Sixty years ago today a plane fell out of the sky and this was finished:
American Rock n Roll musicians Buddy Holly (22), Ritchie Valens (17), and JP ‘The Big Bopper’ Richardson (28) were killed when their plane crashed in Iowa.
In 1971 Don McLean sang about that day AND – less known – about another day ten years later:
When asked what “American Pie” meant, McLean jokingly replied, “It means I don’t ever have to work again if I don’t want to.” Later, he stated, “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me … Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.” In February 2015, McLean announced he would reveal the meaning of the lyrics to the song when the original manuscript went for auction. The lyrics and notes were auctioned on April 7, and sold for $1.2 million. In the sale catalogue notes, McLean revealed the meaning in the song’s lyrics: “Basically in American Pie things are heading in the wrong direction. Life is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.” The king mentioned was Elvis, the jester was Bob Dylan.
Then the song also contains a much longer, and near-verbatim description of the death of Meredith Hunter at the hands of drunken Hells Angels at a free concert in California ten years after the plane crash that killed Holly, Valens, and Richardson. Where the music died a much more tragic and violent death. A death that was not an accident.
Oh, and as I watched him on the stage My hands were clenched in fists of rage No angel born in Hell Could break that Satan’s spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night To light the sacrificial rite I saw Satan laughing with delight The day the music died
In 1972 the title of the song came to bite me when I embarrassingly cocked up the most important part of my matric dance. None of that.
Back when I was seventeen or eighteen I became an American farmer – a certified Future Farmer of America and I can still hear how Mr. Schneeburger would say EFFIFFAY in Ag Shop class. In Ag Shop I craftily constructed a rotating cattle feeder made of a 55gal drum, mounted on a wheelrim on an axle that would always turn away from the wind thanks to an angled weather vane on top. Thus keeping the cattle feed dry in all weather. Clever, hey!? Trouble was my birdshit welding, so it fell over in the first little breeze. Still, the thought was there and I was – maybe – on my way to greater things.
I went to hog shows – where the winner wouldn’t be looking quite so pleased with himself if he read what his mistress had planned for him on the placard:
I planted peanuts in Fort Cobb – well, watched some Mexican fellas do it anyhow. I sprayed something on Jim’s lands. I drove in Walter & Pug Hrbacek’s – or was it Gene & Odie Mindemann’s? – airconditioned cab of their big combine harvester or tractor (yeah, a farmer should remember which it was!) with an eight-track tape sound system overhead. Remember them?
My farming career peaked when I took part in the big annual roundup, catching, de-horning, castrating, branding and inoculating the bull calves.
Then we went home to wash up and joined up again to eat the produce and wash it down with beer. It was my first ‘mountain oyster fry’. It was like this, but in Walter’s barn, not at a church, and not in Texas:
They’re delicious, and they smell good – unlike the smell of burning cowhide from the branding! – but I found them best fried and covered in batter. You don’t really want to see them, especially not raw. I only ate the well-battered ones. They also get better with each ice-cold beer!
Recently I found out they do it better in Montana where they add a competitive eating of bull balls, or “Rocky Mountain oysters” and they throw in women’s hot oil wrestling, a women’s wet-T-shirt event, and a men’s “big ball” competition – basically a men’s “wet thin white underwear show”. Sounds like fun, huh?!
They make good products too, good merchandise: One for an insecure man, and how useful is this one for a lady who has a dick of a boss?
As you take a picture of the kids they say “LEMMESEE” and look at the photo of themselves on your phone, then say ooh! or ugh!
In 1944 a three year old girl apparently said that to her Dad and he had to explain the film would first have to be sent away to the lab when they got back home from their holiday and then the lab would develop it and send it back to them and only THEN could she see the pic he had taken of her. She thought that completely unreasonable and so her Dad set to work and in 1948 the first Land Polaroid cameras went on sale. His name was Edwin Land and his Polaroid Corporation became very famous indeed. Instant pictures in 1948 looked like a miracle, like the fax did forty years later.
Some of you will remember those cameras:
I first got to use a Polaroid camera in 1973 when – in my quest to do as little schoolwork as possible – I was kindly allowed onto the Annual Staff of Apache High School where our job was to be amateur reporters and amateur fund-raisers and to cobble together this school annual under the wonderful friendly guidance of our teacher Virginia Darnell.
