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Go out with you? Why not... Do I like to dance? Of course! Take a walk along the beach tonight? I'd love to. But don't try to touch me. Don't try to touch me. Because that will never happen again. "Past, Present and Future"-The Shangri-Las

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

10utlaws and Inlaws.

From Outlaw Bible of American Literature:

Ripening by Meridel Le Sueur: A woman who sympathizes with the labor movement, but is an outsider to it, gets involved in a big strike, and describes it from the inside. There's a remarkable blend of planning and organic group activity (very much an endorsement of collectivism as celebrated in classic Soviet films such as Eisenstein's October, which disdained stars and central characters in favor of heroic crowds). The way the strikers operate as a self-sufficient collective deserves scrutiny from protestors today.

The Woman Rebel by Margaret Sanger: Sanger founded Planned Parenthood, and her newsletters about abortion and such kept getting her in legal trouble. In these excerpts from her newsletter she offers, as a nurse, a stentorian rebuke to "quacks" who keep women from knowing how to prevent conception, and she invokes the fighting spirit of women who don't wish to be in bondage to men who use womens' reproductive systems as shackles.

Thelma & Louise by Callie Khouri: An excerpt from the script of this film. It's the last scene. You know the one. One thing that's intriguing to me is that Khouri isn't at all florid;

"A cloud of dust blows through the frame as the speeding car sails over the edge of the cliff." 

That's the end. Screenwriting can be as concise and compressed as poetry.

SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanis: I knew about her entirely through the film "I Shot Andy Warhol," but I was surprised to find that her manifesto reads as much like a BDSM fantasy about humiliating and degrading men as it does a protest against patriarchy.

"The few remaining men can exist out their puny days dropped out on drugs or strutting around in drag or passively watching the high-powered female in action, fulfilling themselves as spectators, vicarious livers, or breeding in the cow pasture with the toadies, or they can go off to the nearest friendly suicide center where they will be quietly, quickly, and painlessly gassed to death."

Where do I sign up?

A lot of the manifesto's rhetoric could be repurposed to any other variety of extremist hate speech with a little find/replace action, much as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a satire on Napoleon before someone rewrote it as an anti-Semitic hoax. Anyway, after the manifesto there's a biographical sketch of Solanis by one Freddie Baer which strongly suggests that her attempted murder of Warhol (and also her publisher, Maurice Girodias of Grove Press) had less to do with militant misandry than with impoverished frustration over getting underpaid and ripped off all the time.

The Illegal Days by Grace Paley: Paley tells us about the days when abortion was illegal and birth control was pretty much only available to married women. She gives a sense of how women talked with each other about these issues, and what it was like to participate in the abortion underground. She admonishes the control-freak hypocrisy of the anti-abortion movement by letting us see how stymied and stifled women were before Roe V. Wade.

Living My Life by Emma Goldman: Legendary Leftist leader Goldman tells us about a prison stint which she describes as a crucible in which she was tested. The force and nuance of her principles are inspiring. She's 100% anti-religion, yet she befriends nuns and a priest, and calls a priest for a dying woman who wants last rites. She also tells us all about the basically unregulated nature of prison; no one's watching the watchmen, and the wards throw their weight around in abusive ways. My, how times have changed.

Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin: All I (thought I) knew about Dworkin was that she thought all heterosexual intercourse was rape, so I put her in the same drawer as Solanis, but this excerpt gives me a powerful new respect for Dworkin's incisive critique of patriarchy. In this piece she examines Joan of Arc as a woman whose virginity is a means of short-circuiting the idea of female identity as a choice between "sexual accessibility to men or withdrawal from the world..." She doesn't bring up Joan's cohort Gilles de Rais, whose bond to Joan is a fascinating study in contrasts, but she makes a powerful case for violating the terms of patriarchy as a means to female self-definition.

The Birth of Feminism by Guerrilla Girls: A mock-up of a movie poster for a Tinseltown treatment of the feminist movement as it might have been made in the 90s. Check it out.

From Dangerous Visions:

The Doll House by James Cross: If I were Anthony Lane, film critic for the New Yorker, my first paragraph about this story would be a cascade of erudite dad jokes about Ibsen. Anyway, this is about a financially overextended guy who obtains a doll house with a tiny oracle inside (had the author seen Edward Albee's Tiny Alice, which also features a tiny woman in a doll house?) and tries to get her to help him make $$$. It's a classic tale of wishes gone wrong, but Mr. Cross does a sharp job of putting us in the scene, building investment in the character's predicament and establishing enough verisimilitude that the fantasy elements exist in a grounded world. Half a century later, the financial predicament still seems like it could very easily be your problem, if it isn't already.

