THOUGHTS ON VERNON, FLORIDA….

The movie, yes, but also the town.

Vernon, Florida (1981)
D. Errol Morris

1) Morris was initially attracted to the tiny Panhandle town of Vernon by its reputation as Nub City, a place famous for amputees who shot off (or otherwise removed) various limbs to collect on large insurance payments. Not sure if this is any way related to the vigilance required to prove the identity of dead bodies missing their hands in Winter’s Bone but it wouldn’t surprise me.

2) I tracked it down because I’m planning a post on Florida movies. This looked like a possible winner and was available for a couple of bucks on Amazon. The rest of this list is dedicated to the reasons it probably won’t make the cut.

3) In Errol Morris’s Vernon, Florida, there are no black people. Not even in background shots. That must mean Tony Peters, the kid with the wicked slider who kept striking me out in Pony League in the spring of ’75–and who, a couple of years later, led mostly black teams, filled with his brothers and cousins, from Vernon High to state championships in baseball and basketball–was a figment of my imagination. I mention it because, absent him, my very good batting average (.426) would have been considerably higher. Even higher than the .550 I was hitting before a stupid bet in the one-county-over Graceville High School weight-lifting room threw out my back and left me swinging with one hand for the last half of the season. (I won the bet. Small comfort.) I’m sure the fear that southern black people might seem as incomprehensibly “eccentric” as southern white people had nothing to do with any of this.

4) The film presents half a dozen implied stories, each of them worth it’s own narrative, and follows exactly none of them to a satisfying conclusion. I’d of gone with the adventures of the young pastor myself. In life, he must have had to contend with the old coots who know what the Bible really means in a thousand interesting and delicate ways. In the film, he never even meets them. And there’s some pretty good rants from those coots here, but nothing close to the End Times testimonial sermon I heard an old-timer in overalls preach from the second row pew of one-county-over White Pond Baptist in 1979 while all ten of us in attendance (including my father in the pulpit, my mother at the piano, me and seven members of the old man’s family) listened rapt. Dad was interim pastor there for a year. That was the only time the old man showed up. After the service, his daughter-in-law explained it to us, half-apologetic, half matter-of-fact: “Grandpa does that sometimes.” Nothing like that here.

5) Wausau, which is a suburb of Vernon, is mentioned once. Any filmmaker who spent enough time in southern Washington County to make a documentary and didn’t work in a story about the baseball field in Wausau–where it was theoretically possible to hit a home run over the eight-foot high left field fence without the ball ever travelling more than a foot off the ground–just ain’t worth his salt.

6) I’d forgive all that if Morris had caught the special feel of the North Florida woods where he keeps stalking a turkey hunter. My father walked away from his stalled car in December of 2007 in the heart of those very same south Washington County woods. Hunters found him three days later, passed out on the ground (a day after I had discovered him missing from his apartment and convinced the local police to put out an APB on him). He was transported to the Washington County Hospital and, two days later, to the nursing home next door. He died there eight months later, never having walked again.  I’d give a lot to have the feel of the last place my father walked on this earth captured on film. The way Morris shot Vernon, Florida those woods could just as well be in Mississippi….or Pennsylvania.

Or the Tennessee Smokies where Dad grew up. And where he thought he was when he left his stalled care and tried to find his way home.

None of that here.

Disappointing really.

MY TWO CENTS…

On the G-20 summit.

First, ignore the AP reports (or CNN, yaddah, yaddah, yaddah).

A month from now, they’ll be as credible as last month’s “all 17 American intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia hacked the election” stories.

Today’s official stories, too, will soon be “clarified.”

My sense is that, in the last two weeks, the Trump Fever broke. On the evening of the day he punked the G-20 summit that was the latest in a long line of Security State backstops which, assuming the key operatives (in this case various heads of state) could get the stars out of their eyes and quit staring at Ivanka’s ass or keep their knees from buckling when Melania flashed that fragile smile, were supposed to humiliate him beyond all hope of recovery, it became pretty clear that–barring some drastic, pyrrhic action like an assassination–he’ll now march from victory to victory.

You know, just like he’s been doing since June, 2015. Back when “the Republican Establishment” was going to put paid to him–by driving him not only from political life, but society itself…remember?–in the impossible event he became a problem.

Oh. there will be speed bumps along the way, and, just like the obstacles now fading in the rear view mirror (faster and faster, I might add), they’ll be celebrated as mortal wounds by whatever’s left of that creaky old Establishment (and breathlessly Re-Tweeted by those who are still certain–certain I say!–that this time, we’ve got him).

Those who put their faith in such folks, needn’t worry. There’s probably a month or two of real entertainment value left before your champions do what they were always going to do and kick you to the curb, the better to curry favor with the new boss.

My puny, unsolicited advice is to kick them out of the tent before they get the chance.

