“I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode.”
“Promised Land,” Bruce Springsteen
In Sara Davidson’s “Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties” (1977) an FM radio host spends hours while high on drugs in his man-cave putting together seamless music medleys that seem to have synchronicity. Driving to IUN, I heard a WXRT set that brought to mind that character. After James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” came “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac followed by “Crystal Village” by Peter Yorn, “Come with Me Baby” by Kongos, and “Promised Land” by Springsteen. British sensation James Bay ruminated about the impossibility of recapturing the past:
Tried to keep you close to me,
But life got in between
Tried to square not being there
But think that I should have been
Hold back the river, let me look in your eyes
Hold back the river, so I
Can stop for a minute and see where you hide
Hold back the river, hold back
Once upon a different life
We rode our bikes into the sky
But now we call against the tide
Those distant days are flashing by
As in many Springsteen songs, “Promised Land” paints a bleak picture of contemporary America but ends on a note of hope.
There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted
The dogs on main street howl,
'cause they understand,
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man,
And I believe in a promised land
I believe in a promised land.
Responses to Steel Shavings, volume 44, have been gratifying. On the cover of Cindy Karlberg’s nice “Thank You” card was Edward Hopper’s “5 A.M.” Secretary Delores Crawford asked me to sign her copy. Chuck Gallmeier wanted a second for former student Thora Evans; her son, who worked for IUN’s Physical Plant, got gunned down last year on one of Gary’s “mean streets.” From Paris filmmaker Blandine Huk wrote: “Dear Jimbo, Thank you for having used the pictures of My Name is Gary. When we received the book and I saw it, I had the feeling that we also belong now a little bit to the city of Gary and its history and that makes me really happy.”
I got a call from IUN’s Career Center that a Bob Lane was looking for me. Could it be my nephew Bob, I wondered? No, it was a Steel Shavings fan, on campus for the Anthropology dollar book sale, who grew up in Black Oak. I asked if he’d read Joe Klein’s “Payback” about Vietnam vet Gary Cooper; he turned out to have been a neighbor and recalled Hammond police killing him after he turned violent while suffering a flashback. At the Archives I showed him my dog-eared copy of “Payback” and gave him my Vietnam Vets issue that contains a 45-page excerpt about Cooper that brilliantly captures the blue-collar, counter-culture milieu of Black Oak during the 1970s.
In “The Imaginary Girlfriend” John Irving equates writing to wrestling – “one eighth talent and seven eighths discipline” - in words that ring true. The author of “The World According to Garp” wrote:
Good writing means rewriting, and good wrestling is a matter of redoing – repetition without cease is obligatory, until the moves become second nature. I have never thought of myself as a “born” writer – anymore than I think of myself as a “natural” athlete, or even a good one. What I am is a good rewriter; I never get anything right the first time – I just know how to revise, and revise.
On the way to Birky Women’s Center for a talk by sociologist Kevin McElmurry on “Music, Masculinity and Mega-churches,” I didn’t even bat an eye when a guy approaching said, “I love you.” I’m used to students talking with an ear piece. In Moraine was a large graffiti board on which people drew and wrote short statements. One announced, “Serbs are awesome.” Next to “I love being a lesbian” someone had scrolled, “That’s hot!”
above, Dr. Kevin McElmurry; below, Rev. Joel Olsteen
Kevin McElmurry showed illustrations of ten mega-churches. Most were in the South and non-affiliated evangelical Baptist. Joel Olseen’s Lakewood Church in Houston was by far the largest. I’ve come across Olsteen on TV after the Sunday news shows. McElmurry studied a mega-church in Missouri whose main mission is to attract un-churched male seekers even though, ironically, about two-third of attendees are commonly women. Services, carefully scripted down to the last minute, resemble rock concerts, with giant video screens, extravagant lighting, and other high-tech special effects. Rather than stressing intimacy and audience participation, the idea is to put male audience members at ease. No hugging or shaking hands with fellow congregants, something I’ve never enjoyed. Producers make use of both Christian rock selections and mainstream standards to illustrate the lesson of the day, such as R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” which begins:
When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough
Of this life, well hang on
Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts.
A good crowd was on hand, and Connectionz adviser Ausra Buzenas asked particularly insightful questions. Kaden Sowards, an F to M transgender, had a deeper voice than last time we spoke and except for breasts looks like a young man. Like me, Scott Fulk had a somewhat cynical view that high-living evangelists were scam artists, like a modern day Elmer Gantry or Billy Sunday. Kevin noted that scandals have tarnished the reputation of mega-churches but believes many leaders are sincere in their desire to reach those in need of spiritual nourishment or help overcoming addiction and dependency. I asked whether there are any prominent female evangelists, such as Aimee Semple McPherson of 90 years ago. Kevin replied in the negative, one reason being that most Baptists don’t countenance women preachers and restrict them to subservient roles.
Alissa and Miranda wished Phil a Happy Birthday with photos and loving words. Miranda compiled a YouTube video and wrote of her dad: “You are so driven in life but you still manage to have a sense of humor and make everyone around you laugh.” Sweet. In the evening Toni and I sang to him while he was en route to a soccer game.
above, from "Mother Jones"; below, sign used by tolerant businesses
Suzanna Murphy told me that Indiana made national news over the law allowing businesses to discriminate against gays. Good old Jerry Davich railed against Republican politicians’ latest move that “reinforces our state’s backward image,” noting that even Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, opposed the measure. Davich wrote:
Embarrassed is the word that best sums up my feelings toward Senate Bill 101. Not angry. Not disappointed. Certainly not surprised. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a poorly perfumed piece of legislation for what smells to me like legal discrimination and an obvious backlash to same-sex marital equality in our regressive state.
New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz quipped: “In a history-making decision, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed into law a bill that officially recognizes stupidity as a religion. . . . [even if it] costs the state billions of dollars. While Pence’s action drew the praise of stupid people across America, former Governor Jan Brewer was not among them. ‘Even I wasn’t dumb enough to sign a bill like that,’ she said.”
Snow showers created near white out conditions as I drove to Quick Cut in Portage. Two days ago a beautiful Chinese teenager at Aqua Spa in Chesterton clipped my toenails.