Final Thoughts on Paul Kennerley’s “White Mansions”

Last week I wrote two separate essays here and here on the British songwriter Paul Kennerley’s 1978 country music concept album White Mansions. I originally intended to stop with two posts, but alas, I have a few more final thoughts to add about this album.

I think the cultural historian Christian McWirther’s description of White Mansions in the comments section of my last post really gets to the heart of my own feelings about it: he suggested that the album “flirted with a more complicated view of the Confederacy but inevitably defaulted to a Lost Cause narrative.” That’s a perfect description in my view. For example, the song “No One Would Believe A Summer Could Be So Cold” highlights a vocal secessionist’s changing attitudes towards the Civil War and his role in it. Whereas Matthew’s ideological passion for Confederate secession and the preservation of his “way of life” sustain him in the beginning of the conflict, his words by 1863 suggest that all of the talk surrounding valor, glory, and heroism are meaningless to him upon the sight and smell of dead, rotting bodies around him. Matthew doesn’t explicitly question his earlier political views in the song, but it’s clear that he is physically and emotionally affected by the consequences of war. I also like how Kennerley acknowledges in numerous songs at the beginning of the album that the defense and expansion of slavery was a central motivation for Confederate secession, a point that is not always appreciated by listeners of White Mansions today, as we will soon see.

The lyrics towards the end of the album, however, fall into predictable Lost Cause talking points by suggesting that the Confederacy never had a chance of achieving victory because of the Union’s superior manpower and resources; that General William Sherman’s men were the sole perpetrators of violence and destruction during the March to the Sea; that the United States government and military were wholly responsible for bringing on and perpetuating a violent war of aggression; and that the postwar Reconstruction years were marked by oppressive misrule of the South by hateful Northern carpetbaggers and their black allies. Although historians like W.E.B. Du Bois and Kenneth Stampp had already published marginally popular studies challenging this traditional Reconstruction narrative by the time White Mansions was released, the story of “Carpetbagger and Negro misrule” remained the consensus view in the 1970s and was uncritically embraced in this album. Later revisionist works by Eric Foner, Thomas Holt, Steven Hahn, and Brooks Simpson in the 1980s and 1990s further questioned the accuracy of this consensus view, but it still remains popular today in some quarters.

Time and space are also important factors for placing White Mansions within the cultural context of 1970s and 80s music. White Mansions was released at the same time Confederate iconography and identity more explicitly embedded itself within popular music. From Lynyrd Synyrd hanging the Confederate flag on their stage during concerts, to Tom Petty’s album Southern Accents, to Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” and Confederate Flag guitar, this period of rock music saw many instances in which Confederate identity was appropriated to symbolize rebellion and independence in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. While this identity never fully shed its complicated past of slavery, secession, and resistance to Civil Rights, the 1970s and 80s saw new meanings attached to that identity and a general acceptance of its expression through popular music. White Mansions never reached the popularity level of a Skynrd album or other concept albums by bands like The Who and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, but it is nevertheless reflective of those cultural forces at play in popular music. And it is hard to imagine a concept album like White Mansions–an album that explores and even celebrates white Confederate identity–gaining much popularity or enjoying commercial success without controversy today.

Paul Kennerley’s British background is also significant because it speaks to the popularity of the Lost Cause throughout the world. I would love to learn about the books Kennerley relied on to inform his interpretation of Civil War history when composing White Mansions. I would guess it probably wasn’t too different than the sorts of books students were reading in American history classrooms and buying at National Park gift shops at the time. Kennerley’s background also reminds me of a recent feature in Vice of a Brazilian town called Americana that was settled by Confederate defectors 150 years ago and where an annual festival called the “Fraternidade Descendência Americana” celebrating the Confederacy continues today.

Finally, I take note of YouTube’s role in perpetuating the memory of White Mansions, which now also acts as a gathering place for users to express their pride in Confederate identity and share their memories of listening to the album during their youth. On a video of the entire album commenters remarked that:

“I have not heard this record since about 1982. It is a pleasure to find an ‘old friend.”

“This is one of my favorite albums. Beautiful and haunting.”

“I’m too excited, I just ordered it off of Amazon. Can’t wait. I first heard this album in the early 80s with my brother. I had the cassette.”

And on another video of the song “The Southland’s Bleeding” (sung by Waylon Jennings and nearing 100,000 views today) YouTube users over the past month have left a range of comments expressing love for the Confederacy and concerns about efforts to “erase” Confederate history:

“Still fighting to honor the Confederate army and Dixie-land in 2015. But the Liberals want to erase them and (us) from history. Southern pride.”

“The southland is bleeding again this week. God help the south.”

“I live in ‘enemy territory’, but I still run up my beloved ‘Stars and Bars’ and bring it in every night. Down with the eagle, up with the cross!”

“Today some folks object to the Southern flag. This flag isn’t about race. This flag is about state’s rights.  California has rights concerning immigration that the feds wont touch. Our states  have rights that the feds wont touc” [sic]

“The Stars and Bars of the Confederacy, the Southern Cross, or St. Andrews Southern Cross did in no way have anything to do with slavery or what started the Civil War. It signified to the Confederate Soldier their opposition to what was considered an illegal levying of unfair and overburdening taxation by the Federal government on the Southern States and the products they produced.”

That people would take the time to find songs from White Mansions on YouTube and then comment on those songs demonstrates the ways YouTube has become a cultural medium for expressing historical memories and prideful statements about personal identity. It also shows how people seamlessly weave their understanding of history into their interpretation of current events. Whether or not these comments are accurate from a historical perspective is one question scholars can and should address when analyzing public memories, but the fact that people go through the trouble of expressing themselves this way in the first place is another question worth examining more closely.

