Shouldn’t Orwell or Huxley Warned Us about This?

Bryce Hall, Tic-Tok and YouTube Super Celebrity (Gimme a D, gimme a U, gimme an H)

Last Friday, I attended homecoming at the high school where I had taught for thirty-four years. The stadium wasn’t crowded, which suited Caroline and me, given the pandemic. We stood on the perimeter of the field chatting with a couple of moms behind a fence near the goal line when a sudden din distracted us. A swarm of middle schoolers scuttled past with phones held aloft.

Some celebrity, it seemed, had entered the stadium. I figured it must be Kris Middleton, an NBA all-star alum. The squealing commotion reminded me of Beatlemania, and it surprised me that Middleton’s presence would generate so much enthusiasm. The scrum, which had swarmed past a moment ago, now stumbled en masse slowly in the opposite direction with a tall, unsmiling beefy black man in its center. 

As it turned out, he was Bryce Hall’s bodyguard. 

Bryce Hall was in the house! The Bryce Hall![1]

His coming [archaic usage warning] was telegraphed via Tik-Tok, his arrival announced on Tic-Tok. Eventually, the melee settled down on our end of the field, and for a half hour or so, Bryce roamed the homefield sidelines of the stadium. I think he left before halftime, prior to the coronation of the homecoming queen.[2]

As it turns out, Bryce is a Tik-Tok and YouTube celebrity with umpteen-K followers.[3] When I got home, I ascended the stairs to my drafty garret and conjured on my desktop commuter a ten-minute video of Bryce and his pals and a then subjected myself to a couple of his Tic-Toks. 

Look, I have nothing against Bryce – he seems amiable enough – but over the course of that YouTube video, I decided that if I were in my early twenties, these wanna-be cats wouldn’t be hanging out in my seedy apartments. They be vacuous, mon, overly ironic in the boring contemporary unwitty way that un-spleenful cynics are ironic, as a force of habit, not conviction, trafficking in cynicism lite, if you will. In the video, they bragged about quantities of Ks and performed cannonballs in a pool overlooking a canyon. I didn’t dislike them but found them boring and wondered how such unremarkable fellows could garner so much adulation, not to mention, I’m assuming, hundreds of thousands of dollars. 


In 1977, I read a just-released book by Christopher Lasch called Cultural Narcissism, which received megatons of media attention after President Carter read it and accused the nation of suffering from a “moral malaise.”  

I have no idea what happened to my copy, so I can’t quote directly, but I clearly remember Lasch’s writing about the narcissistic individuals’ compulsion to appear on national television during football games, the desire of having CBS’s cameras focusing on them, zooming in, flashing their images around the world live (hence the attention-grabbing frat-boy war paint in Gainesville and in Green Bay middle-aged men dressed up like cheese). Lasch argued that being on live TV authenticated their being, underscored their reality.

The same thing might be said for people seeking proximity to celebrity. If you’re near a celebrity, sharing the same space, your status rises, the large number of “likes” the celebrity photo generates on your social media platforms validates your existence.

The more the merrier.

I see a similar phenomenon on Twitter, people groveling for followers, some going so far as announcing publicly mere minutes after loved ones have died how “broken they are” so they can amass “likes” and sympathetic comments.

What’s odd, though, is that one of my stepdaughter’s sleepover friends told me that “no one likes” Bryce, that, in fact, everyone hates him, though she herself admitted to being part of the mob that tried to get as close to him as possible.

It’s as if that in late capitalism that self-worth is a commodity that must be amassed, counted, verified, and broadcast. 

In fact, I’m guilty of it as well.

the scowling author basking in his 15 nanoseconds of fame in Bryce’s YouTube video (hat tip Lucy Freeman)

[1] Whoever that is.

[2] This raises the question: did the opposing team’s teens from Pinewood Prep know of Bryce’s presence? And if they, did they come over to our side to bask in his glow? 

[3] Given my status as “tattered coat upon a stick,” you can bet your very last bitcoin I ain’t bothering to look it up.

A Not Fervent Hypocritical Plea

Listen, when I was young, I was reckless. Just ask my dead mother who in a Biloxi, Mississippi beach cottage circa 1956 scraped me screaming off a hardwood floor after I had leapt Lone-Ranger-like from the top of my chest-of-drawers onto a rocking horse that catapulted me face first splat. 

