Thursday, September 11, 2014

History 361 - Antebellum 1820-1860 Opinion Piece #1 - Indian Removal

Indian Removal
            I chose Jackson's Indian Removal as the subject of my first Response Essay.  I think that while most Americans are fairly knowledgeable about the evil of slavery, few are cognizant of the near extinction of an entire race of people. The Native American people still suffer from treatment  that began with the landing of the white man in the Caribbeanin 1492.  Most Americans have not even heard of the Indian Removal and few of those that have realize that it was conducted for nearly the entire decade of the 1830s.    It was not just a single march of 80 miles, like the brutal Bataan Death March.   The Trail of Tears, the final portion of the Cherokee removal, was arguably  the most barbaric of the atrocities visited on the tribes in our history.  It crossed nine states and hundreds of miles.  This dark period was certainly not taught in the history classes of my youth.   
            I am in no way saying that slavery was not an abomination, but I believe that the Native Americans that were uprooted and moved west across the Mississippi River experienced an even  more horrific existence.  Slaves were considered  a valuable commodity so they were housed, fed, and clothed.  They were provided medical  care.  Many slaveholders were cruel, but they valued their slaves as they did their livestock.  Also, many slaves lived on the same land for generations and as a result had some stability in their wretched lives.   
            These tribes were forcibly removed from their land and everything they knew. Thousands died from disease, starvation, and exposure to the elements. These "savages" were not even valued as highly as slaves.  The government just wanted them to go away and they nearly did.   
            The United  States has never been the melting pot that it advertises itself as.  Throughout our history, each ethnic group, nationality, and race has been victimized and exploited by the white, primarily British, male, "ruling" class.  While it is mainly people of color that experienced the most prejudicial treatment, "lesser" white people, such as Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants have been victims.  The Americans, following the British imperialist model, have colonized and exploited many other countries, expanding the reach of political and military power and desire for resources.  But none of this even approaches the evil it has  exercised  on the Native Americans.  Most immigrant groups have eventually been accepted, if not welcomed, and allowed to share in the quality of life afforded an American citizen   The "American Dream" has  been primarily a nightmare to the American Indian.  
            My mother's grandfather was a full-blooded Native American.  He died long before I was born, and was never talked about.  My mother's grandmother was disgraced by having "been with" an Indian.  I only found out about him by accident.  That is a part of my ancestry that I will never know about.  A philosophy lost to me.     
            I lived in Wyoming for six years in the town of Riverton, in the middle of the Wind River Reservation.  I got a firsthand look at the hopelessness of these people.  I even substitute taught in one of the Indian schools.  Abject poverty; alcohol, drug, and physical abuse are a way of life.  Unlike the African Americans, the Native Americans have scant positive role models to encourage expectations of a better life.  They have no Michael Jordans, Martin Luther Kings, or Barack Obamas to inspire them.  They have casinos.  However, the income from those often does not trickle down below tribal "leaders."      
            Though the American government has always lacked respect for people of color, I believe the Native American has received the poorest treatment for the longest time.                               

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Beatles Come To America - "A Really Big Show".

The second of my pieces for my CCU Music course.  Other geezers will get it.

