- Berryman Thanksgiving
- Ask Losak
- Saulsbury's Demise
- Catch of the Day
- Wild Music Man
- FB's Merge Project
- Headlands Tumble
- PD Does MendoVito
- Information Checkpoint
- Ferguson Biases
- Dangerous Humor
JOHN BERRYMAN & THANKSGIVING
One of my favorite poets is John Berryman. His poem, "Minnesota Thanksgiving" will follow at the end of this post.
Berryman suffered terribly from alcoholism and mental illness, and he succumbed to depression by finally committing suicide in 1972 -- he jumped off of a bridge on the campus of the University of Minnesota, waving good by to his students before he jumped.
Despite his demons, in Berryman's sober, more lucid moments, he wrote some of the most brilliant, innovative stuff of his generation. The poems are not easy. They are difficult and iconoclastic. They are confessional and self-referential. But they are luminous. They shine. They shine brightly in a dark, cold universe.
Another thing. Berryman was a real innovator among poets. He developed an experimental, conversational style, full of jokes and slang and plays on words.
Berryman's great poetic breakthrough occurred after he published "77 Dream Songs" in 1964. The book won the 1965 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and solidified Berryman's standing as one of the most important poets of the post-World War II generation that included Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, and Delmore Schwartz.
Soon afterwards, Berryman started receiving a great deal of national attention from the press, from arts organizations, and even from the White House which sent him an invitation to dine with President Lyndon B. Johnson -- you don't see much of that these days!
Berryman was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1967, and that same year Life magazine ran a feature story on him. Also, that year the newly created National Endowment for the Arts awarded him one of their first literary fellowships.
Berryman continued to work on the "dream song" poems at a feverish pace and published a second, significantly longer, volume entitled "His Toy, His Dream, His Rest", in 1968. This book won the National Book Award for Poetry and the Bollingen Prize.
The following year Berryman republished "77 Dreams Songs" and "His Toy, His Dream, His Rest" as one book titled "The Dream Songs", in which the character Henry serves as Berryman's alter ego.
The National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize -- both awarded to Berryman in 1969 -- celebrated his distinctive poetic voice, which the New York Times later described as "jaunty, jazzy, colloquial ... full of awkward turns and bent syntax" (8 Jan. 1972).
In his acceptance speech for the National Book Award, Berryman explained his iconoclastic style: "I set up 'The Dream Songs' as being hostile to every visible tendency in both American and English poetry."
Toward the end of his life, fearing that he would succumb to alcoholism, depression, and suicide, He considered Judaism, professed Catholicism, and wrote as though he was close to God or channeling some higher power.
It was then that Berryman wrote poems that read like prayers. Powerful stuff. Profound. They are the prayers of a dying poet who cannot save himself. They are the prayers of a dying poet who both fears and loves God -- who is terrified by God the Father and who seeks comfort in God the Son, Jesus, and in Jesus's Mother, Our Blessed Virgin Mother Mary.
Both "Love & Fame" and "Delusions, Etc." are openly confessional, and since he embraced religion when he wrote these volumes, Berryman also explored the nature of his spiritual rebirth, especially in poems like "Eleven Addresses to the Lord" -- which Robert Lowell thought was one of Berryman's best poems and "one of the great poems of the age".
I agree. Sometimes, I read these poems out loud in church when I am alone in church. These poems are prayers.
Why all the anguish in Berryman's life, one may ask? Why the alcoholism, depression, and suicide?
One factoid may explain it.
John Berryman was born John Smith in Oklahoma in 1914. When he was twelve years old, his father died of a gunshot wound after catching his mother having an affair. The death was ruled a suicide, but young John imagined that his father had been murdered. His mother married the man she was having the affair with, and John was forced to take the name Berryman, which was the last name of the man he considered his father's killer. For the rest of his life, he thought of himself as a kind of Hamlet, and his mother a kind of Gertrude.
Berryman's life and work centered around the anguish of keeping his family's secrets and lies.
In the end, lies and secrets took Berryman's life.
Throughout his poetry, and up until the end with his suicide, Berryman stayed loyal to both his father and mother.
John Berryman's "Minnesota Thanksgiving" now follows. (Note: Berryman would go on to take his own life In the "most strange year to come" which is referenced in the third and final stanza of his Thanksgiving poem. Even then, on that Minnesota Thanksgiving, while giving thanks to God, to God's free Grace, to his ancestors, and to his wife, Kate, and in the company of those family and friends sitting around the Thanksgiving table with him, including the spirits of those children yet to be born, Berryman knew he would not survive his sadness.}
* * *
For that free Grace bringing us past great risks
& thru' great griefs surviving to this feast,
sober & still, with the children unborn and born,
among brave friends, O Lord, we stand again in debt
and find ourselves in the glad position: Gratitude.
