Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dearly Departed

This week, two minor icons from my childhood passed, James Brown and Gerald Ford. I saw James Brown perform live once; it wasn't a good show. But I've seen videos of some of his performances and when he was on, he was without a doubt the most energetic performer in pop music. I write a lot about pop music on my music blog at and sometimes the two blogs overlap. But I'm going to try to keep them separate and if you want to read about my ruminations about James Brown you can find them there.

Yesterday, I was at a little gig of mine in town when I saw images of Gerald Ford on the bar TV screen falling down and playing golf badly. I said it must be Gerald Ford's birthday; someone else said, nah, he probably died. I said no way; they'd treat him with more dignity than that if he died. Shows you what I know about TV now. They treated his death like a comedy show...badabump. We are in an era where crudeness and tastelessness reign supreme. We don't hold back even with the death of a former president. Lovely. I'm sure the producer of that TV segment would be aghast if his own father's death was treated like a farce. He must have forgotten about the Golden Rule.

Thinking about Gerald Ford brought me back to a time when I was hitch-hiking across Canada and elsewhere. The Watergate hearings would be background noise on TV sets as I traveled. Then I went to Israel to help pick grapefruit and tomatoes on my cousin's farm during the Yom Kippur War. It was a crazy time for me. I had replaced drugs with girls and sex; I can't seem to have two obsessions at the same time. I came back to the US and hitch-hiked and camped the summer of 1974. On the day that Nixon resigned I had just come out of the wilderness for two weeks and was in the tourist town of Wall, SD eating a 49 cent eggs and coffee breakfast. I looked up at the TV screen, dumbfounded. I had no idea Nixon was going to resign; it was incomprehensible to me that any president would resign from office.

When I think of those times, I think that they defined me in more ways than I can possibly imagine. They left me with a profound mistrust of anyone in a position of leadership, a mistrust that began to form when I talked to my parents about life in Stalinist Eastern Europe, but was fully stamped by Richard Nixon. They left me with a permanent sense that government is inherently necessary, but also inherently corrupt. It's a wonder that anything gets done of value in government; but it does.

When I think of Gerald Ford, I think of someone who became a leader by accident. What was interesting about Gerald Ford was that he knew he was in over his head. He was amazingly free of hubris. A leader who knows his limitations is a good thing. I wish the same could be said of our current president.

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