We seem to have hit peak pollen this week in New Orleans. Achoo. As a result, I awaken each day with watery eyes and a runny nose. Achoo. It’s most unpleasant as is my daily sinus headache. The good news is that we’re supposed to have some rain to wash away the sticky yellow stuff. The bad news is that it won’t happen until later today when we have plans to attend a festival not far from Adrastos World HQ. Oh well, that’s what umbrellas are for.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or watching teevee with the Insult Comedian, you know that Chuck Berry died at the age of 90. This week’s theme song, Promised Land, is my favorite Chuck Berry tune. I was introduced to it at the first Grateful Dead show I ever attended. It was a helluva opening number.
I have three versions for your entertainment: Berry’s original, the Band’s rollicking piano driven take from Moondog Matinee, and the Dead live in the Nutmeg State. It’s time to jet to the promised land, y’all.
I remain mystified as to why Chuck wanted to get out of Louisiana and go to Houston town. There’s no accounting for taste. Let’s ponder that as I insert the break, but not where the moon don’t shine.
The deaths of Chuck Berry and Jimmy Breslin are linked because they died on the same weekend. They weren’t the only well-known writers to pass this week. Let’s endeavour to remember Colin Dexter who was the creator of the dour, opera loving, beer-swilling Inspector Morse. Dexter died at the age of 86. I only hope he caught The Last Bus To Woodstock and had a pint at the celestial pub with John Thaw upon arrival. Cheers.
Chuck Berry/Jimmy Breslin R.I.P. The best thing I read about either Berry or Breslin was by Charlie Pierce. As a master worsdsmith himself, Charlie understands that wordsmithery was what these two men in common:
Chuck Berry invented the language of rock and roll and, through that, reinvented the English language for several generations. He did it in that most American way possible, the way Mark Twain did it, or Walt Whitman, or Kerouac. He did it by experimenting, by playing with the language as though it were the greatest toy he’d ever found.
From the start, he [Breslin] was the biggest of them. He filled the room the way few others did. He saw more than other columnists did. He heard things in a different way. When people talk about “voice” in journalism, they’re talking about more than the way you put sentences together, or a gift for metaphor. They’re talking about all of those, but they’re talking about a unique way of seeing and hearing the world, a close eye for the strange and wonderful on the fringes, a close ear for what is said between the lines. That’s how Breslin got his most famous column, the one about the man who dug John Kennedy’s grave at Arlington, a piece of work so famous that they taught it to us in journalism school, which was not an institution for which, truth be told, Breslin himself had any respect.
I’ve read most of Breslin’s books and my personal favorite was his tome about the woefully inept 1962 New York Mets: Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? They called them the Amazing Mets because they were so fucking bad.
I’m the book cover guy, so here’s the edition that features drawings of Breslin and Mets manager Casey Stengel:
If there’s an afterlife, I’m sure Breslin and Casey are knocking back a few adult beverages and Berry is jamming with Buddy Holly at the great gig in the sky.
While we’re serving obituary cocktails, I’d like to discuss a death that has been largely ignored in the American media. We prefer to watch The Quiet Man, drink green beer, and talk about mythic leprechauny Irishmen, not the real thing.
Martin McGuinness was a remarkable figure in Irish history. He went from being one of the commanders of the Provisional IRA to a peacemaker and the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. He died earlier this week at the age of 66.
Gerry Adams was better known in the United States but McGuinness was the *real* leader of Sinn Fein. Along with Ian Paisley, Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, and others, McGuinness forged a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. It was an intractable situation that wound up being peacefully solved thanks to the courage and vision of leaders on both sides of the Troubles.
McGuinness was certainly no saint. He was a man of the gun before he became a man of peace. He was undoubtedly involved in the decisions to assassinate Lord Mountbatten and legendary Nuremberg trial barrister and Tory MP Airey Neave in the late 1970’s. Neave’s name came up this week because of the terrorist attack at Westminster. He was killed by a car bomb near Parliament. His sin was his moderation on Northern Ireland. The provos wanted repression and Margaret Thatcher gave it to them. They thought it would lead to a unified Ireland. It did not.
