed puzzlement that Eric Metaxas’ “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” received poor reviews from academicians, somebody quipped, “Then it must be good.”  I rose to the bait and pointed out that Bonhoeffer’s chief importance is as a theologian, and that is where the book is weakest.  Also the author is a critic of Obama for allegedly taking the Christ out of Christmas and foisting his opinion on abortion and birth control on church groups, earning him praise from rightwingers but backlash from liberals.

Home by eight, I listened to 20 year-old CDs by Natalie Merchant, Soul Asylum, and Flaming Lips and chilled out.

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