We praise our ancestors who delivered us here
within these warm walls all safe, listening to music,
leaning already toward the ample & attractive meat
with whatever accompaniment my wife
Kate in her kind ingenuity has seen fit to devise,
and we hope - across the most strange year to come -
continually to do our ancestors and You not sufficient honour
but such as we become able to ourselves devise
out of decent or joyful conscience & thanksgiving.
Bless then, as Thou wilt, this wilderness board.
ARE YOU CRAZY ENOUGH FOR LAURA’S LAW? ASK LOSAK.
by Mark Scaramella
The November 11 Board of Supervisors discussion leading to unanimous approval of a limited pilot program of Laura’s Law in Mendocino County got off to a bumbling start after Health and Human Services honcho Stacy Cryer gave a brief description of the program. Then she handed the baton to “Acting” County Counsel Doug Losak to discuss his office’s role in the proposal.
The confusion was immediate.
Losak “explained”: “Implementing Laura's Law — a lot of the process will go through the County Counsel's office, as far as reviewing — once they are given to us by Mental Health we will review the petition approximately one hour. At that point if we determine that it meets the state requirements it will take between two and four hours preparing the petition, gathering information necessary to file it and get everything ready for it, another hour for the attorney to review the petition, etc. and then one to two hours for initial hearing of an uncontested hearing and four hours if it's contested and then approximately an hour to an hour and a half for a follow-up court hearing, about, I believe, every quarter at that point. I'm anticipating — I spoke with Nevada County’s County Counsel's office, the County Counsel there, about this and she informed me that currently they are reviewing somewhere between 18-19 petitions a year. They have somewhere between 12-13 petitions that they actually file every year. She said the word is out there that they have about five petitions, five right now a year. She said right now that's on average. She said when it first started out it was only a couple and last year and this year, as I said, they are reviewing between 18 and 19 and filing between 12 and 13 petitions a year.”
Supervisor Dan Hamburg: “So why are your numbers so much higher than that?”
Losak: “Our numbers are not higher than what we're saying for her.”
McCowen: “Her number reviewed to actually filed?”
McCowen: “Her number of reviewed—?”
Losak: “Her number reviewed—”
Hamburg: “But your numbers are much higher than Nevada County. So why are your numbers so much higher?”
Losak: “My numbers are much higher? No.”
Hamburg: “Well — Doug, you just —”
Losak: “Let me look.”
Hamburg: “You just said 18-19 and you've got 30 and you said 4-5 and you got 12.”
Losak (looking at a sheet of paper): “30 referrals? My understanding is initially that —”
Hamburg furrows his brow and looks irritated and confused.
Losak: “There are — there is a backlog, somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 referrals that the Mental Health Advisory Board would like the County to look at, would like Mental Health — so that's initially — I’m not — the number — we are looking at — on an annual basis somewhere between 18 and 19 once the program gets up and running. It'll take a few years to get to those figures.”
Hamburg re-examines his copy of the paperwork, shakes his head, rubs his forehead.
Losak: “And then somewhere around 12 and 14 a year — Nevada County is approximately the same population size as our county.”
Losak: “So it's a good comparison.”
Hamburg (nodding): “Right.”
Losak: “They have I believe about a 100,000 population. So I was looking to them for the same numbers. Somewhere — once we get up and running — the initial, the initial is what this is. The initial is about 30 right out of the gate. Once we get past that initial point it's going to average somewhere between 18 and 19.”
Hamburg: (Shrugs his shoulders.)
McCowen: “Hopefully this will — excuse me, Supervisor Hamburg.”
Hamburg: “No, go ahead.”
McCowen pointed out that initially there will only be four slots available; Mendo “will not be opening the floodgates and inviting anyone in the community who would like to make a referral saying we think you need a petition for this person. Why wouldn't we rely on the Public Defender, maybe County Counsel, maybe Mental Health to have something of a collaborative process where they would do screening to say, by criteria that they would develop, in our opinion these petitions clearly are what we have in mind for Laura's Law and bring forward a more modest number of petitions with people that objectively appear to clearly meet the criteria rather than sift through a big pile to wind up with four that will actually fill the slots. So I'm not sure how well this has all been thought through yet. I think the Board clearly wants to move forward with authorizing a pilot program, but there needs to be more thought given to how we proceed.”
Losak: “That would work as well. Any way we can look at it to try to narrow it down so there is not a lot of them initially— What I wanted to make the Board aware of was that once we get, once it, once the program is up and running it's going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 18-20 petitions a year that the County Counsel's office will be reviewing and keeping track of. That’s…”
Losak didn’t finish his final sentence.