Cheers

White Mansions: Singing Songs About the Confederacy

In my last post I discussed the British songwriter Paul Kennerley’s 1978 concept album White Mansions, which aims to tell a story about the experiences of white Southerners who supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Kennerley creates four composite characters in White Mansions (along with a very minor appearance from Rodena Preston, who portrays “The Slaves” in a blandly predictable one-minute interlude) who are supposed to represent various perspectives of people who actually experienced the war firsthand. I provided a brief introduction to each character in that last post. We will now dig further into each character’s role in White Mansions. This essay is a bit long, so bear with me.

Polly Ann Stafford (portrayed by Jessi Colter)

Polly stays out of any political discussions about the nation’s impending civil war, but she senses that “the Old South” is going to change. In “Story to Tell” she sings to a white-haired planter (the symbol of the established planter class) her prediction that he will not live to see these changes. “They want to change your way of life/a life you thought was right/all you’ve held dear since birth, they’ll rearrange/but I don’t think you’re going to live to see the change.” “They,” of course, is President Abraham Lincoln’s new administration in Washington, D.C. Even though Lincoln proclaims in his First Inaugural Address an intention not to touch slavery where it already existed, his refusal to allow the extension of slavery into new western territories undergirds his true desire to see slavery eventually abolished throughout the entire country. Polly and the planter class believe his election will represent the undoing of their freedoms.

Polly’s two other appearances on White Mansions use horses as a metaphor to sing about love, companionship, and kindness. “The Last Dance & The Kentucky Racehorse” is a cheeky song in which Polly and her sweetheart Matthew sing of their enduring love, but it’s also reflective of the Victorian-style letters soldiers and loved ones wrote to each other during the war, replete with flowery language and uncensored emotions. “For the time you’ll be away from me/all the days that lie ahead/dear heart, please keep the memories/we share like we share my bed. Although I won’t have your helping hand/or keep your sweet company/darling when you’re fighting this war/please think a little bit about me.”

In “The Union Mare & The Confederate Grey,” Polly and “The Drifter” (portrayed by Waylon Jennings) hear of dead Union and Confederate soldiers lying together on the battlefield while their horses grazed side-by-side during the aftermath of a horrible (which one specifically is a mystery to listeners). The two lament this scene and wonder aloud what could have been if both sides would have avoided war: “How happy we’d be if we acted way of the Union mare and the Confederate grey.” From this point on, however, Polly suddenly disappears from the story. Her work as a nurse at Confederate hospital makes her sick and eventually kills her, an unintended victim of the war.

Matthew J. Fuller (portrayed by John Dillon)

Matthew’s status as the son of a wealthy Georgia planter leads him to a vocal position in favor of secession in order to preserve slavery. He enthusiastically joins the Confederacy and outlines his reasoning in “Join Around the Flag”:

the State’s called its sons to its side, boys

they’re hoisting up the ‘Stars and the Bars’

we must all prepare to fight

for a cause we feel is right

and join Jeff Davis from near and far

they can’t understand our way of life boys

they don’t want slaves in the new territories

the knowledge that they lack

is there’s no cotton if there’s no blacks

and that gives us the reason to secede

since Abe got elected there ain’t no choice, boys

we showed ’em what we meant when Sumter fell

and if they to try to take us back

or come and free the blacks

the good Lord knows we’re going to give ’em hell

Matthew’s initial enthusiasm for a break with the Lincoln government and a lust for bloodshed quickly evaporates, however. Matthew doesn’t explicitly harbor second thoughts about his role in encouraging secession, but one can easily conclude in “No One Would Believe a Summer Could Be So Cold” that Matthew starts regretting his enlistment in the Confederate military. He abandons Polly’s love and admits that after being wounded at the Battle of Beaver Dam Creek he “grabbed some love from the whores in town.” He acknowledges that “I start to forget just why we’re here” and laments the Confederacy’s major losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in 1863. And, in some of the most moving lyrics in White Mansions, he states that “they tell you stories of valor and glory/but they ain’t near the fact/heroes look bad when all they had/bin eaten by worms and rats/I hear dying men calling with gangrene crawling/through their flesh and bones/I’ve seen thousands pleading as they lie bleeding/ain’t it time to go back home.”

Matthew’s pride is too strong, however, and he pushes on to serve through the end of the war. In “Bring Up the Twelve Pounders” he calls for more artillery but is reminded by “the ghosts of the Confederate dead” that the war is over and that he must go home. Finally, in “Bad Man” he states his intention to enact revenge for the death of his sweetheart Polly (who he had previously cheated on during the war). Matthew boasts that “this war taught me how to kill” and that he is “going to make them bleed/they’ll pay in time/they’re damned unjust/with their twisted laws/they want to take my life.” Even though Matthew began doubting the cause during the war, he emerges in the war’s aftermath as an unreconstructed rebel without regret for his role in precipitating the conflict. He expresses no doubts about the righteousness of his cause and lays the blame for the war entirely on the Lincoln government, which he believes used superior resources and men to defeat, humiliate, and subjugate an honorable people. Matthew’s initial postwar memories in White Mansions, therefore, symbolize the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War that became so prevalent throughout the country in the war’s aftermath.

Caleb Stone (portrayed by Steve Cash)

Caleb Stone has ragged clothes, poor teeth, long hair, no property or slaves, and a Confederate flag in hand. He describes himself as “White Trash” and happily embraces that title. In a song by the same name Caleb proclaims that he’ll join the Confederate military because he has nothing better to do: “I guess I’ll volunteer for the war against the blue/’cause there ain’t nothing better down here to do that’s much better/I’ll break some blue bones before this thing is through. They call me white trash but I’m a fighting man/I’ll sure do the best I can/I may be bad and have a foul mouth/but I’m ready – to defend the South.” In contrast to Matthew’s highly ideological reasoning for joining the war, Caleb joins up simply because he loves the South and has nothing better to do, not because he wants to defend slavery or the planter class. We will later see that in reality such a distinction cannot be not easily made.