Ask Joey Brown, whose Toyota I totaled in Hilton Head on a roundabout in August of 1976.

Or ask Jacob T. Williams II who two years later rode shotgun as I drove my MG Midget down a capital city sidewalk and made an ill-fated left down steps into a parking garage whose bottom floor housed the Campus Police of the University of South Carolina.[1]

Given that regrettable history, you might think I’d grant slack to others who foolishly throw caution to the salt breeze of Folly Beach, yet, this afternoon, as I walked home from Chico Feo on East Erie, my tongue cluck-clucked as I espied[2] a family of conservative-looking folks[3] barreling past in a golf cart with a grandmother teetering on the back seat clutching a squirming child no more than six months old. 

Yes, that’s foolish, I was foolish, but is it any of my business?

No, it’s not. They, though Darwinianly dense, weren’t endangering anyone but themselves (and their progeny), The odds were pretty good they’d get where they were going without a distracted texter, blind-as-a-bat octogenarian, or meth-crazed speed demon smashing into them.[4]

No, it’s none of my business.

On the other hand, reckless people who refuse to get vaccinated or wear masks indoors in close quarters are everyone’s business. Their refusal, whether prompted by political lobotomization, laziness, and/or unscientific paranoia, has allowed the virus to mutate.[5]. The needless continuance of contagion dampens sparks, snuffs out fun. Twice now, my 50th highschool reunion has been postponed – that and 1 out of 500 Americans has died of COVID according to the Washington Post.

So, c’mon people now, smile on your brother [and sister].

Everybody get together and get a vaccine right now.[6]

Right now.

Right how. 

Because if you roll the dice often enough, you gonna come up snake eyes. 


Here’s Rickie Lee doing “The Horses”

Rickie Lee Jones performs on Saturday Night Live in 1982, the year after she released her second album, Pirates.</e

[1] This little lark cost me a reckless driving conviction, 200 dollars, and six points off my license, not to mention a significant elevation of my insurance rates, but as Rickie Lee Jones so eloquently put it in her best song “The Horses,” “when I was young, I was a wild, wild one.”

[2] You know any writer who uses the verb “espied” has one foot in the ditch of dementia. 

[3] And I don’t mean by “conservative” MAGA-hat-wearing gun-toting cretins but regular-looking Jesus-believing white Southerners.

[4]  However, two blocks west of where I saw the golf cart stands a marker commemorating the spot where someone named Mark Riedel was killed by someone who ran a stop sign.

[5] The bad good news is that it seems that COVID has taken out a disproportionate number of rightwing radio personalities, which is okay with me.

[6] Of course, the odds of a vaccine holdout reading this blog are less than the University of South Carolina Gamecocks going undefeated this season. 

Welcome Guest Blogger, Edward Lee-Edward Edwards IV

Edward Lee-Edward Edwards IV

Hello, Hoodoo readers. Today I’m honored to introduce guest blogger Edward Lee-Edward Edwards IV, the distinguished Henry James Professor of Locution at Vanderbilt University. Professor Edwards holds many provocative viewpoints that no doubt would shock (and perhaps dismay you) if you could only figure out what in the hell he’s trying to get at.

So, without any further ado . . . 

A Confession

I need to phrase delicately the following to soften (i.e., to obscure) with carefully selected Latinate diction and syntax rife with interruptive asides, to soften, as I say, the impact of an opinion that I hold that is anathema to Christian charity, i.e., to common human decency.

To wit: whenever I run across an account (which happens more frequently than you might imagine) of an illiberal rightwing radio personality[1] who had broadcast misinformation about the Covid-19 virus, e.g., that masks and vaccinations are ineffective, that vaccinations result in sci-fi-grade side effects such as epidermal magnification, or that other non-approved veterinary drugs such as Ivermectin can successfully treat the malady, and discover, as I read these accounts, that the said radio personality has succumbed to Covid, instead of dismay, a warm, pleasant feeling of schadenfreude washes over me until I realize that, oh no, dullards will perceive the deceased radio personality’s flaunting of COVID protocols and then dying of the disease as ironic when in fact his contracting the disease is just what one would expect, i.e., the antithesis of irony!

Edward Lee-Edward Edwards IV

Way Yonder East in the Land of Tora Bora

Yesterday, the former President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump, issued a proclamation decrying the removal of a statue in Richmond, Virginia, of the famed Confederate General Robert Edward Lee.[2] After lauding the statue’s aesthetic attributes and lamenting its being “cut into three pieces […] prior to its complete desecration,” the former President muses that “[i]f only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don’t have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!”

