Archive for the ‘1950’s’ Category

Death by War

May 26, 2019

I wrote a story about an American traveling through Europe in the spring/summer of 1937. In the novel, Smoke, which I published in 2015, young businessman Philip Morrow accepts an unusual errand, which takes him through London, halfway around the far side of France, then to Paris, and ultimately to arrive at a place called Flanders Field in Belgium.

At his specific Memorial battleground destination, Philip sees for the first time the final resting place of his father, a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, who had died there in 1918 during the last week of World War I.  Philip had been eight years old in 1917 when he hugged his pa for the last time, then  beheld  his mother while she tearfully embraced her  husband, a mountaineer marksman named Clint.

In chapter 27 of Smoke, Philip arrives at the Memorial cemetery accompanied by a newfound friend, Mel, an old Frenchman who expresses his appreciation for Clint’s courageous sacrifice–given in his last full measure of devotion– for freedom, to defeat tyranny.

Clint’s total offering in 1918 was not the first, nor the last, to be put forth by millions of other soldiers since that time. In Washington DC, I snapped this photo of a newer Memorial–that one constructed for us to remember the dead of Vietnam.

VNMem (1)

We Americans do appreciate the families left behind.  Their sorrow and sacrifice is painfully precious; it  runs deep–deep as the blood that pumped through soldiering bodies alive with determination–blood that still streams through the beating hearts and minds of  us Americans and Allies.

Here’s my offering, from chapter 27 of Smoke:

       “How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

‘The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.” ‘

“Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, the stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

“At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity “. . .

King of Soul

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Talking to the Device

March 23, 2019

I usually enjoy talking too people but I don’t like talking to a phone. To tell you the truth, I really do not even like talking to people on the phone. I’d rather do it face-to-face.

I don’t like talking to a car, a computer or a “device” of any kind.

Call me old-fashioned if you like, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Lately my phone has been urging me to talk to it, and even call it by its name.

Siriusly though, I’m not into it.

I really don’t mind doing the alphabet thing with my fingers. That’s the way I was taught to communicate with the world, back in the ’60’s when I was baby boomer high school kid. Maybe it’s because, back in the day, I went to see Stanley Kubrick’s space movie, 2001, and the astronaut guy in the movie got into an argument with the onboard computer because the computer, as I recall, wouldn’t let him do something that he needed to do to avoid dying, or something like that..

The computer’s name was Hal.

In the last ten years or so, I have written and published four novels, using my fingers on a keyboard. Speaking of the keyboard, I do like the newer version, you know, the computer keyboard, which is so easy to punch. These slick new ones are really the bees’ knees, and they beat the heck out those old Underwood’s and Smith-Coronas, etcetera etcetera.

So yeah, maybe I’m old fashioned. Imagine that—a guy who grew up in the ’50’s and ’60’s being old-fashioned. We were the generation raised with a TV in the living room, which had never happened before in the history of the world. And we thought our parents were old-fashioned because they listened to Glenn Miller LPs and drank bourbon, while we preferred Jefferson Airplane and maryjane, and they insisted on running Ho’s insurgents out of south Vietnam, which didn’t turn out the way we planned.

Now our kids and grandkids probably think we’re old-fashioned because we don’t know how to talk properly  to a phone or any other device, and we still don’t know to make the icons wiggle around so you can move them around or delete them or whatever.

Delete them all, I say! Delete them all!

Ha! Just kidding of course. Where would be nowadays without our “ mobile device?”

Maybe stuck in Hotel California with some woman of ill repute with mirrors on the ceiling and pink champagne on ice and she says we are just prisoners here, of our own device.

Don’t wanna go there.

Life has actually turned out better than that, thank God.

Yesterday, I was watching an online video with two very smart guys talking about the state of the world, how it has changed so much and is still changing very fast.

    https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/thomas-l-friedman-and-james-manyika-the-worlds-gone-from-flat-to-fast-to-deep?

FacetoFace

In their conversation, Thomas was telling James that he travels around the world and notices that there are a lot of folks who are falling behind the crowd in their use of technology in this here 21st-century. He sees people who suffer under the pressure of these technological accelerations, and who feel that the world is leaving them behind.

Great idea! Leave it behind. Or let it leave you behind, whichever comes first. Tell your phone to go to hell if you want to. Tell netflix to go jump in the lake, and command your digital flatscreen to take a hike!

I mean, Thomas has some good points in this exchange. He says that we old geezers, and generally everybody else too, would do well to be self-motivated instead of, I suppose, expecting that the world owes me a a living, and he says we should keep learning all through our lifetime instead of just, you know, developing one skill—cranking out widgets or whatever—and then spend old age, maybe even middle age, crying in yer beer over all these changes that conspire to overtake us and render our mid-20th-century skills obsolete.

  Ha! “Conspire.” I didn’t mean to use that word. One thing I have learned is that it does not profit a man to build his world view around some conspiracy theory of history or politics or whatever the forces that be, are.

Because in the end, what really matters is not what the world did or did not do to you, but what you manage to do in spite of the possibility that the deck may or may not be stacked against you.