After the initial success of 1861 battles at First Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek, Caleb feels like the Confederacy’s soldiers are vastly superior to their counterparts in blue. “They got many more men than us/got the arms but not the guts,” he proclaims, and he believes that “pretty soon they’ll give in.” In “Southern Boys” he boasts that the “sweet spirit of Dixie” is the reason the Confederacy is winning: its soldiers are stronger both mentally and physically, and this strength will prevail against any sort of resources the Union throws against it. Caleb’s confidence in ultimate victory for the Confederacy reflects a different perspective than the one put forth by Polly, who believed that the South was doomed to lose from the start (a point also embraced in Lost Cause mythology).

Caleb then disappears from White Mansions until the end of the war, when we hear of his remarkable transformation into a God-fearing man of Christ. Whereas Matthew is vindictive, violent, and broken by his wartime experience, Caleb seems to have been saved by it. He admits in “The King Has Called Me Home” that “I’ve bin burning up my body with drinking/and I can’t leave them women alone” but also proudly proclaims that “I’ve found salvation, the King has called me home/I know where I’m going now, the King has called me home.” Where he actually goes from this point remains a mystery for listeners, but it appears that the war has given a Caleb a new birth of freedom and a sense of redemption. The war has changed him for the better.

“The Drifter” (portrayed by Waylon Jennings)

“The Drifter” stays away from the battlefield and instead comments on the happenings of war from afar. In “Dixie, Hold On,” he simultaneously warms of the good and bad consequences of seceding from the United States. He starts off with a cautionary tone:

to stand alone and cut America in two

means everything’s lost, the constitution’s fallen through

to leave the Union is to weaken what is strong

you think it right, they think it morally wrong

but you’ll fall – oh, oh, oh Dixie you’ll fall

King Cotton, your reign is shadowed with pain

and burning emotion

you need slaves to keep alive

but the North could help you survive

your misguided notion

By the end of the song, however, The Drifter concludes for unknown reasons that secession is actually the correct path for the South: “oh, oh Dixie, you are bold and strong/you could have ’em beat before too long/you have a birthright, a lifestyle to defend/you must hold on, until the very end/hold on – oh, oh Dixie, hold on.” The Drifter invests his stock into the Confederacy’s fortune.

The Drifter, like Caleb, reappears in the narrative towards the end of war. But like Polly, The Drifter now concludes that there was no realistic chance of winning the war. In “The Southland’s Bleeding” (one of the more popular songs from White Mansions) he pleads, “let’s stop this fighting while we can/it takes a brave man, but to end this killing/it takes a braver man. You know there ain’t no real chance/for us to win this/there won’t be no victory dance at the finish/it’s just – Southern pride/it’s just – stubborn blindness.” For the Drifter the end of the war meant swallowing any Confederate pride and accepting the consequences of a losing war. Any resistance to the reality of the situation was a product of blindly foolish Southern pride in his mind.

The Drifter then concludes White Mansions with a melodramatic elegy for the now-dead nation: “you had courage and you had pride,” the Drifter wails, “but the Union could never see your side.” “The states are bleeding, they’re wounded and marred/Mister Lincoln isn’t here to lend a hand/now he’s gone – and bitter hate rules the land.” Through this song another popular myth of the Lost Cause emerges – that vengeful Northerners were now ready to oppress the South through undemocratic legislation and the destruction of the Southern social hierarchy by giving African Americans their freedom and the right of male suffrage. The “bitter hate” would be a painful pill to swallow. Dixie was done.

The Clincher

The climax of White Mansions, in my opinion, is the song “They Laid Waste To Our Land,” with group vocals that include Matthew, Caleb, and The Drifter. The unified singing of these three men is a symbolic uniting of their experiences and perspectives in support of the Confederate war effort. Matthew’s status as the son of a wealthy planter gave him a strong incentive to fight for the Confederacy; Caleb didn’t own slaves or land and claimed that he had no real motivation to join the Confederacy, but he cherished his placement above enslaved blacks in the social hierarchy and benefited from not having to compete with slaves on the wage labor market. The Drifter was an aged Mexican war veteran that was highly respected in his community, and he ultimately believed that his allegiance to his local community and state outweighed his allegiance to a United States government he had once fought for. All had a vested interest in slavery as a social and economic system. All had a vested interest in preserving the status quo. All supported the Confederate war effort, and all made a deliberate risk when choosing to support secession, regardless of their original motivations.

The singers in “They Laid Waste To Our Land” take no responsibility for their choices and once again echo a popular Lost Cause talking point by claiming that the United States military went too far in its prosecution of the war. There were certainly times throughout the conflict when that was the case, but their particular focus on General Sherman’s March to the Sea without also accounting for the damage wrought by Confederate General John Bell Hood’s men is a one-sided distortion of what actually happened during the march. Again, for these men the responsibility for the war’s destruction lies entirely with the United States.

they laid waste to our land, they took it from our hand

from Atlanta to Savannah, they scorched our earth

they stole our corn and wheat, they left no food to eat

they slaughtered all the cattle, took the things of worth

well, we got women and children too

just the same as you

ain’t it enough just to know that you got us beat

the hatred will never cease, even now that there’s peace

the feelings will run as deep as the scars we bear

this ain’t cloth we wear it’s a rag, we’re at the mercy of the carpetbag

what you call justice is plain unfair

how the hell can you ever claim

it’s bin worth all of the pain

just to have us live together under one flag

they laid waste to our land, they took it from our hand

I’ll finish this series of posts on White Mansions with some concluding thoughts in my next post.

