Tag Archives: Rainbow Pie

A Great Good Joe: A Howler in the Belly of The Confederacy

16 Mar
The Baffler,Issue 27 [Cover: Chris  Ferrantello]

The Baffler,Issue 27 [Cover: Chris Ferrantello]

Long time and or dedicated readers and visitors to this rest stop on the superannuated blue highway of information will recognize my affection for that marvelous little magazine,The Baffler. Given the thrice yearly publishing schedule (a lifetime in the life of modern ideas and an endlessly churning news cycle) I find the publication of each issue a welcome event in an otherwise sparse journalistic landscape. Which is a longwinded way of saying the newest iteration,Issue # 27 is gloriously available.

As you should know The Baffler is one of a now diminishing population of outposts for an important and meaningful mode of expression —— the long form essay.This particular issue is especially pleasing (to me) as it contains a fine profile of the late and lamented journalist Joe Bageant ,Toxically Pure: Joe Bageant drops out by John Lingan. Bageant was one of few commentators who spoke to and for the biggest oppressed and marginalized group in this exceptional country—the poor white underclass. And so it is understandable, to a point, that you have remained unaware of the finest and most articulately angry social critics of the post WWII generation.The venues that wrote for were (of course, all before the Internet)hardly on anyone’s radar: Military History magazine The Rocky Mountain Musical Express.Winchester (VA) Star The Idahonian. and the seminal industry trade publication, Crop Production Magazine (profitable crops through better management).

In addition, Joe published three books, Deer Hunting with Jesus, Rainbow Pie: A Red Neck Memoir and Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball (two of which ,ridiculously, are not available in this country. But his true legacy, his website which is the repository of his sharp-eyed and stinging essays— contains nearly ninety( by my count), reaching back to March 20014 beginning Howling in the Belly of the Confederacy

How can the region of America that gave us lynching, Jim Crow, Harry Byrd, George Wallace, Taliban Christianity, David Duke, the KKK, Bible hair, Tammy Fay Bakker, congregational snake handling, the poll tax, inbreeding, and chitterlings possibly take another step back down the stairs of human evolution? Beats the hell out of me. But somehow here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia we have managed it.

Rainbow Pie by Joe Bageant

Rainbow Pie by Joe Bageant

In addition, Joe published three books, Deer Hunting with Jesus, Rainbow Pie: A Red Neck Memoir and Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball (two of which ,ridiculously, are not available in this country. But his true legacy his website which is the repository of his sharp-eyed and stinging essays—nearly ninety by my count I particularly enjoyed A Mean and Unholy Ditch The Sleep of Reason Amid Wild Dogs and Gin published in January 2005 and remarkable for its continued resonance and clear eyed vision of a despair riddled culture:

The hardest thing for garden variety American liberals to grasp is what a truly politicized and hateful place much of America has become — one long mean ditch ruled by feral dogs where the standards of civility no longer apply. The second hardest thing for liberals is to admit that they are comfortably insulated in the middle class and are not going to take any risks in the battle for America’s soul . . . not as long as they are still living on a good street, sending their kids to Montessori and getting their slice of the American quiche. Call it the politics of the comfort zone.

Ugly as this hateful half or more of Americans are, it’s not entirely their fault. Their beliefs are at least partly the result of a sophisticated propaganda system perfected over decades by a consolidated corporate state media. Saturation has never been stronger. As we speak some 72% of Americans still believe there were WMDs in Iraq, and 75% believe that Saddam was supporting bin Laden. They did not each and independently arrive at such stupid conclusions on their own (if such mindless acceptance can even be called conclusions). Indoctrinated by state propaganda, they then acted and continue to act accordingly — which is to say grotesquely in the eyes of the world.

Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant

Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant

Bageant concludes:

The world is not a particularly noble place and never was, but it has become truly difficult to underestimate American crassness in these times. Especially our ability to unblinkingly suck up hate like it was free beer, and call it moral values. As I said, I have seen the face of hate in my day, and this is it. Let me close with this:

Byron de la Beckwith, the guy who shot Medgar Evers, had a “downstairs tenant” who was arrested by the FBI a while back. When the FBI busted in on him he was dressed in full Nazi regalia, shiny brimmed cap, those black boots that come up to the knees and a little Hitler moustache, everything spit-shined and shimmering, without a wrinkle or crease. He was just “lounging around watching Wheel of Fortune” dressed that way when the FBI came for him. Next thing you know he is on the Jerry Springer Show, spastic or something (face tremors), declaring himself the DICTATOR OF THE WORLD. Yes, he actually said that. And Hitler’s mother was in the Springer audience, so Jerry goes out amid the jeers and obscenities to ask her what she thought of her son, to which she replied sincerely and in syrup: “I’M JUST SO PROUD HE HAS DEDICATED HIS LIFE TO HELPING OTHER PEOPLE!”