Sex and/or Mr. Morrison by Carol Emshwiller: A woman is fascinated by a neighbor, Mr. Morrison, whose large male body contrasts with her small female one. She develops an affectionate stalker relationship to him, infiltrating his apartment and snooping all over the joint, as well as hiding like a cat. She's an odd one, who seems to move through life in illogical, creepy (in several senses) ways.

The story plays on a science fiction idea that I find particularly chilling and resonant, the idea of the extraterrestrial living as a human, in a double fashion. The narrator's poetically outsiderish viewpoint presents both her behavior and Mr. Morrison's (to her) fascinating body as potentially non-human in the normal sense, without actually tipping over into "real" science fiction. Another slipstream precursor.

Check out this amazing 5 minute film by her husband Ed (who was also a science fiction illustrator) for a companion piece. It also defamiliarizes the body and the world around us in artful fashion. I like Lynch as much as the next geek, but please don't call it "Lynchian," it predates Lynch by decades. Thank you.

From Calling the Wind:

Has Anybody Seen Miss Dora Dean? by Ann Petry: On a pleasant evening, the narrator receives a phone call informing her that her long-time acquaintance, Sarah Forbes, is dying, and demands that the narrator come visit in order to accept a bequeathment before death comes. Those dishes serve as the Rosebud from which unspools the mysterious and lively story of Sarah and her husband, a perfect butler and imperfect husband who ended his own life in sordid, unexpected fashion. Sarah's complex life, from spirited party girl to domineering matriarch, is interesting enough in itself, and the resolution of the mystery seems surprisingly modern for 1958. It's one of those situations when a contemporary reader (at least this one) is surprised that people wrote about such things with any sensitivity back then.

 It's also one of the most entertaining and suspenseful stories I've read in this whole project, and I'm hungry to read more by Ann Petry.

 Mother Dear and Daddy by Junius Edwards: a clutch of put-upon siblings are awakened one night by mysterious visitors. This short melodrama rips into the internalized racism of light-skinned vs. dark-skinned prejudice with heartbreaking force. It also reminds me of something I'd forgotten; in childhood, intense emotions tend to become entangled with whatever is in front of you (a house, a car, an adult) so that whatever's filling your sight and whatever's filling your heart get fused in a perplexing and powerful fashion.

Also, this could be the beginning of an African-American Flowers in the Attic. Some enterprising writer should run with that.. Send me a copy!

From Best American Short Stories:

The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin by Tennessee Williams: a young boy (let's call him Tennessee) and his sister are best friends, until one day she undergoes a mysterious change (probably menstruation, although we're never told and the family treats it like a solemn Bene Gesserit rite of passage) and separates from him. She is a competent student pianist, and is scheduled to play a duet with a boy named Richard at an upcoming recital. Richard is handsome to the point of perfection, and he makes her so nervous that her chops turn to trash whenever she plays with him. Meanwhile, l'il Tennessee spies on them, and falls in love with the boy himself.

Williams doesn't write this as a script in prose form the way one might have expected; it's very interior, and the paragraphs are thick and long. Of course, his scripts often have a frustrated prosesmith quality, so maybe its not surprising that he'd go full Henry James given the opportunity. Anyway, it's impressive that he wrote about his own homosexuality as unashamedly as he did; his rhapsodies over his first crush aren't bashful at all.

The Country Husband by John Cheever: Cheever gives us a story about a suburban husband and father whose life is superficially the 50s ideal, but there are harbingers early on that chaos reigns. First, his flight almost crashes and has an emergency landing. Then, no one will listen to his account of the nearly fatal emergency. His family's deftly choreographed squabbling put me in mind of those UPA animations like Gerald McBoingboing or Mr Magoo from the same era as this story, and that's not a bad way to visualize Cheever's world generally.

Our protagonist has a passing encounter with a maid whom he saw get shamed and degraded a decade before when he was a soldier in Europe; she was publicly shaved and stripped for having an affair with a Nazi soldier. She doesn't return to the story, but this warning about the consequences of illicit love sets the stage for what happens next; our protagonist is smitten by a young babysitter.