Cheers

Country Music, Concept Albums, and the Confederacy

A young Briton working in London in the advertising business listened to American country music for the very first time in the early 1970s. It would turn out to be a life-changing experience for him. Listening to the sounds and soulfulness of Waylon Jennings was particularly moving, and in due time the young Briton decided that he, too, would become a songwriter. He listened to many hours of country music, taught himself the ways of songwriting, and soon began writing his own country songs.

The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed the emergence of the concept album in popular music at the same time the young Briton was first exposure to country music. Musicians at that time began writing entire albums with plots, settings, and unified themes while pushing beyond the boundaries of three-minute radio-friendly jingles about love and happiness. Rock bands like The Who and Pink Floyd obtained an oversized presence in the concept album world with records like Tommy and The Dark Side of the Moon, but country and jazz musicians like Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra laid the original foundations for concept albums with popular records in the 1940s and 1950s.

The first forays into country music songwriting for Paul Kennerley pushed him towards the world of concept albums, and, amazingly, he managed to enlist the help of Waylon Jennings, Steve Cash, Eric Clapton, and a number of other musicians in his first major project: a “prog-country” concept album about the American Civil War that was released in 1978, just a few short years after he first listened to Waylon Jennings. That album, White Mansions, aimed to portray the experiences and struggles of white Southerners who supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. I’ve never heard anything quite like this odd but unique album, and I encourage interested readers to listen to a few songs or the entire album in the YouTube video at the top of this page. You can read lyrics for all of the songs here.

With this post and another one in the near future I propose to examine and interpret White Mansions as a cultural artifact. What does this album tell us about Civil War history, and is it an accurate representation of that history? What ideas did Kennerley hope to impart on listeners in his songs? What might this album tell us about the ways people remembered the Civil War in 1978? I hope to examine all of these questions in due time, but for now let us briefly examine the five characters of Kennerley’s story in White Mansions.

Matthew J. Fuller (portrayed by John Dillon) is the son of a wealthy Georgia cotton planter. He was raised on a large plantation with roughly 400 enslaved people working its lands. Fuller’s status as a wealthy white male places him at the top of the Southern social hierarchy and allows him to live a life of comfort while enjoying the rare privilege of an advanced education. Matthew has much at stake when the Civil War breaks out, and his early decision to enlist in the Confederate military reflects an awareness of how his privileged life could instantly change economically, socially, and politically.

Polly Ann Stafford (portrayed by Jessi Colter) is Matthew’s sweetheart. She too was raised in an wealthy Southern family, and the outbreak of war leaves her worried about the fate of her family, her sweetheart, and her way of life.

Caleb Stone (portrayed by Steve Cash) is a poor white Southerner without land or property. Many consider him “white trash” and he seems to accept and embrace that label as a part of his identity. Caleb is resentful of the power and privilege of the planter class and frustrated with his own impoverishment, but he is also a racist with a strong hatred of blacks. Although he personally is not a slaveholder, Caleb benefits economically from the institution of slavery because he does not have to compete on the wage labor market with black workers. For these reasons Caleb is inclined to join the Confederacy when the Civil War breaks out.

“The Drifter” (portrayed by Waylon Jennings) is a native Southerner who fought in the Mexican-American War during the 1840s. He is aged and physically worn by 1861, and he decides not to enlist for either side during the war. The Drifter acts as a sort of sage by offering opinions on the wisdom of secession and the Confederate war effort from afar. We are told that The Drifter “sees both sides of the argument clearly,” but it is apparent from the beginning that his sympathies lie with the Confederacy.

“The Slaves” (collectively portrayed by Rodena Preston) play a very minor role in White Mansions and are almost completely absent from Kennerley’s narrative. The liner notes explain that their absence is symbolic, that “despite the fact that they represented over a third of the population of the South, their voice was seldom heard.” When they do appear in their lone song, “Praise the Lord,” the enslaved people are portrayed as having no agency in shaping affairs in their own lives, instead waiting on “Father Abraham” and God to free them from the shackles of slavery:

Sing Praise to the Lord, I’m a free man

Massa Abe done take these chains off a me

I will walk all the way to Ohio

’cause the Lord done set me free

That’s about it for the slaves.

With my next post we’ll dig deeper into the lyrical content of White Mansions and explore how Kennerley portrays each respective character’s wartime experience.

Cheers

Tearing Down the Barriers Between “Experts” and “Buffs” in the Historical Enterprise

Over the past few days I have been going back and forth with a commenter on a recent post I wrote about mediocre, good, and great biographies of Ulysses S. Grant. One of the issues raised in the conversation was my citing of a book written by a professional lawyer instead of an academically trained historian with a PhD. Without having read the book in question the commenter wondered aloud if the author’s choice to publish with a non-academic press reflected a desire to “bypass the normal refereeing process at a scholarly press” and, in a defense of scholarly publishing, warned that not all history writers are in a position to make sound judgements about the past. The commenter also equated the history profession with the medical profession: you wouldn’t trust someone not trained in medical practices to examine you for a disease, so why would you trust a non-historian with interpreting the past?

I believe these comments are unfair to the author in question, but looking at the bigger picture this conversation also reflects an unfortunate and all too common desire to create false barriers between “experts” and “buffs” within the historical enterprise. All would agree that training in historical thinking and interpreting primary/secondary source documents is very important to good historical scholarship. But the question of whether someone needs to hold a history PhD to be considered a competent historian is very much debatable.

My argument is simple: Some people focus on the players; I focus on the game. Some people focus on credentials; I focus on arguments.

I am far less concerned about a person’s academic background than I am with the substance of their arguments. I am far less concerned with what a person does for a living than what scholars in any particular field have to say about how that person’s work shapes their field. Take Gordon Rhea as an example. The fact that he holds a law degree from Stanford (and no history PhD) and has worked as a trial lawyer for 35 years means far less to me than the fact that his scholarship on the Overland Campaign of 1864 is highly respected by both Civil War military historians and general readers.