Why let them co-opt you one last time and destroy even your one-in-a-million hope of igniting a grass roots movement with real teeth in it? The fake ones you’ve been relying on aren’t getting it done. If you’re looking for a leader to emerge from the current crop, you’re trading in fool’s gold. (To wit, there’s real talk Bernie Sanders will carry the flag in 2020. God help us. But, believe me, Kamala Harris won’t be any less chumped and compromised by then, even if you buy the sketchy assumption that she is now.)

As we sit here tonight, Trump has a conservative majority entrenched on the Supreme Court, with more to come. His trial-balloon travel ban (sorry, did you think it was something else?), is now, with a few negotiating ploy caveats, in place. Contracts for the border wall are proceeding apace. The regulatory wall, built from used tissue by the Bi-partisan Consensus over the last thirty-five years for the express purpose of enriching themselves at everybody’s-but-their-own expense, is being torn to shreds. He’s tied the “Russian thing” tin can to Obama’s tail, and, by extension, Hillary Clinton’s. (Rhetorically, conspiratorially, theatrically, that is–i.e., the ways that matter in a land where concepts like the Rule of Law were reduced to laughless-punchlines by the very folks who now insist they are Never Trumpers long before Forever Donald Trump happened along.)

And, oh by the way, while you weren’t looking, the Alt-Right has seized the language and the messaging.

And oh by the way….

They view Trump as a loss leader.

Albeit in blind-squirrel fashion, Kathy Griffin–one of many useful-idiot celebrities whose brains apparently function as test patterns–had it right.

If Trump’s head isn’t on a platter by the end of the summer, there’s gonna be some deep and lasting changes around here–and perhaps more than a few.

Up to now, the main question since election night has been whether Trump understood that he was in a war with the Security State that would end in his utter defeat or theirs.

Tonight, for the first time, the question has changed.

Do they understand?

Bet they do…

Which means it must finally be time for Trump to ditch “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and keep what’s left of his opposition really confused, by switching up his theme song…

Or would be, if playing in a rock and roll band was still masquerading as something more than a chance to meet the kind of fabulous women Donald J. Trump and Michael Jagger are prone to marrying.

It’s not that Trump is a genius (he sort of is, but it’s not that). It’s that he’s opposed–up and down the line–by idiots.

Idiots who have had their masks ripped off….and their Consensus destroyed.

It took two years.

Or fifty.

So, as ever….Goodbye us.

But really, it was fun while it lasted.

C’mon Mick…Are you sure you don’t want to play the Ballroom in 2021?

[Note: Yes, I know. There were protests. To call them meaningless would be to debase the word. Somebody cue “American Woman” and dedicate it to Angela Merkel.]

ON THE ROAD WITH VAN MORRISON AND OTHERS…INCLUDING MOST ESPECIALLY ME, MYSELF AND I

Van Morrison
It’s Too Late to Stop Now (1973)

So I go on the road, I drive, I get to listen close…Six hours to the airport (where I fly nonstop to North Dakota so I still save a few hours in the end by avoiding layovers).

The plane leaves at 7:00 a.m. so I leave the house before midnight.

On the way down, I listen to The Basement Tapes (which I’ve just got cranking when the local constabulary pulls me to tell me my tag light’s out, thank you very much!), Timi Yuro’s Complete Liberty Singles (worthy of its own post…how do we so easily forget Timi Yuro?), The Trouble With the Truth (one of several Patty Loveless albums I’m always convinced is her very best whenever I’m listening to it) and close with the real killer, Don Gibson’s A Legend in My Time (a superbly chosen Bear Family disc from his classic period), which I never have time to really focus on when I’m at home.

Twelve days later, I return in the rain. It’s one of those Florida rains which I know is not worth waiting out (for one thing, I’ll be asleep in the airport by then…it’s been a lo-n-n-n-n-g-g-g twelve days). So I hike to my car in the rain (it’s one of those ariports where, if you’ve parked a car, it’s a hike), get my shirt soaking wet, decide I might as well wait until I stop for gas to change it (by which time it will be dry enough not to bother….no matter how often I fly from this airport, I always forget how far it is to a gas station…or food!). Don Gibson is still in the CD player, so I listen again….

…and it’s still awe-inspiring. There’s nothing quite like hearing an hour’s worth of Don Gibson while you’re driving in a welcome-back-to-Florida rain.

And then, to tell the truth, I pull Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late to Stop Now for no better reason than because it’s sitting on top of the stack.

I only threw it in the box because I’ve had my new CD version sitting around the house for months, meaning to give it the listen I never quite gave it when I bought it cheap and used on vinyl twenty years back.That’s another thing driving trips are good for–catching up on stuff you don’t have proper time for when your life is gathered around you at home, where dishes need to be washed, the blog needs keeping up, the paycheck has to be earned, the book wants a polish.

