The Charlotte News

Wednesday, February 8, 1939


Site Ed. Note: Among other less objectionable pursuits, the Federal Writer's Project, remarked upon, together with the Federal Theater, as an excessive form of assistance, in "Obstinacy in Relief", recorded Terkelesque interviews with working men and women across the country, especially those affected most by the Depression. Another laudable effort under its aegis was the compilation of former slave narratives from the remaining living ex-slaves in 1936-38, an obviously invaluable record of those times of America's dark middle passage. So it had its many positive attributes.

Cash's objection probably derives from its benevolence to prosper such pursuits as those set forth in "The Red Skill", May 8, 1939, the handing out of $375 per month--a fair salary in 1939, $175 more than Cash's--to writers whose primary task was to engage in propaganda for Soviet Communism.

Perhaps, too, behind this criticism by Cash lay the sting of personal rejection, maybe even some envy; not long before taking the regular post at The News, he had been turned down for an editing job with the Project, a job for which his future wife, Mary Northrop, who, like Cash before joining the regular staff, wrote occasional book reviews for The News, had been accepted.

Of course, even assuming that to be the case, all talents have their purpose and Cash was far better suited to his associate editorship at The News, reaching an incomparably wider readership by grinding out daily editorials on the shapes of things past and yet to come, than any position he would have ever undertaken at the Project obviously. Thus, if Cash didn't appreciate the Project's rejection slip, we should.

The Federal Theater Project, on the other hand, utilized unemployed professional actors, playwrights, and directors to put on various plays from Shakespeare to Shaw and some original works, throughout the country, including performances in rural areas not otherwise favored by the thespian arts. (Some of the scripts which were produced may be found here.)

We view the programs in hindsight as a stroke of genius by the Administration, encouraging culture in the land while keeping talented people from the bread lines. It is surprising that Cash, as a lifelong devotee and promoter of the arts, objected to this laudable use of Federal money, especially as the theater wing subsidies were not apparently so misdirected as some of the money to writers. But, perhaps he had seen one of these productions either locally in Charlotte or on one of his trips north and found it wanting in quality; or, perhaps, the purity of his own artistic soul objected to government-financing for the nobler arts in time of general want, or that matters of artistic merit should be judged on that basis and that basis alone, making it or not financially on the fancies and patronage of the audience, not by subsidy, when farmers and workers were still starving, especially in the South. Yet, for any faults laid to the programs, there was obvious hidden benefit: that of spreading and preserving the artistic soul of those who might have otherwise disappeared from the artistic landscape altogether in the 1930's, and, by them, in turn, spreading a spirit of hope and vitality in the general welfare of a segment of the audience perhaps too poor to afford such entertainment and culturation otherwise.

On the other side of the coin, perhaps laying at the heart of Cash's ultimate objection to government-sponsored art,--a foreboding fear that what happened over there might ultimately overtake here under less discriminating stewardship down the road--comes "The Perilous Comedians", demonstrating what happens in a society where control of speech and the arts reaches totalitarian prescription. For the extreme of this despotic, Machiavellian self-immersion, see "Picayune", June 9, 1939, during the springtime in Hitler for Germany, or something like that--where pine bats were substitutes, and for something other than knocking balls out of the park.

Indeed, without humor, freely postulated in and regarding society, where would the United States be but somewhere alongside the dictatorships probably? And that, even if Mr. Meader may have sounded more like Teddy; for Rich Little and David Frye met our ears precisely as the personage meant--and thank goodness for it.

Meanwhile, as if irony of the Dies Iræ were not enough striking out the times, in Raleigh, the eponymous hero of which is said to have laid down in his own wright a few towering lines along the way deemed improvident by his royal patrons, they banned Tobacco Road. At least in Charlotte, those extra attorney's fees were not so apparently blown in deference to the futile winds of static-fanatics. You can still read and see Tobacco Road 67 years later, after all; not so, those who banned it.

So, albeit too late for the Propaganda Ministry either to approve or not, here's one for the Contest, perhaps more a riddle than a joke (for we don't write jokes; we leave it to experts): Who got the most claptrap of all the Hitlers? Who among them stepped ultimately on his own goose?

Simon-Pure should have attended the Artist & Model shows at the fair instead, maybe--loosened his reigns at least a little.

And so it always is with such, big and small, then and now.