Presiding Superior Court Judge David Nelson told the Board that the judges were on board and there would be no significant increase in their budget.
District Attorney David Eyster told the board that since Laura’s Law was primarily a civil program and did not involve criminal defendants he didn't see any significant budget impact in his department.
Sheriff Allman was more expansive: “I'll have to honestly tell you it's not always pleasant to be in this room. But Laura's Law is a pleasant time to be here. This is something that I think that nobody would say that this is the wrong way to go. But there is a commitment by the Board that you have to make on the general fund because otherwise this idea we have, the work the county staff has done, the positions that we all have, in three years or four years will be for naught because there's not a commitment. So when the Health and Human Services Director stated that there is a commitment for general fund, we can't take that lightly. I support the general fund commitment, but I don't want this to die in three years by saying it was a good idea but it didn't get what we wanted. Let's do it now. Let's say that Mendocino County is ‘in.’ We are in. But also to the public this is not a panacea for mental illness and the treatment of it. If it was, we wouldn't be the third county in the state to do it. Yolo County, Nevada County, maybe San Francisco, I'm not sure. This is for severely mentally ill. For those who are out there saying, Good, we have solved our mental health problem, our dilemma — we have not. This is for the ones who are severely mentally ill. I've spoken with Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal on this many times when he comes to Mendocino County. He likes to vacation here. I asked him how Laura's Law impacted his department and the answer was, Good. He said, Tom, it's impacted our department because we don't have anything to do with Laura's Law. These people are not getting into the criminal justice system. Hooray. That's a victory. But there still will be people who are involved with criminal justice, there is still the 11 O'clock Mental Health calendar which I'm very fortunate our judges support that we are still going to deal with. So please don't think that today because Laura's Law is approved, and I certainly hope it's a 5-0 vote, that the mental health conversation ends because it won't end. And please don't in a few years say, Well I thought we had Laura's Law, we shouldn't have these issues. We will have Laura's Law, but we will still have mental illness. I don't want to be the naysayer here and I'm very appreciative of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the mental health board and the providers who are here to say, Yes, let's make it work. But this is going to be a six-month, year-long process finding out really and truly where are we going with Laura's Law because there are so many unknowns. Thank you for considering it, thank you for doing it, thank you for making the general fund commitment that we can all look back a year from now and say, Yes we were not the first but we can absolutely be one of the leaders statewide if not nationwide.”
Cryer: “At first we believe there will be some time spent filtering through the referrals and getting to the four cases that are really the ones that we want to be working on. So there will be an influx of referrals at the beginning. … But we are just guessing on some of this. … This pilot program will give us information about the caseload and the numbers and a projection of what the ongoing costs might look like. Right now we are truly guessing. … It's true we have not laid out a full program. If you give us direction today, that's what we will begin to do.”
CEO Carmel Angelo: “The money is still in question. It is general fund. Given that the pilot program would not start until July 1 of 2015 that gives us six months to really determine clearer figures on this. It's all preliminary at this point. I think these estimates from staff are the highest amounts. We don't want to come back later and say it cost more than we thought. We are going with a top-tier of $100,000 of general fund and 60,000 the Mental Health Services Act funding — that will be the 12 month period. But I think we have six months to really look at that. I would much rather have them come with the top line number than have us have to come back to this board for additional dollars.”
McCowen: “There are still many misconceptions about what Laura's Law really is and what it really does. Some of the criteria are for an individual to be eligible for Laura's Law they must not only be gravely mentally ill, they must also have demonstrated an inability to care for themselves by either being hospitalized or incarcerated twice in the last 48 months or that in the last 36 months they have demonstrated violent behavior towards themselves or others in the last 48 months and hospitalized or incarcerated two or more times in the last 36 months. Those are the criteria that someone is supposed to meet to be eligible for Laura's Law. While this may be an additional tool in the toolbox that can help gravely mentally ill people who are most at risk to themselves and the community, there's a whole lot of people out there that are not going to fit the criteria. And we are supposed to be able to say that the services available through Laura's Law are available to all in the community who need them, who seek them, who request them or equivalent. But, can we say today that we are able to provide anyone the services that we would provide through Laura's Law? Do we have the resources to do that? I hope staff could further review that in 90 days and provide a more comprehensive answer. Also what precisely can be done through Laura's Law that cannot be done otherwise? That's not still not completely clear because after all if the services are available to anyone now voluntarily then what is the real difference? Given that Laura’s Law is supposed to be voluntary — although there is a series of steps that as you go through then the court can as I understand it add an element of coercion to persuade people to please accept treatment. There are a number of questions out there that hopefully we will all come to a fuller understanding of in the next two or three months as staff works toward implementation. There are also budget questions. I don't really accept that it should cost county counsel anymore than what is in their current budget or the public defender's budget. It's unfortunate the public defender is not here. My understanding is that she does support the county moving forward so can I can only assume she had to be in court or something. But let's see if we can implement this within existing resources and if we can do that and if the pilot program demonstrates that this is an effective tool and that it's really working, then we can dispense with the pilot program hopefully sooner rather than later and have full implementation.”
