Count Us Lucky : Loving Barry Crimmins

14 Nov
Barry Crimmins ,circa 2001 [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Barry Crimmins ,circa 2001 [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

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..I’m of the country that feel like I do…and that’s why I don’t give a shit about American Dreams…I mean that’s who I am. I’m of the country of raped little kids. I’m of the country of the fucking heart-broken. And of the screwed over and the desperate with-no-chance to be heard. That’s what country I’m from.

From Call Me Lucky

I’d like to think (and certainly hope) that if you have not been rendered brain dead by the relentless onslaught of horrible news(terrorist attacks, plagues, homicidal natural disasters, homicidal man-made disasters[plane crashes, train wrecks]the ongoing traveling Know Nothing Circus & Gong Show, mass shooting sprees and the like) you would be aware of Bob Goldwaite’s bio documentary Call Me Lucky—his well crafted and loving paean to social activist, anti papist, comedic samurai/sensei Barry Crimmins* (now streaming on Netflix)

As a expatriated Chicagoan, there has not been much that has gladdened my heart about having lived in the Boston area( my sense of the Golden Corridor is that is a cosmic psyche experiment)—so I count myself fortunate to have met a number of special people here— Barry Crimmins being one (Howard Zinn being one if the others). In addition to occasionally seeing Barry do a stand up act, I have been present for him acting as master of ceremony at events (such as when Rosa Parks was honored). Or performed for benefits such as Baseballs for Nicaragua.I recall driving out to the Peace Abbey in Sherborn MA on a snowy winter day, joining an intimate group of well wishers to honor (as shown in the film ) Maya Angelou and Barry with Howard Zinn articulating the reasons for the awards


Sara Larson usefully synopsizes Call MeLucky and Crimmins admission to the comedians’s guild,The Friars Club:

The film introduces Crimmins in a succession of old clips—dark-haired and hollow-eyed, with a frown-shaped Meathead mustache—railing against ignorance and injustice while drinking, smoking, and whipping himself into a profane frenzy. These are interspersed with recent clips of comedians—David Cross, Patton Oswalt, Stephen Wright, Marc Maron, Margaret Cho, and others—talking about him.

“He was a guy who you heard about before you saw him,” Cross says.

“Barry Crimmins was this weird mythical force,” Maron says. “A judgmental sage of some kind that I didn’t quite get.” Cho says, “I feel like people should claim him more, because I think he has much more of an influence than anybody realizes.” Friends and peers describe him as looking like Ambrose Bierce, Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, “a cross between Noam Chomsky and Bluto.” …

I spoke to Barry in his upstate home a few years ago:

RB: My first thoughts about your move here from Cleveland was that you were using this as a place to recharge your batteries and make forays into the world at large. But this conversation suggests a greater intimacy with your locale. This is not a retreat, so much.

BC: I wouldn’t say it’s a retreat. But it serves that purpose because I feel like I belong here, so my personal rhythm is more in sync than it would be elsewhere. Therefore I think the batteries take a better charge here. Also, just being on this property, there’s a lot of stuff to take care of and that’s good. I have to do something other than just sit around and be a wise ass. I actually have to go out and mow the lawn and fix the gardens up and take care of things.

It’s interesting because you can go kind of snow blind just staring at a computer all day. You can do your work at the computer for a few hours and then you go out and do something worthwhile. Even if you don’t write anything worth a damn all day at least you get the lawn mowed. So, I like that.

There are things that are more jarring here, for me, than anywhere else. Particularly because I know the people and I know what goes on. Karen and I stopped at a yard sale. And this guy started telling us this story about selling his cows to this guy we know. “Jewed him down, a bit.” He just matter-of-factly said, “I Jewed him down.” And Karen was completely shocked, but I thought it was good for her because she romantically thinks everybody is wonderful, that they’re these rural pastoral figures come out of a Grandma Moses portrait. When in fact they are—vile.(laughs) Although this guy wasn’t completely hateful. That’s the complexity of it. That’s just a term he’s used his whole life. He’s a seventy-year-old man. But just matter-of-factly anti-Semitism rolled off his tongue. He’s completely fluent in it. Karen headed off and I stayed for a minute pretending I was looking at a tractor and then I told him afterwards, “Well, you know she’s Jewish.” (laughs)She’s a quarter Jewish, but that’s plenty Jewish. That’s enough to get you sent to a death camp, at one point. I figure that’s Jewish enough to refer to her as Jewish. And the guy felt badly, as if he had injured somebody. I could tell. So they are not all evil.

Barry’s website is chock-a-block of information about Barry including his Dec 29 appearance in Somerville MA

* As I have noted elsewhere, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel obliged to say that I am proud to consider Barry Crimmins, social satirist, political parodist & activist, universal commentator, a friend and brother-in-arms in the struggle to promote social justice here and around the world and in the battle against the tyranny of ignorance and economic exploitation.

** I am highly pleased that the photograph I took of Barry(see above) is seen in the film on Barry’s mother’s dresser

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