Starts off fine. I have the usual reaction I have when I haven’t listened to Van in a while. He’s great, but nobody could be as great as Van is when I’m only listening in my mind, so I’m soon wondering if he’s merely great, and maybe not, you know, transcendent.

That’ gets me all the way to this…the ninth track on the first disc…

…and about halfway through it, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, I  start thinking, no, it’s not possible to overestimate Van Morrison, even when he’s just being the crowd-pleaser his legend suggests he could never just be.

Of course, it could be that this is just the first song I know well enough to sing along–which means I can start edging towards ecstasy, especially if I’m driving along in the the still steady drizzling welcome-back-to-Florida rain.

Then he switches to Muddy Waters…

…and gets inside him, sneaky little bastard. Muddy Waters as lounge music that’s deeper and fleeter than the original and which, since I haven’t quite comprehended whether this first disc is supposed the be the entire original album (it’s not), may be closing the original concept down. It feels like it could do that. Driving along in the rain, it feels like it could close down the World…or the State of Florida at least.

But it’s just a set up. I’ve got the second disc cued up and, though I can’t tell if it’s bonus material or not (it isn’t), it doesn’t matter, because he jumps straight into Sam Cooke, who knew a thing or two about Vegas-ing the Blues himself. No more than Van, certainly…

…but maybe no  less. Either way, Van’s off into the mystic so to speak, because he jumps from there to “St. Dominic’s Preview,” which it takes me a while to recognize, by which time my mind has split in two and I’m doing some sort of mental dissertation on White Boys diving into the Blues and hearing snatches of Mick Jagger’s negotiations with Satan, circa 1974, about the time Satan started cashing Mick’s checks and draining his bank account and while most of the conversation drifted by, what with the rain and the Yes-Sir-Van-is-All-That singing going on, it did keep my mind running in Fake Stereo for fifteen minutes or so while Van got all the way to end of his personal Magnum Opus, “Listen to the Lion” which can never be added to on stage because he took the recorded version as far as anything can be taken.

And I figured that was probably that.

The rain had stopped by then. The sun was coming out, and Van went straight back into his crowd-pleasingist, crowd-pleasing mode, and we all know what that means….Time for a little THEM…

Starting with this…

which makes me wonder if he’s trying to steal it back from Lulu…

…who stole it from him in the Them days (she got it out first, they had the big hit, and somewhere deep down inside I think, listening to It’s Too Late to Stop Now, Van knows she found something to be afraid of in the night he was busy owning it…and still trying to own all those years later).

After which, of course, it’s on to the one he’ll never get away from…and which no one will ever beat him on…or find anything in that he didn’t find the first time…

And you’d think this would bring my poor ragged mind back to a single track, especially since I’m clapping, driving and singing at the same time.

Hey, don’t worry, no more rain, no problem. I’m VERY experienced at this.

But while I’m doing that, I also start conducting an (imaginary–I ain’t crazy you know) interview with Jimmy Page, where I ask if he minds focusing on his early session-man days (among which a number of Them tracks, and Lulu’s version of “Here Comes the Night” are rumored to be highlights…or maybe it isn’t rumored anymore and it’s either been confirmed or debunked by now, but in my mind I’m assuming young James did indeed play on some Them sessions and Lulu sessions, and he doesn’t seem to want to shatter any illusions).

But, instead of asking him about Van Morrison and Them, or even Lulu, I find myself asking if this was as much fun as it sounds like…

….and his imaginary face lights up for the first time, loses it’s professional cool. “Tried to throw her off with that discordant bit in the bridge,” he says. “Silly me…Gave me some ideas for later though.”

Wow. Heavy.

I might have pursued the conversation further…I WOULD have pursued it further. Nothing could have kept me from it.

Except maybe this.

The sun was shining bright by then. I was somewhere near Ocala. Still three hours from home, but the past is behind me and Van Morrison is speaking in tongues.

I’m whole again. My mind’s all put back together.

Welcome home.

MEET THE HOST….

Commenter abqchris expressed an interest in some of my autobiographical links. Since I seem to have picked up a new round of viewers the past few months and multiple links don’t always work from the comments section I thought it might be a good idea to just collect them in a post. Once or twice a year I’ve opened myself up a bit on here. These are the longish posts where I’ve gotten the most “personal.”

Me and the Shangri-Las (also the blog’s inaugural post)…

Me and Elvis

Me and Patty Loveless…

Me and “Then Came You”

Me and Alex Chilton…

Me and Brian Wilson…

Me and “(He’s) The Great Imposter”…

Me and my Favorite Rock Critic…

And, for good measure, the post that probably comes closest to explaining my World View….

Here’s hoping some of my experiences will resonate with some of yours.

And, please, take your time. Five years go by and all of a sudden it adds up to a damn book!