And so it goes. A nation watches with slack jawed attention the spectacle of a Nazi fruitcake and his adoring mom. Matrons in Iowa avert their eyes to our murder of dark-eyed Iraqi children as they stir their tea. And Shuggy the Republican leaves the wine-and-porn shop not with wine, but a video that promises MORE HOT BLACK BOOTY GETTING JIGGY!…

Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball by Joe Bageant

Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball by Joe Bageant

John Lingan writes:

There was a time, Joe contended, when “Americans were concerned with actualizing individual potential,” and that time was the 1960s. He cited the desegregation of schools and colleges, the commitment to social change, and of course the cultural-pharma- ceutical innovations.

‘There was such vigorous electricity in the air, so many possibilities in ourselves and in America, that this working-class boy grabbed his wife one day and said: “Let’s grab the baby and head west, and grow our brains and hearts, read Rilke and Chief Joseph and Rim- baud and Lao-Tzu and burn meat on open fires with cowboys! Maybe even meet Allen Ginsberg!” And we did it too.’

What do we learn from John Lingan’s finely etched portrait of this talented, troubled artist as he yo yo ed back and forth across the continent, finally returning his white blue collar red neck roots, towards the end of hIs life— a life cut short by cancer in March 2011? Joe’s was,as such will always be an endless quest. No less satisfying a quest because the game was fixed, the deck stacked, the system rigged. He could bear it —the millenial decline, the dehumanizing machinery and the seeming epic triumph of a rotting social order—because he held hope as he still encountered glimmers of humanity.

It is the final irony of Joe’s life that he found his largest audience by writing about the dissolution of his community. Raised on the eastern frontier, reborn in the acid-drenched West, and lost all over again in the corporate hinterlands, Joe Bageant returned to Winchester to bury the shame of childhood poverty at last. Instead, he found a battlefield on which he could finally use the full force of his drop-out beliefs on behalf of the people who had taught him to love the land in the first place. These people, of course, didn’t read his book; they barely read anything.

Lingan quotes:

Often at my speaking engagements or readings, I see one or more of them [ the people who had taught him to love the land] in the audience,long gray hair, loose-fitting, sensible, well-worn cloth- ing, soft eyes, and perhaps an herbal amulet around the neck or in the hair….Immediately after the reading or talk or whatever, I seek them out if at all possible (press agents some- times screw this up). Always there is the big smile and the hug And we are again brothers and sisters, as we used to sincerely address each other on the street. And again I have been granted the gift, that brief spark of unquestioned mutual love and goodwill in a darkening time.”

JOR BAGEANT [PHOTO: uncredited]

JOR BAGEANT [PHOTO: uncredited]

Red Neck Noir

26 May

No doubt writer Daniel Woodrell had a following before his fine novel, Winter’s Bone was made into an Oscar nominated motion picture (doesn’t that rubric seem archaic?) However, for the unannointed Woodrell’s The Bayou Trilogy (Mulholland Books) has just been reissued in one handy volume containing three of his early novels Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing and The Ones You Do.

Whether saddling Woodrell as the creator of “red neck noir” plays to his advantage is beyond my reckoning. Of course I am not sure being affiliated with red necks has aided anyone (you can read Joe Bageant’s Rainbow Pie, A Redneck memoir to ascertain this) but I am certain of a couple of things. Woodrell can write and Woodrell knows a thing or two. For instance here is a quick take on the 1927 flood

…When the big river calmed and the swamp settled back to level, families that had known no life but the swampy decided that the allure of wild rice ranching and nutria trapping was overshadowed by the grand tales they’d swallowed of city life, a place where sugar-cured hams were free so long as a you bought a potato, pigeons were fat and sleek and tasted like shrimp, cash was doled out twice month and there was an endless supply of liquid cheer and hoochy-koochy bonhomie. The flood pushed these folks from the remote life of the swamp and into the bullshit embrace of the bluff winking city.

Others have commented gushingly on Woodrell’s writing so I will spare you the paean —let me just say that you can pretty much flip open his books to any page and have a very good chance of encountering an outstanding example of his craft and sly sense of humor. As in the following, where John X Shade explains to Lunch Pumphrey what happened to the money that was stolen from him

See, I took the advice of the pigskin experts, Lunch, and I put fifteen K down on them wily ‘Bama boys.Saturday last, they lined up against a team from Florida whose star quarterback and favorite wide receiver had just been carted off to jail on rape charges. That ought be an edge, right? Short of a fuckin’ jailbreak that game had to be a lock for the Crimson Tide. But as you might know, late in the fourth quarter their star running back, the one that beat the burglary rap back in the spring, coughed it up inside the Florida ten-yard line, and that Florida linebacker who’d just come off suspension from that summertime assault beef the papers were full of, jumped on the ball and kept ‘Bama from coverin’ the spread.

