Thursday, October 28, 2004


It's all connected ...that outburst yesterday over the state of the nation's psyche -- the wild charges of national madness ... .

Woke in the night and lay still while the dots connected behind my eyes in the dark.

It's the old Saints/Sinners Syndrome.

I know that we (human animals) are capable of good and evil as witnessed by those periods in history when we gathered in a carnival atmosphere to watch young "witches" of Salem being burned at the stake. Those black periods when families picnicked in the shadows of great trees in the town plazas of the south while black men were tortured and castrated before being torched alive!

I remember the stories told by my grandfather, Papa George, about how black men would be chased down, forced to kneel, head to ground, then hog-tied -- wrists to ankles -- and Klansmen jumping on their backs until the ribs were crushed -- and then tossing their near dead bodies into rivers to (mercifully) drown in the rapids.

There were many stories recited absently while this very young granddaughter weeded beside him in the vegetable garden or gathered in the melons or stringbeans for the table. Papa often sang fragments of field songs as we worked together in the warm sun. I'm not sure that he ever intended to share these horrific tales, but in his memory bank was the picture of his younger brother, Leonard, who escaped to Kansas City never to return. It was after a Klansman was shot and killed under circumstances my child's mind either never understood, or, wasn't prepared to receive in detail. He often droned on with happy tales -- always with the wicked wink of an eye. There was the usual chaw of tobaccco being rolled around the words -- then the p'tooey! Every now and then his voice would lower indicating some truth-telling -- and remembered wrenching pain that I was not yet ready to receive or comprehend, but that nonetheless became a part of my being along with Edna St. Vincent Millay and James Whitcomb Riley. Only I was always aware of the specialness of those stories and tucked them away until they erupted in full color during the Sixties and spilled from my music fullblown.

None of it was lost. All of those times shared with Papa laid the groundwork for the restless and socially responsible adult that I was to become. Wish he could have known how much of his life and times crept into my being -- to fortify me against the cruelties that lay many years ahead. During those troubling days of transition in the suburbs of the Fifties and Sixties, I was often angry. Hurt. Outraged. But, blessedly, rarely was I surprised.

I did finger my way through old files last night before climbing into bed -- and re-discovered a song that I can't remember ever performing. It was too disturbing. A kind of "Strange Fruit." Also noted that it bears the stamp of Malvina Reynolds' Schroeder Music Publishing Co. Forgot about that friendship so long ago.

The short song was written all-of-a-piece during the search for the three Mississippi civil rights workers during Freedom Summer, 1964. The search had gone on for weeks. Their riddled bodies were eventually found buried in a landfill; two young Jews and an African American. Students who gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

I thought of them as the "Black Logs" of Papa George's horror stories. That may have been the first time I'd realized that those weren't simply folk tales I'd been given, but evidence of the criminal brutality we were capable of as a people. After all, Papa was the son of a slave and witness to that awful history:

Black Log

Black log driftin' down de bayou in de mawnin'
limbs a'draggin' 'gainst duh willow
Black log floatin' down de bayou in de mawnin'
now it's sun-up Owl must leave you
time to fin' his mossy pillow.
Bullfrog croakin' out his grievin' from dis strange lily-pad
three-fingered, twisted, lily pad.

Noontime, comes de rivah 'roun the levee ...
Boy heah fishin' fo his suppah time
Caught one! 'tain't nuthin' but a black log.

Black log rushin' down de rivah in de evenin'
Log cain't see de evenin' free, log and me -- in de rivah, no retrievin'

Comes de sea now...
here's de open sea now ...


Too late ...

(copyright 1965)

In the night I realized that the deep fear and near hysteria I've been gripped by was aggravated by what I was seeing on television. The America that is cheerleading this low-level sex and violence-driven reality genre we're seeing is capable of the most evil realities of our history; right from the tales of this country's youth. Have you seen D.W. Griffiths' "Birth of a Nation"? Rent a copy if only out of morbid curiosity. But I would hope that it was more than that; a need to know in order to not have to re-live.

It's as if we've been primed to accept the grossest kinds of assaults on the heart and soul; been de-sensitized to cruelty and debased by the media over decades to a level where even Abu Graib and the abandonment of the Geneva Accords is tacitly agreed to by a public no longer in control of its moral compass. Have we become the "good Germans" to the rest of the world?

My fear that we've lost our way and that THIS de-sensitized public is capable of choosing as its leader one who exemplifies the least of what we are. THIS degraded and dumbed-down public is capable of extending the reign of this regime into another term of office during which time all branches of governance will be downgraded and disempowered. The courts are already effected and the promise of further degradation is perhaps less than a week away as at least one justice steps down. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are being shredded day-by-day by policies that the Congress is rarely allowed to weigh in on. Most power is being wielded by an Executive Branch out of control.

Small wonder that I'm relatively sleepless these days and nights...

Would love to slip out of town and hide until it's all over ...

And, yes, I do believe that THIS America is capable of returning these people to power despite the towering national debt, the horrors being wrought in our names overseas, and an unprecendented transfer of wealth that threatens the social order.

Or, will the balancing part of the electorate rise to prevent the mounting chaos? Will the pendulum begin its swing in time to save us from ourselves? This has been the magic of our system -- this cyclical swinging from Left to Right, Liberal to Conservative, Good to Evil, and back. Maybe we've run out of the energy needed to empower the loyal opposition. Maybe not.

I truly don't know... .

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