Tuesday, March 29, 2011

(Almost) hanging out with Joe Bageant

Joe Bageant: Deer Hunting with Jesus from DANGEROUS MINDS on Vimeo.

A couple of years ago, while toiling in return for teabagger abuse...that is, while writing an ethics column for examiner.com that enraged those duped peons and led them to heap epithets upon me...I ran across Joe Bageant. I had read some of his stuff online. I had never read Deer Hunting with Jesus, although, with its Hunter Thompson-esque title, I'm surprised I hadn't.

Bageant was a critter born of the hills and hollers of West Virginia. And I...I was just a superannuated superstar wannabe who'd been born in Brooklyn, and raised on New York's Long Island "near the Hamptons" to paraprhase Laverne & Shirley's "Raul's Resort, Near Mexico." What did I know about middle America? The kind that thinks it's stuck up to aspire to a Mercedes, but a gas-guzzling Caddy is OK. The kind that actually eats other critters that had skin on when they were dragged off the back of the pickup, and a bullet somewhere inside. I was a striver, not a begrudger, nor a peon arrogantly satisfied to be a peon. Whatever did I know about them?

Nothing. I was clueless as to why a class of Americans that I could barely define, let alone drink a beer with, would be of interest to me, and why their poet laureate, Joe Bageant, would be the person I most  hoped to emulate in the near future, and truly wanted to meet.

I almost met him. His publisher was sending him on a speaking trip to England...supposed to be last fall. But two things happened. Joe got sick, and the publisher canceled the trip. I don't know which came first, although by then, we had corresponded several times and plans were afoot for me to be Joe's guest at one of the London gigs.

Of course I wanted Joe to get well, but it never sounded good. He had lived hard, smoked, drank. No, cancer did not sound good for Joe Bageant. And it wasn't.

It was about as good for him as voting with the Republicans is for those gun-toting, deer-shooting, holler-living, Bible-thumping hillbillies he cared so deeply about. The same people I care deeply about, as long as you substitute their precise counterparts in my native neck of the woods: the Italian pipe-fitters, the Lutheran fouth-generation German immigrant families from the Sudetenland who drive for a beer distributor, the shanty Irish bartenders who gave English dese, dem and dose because the Irish language (erroneously called Gaelic by most Yanks) doesn't possess the "th" dipthong.

As long as you include all those people in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island--and in working class enclaves nationwide--in your description of Joe Bageant's target subjects (if not target readership, which seems to be those of us who climbed out of those enclaves but haven't forgotten), then he and I were soul mates.

I have been too long away from the Italian/German/Irish/etc. peasant gene-pool in downstate New York to hope to know what they are thinking, precisely, and why--precisely--those who derive so little from the immense abundance of the New World, relatively speaking, would possibly think their lot would improve by voting as the masters of the universe, who live in the Hamptons and not near the Hamptons, tell them to.

It's a mystery.

It's a mystery why Joe had to move on.

It's a mystery why his readers are, mainly, those who don't really need to read him.

It will be a miracle if the trickle down theory, applied to Joe Bageant's ideas, makes its way into the hearts and minds of the hills and hollers and used to batter their oppressors, rather than remaining pristine, if well loved, on the genuine wood shelving in the houses of his readers--we who left places like the one he left, but who haven't had the courage to go home again as he did....and agitate for change.

RIP Joe Bageant, and please accept my heartache in tribute to your work and life.