Wednesday, December 27, 2006


As most of you know, two very famous Americans, James Brown & Gerald Ford, died over the long weekend (longer if, like me, you decided to honor Boxing Day by staying home).

As seems to be standard, when I do these quasi-obituaries, neither guy meant as much to me as he did to others. My appreciation of the Godfather of Soul tends to be more of an "I appreciate his influence," rather than any identification of myself as A Fan. And as to Gerald Ford . . . well, he was the guy that took over after the resignations. And lost to Carter. And twice escaped assassination attempts by crazy chicks with guns. And for 2 1/2 years survived Chevy Chase's attempts at comedy.

While I can't say Ford is the first President I remember, he's the first one for whom I knew his entire term. I was aware of the Watergate procedings because they preempted TV shows I wanted to watch. I could be wrong, but I recall PBS carrying extended covereage of the Congressional proceedings in late '73 and early '74, which obviously affected the availability of Sesame Street. I knew Nixon had done something wrong, but at 6 years old I certainly didn't know what, exactly, and it should go without saying that I didn't care.

But as I rode somewhere with my parents in August of '74, I remember hearing on the radio that Nixon had "resigned." Somehow my parents managed to explain what that meant, and as any child worth his salt should've done, I immediately forgot about that piece of irrelevant information. And went back to whatever I assume was occupying my summer of '74 thoughts: our new cat, my bicycle, and jumping said bike in the manner of that summer's real pop icon for the average 6 year year-old, Evel Knievel.

But Presidential Pardons, Agnew's resignation earlier that year, new oaths of office, this "Rocky" guy who became Vice-President, stagflation, Whip Inflation Now? All things I came to know over the subsequent 2 1/2 years, or more likely over the next 2 1/2 decades. I remember Carter beating Ford 30 years ago last month, but once again, I had no idea what made that result interesting, unique, important, etc. Nor did I know that this guy that Ford beat in the primaries, Ronald Reagan, would become a major player four years later.

So that's Ford to me: the guy who came in when I was old enough to know about it, then left a few years later. Shot at, not hit, no one "hated" him as had been the case for many uncles, aunts and grandparents regarding the previous guy. And then he was gone.

And James Brown? Like I said, my sense of him has always been through the prism of influence, of his iconhood. His last hit of any consequence, Sex Machine, came out when I was an infant, and my initial glimpses of the world outside my immediate surroundings (as described just now about the politics of the Summer of '74) corresponded with Brown's shift from musical visionary to pop culture icon: as the Seventies marched on. I knew him as big hair, tight pants, splits, yowls . . .

. . . and cameos in bad Rocky films or the subject of great Eddie Murphy sketches on SNL (which, unlike Chase's Ford imitation, was actually funny). But his rhythms, his grooves, Maceo's sax? Nah. Learned about those after the fact, as with Ford.

And, as with Ford, I'll admit that James Brown didn't inspire passionate views one way of the other. Musical figures as disparate as John Lennon, Miles Davis, Beethoven, Motzart, Chuck Berry, Elvis, Louie Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, Jimi and Janis completed most if not all of the notable periods of their musical careers before I was sentient (or born). And yet, in all those cases I hold firm, emotion-laden opinions regarding the greatness, or lack thereof, of their careers, of their output.

James Brown? Nope. But I recognize his importance from an intellectual, historical perspective. As I do with Gerald Ford and his role in America's emergence from its "long, national nightmare."

So for that, I can say I feel a little something seeing them gone. RIP, fellas.


Blogger Dwilkers said...

I always thought Ford was basically a good guy. I can hardly believe he lived so long. He was the first guy I ever voted for in a prez election.

Its interesting (to me anyway) thinking back to the politics of that time. Ford was what would be called pro-choice and pro-gay rights today. Of course Nixon wasn't exactly a paleocon, with the EPA and wage/price controls.