I won’t beleaguer my readers with an interminable recapitulation of the abject failure of Western Invaders’ attempts over the centuries (commencing with Alexander the Great) to subdue the Afghan people or to argue that perhaps the removal of the statue had more to do with Great Uncle General Lee’s status as slaveowner and insurrectionist than it did with his military genius nor point out that Trump’s claim that Lee was indeed a military genius is, in fact, not universally shared by historians[3], but rather, I’d like to acknowledge the amusement Trump’s statement provided me as I visualized the Army of Northern Virginia clashing with the Taliban in Tora Bora or in the streets of Kabul. 

At any rate, few pleasures are possible for a man of my advanced age, gout-ridden, suffering from vertigo, etc., so I doff my hat to President Trump for the that wry smile that creased my age-etched visage.


So that’s it for today. Kudos and thanks to Professor Edwards. We’d love to invite you back sometime. You certainly have a way with words!


[1] I concede “illiberal rightwing radio host” may be a tautology, i.e., redundant, like the explanation in this footnote itself.

[2] For the sake of full disclosure, General Lee was a great-great-great-uncle of mine, i.e., I’m a distant relative. 

[3] There is, however, a consensus among historians that Lee was the losing general in the Civil War.

My Sweet Tooth Says I Wanna, But My Wisdom Tooth Says No

Jamaican reggae musician, singer and producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry performs at Poppodium De Flux, Zaandam, Netherlands, 8th April 2018. (Photo by Paul Bergen/Redferns)

Here’s what I’m not going to write about today:

Not about the Murdaughs of Colleton County whose family drama has entered the terrain of Greek tragedy, a once proud House suffering a Faulknerian fall akin to the Compsons’ collapse.

The Murdaugh saga commenced with drunken redheaded USC junior Paul Murdaugh crashing his boat and killing a passenger, followed by his and mother’s murder, their bodies discovered by father/husband Alex at the family hunting lodge. This weekend as Alex changed a tire on a country road, a bullet allegedly fired from a truck grazed his head. On Labor Day, he checked himself into rehab after resigning from his law firm amid accusations of missing millions. We’re talking two mini-series worth of real life Southern gothic mayhem that out-Outer-Banks Outer Banks.

Have at it, Netflix screenwriters. I’ve got better things not to do.

Not about Fletcher Henderson, underappreciated, who transformed Dixieland into Swing, led a big band that employed the likes of Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, a band that provided the soundtracks for the Harlem Renaissance and Terrytoon animated shorts.

Fletcher Henderson

Not about Gandy Goose cartoons, an LSD substitute for tots, Gandy and pal Sour Puss bopping along, the jazz soundscape providing syncopation for the herky jerky action of the animation, often dream sequences with metamorphoses galore. BTW, Gandy Goose and Sour Puss sound as if they could be a Jamaican Dance Hall duo a la Yellowman and Fathead.

Not about Dub Shaman Scratch Perry, Reggae producer extraordinaire, mentor to Bob Marley, Scratch ping-ponging in the studio from synthesizer to guitar to drums in a creative dance that makes music rather than the music making the dance. An incredibly important figure in 20th century music that virtually no one has heard of.

Not about cherubic grandson Julian Levi Moore who just celebrated his two-month birthday.

So, that’s it. What are you not writing about today?

Down Their Carved Names

Hardy and his second wife Florence

On a clear March afternoon in 1977 after we had decided to get married, I remember riding shotgun in Judy Birdsong’s gold-flecked Camaro headed over the Gervais Street Bridge in Columbia, South Carolina, and thinking to myself as I watched her hair fluttering in the open window wind, “Oh no, in twenty-five years she very well may be dead.”[1]

A fairly morbid thought for a twenty-four-year-old, but it runs in the family.

And, um, duh, every organism, whether it be goldfish, hamster, kitty cat, or puppy dog– not to mention house plants and patches of Saint Augustine – is doomed to die. Healthy people repress the thought or look forward to an afterlife or rationalize that there could be no genetic diversity without death or like Wallace Stevens hail death “the mother of beauty.”

Not Thomas Hardy. For him, death is ever-present, lurking in even the most pleasant of settings. Here’s a poem he wrote shortly after his first wife Emma’s death.