            I was 11 years old in February of 1964 when the Beatles were introduced  to me and the rest of America on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I knew they were something special because the girls were screaming so loudly that I could hardly hear their music and my Southern Baptist mother thought they were the devil incarnate.  I had to throw a mini-tantrum for her to allow me to watch.  I had never seen anything like them.  To a blue-jeaned boy with a flat-top haircut these four guys in Edwardian suits and bowl haircuts were as alien as if they had arrived  in a spaceship.  If not for the assassination of President Kennedy a few months earlier, this would have been the most memorable event of my youth.  It turned out to be one of the most significant in my life.
            The arrival  of the Beatles gave the nation a much needed diversion  from  the grim  realities of the previous year:  the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination.  It could not have come at a better time and timing is everything.  They made four appearances that month, but none had the impact on the world, or me, that the first one did.  It is estimated that 40% of the population of the United States watched that program.   They performed five songs:  "All My Loving", 'Till There Was You", "She Loves You", "I Saw Her Standing There", and "I Want To Hold Your Hand."  Using my paper route money I purchased Meet The Beatles the very next day from a local drug store.  I was disappointed that only four of the songs I had heard were included, but still excited.  "She Loves You" came in the second of many Beatles albums that I subsequently purchased.           
            My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Wakefield, was young and beautiful (to a boy entering puberty) and had already become a Beatles' fan.  She used to post the Billboard Top 10 on our bulletin board and each week at least half of those songs belonged to  the Beatles.  She brought in fan magazines and was my source of all things Beatles for the remainder of that school year.  I remember being amazed that though I could sing along with all the song lyrics I could not understand a word they said during interviews.  It was as if Liverpudlian English was a foreign language.
            The Beatles stayed together throughout my Junior and Senior High years until my graduation in 1970.  In just six years they produced more memorable music than any of the flood of British bands that followed in their wake.  Like great composers throughout history, much of Lennon/McCartney music was timeless.  The songs I heard in that first televised performance were nowhere near their best compositions.  They continued to evolve.  Unprecedented success allowed them to continuously experiment and creative genius insured those endeavors were nearly always fresh and interesting.  It seemed to me that every new release ventured into unexplored musical territory, borrowing from many genres of music.  Early in their careers, they covered songs from a variety of artists from R&B to Country.  They were inspired by such artists as Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Carole King, and Little Richard.  Their initial  influences  of American Folk, Rockabilly, Skiffle, Ragtime, and Motown, eventually expanded to include both   Western  and Indian Classical, innovations  previously unheard of in rock/pop music.
            Though I became a fan of many other performers, no others had the life-long influence on me, or the world, that the Fab Four did.  All four had successful post Beatle  careers, though none captured the magic in a bottle that the synergy of their collaborative efforts produced.          

Saturday, August 2, 2014

My Indoctrination To Classical Music or "What's Up Doc?"

In my Music class I was assigned to write two pieces about how music relates to me.  This is the first of the two:

            I was exposed to classical music at a very young age  and  did not realize it until many years later.  The soundtracks of nearly all of my childhood cartoons were orchestrations of classic compositions by many of the greatest composers of all time.  This is probably a combination of the ease with which cartoon action can be coupled with classical movements and the fact that much of this music is public domain and no royalties needed to be paid. 
            Cartoons of that period tend to have a fluidity that lends  itself to the various crescendos and diminuendos that are present in  classical symphonies.   I did not realize it at the time but the background music revealed to me when Bugs Bunny was outsmarting the hunter, Elmer Fudd, was often Beethoven.  Pastoral serenity before the encounter might be" Moonlight Sonata" followed by the inevitable chase  and resulting violence fueled by his "Fifth Symphony".  And when Buggs eventually knocked Elmer unconscious  we would hear the soothing refrain of Brahms' "Lullaby vocalized by Elmer's rhythmic snoring.   I have long since forgotten individual episodes of these programs but the music stayed in my head and eventually I identified it and learned to appreciate and enjoy it for what it is. 
                Even one of my favorite childhood  westerns, The Lone Ranger, opened and closed  with Rossini's "William Tell Overture".  Once again, the title and composer realized many years later.  Even though it has been well over 50 years since that program aired, I cannot hear that particular piece without thinking of a hearty "Hi Ho Silver".  Rossini shows up again in a number of cartoons and it was not uncommon for eight year  old boys to be singing "Figaro,  Figaro," though we had no idea that it was from  a famous opera, "Barber of Seville" .     
                Of course in the feature animated film, "Fantasia", the music was more important than the animation and I never really appreciated it until I was an adult.  It is probably the all-time classic marriage of cartoon and  classical music artistry.  I still enjoy seeing it today.  Probably even more than I did as a child.
                A cereal commercial from my youth featured Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" complete with canon  fire.  I  had no idea  until much later that this piece  was  written to commemorate Russia's defeat of Napoleon.   It has  become a popular companion  to Independence Day fireworks displays.  I do not remember the name of the cereal but I will never forget the vibrant music.   I was in my twenties when  I first heard Dan Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang  Syne"  and there it was again, slowed down and subdued, but unmistakably Tchaikovsky.  
                Who could have imagined that my introduction to what my mother would call "high brow music" would come from such sources?  I think subsequent generations were robbed of that  enriching experience.  Though classical music still appears in today's culture through commercials, movies, and use in modern music, it is not nearly as prevalent as in my childhood.  The subliminal exposure to it had a lasting effect on my future appreciation of music that I may not have had access to in my rural childhood upbringing by bluegrass, blue collar, parents.
                Though I am not a musician, music is a very essential part of who I am.  I have a very eclectic taste in  music and enjoy many genres.   Classical music strike a chord in me in a way that no other music does.  At its  softest,  it is as emotional, often  without words, as any heartfelt ballad carved from the heart of James Taylor  or The Beatles.    On the other hand, when it is rousing and dynamic, it can make the hair stand up on the back of my neck and energize  me  every bit as much as the  frenetic guitar riffs of Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen.     
                So it seems my Saturday mornings sitting too close to the television were not wasted.  When the Roadrunner was torturing the hapless Coyote, I was a sponge soaking up culture.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Final Draft - Creative Writing Flash Fiction Piece - Norma