ELEGY REVISITED IN ANOTHER COUNTRY CHURCHYARD….

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

(Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”)

Virgil Caine is my name and I served on the Danville train,
‘Til Stoneman’s Cavalry came and tore up the tracks again…

(The Band, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”)

I’ve mentioned before that I drive a hundred miles each way to put flowers on my mother’s grave every Mother’s Day. My parents are the only appointed missionaries buried at the oldest Baptist church in Florida (est. 1825). Every year, I walk around to see who has died. Every year, one or two familiar names are added (usually wives joining husbands long passed). Every year, I note the military ranks of many of the departed. It’s a small church with a small graveyard so the military mentions toward the middle and back of the cemetery are a smattering.

Korea (my Sunday School teacher, he never mentioned it).

WWII (the man who loaned us money to travel home to see family the first Christmas we moved there, he never mentioned it…this year, he was joined by his daughter, a college teacher who wrote the letter of recommendation that helped me get a job at the Southern Baptist Convention’s center in Ridgecrest, North Carolina in the summer of ’79….else her husband…the grave was fresh dug, no stone yet).

WWI. (too far back for me to know them personally though the names suggest I knew their heirs).

At the front, the names are somewhat more numerous. Up in that part of the churchyard, the military designation is always CSA. Some of them died in what they would have called The War Between the States, some after. Whenever they died, an alarming number bear birth dates of 1848, 1849, 1850. By the end, the CSA was calling up fifteen-year-olds.

That’s what happens at the end, when your life is at stake.

I never had much sympathy for the Lost Cause or Ye Olde Confederacy. A permanent curse on the slaveocracy who cast their permanent curse on us. As much as I know anything, I know if we’d somehow managed to win, we’d have been the Balkans and the USA would have been some hellish combination of Germany and Russia. Best that it worked out as it did.

But I don’t like to run from the past either.

If I’d been born in 1849, I know where my bones would lie…and I don’t doubt the military designation on my grave would read CSA. If not in this churchyard, then some other, because I doubt there’s a vintage cemetery in the parts of the South where my folks came from that doesn’t have an even longer row of the Lost Cause’s Honored Dead.

Hell, by the time Stoneman’s Cavalry rode their last, ” just eighteen”  was an old man in the army of the CSA.

And it’s not like I have to project.

When Stonewall Jackson’s West Point roommate, George Stoneman, rode out to exact the final vengeance for his humiliation at Chancellorsville (the high tide of both the Confederate States of America and his roommate’s brilliant career, which ebbed away in an instant when a unit from my mother’s home state mistook Jackson for the enemy in the gloaming and mortally wounded him), he left from Knoxville, Tennessee, twenty miles from my father’s stone-cold Unionist home town (where the college my father had not quite graduated from when Pearl Harbor re-directed his life down a path that eventually led him to the bible college that sits seven miles from where my parents are buried, was founded by one of the South’s now forgotten fire-breathing abolitionists and where my father’s older relatives nonetheless had living memories of chasing cows into the woods to keep the Yankees from confiscating them), and reached its turn-back point in Salisbury, North Carolina, where my mother grew up learning to hop trains in the hobo jungle in the days when the legends of Jimmie Rodgers and Woody Guthrie were still aborning.

From this distance, I can be glad the Yankees won, even in this age when we seem so determined to throw it all away.

But when I’m walking through a country churchyard down here, mulling the gravestones, there’s no way for it not to be a little bit personal.

Even from this distance.

This month is the thirtieth anniversary of my mother’s death. But you know what Faulkner said. In the South, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

And, as he did not quite say: “Would that it were.”

Rest of ya’ll will know what we know soon enough. I give it not more than a century and it will pass in the blink of an eye. Then you won’t care if the money’s no good either.

Enjoy this hard and bitterly won space while you can.

 

OKAY, I’LL PLAY…

I don’t want to make a habit of this. I prefer to generate my own ideas/content. But the more I thought about this, the more the challenge/absurdity made me smile….So, again from one of those memes that’s going around…(tried to link live versions where available.)

The 30 Day Song Challenge…(I think the idea is to name the first song you love that comes to mind. Anyway that’s the spirit I’m taking.)

JUST SO YOU KNOW…

This is not a political blog. I routinely insert political thoughts (and more occasionally, theological ones) into my regular writing because that’s the way I see life. As I said to a friend of mine when I started the blog: “You know me. Rock and roll is just a way of seeing the world.”

But since we now live in such interesting times, I’ve been revisiting my history of little personal political insights and what’s a blog for if not to share random thoughts that invade the mind, unbidden, now and again?

At the end, I might just talk myself into making a prediction about the direction of Donald Trump’s presidency. Before all that, you can check my track record.