Supervisor Dan Gjerde: “One of the pieces that has to come together is the 11 O'clock Mental Health calendar. I may sound like a broken record here but my question continues to be: When is the Coast going to get the 11 o'clock calendar up and running? I’ve heard that the District Attorney and the public defender are in position. But as far as I know it's still not operating on the coast. I remember sitting in the audience two years ago when the Mental Health calendar was proposed and it was originally proposed to be both on the coast and inland. The thought was that it would be up and running on the coast first. Yet, here we are two years later and it's still not up and running on the coast. As we just heard, Laura’s Law is not for everyone and the 11 O'clock calendar still has a role for other people. It seems that if we don't have an answer to that today about when it's going to be up and running on the coast, it would be nice as a part of any presentation that we also hear how the 11 O'clock calendar which seems to be a great success here in Ukiah, when will it also be up and running on the coast?”
After several more minutes of procedural discussion, the Board voted unanimously to approve a one-year pilot program with four slots beginning next July 1.
* * *
Two years ago, in the wake of the Aaron Bassler affair, the Board voted unanimously not to consider Laura’s Law. Bassler was way beyond the basic cooperation required by Laura's Law.
So, why now? What has changed?
As far as we can tell the only thing that has changed since then is a new amendment to the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA, aka Proposition 63) which allows Laura's Law costs to be at least partially covered by Proposition 63 funds. However, Prop 63 money can only be used to fund direct mental health services, not the public defender, district attorney, training, or administration.
In theory, and apparently in practice in Nevada County, keeping a few people from entering the criminal justice system has objective savings which exceed whatever incidental costs those particular ancillary offices may incur processing their paperwork.
ON WEDNESDAY, November 26, 2014 at 12:13 PM the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office was contacted by a person who wanted to report that they had been the victim of a robbery in the 200 block of Main Street in Point Arena, California. Due to Deputies being located in Fort Bragg a telephone call was made to the victim prior to the Deputies responding to Point Arena. During the phone conversation the Deputies learned the victim had been confronted by a white male adult while standing in a business parking lot in the 200 block of Main Street. During the confrontation the white male adult robbed the victim of a diaper bag in his possession and threw large rocks at the victim almost striking them. The information of the incident was broadcasted to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) who had an officer working near Point Arena. The CHP Officer located the white male adult, later identified as Daniel Cedar Saulsbury, 39, of Fort Bragg near the scene of the robbery. When the CHP Officer attempted to detain Saulsbury a foot chase ensued mixed with moments of active resistance by Saulsbury. The CHP Officer requested emergency assistance via their radio while Deputies were responding to Point Arena. Deputies arrived in Point Arena several minutes later and assisted in apprehending an actively resisting Saulsbury on Mill Street in Point Arena. During the attempts to apprehend Saulsbury the CHP Officer and two Deputies deployed their issued TASER weapons. Shortly after being apprehended Saulsbury began to show signs of medical distress. Medical aid was immediately rendered by medical personnel who had been summoned to the scene just after Saulsbury's apprehension. Saulsbury was subsequently pronounced dead after live-saving efforts were unsuccessful. As a result of Saulsbury’s death, the Mendocino County Officer Involved Fatal Protocol was initiated and the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office assumed jurisdiction over the investigation into the incident. Any inquires into this incident are being referred to the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office.
(Sheriff’s Office Press Release)
* * *
Mr. Saulsbury had had a number of contacts with law enforcement on the Coast going back to 2007, at least. There were several drug and alcohol arrests prior to 2008.
12/18/2008 Possession of dangerous weapon.
01/06/2009 DUI, possession of controlled substance.
09/14/2011 Driving without alcohol interlock device.
12/4/2009 Disorderly conduct.
10/15/2011 Corporal injury to spouse, battery with bodily injury, child endangerment.
11/5/2011 Corporal injury to spouse.
9/4/2014 Domestic assault.
According to a crime report on crimevoice.com (based on a Sheriff’s press release) after the September 4, 2014 arrest:
Facebook fight results in domestic violence arrest — A fight between a couple over the man’s use of “social media” – which probably means Facebook, but could refer to Twitter, Instagram, Google+, or even MySpace, led to a physical altercation and the arrest of Daniel Cedar Saulsbury, 39, of Cleone.
