It’s been a wet week in the Gret Stet of Louisiana complete with flooding in outlying parishes and Red Stick. A low front has stuck around for days, keeping it damp, rainy, and cloudy. I like the cloudy bit: it keeps the temperatures down. It’s bloody hard to wake up when it looks like midnight outside. The cats are constantly confused by that but they’re usually confused about something. Just give them a box and they’re happy.
The big story in New Orleans is the City Planning Commission’s vote on short-term rentals. It was a partial albeit temporary victory for those of us opposed to unregulated STRs. Hmm, that sounds like STDs; an apt analogy as they’re nearly as contagious. The CPC voted to ban full-home STRs but opened the floodgates for other forms. The City Council has the power to override the vote. Nothing is ever permanent in New Orleans politics. It’s one reason I’m less involved than I used to be. When one pounds one’s head against the wall long enough, you draw blood. I’m tired of bleeding, y’all.
This week’s theme song is a country classic. The choice is partially inspired by the Porfirio Salinas painting that’s our featured image this time around. Btw, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson collected their fellow Texan Salinas’ work. And the first version I ever heard of Poison Love was by uber-Texas artist Doug Sahm. It’s a venerable song, but let’s start with Doug’s 1973 version followed by bluegrass great Bill Monroe.
Time to slip in a live rendition by Allison Krauss and Dobro deity Jerry Douglas:
I’ll have more poison pen love after the break.
Since I have Texas on my mind, we begin with an interview with LBJ biographer Robert Caro:
The Years Of Robert Caro: The words epic and magisterial are overused. I’ve been known to abuse the hell out of epic but both words apply to Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson. He’s currently working on a fifth and final volume about LBJ’s time as Oval One and former President.
The first book, The Path to Power, was somewhat marred by Caro’s personal distaste for Johnson but since LBJ was not exactly warm and fuzzy who can blame him? That distaste has ripened over the years into an understanding of Johnson’s complexity and redeeming characteristics. It’s a damn good thing: imagine spending your entire working life researching someone you loathe. At least Caro never had to watch LBJ take a dump. That was *almost* as bad as being married to him.
The Paris Review has conducted a series of interviews with biographers and Caro’s is the fifth in the series. I’m glad that some attention is paid to Caro’s prose style. Unlike what Gore Vidal called the scholar-squirrels of academe, Caro can flat-out write. There’s a particularly revealing passage about *how* Caro conducts interviews:
I’ll give you an example. In the first volume, there’s a chapter called “The First Campaign.” Everyone I talked to about Johnson’s first run for Congress would say, I never saw anyone who worked as hard as Lyndon Johnson. Well, it’s one thing to tell that to the reader, but how do you show it? Who would really know what this means?
I thought, There’s one guy who’s with Lyndon Johnson most of the day, and it’s not his campaign manager, it’s his chauffeur! Because in the Texas Hill Country, a lot of anything is driving—that’s ninety percent of the time. His chauffeur was a guy named Carroll Keach. He lived in some place outside Corpus Christi, and it was hard to get to. It was, like, a 180-mile drive or something. But I kept going back to him.
He wasn’t a loquacious Texan, he was a laconic Texan. I would ask, What was Johnson doing between campaign stops? And he would say something like, Oh, he was just sitting there in the backseat. I just had to keep asking him questions. I mean, you’re driving, Carroll, and Lyndon Johnson is in the backseat? What was he doing in the backseat? Finally, he told me that Johnson often would be talking to himself. So I’d call and say, Carroll, when you said he was talking to himself, what was he saying? Finally, Carroll told me, It was like he was having discussions with himself about whether he had had a successful day, and if he had made a good impression on voters or not. So I’d say, What do you mean by that? How do you know that’s what he was talking about?
“Well, lots of the time, he felt he wasn’t doing too good. And he would tell himself that it was his own fault.”
“What do you mean, he would tell himself it was his own fault?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t remember.”
So I’d call him later and ask again, and I’d finally get something like, Well, Johnson would say, Boy, wasn’t that dumb! You know you just lost that ballot box. You lost it, and you need it. And he would talk out—rehearse, over and over, out loud, what he would say to the voters in that precinct the next time.
Nice to learn that I’m not the only person who speaks to themselves. Actually, I already knew that. I’m just one of the few people who cops to it. It’s a trait I picked up from my late mother. Her interior monologues were a wonder to behold.
Back to Caro’s interviewing style. He started off as a newspaper reporter, which gives him an edge on most historians and biographers. He understands that the follow-up question is as important as the original inquiry. As a writer, he puts the story into history. Caro is 81 years old so let’s toast his continued good health so that he can finish thefinal volume of his magisterial series. There, I finally used the M word.
Let’s move on to one of the original bad boys of American politics, but first a musical interlude from John Fogerty:
This Callender Was No Pin-Up: Slate writer/CBS Face the Nation anchor John Dickerson has a new book out, Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories From Presidential Campaign History. It’s a helluva read if the excerpt about Thomas Jefferson’s attack dog, James Callender, is representative of the book. It’s a must read piece for those fuddy-duddies who think TJ was a plaster saint instead of a politician with an abundance of cunning and guile.
