“Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.”
Wallis Willis, composer (1862)
A gospel group, the Caravans, recorded a song called “Carry Me Home.” The Killers used that title for a secular tune whose chorus goes:
The morning dove sings with two broken wings
carry me home, I'm not afraid
the stars in my eyes with shimmering lights
carry me home, don't let me fade away
Ron Cohen loaned me Diane McWhorter’s “Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution.” Known as the “Pittsburgh of the South,” Birmingham, like Gary in 1963, owed its economic health, by and large, to U.S. Steel facilities in nearby Bessemer. McWhorter uses the phrase “The Johannesburg of America” to describe Birmingham’s racial caste system. According to McWhorter, organized labor played a major role in creating the civil rights movement, and, she adds, “the industrialists answered it with a ‘grassroots’ counter-offensive of hooded vigilantes and the queerest tory politician in history, a loudmouthed hick named Bull Connor.”
cover photo of "Red Song Book" (1932)
Cohen also gave me an inscribed copy of what he claims will be his last of many books, “Depression Folk: Grassroots Music and Left-Wing Politics in 1930s America.” Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger figure prominently in it. Cohen, who taught me to introduce chapters with a story, begins “Depression Beginnings and Labor Songs” with Theodore Dreiser’s National Council for the Defense of Political Prisoners meeting in Pineville, Kentucky, with 52 year-old Aunt Molly Jackson while investigating the escalating labor war in “Bloody” Harlan County. Jackson, wrote Cohen, “regaled the committee with her stories of the terrible, longstanding hardship among the miners, which she deftly illustrated by singing her roughly phased song “Hungry Ragged Blues.” One verse goes;
I’m sad and weary, I’ve got the hungry ragged blues
not a penny in the pocket to buy one thing I need to use
I woke up this morning with the worst case of blues I ever had in my life
not a bite to cook for breakfast, a poor coal miner’s wife!
above, Aunty Molly, below, Peter Bartholomew's Ordeal by Fire
During the 1097 siege of Antioch Crusader Peter Bartholomew claimed to have found a relic of the Holy Lance that had pierced the side of Jesus on the cross and, furthermore, that Saint Andrew had appeared to him in a vision assuring victory over the Muslims. Encountering skepticism, Peter underwent an ordeal by fire to prove his claim. Severely burned by the flames, he died 11 days later. Even so, Raymond of St. Gilles kept the Holy Lance to inspire his troops.
In class David Parnell vividly described the 1099 massacre of non-Christians in Jerusalem after Crusaders captured that city Contemporary chroniclers claimed the streets were streaming with blood. Just the previous year, Shi’a and Sunni Muslims vied for the city, with the victors, Egyptian Shi’a forces, carrying on pillaging. A promise of protection by Crusade leader Tancred of Lecce to those who took refuge inside al-Aqsa mosque went unheeded. Crusaders claimed an apparition of recently deceased papal legate Adhémar of Le Puy urged vengeance on the foes. Fittingly, Christopher Tyerman’s “God’s War quoted Exodus 15:3: “The Lord is a man of war.” Tyerman wrote:
Jews were burnt inside their synagogue. Muslims were indiscriminately cut to pieces, decapitated or slowly tortured by fire. Such was the scale and horror of the carnage that one Jewish witness was reduced to noticing approvingly that at least the Christians did not rape their victims before killing them as Muslims did. The city was comprehensively ransacked: gold, silver, horses, food, the domestic contents of houses, were seized by the conquerors in a pillage as thorough as any in the middle ages.
On the evening of 15 July 1099, with the din of slaughter still echoing round the city, the conquerors went to pray at the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the object of all their labors.
1971 Attica Rebellion
The Crusaders' behavior reminded me of atrocities committed in 1971 (45 years ago today) when law enforcement authorities took back Attica prison. In a New Yorker review of Heather Ann Thompson’s “Blood in the Water” Adam Gopnik writes:
“The bullets were coming like rain,” one hostage recalled. The firing was at first mostly indiscriminate, striking hostages and inmates alike. Sometime afterward, it turned into a manhunt: the enraged correctional officers sought out those whom they thought of as ringleaders and executed them. Several of the dead among the leaders were seen alive well after the prison had been retaken. Some were shot as many as 12 times, at close range. Even the 29 dead did not end the violence, as the guards forced the inmates to strip naked and then tortured them for most the rest of the day and night. The vengeful officers played Russian roulette with the inmates and then forced them to drink the guards’ urine.
The horror story repeated most urgently among troopers and guards to justify the violence was that the prisoners had castrated one of the hostages. (They hadn’t.) This phantasm of emasculation was at the heart of the violence. A vast insult had been made to their masculinity, and the only way to avenge it was to kill, shame, and torment the helpless.
During a knee check-up I gave Dr. Joseph Koscielniak a copy of Steel Shavings. He opened it to a page showing the boarded up Palace Theater in Gary and said, “I went to the movies there a long time ago.” Dr. K is 10 to 15 years my junior and would have been a kid in the early 60s.
At Hobart Lanes my 158 helped the Engineers win game one from Members Only before they took the last two with Don, Lonnie and Jerome each rolling 200 games. Robbie beat me out for highest-over-average with two turkeys (the six strikes being the only ones he got all afternoon, I think). Robbie did better with Brooklyn hits, leaving ten-pins often on balls in the pocket. The opposing team uses an apostrophe between the “r” and “s” in Members. Part of me wants to correct them, but it would make me look pompous.
Dick and Donna Jeary
Fifty years ago this month in Rochester, New York, I was best man at fraternity pop Dick Jeary’s wedding. During Dick and Donna’s honeymoon Toni and I shared a motel room with them in Washington, D.C., after watching a drum and bugle corps competition. I recall several renditions of “Cheery Pink and Apple Blossom White” and the second-place finishers tossing their trophies to the ground in disgust. A true mentor, Dick built up my confidence during a time of freshman insecurities. Despite his diminutive size, he seemed supremely self-confident and trained me to be his successor as Sigma Phi Epsilon’s social chairman. My first big assignment I was sweating bullets when the band I’d hired for homecoming, Tommy and the Tones, barely arrived on time, having headed toward Lewisburg, Maryland, when they exited the Pennsylvania turnpike rather than north to Lewisburg, PA. Dick was a great storyteller, able to adjust the tone of his voice to express seriousness, shock, suspense or jocularity.
Three of my top Fantasy Football picks, Andrew Luck, Rob Gronkowski, and Thomas Rawls are questionable for Sunday. WTF? I have till game time to replace them with Eli Manning, Zach Miller or Carlos Hyde.