This is not to say that everyone’s opinion is equally valid when interpreting history. The point is that the historical enterprise should strive to cast a wide scholarly net that allows people from many different types of backgrounds to contribute their voice to the conversations we have about the past. Setting the bar for good historical scholarship to only include history PhDs who work in academic institutions impoverishes our field and shuts out many people who care about history but may not have pursued an advanced degree for any number of reasons, not least the fact that it’s damn expensive and time-consuming to get a PhD.

Equating the history profession’s standards with the medical profession is also a poor apples-to-oranges comparison. It might be better to compare the history profession to the music profession. There are musicians with PhDs in music, others who have more limited training through k-12 schooling and private lessons, and still others with no formal training whatsoever. Chances are that when you first discovered your favorite artist you probably didn’t go online to check that person’s formal training before determining whether or not their artistry was valid. The musician’s credentials matter far less than the fact that their music makes you feel good. Different types of music have different goals and required standards of training. You don’t need a PhD to play punk rock, but you might need it to teach classical music in a college setting.

Obviously the end goals of historical scholarship don’t necessarily compare to those of music, but the point stands that history is something that exists far beyond the walls of academia. Different works of historical scholarship–whether they’re written in a book or designed for a public history setting–call for different sets of training and expertise. Not every person who engages in these scholarly endeavors comes with a history PhD in their academic background, and that’s okay with me. Hit me with your best argument and I’ll look at it with an open mind.

Cheers

“Belle Missouri”

Following the firing of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 troops from the various state militias to recapture the fort and defend federal property. Some of these federal troops were ordered to Washington, D.C. to defend the nation’s capitol, but their route required dangerous travel through Baltimore, Maryland, which was a hotbed of secessionist sentiment at the time. When Union soldiers arrived on April 19, deadly violence broke out between troops and rioters in what is now referred to as the “Baltimore Riot of 1861.” James Ryder Randall, a pro-secessionist Marylander teaching in Louisiana at the time, was horrified by the specter of federal troops marching through the state and shocked by the death of a friend killed in the riot. Randall took pen to paper and wrote a poem titled “Maryland, My Maryland,” which advocated for the state’s secession from the United States and subsequent joining with the Confederacy. The poem was quickly put to music and became widely popular, so much so that Confederate General Robert E. Lee had his troops sing the song when they later crossed into Maryland in 1862.

“Maryland, My Maryland” includes several sharp digs at President Lincoln and his alleged tyranny:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant’s chain,
Maryland!
Virginia should not call in vain,
Maryland!
She meets her sisters on the plain-
“Sic semper!” ’tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Arise in majesty again,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll
Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!

“Maryland, My Maryland” was later established as the official state song in 1939 (although there’s been plenty of debate about removing the song in recent years).

Not everyone was a fan of “Maryland, My Maryland,” however. I recently came across a response-poem-turned-to-song written by Howard Glyndon and set to music by Hermann Schneider around 1864 or ’65. “Belle Missouri” aimed to counter “Maryland, My Maryland” and elicit support for the Union war effort. More specifically, it aimed to remind Missourians of hard-fought battles and severe federal losses on Missouri battlefields like Lexington and Wilson’s Creek. It also sought to convince readers and listeners of Missouri’s patriotic loyalty to the Union (which, just like Maryland, was questionable depending on where you were in the state).

Photo Credit: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001702318/
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001702318/

Here’s the poem/song in full, which was set to the “Maryland, My Maryland” tune and included in Glyndon’s 1864 publication Idyls of Battle and Poems of the Rebellion:

Arise and join the patriot train,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
They should not plead and plead in vain,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
The precious blood of all thy slain
Arises from each reeking plain.
Wipe out this foul disloyal stain,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

Recall the field of Lexington,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
How Springfield blushed beneath the sun,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
And noble Lyon all undone,
His race of glory but begun,
And all thy freedom yet unwon,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

They called thee craven to the trust,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
They laid thy glory in the dust,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
The helpless prey of treason’s lust,
The helpless mark of treason’s thrust,
Now shall thy sword in scabbard rust?
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

She thrills! her blood begins to burn!
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
She’s bruised and weak, but she can turn,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Lo! on her forehead pale and stern,
A sign to make the traitors mourn,
Now for thy wounds a swift return,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

Stretch out thy thousand loyal hands,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Send out thy thousands loyal bands,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
To where the flag of Union stands,
Alone, upon the blood-wet sands,
A beacon unto distant lands,
Belle Missouri, My Missouri!

Up with the loyal Stripes and Stars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Down with the traitor Stars and Bars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Now, by the crimson crest of Mars,
And Liberty’s appealing scars,
We’ll lay the demon of these wars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

But wait, there’s more!

“Howard Glyndon” was actually a pseudonym for Laura Redden Searing, a poet and journalist who lost her hearing after a bout of spinal meningitis at age 11.  A native of Somerset County, Maryland, Searing began attending the Missouri School for the Deaf in 1855 at the age of 16. She took an interest in poetry and literature while in school and was hired as an editorialist for the St. Louis Republican in 1860. Following the firing of Fort Sumter she was sent by the Republican to report on events in Washington, D.C. She used the Republican and her poetry to promote her pro-Union views and encourage loyalty to the Lincoln administration.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

After the war Searing wrote for various eastern publications that included the New York Times, the New York Tribune, and Harper’s Magazine. She lived until 1923, when she passed away in California at the age 84.

Many historians and Marylanders know of “Maryland, My Maryland.” Far fewer people know of Laura Redden Searing’s wartime response to that popular song.