The problem with hiring someone like Callender to attack one’s enemies is that it can backfire. He was the first to publish the story of Sally Hemings knowing that it was true:
Republicans in Philadelphia attacked Callender to discredit anything he might write in the future. Future Treasury Secretary William Duane wrote that Callender’s wife had died from a sexually transmitted disease “on a loathsome bed, with a number of children, all in a state next to famishing … while Callender was having his usual pint of brandy at breakfast.” This was not wise. In retaliation, Callender went nuclear. After his disastrous meeting with Madison, Callender had written, “Black Sally was fluttering at my tongue’s end; but with difficulty I kept it down.”
That was a reference to Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s slave and mistress. On Sept. 1, 1802, Callender no longer held his tongue:
It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the public to honor, keeps, and for many years has kept, as his concubine, one of his slaves. Her name is SALLY. The name of her eldest son is TOM. His features are said to bear a striking although sable resemblance to the president himself. … By this wench, Sally, our president has had several children. … THE AFRICAN VENUS is said to officiate, as housekeeper, at Monticello.
Callender argued that “the public have a right to be acquainted with the real characters of persons, who are the possessors or the candidates of office.” It was hard for Republicans who had made such use of Callender’s attacks on Hamilton to disagree. In signing off his piece, Callender let Jefferson know that he had done this to himself. “When Mr. Jefferson has read this article, he will find leisure to estimate how much has been lost or gained by so many unprovoked attacks upon J.T. Callender.”
They played rough in the early days of the Republic.
Things did not end well for TJ’s attack dog. He learned that life is not just another whistlestop, the title of Dickerson’s book and this Robbie Robertson tune notwithstanding.
After that musical palette cleanser, let’s lighten things up with our next segment.
Separated At Birth: Remember the Pickachu statute from last week? It’s still up at Coliseum Square even after someone hit it with a baseball bat. I wonder if Jose Canseco was in town…
My friend Stephanie Stokes noted the similarity of that statue to the one of Robert E. Lee that’s slated to be removed some time in the distant future. I think Caro’s final LBJ book will be out long before then, y’all.
The pokestatue may have been decapitated on the Tweeter Tube but check out that defiant body language. I think the General is pissed about having a car named for him on the Dukes of Hazzard. That’s my theory at least.
Speaking of decapitation fears, Dr. A and my late torti cat Window was initially terrified of ceiling fans. She’d duck and slink every time she saw one. Eventually she learned that her wee head was safe from the whirling blades. It makes me wonder if she was French nobility in a past life…
Time to depart the pokesphere and ponder the golden age of rock and roll:
I lied. I just felt like posting some glam rock. It’s actually a Vulture deep-dip, deep-dish or whatever article by the great critic Matt Zoeller-Seitz.
Is The Golden Age Of Teevee Over? Matt ZS takes a look at the current paucity of great dramatic series. He didn’t really use the word paucity but it’s another word I’m trying to revive like swell or vexatious. It’s vexatious that there’s a paucity of swell teevee serial dramas.
The basic problem is how much teevee there is. It’s overwhelming now that the purveyors of grown-up drama have adopted the boob tube as their chosen medium. There’s nothing as groundbreaking as The Sopranos, Mad Men or Deadwood on the air or streaming at this moment, but there are shows like The Americans, Halt and Catch Fire and underrated procedurals like Major Crimes for one’s viewing pleasure. There’s so much out there that it’s hard to keep up and that’s the point of MZS’s lament. It brings to mind a song from Kiwi rock deity Dave Dobbyn:
Now that we’ve lamented our numbness, let’s move on to a wee segment about the Rio Olympics.
Video Clip Of The Week: If you’re like me, you like watching the Olympics but hate NBC’s coverage. I have no problem with feature stories about the athletes but object to the saccharine tone of NBC’s pieces. They also tightly control news clips, which led to an epic but not magisterial rant by WGN sports dude Pat Tomasulo, which I encountered at TPM:
Well done, sir. It reminded me of a combination of Albert Brooks’ mini-movies from the early days of SNL and an Olbermannic rant from the glory days of Countdown. High praise indeed. Btw, Keith and Katy Tur used to date. How’s that for trivia?
Saturday Classic: The Texas Tornados were a roots rock super-group featuring Doug Sahm, Freddie Fender, Flaco Jiminez, and Augie Meyers. Their eponymous first album was rarely out of my CD player in 1990, which makes it a classic as far as I’m concerned.
It’s time for some Doug Sahm lagniappe, here’s the song he wrote about his hometown:
That’s it for this week. If you’re like me, you’re probably obsessed with the Phelps Face. It’s the ultimate game face, especially when the glower was aimed at pesky South African swimmer Chad Le Clos who tried but failed to rattle the Michael Jordan of the Speedo set. I’ll let the Phelps Face have the last word: