Archives for April 2015

Percy Prequel


“I’ve just embarked on a ponderous novel on the same theme [as Tender is the Night] — save that the whole setting is different as possible. I’ve gone the whole hog. My ‘hero,’ surrounded by all the blessings in the world, simply goes out to the garage and shoots himself — fifteen years after the war.”

Louis Bromfield to F. Scott Fitzgerald, April 1934

Best Interview You’ll Read All Day

Maybe all week, all year … maybe your whole life.

In keeping to the old prisoner/work relief thread running through this blog, I refer you to theThe Marshall Project’s interview with Anthony Ray Hinton, convicted of murdering two fast food managers in Birmingham in 1985. 29 years old at the time, Hinton was sent to death row. He was released last week after spending 30 years there, much of it in solitary confinement.

In solitary confinement, a lot of people break up. They lose their mind, they give up, they commit suicide. Tell me about your experience. How you were able to hold onto yourself?

I come from a Christian background. My mom was strict. She always would instill in us that we don’t need anybody to actually play with. Get outside and play by yourself. She taught me to lean on Jesus and no one else. And when I got to death row, believe it or not, I witnessed people hanging. I seen people cut their wrist. I seen blood leaking from under the cell. I seen men who hung themselves. And so I became a person that got wrapped up in my sense of humor, and I tried to make everybody that I came in contact with — from prison guard to the wardens to the inmates — I tried to make everybody laugh. I would see a guard come by and I would say, “Hey officer.” He’d say, “Yeah Anthony, what can I do for you?” I’d say, “I need to run to the house for about an hour, and I’m gonna need to use your car. I’ll bring it right back, but I need to go.” And they would laugh.

You have to understand something: These crooked D.A.s and police officers and racist people had lied on me and convicted me of a horrible crime for something I didn’t do. They stole my 30s, they stole my 40s, they stole my 50s. I could not afford to give them my soul. I couldn’t give them me. I had to hold onto that, and the only thing that kept me from losing my mind was my sense of humor. There’s no man who’s able to go in a cell by yourself, and you’re there for 23, sometimes 24 hours a day, and you don’t come out. There’s not a human being that can withstand that pressure unless there’s something greater inside of him. And the spirit was in me where I didn’t have to worry about killing myself.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Satan didn’t come up on me and tell me, Well you ain’t never gonna get out of here. When I saw people going to be executed, every man in there would tell you he questions himself — is that ever going to happen to me? And when that little voice comes and says, Well they’re going to get you the next time, I would immediately tell him to get thee behind me, and I would turn on that switch of laughter. And I didn’t ever turn it off. To this day, even though I’m free, I still haven’t turned that sense of humor off. If you could have seen me in those 30 years, you would have said this guy can’t be human. This guy is crazy. This guy laughs and plays like he ain’t on death row. I didn’t accept the death penalty. You can’t make me take the death penalty. You can give it to me, but you can’t make me take it in my heart.

There’s a whole lot more—about the day his mom died, about what it was like to use a fork for the first time in three decades, and the importance of Mark 11:24. Which you don’t have to be in prison to appreciate. It’s there for everybody, and it’s there for you, too.



From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Strange Fruit, by Billie Holliday

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

At some point, that Kierkegaard quotation just seems plain wrong. Abel Meeropol first published Strange Fruit as an anti-lynching poem in The New Masses, and only later set it to music. There is a terrible beauty in the lyrics, in which he deploys a kind of warped sensuality to make his point. You don’t need to be Rene Girard to see the victims of lynchings as nothing less than reenactments of the Christian passion. What Girard helps us see (helps me see) is the way perpetrators of public lynchings directed mob violence in the guise of justice as a kind of let valve for societal tensions that can only be expelled through violence. In this reading, Meeropol connects the sacrificial impulse to the bounty of this “strange fruit” as a way of mocking an essentially pagan understanding of rebirth through said violence.

Billie Holliday was born 100 years ago on April 7th. Mark Steyn has written one of his ordinarily great article, in which he touches on Strange Fruit, Frank Sinatra’s devotion to her, and then Don’t Explain, a song she wrote with Arthur Herzog Jr, with whom she also collaborated on God Bless the Child. Here also are Cole Porter’s Night and Day, and then All of Me.

This BBC special, The Billie Holiday Story, is also worth looking up—somewhat better than the Diana Ross movie from my childhood.

Happy Birthday, Lady Day …

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Two Short Poems about Medieval England, Historical and Mythical

On Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum
In the 600s AD, the English
(Anglo-Saxons) had to cede
authority to Italian and Irish
missionaries—so says Bede.

Doo After the Good and Leve the Evyl
Chivalry itself is more than fable,
even if modeled on knights in Le Morte
, and how they comport
themselves away from the round table.

Risen Indeed!

… like a bat outta …

However appropriate, I suppose this metaphor might seem a little confusing, given the season.

Still, the point is, they made it!!!

Congratulations to Matthew & Mark and everybody involved with the project. We’re looking forward to the first episode!

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Salve Festa Dies by Venantius Fortunatus, as sung by the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St. Maurice & St. Maur, Clevaux

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

An Easter hymn written by Venantius Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers, formerly sung during the procession before the Mass on Easter.

Salve festa dies toto venerabilis aevo
Qua Deus infernum vicit et astra tenet

Ecce renascentis testatur gratia mundi
Omnia cum Domino dona redisse suo

Namque triumphanti post tristia tartara Christo
Undique fronde nemus gramina flore favent

Qui genus humanum cernens mersisse profundo
Ut hominem eriperes es quoque factus homo

Pollicitam sed redde fidem, precor, alma potestas
tertia lux rediit surge sepulte meus

Solvecatenatas inferni carceris umbras
et revoca sursum quidquid ad ima ruit

Rex sacer, ecce tui radiat pars magna triumphi
cum puras animas sancta lavacra beant

Candidus egreditur nitidis exercitus undis
atque vetus vitium purgat in amne novo

Fulgentes animas vestis quoque candida signat
et grege de niveo gaudia pastor habet

Salve, festa dies, toto venerabilis aevo
qua deus infernum vicit et astra tenet

Hail, festal day, venerable of all ages
By which God conquers hell and holds the stars.

Behold the grace of the earth renewing and testifying
that all gifts shall be restored with her Lord.

For now, from all over, woods with leaves and meadows
with flowers favor Christ, who triumphs over gloomy hell.

Seeing the human race was sunk in misery deep,
thou hast made Man, that thou mightest rescue man.

But redeem thy promise, I beseech thee, merciful King!
This is the third day; arise, my buried Jesus!

Set free the spirits that are shackled
in limbo’s prison. Raise up all fallen things.

O King divine! lo! here a bright ray of thy triumph-
the souls made pure by the holy font.

The white­robed troop comes from the limpid waters;
and the old iniquity is cleansed in the new stream.

The white garments symbolize unspotted souls, a
nd the Shepherd rejoices in his snowlike flock.

Hail, festal day, venerable of all ages
By which God conquers hell and holds the stars.