The story of his terrible behavior from there is a complex tragicomedy. The narrative is as stuffed with walk-on characters as an episode of Fibber McGee and Molly, each of whom reveals something about the sorrows and dissatisfaction which the camera-ready neighborhood contains and conceals. (My favorite, a pretentious beatnik who turns out to be the babysitter's fiance, manages both to be correct and insufferable, and I'd love to read more about him.) One of Cheever's specialties was to show the wheels coming off someone's American dream, a premise for which I have a bottomless appetite. Writers as distinct as Fay Weldon and Ramsey Campbell are his lovely descendants.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Outlaws and 9laws.

I'm thankful for short stories. Well, some of them. Allow me to elaborate:

From Calling the Wind:

The Only Man on Liberty Street by William Melvin Kelley: Liberty Street's only residents are African-American women and their light-skinned children. You picking up what I'm putting down? So one day, one of the well-to-do white men who are regular visitors to Liberty street comes to stay. The story is told from the perspective of his mixed-race daughter, who cherishes her father and is grateful for the joy he brings to her mother. 

But the man's wife stalks the house from the comfort of a coach, and threatens to sic the Klan on her husband's new family if he doesn't come back to her. The man is popular, successful, non-racist, and a crack shot, but as the town's plentiful supply of cruel racist dirtbags turns up the pressure, he grudgingly admits: "I can't shoot everyone."

This tale shows how cultural racism works on several levels, pressuring everyone, even anti-racist mavericks, to toe the line. When society is in the grip of racism, intersectional fault lines turn white women against black women, and no one can safely resist. The titular "only man" is confident that he can protect himself, but he can't be sure that he can protect the woman and daughter he loves. 

Kelley's prose draws upon melodramatic phrasings, but the story resists melodramatic endings in place of something quiet, realistic, and mournful. Our hero returns to the white wife he despises, in order to save his true, forbidden, family.

Come Out The Wilderness by James Baldwin: A young country-mouse African-American woman moves to the Big City and falls into an unhealthy relationship with an irresistible white boy. She has a pretty good job as a secretary, and may soon be working for an African-American man who shares her country background and has a definite romantic interest in her. She doesn't find this alluringly romantic; it's straight up sexual harassment, no matter how well intentioned. But her home life is an unsettling agony; she craves her wayward boyfriend, but knows she'll have to give him up.  The story ends with a devastating final blow, the ultimate reason that their relationship is untenable.

Baldwin is subtle, with keener insight into people's mixed motives than just about any writer I've ever engaged. For example:

"Through him, she got over feeling that she was black and unattractive, and as soon as this happened, she was able to leave him." 

That's a whole story in a sentence. That's James Baldwin.

From The Outlaw Bible of American Literature:

To Do the Right Thing by Lou Reed: The groundbreaking rocker refuses to perform as a musician while working as a reporter in Prague (on a trip to interview Vaclav Havel), and while his political travel writing isn't as rich and compelling as the kind of stuff you get in the New Yorker, he offers some intriguing observations. A Jewish graveyard too small to accommodate all the bodies, the gravestones piled up; accounts of destroying Russian tanks by sneaking up and vandalizing their exposed gas tanks; kids playing songs where once music had been forbidden.

Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain: excerpts from the legendary and compulsively readable oral history of punk music. Iggy Pop explains how he learned from/appropriated blues stylings to develop his own brand of expressive musical articulation. The MC5 has a really bad time dealing with stupidly militant, thuggish fans who can't distinguish between intense entertainment and invocations to theory-deficient praxis. Patti Smith confronts God in concert, and God retorts, leading, one band member testifies, to Smith's re-Christianization. Sid and Nancy try to haggle with heroin dealers. I need to get my own copy of the whole book, because it's gold. The editors' book The Other Hollywood, about the porn movie business, is a similar blend of the amusing and distressing.

The Vulture by Gil-Scott Heron: Heron's mother wanted him to go to school and stop using drugs, so she was a terrible mom. To Heron's credit, he is a more sensitive describer of his home life than he is a commentator upon it, and it's possible to find a more compassionate view of his mother in the details he relates than in his whining about her whining. On the other hand, his description of the defiant masochism of Mets fans demonstrates the magic Heron could conjure. Check out the song Whitey's on the Moon for a glimpse of just how great he could be.

Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood by Eric Burdon: Burdon used to hang out with Steve McQueen, who was a clever gear/pothead and a dangerous driver. I don't know what it says about me that I'm more entertained by condescending anecdotes about punks and porn stars than  worshipful anecdotes about hotdoggers eluding the highway patrol. 

The Old, Weird America by Greil Marcus: Marcus describes a free-flowing (drunken) musical session between Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, and finds the magic where some of us would only see foggy fumbling. 

From Dangerous Visions:

Eutopia by Poul Anderson: An alternate universe where Apollonian Hellenism shaped North American culture sends a young anthropologist to another alternate world where Nordic paganism integrated with First World peoples to create a more tribal, forested North America that the one we know. Our anthropological hero is in danger, for a reason that only becomes apparent at the end. It's a ripping yarn, but beyond thrilling pursuit, the story is interested in a sympathetic consideration of the virtues and vices of different cultural approaches to life. Anderson concludes the story with that beloved science fiction trope, the know-it-all speechifying character who's a standin for the author, hectoring us about what's true and stuff. 

Spoiler warning: the guy's in trouble because he's gay, and hit on a guy, not realizing that there are some cultures so benighted that they regard such actions as taboo. Anderson swipes at homophobia with real daring for the 60s. Good man.

Incident in Moderan by David R. Bunch: In a world where militant military cyborgs fight gamelike, but fully lethal, wars, a happily hating soldier meets a sniveling, fully organic civilian, who yearns for at least a taste of peace and mercy. The story runs the risk of being an on-the-nose satire of militarism, but Bunch, who was a civilian employee of the US Military, writes with such brightly burning poetic intensity that the warrior's worldview is too compelling to dismiss. Furthermore, the fact that the soldiers willfully replace almost every part of themselves with machinery, and cheerfully reduce their range of interests and emotions to warmongering sports rivalry, remains a challenge to the posthuman nerds out there who dream of replacing our complex organic minds and bodies with manufactured parts. The risk of reducing ourselves as drastically as these warriors have done is one of many things to dread about such a future.

The Escaping by David R. Bunch: This time Bunch creates a vision of a character who's like a more embodied and less free version of Italo Calvino's Qfwfq, an inhabitant of a world built on words, who can shift reality by crafting the right narrative. The character is in chains, but dreams and speaks into being a tableau of escape. The story reminds me of my own pre-dreaming visions just before sleep, but also of idiosyncratic BDSM fantasies. So far Bunch and Dick have provided my favorite contributions to this anthology, and I already knew Dick was great. Why have I never heard of Bunch before? He's a visionary who's in complete command of his instrument.

From Best American Short Stories:

 Miami-New York by Marsha Gellhorn: an extremely dissatisfied married woman and a lusty soldier sit next to each other on an overnight flight. Things happen. 

Gellhorn delves into the minds of her two characters, and unfolds the conflicting impulses and ruminations that direct and redirect their moment-to-moment choices. It's a dazzling demonstration of erotic tension, and the tripwires that can prevent moments of steamy connection from becoming anything more valuable.

 The Second Tree From the Corner by E. B. White: Perhaps in the 40s, the notion that mentally and emotionally troubled people are enjoying a more authentic experience of life than normies wasn't such a dangerous cliche. I do love one passage in this story, though:

"...what he wanted was at once great and microscopic, and... although it borrowed from the nature of large deeds and of youthful love and of old songs and of early intimations, it was not any one of these things..." 


The Farmer's Children by Elizabeth Bishop: On an old-fashioned farm, the locks are broken on a barn full of valuable equipment, so on an icy Winter's night two boys are sent to sleep in the barn and guard the gear. You can see where this babes-in-the-woods story is going, and it goes there, but Bishop, a legendary poet, describes the territory and the season with rhapsodic reverence for the beauty of American land. If literary Americana appeals to you, give Bishop a try.

Death of a Favorite by J. F. Powers: A sardonic cat tells us about the power struggles in a rectory. A sweet old priest runs the place and loves the cat, but his likely replacement is a sadist with no evident devotion to God, humanity, or felines. It's a claws-out satire on the lack of holiness, or even decency, among some power seekers in the religion business. Did my year of working in a box factory alongside seminary students give me any reason to question this cynical view? No, it did not.

Anyway, don't fret; although, as the title suggests, the poor cat is killed by the villainous scheming of a pair of godless priests, all ends well. Remember, cats have 9 lives, and in a story where a cat is more articulate than a priest, other miracles are possible.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


More short story reviews, because everyone loves short stories and everyone loves reviews.

