The American Renaissance

Baja Canada del Sur: Comedy and Comment in the Age of Occupation

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Location: Little Rock, Arkansas

found done in needlepoint on Mel's Front Porch: I Pledge Alligence to the Constitution of the United States of America. And to the Republic for which it guarantees, One Nation, Undeniable, with Liberty, Truth, and Justice for All.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ah, geez, look at dis

I’ve been thinking of some of my personal heroes, and it’s an interesting Parthenon. There’s folks like Hunter S. Thompson, the epitome of an eccentric genius; I have a hard time seeing the word “swine” and not thinking of him fondly. I’m glad ESPN gave him a forum to express himself in two areas he felt passionately about, professional football and the joke that American public policy is, until Gonzo made the decision to leave this plane in disgust.

Someone else no longer with us is my man Bill Hicks. A rock-n-roll comic if there ever was one, Bill combined razor-sharp political and social observations with a delivery style that was part conversational, part pure raunch, and part what can only be decribed as a latter-day populist sermon. If you get a chance, I highly recommend his CD Arizona Bay, my personal favorite. For someone who died of cancer during Clinton’s first four years in office, much of what he had to say is still so valid and timely it is astonishing. Many of us consider him the patron saint of the Austin music and art circles; I know his rants have profoundly influenced my own thinking, my ability to communicate my views, the healthy, cynical anger I temper with humor, and the need to question authority vigorously. He is missed.

Some of my heroes are still around. God bless Ms. Molly Ivins – how can you not love a woman who gets fired from the New York Times for referring to a community chicken butcherin’ ‘n’ eatin’ festival as a “gang-pluck”? On top of that, she is an essayist that always puts a smile on the face, and not afraid to poke a few holes in the bluster of politicians across the spectrum, and herself as well. A true progressive, as well as an advocate of plain common sense, she reminds me of why I enjoy so many of my Southern compatriots who see beyond the way things are, and encourage us to work on making things better for all of us. I heartily agree with her sentiment that it’s not always easy to work against the ol’ boy system, but if you don’t always win, you might as well have fun trying. Hang in there, Molly. I know times are bleak, but there ain’t nothing but good times ahead.

Then there’s Willie Nelson, one of the daddies of Farm Aid. The man knows the difference between a family farm and Monsato, and the difference between marijuana and methamphetamine. And this is what he does in his spare time, after penning such classics as Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, and his own “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”. I have to share a personal story here; I’ve got a raggedy old brown bicycle I used to ride around Everett and Seattle somebody abandoned on the front porch one time. It’s just as ugly and funky as it can be, but I’ve had many folks I’ve ran into on the street tell me, honestly, “what a neat bike!” Seattle folk are like that. Anyway, I named it Trigger. So when anybody mentioned it I could explain it’s not named after Roy Rogers’ horse, but Willie Nelson’s guitar. It’s brown, it’s ugly, but it gets the job done. Never fails to get a grin. I love the Red-Headed Stranger; he has a unique talent for gently bringing together the Red folks and the Blue, probably because he doesn’t make a big deal of it, and lets the music do its work. That is what I call a genuine uniter.

In that vein, I can’t forget Jimmy Buffett, another of our elder spokesfolk from the guitar-plucking field. “Margaritaville” might have given him his fame, but the music he’s put out over the years also give us a good look at the balance we all need between relaxation and plain old hard work, and the value of both. Jimmy might have toned down some from his wild and wooly rockstar days, but if you read some of his books, there’s nothing wrong with his sense of adventure. I think if I ever get a chance to explore the Caribbean, it’s not going to be on a cruise ship; I’d rather hitch up with some old salty dog who’s got an ugly but seaworthy old boat, and knows where the real points of interest are…

Lest you think all my muses are Southern, I need to mention a few other folks I love. There’s Olbermann, who, like Hunter has done both sports and politics. Then there’s John Waters, with his weird view of his own Baltimore and the rest of the country at large he reinforces my love of the absurd. It’s just not Mother’s Day to me until I call my own Mama, talk and laugh with her for an hour or two, and then watch Serial Mom. My favorite rock band after the Beatles is the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which I consider one of the few good things to ever come out of Los Angeles, and I have a personal respect for Courtney Love. Yes, she is a mess. But she is a fearless mess, and there’s more than a little Janis there. Not to mention a little Tallulah.

One’s heroes, however, don’t always have to be real folks. There’s Don Quixote, tilting at his windmills, there’s Scarlett O’Hara, hard-bitten and self-centered, but tough enough to survive losing Rhett and Melly pretty much at the same time. I will NOT read the “sequel” to Gone With The Wind; I am a purist. Margaret Mitchell wrote one book, about not only a woman who went against the grain, but one that had strength. For all its PC flaws, there is a feminist element to it you won’t get by watching the movie…so to the critics, I say “Fiddle-dee-dee!”

Being comfortably agnostic, perhaps even Deist, I don’t know if such a person as Jesus of Nazereth ever actually existed, and I won’t even engage in an argument of divinity. But from the King James version, we have many tales of Jesus himself, and I do consider him a hero. Even if he might have been simply a slightly deluded fella who felt he was the Son of God, the stories of his life tell a story of a man who spoke out against the status quo, and insisted his followers exhibit their love of him and God by treating their fellows fairly. Maybe the message Jesus was talking about of getting to the Lord through him wasn’t about dogma; it was about the example he set of loving all peoples, and the universal theme that everlasting contentment is not found through accumulating power and money, but through the profound power of the human heart to love others. Jesus preached free will, but also community. That others would use and twist his legacy through the centuries doesn’t diminish it; it only confirms the wisdom.