We had old cameras with bellows and a newer version.
So why am I not a millionaire? Because everyone knows Polaroid went bust as newer technology came out and nowadays there’s absolutely no need for paper photos when you have all your digital photos instantly viewable and always available on your camera. Everyone KNOWS that.
Except – – – this:
Seems kids still want to hold a paper copy of their image in their hand. Last year Polaroid launched new instant cameras which look very retro-similar to the ‘new’ ones we used in the seventies! My predictions on new stuff that eventually ‘went viral’ has usually been ‘hmph! that’ll never take off!’
Time will tell if paper photos make a comeback. Recently Jess saw a pink one in the window of a camera shop and said she NEEDED it! “Dad, you don’t understand! It instantly prints out a paper photo!”, she said.
Thanks to fellow optometrist Ann Elsner, Professor of Optometry at Indiana University for a lovely article on Polaroid’s 70th anniversary 1948 – 2018.
I lapped up the famous Trader Horn books “The Ivory Coast in the Earlies” and “Harold the Webbed”. I was then even more enamoured of Tim Couzens’ book “Tramp Royal – The true story of Trader Horn”, as it validated the Trader Horn legend – Alfred Aloysius ‘Wish’ Smith was real and he had got around!!
Couzens died in October this year, tragically – he fell in his own home. I thought OH NO!! when I read it. He was a gem, almost a Trader Horn himself – what a waste! Too soon! He did the MOST amazing sleuth job of tracking down all Trader Horn’s jaunts n joints across the world and revealing that – despite the skepticism that had followed the incredible fame and Hollywood movie that had followed the success of ‘Trader Horn’s first book in 1930 – most of what the old tramp, scamp and adventurer had claimed to do he had, in fact, done!
One (small) reason I LOVED the trader Horn books, besides the original title: Trader Horn; Being the Life and Works of Aloysius Horn, an “Old Visiter” … the works written by himself at the age of seventy-three and the life, with such of his philosophy as is the gift of age and experience, taken down and here edited by Ethelreda Lewis; With a foreword by John Galsworthy was the number of places A. Aloysius Smith – ‘Trader Horn’ (or Zambesi Jack or Limpopo Jack or Uncle Pat – he had aliases!) had been to that I have also been to:
Joburg, his least favourite city in the world. He was in a doss house in Main Street in 1925, I was in Eloff Street in 1974. Parktown, where Ethelreda Lewis ‘discovered’ him was different – he came to love it, as did I. In Parktown he was in Loch Street in 1926, I was in Hillside Avenue in 1977;
Hwange in Zimbabwe, or Wankie in Rhodesia as it was then;
Harrismith, where he went with Kitchener’s Cattle Thieves to steal Boer cattle and horses in the scorched earth tactics of the wicked looting Brits. And where I was born and raised;
The west coast of Madagascar where our yachting trip to the island of Nose Iranja took us quite close to his ‘Chesterfield Islands’;
The east coast of Africa, although he spoke of Zanzibar and we visited Mombasa – which he probably visited too, as he sailed up and down the coast;
Oklahoma, where like me he befriended and was befriended by, the local Native Americans – his mostly Pawnees and Osages, mine mostly Apaches, Kiowas and Cherokees;
Georgia, where he behaved abominably and which I used as a base to go kayaking in Tennessee. He drank in a doctor’s house and I drank in a dentist’s house;
The Devonshire Hotel in Braamfontein, where both of us got raucously pickled;
Kent, where he died in 1931; I visited Paddock Wood on honeymoon in 1988.
I also loved the unexpected success of the first book. Written by an unknown tramp living in a doss house in Main Street JHB, the publishers Jonathan Cape advanced fifty pounds which Mrs Lewis gratefully accepted. Other publishers had turned it down, after all. Then the Literary Guild in America (a kind of book club) offered five thousand dollars! They expected to print a few thousand, and also offered the rights to a new publisher called Simon & Schuster who hesitated then went ahead, receiving advance orders for 637 copies.
Then it started selling! 1523 copies on week, then 759, 1330 and then 4070 in the first week of July 1927. Then 1600 copies one morning! Then 6000 in a week. They now expected to sell 20 000 copies!