According to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s office, deputies were dispatched Wednesday night at 11:14 pm to a location on Basin Street on reports of a fight between a man and woman. Basin Street is the road that runs inland along the Noyo Basin, where the Noyo River meets the ocean just north of Highway 20. The road circles around Dolphin Cove, where there is a marina and several mobile homes. Deputies responding to the call met with the victim, a woman who stated that she was dating and living with Saulsbury.
The woman reported that she and Saulsbury had been arguing over his social media use, and ended up struggling over a laptop computer. She said he had pushed her down on the bed during the fight, and grabbed her by the neck, squeezing until she could not breathe. He then drove away from the home.
Daniel Saulsbury, 39, has had multiple run-ins with the law in Mendocino County. In 2006, 2007, and 2009 he was arrested for DUI and possession of narcotics or paraphernalia, according to records. He also was arrested in 2007 for reckless driving resulting in injury, as well as a charge of contempt of court.
Then in 2011 he was charged with inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or co-habitant, child endangerment, and battery. The deputies investigating this latest incident found on a records check that he was currently on felony probation for domestic violence, with a court order to only have “peaceful contact” with the victim.
The deputies were able to locate and contact Saulsbury across town at a location near MacKerricher State Park, down Mill Creek Drive in the part of town known as Cleone. He was arrested and booked at the Mendocino Jail, where he was being held on a no bail status.
Over the last seven years Saulsbury’s place of residence when arrested has been listed as Cleone, Point Arena and Fort Bragg.
CATCH OF THE DAY, November 27, 2014
CHRISTOPHER ACKERMAN, Ukiah. False information to police officer.
CLIFFORD ARMS, Ukiah. Drunk in public.
ANTONIO COLLINS, Fort Bragg. Failure to appear.
MICHAEL ELDRIDGE, Drunk in public, probation revocation.
DALLAS EZELL, Willits. Vehicle theft, probation revocation.
FERNANDO FABIAN, Ukiah. Dirk/dagger, resisting arrest.
SCOTT FRANKS, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
CRYSTAL KNIGHT, Hopland. Under influence of controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, probation revocation.
GREGORY MEDVIN, Ukiah. Assault with deadly weapon not a firearm.
HUGO MUNIZ, Ukiah. Drunk in public.
TIMOTHY PIERSON, Willits. Reckless driving, possession of drug paraphernalia, DUI with priors, evading peace officer, parole violation.
STEPHEN SCHAFER, Apple Valley/Willits. Drunk in public.
LOUIS SHRINER, Ukiah. Defrauding innkeeper, probation revocation.
WILD MAN STILL ON THE LOOSE
by Byron Spooner
The car was supposed to be a fine American driving machine, but he never could find a Corvette that would hold the road in those days. “Wrecked a dozen of ‘em,” he says. “I was coming home one time — might have been drinking — and I run up under the porch of a house. A little girl come out, her eyes real big, and I don’t know why…I just said, ‘Top of the morning’ to you,’ and she run back inside. And this woman stuck her head out the door and said, ‘Oh, Lord, it’s Jerry Lee Lewis.’”
* * *
To this day “Oh, Lord, it’s Jerry Lee Lewis,” or some variation of that, is probably a fairly common response to any encounter with Jerry Lee; his reputation has always preceded him. It was pretty much my reaction when I heard there was yet another Jerry Lee Lewis book on the horizon. He’s already inspired some great music writing. I’d lapped up Nick Tosches’ Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story — one of my Ten Best (and, in this case, Funniest) Books Written on American Music* — which at one point depicted Jerry Lee and his father, Elmo, so drunk as to have been “speaking Hittite,” and told a story about a gas station rack of bootleg cassettes that you just have to read for yourself to fully appreciate. (Hint: There are matches involved.) I’d also been through Robert Palmer’s Jerry Lee Lewis Rocks, a quickie paperback, though compellingly written, in which we are informed Jerry Lee was so perpetually tumid that it kept him out of the draft. (Elvis must have been thinking, “If only...”)
Now along comes Rick Bragg’s book, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. The book, although credited to Rick Bragg, is, as the subtitle suggests, very much a collaboration between author and subject. Apparently Bragg has done what Tosches did 30-odd years ago; hung around with Jerry Lee and his family and crew of hangers-on, asking questions and writing down the stories, brags, tirades, jokes, aphorisms and self-justifications and filling in around them with additional interviews and a whole lot of research to produce an entertainingly-written story. There are so many great stories at Jerry Lee’s disposal that Bragg repeats exactly none of the ones Tosches or Palmer included in their books — or least none with the same set of facts anyway.