Cheers

Rock and Roll St. Charles

whiskey-war-festival-posterBefore starting grad school in August of last year, I was living in St. Louis, Missouri and working at a local school district as a teaching assistant. In my free time, I was playing electric/upright bass in a blues/folk/rock band called Whiskey War Mountain Rebellion. I have been playing bass for thirteen years and have played in many groups, but WWMR was able to gain a bit of traction in the St. Louis area in part because of a festival we put on last year in St. Charles (an outlying suburb of St. Louis) called the Whiskey War Festival. We were able to get a few hundred audience members and about fifteen bands to come out to play our festival. It was a great experience all around, even though it was literally 99 degrees outside. Although my graduate studies necessitated a move to Indianapolis, my fellow bandmates pushed forward and have put together an impressive lineup for a full day of music festivities. I was able to get back to the area and will be playing with three different groups at this year’s Whiskey War Festival, which will be happening tomorrow, June 29th from Noon to Midnight. All times are Central.

The Riverfront Times wrote a nice article about our festival that you can read here. If you’re in the St. Louis/St. Charles area, consider coming out for a day of fun. Seeing that I just turned in a rough draft of my first chapter of my Master’s thesis, the festival will act as a nice celebration and a time to be with friends and family before I head back to Indianapolis to continue writing the thesis, of which I will write more about soon.

Cheers

The St. Louis Art Museum and Virtual Tours

The St. Louis Art Museum. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The St. Louis Art Museum. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

On Saturday, June 29, the St. Louis Art Museum will be opening a new addition to its building. This wing will host a wide range of contemporary art, which in turn allows for a larger number of older paintings to go display in the main building. I’m not exactly the biggest art museum person around, but I am eager to get a chance to visit the new wing as soon as possible. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently published a virtual tour of the new wing that I’m a little too obsessed with right now.

I asked my friends on Facebook two questions about this virtual tour:

1. Does the virtual tour replace the experience of going to an Art Museum in person?

2. After looking at the virtual tour, are you more or less inclined to take time and possibly spend money to visit the Art Museum?

The fact that anybody can explore the contents of the new wing online for free is an ambitious gamble by the St. Louis Art Museum. There will undoubtedly be some people who decide not to go to the Art Museum in person because they can view it online, but in my case, seeing the virtual tour has increased my desire to see the new wing in person. The question of whether or not to put museum contents online reflects a larger debate on whether or not art should be freely posted online. For example, musicians have debated the merits of putting their music online for free (or asking for donations) for years. There are some who say no, while others say bands “shouldn’t give away all their music, but that some free downloading is okay.” Likewise, I’ve had professors who have completely railed on GoogleBooks for what they believed to be gross copyright violations for putting books online, even if it was only a small portion of the book. Concerns have also emerged in response to the creation of the Digital Public Library of America, which is putting the collections of partner libraries all over the country online, free of charge. All of these debates reflect the larger question of how best to promote artistic creations to as wide an audience as possible (and for some, making a few bucks too).

As I learn more about open access and observe more public institutions like art museums and libraries putting their content online, concerns about people having too much free access to online content or never leaving their desks to patronize libraries and museums in person are no longer a big concern with me. Putting content online for free is merely one way of establishing a relationship between artist and patron, and I think digital technology has allowed for patrons to make more informed decisions about the types of art they want to patronize. Although he was referring to concerns about the Digital Public Library of America, I think DPLA Executive Director Dan Cohen has made an eloquent argument in support of the personal, physical experience of observing art and information in person and how digital technology enhances–not detracts–that experience. To wit:

I believe that public and academic libraries will begin to understand how the DPLA instead strengthens and complements what they do. Public libraries have been, and always will be, centers of their communities, and will continue to be the place to go for high-circulating recent books, Internet access, public readings, and many other elements that the DPLA cannot and will not replace. Academic libraries are structured to support the scholarly research modes and fields of specific institutions, with collecting strategies and services to match. Both kinds of libraries will benefit greatly by what the DPLA will add to our landscape of knowledge. The DPLA will provide is a single place to discover and explore our country’s libraries, archives, and museums—a portal—and so will bring entirely new audiences to formerly scattered collections… For public libraries, the DPLA will provide a national-scale, free extension of their local holdings, and give them a place to store and garner audiences for their community’s history and content. For academic libraries, the DPLA can be used to suggest research materials and collections beyond a home institution, to create virtual exhibits and collections from federated sites, and to enhance the scholarship of students and faculty… I would hate for the launch of the DPLA to be used as an excuse to lower funding to essential physical libraries in times of austerity.

You can check out the virtual tour of the St. Louis Art Museum East Wing here.

News and Notes: June 9, 2013

The Bust of Richard Owen. The best looking bust at the Indiana State House, in my opinion. Picture credit: Historic Indianapolis http://historicindianapolis.com/friday-favorite-richard-dale-owen/
The Bust of Richard Owen. The best looking bust at the Indiana State House, in my opinion. Picture credit: Historic Indianapolis http://historicindianapolis.com/friday-favorite-richard-dale-owen/

It’s Sunday. The government is watching you and me. But this sounds like fun:

  • Marc-William Palen provides some neat insights into “The Great Civil War Lie.” The lie, of course, is that supporters of the Confederacy attempted to secede from the United States largely because of unfair tariffs waged by the federal government onto Southern businesses, more specifically the Morrill Tariff. At the time, British onlookers of the Civil War were fed a narrative that placed secession after the passage of the Morrill Tariff, but it was actually passed while James Buchanan was President, before secession occurred. Thanks to the blessings of digital technology, we can now see that at least one state that attempted to secede seemed to have something else on their collective minds.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that people need to take ownership of their education. I find this article really refreshing. We hear so much about hard work, but it’s meaningless if we don’t have any dreams and aspirations or if the end goal is to simply pass a test.
  • Most students who attend community college with the intention of completing a four year degree fail to do so. Roughly 80% in fact. I never attended community college, but I know friends who did and ran into the same problems described in the article.
  • I have been reading content on Civil War Memory, Crossroads, and Dead Confederates for years. Leslie Madsen-Brooks has been following those blogs as well, and she creates an excellent bit of scholarship from the content of those websites that challenges historians in many way. In the digital age, who can call themselves a historian, and how do professional historians extend their scholarly endeavors to the broader public? Should historians focus on answering their own questions of the past, or should they be working harder to answer the questions lay audiences ask?
  • Tomorrow at the Indiana State House I will be playing my first musical gig of the year. One time not very long ago I was playing out almost every weekend with various groups, so it’s a bit weird not playing out live for six months. I’ve been practicing though. Anyway, on June 9, 1913, [I originally wrote June 13. My Bad!] the bust of Col. Richard Owen was dedicated at the State House. Tomorrow we are having a 100th anniversary re-dedication of the bust, and I was asked to play Civil War songs on upright bass. I’ve never done this before, but I think it will go fine. You can read more about the event here.