Please excuse typos.  I have not finalized the edit yet.

            The curvy, platinum blonde flounced into room 228.  She had forgotten how to walk without swinging her hips provocatively, as if to primal music.  Her essence filled the chamber, but did nothing to brighten it. She immediately drew the dingy drapes, though the universe she wished to escape was also inside this dreary hotel room.  She tossed her purse and a brown paper bag onto the bed. 
            She stripped off her tawdry clothes, again to the silent beat of the music in her head, until she was down to a lacy bra and sheer,  matching, panties.  Still wearing her 6 inch stiletto heels, she flopped gracelessly onto the bed, and began the familiar, mindless, ritual of rummaging in her fake Prada bag, seeking the soothing, hollow, rattle that had forever transformed her into one of Pavlov's drooling dogs. 
            As she lined up the pill bottles on the nightstand, like empty red solo cups at a frat house kegger, she was surprised  by how many there were. Some were uppers that brought her down and some were downers that made her fly.  There were anti-depressants that made her so very sad.  Some were for pain, others for sleep, and she thought one was actually for either a sore throat or the clap.   She couldn't remember which was supposed to do what as none really seemed to work anymore, unless she washed them down with a pint of vodka.  Gin would do nicely in the absence of vodka, as would rum.  She called them out by name, like a day one teacher mistaking her way through the roll, as she pulled them one by one from the cavernous bag. There was just enough light coming from the bathroom to read the labels:
     "Nembutal, Seconal, Chloral Hydrate, Librium, Valmid, Perco----dan, Parvate, Lomotil, Dexedrine, Redisol, Darvon, Hydrozeta, Sulfa ----thal----lidine, Phenergan," and a couple of bottles with no label at all.  It took two rows, looked like some kind of  prescription Phalanx formation. "Yes I know that word," her voice echoing in the empty cubicle.  Though no one was listening, she needed to say  it aloud.  They all thought she was dumb blonde. To them it was sexier.   She never got that and she loved to celebrate that she was neither.
            She could actually feel the oppressive weight of the darkness, but still preferred it to the revealing glare of stage lights.  The unflattering light detailed the toll that chronic insomnia and 15 years of  displaying a narcotically induced smile can take on a body racing willy-nilly towards 40.  She  tossed  a wadded up handful of singles on the  bed.   There  was a time,  she thought grimly, when  these bills would have been in much larger denominations.  Just like with Elvis, the demand was for the young Marilyn.  The fantasy that even the shadows of seedy, dimly lit, rooms could no longer sustain.    
            She thought about what had brought her to this room, this night.  Her mind drifted back to her childhood.  She had always been cursed by her beauty.  She knew that seemed vain but it was simply the truth. 
            The dirty secret she shared with her disgusting step-dad was unbearable.  There wasn't enough body wash to get the unclean off of her and no amount of Listerine could temper the lingering foulness of his whiskey tainted, smoker's breath.  You are always supposed to remember your first time.  She would certainly never forget.  More like her first fifty times.  Fortunately for him, before she summoned the courage to tell anyone, somebody slit his throat.  Another secret between them.  Unfortunately, death did not stop him from entering her nightly nightmares.  Surprisingly she felt safest in the dark.  He always wanted the lights left on.  "You are so beautiful."       
            The mean, middle school, girls hated her for  her  early development and clear skin and to the guys she was simply a conquest; bases  that  needed to be stolen, or at least touched.  The false rumors about her from boys that failed to score became her reality.  Why not?