From this, all else grows…

1974 (Age 13): Richard Nixon resigns from the presidency to avoid impeachment and conviction. He is pardoned by Gerald Ford. Me: “I bet there’s gonna be a lot of criminal presidents from now on.”

My logic: If Richard Nixon was as bad as everybody said he was–and everybody said it, even in my Nixon-supporting part of the world–and the penalty for whatever he did was early retirement, then it didn’t seem like much of a deterrence.

My track record: After Jimmy Carter, they all look like crooks to me. If only some of them look that way to you, you might want to open that other eye. Unless, of course, you’ve accepted ol’ Dick’s logic that it’s not criminal if the president does it!

1980 (Age 19): Campaigning for president, Ronald Reagan promises that he will increase spending, cut taxes and eliminate the budget deficit, which was then standing at a scandalous sixty-something billion dollars. Me: “I bet if he wins, we’re gonna have a whole lot more debt.”

My logic: Math.

My track record: Reagan won. By 1988, when he left office, the deficit stood at a hundred and eighty-something billion dollars and we had switched to a permanent credit economy which would allow us to borrow without limits and never have to pay it back. The deficit is now around twenty trillion. We rack up another sixty billion every week or two. Good going, 1980.

1984 (Age 23): At the Democratic National Convention, party nominee Walter Mondale uses his acceptance speech to capitulate (I always assumed it was his attempt at imitating Franklin Roosevelt in Firesign Theater’s “Nick Danger, Third Eye” bit). I decide I will not vote in the election. I also decide I will not vote in any future elections.

My logic: What’s the point if it doesn’t matter?

My track record: Mondale lost in a record landslide. I have voted in every election since. I’m not going to discuss who I voted for in any of those elections because it has not mattered.

1990 (Age 29): We invade Iraq. In the run-up up to the invasion, Christopher Hitchens, still lucid at that point, says if we invade it will be the start of a new hundred years’ war. Me: “That sounds about right.”

My logic: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to….yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.” Santayana. Smart guy.

My track record: We’ve entered the war’s 27th year. Christopher Hitchens, who began supporting the war around it’s twelfth year, lies a-moldering in his grave. The war goes on. A hundred years still sounds about right.

1990s (Age “sometime in my thirties”): Me, apropos of nothing: “Free people do not need a security state…”

My logic: “….Because security states exist to preserve themselves, not freedom.” Me in my thirties. Not Santayana, but not half bad.

My track record: Hard to tell. But I used to say: “Everything I really needed to know I learned from rock and roll.” Now I say: “Everything I really needed to know, I learned from Philip K. Dick novels.”

2001 (Age 40): On September 11, the World Trade Center is leveled by terrorists in hi-jacked planes. The Pentagon is attacked by another. Another goes down in a Pennsylvania field, prevented by the passengers from incinerating either the White House or the Capitol. George W. Bush responds by fleeing from Florida to Nebraska. Later, much later, after everyone has patted his hand and told him everything will be alright, he gives a speech to a joint session of congress. Then him and Tom Daschle (Remember him? No? Lucky you.) give each other a big ol’ bear hug to celebrate our victory. (As imitations of “Nick Danger, Third Eye” go, this was almost hallucinatory). Me, in an e-mail to a friend: “I hope we don’t need leaders in this fight, because we ain’t exactly got Churchill.” My friend tries to assure me it will be alright because the generals know what they are doing. I refuse to be comforted.

My logic: Wars are not won by men who return to Washington from Florida by way of Nebraska because Washington might be dangerous. You can be stupid and win a war. You can be a criminal and win a war. You can be a mama’s boy who, in Ann Richards’ immortal phrase, “was born on third base and thought he hit a triple” and win a war. You can’t be a coward.

My track record: Well, if we ever do win that war, it won’t be on the coward’s watch.

2004 (Age 43): John Kerry runs for president. He debates George W. Bush. Bush sends a batting practice fastball down the middle, saying that it sounded to him like if Kerry had been president (on the aforementioned 9/11), Saddam Hussein would still have been in power. Instead of saying “If I’d been president, Saddam would be in jail and Osama Bin Laden would be in the cell next to him,” Kerry gave a two-thousand word response that amounted to “Now that’s no necessarily so.” Me: “Goodbye.”

My logic: The coward or the pedant? Who cares.

My track record: John Kerry lost his election. Eventually he became Secretary of State and achieved his life’s goal of turning pedantry into an art form whilst the world burned.

2008 (Age 47): Barrack Obama is elected president. Me: “Interesting. And it’s really nice to check that ‘first African-American president’ box. But, in the midst of all this euphoria, I do wish I could see him.”

My logic: “He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land…” John Lennon: Smart guy.

My track record: Too soon to tell, but if a tide comes in, it does tend to wash away the castles you made of sand. And tides do usually come in.