From Dangerous Visions:

Gonna Roll the Bones by Fritz Leiber: Leiber is best known for his witty sword & sorcery tales, but here he takes on Devil Went Down To Georgia-style yarns, as a broke problem gambler duels a mysterious gentleman dice slinger at a casino that's right out of a Ralph Bakshi film. 

I have fond memories of a storytellers' convention that my Mom took me to when I was a kid, and I can imagine this story being offered up in such a setting, although hopefully without the gratuitous racist slurs. One odd choice Leiber makes is to use pairs of descriptive analogies, one conventional, the other science fictional; for example, lights pulse "like sick fireflies or a plague-stricken space fleet." I found it distracting in a story that is rooted in oral fantastical traditions, but has no other science fiction content. Leiber's reasoning, as he explains in the afterword, is that SF is now sufficiently relevant and familiar that it might as well be used as a seasoning in non-SF writing. I suppose slipstream writers can toast Leiber as a pioneer. 

Anyway, the payoff of the story suggests that the protagonist's wife is the power behind the devil's throne, because she resents her husband taking off to gamble all the money away when she works hard to earn that money, so she casts a witchy spell to entrap her man. Leiber implies that she's in the wrong for trying to bring such a spendthrift and wayward man to heel. On the evidence of this story I'm going to say that Leiber was a casually misogynistic racist who could spin an enchanting story. One for the Problematic Fave list.

Lord Randy, My Son by Joe L. Hensley: Not sure what it says about either Hensley or editor Harlan Ellison that Ellison tries, in his introduction, to inspire us to love Hensley by regaling us with an anecdote about Hensley getting away with reckless driving because he's chummy with the cops. Anyway, the story concerns a child (or perhaps a Childe) who is mentally handicapped, and since this is a science fiction story, you know what that means; he's got psychic superpowers. Hensley's prose is melodramatic but has a certain interest, simply by virtue of its ungainliness; it sometimes seems like an awkward translation. "Early tests on him had been negative, but physically there had always been a lack of interest..." This pidgin prose gives the story a quaint charm, but the story considers real-world violence and disease, and it knows how desperately the afflicted yearn for healing. The boy, it's suggested, will grow to be an angry healer who might also hurt people out of righteous wrath. Hensley's awareness of power's mixed capacity for good and ill may have been informed by his day job as a lawyer. His storytelling was clunky and cliched, but he had real insight into the way pain and power shapes our world.

From Calling the Wind:

Flying Home by Ralph Ellison: A Tuskegee Airman in training crashes his plane and is badly injured. He's discovered by an old African-American man who tries to comfort him until help arrives, but our protagonist is unwilling to bond with a country person. He's all too aware that black people get lumped together, and in his zeal to distinguish himself (did I mention that he's a Tuskegee Airman?) and earn equal standing in the eyes of a racist society, he dreads being associated with less exalted black people. In his injured state, he has hallucinations about the other man that are almost indistinguishable from racist stereotyping, and these phantasms foul up the old man's efforts to comfort our hero. By the end, though, the airman learns that an embarrassing friend is more to be cherished than the dream of respect from white supremacists who can only resent black excellence. 

I've read a much-anthologized excerpt from Ellison's famous novel, Invisible Man, in which kids are paid to stage an absurd brawl for a white mens' club, and it had a similarly vivid quality in its depiction of physical suffering and shadowy racist overlords. I ought to read the whole novel. Ellison is a crisp and visceral storyteller, who ably dissects the most agonizing, infuriating cruelty.

Who's Passing For Who? by Langston Hughes: A clutch of Harlem Renaissance sophisticates goes out on the town but gets cornered by some well-meaning white busybodies. In 4 pages, Hughes packs enough switcheroos and revelations for a novel-length espionage thriller. Beyond that, it addresses the intersectional problems black women face in a racist patriarchy, and the constructed nature of race. Added to which, it's funny.