            She had spent much of her early twenties wriggling on casting couches, auditioning for roles  that didn't exist.    And then came Marilyn.  She had always been told of a resemblance, but had never thought much about it until a sweaty studio exec, with that recognizable, fatherly, halitosis,  offered her $500 to put on a platinum wig and sing Happy Birthday off-key.      
            Then the same guy, after several more $500 performances, seeing her value, found her several other high rollers with the similar fetishes and eventually became her "agent".  Soon she was playing Marilyn at every venue from cameos in feature films, to mall openings and bachelor parties.  She can't remember when she  lost her own identity and only occasionally can she see that lonely girl through the illusion of her life, as false as her eyelashes. 
            One totally unqualified acting teacher........well of course he lacked credentials.  What reputable educator would trade sex for acting lessons?  "Probably more than you would think," she chuckled humorlessly to herself.  He had given  her  one useful piece of advice: "when you play a part, abandon yourself, and become that character". 
`           Norma removed Marilyn from her head and tossed her onto the dresser.  She shook out her own hair; shorter and thinner, brown streaked with grey.  She could stop being Marilyn with a simple costume change, but she could not divorce herself from the pain of Norma.  Marilyn was fake.  Norma was all too real.  The face she saw when she was forced to look in a mirror.   Norma had never had her heart broken,  just chipped away a granule at a time, as by the chisel of a sculptor.  And she had known a lot of  chiselers.  For Norma, life was both too much and not enough.  She would not miss it.  The lyrics to an old Bob Seger, no John Mellencamp, song came to mind:
"Life goes on
long after the thrill of livin' is gone"
            She looked at the pill bottles and reached for the green ones.  She really didn't know them  by name, or purpose, just by color.  Then she thought better of it.  Tonight calls for a tourniquet,  not a Band-Aid.   Her life was a series of paper cuts and she was finally bleeding out.  She reached behind her into  the paper bag and pulled out a liter of Grey Goose,  which she had splurged on, but tonight was special 
            It took maximum effort to unscrew the top off of the vodka and she rewarded herself with a large swig, feeling the warmth spread to her extremities.  She reluctantly set  the decanter down on the nightstand and picked up the first of the bottles, examining the capsules, tablets, and gel caps.  If the color appealed to her, she poured some into the vodka bottle, laughing at the recommended dosages.  
            When she had finished concocting her multi-colored chemical cocktail, "shaken not stirred", she propped up on two pillows, picked up the remote and turned on the television.  She knew that at 10:00 PM, on channel 17, they were showing "The Misfits".  The hotel clock showed 9:49, she would have to pace herself.   
            She looked around the lonesome alcove.  It was indistinguishable from countless other lifeless bedroom ceilings she had vacantly contemplated.  The difference is that this would be the last that she would ever occupy. Well, at least alive.  If she was really alive right now.  The morgue did not count, even though the cold drawers could not feel more soulless than room 218 at this moment. 
            The movie began and Norma marveled at how strange but appealing Clark Gable looked in a cowboy hat.  It was hard to believe it would be the last movie for both of them.  All three actually.  Time to start drinking the misery away.  She lifted the jug to her vivid red lips.  A rivulet ran from the corner of her mouth.  She did not wipe it off, but prospected for it with her tongue. .    
            When she  is found by the maid in the morning,  unconscious and as cold as a marble slab, having drowned in her own sick, there will be no headlines.  No need for a note.  Who would read it, anyway?  And Marilyn didn't leave one.  Why should she?  Norma took another  gulp, ignoring how foul her potion tasted.  Will they even notice the bruises?    
            Her last coherent thought was that she wondered how long before they found the bastard's body.  They located her step-dad pretty quickly.