2015 (Age 54): A couple of Beltway reporters kibitzing on Diane Rehm’s PBS show, spend a few minutes trying to one-up each other on just how impossible it will be for Donald Trump to win the Republican Nomination. Me: “If you think he has no chance, you’re crazy.”

My logic: “Call out the instigators, because there’s something in the air.”

Did I mention that, once upon a time, I learned everything I really needed to know from rock and roll?

My track record: Donald Trump will become president on January 20.

And so….

One factor, which peeked through the underbrush throughout the last year-and-a-half as Trump systematically (yes, systematically) ripped through everyone from Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton to real power brokers like Megyn Kelly and Jeff Bezos, is that the Security State is not simply worried but frightened. Since the election the peepin’ and a hidin’ and the slippin’ and a slidin’ has become something close to full-blown warfare. Trump has made it abundantly clear that, on Jan. 20, he intends to become the third sitting president to take on the shadow government.

I have no prediction on how it will come out. It did not work out for John Kennedy or Jimmy Carter, whose respective penalties were death and political humiliation.* The Security State is, on one sense, more powerful than ever. Its tentacles gained strength and length by leaps under Bush the Younger and leaps and bounds under Obama. But it is not the top-down machinery that took down JFK (allegedly) and Carter (allegedly**). Without Cold War clarity, there is deep consensus about needs (more power), but much confusion about goals (to what specific end?). Battling cave-dwellers has simply not been as simple or as satisfying as taking on the old Evil Empire. That, plus the sheer size and scope of its expansion has left the Leviathan dazed and weakened at the moment when it will have to face its greatest threat.

So whether they can defeat a determined Trump is an open question and I have no feel in my stomach’s empty pit for how it will come out.

Neither do I have any feel for how Trump would handle either victory or defeat. The great danger–one which is barely hinted at in all the incoherent babbling about fascism and the like–is that Trump will be both willing and able (and at this point it would be far safer, if that’s the right word, to bet against his will than his ability) to replace the praetorian guard we’ve long allowed, in true fascist style, to build around state security, with one built around a cult of personality, one which could presumably be transferred with little fuss to his handsome, hungry children. I will only say that, should he turn in that direction, there will be precious little to stop him and all who had faith in an ever-deteriorating system–me included, as I did keep “voting”–will share the blame.

I wish there was a song for that.

*Eisenhower doesn’t count, as his famous warning about the military industrial complex, while virtuous, was issued on the way out the door. Of course he was right. But that’s like dissing your tyrannical boss at your retirement ceremony.

**There is voluminous literature on the Kennedy assassination, too much to take in really. My best take on all that is here.

There is precious little literature on Carter’s demise and I’m not even up on what does exist. But I can pass along this anecdote.

Back in the early 80’s my dad was a home missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention. One of his duties was to visit local conventions around the country and trade ideas for effective mission work. That put him on kind of a rubber chicken circuit several times a year and, at one congregational supper, he found himself next to a recently retired Army general.

As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was a personality and strangers generally had one of two responses to him: run screaming from the room or tell him things they wouldn’t have told their own mother. Evidently, the general was in the latter camp. The subject of Carter came up, as it nearly always did in Southern Baptist circles in those days, and my dad mentioned that, despite everything, he had voted for him.

The general said: “You weren’t wrong.”

From there, the discussion went to the general’s dark knowledge, only a little of which he could share, of course, of the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission. Long story short, the general was of the informed opinion that the mission had been sabotaged. When my dad pressed him as to who would do such a thing, the answer was nonspecific but the general did say the forces behind it were aiming at a change in the presidency. The way my dad reported it to me, the general said: “They were looking to replace him with either Ted Kennedy or George Bush.”

Reliable assets both.

Take it all with a grain of salt.

But, if that was their aim, they came close enough. And, until Trump the Dread says otherwise, we still live in their world, patiently, and helplessly, awaiting the fate of all who accept a Security State’s version of “safety.”

THE SHAPE I’M IN

“The Round Place in the Middle” is approaching its fifth anniversary (coming in February, and who knows if I’ll remember to commemorate it then…best do it now while I’m thinking of it).

Time flies.

I was originally going to call it “The Hole in the MIddle” but I was afraid people might get the wrong idea about what kind of hole I meant. I was only referring to the beautiful space in the middle of a 45 rpm record. Nothing more.

I promise.

With that duly noted, it’s been another year of solid growth. My goal from the beginning was to increase viewership by fifty percent a year. I was down a little from that this year, but since I exceeded the goal last year, I’m still right on pace overall. In any case, I comfortably exceeded all previous annual numbers in 2016, with December shattering all my previous monthly records. Onward and upward.

I feel like we’re all getting to know each other pretty well around here, so, just for fun–and maybe because it’s about time–I thought I would finally pull the trigger and close out the year with a list I put together before I started the blog and have used as a sort of rough template for the musical portion of the program all along the way.