Every man a king. That’s what Huey said back in my grandfather’s day. Be the king of your own life, or queen, as the case may be.

And you have to understand that, as Ringo said, “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”

It’s best to, as Thomas pointed out, “amplify anything that is good and decent.”

I’ll second that motion.

Trust, ownership, lifelong education, true leadership, good community—these are the best attributes of “the good life”, which is not necessarily the same good life that Sinatra sang about.

Now, to close by reiterating my opening parry. . . the good life does not necessarily consist of knowing how to talk to your phone, or any of your other damned devices for that matter. But it does help to learn how to talk to people, and to get along with them in your community. And to build good community wherever you find yourself stationed at this stage of life, before the jig is up.

And one more thing. Do not ever neglect to, as Jordan B.P. says, Clean your room! Even if its in a nursing home. Don’t wait for the attendants do everything. Pull your own weight for as long as you possibly can, and pull somebody else’s weight, too, if you’re able to do it, for as long as you can.

As for the phones, etc—they can go to hell for all I care.

I won’t be there, because the Lord wrote me a good fire insurance policy back in 1979.

Glass half-Full

Give a hoot, y’all!

February 20, 2019

Here’s what I heard Joe Blow say the other day while I was trying to stay awake during the Super Bowl.

All this trouble in the world–it aint just gonna go away by itself. You know, it goes back a long ways.

For one thing, Catholic Church dominated European life and culture for over a thousand years. And for the most part they meant well (I know; I used to be one of ‘em)

But after a thousand years they (we) needed some corrections.

Long about the 1700’s, some new Reason-cultivating fellers came along—the so-called Enlightenment—and they ushered in a new way of thinking about everything . . . and they brought to the forefront a lot of profound questions, like . . .

PastFuture

Who should be in charge of things, what’s wrong or right about the way things are working out for everybody, what needs to be changed, why hasn’t God straightened everything out, who or what is God anyway? Maybe we’d be better off just to do without Him for awhile and figure this stuff out on our own.

By ’n by and moving right along . . .modern life in the so-called “West” began to be constructed on the ruins of Catholic Europe, as thinking people attempted to reconstruct society according to a reconstructed humanistic ole Greek/Roman way of analysis and ponderation.

And then came along science, duh, let’s not forget the rise to prominence of modern science . . .

analytical thinking with hypothetical testing to determine what is true or not true, what works or does not work.

And humanizing ethics . . . who gets fed and who doesn’t, who’s fat ’n happy and who ain’t . . .

Who’s in charge of this mess, anyway?

Well, must not be God. If there was any validity to that theory, those religious potentates and their blue-blooded partners in mime have pretty well got everything messed up, and how the hell can we fix everything. . . how can we get things turned around so that everybody gets an appropriate piece of the pie, piece of the action, their fifteen minutes of fame blah blah blah

Long about 1830, a couple of German guys, Marx and Engels figured out that what needed to happen was the folks who were actually cranking up all the factories, turning the nuts and bolts, churning out all them goods . . . those proletarians needed to take unto themselves control of the means of production and rearrange everything so that everybody would get pretty much the same, or at least something more like the same amount of life’s essential necessities  and let’s all get together and toss the rich folks on their asses and get this thing turned around.

Then, lo and behold, a  certain cadre of them revolutionaries managed to get a hold of a country—and a pretty damn big one at that—Russia, and start the work of getting the world turned around to their way of thinkin’ …

China statue copy

and now we know how all that turned out . . . between the Bolsheviks running the Czar out of town in 1917 and the Wall going down in 1989, there were a hell of a lot of water under the bridge, blood under the ground, and underground gulags and criminations that got imposed on millions of world citizens and it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t right and its a good damn thing them Soviets finally came to their senses, and even the Maoists even got eclipsed when Deng started to get the middle kingdom turned around and all that mess is still being worked out, even up to the present-day shaking off of Chavez and now the world is finally learning its lesson about all that totalitarian nonsense—

StalinDown

and that goes for you alt-right fascists and nazis too! Don’t you get any ideas about takin’ over, cuz we learned that lesson the damned hard way when that demonic fool with the weird little moustache dragged us into hell on earth for four years.

It took us many millions killed and a whole damn world war to get all that straightened out. And then another half-century of frigidity before all them spies from both sides came in from the Cold etcetera etcetera.

But nothin’s ever simple. It all just keeps going on and on and who knows how will end?

Maybe apocalypse; I don’t know. Could happen though.

Now in the 21st-century horizon arises this new ideology surrounding the notion that we humans should all get together and nullify our 200-year-old carbon-spewing habits real quick like in the blinkin of an eye so to speak according to the pronouncements of technocratic experts who take unto themselves the means of production, so to speak, (well shut my mouth! as we used to say down south) so’s we don’t carbonize ourself and our homo sapiens selves into obliteration!

Don’t get me wrong. Give a hoot, I say I say: Don’t pollute!

Let’s all pitch in and get this planet cleaned up, y’all. Truly. I’m not making this up.