During Wind and Rain

They sing their dearest songs— 

       He, she, all of them—yea, 

       Treble and tenor and bass, 

            And one to play; 

      With the candles mooning each face. . . . 

            Ah, no; the years O! 

How the sick leaves reel down in throngs! 


They clear the creeping moss— 

       Elders and juniors—aye, 

       Making the pathways neat 

            And the garden gay; 

       And they build a shady seat. . . . 

            Ah, no; the years, the years, 

See, the white storm-birds wing across. 


They are blithely breakfasting all— 

       Men and maidens—yea, 

       Under the summer tree, 

            With a glimpse of the bay, 

       While pet fowl come to the knee. . . . 

            Ah, no; the years O! 

And the rotten rose is ript from the wall. 


They change to a high new house, 

       He, she, all of them—aye, 

       Clocks and carpets and chairs 

          On the lawn all day, 

       And brightest things that are theirs. . . . 

          Ah, no; the years, the years; 

Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

These lives aren’t “solitary, nasty, brutish and short” but rather pleasant. In fact, the first five lines of each stanza are positive, describe harmonious family gatherings. However, each stanza ends in a refrain that foreshadows what Andrew Marvel called “deserts of vast eternity.”

The critic John Foy describes the poem’s structure as “double-looking,” pointing “to both life and oblivion.”

“This rhetorical pattern, replicated in all four stanzas, contains two thematic perspectives, where the first five lines point one way and the last two point another.  It acknowledges Hardy’s understanding of the terrible duality inherent in the nature of things.  We are here for a while, and then we are gone.  In his stanza, the heedlessness and the impending dissolution don’t cancel each other out.  They exist together in tragic equipoise, five lines to life, two lines to dissolution, bound together by the structure”.

            John Foy, “Form as Moral Content in Thomas Hardy’s ‘During Wind and Rain’”

To love a poem doesn’t mean you have to embrace the poem’s theme. For example, although I’m not a Christian, I’d haul Paradise Lost with me to the proverbial desert island (or on a spacecraft headed to Mars). Despite that sudden morbid thought in 1977, I haven’t spent my life brooding over its inevitable end. In fact, I’m fine with oblivion, didn’t mind at all my pre-existence, yet I really love Hardy’s poem, especially its last line, the music of it, the three accented final words and the image of a raindrop like a tear running down a name carved in stone.

And, as it turned out, Hardy remarried a woman named Florence Dugdale who wrote to a friend, “Perhaps you have read, if you have the English papers, that I am now the proud and very happy wife of the greatest living English writer – Thomas Hardy. Although he is much older than myself it is a genuine love match – on my part, at least, for I suppose I ought not to speak for him. At any rate I know I have for a husband one of the kindest, most humane men in the world.”

A happy ending of sorts for Hardy, a rarity in his works.

[1] Actually, it was 40 years later that she died.

Escaping Escapism: So Long, Outer Banks, Adieu!

hat tip to David Connor Jones for illustration idea

Alas, Caroline and I have pulled the plug on Outer Banks. There’s just so much implausibility (in my case) a sixty-eight-year-old pandemic dodging codger can take. 

For example, in the penultimate episode of Season One, John B’s 70s model VW minibus overtakes a twin-engine plane on a runway, pulls in front of it, bringing the aircraft to a screeching halt. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, bulldogs, and babies, I have owned two VW minibuses. When I drove my more recent one from St. Simon’s Island up I-95 to Folly Beach, my late wife Judy drove behind me in her Highlander with its flashers strobing because whenever I went over an overpass, the straining rear-mounted air-cooled four-cylinder engine’s speed would drop to 40 mph, the minimum legal speed.[1] The fact that John B’s bus starts every time is incredible enough, but outracing a plane on a runway?

But, hey, I get it. This is escapist TV, the equivalent of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” where good and evil are unambiguous and comic relief non-existent. But still, I mean what lame-brained sheriff goes to arrest a powerful developer with a planeload of gold without back-up? I mean, the Outer Banks Police Department makes the Keystone Kops look like IMF from Mission Impossible. Speaking of escape-ism, in episode after episode our GED-less heroes find themselves surrounded yet somehow manage to evade capture, thanks in part to their Flash-like superhuman sprint speed and stamina. 