For once, I don’t have a clever name for it, so “My Personal Stack of Life-Changing Records” will have to do.

Though there is plenty of inevitable overlap, I want to emphasize that this is not a list of “my favorite records” or “my idea of the greatest records” or “my desert island discs.” (A concept I’m suspicious of anyway…if only because I have it on good authority it was dreamed up at CIA right after the Kennedy Assassination and disseminated by the usual suspects through the usual outlets. Check the publishing credits next time you see somebody wanting to grab something and take it off to a “desert island.” You’ll see I’m right.)

No, these are just the ones that somehow or other, some time or other, cut deep enough to chisel me into a different shape than I would have been otherwise.

I’ve put them roughly the order of personal impact. That is, not necessarily the order I heard–or even loved–them, and certainly not the order in which they were released.

I only included albums when it was indeed the album that truly made the impact rather than an individual cut or two.

I’m not providing the usual links. Ya’ll know how to use YouTube if, by chance, you want to hear most of these. Otherwise, no deep thoughts. Maybe a comment here or there on a road map to a life I’ve learned to be grateful for.  Feel free to share a piece of your own map, especially if it’s nothing like mine!

And, okay, down at the very end, I might–might–provide one link to one record.

If I do, it will be the one I heard on the day I stopped running because hearing it meant my life was no longer at stake.

Without further adieu–1965–2016. Just the records:

“Downtown” (Petula Clark)
“500 Miles” (Peter, Paul and Mary)
“Ode to Billy Joe” (Bobbie Gentry)
“Brother Louie” (Stories) (I see you Brucie, sitting in your Daddy’s car, playing the radio. Wish you were here.)
“I Won’t Last A Day Without You” (Carpenters)
“You Make Me Feel Brand New” (Stylistics)
“Then Came You” (Spinners w/Dionne Warwick)

GREATEST HITS (John Denver) (The first album I bought with my own money.)

“December, 1963” (Four Seasons) (My record habit begins.)
“You Sexy Thing” (Hot Chocolate)

STORY (Four Seasons)

“All By Myself” (Eric Carmen)
“Kentucky Rain” (Elvis Presley)
“Do You Believe in Magic” (Lovin’ Spoonful)
“Oh Me, Oh My” (Lulu)
“Lizzie and the Rainman” (Tanya Tucker)
“Part Time Love” (Elton John)

THE BEATLES 1962–1966

“Any Way That You Want Me” (Evie Sands)
“Turn, Turn, Turn” (Byrds) (It’s 1978 and Selective Service doesn’t even exist yet. But it’s graduation day and I can feel it coming.)
“Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly)
“Bring it on Home to Me” (Sam Cooke)
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” (Righteous Brothers)
“I Get Around” (Beach Boys)
“California Dreamin'” (Mamas & the Papas)
“Remember (Walking in the Sand)” (Shangri-Las)
“Refugee” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

THE NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHERS (Byrds)

“Pressure Drop” (Toots and the Maytals)
“Train in Vain” and “Death or Glory” (Clash)
” Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Can’t Stop the World” (Go-Go’s)

GREATEST HITS (Tanya Tucker–Columbia)

CHRONICLE (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

THE COMPLETE HOT FIVES AND SEVENS (Louis Armstrong) (Note: This is not the old Joker International vinyl box I have, but I couldn’t find an image of that one on the internet. The music is very much the same.)

“I Feel Like Going Home” (Charlie Rich)
“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue (Them)
“Listen to the Lion” (Van Morrison)

BICENTENNIAL NIGGER (Richard Pryor)

FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS (Elvis Presley)

HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED (Bob Dylan)

“Take It On The Run” (REO Speedwagon)
“Don’t Look Back” (Temptations)
“God Bless the Child” (Billie Holiday)
“I’m Not Like Everybody Else” (Kinks)

THE VINTAGE YEARS (Impressions)

TEN YEARS OF GOLD (Aretha Franklin)

“The Love I Saw In You (Was Just a Mirage)” (Smokey Robinson &
the Miracles)
“We Gotta Get Out of this Place” and “It’s My Life” (Animals)

DIRTY MIND (Prince)

“Alabama” (John Coltrane)
“Beneath the Blue Sky” (Go-Go’s)
“Born In the U.S.A.” (Bruce Springsteen)

TWO STEPS FROM THE BLUES (Bobby “Blue” Bland)

“Cold Sweat” (James Brown)

PARTY (Beach Boys)

FATHERS AND SONS (Various Artists–Gospel)

“Oliver’s Army” and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and
Understanding?” (Elvis Costello)
“Meet on the Ledge” (Fairport Convention)

THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG STORY VOLUME FOUR (Louis Armstrong)

“Rock and Roll Lullabye” (B.J. Thomas)
“Piece of My Heart” (Big Brother and the Holding Company)

BEST OF (Sam and Dave)

CHIRPIN’ (Persuasions) (My favorite album cover. The miracle was that the music inside lived up to it.)