But we don’t need to be jerking everybody’s human rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of mobility) to do it. I think we can undertake this climate change conundrum with a little common sense and maybe even some democratized republicized consensus on what needs to be done.

Like I said before: Give a hoot; Don’t pollute, y’all!

And hey, good luck with that! More power (but not too much) to ya. Just shut my mouth! if I’ve stayed stepped on anybody’s toes.

Not really. Freedom of Speech and all that . . .

Glass Chimera

Dr. King remembered

January 21, 2019

I was a white boy growing up in the deep south.

In my life, 1951 . . .  a vivid memory stands out: the remembrance of this brave man:

MLKing

. . . his life, his work, his service to mankind, his leadership in the perilous project of fulfilling our Creator’s call to

. . . bring good news to the afflicted, . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to prisoners . . . (Isaiah 61:1)

In my lifetime, I can think of no other American who demonstrated greater courage than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He persisted tirelessly in the sacred call to blaze a trail of opportunity for oppressed people. He persevered in the face of certain death, as he fully understood the vengeful opposition of other men–white and black–who  ultimately took him down.

The name assigned to him at birth, King, was appropriate, as he went on to conduct the life of a true leader, a born leader, an orator, an organizer who truly fulfilled  the declaration of our nation’s founding principles:

 We find these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,  that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In my lifetime, I can recall no other person who more deserves annual remembrance during a national holiday. Although he had his faults, his own sins as we all do,  he was a man of whom this world was not worthy.  In this world, he helped God and fellowman to “make a way where there is no way.” He blazed a trail toward that “equal” status mentioned by Mr. Jefferson and the Continental Congress when they composed our Declaration back in 1776.

I looking forward to meeting Dr. King in heaven, or whatever call it. Many years ago, I wrote this song about him and an ancient leader named Moses:

Mountaintop

The Ambassador

December 14, 2018

I was of that generation who wanted to save the world for democracy.

When I was born, my country was fighting a war in a faraway land, trying to run the communists out of Korea. It was a valiant effort we made over there, but only—from a military and/or political standpoint—about half successful. By 1953, we had managed to help get that little Asian peninsula about half-saved for democracy.

Just like most everything in this life, we manage to get things right about half the time.

That expedition did apparently turn out better than our other Asian deliverance mission—the one that ended, or so it seemed, in 1975 with our boys having to select which war refugees could be loaded onto an American helicopter and whisked away before the Viet Minh took Saigon and then later named it Ho Chi Minh City.

Like I said before, in this life we manage to get things about half right about half the time.

Which ain’t too bad really, when you consider what we’re up against.

I mean, life ain’t no bowl of cherries; it’s not a walk in the park. Sometimes it’s hard.

But you know, looking back on it all, there were the good times and there were the bad times. . .

When I was in high school, we thought it was cool to stay up late and watch the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Johnny didn’t even show up on the airwaves until 10:30, CST, after the news, and so if you could stay up that late to catch his monologue etc, you were pretty cool. At school we’d try to make jokes as funny as Johnny could. Everybody loved Johnny—he was like the Jimmy Fallon of his day. He had really cool people on his show like Marilyn Monroe or Joe DiMaggio.

Famous people would always show up to talk to Johnny; he’d ask them questions about their careers in show business and Broadway and movies and whatnot and they’d talk about themselves, and Johnny always managed to crack a few jokes about whatever they’d be yapping about. Carson was so cool and we wanted to be like him.

Every now and then he’d have some serious person on too. But they’d still manage to have a good time.

BillynJohnny

Growing up in the ’50’s and ’60’s was pretty cool. We were the first generation to have TV, and that really changed everything, although nobody really knew what the outcome of all that boob tube influence would be. Public personalities became quite adept at blowing their own horns and making big scenes. Ultimately the guy with the loudest voice managed to bluster his way into the White House. And I guess it really should be no surprise to anybody the way things have turned out.

Who could have anticipated that there would come a day when the big 3 networks would slip into the background and the universe of media would be taken over by the likes of faceboook and twitter?

But of course there are always the folks in the background who quietly get through to people with an important message while so many others are busy running their mouths about all the great things they’re doing.

BillyinBerkeley

One thing I’ve learned about life during my 67 years: you gotta take the bad with the good. Shit happens, and you gotta deal with it, gotta get up the next morning and keep on truckin’. Ain’t nobody gonna feel sorry for ya. Well, maybe if you have a life mate to help you cope and get along, move on the next thing and all that, life can be a little easier to deal with. At least that has been my experience.

The good book says we oughta mourn with those who mourn and laugh with those who laugh. Who would’ve ever dreamed that, in our lifetime, two such different persons as these two would be laughing together?:

BillynBoris

Life is good; sometimes we win and other times we lose. When Boris Yeltsin managed to take hold of the old Soviet Union! it was amazing. Who’d have ever dreamed of such a thing? Berlin Wall came down without a shot after Reagan suggested to Gorbachev to tear down that wall.  Amazing stuff in my lifetime. JFK, had he lived to see it, would have been proud.

