(Rich Galen, Mullings) – Tough week for the arts.
On the one hand, President Donald Trump served up a budget which would starve them of the funds they need to help people find their artistic voices; to be able to teach children there is more to life than a new video game; that a song can move you to tears or to blessed laughter.
A writer who was an artist died this weekend. Jimmy Breslin.
Mencken was not a man ‘o the people, not a fan of representative democracy. In fact, he was a racist. But, as I was looking for H.L. Mencken quotes just now, I came across this:
“On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” — July 26, 1920
I loved reading Jimmy Breslin’s stuff. When I was in 8th or 9th grade I got through social studies classes at New Hyde Park Memorial Junior-Senior High School hiding the New York Herald Tribune on my lap, reading Breslin’s columns (I think on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) and doing the crossword puzzle.
I could do the Herald Tribune’s crossword puzzle but the New York Times’ puzzles, especially toward the end of the week as they got harder, were often too difficult for my still-growing vocabulary and my limited cultural experience which was largely focused on checking to see if Mickey Mantle had gotten any hits in the previous day’s baseball game.
Breslin was a New Yorker. He was of New York. Knew the cops in New York. The cops knew him.
There was a serial killer on the loose in New York. A guy name David Berkowitz. When the cops caught him, they let Breslin look at the car he had been driving. “The inside of his car,” Breslin wrote, “looked like the inside of his head.”
Of JFK’s funeral, he didn’t write soaring prose about a life cut short. Breslin wrote of the guy who dug the graves at Arlington Memorial Cemetery and was digging the grave for President Kennedy.
A column written the night John Lennon was shot, focused on the cops who carried the still-living ex-Beatle and Yoko Ono to the hospital in the back of their squad car.
What great eyes.
Another transformational figure, from another art died over the weekend. Chuck Berry.
Chuck Berry didn’t invent rock & roll although John Lennon was quoted by someone on Twitter over the weekend as having said, “If you had to give rock & roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.” But he defined it for the next 65 years. And counting.
In a list of the 100 greatest rock & roll artists in Rolling Stone Magazine, writer Joe Perry wrote that his words and his music were alike:
“His music is very economical. The economy of his licks and his leads – they pushed the song along.
“As a songwriter, Chuck Berry is like the Ernest Hemingway of rock & roll. He gets right to the point. He tells a story in short sentences.”
The Nobel Committee that awarded the Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan probably did not give much consideration to Chuck Berry. They should have. Being compared to Ernest Hemingway (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954) is heady stuff.
By the way, that Rolling Stone piece of the 100 top artists had Chuck Berry at number 5. Number 1 was the Beatles. It was written in 2010 so, here in 2017, your mileage may vary.
I was a pretty fair folk guitar player back in the day. I could play anything by the folk and folk-rock groups popular in the 60s and 70s. As I write this, I am looking at my old Martin 00-16C nylon string guitar sitting across the den, patiently waiting for me to open the case, tune it, and play a G-Em-C-D7 chord progression. Just for old time’s sake.
I was a decent fraternity party-level musician. I’m a writer who has become a pretty good craftsman. But, I am not an artist.
Would that God would grant me one day – one hour – when I could write like Breslin and play like Berry.
What a fine hour that would be.
Mr. Galen is a veteran political strategist and communications consultant. He blogs at www.Mullings.com.