DUSTY IN MEMPHIS (Dusty Springfield)

“Gee” (Crows) (Heard this for the first time on the radio when I was driving home from the hospital the week my mother died. Knew every word. Never have been able to remember the words ever since.)
“Papa Don’t Preach” and “Live to Tell” (Madonna)
“Never Again” (Shangri-Las)
“This Time” and “Walk Away” (House of Schock)
“Buffalo Stance” (Neneh Cherry)
“Gimme Shelter” (Rolling Stones)
“Strange Fruit” (Billie Holiday)
” Money Changes Everything” (Cyndi Lauper)

ROOTS (Everly Brothers)

THE “KING” KONG COMPILATION (Various Artists–Reggae)

BELLE (Al Green)

“Lost Highway” (Hank Williams, Sr.)

17 GREATEST HITS (Five Royales) (Still the best way to get used to them before you try to take it on all at once.)

“Turn the Beat Around” (Vicki Sue Robinson–12″ version) (Back around the turn of the millenia, I once heard a youngish black rock critic make an argument for the seventies being better than the sixties by saying “Vicki Sue Robinson.” That was his entire argument. He didn’t even have to name the record and he looked at the rest of the panel like they would have to be pure idiots to even contest the point. None of them did. And I kind of know why.)

GREATEST HITS (War) (I don’t know if the seventies were better than the sixties or, for that matter, the fifties. I wouldn’t want to do without any of them. But this is the purest, deepest soundtrack of the seventies. That I do know.)

RADIO CITY (Big Star) (Unless maybe this is.)

“Rank Stranger” (Stanley Brothers)
“One Night Stand” (Janis Joplin)
“The Message” (Grandmaster Flash)
“Maybe It Was Memphis” (Pam Tillis)
“Midnight Train to Georgia” (Gladys Knight and the Pips)
“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” (Santa Esmerelda–12″ version)

BEST OF 1956-1980 (Brenda Lee) (One of these days I’ll write at length about how mind-blowing it was to finally sit down and listen to her all at once. I’ve been saying I would do this for five years now. Maybe this will be the year. I hope so, because I won’t be complete until I get it out of me.)

“Runnin’ With The Devil” (Van Halen)
“God Will” (Patty Loveless)
“Copperhead Road” (Steve Earle)
“Ghetto Bastard (Everything’s Gonna’ Be Alright)” (Naughty by Nature) (“How I’m gonna make it? I won’t, that’s how.” Timelier by the year. Goodbye us.)
“Masters of Revenge” (Body Count)
“Don’t Leave Me This Way” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes)
“Stay With Me” (Lorraine Ellison) (Too cute, I know, coming right after the one above. But it happened that way in my head. Just like that. Really. I swear by the blood below my feet.)
“There’s Something I’ve Got to Tell You” (Glenda Collins)
“I’m Gonna’ Be Strong” (Cyndi Lauper)
“Paradise City” (Guns N’ Roses)
“All Along The Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix Experience)
“For What It’s Worth” (Buffalo Springfield)
“One” (U2)
“Ohio” (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
“Wish You Were Here” (Pink Floyd)

RUMOURS (Fleetwood Mac) (Timelier by the year. Goodbye us.)

“Angie” (Rolling Stones)
“The Ballad of Curtis Loew” (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
“Roll Um Easy” (Linda Ronstadt)

PRETENDERS

and LEARNING TO CRAWL (Pretenders)

“They Don’t Know” (Tracey Ullman)
“Rock Me on the Water” (Linda Ronstadt)
“Shame” (Evelyn “Champagne” King–12″ version)
“Wake Up Everybody” (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes–12″ version)

YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN–Soundtrack (Doris Day with Harry James)

“Nottamun Town” (Fairport Convention)
“Trapped” (Jimmy Cliff)
“Where I’m Bound” (Patty Loveless)
“Brown Sugar” (Rolling Stones)
“Daisy Chain” (Go-Go’s)
“Go Where You Wanna Go” and “Safe In My Garden” (Mamas & the Papas)

That’s the journey thus far. I note that the distance from “Go Where You Wanna Go” to “Safe In My Garden” is roughly equal to the distance from “Downtown” to “500 Miles.” Maybe we just move in circles after all. Stay in our circumscribed round places so to speak.

Now, should I play that one song I mentioned?

Sure. Why not? Believe me, without it there would be no list. Because without it, even if by some miracle I was still here, there would still be no me. Have to write about that some day, too.

Can’t wait for the New Year.

Let’s hope it’s a good one, fear and all.