I mean this life is very good in some ways. In other ways it’s not so favorable. You gotta take the good with the bad, and you gotta help people. We all need a little help. It’s good to help people along the way. Occasionally, every one of us need some really big help. I mean, while there are some victories, there are of course some terrible setbacks and tragedies.

So while the good book says we should laugh with those who laugh, it also says to mourn with those who mourn.

BillynCoretta

We gotta help each other from time to time. Everybody need a little help from time to time. In my lifetime, we tried to go over there and help the people of Vietnam to muster up some democracy, and maybe it didn’t work out so well, and maybe in some ways we even made a mess of it but hey, when my daughter visited there a few years ago, and she rode a scooter through Ho Chi Minh City (used to be called Saigon) she said the people over there love Americans, and they have a tender place in their hearts for us. Go figure!

Going back even further than that, and thinking once again about what all was going on when I was born into this world. . . we were trying to make Korea safe for democracy, we find that some really good things  somehow managed to came out of it.

BillyinSeoul

I think it can be concluded that good things can indeed happen when every now and then someone comes along who is willing to—instead of tooting his own horn— work quietly and diligently as an Ambassador for the Prince of Peace.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

I can think of one person, at least, who has managed to live in the manner described above by our brother Paul.

BillynKimIlSung

King of Soul

Change is Gonna Come

October 19, 2018

Some wise person said a fish wouldn’t know (s)he was out of water until it actually happened. When the angler yanked the critter up the into air, the fish would immediately know that something had gone terribly wrong.

I think our situation in modern life is a little bit like that. In our present media-engulfed life, we humans are so totally immersed in electronic media that we would feel disoriented and panicky if we were suddenly jerked out of it—like a fish out of water.

Some might even suffer withdrawals.

Nowadays some social critics among us complain about the dumming-down effects of twitter and facebook, and all that other blahblah googlifief also-ran flimflam that’s floating around in the datafied air of 2018.

Back in the day, during the adolescent phases of my baby boomer generation, people romanticized about the fact that we were the first generation to get raised up with a tv in the living room and therefore a boob-tube mindset. Whoopdee doo that we had pop-culture and instant gratification on the brain instead of the traditional 1-2-3 and a-b-c worldview of previous generations. No wonder we fantasized that we could change the world. We were walking around in the first-ever TV-generated dream world.

Actually, some of us did change the world. Those guys who were mastering their calculus and fortran instead of doping up—they managed to hatch out a totally electronic data tsunami that has since commandeered our attention and maximized our compulsive fascination with constant entertainment distractions and rampant twitt-faced narcissism.

Along with some real information, of course. There’s always both bad and good in any changes that are gonna come.

A  generation before us in the timeline, it was another set of emergent media wonders that were transforming the world of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Our parents’ generation also grew up with a revolutionary media box in the living room and the dashboard—radio. They had Roosevelt’s fireside chats, Glenn Miller, Amos n’ Andy,  and Orson Wells’ terribly realistic radio depiction of us being invaded by extraterrestrial aliens.

But radio was no TV. Radio was about hearing. TV was like a whole new, artificial world of hearing AND seeing.

The rate of change, accelerating in the TV age, has exponentially accelerated and intensified with the coming of the electr(on)ic internet, 21st-century version.

A few years ago, I undertook a writing project to express some of the angst of the boomer generation that I grew up in.

Because I had graduated from high school and then entered college in 1969, my novel, King of Soul,  turned out to be mainly about the elephant-in-the-room issue of my g -generation’s historical  era—the Vietnam war.

But that war was far from being the only issue that we Americans had to deal with.

LittleRock

In struggling to depict—and even to somehow reconcile—the great divide between them that went and us who did not go to Vietnam, I embarked on a research project to learn how the Vietnam war had started and how it escalated to become such an overarching generational crisis. My g-generation was torn apart because of what all took place over there as a result of our tragic illusion.  We thought we could, with our high-tech way of doing things, show a country of undeveloped farmers how to expel the communists.

We learned a very hard lesson. It was tragic, what happened.

While the world had worked a certain way during the Big War, when we ran the Nazis back into their holes, something had sure as hell changed by the 1960’s.

The old tactics of massive military push against jungle guerrillas did not work.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the kids didn’t wanna have to go over there and do Lyndon’s dirty work.

The anti-war movement’s seemingly sudden organizational strength in 1967 was no mere happenstance. Those activists who devised a widespread effective resistance against the war had learned the hard facts of life from a previous protest movement—the Civil Rights movement.

It took a while for the anti-war movement to get its act together. But when they finally did, it was because of a hard lesson that had been learned by black folks down in dixie.

In the Freedom Summer of 1964, a widespread collection of honky activist youth suddenly showed up down in the Segregated South to help the black folk get organized for voting and organizing real societal change. There in the historical shadow of the old defeated, slave-slappin’ South, wide-eyed yankee students got a fierce reality check. Their rose-colored glasses were left broken on the blood-stained grounds of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, when they saw what violence and oppression the racist Establishment was inflicting on people of color.