The lesson of Northern Ireland is that you *have* to negotiate with your enemies to achieve peace. You don’t have to like them although McGuinness and Protestant leader Rev. Ian (Dr. No) Paisley came to like one another. They even had a shared nickname, the Chuckle Brothers after a teevee comedy team:
If Paisley and McGuinness were able to make peace and govern together, anything is possible. Protestant Unionist leader Paisley was a reformed “anti-papist” bigot and McGuinness a reformed terrorist. But they were willing to take a chance on peace. Such courage is in short supply in 2017.
Speaking of bigotry, our next segment takes a look at a book that helped inflame anti-Catholic bigotry and xenophobic nativism in the 1830’s.
A Tale Of Perfidious Popery: The free population in America was largely homogenous until the potato famine brought waves of Irish immigrants to our shores. There were widespread fears that Catholics would bring the Pope along for the ride and eventually destroy American democracy. It’s the root of what the great historian Richard Hofstader called The Paranoid Style In American Politics.
One book in particular, the fake memoirs of a young lady who claimed lurid abuse at the hands of nuns, The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, helped whip Protestants into a paranoid nativist frenzy. Mike Mariani has the details at Slate. Here’s how he concludes the piece:
Monk’s autobiography and its machinations serve as a remarkable example of how easily Americans are spellbound by a dazzling charlatan. But they’re also, more crucially, a testament to how today’s nasty sandstorms of lies and propaganda have all appeared before, under all-too-similar circumstances. The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk was the fake news of the 1830s, a garish package of lies presented to the public as truth for the purpose of swaying political views. And it was largely successful. The anti-immigrant zeal of the 1830s laid the groundwork for the Native American Party of the 1840s (the irony lost on its members), a political party whose stated aim was to “purify” American politics by disenfranchising anyone not born in the United States.
Sensationalist claims about Mexican rapists, New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11, inner city “carnage,” and secret global cabals use the same tactics to stoke prejudice through paranoia. Conspiratorial bigotry is hardly a novel approach to whipping up crowds, winning votes, and rupturing politics as usual. As the Ursuline school demonstrates, though, the rhetorical strategy almost always tips over into physical violence. Underneath the racist language and scapegoating lies a justification for brutality.
Unfortunately, descendants of the victims of the original paranoid style are among those whipping up hysteria in 2017. Trumpism is merely the latest manifestation of nativist bigotry and hatred. So it goes.
After some serious segments, it’s time for shits and giggles. We’ll skip the shits and focus on the giggles with a recurring segment that was stolen from Spy Magazine.
Separated At Birth: I mentioned Lord Mountbatten earlier in the post. He was Prince Philip’s Uncle, which made him the Prince of Wales’ great-Uncle. Prince Charles has long been a figure of fun in the British press with his food faddism and cranky views on architecture and almost everything modern. He’s very much his father’s son. He also bears a somewhat creepy resemblance to Dobby the house elf of Harry Potter fame:
Perhaps Dobby should go to work for HRH. He’s certainly obsequious enough to be the Prince’s bat-eared batman.
Same Name, Different Person: I share the same name with another Peter Athas (no relation) who played in the NFL from 1970-1976. He finished his career with the New Orleans Saints, which caused additional confusion. When the other Peter died in 2015, I received some correspondence about “my death.” I hope I didn’t suffer too much. So it goes.
That was a long-winded introduction to this new recurring feature, which was inspired by the farce involving the House Intelligence Committee. This week’s dynamic duo are the ranking Democrat on said committee and the fictional Manhattan District Attorney of Law & Order fame. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Adam Schiffs:
Teevee’s Adam Schiff was played by the late actor Steven Hill. He was a man of integrity much like the Congressman who I think should be the next Democratic Secretary of State. Of course, the country will have to regain its political sanity for that to happen but I take the long view.
That concludes the night Schiff, it’s time for some music.
Saturday Standards: I remember seeing Peggy Lee on teevee variety shows when I was a kid. She was always introduced as Miss Peggy Lee. I was never sure what she missed but I knew she was a helluva singer as you can tell from this 1956 album:
That’s it for this week’s visit to the morgue. There’s one more death to comment on, that of another Chuck; Barris, not Berry. He was, of course, the teevee mogul and fake spy best known as the creator and host of The Gong Show. I’ll give Chuck and the Unknown Comic the last word. I hope the bagheaded ninny shared the booze with Barris.