Actually that's one of the reasons I think we shouldn't get so worked up (personally angry) over this stuff. Thinking back to what were then the enormous issues of the day...nothing has changed much, and even if it had it wouldn't change anything about the way we live.

Better to take the red pill and go have a nice supper with your wife. ;-)

1:59 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

Ford was essentially the last of the moderate Republicans. The right wing of the party reviled him for a number of reasons -- continuing detente abroad, Betty Ford advocating for the ERA, and picking fellow moderate Nelson Rockefeller, the anti-Goldwater of '64, as his VP. They rebelled against him in '76 and '80, and haven't looked back.

It's a shame that most of the tributes will focus on the pardon, because Ford represented the closing of another, much less shameful chapter in Republican history. Might be nice to revisit that, even if he did employ people like Rummy and Cheney.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

As far as JB goes, do yourself a favor and go get "In the Jungle Groove." Phenomenal.

3:05 PM  
Blogger DED said...

I'm a little surprised at all the media coverage Ford's getting. I admit to writing him off as the quiet president who pardoned Nixon and lost to Carter. I firmly believe that it was the former that resulted in the latter, something the talking heads last night didn't seem to really connect.

Being about the same age as you Mike, I also didn't have much awareness of what was going on then, so that accounts for my surprise that Ford's death is getting so much press coverage. The coverage of Reagan's death I understood. I listened last night to what happened during his admin and all I can think of is our nation's bicentennial celebration, the Yankees losing to the Reds in the World Series, dinosaurs, and camping on Fire Island. Political events of his time? **shrug**

3:30 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Okay, at the risk of losing whatever credibilty that I have around here...

I though Chevy Chase's Ford impersonation was funny. He didn't try to look like Ford. He didn't try to talk like Ford. He just did falls and said stupid things. It was funny. And anybody who watches SNL's current, lame, Bush impersonations, you've got to kind of wish that they'd just go back to that Chevy Chase approach.

There, if I my credibility wasn't shot before this comment, it's definitely shot now.

Oh, and I agree about Eddie Murphy's James Brown. My sister-in-law and I were talking about the James Brown's Celebrity Hot Tub bit after we heard about his death.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Donna said...

I posted this over on Weaseldog's Lair, but thought I'd show how out of touch I've been over here, too. I hadn't realized all these folks had died this year.

"Remembering Those We Lost"

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Donna said...

Put a "g" at the end of "rememberin" in the link and it should work.

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember being pissed at Nixon for the Watergate stupidity. He would've won anyway. Then, I was mad at Ford for the pardon. I was a little confused at the time, I know. In hindsight I feel that Ford was right to pardon Nixon. He (Nixon) was a choirboy compared to the system of politicians and judges we have now. We're doomed, dooomed.

7:34 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Dwilkers & OM-

I agree. Ford is distictly left of today's mainstream Dems. The shift in America's political spectrum (starting with Reagan, consolidated under Clinton, and . . . well, whatever you call the last 6 years under Bush II) has been dramatic.

I think Ford represented the true Silent Majority at the time: those who just wanted Nixon and the scandal and all the brouhaha to go away.


No camping on Fire island for me (and I'll avoid the impulse to make any lame jokes here), but otherwise that about sums up 1976.


With or without the "g" the URL is truncated. Maybe I'll see if the one at Weaseldog's blog is clearer.


You're nuts. But this hasn't effected your credibility. That was shot already.

I assume you noticed that I did Rudolph, per your suggestion, a couple weeks ago.

Enjoy the vacation?

Edgar (how many names is this in 6 months?)-

Ford pardoning Nixon clearly seems like the right thing in retrospect. Who needed more drama?

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Donna said...

Mike, I just copied the link off my post and it worked fine. To quote Jelly in "Analyze This"--"Dat's fuckin' weird!"

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Donna, I switched over to IE (from Firefox which is superior in just about every other way) and it worked.

Yeah, I forgot about a lot of those folks. Knew they were dead, but didn't remember that all of them died this year.

11:58 AM  

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