Right here in Amerika, it was. Land of the free? and home of the brave!

A wake-up call it was. Based on what them wide-eyed college kids from up Nawth encountered when they got down here, they got a severe reality check. Stopping the war in Vietnam  would be no walk in the park. There was bad shit going down right here in the good ole USA, just like in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

If the peaceniks wanted to get us out of Vietnam, they would have to get organized, and maybe even pick up some heavier-duty tactics . . . civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, there were a few blacks who were doing alright. Sam Cooke was one of them.

During the early 1960’s, Sam was a very successful singer-songwriter. Most of his tunes were soulishly romantic and swingy. He had a knack of finding the best in everything he wrote about. With an admirable optimism that shone forth in all his song-work, Sam managed somehow to spread good will and positive attitude everywhere he went, in spite of all the tough changes that were going down.

Some may have thought Sam to be an uncle tom, because he didn’t get angry.

But Sam Cooke—even though he celebrated optimism and good attitude—was no uncle tom.

He was not a “house nigga.”

Here’s a song that expresses Sam’s feeling about the societal changes that he felt needed to happen in the USA in the mid-1960’s.  After his death in 1964, this composition was released posthumously on the B-side of a single record called Shake, and also on an album by the same name.

Here’s the tune, A Change Is Gonna Come:

     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4

And here’s my version:

    Sam’s Change Is Gonna Come

As we geezers have seen in our lifetime, change did indeed come.

But some things will remain the same.

Here’s a truth that always remains: Change is gonna come, like it or not.

When it does, may the change be with you, and . . . may you be with the change, if it is good.

If it’s not good, go listen to some of Sam’s old hit songs and get an attitude adjustment. Maybe you can learn to deal with it as he did—with a good attitude.

King of Soul

If Sythesis is not a fairytale. . .

August 18, 2018

In 1971, Don McLean released a great tribute song about the tragic plane-crash death of early rock-n-roller, Buddy Holly.

In the musical tapestry-tale that McLean weaves for us, he laments the loss of Buddy Holly’s influence, which had been to musicate an appreciation for the boy-girl melodrama as it was being lived-out and expressed during that early 1950’s phase of rock-n-roll.

Bye, bye Miss American Pie is a long ballad, with many verses.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NygEEH4jkho

An early verse in the song registers a commentary, allegorically, on some later rock influences that seem regrettable, or even destructive and decadent.

Consider the verse:

“And while Lenin read a book on Marx,

a quartet practiced in the park;

and we sang dirges in the dark

the day the music died.”

The “quartet” that practices in the park is, I believe, an indirect reference to the Beatles, and their huge impact on pop music during that time—the late ‘60s. The singing of “dirges” seems to mourn the loss of an earlier, more innocent, emphasis in rock music. A classic budding (Buddy) love-song celebration  between boy and girl was being cast aside by the foursome from Liverpool.  Along with many other rock groups of that time, they were collectively driving pop music toward a psychedelic netherland of chaotic social consciousness.

And so, while my present downloaded Miss American Pie copy of the lyrics contains the line “And while Lenin  read a book on Marx, a quartet practiced in the park,” my aging baby boomer mind notices what seems to be McLean’s play on words here. . . and I hear the line in my mind as:

“And while Lennon read a book on Marx. . .”

meaning that John Lennon’s apparent turn away from teenish romanticism  toward a kind of pop-culture anarchy—this change of direction— seemed to be based at least partly on his reading of Karl Marx’s revolutionary economics.

Now of course I have no proof that the great poet and songwriter John Lennon did read Karl Marx’s stuff; but I do think it likely that he did, because that period of time—the latter 1960’s— was indeed a revolutionary time, sociologically at least, if not in a fully political US manifestation.

Nevertheless, I will point out that nowadays, 50 years later, all those wild-eyed Lennonist malcontents who were turning university campuses upside down (while singing All we are saying is Give Peace a Chance) are now, for the most part, running those same (mostly State) universities.

While all the Buddy Holly types and their Peggy Sue wives settled comfortably in the suburbs and enjoyed giving birth to Gen-Xers and Millennials.

I mention all this perhaps only because there seems to be now a regurgitation of Marxist theory—a re-reading, as it were. Here’s what I want to say about that. Karl Marx was a very intelligent man. His analysis of nascent industrial society during the early-mid 19th century was uncannily perceptive and accurate.

Where he went wrong was: thinking he could write a prescription—the necessary and inevitable “dictatorship of the proletariat” that could be worked out among the foibles and disasters of human society and somehow make it all culminate as some ideal  Pax Humana.

What he didn’t understand was: any theoretical, proposed Pax Humana, always works out to be Pox Humana.

In human history, notably even in  the late so-called Christian Europe, we have managed to repeatedly screw society up by generating a few Pox Hamanae of our own—with a pathetic string of infamous wars, pogroms and inquisitions.

    Guernica

Such a despicable history.  In spite of (or maybe because of) the fact that we Christians identify human nature as being depraved and therefore imperfectible, we cannot collectively overcome that curse, choosing instead to cry out for our individual salvation. Does such personalized deliverance relieve us from our collective responsibility for assuaging the human condition?

Yes. However, we profess that. . . Christians are no better than anybody else.  But we are forgiven, because we acknowledge, before God, our need for judgement, repentance and atonement. And He takes that acknowledgement seriously.

Be that as it may, I know  you didn’t land here to hear a sermon.

So, moving right along, I’ll explain how I happened to land on this track in the midst of a particular Saturday morning. The whole cerebral ball of wax started when I read this passage from page 283 of Teilhard de Chardin’s  (published 1947) The Phenomen of Man:

“To outward appearance, the modern world was born of an anti-religious movement: man becoming self-sufficient, and reason supplanting belief. Our (his mid-20th century) generation and the two that preceded it have heard little but talk of the conflict between science and faith; indeed it seemed . . .  a foregone conclusion that the former (science) was destined to take the place of the latter (faith).

“But, inasmuch as the tension is prolonged, the conflict visibly seems to need to be resolved in terms of an entirely different form of equilibrium—not in elimination, nor duality, but in synthesis.”

Now this means, in a present world of 2018, which still presents a notable presence of us Christian believers, we should consider our Christ-blessed role as peacemakers. Maybe this way. . .

~~Those of us who believe that a loving God watches over the earth—we need to listen to the activists who probably have some valid points about the destructive effects of all this stuff we’re throwing into our atmosphere.

~~While those who have figured out that all the bad effects of human behavior and institutions are destroying our earth—you people need to realize that we cannot (it’s probably too late to) fix this mess we’ve gotten ourselves and our planet into. And we need to allow some room for faith to, as a mustard seed, grown and provide some faith shelter from the destructive effects of perpetually erroneous Homo Sapiens .gov

What we need now is a little agreement and cooperation between those who naively believe too much and those who cerebrally think too much, and who think they can correct  Pox Humana by regulating all of our freedoms into bureaucratic socialist mediocrity.

What we need now is what Teilhard called synthesis, a little meeting of the minds, and some peacemaking agreement among the peoples of the earth.

Good luck with that.

Now getting back to American Pie and Lennon and Marx and all that . . .

The third phase of the Hegelian Dialectic is Synthesis.  In early 19th-century, Georg Hegel, Marx’s theoretical predecessor, identified an historical pattern which he named the Dialectic. What this pattern revealed was, in the typical path of human thought/action, a chronic pattern of conflict between one ideological side (Thesis) and the other (Antithesis). But Hegel also identified a recurrent merging of these opposites that could tend to resolve some disputes. He called this resolution Synthesis.  Hence, the (simplified) Dialectic:   Thesis provokes Antithesis; but ultimately they merge, in human acting out, and become a new worldview, called Synthesis.

As in, for instance, in our mid-20th century Baby Boomer scenario. . . Capitalism v. Communism, or Democracy v. Socialism, morphs into . . . (whatever it is we have now) . . . democratic statism?

Anyway, Marx and Engels used this Dialectic framework as a theoretical  part of their Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

And then much later, 1971 . . .”while Lennon read a book on Marx, a quartet practiced in the park”, and . . . all this other stuff happened while we boomers grew up and became the people in charge instead of the people being charged, but we still find ourselves “all here in one place” (a small globe), a generation, a human race lost in space, and so let’s consider the . . .

Bottom line: let’s synthesize a few opposite ideological points and somehow come together to . . . maintain our earth clean, green and peaceful, instead of assaulting each other with vindictive politics,  fake news and a new cold war of polarizing tribalism.

  King of Soul

Puff and Jackie Paper

June 5, 2018

For many, many years I have wondered about Peter Yarrow’s mention of “a land called Honah Lee,” in that silly old song he wrote about a dragon named Puff.

Just yesterday I was wondering as I wandered along the shoreline of Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii.

While vacationing on the north shore of Kauai I had been feeling a little constricted by the touristy setup there. It was obstructing my sense of adventure.

So, busting out of conventionality, so stealthily did I violate the boundaries of tourist propriety by launching into an unauthorized jungle trek.

Jungle2

Past the condos and the pool and the shuffleboard court and the boats-for-rent and the obligatory paraphenalia of predictable recreation, I stepped stealthily into a kapu area of overgrown, untended wild Hawaiian hoohah!

Through broadleaf wild flora damp with recent rain I did venture, stooping beneath gangly trees, tromping around some ancient black volcanic boulders and fearlessly bounding over others, I hazarded the uncharted course I had serendipitously set for myself, plodding along the secret shore, and footprinting wet brown sand, I splashed forth  through shallow wavelets along the neglected eastern edge of Hanalei Bay.  This untamed pocket of Hawaiian paradise has somehow proliferated between two resortified developments of American flimflam.

’T’was then the dragon entered my mind:

“Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea,

and frolicked in the autumn mists of a land called Hanah Lee.”

