at the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan a decade later
Monday, October 27, 2014
“You can't find peace if you can't find a home
You can't survive as an island alone
Black heart with a gaping wound
Put back together by a troubled groove.”
Foo Fighters, “The Feast and the Famine”
Any time I receive a poem from Region bard William Buckley (above) is a red-letter day. He dated this composition, entitled “Our Hip-Hop Economy Here,” September 2014.
I don’t understand
The body of a kangaroo
In its function:
It has strong legs
But weak arms,
With its anxious word-watcher
In a pouch!
Before it is dropped out hoping for all fours:
Wouldn’t that make evolutionary sense
After being shoved out?
Well, with this drop-kick metaphor,
I live in Steeltown, U.S.A.
With its kangaroo economy:
Hip-Hop! Hip stop.
Discussing rightwing Republicans’ infatuation with Ronald Reagan and disillusionment with Gerald Ford in 1975, Rick Perlstein concluded that Ford was the most conservative president since Calvin Coolidge and in 1964 even sought to be Barry Goldwater’s running mate, while Reagan as California governor signed the country’s most liberal abortion bill into law and increased considerably the state budget. Supposedly the “family values” paragon, Reagan was a terrible parent (so emotionally unattached he didn’t recognize son Michael at his high school graduation) whereas Ford was a model father with well-adjusted offspring, unlike Reagan’s four. The media ridiculed Ford, one of the country’s most athletic chief executives (an All-American center at Michigan), as a clumsy oaf who took too many hits on the gridiron. In the midst of Senate committee revelations of heinous CIA crimes and not long after crazies Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore tried to assassinate Ford, the President became the subject of weekly ridicule by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live during its iconoclastic first year.
On SNL’s October 11 debut episode of “Weekend Update” Chase declared:
“Yesterday in Washington, President Ford bumped his head three times getting into his helicopter. The CIA immediately denied reports that it had deliberately lowered the top of the doorway.”
On October 18 Chase continued:
“President Ford’s regular weekly accident took place this week in Hartford, Connecticut, where Ford’s Lincoln was hit by a Buick. Alert Secret Service agents seized the Buick and wrestled it to the ground. No one was injured in the accident, but when the President got out to see what had happened, he tore his jacket sleeve on the car bumper, bumped his head, tripped over two chairs, and stuck his thumb in his eye. Alert Secret Service agents immediately seized the thumb and wrestled it to the ground.”
On October 25 Chase referred to Ford having caught a cold:
“White House physicians say that it will take the President a few days to recover his motor skills fully, citing the period after his last cold when he tied his shoe to his hair blower and inadvertently pardoned Richard Nixon.”
By mid-November Chase was playing the President, often in SNL's opening skit. In one typical bit he bumped into an American flag, dropped his speech, banged his head against the podium, and did a pratfall onto the floor. A couple shows later Chase had Ford answering a glass of water rather than the phone.
New England blew out the Bears by 28 points after building a 38-7 halftime lead. With just minutes to go, Lamarr Houston sacked the Patriots’ backup quarterback and ludicrously celebrated, using a move similar to one befalling injured Lion Stephen Tulloch a month ago. Jerry Davich wrote: “In a stupid-ass incident that truly epitomizes the Bears season, defensive end Lamarr Houston suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee while celebrating a meaningless fourth-quarter sack. Eat dirt, Lamarr.”
David Grohl’s “Sonic Highways” series on HBO is off to a promising start. It documents the Foo Fighters recording a song for their new album in eight different cities, devoting an hour to the musical heritage of each, starting with Chicago. Paying particular attention to the punk scene that changed his life and gave it meaning and to black musicians that he came to admire greatly, he interviewed a wide range of artists, promoters and record producers. Blues legend Buddy Guy told him his first musical instrument was a button on a string and that he came to the Windy City looking for a dime and found a quarter. Grohl uses both those lines in “Something From Nothing.” A Chicago cousin took him to his first punk concert at the Cubby Bear, a far cry then from the trendy Wrigleyville watering hole it id today. Grohl told Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick, who lent a hand on the first track, that the first time Foo Fighters played Chicago, it was on Halloween so they dressed as Cheap Trick. Grohl was Nielson. A punk band opened for Cheap Trick when I saw them 15 years ago in Merrillville whose drummer hurled a broken drumstick into the audience that almost impaled niece Cristin Donahue.