Bragg, best known as the author of All Over But the Shoutin,’ Ava’s Man and The Most They Ever Had, non-fiction and mostly about family and the American South, writes beautifully, and humorously, on these subjects in Jerry Lee’s book as well. And although this is a book about a life led at a maniac’s clip, it is also a deeply Southern book, written at a Southern pace, like a lazy tale told on a porch after sundown before the mosquitoes come out, with a sip of moonshine and a creaking rocker for company. The book opens with this:
“The water would rise up every few years, wash across the low, flat land, and take everything a poor man had, ruin his cotton and corn and drown his hogs, pour filth and dead fish into his home, even push the coffins from the earth and float his ancestors all the way to Avoyelles. Jerry Lee’s sister Frankie Jean, tells of the day the rains beat down, the rivers rose, and the swelling groundwater shoved the dead from the mud. ‘Uncle Henry and Aunt Maxine had been nippin’ and they went by Uncle Will’s grave and saw he’d come partway out of the ground. Uncle Henry said, “Oh, Lord, Maxine, the Rapture has done come and the Lord has left us here. He tried to take Will and Will just wouldn’t go. Oh, God, Maxine, we done been left behind. Oh, God, Maxine, I told you not to buy that whiskey”…’ The point is, it takes guts to stay with it when the land you owe the bank for runs liquid between your toes and balls of water moccasins form islands on the rising tide. Water was everywhere, was life, and death. A person could not live here in this low place, Jerry Lee believes, and be afraid of water.”
From that beginning Bragg follows the mad life of the quintessential wild man and walking-around legend that is Jerry Lee. Bragg loves the man and the legend just about equally and often, as in Tosches’ book, you’re not entirely sure what to believe and what to dismiss, especially since the subject of the book is also often the source of the tallest-sounding tales. (“It ain’t braggin’ if you really done it,” Jerry Lee says.) But in the end veracity doesn’t really matter; like reading the best of Hunter Thompson, you’re best off grabbing your nose and cannonballing into a deep spot and just going with the river wherever it flows.
Bragg charts Jerry Lee’s ups and downs in some detail. His rise to the pinnacle of rock ‘n’ roll, the ensuing scandal when it came out he’d married his thirteen-year-old cousin, his comeback as a country star and, later, again, as a rock ‘n’ roller. His travails with the IRS, to whom he owed seemingly countless millions, the health problems brought on by drugs, drink and general self-neglect.
Where many musicians cultivate a tough-guy image but fold at the first sign of trouble (I’d start a list but it would be too long), Jerry Lee Lewis was the original iron man of American music. Armed and dangerous or unarmed and just as dangerous, he took on all comers, engaging in fist fights with his audience, with cheating promoters, jealous husbands, drummers who couldn’t keep a beat, and anyone else who happened to get in his way. Accidentally and not-so-accidentally discharging a variety of firearms usually abetted by the pills, booze, painkillers, guns and fast women — including seven wives — that accompanied him wherever he went. Naturally a legend grew.
But without the music to back it up the legend would not persist; Jerry Lee’d just be another crazy redneck who left no record of his time on earth. In a way it was the music that kept Jerry Lee out of jail (most of the time) and on the prowl. It was the music that cleared the way for all that swagger, all those giant cigars. But Bragg loves Jerry Lee’s music as much as he loves the legend and writes lovingly, seamlessly about it.
“His spirit had not mellowed, not a bit, but his voice had, and his subtler delivery did justice to his far more mature material. Where once he had hollered through “Whole Lotta Shakin’” — and still could, of course — now he approached his ballads almost elegantly, though with that constant earthy undertone. He could sing a love song, and you still knew, watching him, that it was not one woman he had wronged or disappointed but one hundred, and you knew that if you messed up his song, he would come off the stage and kick your ass up to your watch pocket. As a pianist he had even more finesse and precision, yet he still loved to beat it to death for the sheer joy of it.”
Jerry Lee Lewis endures, decade after decade, comeback after comeback, and will probably outlive us all — just out of sheer cussedness if nothing else. He’s in his eighties and, though slowing down, is still touring some and recording some. Perhaps, if he lasts long enough, he will someday encounter yet another writer of the caliber of Bragg or Tosches or Palmer, but I doubt it, writers who make literature out of music only come along a few times in a generation.
* * *
To accompany my reading I naturally pulled out my Jerry Lee CDs. The 2 CD Essential Jerry Lee Lewis contains most of the Sun stuff — ‘Whole Lot of Shaking Going On,’ ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ etc. — as does 18 Original Sun Greatest Hits, (one CD, half the material, but includes the very politically incorrect ‘Ubangi Stomp’ which Essential...’ doesn’t). 18 Original… remains in print 50-some years after its original issue. Both are logical spots to begin.