I have a last group of heroes to talk about – from an old sit-com back in the Seventies. I absolutely love the Bunkers. Thank you, Norman Lear, for bringing us Archie, Edith, Gloria, and the meathead Mike. I love all those great characters, brought to us through a wonderful cast, for making us all laugh at ourselves. If you paid attention, you realized that the Dingbat was actually wise, the spoilt daddy’s girl was thoughtful, and Archie and Mike were at each other’s throats constantly because they were both two sides of the same coin. Then you had the young folks thinking they actually understood reality better than their elders. Were they “dysfunctional”? Yes, and wonderfully so. A better example of the American family is hard to find, and we can all relate. Because at the end of the day, they all did love one another.

As I get older, I see so many families in my personal life pulling themselves apart, whether over money, or personal issues, or whatever. The American public itself is polarizing over issues of right and wrong, and it seems to me a lot of it is simply the fact we’re all so caught up in trying to provide for me and myself that we’ve forgotten ours and everybody. We need crotchety old Archie as much as we need idealistic Mike, and thank God we’ve got Mom Edith and baby girl Gloria to remind us that there are other things to think of but ourselves.

I’ve looked back over this list of heroes, and I’m rather happy. None of them are perfect, and few pretend to be so. I look to them for inspiration because they all have one thing in common; they all represent the ideals I respect of being aggravated with what is, and striving for what might be. The Constitution speaks of providing for the general welfare and creating a more perfect union, and for me, that’s what being an American is.

Freedom IS free; justice takes work. And tyranny only happens when good folks let it. We do have some work to do. And heroes push envelopes.


Anonymous D.K. Raed said...

I love this list of heroes, mel! 'course I can never get enough HST (RIP Gonzo).

All in the Family was a staple around our house. At first, I found Archie Bunker hard to bear until I read that Carroll O'Connor was the exact opposite in real life. Then I got it.

I wasn't familiar with Bill Hicks, but laughed all day reading some of his lines on wikipedia, wikiquote, esp his no-joke advice to marketers & advertisers.

And from that first Ed Sullivan show, where I edged so close to the TV I think I sustained brain damage, I was such a Beatles fan that for a long time I felt disloyal if I even liked any other music!

For myself, I'd add JFK, RFK, RFKjr, Gore Vidal, Cesar Chavez ... aaah, the list is long & it makes me feel good to think the world hasn't gotten so bad as to remove capacity for people like this to provide inspiration. ~~ D.K.

8:44 PM  
Blogger azgoddess said...

CLAP CLAP CLAP - execellent post!!

and a bit more about Willie:

he's the reason i went out and bought a diesel...and fill it with bio-diesel!!

10:31 AM  
Blogger dada said...

Wow--thanks Mel. Another great post. I really appreciate the effort you put into your blogs. And this particular one gives us insight to "who" and "why", those significant influences we all have that help make us who we are.

Thanks for your personal insights into the "why" of "who" -- another chapter in the book in which you write a new page each day. And thanks for helping me to remember some very good people.

5:32 AM  
Anonymous D.K. Raed said...

aww, geeez, i just noticed your title/headline is in archie bunker's voice! that must make me a dingbat or a meathead. ~~ D.K.

5:41 PM  
Blogger meldonna said...

Hey, Deke!

Not recognizing that title may simply mean you're not from Queens...

I'll have to check out what the wikis have on Bill; his extended views on the "reason the L.A. riots happened" never fails to leave me in stitches.

Nice note on the Beatles, too. I was a second-wave fan (I was not quite a year old during that first Sullivan appeareance) in that little revival in the mid-seventies. Being born ten years too late didn't keep me from refusing to leave the house without a Beatles t-shirt on or, heaven forbid, allowing someone to change the station during a Beatles tune or appearance. Ah, to be young again, if only for that kind of semi-superstitious enthusiasm!

And forgive me for steering away from some of the more obvious folks on the political/world stage; I was trying to keep it personal, and was already running long! If I'd gotten started on the Kennedys, Gandi, et al, chances are I'd still be typing. There are so many.

Good for you, AZ -- but I got to ask if your car smells like a french fry from time to time (smile). Personally, I prefer the smell of bioexhaust to the normal sort anyway, so you just keep trucking on, my sister.

Dada, I like that idea of a book - just wondering how one would go about it. The strenght of this blog has always been the comments, not necessarily the posts, and many times they tie into others' blogs. But that's a hell of a compliment, my man, and I truly appreciate it.

5:17 AM  
Anonymous D.K. Raed said...

you can see Bill Hicks bio on wikipedia. But to read some of his great routines, look at

I read he died of pancreatic cancer. That's what got my grandpa. It's a tough one, almost no one makes it through that. Hereditary, too, so I worry.

And yes! Sacreligious to change the station during a Beatles tune! You're right, there did seem to be some superstitious element there. I still can't pass up any tv special or retrospective about them. The years fall away & I'm right back there, in that time. ~~ D.K.

12:26 PM  

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