Because Grohl first achieved fame with Nirvana, fans associate him with Seattle, but he grew up in a Washington suburb in Virginia. Fittingly, the second episode of “Sonic Highway” takes place in the nation’s capital. Grohl goes back to his childhood home in Springfield and looks at photo scrapbooks with his mother and revisits the punk posters in his bedroom. The epicenter of the DC punk scene for young Grohl was Dischord Records, which recorded such groups as the Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Scream. Grohl pays homage to Bad Brains, featuring the frenetic black dude H.R., as well as to a genre of funk pioneered by Chuck Brown in the 1970s called go-go, dance music heavy on drums that put audiences in a frenzy at venues such as Club U. Borrowing heavily from go-go was hip-hop, which started in the Bronx with DJs utilizing two turntables at block parties to extend percussive breaks and emphasize synthesized beats. Crunk, an offshoot of hip-hop, featured call and response vocals used by Chuck Brown, as well as a drum machine beat and heavy basslines. Both punk and hip-hop (and later, rap) enabled artists to get things off their chest – whether or not, they had anything worth pondering is another question. Certainly in Grohl’s case, the answer is yes.
Looking north in Miller between Lake Street and Marquette Park; photo by Bill Carey
The temperature reached well into the Seventies for perhaps the last time all year, perfect for walks across IUN campus or visits to the beach. At lunch I sat down with faculty and Anne Balay’s main adversary promptly picked up his tray and moved. I gave his colleague, whom I’ve known for 40 years, a hurt look and then he, too, fled. Afterwards, I sent him this email: “I fought very hard for two years to remedy what I believed was a terrible injustice, and I would have expected you to do the same if you felt as strongly about a campus issue as I did. For the most part, I kept personalities out of my arguments and tried not to demean Anne’s detractors. Now that the battle is over, is it not time to be civil to one another?” I could have added that two others who sided with them are now cordial; one called me the campus conscience and the other recognized how much I cared about IUN and admired that I acted on the courage of my convictions.
George Taliaferro then and now
A student in Nicole Anslover’s WW II class brought in a recruitment photo for women workers, listing a dozen occupations, including waitress. In Gary girls as young as 13 were waitressing in bowling alleys, viewed by some as unsavory places that exposed impressionable young women to drinking, swearing, and flirtatious men eager to prey on them. Some jobs have since been phased out, such as service station attendant, milk deliverer, and, for the most part, bank teller and typist.
I told the class about George Taliaferro, born on January 8, 1927, in Gates, Tennessee, just down the block from Roots author Alex Haley, six years his senior. When he was an infant, his parents moved to Gary, like thousands of African Americans during a ten-year span that saw the population of the “Steel City” double to 100,000. Taliaferro grew up on the 2600 block of Madison (approximately two miles from IUN’s present location), an integrated, working class neighborhood, but attended segregated schools, graduating from Roosevelt in 1945. He earned 16 athletic letters in four sports, but until his junior year, the IHSAA forbade schools with black players from competing against white athletes in contact sports. His senior year Taliaferro led Roosevelt to victory over East Chicago Roosevelt, known as the “Goliath of Indiana high school football” and otherwise undefeated during a four-year span.
A triple threat (he could run, pass, and kick and also excelled on defense), Taliaferro won a scholarship to IU at a time when black athletes couldn’t live in campus dorms. His freshman year IU went undefeated and was Big Ten Champ. The three-time All-American (Taliaferro lost a year of eligibility due to military service) was the first African American drafted by an NFL franchise and first to play quarterback in an NFL game. After the three-time Pro Bowler retired, he had a successful career as a prison official and IU administrator.
After my remarks student Sean Boyle mentioned a ten-minute feature on Taliaferro last Saturday during halftime of the Michigan-Michigan State game. Nicole showed the class a Steel Shavings page containing Taliaferro’s photo. Below was one of Carson Cunningham coaching at Andrean. Sean played freshman ball for Cunningham at Andrean. At halftime, he told me, rather than give “rah rah” speeches, Cunningham, a Purdue PhD, would sometimes refer to Greek mythology or make allusions to sports history.
High school friend LeeLee Minehart Devenney made orange Jell-o shots for an “Orange Is the New Black” themed Halloween party. One guest posted: “Woo Hoo!!! They were awesome.” LeeLee wrote: “I’ll have to make red (cherry) and green (lime) ones for the Christmas gig. We all may need designated drivers.”
Despite accumulating well over a hundred points in Fantasy Football, I didn’t pull away from Anthony’s team, The Powerhouse, until the final minutes of Monday night football, when Dallas tight end Jason Witten caught a TD pass. Had it been Pierre Garcon who scored, I’d have been in trouble. Beforehand, I told fellow Skins fan Ray Smock that I was conflicted because three Cowboys were on my fantasy team. Unbelievably, third string QB Colt McCoy (as Ray noted, aptly named) led the Skins to victory. Ray emailed: “Long may you have both reality and fantasy firmly in your grasp.”