And the fights! I’ve been in a couple of fistfights in my youth and witnessed a few more, and I’m here to tell you that they never last more than a minute once a punch is landed. These cats in Outer Banks dole out and receive blows that would result in brain damage for mere mortals yet spew no blood. I’ve bled more profusely from a shaving nick than Rafe did after he and his dealer received a world-class ass kicking at the hands of JJ and Pope. 

It’s gotten so bad that now I’m wishing harm to the protagonists. Their stock expressions have gotten old ­– John B’s perpetual puzzlement, Kiara’s constant worried scowl, Rafe’s howler monkey stress screams. “

So, as King Claudius says, “And where the offense is let the great ax fall.”

My only regret is I’m not going to see my pal and fellow Folly resident Nick Thomas cast as a Kook in a later Season Two episode. I mean, even that seems bogus. Nick a Kook? No way, Jose. Nick should be a Progue, dammit.

[1] BTW, I’ve only witnessed one driver going forty on an interstate. It was a drunken woman in a convertible meandering from lane to lane about nine o’clock in the morning. She looked like an ancient Gloria Swanson with a smile on her face, her sunglasses glinting, her boa streaming behind. 

Wesley’s One Hit Hall of Fame

For whatever reason, the ol’ cerebral jukebox this morning had the 1966 novelty hit “Winchester Cathedral” playing in my head. Chances are you’ve never heard this New Vaudeville Band tune even though it won the Grammy for Best Contemporary R and R song that year (despite not being a rock-n-roll song). It features someone named John Carter singing through cupped hands a la Rudy Vallée singing though a megaphone.[1] On December 6th it displaced the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” as the number one song in the US. Believe me, I’d much rather have “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” stuck on replay on the ol’ cerebral jukebox. “Winchester Cathedral” is inane, irritating, obviously catchy, or otherwise it wouldn’t be lying dormant in my unconscious for fifty-five years.

The tune got me thinking about one-hit wonders, those special songs that for whatever reason memed[2] their way into becoming mega hits, songs like “The Monster Mash,” “Snoopy and the Red Baron,” “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas.”[3] However, not all one-hit wonders are novelty songs. In fact, some of my favorite pop songs are one-hit wonders. Here be my top five, not necessarily in order of preference.

“96 Tears” (? and the Mysterians)

 “96 Tears” might be the grandaddy of all garage band hits, and some say (according to Wikipedia) that it played a role in the genesis of punk rock. I don’t know about that, but Springsteen has covered it, which speaks volumes.  It also came out in 1966, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

“Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” (The Swinging Medallions)

Although written by Don Smith and Cyril Vetter and first recorded by Dick Holler and the Holidays in 1963, it’s the South Carolina Beach Band The Swingin’ Medallions who made it a hit in ­– yes, you’ve guessed it – in 1966.  Damn, what an infectious, party hoot, and ladies and gentlemen, I actually heard Springsteen cover it live in 2008 at the North Charleston Coliseum. In fact, the Boss opened the show with it, hollering something like “How’ bout some Beach Music?”

“A Lighter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harem)

This moody, somewhat surreal, 1967 song provided an apt soundtrack for my doomed infatuation with fellow freshman Francine Light. I can see her now, standing across the cafeteria in her green tartan skirt and matching knee socks. O, woe was me!

Walk Away Renée” (The Left Banke)

When I began this little project, I had no idea that four of these favs were recorded with in a year of each other. This sad love song made it to number 5 on US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Despite its lush orchestration, flute, and harpsichord, I still sort dig it after all these years, not so much for its music but because of the memories it evokes.

“Wipe Out” (The Sufaris)

This is for my money the quintessential surf song, released in 1963 and covered by every garage band in my hometown of Summerville, SC, including The Marijuana Brass, an instrumental brass band modeled on Herb Albert. 

A couple of observations. Three of the five feature organs (a harpsichord doesn’t count) and all were recorded about the same time during my junior high days. Of course, there have been subsequent one-hit wonders I’ve enjoyed like “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.”  Oh, yeah, and “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and “Sweet Soul Music” by Arthur Conley beat the hell out of my top five, but I don’t care. 

Maybe hormonal imbalance played a role. Anyway, this exercise has effectively effaced “Winchester Cathedral” from its seemingly never-ending loop, and for that I’m very thankful.

[1] Chances are you’ve also never heard of  Rudy Vallée, Chances are, however, you’ve heard of Frank Sinatra, who covered it on his 1966 album That’s Life. Go figure.