"Extra" Attorney's Fees

On the theory of local self-government, there can be no objection to that clause in the new Omnibus City Charter reserving to the Council the right to say how much it shall pay the City Attorney. The Blankenship bill to limit this compensation to $6,000 a year, except for necessary "extra" legal work, was a plain piece of Legislatorial usurpation of local authority, and we so described it when it was introduced and passed.

At the same time, if it is the right of City administrations to set their attorneys' fees, it is a responsibility to see that these fees are moderate. And last fiscal year, with the City Attorney proper limited to $6,000, fees for necessary "extra" work came to $5,060, or almost as much in the aggregate as was paid before the Blankenship bill came into being. Remarkably enough, by far the greater part of these necessary "extra" fees went to a former City Attorney and former law partner of the present City Attorney.

One cannot assert offhand that $11,060 was an excessive cost for legal services to the City. But one can say that an amazing portion of the City's legal work is "extra," and therefore compensable beyond the limitation imposed upon the Council by State law.

Obstinacy In Relief

That man is here again--here on the heels of a movement in Congress towards economy, with a request for an additional relief appropriation, a so-to-speak deficiency-deficiency appropriation, exactly equal to the saving Congress had so heroically achieved. And if the underlying facts are as the man states them, if--

"... the need of these people is so apparent and so deserving that the rolls in human decency ought not to be reduced"--

why, there is nothing for it but to borrow the $150,000,000 and let him have it. But is that the case?

Is it not notorious that a great many people are enjoying the benefits of relief who are not in reality either needy or especially deserving? Is it not unarguable, for example, that the National Youth Administration, adjunct of relief, could be largely curtailed without letting a single stomach go hungry? Is it not so that the Administration continues to support certain specialty relief projects, such as the Federal Theater, the Federal Writer's Project and others, because it fancies culture rather than because of any acute need for relief in these occupations?

And is it not undebatable that relief as a whole was made unnecessarily costly because of the Administration's insistence upon maintaining wage scales equivalent to those in private industry, a policy which makes relief twice as expensive in Eastern industrial states (which are important politically) as in the South?

By selective curtailment, the Administration could cut down its relief bill without suffering. But it chooses the heavy-handed method of curtailment in order not to have to curtail at all.

Site Ed. Note: Speaking of struggling artists, censorship and the like, we've been meaning now for a year to recommend a book for your reading. Its title is Chronicles, Volume One. Its author is a well-known singer-songwriter who has been described, perhaps most aptly, as a "hell of a poet". We've listened to his songs sung by his own interpretation since 1964, sung by some others for three years before that. Of this book, we will only say it is real and genuine writing, in our estimation, writing which doesn't exist much anymore in contemporary letters.

We could say other things like: out of the rich tableau of the American central landscape from which its author derives, seeing the rich color in the dispossessed margins, embracing it like a cloak in the dead of winter, a continuous song of the circling, interminable road and the hurricane winds which blew the tone-poems he wrote to us like the harmattan across the ghosting Atlantic reaching our ears at midnight on a lonely Western plain to give us heart to go on when the car wouldn't fire anymore--things like that. But we won't say it that way to any extent. It's not necessary.

It simply is--both original and derivative of the things and ideas which it made original and which made it original in the first place, and that is what is important, as art always is.

The book is to our eyes and ears, (for we listened to part of it), a rhythm in print, a long song, long overdue. For this is at heart a writer, always has been, we posit, even if a song and dance man, too.

We've had the pleasure of seeing his song and dance shows three times, evenly intervened by twelve and a half years, not planned that way as to spacing, but just happening as a function of where we were and happened to be at the time: Greensboro, January, 1974, Mountainview, CA., August, 1986, Cleveland, February, 1999. Each of those shows was different, each stimulating in different ways, each with different songs, each with some of the same, sung and played differently. (We suppose the next time we will go will be therefore sometime in summer, 2011--if we are there, at that time, that is.)

We've gone from being a child to middle age listening to the songs, understanding them differently over time, thus hearing them anew over and over. All of his songbook made public we've heard; yet much we have yet to hear, when we hear them next time initially.

We won't belabor a review of this work, this book released in fall, 2004. We bought it about a year ago, read a hundred pages slowly, put it aside. We didn't put it aside because we didn't like it; to the contrary, we wanted to save it, savour it, read it over time.

It's the same way we've read Look, Homeward Angel, for instance. We've never yet finished that one, or even gotten half way through it. Candidly, we hope that we never quite get through it. It's too good to finish that way.