Here was I, perchance, sauntering adventurously through the last wild boundary of Hanalei Bay, maybe a little like the legendary Puff in that old classic Peter, Paul and Mary song:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z15pxWUXvLY

Within the deep recesses of Baby Boomer recall, Puff the Magic Dragon still yet  blows through, across an ocean of imagination. Can you hear the tale?

“Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff

and brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail;

Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail.”

Once upon a time, when there was as yet no jet-plane, no cruise-boat, no trans-Pacific ocean liner. . . long, long ago while approaching an island far, far away, during an age in which the only transport to these remote islands of Hawaii was by sailing ship. . .

“Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,

and brought him (from highly developed, civilized countries far, far away) “strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.”

Do kids these days even know about strings and sealing wax? This is ancient legend stuff. I mean, who uses strings and ceiling wax these days? Who folds an envelope and closes it and then affixes the back flap with a buttoned string and a blob of richly-colored wax impressed with a regal insignia?

Nobody I know of. You?

These were communicative implements of a by-gone age, when persons of certain authority or rank used strings and ceiling wax to assure a remote recipient that the letter or parcel being hand-delivered had originated with the accredited sender.

Such strings and sealing wax were used in centuries long gone, when mighty sailing ships voyaged halfway around the globe from London or Lisbon or Boston or some such port of great commerce.

Those majestic ocean-going vessels would arrive with pomp and fanfare at many  an exotic destination along the way, where fabled creatures inhabited magical shores, places where a fast-industrializing world had only recently managed to  impose  its rigid demands of productivity, efficiency and conformity on clueless, unsuspecting noble savages such as Hawaiians were when all this commercializing globalization had only just begun.

Puff the Dragon was the quintessential  wild uncivilized creature of old; he held sway over that formerly vast, untamed region where primeval legends prevailed, as yet unspoiled by modern mediocrity, a time and place where magic and myth, not capitalizing pragmatism, still reigned supreme.

So, in the 1950’s-60’s televised commercialized USA where young Baby Boomer imaginations ran wild with the likes of Mickey and Minnie and Davy Crockett and the Jetsons and the Flintstones . . .

Little Jackie Paper, the nascent civilized child, found Puff among his privileged playthings. And letting his imagination run wild, he frolicked with Puff in the autumn mists of a land called Honah Lee.

For a few years, he made play of Puff— until young Jackie decided to move on to bigger and better pursuits . . . baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, Elvis and the Beatles, Mustangs and Volkswagens,  Lost in Space and lost in purple haze,  caught up in fantasy and privileged college days, gathered up in protests and rockfests and counterculture forays, and eventually outgrowing even all that stuff and finally picking up the better “toys” of governments and companies and  corporations . . .

“A dragon lives forever; not so little boys.

painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys.

One grey night it happened; Jackie Paper came no more,

and Puff that magic dragon ceased his fearless roar.”

Surely we now understand this about Peter Yarrow’s classic song of forsaken childhood innocence: In the end, Puff ceased his roar because . . .

Jackie ceased his playing. The roaring voice that had bellowed was not Puff’s at all; it was young Jackie’s intonation of Puff’s imagined roar.

Remembering this old tune while trudging along Hanalei bay. . . dredges up old memories.  My feeling is that the quaint longevity of this simple song slips up from beneath the surface of a sea deeper  than mere child’s play.

It is a longing for the past; it is a vague recollection from our collective vault of  wishes and dreams; it is a pining away for a former age of mankind, a time when the people who were in charge of things were benevolent and empathetic, a Camelot time before the brouhaha of democracy, a Shangri-La time before the anarchy of revolutions, before the abuses of communism. . . a simpler, Arcadia time before everything got so complicated and leaders were not so self-infatuated, a time when . . .

“Noble kings and princes would bow whenever they came;

pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name.”

  King of Soul

The Justice/Righteousness Struggle

April 9, 2018

Maybe it’s because I studied philosophy in college many years ago. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the deep south in the 1950’s-60’s. Maybe it’s because I was raised Catholic and then, at the age of 27 turned to the “born again” approach to spiritually.

Maybe it’s because I, like Jacob of old, have had to wrestle with God before I could let him into my way of thinking and doing. Maybe it’s because of Moses, or Paul, or Jesus himself that I had this wrestling session yesterday. For whatever reason, I spent yesterday, Sunday, wrestling with God.

Not literally, of course, but mentally, spiritually.

Let me try to explain this.

On Saturday evening, my wife and I shared an evening meal, and several hours,  with a small group of friends whom we have known and loved for a long time, since the early 1980’s. We are, as they say, Christians.

These are people with whom we have, on a regular basis, gathered, prayed, worked, laughed and cried, for most of our adult life. We have all raised our now-adult children together and released them into the great wild world.

My struggle yesterday was precipitated by an ethical dilemma. The problem was working through my mind all day because our host friend had shown us a video link. The half-hour online presentation introduced to us—and to the world, generally— a work of ministry that is being carried out by our hosts’ son-in-law, whose life and struggle is being worked out in his chosen hometown, Ferguson, Missouri.