[2] Verb, to meme, to catch on culturally, from the noun meme, an element of culture “selected” by the masses because of its contagious appeal. (Forgive me, Richard Hawkins).

[3] “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas begins with these immortal words:

    Your red scarf matches your eyes.

    You closed your cover before striking.

    Father has the shipfitter’s blues.

    Loving you has made me bananas.

Outer Banks: A TV After School Special Riddled with “Holy Shits”

Verisimilitude isn’t the Netflix series Outer Banks’ strong suit.  For one thing, it doesn’t take place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, that chain of barrier islands and peninsulas jutting way out into the Atlantic, the most hurricane prone spot on the east coast behind Florida.

Much of the that area is windswept, rather barren, the main vegetation beach grasses.  In fact, Hatteras reminds me of the North Sea Scottish coast. However, the series is shot on and around the verdant barrier islands of the Lowcountry of South Carolina and in the city of Charleston. 

Nag’s Head, Outer Banks, from Our State magazine, photo credit, Ray Matthews

This discrepancy doesn’t bother me. I grew up watching The Lone Ranger where many outdoor scenes were produced in a sound studio with papier-mâché boulders and painted backdrops. If I had been born and raised in Pittsburg, I wouldn’t know the difference. After all, the show is fictional, a YA fantasy in which adolescents frolic and fight as they seek lost ante-bellum treasure. Still, it’s never a good thing when your suspension-of-disbelief Hindenburgs (yes, that’s a verb). 

In Outer Banks, implausibility intrudes rather too often for my censorious tastes; then again, its target audience is juveniles, so what should I expect? 

The series, a patchwork quilt of television and movie genres, features gang violence pitting the working class Pogues against the upper crust Kooks. Oddly enough, in Episode One, the slightly built, coke-snorting, Nordic-looking Kook Topper beats the shit out of John B, the Pogue protagonist, a waterman who is much more muscular and physically active than Topper. Picture David Bowie kicking Bono’s ass. 

Um, I don’t think so.

The show also has a Dirty Dozen thing going, you know, a group of character types forming a team to accomplish a mission, in this case locating a shipwreck that supposedly held 400 million in gold that once belonged to an ante-bellum freedman named Denmark Tanny (based very loosely on Denmark Vesey, the historical alleged architect of a foiled slave insurrection). 

Anyway, the Pogue team consists of John B, whose father has been lost at sea and whose mother is dead; JJ, the rebellious son of an abusive alcoholic; Kiara, an outlier, female and middle-class but nevertheless a Pogue; and Pope, a Black academic whiz kid who reminds me of the Greg Morris character from the TV show Mission Impossible. Despite being analytical, Pope can be talked into some pretty stupid shit, though, like scuttling Topper’s folks’ expensive power boat in broad daylight. The Pogues argue and scream at each other but eventually end up agreeing on a plan, which often means breaking a law or two.

Of course, you also have romance, quadrilateral entanglements in the case of John B and Kiara, John B and the Queen of the Kooks Sarah, and Sarah and Topper, who are going steady at the beginning of the series. Even though these teens party hearty, they are remarkably chaste, at least in the first season. Despite downing bucketsful of draft beer at wild ass keggers on the beach, throwing down liquor at soirees, ain’t much making out going on, much less intercourse. So far, I’d guess all the teenagers are virgins. They do employ vulgar language, however, “holy shit” being a favorite.

Adventure, i.e., suspense, is the show’s lifeblood, and although the setting is contemporary, the characters aren’t tethered to their cell phones, nor do the authorities make much use of surveillance cameras. Whenever the Pogues trespass, usually in broad daylight, they encounter antagonists who unsuccessfully chase them, given that the Pogues possess the stamina and speed of Olympian sprinters. For me, it gets rather tedious seeing the same scenarios playing out over and over in episode after episode. Violence is graphic and constant.

Also, the soundtrack is lame. Some Jimmy Cliff or Desmond Dekker would be nice. 