Likewise, the book of which we write here.

So, we put it down for a year, left it on a table nearby and kept looking over at it occasionally, late at night in the quiet, smoky hours, thinking we might stir into it again, resisting it nevertheless more, for awhile.

About a month ago, we were in a hodgepodge store, one which sells tobacco products mainly, but also cowboy hats, big leather belts, die-cast metal scale model classic cars, peanuts, sailing ship lamps, and cutout, overstocked books, including audio books, not to fail to mention long black raincoats, too. We don't want one of those long black coats; but maybe someday we'll buy one of those cowboy hats. One day when it's raining outside, maybe.

We don't normally listen to audio books; not the way to read a book, we think. One misses too much that way, normally. Your eyes can't remember the words which your ears miss hearing, even when intently listening. Less personal. Too vicarious. Like letting other people get your kicks for you.

But this one, though we already, as we said, had the hardcover from a year ago, was only six bucks in the cut-rate bin--just like when we bought the singer-songwriter's first album we ever owned by him in 1964, for $1, "Another Side of..."

So we bought it, this audio book, thinking it might be interesting to hear the rhythms read that way, as laid down, in this one instance.

And yesterday, we got around to listening to it, only a part of it, from the beginning again. The actor who speaks it has the same smoky mystery in his voice as does the singer-songwriter in his latter years, something like the quick spacing of the skeleton-trees in a mid-winter rural run, skipping phrases by you out the glass eyes in unison, blending, yet still separate in time, as a tumbril lost of its horse-driver, impelled instead by twin locomotive motors--something like that, anyway.

One time, in January, 1991, planned since mid-1989, we began building a spiral staircase out of cherry wood, executing the plan; then in March, we heard a song for the first time recorded originally a few years earlier but never released, one in which appears a spiral staircase, though of material unspoken, one going past the tree of smoke. Three years later, a fire occurred at our house while we were away. Not too much damage resulted, enough to repair, but not enough to harm anything of import, for any time anyway. The big old rambling pine tree next to the room where we built and installed eventually the spiral staircase was charred by the fire and still is.

Then, a few months afterward, came a song from the song and dance man out of our record player, which yet again seemed to say that it was all somehow strangely meant to be.

And then there was the time, also in 1991, early March, where a poem came to us out of the blue, as is sometimes wont to happen, one which took the title, "Two Points on a Hardwood Field", a poem about the Civil War, sort of, at least we think so. In it there were two lines which we can't quite recall, for we don't have it at our fingertips right now. Maybe later. But we do recall that a couple of weeks afterward we heard another song by the singer-songwriter about a blind blues singer named Willie. Willie sang in rich falsetto on tinny-sounding 78's in the 1920's. The new song about him, recorded but unreleased a few years earlier, had we heard it before, would have caused us to think it the inspiration for that nearly identical couple of lines in the poem; but we hadn't yet heard the song before the poem came to be. That was the strange thing.

We listened to the book yesterday; put it aside again after listening to it for awhile, long before the end, somewhere around 1987, though time doesn't exist exactly in that way, all lined up like that, in this book.

It isn't really a song and dance man's memoir, as one might expect. It speaks instead sometimes of the Civil War and slavery, how somebody said slavery was evil and that it would've gone away anyway on its own even without Lincoln and all that, that such seemed like a wrong statement but right all the same because of who had said it; guitar riffs in grimy, pass-the-hat coffee houses in rainy winter afternoons around Bleecker Street in the early sixties; slushing through a freezing swamp at the end of the line to meet Woody Guthrie's wife about some hidden songs in the basement boxes, finding she wasn't in, meeting instead his young son and housekeeper; Greenwich Village, escaping the past and those misguided self-following guides who wanted, instead of songs, the sound of the battle charge--all those things at once in some mixed-up confusion which all the same makes rationally good common sense of it all, things nevertheless always in disarray. Song and dance memoirs don't do it that way usually.

We wanted to see where we were in the book, after we turned it off, and so we checked the print version after listening for three hours. Naturally, without effort, we opened the book right to the page, page 161, where we had pressed the stop. Our eyes fell right to the paragraph where the actor's smoky voice had ceased speaking for the time.

It happened that way. It always does when rhymes are in play, when you're lost in a dream. How could it be otherwise? It is.

We'll get back to it later, when the time moves us to it again.