Long time fans will be pleased to learn that Woodrell has a collection of stories coming out this fall. New converts have a treasure trove of a back list to root through.

Class Warfare: Tales of a White Underclass

14 Apr

I can’t for the life of me understand why no American publisher had the intelligence to publish Joe Bageant’s Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir(Scribe) thus leaving Australia’s Scribe Publications to show some great good sense. One clue to how this came to pass may be contained in the author’s introduction explaining (among other things) why he chose to write a memoir:

…I’d be willing to bet that my generation—the baby boomers—has produced more damn memoirs than all others combined. Angry memoirs weeping over some metaphorical pony the author did not get for Christmas in 1958, left a sour wad in the gullet of serious readers…

…I am advised by some editors that he word ‘memoir”, like the word “essay”,can be the kiss of death in today’s suffering book market. But this book was published first in Australia, where i have with my very own eyes seen real customers in book stores, there to purchase a book, not a talking greeting card or a Shakespeare coffee mug to prove they have been in a bookstore. So I nurse a shred of optimism

Or could it be Bageant’s very acute assessment of the American polity left our native publishers skittish?

Everyday it gets a little harder not to notice some fifty or sixty million people scratching around for any kind of job, or working more hours that ever in a sweating white knuckled effort to hang onto the jobs they do have. With credit cards melting down and middle class jobs evaporating, there is the distinct possibility of them slipping into the classes below them.And who are they anyway—those people wiping put the ramen noodle shelf at the supermarket, and looking rather surly as they are moved out of their repossessed house?

Bageant’s assessment includes the very tabooed notion of America as society riven by class— an idea that runs counter to a deeply engrained mythology of ours as a classless society. It is such an obvious feature of American society but not many observers and commentators of the American civilization are unabashed about featuring a class analysis—Howard Zinn was one, as it puts a damper on the glorious fairy tale of American exceptionalism.

Sadly, Joe Bageant passed away recently leaving a dwindling population of sharp eyed and fiercely outspoken critics of late capitalism America. He did leave a large body of work freely available at his website which I heartily recommend you visit. Especially as an antidote to the equine vernacular being freely dispensed hither and dither.

The memoir is a bittersweet look at a slice of society (rural white working Americans) which very few Americans understand or even recognize. Good for Joe Bageant for writing about it with such care.

I should not leave unsaid that Matt Taibbi is doing his fair share of iconoclasty
A recent post at his weblog succinctly addresses the current economic quagmire:

It’s bad enough that middle-class taxpayers have been forced in the last few years to subsidize the vacations and beach houses of the idiots who caused the financial crisis, and it’s doubly insulting that they’re now being blamed for the budget mess.

And he disperses some blame in the right places

It is obvious that we have a debt problem in this country and that something needs to be done about it. But a huge part of the blame for the confusion and the national angst over our budget issues has to be laid at the feet of media assholes .., who continually misrepresent what is actually happening with national spending


RIP Joe Bageant

28 Mar

The media shitstream was so engorged last week (who really cares about the passing of a mediocre actress?) that I missed a really important piece of news—the passing of (self-styled ) redneck commentator Joe Bageant (Deer Hunting with Jesus,, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir ):

Q: How do you know if you are rich, middle class or poor in America?

A: When you go to work, if your name is on the building — you’re rich; if your name is on an office door — you’re middle class; if your name is on your shirt — you’re poor…and, if someone else’s name is on your hand-me-down work shirt.

Here’s a few moments of Joe

It’s well worth looking at one of Bageant’s last essays,America, Your Peeps are So Dumb? Ignorance and courage in the age of Lady Gaga:

If you hang out much with thinking people, conversation eventually turns to the serious political and cultural questions of our times. Such as: How can the Americans remain so consistently brain-fucked? Much of the world, including plenty of Americans, asks that question as they watch U.S. culture go down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

One explanation might be the effect of 40 years of deep fried industrial chicken pulp, and 44 ounce Big Gulp soft drinks. Another might be pop culture, which is not culture at all of course, but marketing. Or we could blame it on digital autism: Ever watch commuter monkeys on the subway poking at digital devices, stroking the touch screen for hours on end? That wrinkled Neolithic brows above the squinting red eyes?

But a more reasonable explanation is that, (A) we don’t even know we are doing it, and (B) we cling to institutions dedicated to making sure we never find out.

To quote Joe, “We don’t last, and there’s no warranty.” So it goes.