Up to November that year sales averaged 10 000 a month, thus doubling their best guess. They had already run ten reprints, the last reprint alone being 25 000 copies. 30 000 were sold in December alone up to Christmas day. The story grows from there – more sales, trips by the author to the UK and the USA, bookstore appearances, talk of a movie. The trip continued until he had gone right around the world, drinking, smoking and entertaining the crowds with his tales and his exaggerations and his willingness to go along with any hype and fanfare. At his first big public appearance at 3.30 pm on Wednesday 28th March he spoke to a packed house in the 1,500 seater New York City Town Hall off Times Square:
‘William McFee was to have made an introductory address but the old man walked on the stage (probably well fortified with strong liquor), acknowledged tremendous applause with a wave of his wide hat and a bow and commenced talking in a rambling informal style before McFee could say a word. He started by quoting advice given to new traders: “The Lord take care of you, an’ the Divil takes care of the last man.” He spoke of the skills of medicine men, rolled up his trouser leg above his knee to show the audience his scar, and threatened to take of his shirt in front of the whole Town Hall to show where a lion had carried him off and was shot only just in time. When the aged adventurer paused to take a rest in the middle of his lecture, McFee delivered his introduction.’
Then suddenly people started thinking old ‘Wish’ Smith’s whole story was a yarn, nothing but the inventions of a feeble mind, and wrote him off as yet another con artist – there were so many of those! The hype died, cynicism set in and old ‘Wish’ Smith – Trader Horn – died in relative obscurity. It may all have been a hoax.
So was he real, or was it all a hoax? To know more, read Tim Couzens’ book – it’s a gem!
Here’s a silent movie of the old rascal on a Joburg street corner soon after he’d been kitted out in new clothes when the first cheque for his book came in.
Here’s a wonderful site where Ian Cutler, another fan, writes about Trader Horn and about Tim Couzens’ dedicated work, research and travels that validated the old rascal.
Here’s the back page from the movie program. The movie, of course, was Hollywood – WAY different to the true story! An interesting facet was for once they didn’t film it all in a Hollywood studio; they actually packed tons of equipment and vehicles and sailed to Kenya and then on to Uganda to film it ‘in loco’ – although on the wrong side of Africa to where it had happened!
As I settled in the seat of the Delta Air plane en route to Texas and the Gulf I read in the newspaper that the one thing I did NOT want to be doing was flying over Easter.
When is Easter? I asked the stewardess. “Tomorrow” she chirped brightly.
Change of plan Aitch, I announced: We’re going to Oklahoma instead of the Gulf. I explained and showed her the newspaper (airport congestion, overbooked flights – us on a cheap Delta pass). Aitch had been dreading going to Apache: “They’ll all know you and I won’t know anyone and I’ll feel left out and . . ”
But now she had to face her fears. As soon as we landed at Dallas-Fort Worth we booked the next flight to Lawton OK, heading back north instead of carrying on south. There was just enough time if we scurried. Aitch decided she’d skip the loo and go once we were airborne. Mistake.
It was a little narrow plane like this, two seats a side, a narrow aisle, no airhostess, no loo. Ooh!
We landed in Lawton after dark and she made it. We set off further north for Apache in a rental car. Apache: My hometown for a year as a Rotary exchange student in 1973. Arriving on the Patterson’s farm outside town we saw a huge (or ‘yuge’) SA flag waving from the flagpole! Jim had borrowed an oversize flag to welcome us!
Jim & Katie Patterson, the loveliest couple in the whole of the USA were just the same as ever!
They welcomed us with open arms in to their beautiful and comfortable ranch house and it was as though we hadn’t been apart for fifteen years (during which time I had received exactly two letters from them. “Well, Peter” said Jim with his crooked grin and twinkling eyes, “We didn’t want to flood you with correspondence”).
Katie took Aitch on a night drive in the pickup looking for owls. Both girls were suitably lubricated plus they took extra stocks of their tipple. They had the windows down and were hooting weird owl calls and hosing themselves. When they returned they were laughing uncontrollably, leaning against each other for support. They had seen a possum snuffling around and Aitch was fascinated – she always LOVED the little night creatures. Katie followed it offroad into the fields, keeping it in the headlights. When it stopped she manouevred so it could best be seen and whispered to Aitch “Shall I kill it?” She was surprised at Aitch’s distraught look of horror. She twigged: “No, no, not the possum! I meant the engine!” They collapsed laughing when they both “saw it” and were still laughing helplessly when they got back home where Jim and I were watching ‘the ballgame’ – Basketball I think; OU I think.