The Perilous Comedians

Dr. Joseph Paul Goebbels, Minister of Falsehood to His Majesty, Adolf I, is a little worried lest somebody should think that his dismissal of five comedians for having poked fun at himself and other Nazi leaders, is pretty good proof that there is no longer any humor in Germany. And so to correct the impression he has had his newspaper, Der Angriff, to put on a joke contest. Verses, jokes, funny experiences--anything at all is wanted. Only it must be "genuine humor"--which is to say that it must not poke fun at the Nazis.

The Herr Doktor could hardly have gone a better way about demonstrating how dead humor is in his country. But, at that, he is entirely right in suppressing the comedians if he wants the Nazi regime to last. Comedians are dangerous for very solemn people anywhere. Look at what they did to Dr. Hoover in this country, for instance. But the Nazi regime seems made to order to be the butt of the W. C. Fieldses of Germany. Give them a free hand with the funny-faced little man with the mustache at the head--with the eternal strutting and bragging--the everlasting claptrap about German Destiny, the solemn race myth, the omnipresent goose-stepping, which extends even to holiday activities and the play of children--just give them a free hand with that and it might very easily happen that Germany would start suddenly to laughing and keep right on laughing until Adolf Hitler and all his gang were far more thoroughly disposed of than if somebody had got at them with bombs or ballots.

Nice Going, Ben!

Mayor Douglas' decision not to oppose the showing of "Tobacco Road" at the Armory-Auditorium March 3-4 is in sensible contrast with the action of Mayor Isley of Raleigh, who has taken it on himself to ban it from the City Auditorium there and so to decide what is good or bad for Raleigh folk to see. It is going to save Charlotte a lot of unpleasant publicity, for one thing. Outside the South, the refusal to allow this play to be shown is invariably taken as proof that Southerners are determined to have none of any criticism or analysis of Dixie. Erskine Caldwell, as a matter of fact, never laid down any such nonsensical proposition as that Old Jeeter Lester and his brood are to be taken as portraits of Southerners generally. Merely, the play is a study of old Jeeter Lester and his brood--of the sort of people that Southern conditions at their worst generate. And as such, it is worthy of sober consideration by Southerners.

That is, for all who can stand strong stuff. For strong stuff it certainly is. His poor whites are authentic, and both their language and their deeds are appallingly pungent. However, there is no law requiring the squeamish to see it. And in no case can it correctly be called lewd or obscene. A lewd or obscene play is one which is frankly salacious and excites prurience in those who see it, such as the conventional Artist & Model shows at carnivals. But it is quite impossible to imagine that anybody ever could be moved by "Tobacco Road" to any impulse more daring than to inhale good clean fresh air again.

Scylla and Charybdis

In his letter to Judge Roberts yesterday, the President charged pretty bluntly that the rejection of the Judge by the Senate was due to the arrogance and spite of Senators Glass and Byrd. And so far as it goes it seems accurate enough. It is certainly true, as the President says, that the Constitution meant to vest the power to confirm or reject in the Senate as a whole, and solely with reference to the fitness of the nominee. And it is therefore true that when Senator Glass, backed by Byrd, presents two candidates to the President and in effect demands that he nominate one of them under penalty of having any other candidate rejected for "personal obnoxiousness," he is trying to usurp a function that indubitably belongs to the President and to set himself up to handpick the Federal judiciary in Virginia.

It makes little difference, either, in the last analysis, that the "personal courtesy" rule is an old one. For the age of the crime against the people does not make it right. And Senators Glass and Byrd have set themselves up as great champions of the highest integrity in government.

Nevertheless, the President's diagnosis of Roberts' fate does not really go quite far enough. If Senators Glass and Byrd are bound not to play politics with the power to reject and confirm, the President is also bound not to play politics with the power to nominate. And who, looking at the record, doubts that what Senator Glass charges is correct: that the President, who by ordinary has certainly never made a point of rejecting the names submitted by Senators, was actuated in this case by more than the question of fitness--by the will to punish the Virginia Senators for having dared to oppose him on the floor of the Senate and in their own state?

Judge Roberts seems to have come to grief, that is, not merely through the arrogance and spite of Senators Glass and Byrd, but between the arrogance and spite of the Senators and the arrogance and spite of Franklin D. Roosevelt.


Framed Edition
[Return to Links-Page by Subject] [Return to Links-Page by Date] [Return to News--Framed Edition]
Links-Date -- Links-Subj.