Tag Archives: Lester maddox

Resentments of Things Past

This is another excerpt from “He May Be a Fool But He’s Our Fool: Lester Maddox, Randy Newman, and the American Culture Wars,” from my new collection Let the Devil Speak:

  The tune has varied little over the decades. Whether it’s Spiro Agnew snarling about effete intellectual snobs or Dan Quayle chirping about “the cultural elite,” the message is that the world is being run into the ground by elitists who look down on hardworking Americans while opening the gates to barbaric gays/ blacks/ immigrants/ Islamists, or any other boogieman of the moment. Sometimes the speaker makes the mistake of being too frank in public, as happened when Rev. Jerry Falwell went on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club broadcast a mere two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and announced, with smoke from incinerated humans and buildings still thick in the air over southern Manhattan, that the attacks reflected God’s anger at “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians.” But even when it fails to win elections, culture war rhetoric serves the purpose of shoring up the hardcore supporters – the base. In that case, failure is almost preferable to success. It keeps the base unified and, above all, angry. Resentment is the cheap fuel that keeps the culture wars running, and like most cheap fuels it generates an appalling amount of pollutants.  

Tagged , , ,

The Cockroach and the Governor

This is another excerpt from “He May Be a Fool But He’s Our Fool: Lester Maddox, Randy Newman, and the American Culture Wars,” from my new collection Let the Devil Speak:

     Those with a deep knowledge of pop culture and the civil rights era will remember Lester Maddox as the Atlanta restaurateur who race-baited his way to the governorship of Georgia, and who did in fact appear on a December 1970 broadcast of The Dick Cavett Show. (The description of Nebraska-born Cavett, a museum-quality specimen of the mid-twentieth-century WASP, as “a smart-ass New York Jew” immediately announces the unreliability of this particular narrator.) Though Maddox got the bulk of that night’s airtime, the show opened with a brief appearance by an entomologist from the Museum of Natural History, who displayed samples from the museum’s insect collection – most memorably, a hissing cockroach. For anyone who had seen the photo of Maddox and his son chasing an African-American man out of their Atlanta restaurant, threatening him with a pick handle and a pistol every step of the way, it was an appropriate lead-in.

 

 

Tagged , ,

Something to say

Let the Devil Speak: Articles, Essays, and Incitements is now out and ready for purchase in both paperback and Kindle ebook editions.

Well, I’m excited, anyway.

Learn how a segregationist governor’s appearance on The Dick Cavett Show inspired one of the greatest concept albums of the Seventies!  Savor the result of a collaboration between one of jazz music’s greatest composers and the man behind A Christmas Story! Ponder what the author of the noir thriller The Big Clock has to tell us about the newspaper industry!  See what happened when an anti-war group joined a Memorial Day parade and looked Red State America right in the face! Learn how a generation of underappreciated American writers got screwed out of credit for inspiring one of the biggest film franchises of all time!

Above all, find out why historian Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge, says I “wield a straight-razor for a pen.” Find out why Michael Gray, author of acclaimed books about Blind Willie McTell and Bob Dylan, calls me “an exemplary cultural critic.” And take a stroll through the area where politics, culture, and history overlap — and ignite.  

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Blue Monday

By a happy accident, I heard about the Drive-By Truckers and their terrific concept album, Southern Rock Opera, right about the time I was doing some serious research into Lester Maddox and the segregationist pushback against civil rights. Rather than Maddox and Georgia, the Drive-Bys focus on Alabama and George Wallace, as well as Bear Bryant, Lynyrd Skynyrd and anything else that embodies “the duality of the Southern thing.” The song above, “Wallace,” imagines the reception the former governor of Alabama received when he shuffled off this mortal coil:

Throw another log on the fire, boys, George Wallace is coming to stay
When he met St. Peter at the pearly gates, I’d like to think that a black man stood in the way.
I know “All should be forgiven”, but he did what he done so well
So throw another log on the fire boys,
George Wallace is a coming…

Now, he said he was the best friend a black man from Alabama ever had,
And I have to admit, compared to Fob James, George Wallace don’t seem that bad
And if it’s true that he wasn’t a racist and he just did all them things for the votes
I guess Hell’s just the place for “kiss ass politicians” who pander to assholes.

So throw another log on the fire, boys, George Wallace is coming to stay
I know, in the end, he got the black people’s votes, but I bet they’d still vote him this way.
And Hell’s just a little bit hotter cuz He played his hand so well
He had what it took to take it so far

Now the Devil’s got a Wallace sticker on the back of his car

Tagged , , ,