Until next time…

Some Additional Thoughts on the Death of Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius. Photo Credit: Manfred Becker.
Jaco Pastorius. Photo Credit: Manfred Becker.

(Note: Part one of my analysis of Jaco is here).

I would surmise that one of the reasons the myth of Jaco Pastorius has grown so large in the music world is because of the nature of his death. Yes, he died young, but he didn’t die because of his drug or alcohol habit; he died at the hands of a 25 year old bouncer who laid out a savage beatdown on him. The story itself is tragic, but what is equally tragic is that it is an unresolved story. Was Jaco on the verge of turning the corner and beginning the process of returning to greatness, or was this untimely end to be expected? It’s something we will never solve.

Reading about the beatdown was as bad as anything I’ve read in a book about the Civil War. Luc Havan, the bouncer who ended Jaco’s life, was trained in martial arts and held a third degree black belt in karate. On the night of this incident, Jaco tried to kick in a glass door at Midnight Bottle Club and may have said something derogatory towards Havan, but when Havan started throwing punches, Jaco gave up without any resistance. This is how it went down (from Milkowski, p. 264):

[Jaco’s] skull had been fractured; several facial bones were fractured; his right eye was ruptured and dislodged from its socket; and there was massive internal bleeding. The beating was so intense that Jaco’s teeth went through his lips, and Havan’s ring was imprinted on Jaco’s cheek. There was also heavy bleeding from Jaco’s ear, nose, and mouth. [I’ll also add that had Jaco lived, he would have permanently lost the use of his right eye and his left arm, according to his doctors].

In a sworn affidavit, Detective David C. Jones reported the following testimony from Havan:

In a sworn statement by defendant Havan, Pastorius began to kick the front door of the bottle club. Havan opened the door and Pastorius fled. Havan struck Pastorius with his right hand, causing Pastorius to fall and become unconscious. Havan turned from Pastorius and walked away, leaving him unconscious.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Jones called bull:

Doctors said, “Sure, he could have received those injuries in a fall–if he fell five or six or seven times”… Both doctors agreed it was unlikely that Pastorius’s injuries were the result of a fall.

Havan served only four months in prison for this crime. In a 2006 interview, Havan continued to stick with his “one punch” story, claiming that that lone punch hit Jaco in the left temple (no mention is made of the imprint from Havan’s ring on Jaco’s cheek). Havan stated:

That’s where I admitted to hitting him, and that’s where he got hit. But his major fracture was on the right side when he fell. The other side of his head hit the ledge by the door. A person who wasn’t an alcoholic or drug addict but was of average health would have recuperated, because it wasn’t that bad of an injury… But because he was in bad health living on the street and not eating a good diet, it made it worse.

I’ll let you decide whether or not having your eye dislodged out of its socket isn’t “that bad of an injury.”

Havan concluded with this:

[Havan] hasn’t made an attempt to apologize to the family since his time in court, saying he doesn’t want to bother them after his first attempt was rebuffed. “The apology is as much to apologize to them as to make me feel better,” he says. “Dealing with life after being involved with this is as important as their loss.”

I certainly understand the guilt that Havan must feel from this tragedy. The dude is now 50 and he must live with the memories of that night for the rest of his life. Ultimately, he will have to answer for his actions to his maker someday, so in that regard I don’t support heaping more scorn onto Havan. He may be a perfectly normal, law-abiding citizen. Perhaps he now has his own family to raise. I don’t know. However, I can’t help but think that this guy doesn’t get it. He is still trying to absolve himself of this crime, and I find the rationalizations made in this 2006 interview pitiful. Jaco started it, so I finished it. I tried to help him, but he wouldn’t listen to me, so I took the problem into my own hands without calling others for help. Jaco died because he was unhealthy; anybody could have recovered from those injuries. I tried making an apology to the Pastorius family after trying to shift the blame for Jaco’s death onto Jaco himself. They didn’t accept my apology, so I’m not going to do anything else to rectify the situation now.

Jaco Pastorius had four kids. Following Havan’s release from jail, Ingrid Pastorius, Jaco’s second wife, remarked that “he served one month for each child he left fatherless.” Was justice served in this instance?

I’d say no way.

***

[Update, 12/22/15: In the time since I wrote this post it has been the most popular thing I have ever written on this website, by far. I wrote it not because I’m an expert music historian but simply because I’m a Jaco fan who wanted to know more about the circumstances of his death and share my findings with others. While some comments have been respectful expressions of sadness or reminisces about Jaco’s life and the astounding influence of his music, I receive far more comments on a regular basis from people calling for Luc Havan’s death and/or criticizing me for not doing the same in this piece. While I understand the anger and frustration over the injustice of the case, I think it’s a waste of time to go down that path. I’ve decided to shut down the comments for this post indefinitely. Thanks for reading.]

The Contested Memories of Jaco Pastorius

As I’ve mentioned before, music is my twin passion with history. I couldn’t live without one or the other. Lately, I’ve been wanting to read more about music, so when I got an Amazon giftcard way back at Christmas time, I promptly bought Bill Milkowski’s work on the legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius, Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius. I finished reading it a few months ago, but have just now gotten around to writing about it.