The Sun twofer, Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues/The Golden Cream of the Country features a leering, filthy ‘Big Legged Woman’ and a ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ that is anything but sweet. If Live at The Star Club, Hamburg 1964 isn’t the best live album ever recorded, as some still claim, it is certainly one of the most raucous with Jerry Lee pounding out twelve of his greatest hits with a deranged energy that has the German crowd foaming at the mouth and speaking in tongues. Mercury twofers from JLL’s country years, including Another Place Another Time/She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye (Raven Australia reissue) which features ‘What Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me),’ ‘Waiting for a Train’ and ‘Another Place…’ which made him a country star years after his first downfall. Highlights of Country Songs for City Folks/Memphis Beat (also BGO) are few; there are a bunch of lame covers—‘Funny How Time Slips Away,’ ‘King of the Road’ — and (I’m not making this up) a Kennedy assassination song, ‘Lincoln Limousine’ that is perhaps the most embarrassing thing Jerry Lee ever recorded. The “Killer” Rocks On/Boogie Woogie Country Man (BGO Records reissue) which bounces back with a killer ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and the single most lascivious version of ‘Chantilly Lace’ ever committed to record, it’ll make you want to lock up your daughters or just women in general. ‘Chantilly Lace’ was another of his many huge comebacks, establishing him as a rock ‘n’ roll star once again, as it was always intended. Just released, The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings, is a mid-seventies studio gig produced by Sam Phillips’s son. This is a lot of fun with Jerry Lee at his ‘muthahumpin’ best, in full command of his material, the session, his persona and, seemingly, the whole world.
Try Red, Hot & Blue (Live Radio Broadcasts 1952 – 1964) by legendarily-crazed Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips to get an idea of what Southern radio sounded like in Jerry Lee’s day. I always suspected the tales I’d read of Deep South DJs playing blues, r&b and boogie-woogie records in the pre-Elvis era were at least half bullshit, but hearing this convinced me the phenomenon was real, at least in Memphis an vicinity. Phillips tells jokes or just jabbers over the music, sings along and pitches Champagne Velvet Beer and a used-furniture store with an ardor most people reserve for their best lovers. He sounds almost normal to one who grew up on Wolfman Jack howling over the hits, Jean Shepherd blowing twenty minutes of air time playing kazoo over Sousa records and the amphetamine sales pitch — shoes, Clearasil, drag racing — of Cousin Brucie blasted over the entire Eastern Seaboard at 50,000 watts. But Phillips, like Jerry Lee, is the original article.
I also pulled out my Elvis CDs by way of checking Jerry Lee’s principle competition at the time. The Sun Sessions CD (RCA) includes all the master takes, alternate takes and outtakes Sam Phillips recorded before selling Elvis to RCA. Great stuff that you should play at least twice a year into perpetuity. Even better is the 5-CD Elvis; The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Complete 50’s Masters’ (RCA) which repeats the Sun masters but also gathers all the terrific (and not-so-terrific) RCA recordings as well. This is many hours of pleasure. Elvis had different ambitions from Jerry Lee and their success most be measured against those differences. Elvis wanted to be a pop star, as the 50s Masters make clear, Jerry Lee a rock ‘n’ roll star (as opposed even to a ‘rock’ star). Always suspicious of string arrangements and sentimentality, Jerry Lee would never wax anything nearly as gloppy as ‘Love Me Tender,’ or as plain dumb as ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,’ ‘Lincoln Limousine’ notwithstanding. I’ll let Bragg and Jerry Lee have the last word here:
“The year before, he had told a camera crew that Elvis had failed rock and roll, that ‘he let the Bobbys take it, Bobby Vinton, Bobby Darin, all the Bobbys,’ and they turned it into treacle. ‘I think he let us down,’ he still says now, though with less scorn than sorrow.
“Once upon a time, he knows, ‘Elvis was a rocker. Oh, yeah.’
“A great singer? Of course. And ‘a great star.’
“Jerry Lee? He was a better pure musician than Elvis, truer to the spirit of rock and roll, and both of them knew it.
“Where do the rank in the pantheon of the music?
““After me was Elvis,’ he says, and that will make some people angry, those who followed this music and those who still wait for Elvis to appear in line at Walmart or behind a newspaper at Waffle House. But if you know how Jerry Lee looks at the world and his place in it, then you know he has paid his old friend a great compliment.”
