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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/17/17

What Was Verifiably Great About America: Fragments of a Memoir Set To A Musical Soundtrack

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Having been born in a coal and steel company town but destiny delivered, as an adult, to reside, during extended intervals, in the East and West Coast cities of Los Angeles and New York City, and, at present, the continent of Europe, I have come to conclude, people born into situations providing economic advantage, both liberals and conservatives alike, experience difficulty, more often than not, envisaging the lives of those born into a labouring class existence. Worse, a wilful obtuseness, in combination with a supercilious posture is, all too often, evinced, by reflex, towards those scorned as "hillbillies," "trailer trash," and "genetic retreads."

"That is what Woody meant by, 'This machine kills fascists.' His music and that of other inspired troubadours kills the soul-dead ideology of fascism with the life-vivifying veracity of truth."

Among groups possessing economic advantage, a lack of curiosity prevails as to the nature of the lives of individuals who have spent their lifetime subjected to the life-defying tyrannies of full-spectrum, company town capitalism. Life circumstances, under the present, neoliberal order, that are, in all but rare cases, intractable; wherein, the meagre and fraught with economic instability livelihoods earned as a mine, mill, factory worker, and, in the service industry economy in the US wage and debt slave archipelago of fast food outlets, Big Box retailers and Dollar Discount stores, and as a domestic worker, presents, for the vast majority of workers, the degrading, anxiety-inducing option of submitting to low pay, no benefits, long hours of tedious, vastly under-compensated labor or facing homelessness and hunger.

I was born in the foothills of Appalachia. I know, bones to brain, the painful plight of the labouring class. I will go so far as to say, the transforming, I would even suggest, redemptive element, in my life was a house stocked with books and an indomitable yearning to seek out the music indigenous to the region.

My family, later, moved to the then small, Piedmont region city of Atlanta, Georgia. Shortly thereafter, in the living room of a musician, science fiction writer, and general Beat polymath my father had befriended, I swooned--was, I suspect, transformed--when a guest in the home (where a young Bob Dylan used to crash when in Atlanta--which was, at the time, a rundown, mafia-owned apartment house but where, decades earlier, Margaret Mitchell had penned Gone With The Wind--North Georgia-born folksinger and activist Hedy West played her most famous song, "500 Miles Away from Home" also known as "Railroaders' Lament."

During childhood, a period of life in which one is transmigrating through a wilderness of archetypes, for me, the experience of being in West's presence felt as if I had been transported to glens and gardens inhabited by a veritable muse.

In the year, 1970, in the summer I turned 14, in Piedmont Park, in Atlanta, Georgia, the Allman Brothers, among other bands, would perform free, impromptu concerts for a tie-dye-clad, reefer-reeking, bell-bottoms-caressing-the-Georgia-red-dirt gatherings of "freaks"--which was the preferred tribalist term, as opposed to the media-created, socially pejorative--hippies " which, when bandied among counterculture insiders, was generally applied ironically.

Although the park was located only a few miles from my family's home, undertaking the trip presented a degree of peril. To make one's way to the park included traversing a tough, in-town, White working class neighborhood (now a gentrified into soul-sucking blandness, yuppie enclave) where, from the perspective of its denizens, their world, and all they held in reverence and reference, was under siege.

And, although inchoate, their animus was instantly distilled, simply upon a glimpse of the untamed tresses of a singular, thin of wrist, dirty hippie, commie f*ggot--whose mere presence was considered an affront to their pomade-crowned, muscle car-thundering parcel of redneck paradise.

Accordingly, the locals were pledged to do their part to fight the scourge " by increasing their intake of PBRs and Jack Daniels, and, upon sight of said dirty hippie interlopers, bestowing ass-stompings -- and for no-extra-charge--involuntary haircuts upon errant longhairs caught in their midst.

Yet as the era progressed, the savage dance between hippie freak and redneck belligerent changed in tone and tempo, an extemporaneous type of metaphysical jujitsu occurred, in which the predator was subdued and seduced by the prey " as if by cultural contact buzz, redneck fury yielded to counterculture insouciance.

"When the individual feels, the community reels" --Aldous Huxley

Briefly, this was the anatomy of the seduction: In their pursuit of fleeing freaks into the park, the young males of the cracker tribe happened upon a few of the things of this vast and vivid world even more compelling than the possibility of ass-kicking " in the form of attractive young women.

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Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at Facebook:

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