Pastorius (1951-1987) was a world famous bassist who gained prominence in the 1970s and 80s for his work as a member of Weather Report and as a solo artist. He also played with guitarist Pat Metheny, singer Joni Mitchell, and a slew of other artists. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Jaco’s bass playing was revolutionary. He was one of the first electric bassists to play without frets, which gave his bass a warm tone that made it sound almost like an upright bass. He broke all the boundaries of conventional bass playing and turned the instrument into a melodic, expressive instrument that captivated musicians of all types. Furthermore, he played EVERYTHING: Jazz, R&B, Rock, Reggae, you name it. I can’t help but think that if Jaco was around today he’d be playing bass on hip-hop and electronic albums. In sum, his influence is everywhere in the bass and music community.

The quality of this video is not great, but wow, Jaco rips it here. And he moves around like a crazy man.

Oh, and his son is pretty good too. This is long, but a great jam.

There was a dark side to Jaco, however. During his days with Weather Report he began drinking to excess and doing coke. Fans wanting to be seen with the “greatest bass player in the world” would enable such behavior by giving him free drugs and alcohol, which would trigger his bi-polar disorder that was eventually diagnosed in 1982. By the mid-1980s, Jaco was almost completely out of music, living on the streets of New York City and panhandling for money. When Jaco wasn’t sober, he was often violent and/or manipulative. During the dark years he burned his bridge with almost every fellow musician or family member who tried to help him. In the wee hours of September 12, 1987, Jaco, after trying to get into a bar called the Midnight Bottle Club in Wilton Manors, Florida, was beaten into a coma by a 25 year old bouncer named Luc Havan. After remaining in a coma for several days, Jaco died on September 21 at the age of 35.

When writing a biography, historians employ the use of primary sources such as letters, diaries and interviews to craft a story and provide a context in which to place their subject. Prior to purchasing Jaco, I looked forward to perusing the book for Jaco’s “primary sources” to gain an better understanding of him, in his own words. In this regard, I was disappointed. The book has no footnotes or citations, and Jaco’s own voice is rarely used in the book. Rather, the narrative utilizes hundreds of interviews with Jaco’s contemporaries–fellow musicians, childhood friends, and relatives–to tell the story. Considering the fact that Milkowski is a professional journalist and not a historian, this makes sense.

Upon further review, however, I realized that this book isn’t a biography, and that’s okay. In reality, it’s a book of memories – what contemporaries remembered about Jaco Pastorius. Our memories evolve over time, but they rarely ever advance, and we see that taking place throughout the book. The interviews don’t necessarily reflect “history” or what “actually happened,” and it would be tough to advance the narrative through historical hypothesis, considering the lack of primary sources to verify such memories. Rather, they portray individual reflections on the meaning of Jaco’s life. Milkowski acts as a sort of editor and provides a chronological format to place the interviews within the context of Jaco’s life.

Throughout the book, we see instances in which the memories of Jaco are contested. Milkowski leaves these conflicts unresolved and leaves the reader to his or her devices to make their own conclusions. Several examples stick out to me. On page 60, we see a conflict as to when Jaco began drinking:

According to [Bob] Economou, it was during this tenure with Ira Sullivan [in 1973] that Jaco got his first serious taste of alcohol. “I remember getting really drunk with Jaco at the Lion’s Share a couple of times,” says Bobby. “But when it happened back then, it just seemed to be a lot of fun. It wasn’t the self-abusive thing it became for him later in his life.” And yet, Sullivan remembers Jaco being “straight as an arrow” during their sting together. “He was a nice young man, a family man. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. All he wanted to do was play the bass, and play baseball or basketball or racquetball. He was always full of energy.”

What actually happened? If Jaco did drink, could we agree with Economou that it wasn’t a “self-abusive thing?” How would he know that? Furthermore, if he did start drinking at that time, what were the larger consequences of such actions? It is left to the reader to decide.

On page 247, we see an incident that took place towards the end of Jaco’s life. His friend and fellow musician Bob Herzog died on June 13, 1987, and Jaco was devastated. During the eulogy, Jaco apparently stormed into the church, sopping wet, and ran down the altar. He then moved the pastor aside and began loudly speaking at the podium before moving to the church organ and playing R&B tunes. Quite strange indeed. In response to this bizarre behavior, Herzog’s mother responded with this:

Some people didn’t know what to make of it. They kept coming up to me and say “I’ll get rid of him if you want me to.” But I said, “No, don’t usher him out. He needs to be here just as much as I do.” Jaco really needed to let all that out. Afterwards, I thought about how much it took for him to get up there and say that in front of all these sad people. I saw strength in Jaco that day. It made me think, “Well, this is it. This is the thing that’s going to scare the shit out of him and get him to pull himself together.” I saw a glimmer of hope there.

Yet Othello Molineaux, another close friend of Jaco’s, had this to say:

Before, there was always that hope in Jaco’s eyes because his soul was burning brightly. We’d look into each other’s eyes and there’d be a definite connection, because he was in tune with his higher self, even in those days when he had psychological problems. But that day at the funeral when I looked into his eyes, he was gone. There was no communication… it was like, “Just leave me alone. I’m outta here.” And from that day, I started to grieve. I could not reel him back in. He was off in another world. You couldn’t get to him through his eyes anymore.”

I find these conflicting memories profound. We have one person who sees this incident as a starting point towards personal redemption, “a glimmer of hope,” and we have one person who sees this behavior as the tipping point towards failure and death. Added to this is the fact that these people are reflecting on this incident years later, when the limits of time and hindsight creep into the narrative.

Milkowski’s book was one of few in my life that satisfied both my musical and historical interests. I highly recommend it.