In the video, Jonathan “JT” Tremaine presents some historical information along with some gospel enlightenment, and he then goes on to explain his vision for justice that is linked to a Christian call to righteousness.

As I ruminated all yesterday (Sunday) on what Jonathan had said, and the images he displayed, I became perplexed while wondering about this thorny question:

Just what the hell is justice anyway?

Is it equality instead of inequality? Is it income redistribution? How does this monumental concept of justice really play out in history, American history?

For many blacks, that idea of “justice” is defined largely by what color of skin a cop sees on the face of some citizen that he is trying to protect, or . . . protect himself against.

And how does justice relate to this “righteousness” thing that we so-called evangelicals like to claim for ourselves?

These are the two primary points—justice and righteousness—that JT raises in his podcast, and in his ministry in Ferguson, Missouri, which he calls “Meet me in Ferguson.”

For many people, especially honkies, neither of these issues is any big deal. Yet that unawareness—that insensitivity— is part of the problem.

The bottom line I’m working toward here is this. Both of these issues—justice and righteousness—are very important issues that we Americans must address if we are going to move forward in our great, historical experiment with democracy.

As the Hebrew prophet of old, Amos, presented a challenge to his people—and to all people throughout history. . .

“Let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream!”

This is a message of many prophets of old, and many modern prophets as well, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks . . .

And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK1

And Dr. Billy Graham.

BillyG

Say what? Billy Graham? What’s he got to do with social justice?

You probably didn’t know that back in the 1950’s, Billy Graham insisted that the ropes be removed—the ropes separating blacks and whites at his very own gospel crusades. And when racist ushers of that day refused to do it, Billy himself did remove the damned things. So that blacks and whites could, together, participate in the work of bringing in not only righteousness, but also justice.

And we are, y’all, still working on it.

Let Jonathan JT explain. This thing goes way back . . .

  https://www.facebook.com/meetmeinferguson/videos/618272528508148/UzpfSTE3ODQxMTQ5ODg1Njc2NDoxODI4MzQ4NjE3MTk2MzY5/

I’ll finish this struggle session with a song:

Mountaintop

Boomers’ Choice (reprise)

February 17, 2018

Is this world screwed up or what?

Tell me about it.

Nevertheless, there may be reason enough to find happiness,

contentment fulfillment and all that stuff

in the silver lining that highlights those dark clouds.

We baby boomers do have a choice, you know,

about whether to cry in our beer

or find cause enough to rejoice while

we’re here on planet earth.

Have a listen:

Boomers’ Choice:

Well, the boys came marching home from Germany and France

and the bomb had made a blast in in Hiroshima.

We were driving brand new cars; we were waving

stars and bars

and everywhere was another factory.

Back in 1953,

cruising with Dwight E.,

Elvis sang the whiteboy blues,

McCarthy looking under every bush.

In the home of the brave and the free

rolling on prosperity

and all the kids were going off to school.

57ChevF

Ten years down the road

another dream had come and gone

and the power of one gun had made itself known.

Back in 1964

big Lyndon opened the door

for civil rights and a bloody Asian war—

LBJ&McNa

young men on porkchop hill

young women on the pill.

At home they said don’t kill;

get a psychedelic thrill.

But the dreams of a woodstock nation

were just an imagination

when the boys came trudging home in ’73.

So it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home

and its hie hie hey, seeking light in the night of day:

the dreams of a woodstock nation

were just an imagination

when the boys came trudging home in ’73.

Well, it just don’t pay to sob;

guess I’ll get myself a job

selling leisure suits, maybe real estate.

I’m not moving very fast,

just waiting in line for gas

and Johnny Carson gives me all my news.

Back in 1976,

overcoming dirty tricks,

some were moving back to the sticks;

some were looking for a fix.

Ayatollahs on the rise

sulfur dioxide in the skies

and the system makes the man that’s got his own.

They say an elephant won’t forget;

let’s play another set.

There’s always another ghost on pac-man’s tail.

Don’t let this boom go stale.

Let’s find an airline for sale

or pop another tape in the VCR.

Back in 1989,

we’re living on borrowed time

getting lost in subtle sin

eating oat bran at the gym.

But there’s an empty place inside

and I was wondering why

these vanities don’t suit.

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

And it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home

and it’s hie hie hey, seeking light in the night of day;

There’s an empty place inside and I was wondering why.

These vanities don’t suit;

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

Put on your Sarejevo, Mogadishu, Kalishnikov and Columbine shoes,

for the way is treacherous with ruts and rocks.

Yeah, we figured out digits out

before that Y2K could spoil our rout,

but that 9/11 call was in the cards.

Did you consider the question of heaven

before the wreck of ’07?

EdselOld

Will you hear the trumpet call

from the Ancient of Days.

Our way is littered with freaks and fads

from Baghdad through our mouse pads

as the reaper swings his steely scythe

across our wicked ways.

And it’s hey hey ho is there anybody home?

And it’s hie hie hey, seeking light of day.

It’s a dangerous place outside

and I was wondering why.

This world don’t give a hoot;

I’m going back to the gospel truth.

  King of Soul