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*My Ten Best: Bob Dylan’s Chronicles (2004); Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story, by Nick Tosches (1982); Country: The Biggest Music in America, also by Tosches (1977); Peter Guralnick’s two-volume bio Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley & Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley (1994, 1999); Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta by Robert Palmer (1981); Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Dream of Southern Freedom also by Gurlanick (1986); Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n; Roll Music by Greil Marcus (1975) (or Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes AKA Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes ); Kansas City Lightnin’: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch (2013); Beneath the Underdog by Charles Mingus (1971); Raise Up Off Me: A Portrait of Hampton Hawes by Hawes (1974); Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain (1997); Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang (2005); and Miles: The Autobiography (1990).
That’s twelve (fourteen if you count the Guralnicks as two and include both Marcus titles) but so what? It’s my list after all. If I was call it a Top 20 I would include Robert Gordon’s books on Memphis—It Came From Memphis (1995) and Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (2013) and his Muddy Waters book (2002)—and Dennis McNally’s new one, On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom (2014). I guess I should throw in Dave Hajdu’s Dylan book, Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina (2001). Also, in a category of its own, Patti Smith’s Just Kids (2010).
FORT BRAGG BUSINESS vs. MERGE PROJECT
WOMAN INJURED IN FALL FROM MENDOCINO HEADLANDS
PRESS DEMOCRAT DOES MENDOVITO
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
Guy didn't carry a taser, he did have mace. Cops are never instructed to shoot in the legs despite people's constant assumption based on movie watching that that's what they do. If a cop grabs his gun, it's because the time for non-lethal force has ended. Now I certainly wasn't there, and neither were most people talking about the incident. The cops account differs from the eyewitnesses account. Both of those accounts are suspect because they both have an interest in the outcome. The only thing that doesn't have an interest is forensic evidence. We also can assume things that are corroborated between the conflicting accounts are likely to be true. Clearly the kid was walking down the middle of the street, clearly there was a command that got ignored, clearly the cop got punched in the face, and clearly there was a gunshot at close range before the multiple that followed. Now if forensic experts state that the evidence suggests that the close range shot was consistent with a struggle for the weapon which was the cop's, then I'm going to offer that as soon as you go for a cops gun you pretty much have surrendered any guarantees or attempts for non-lethal resolution to the incident. Cop has a right to live, too. I'll be the first to tell you I don't trust cops, and think that they ought to all be wearing cameras for everyone's safety. But in this case, I think that the whole "unarmed teenager" thing is a narrative that was looking for evidence, a clear example of confirmation bias by the witnesses and everyone else who is weighing in on the situation.
JOHN CLEESE SAYS YOU CAN'T MAKE JOKES ABOUT MUSLIMS — BECAUSE ‘THEY'LL KILL YOU’
John Cleese has argued that political correctness is “condescending” as it only allows jokes to be made about certain groups while implying others need to be protected.
Speaking to Bill Maher on HBO, the legendary comedian said he used to make race jokes about nationalities such as the French and Australians - but if he mentioned Mexicans it was deemed unacceptable.
“It's so awful isn't it? he said. “It starts out as a halfway decent idea, and then it goes completely wrong.
“Make jokes about Swedes and Germans and French and English and Canadians and Americans, why can't we make jokes about Mexicans? Is it because they are so feeble that they can't look after themselves?
“It's very very condescending there.”
The British comedian then goes on to suggest that the reason you can't make jokes about Muslims is “They'll kill you.”
“Who are the people you can't make jokes about?” he asks Maher who instantly responds: “Muslims”
“Try that,” he adds. “See what your Twitter feed says.”
A laughing Cleese responds: “That's not saying that you can't, it just means that they'll kill you. Theoretically you could.”
The comedian added: “The problem is if you make jokes about people who are going to kill you, there is a sort of tendency to hold back a little isn't there?”
Speaking on Real Time with Bill Maher, Cleese went on to say that he finds any type of fundamentalism “terribly funny.”
He said: “Because the thing about fundamentalism is that it's taking whatever the book is — the book Koran or the bible — absolutely literally.
“I've met some pretty smart people in life and you know not a single one of them was literal-minded.”
Cleese, 75, took British audiences by storm in the 1970s as a member of the famous comedy team Monty Python's Flying Circus. He went on to make several movies, including Life of Brian and A Fish Called Wanda.
He recently released a memoir titled “So, Anyway…” in which he describes how being a lonely child who did not fit in helped forge his career in comedy because he learned the value of making people laugh.
The comedian told Reuters that now he is “the happiest I have ever been in my life,” living in London with his wife and three cats. He said that writing the book was “the most fun I have had in 10 years.”
Cleese also revealed that with age has come the realization of the importance of comedy.
“Making people happy for an evening is a rather useful thing to do in this world,” he said. “I think I rather downplayed it in the past.”