That said, I guess I’m enjoying watching. Unlike some shows, it’s not so wretched you pull for the bad guys. My wife Caroline (who coined the title of this piece) and I Mystery-Science-Theater (yes, that’s a verb) our way through it, making wisecracks at some of the inept acting and unlikely events. I know that writing serials is difficult (cf. the spectacular beginning of Twin Peaks versus its ignominious ending) so I shouldn’t be too harsh. And anyway, it’s fun encountering places you know, like the Charleston clothing shop Ben Silver and the Morris Island Lighthouse, which we can see from our living room window.  

photo credit, yours truly

The Late Nanci Griffith’s “Other Voices, Other Rooms”

The very best Christmas present I ever received from an in-law is Nanci Griffith’s masterpiece Other Voices, Other Rooms, a collection of covers from songwriters who influenced Griffith’s own music making. My sister-in-law Linda Birdsong gave it to me in 1994, saying she thought I’d enjoy it. Understatement of the century Clinton years.

I ended up purchasing ten or so more CDs to check out the work of some of the featured songwriters, which include Kate Wolf, Vince Bell, Townes Van Zandt, Frank Christian, Bob Dylan, John Prine, Ralph McTell, Tom Paxton, Woody Guthrie, Janis Ian, Gordon Lightfoot, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Malvina Reynolds and Harry Belafonte, just to name fourteen.

The magic begins with a cover of Kate Wolf’s “Across the Great Divide,” an incredibly beautiful composition that embodies concretely the passage of time in both terrestrial and temporal images.

Here are the first three verses, but I encourage to go to YouTube (who won’t allow me to embed a link) and check out a live version:

I’ve been walkin’ in my sleep
Countin’ troubles ‘stead of countin’ sheep
Where the years went I can’t say
I just turned around and they’ve gone away

I’ve been siftin’ through the layers
Of dusty books and faded papers
They tell a story I used to know
And it was one that happened so long ago

Although they’re all excellent, the next song that blows me away is the third cut, Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley,” a duet Nanci performs with the great Arlo Guthrie. 

Other personnel featured on the album include Dylan himself, who plays harmonica on “Boots of Spanish Leather” and Guy Clark on the Woody Guthrie’s “Do-Re-Mi.” Also, Emmylou Harris and Iris Dement are sprinkled about, and the final cut “Wimoweh” features Odetta, the Indigo Girls, John Prine, James Hooker, Holly and Barry Tashian, John Gorka, Dave Mallet, Jim Rooney, and Nanci’s father Marlin Griffith.

Demonstrating just how much of life is fraught with loss and longing, the overall mood is melancholic with “From Clare to Here” (featuring Peter Cummin), Jerry Jeff’s “Morning Song for Sally,” Michael Burton’s “Night Rider’s Lament,” and “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” (featuring John Prine who wrote the song).

Of course, Nanci produced an admirable body of work herself, and she’s certainly going to be missed. From everything I’ve read about her, she was a lovely person, generous, intelligent, somewhat scholarly.

Sad, sad, sad.

Feelings, Something More Than Feelings

As a new grandfather, I’ve been riffling through the poetic jukebox of my memory trying to find a poem that embodies this profound visceral love I feel for this squiggling, big-headed creature I’ve seen in videos and while facetiming.

No luck. I can only recall poems about children, like Linda Pastan’s minor masterpiece “To a Daughter Leaving Home”:

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving


And Peter Meinke’s “E-Mail from Tokyo,” which begins with this epigram from Philip Larkin:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.

And ends with these two stanzas:

I know what memory and poetry need: storm moon
dolphin eye strings of images strung like those kites
across a summer sky years ago the wind snapping
letters toward the sun Kiss me Dear one Stay safe Write soon

but in the end we can only cry your names sending
them skyward fragile and flammable affirming that
you’re ours (poor babies): Perrie Peter Gretchen and at
last thanking you for tomorrow’s letter Timothy

Since I couldn’t recall a grandchild poem from my memory, I turned to the internet and discovered, not surprisingly, grandchildren galore have been celebrated in verse, most of it along the lines of this:

I bought two new books for you today my sweet boy.
The Wizard of Oz and The Jungle Book should bring joy.

I’m very proud of how wonderfully you read.
As an English scholar, I know you will succeed.


So, unfortunately, I must rely on my own threadbare wit to try to express this feeling, which, of course, lends itself to cliché because it “wells up” and “warms” and “heartens.”

I’ve seen other grandparents in its throes, flashing photos, and found their enchantment genetically understandable, if a tad bit too precious, but here I am experiencing that very rapture, a love I’m incapable of embodying in images or syllables, in iambs or trochees.

All I can say is it’s really something.

Julian Levi Moore