Saturday

Dec. 1, 2007

Bluefield Breakdown

by Rick Mulkey

SATURDAY, 1 DECEMBER, 2007
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Poem: "Bluefield Breakdown" by Rick Mulkey, from Toward Any Darkness. © Word Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Bluefield Breakdown

Where are you Clyde Moody, and you Elmer Bird,
"Banjo Man from Turkey Creek," and you Ed Haley,
and Dixie Lee singing in that high lonesome way?
I feel the shadow now upon me...
Come you angels and play those dusty strings.
You ain't gonna work that sawmill Bother Carter,
nor sleep in that Buchanon County mine. Clawhammer
some of that Cripple Creek song. Fiddle me a line
of "Chinquapin Hunting." Shout little Lulie, shout, shout,
I need to hear music as lonesome as I am,
I need to hear voices sing words I've forgotten.
This valley's much too dark now.
Sunset right beside us, sunrise too far away.
I haven't heard a tipple creak all day,
and everyone I loved left
on the last Norfolk & Southern train.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1862 that Abraham Lincoln gave the State of the Union address at one of the lowest points of his presidency. An end to the Civil War was nowhere in sight. Just 10 weeks before, Lincoln had issued his Emancipation Proclamation, turning the war into war about slavery rather than just states rights. But in the recent election, anti-Lincoln Democrats had made big gains in the Congress. Many people saw that as a sign that the North didn't want to fight to free the slaves. People wondered if the war could ever be won, if the Union had been lost forever. And if the Union had been lost, perhaps the democratic experiment of the United States had actually been a failure.

Instead of expressing doubts in his speech, Lincoln argued that freeing the slaves was necessary to ensure that America live up to its own ideals. In his speech, on this day in 1862, Lincoln said, "The fiery trial through which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. ... In giving freedom to the slave, we ensure freedom to the free, honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth."


It's the birthday of director and screenwriter Woody Allen, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn (1935), who became obsessed with magic tricks, comedy, and the clarinet when he was a boy, but he did all his performing alone in his bedroom. He said, "Performing for my parents would have been like serving tennis balls into the ocean." He began submitting jokes to gossip columnists when he was 15, and he was selling jokes regularly before he'd graduated high school. He went to NYU but got an F in English and a C-plus in film production and flunked out from poor attendance. He got a job writing jokes for The Tonight Show, but it wasn't until he was 25 that he started doing his own stand-up comedy onstage. He was so nervous the first night that he stammered through his jokes, and something about his nervousness just made the jokes funnier, so he adopted the persona of boundless insecurity. He would say things like, "How can I find meaning in a finite universe, given my shirt and waist size?"

He knew he wanted to make movies, but he'd never been to film school, so he bought the rights to a Japanese spy film, and dubbed in all new dialogue. The result was What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), about a secret agent trying to track down the recipe for the world's greatest egg salad. He's since made, on average, one movie every year for the last 40 years, most of which he wrote, directed, and starred in.

Woody Allen said, "Life [is] full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly."


It's the birthday of American detective novelist Rex Stout, (books by this author) born in Noblesville, Indiana (1886), who was a hack magazine journalist for a while and then developed a popular savings-account scheme for schools that made him a great deal of money. So he retired to Paris and at the age of 46, he wrote his first detective novel featuring Nero Wolfe, who solves crimes even though he weighs more than 300 pounds, collects orchids, and never leaves his house. The first Nero Wolfe novel was called Fer-de-Lance, and it was published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1934. It was a huge success, and Stout went on to write another Wolfe novel almost every year for the rest of his life.


On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks broke the law by refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, resulting in her arrest. At the time, she said that she was just too tired to stand that day, but she later admitted that she'd challenged the law on purpose, because she thought it was wrong. Her protest worked, sparking a yearlong boycott of the buses by blacks in Montgomery that helped lead to the end of segregation.

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