From Best American Short Stories

That In Aleppo Once... by Vladimir Nabokov: A newlywed couple flees Nazi territory, but is separated in France. They rediscover one another, but the wife's account of her adventure keeps changing. Several of her stories involve cuckolding her husband, and may be designed to titillate him. It transpires that she is telling other stories to other people; tales of spousal abuse that complicate his attempts to find her when she disappears again. On the other hand, the man is narrating this story, and you can never take a bitter tale about an unreasonable ex at face value; also, the woman intimates that she may, in fact, "live several lives at once." I'd never perceived the connection between Nabokov and similarly shifty literary beguiler M. John Harrison before, but it's so obvious now. Liminal states and shifting timelines feature in both authors' work, along with lush, inventive prose.

Anyway, this story is from the 40s, a decade before Nabokov became famous for another story about an unreliable narrator's road trip with a partner who vanishes, reappears, cuckolds the man, and leaves him in (deserved) agony. I used to fret that Nabokov, despite his protestations and apparently wholesome life, might indeed have harbored erotic interest in little girls, based on how often the theme does appear in his work, but now I wonder if cuckolding was more his thing. Anyway, some marvelous writers leave me thinking that the kind of work they do is achievable to someone such as myself. Nabokov is not one of them. I could no more write at his level than I could lay one of the stars in the sky like an egg.

The Interior Castle by Jean Stafford: A young woman has been badly injured in a car accident, and she secretly luxuriates in the isolation of her bedridden condition. She is stuck in place, but cheerfully free to roam the interior castle of her mind. This bounded freedom is assaulted by the condescending but well-meaning surgeon whose advances into the woman's wounds she perceives as akin to sexual assault, so much so that I'd apply a trigger warning to this story regarding sexual assault, even though no actual rape occurs. It's just a surgeon trying to heal a patient, but patriarchal domination of helpless women's' bodies are very much the subject here. 

It's a fitting companion piece to The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's classic story about a trapped woman finding escape in "hysteria." It is also, in its concern with the life of a woman's mind, a distant relative of Little Selves by Mary Lerner, which I wrote about here.

From The Outlaw Bible of American Literature:

Interview With Tupac Shakur by Larry Hester: To my shame, I've heard very little of Shakur's work, but after a coworker at the box factory told me, for the fortieth time, that he wasn't mad at me, I finally listened to Shakur's I Ain't Mad At Cha. It's an extraordinary grappling with wounded love. The thoughtfulness, spikiness, and social engagement in that song comes through in this interview, too, which show a man trying to do good work in the community without relying overmuch on religious faith. Shakur's respectful quarreling with the Five Percent Nation introduced me to that remarkable movement and its influence on hip-hop culture, not least through its nomenclature. The next time I break it down or drop some science, I'll know whom I'm appropriating.

Tarantula by Bob Dylan: Dylan spins anecdotes that seem like daffy improvisations; absurdist riffs on outlandish friends and worrying correspondences between his art and random tragedies. Dylan didn't need that Nobel for poetry the way so many gifted but unsung current poets do, but he is a wordweaver indeed, and as nimble on the page as on wax.

Miles by Miles Davis: This begins with a filthy and hilarious story about just how much trashy behavior you can get away with when you're Charlie Parker, and closes by demonstrating just how pervasive and damaging white supremacism is, even amongst the kind of people who ought to know better.

The Doggfather by Snoop Dogg: Snoop explains, on the basis of his drug-dealing days, that getting high, or wanting to, is a human universal, so wars on drugs aren't winnable. 

On that topic: when I lived in Alabama, every election (owing to a quirk of the state's constitution) we'd have to vote on whether a few counties I'd never been to would remain dry or not. I always abstained from voting on these, since I figured it was none of my business how those counties comported themselves. I changed my mind after reading about the meth problem in some Alabama counties. I compared two maps: one of dry counties, and one of meth-afflicted counties. 

You guessed it. A near-complete match. So from then on I voted in favor of changing dry counties to wet, the better to lift them out of bondage to meth.

James Brown, the Godfather of Soul by James Brown: Brown explains how several of his songs were born out of social concerns, and how his prudent politics came into conflict with militant voices. He notes the irony that most of the kids singing on "I'm Black and I'm Proud" weren't black, but while H. Rapp Brown (one of James Brown's militant critics) might see that as proof of selling out, James Brown sees it as an amusing artifact of the haste with which performers must sometimes be recruited. 

Once, in the 90s or so, I was hanging around at a music festival after a James Brown concert. I happened to pass an African-American man in his 60s or so, sitting with his family on a bench and looking blessed. He looked me dead in the eye, and announced: "I feel good." 

Viva prudent, principled, moderation, fused with thrilling show business.