Jim even unwrapped the Caddy convertible from its winter covering weeks earlier than usual and presented her with the keys.
All I got was this old tractor that I had driven for Jim back in ’73.
OK, in fairness, he also gave me the keys to the Chevy Suburban. Which was so much fun I missed the Rotary meeting! Now THAT was embarrassing! Unforgivable! Everyone was forgiving / understanding (‘well, you ARE on honeymoon, after all’) but that REALLY was a major gaffe! *blush!!!* We were out in the countryside and I just clean forgot. We did see a lot of birds that day.
Well, our five day trip to Apache stretched to a week. Wherever we went all I got was an elbow in the ribs as the local inhabitants shoved me aside and crowded around Aitch. Every now and then one would mutter over his shoulder at me: “Now you look after this gal, boy! Y’hear?” Aitch’s dread of going to “my” hometown had turned into a reluctance to leave “her” hometown!
After ten days I sat Aitch down and said “Now listen girl, we still have things to do, places to go and people to meet. We can’t stay in Apache forever!” She was having a ball, revelling in the attention and she and Katie were getting on like a house on fire. I suspect on all their jaunts when they would breeze off in the Lincoln saying “Ya’ll stay home and watch the ballgame, y’hear?” that Katie was teaching her how to manage me and telling her how she managed Jim. Aitch obviously soaked up the lessons! It was Katie who had asked me as a seventeen year old back in 1973: “Peter, who do you think chooses the marriage partner?” Following my confident (wrong) answer she put me straight, telling me how, when Jim arrived for his first day of work at the bank she had turned to her friend and announced “I’m going to marry that man!”
So it was very reluctantly that Aitch agreed that I could book for the next leg of our extended honeymoon. On to Ohio to see Larry.
Former Apache resident Rebekah Cooksey (about 20 years after me, I guess) wrote “Top 10 Things Heard This Weekend in Apache, Oklahoma” after a return visit to her hometown. Her blog now seems to have disappeared, but I got these extracts from it.
Small town Oklahoma defined my early life. My hometown was Apache. Population: 1500. Our school was so small we had no class electives; My class pictures between kindergarten and 12th grade included all the same people, generally in the same position.
I am the youngest of seven kids; Dad was a minister, Mom was a nurse. I think at one point we were actually below the poverty level but I have such great selective memory that period is all kind of blurry. I do remember being laughed at because of my clothes and wishing that we could live in a mobile home because some of my friends lived in them, and their homes were nicer than ours. While I had good friends (whom I still keep in touch with), I always knew I would move away because there really wasn’t anything there for me.
Those of you who actually read my blog (thanks, Mom!) know that my family and I went to Apache Oklahoma this past weekend to attend the annual Apache Fair. Going to Apache is always a bittersweet event for me. Growing up in this small town of 1500 people was mostly a frustrating experience, and I spent my junior high and high school years plotting my escape. But even after almost twenty years of being away, I am tied to this place by my memories, my values, and my dreams for my own children — because the kind of town I ran from is exactly the kind of town I’d like to raise them in (but hopefully with a larger population by a factor of 10.
Why bittersweet? Going back reminds me of the many wonderful things about being raised in a town where everyone knows everyone, where the same families have farmed the same land for generation after generation, where the values are so traditional that Home Economics is a required course for girls and Ag Shop (agricultural workshop – welding, woodworking, leather tooling) is a required course for boys. But, it also makes me sad, because many of the store fronts are boarded up, the family-owned businesses have been replaced by Sonic and Dollar General, and the landscape is dotted with barns falling into themselves, rusted cars and vans, and, in general, signs of the struggle of the lower-middle class.
The best way to describe it, I’ve decided, is Mayberry meets Sanford & Son, with a Native American twist.
So, in a lighthearted way, I’m going to attempt to share with you some of the highlights of the weekend. Again, while this may appear like I’m poking fun – well, OK, it will be poking fun. But, remember, I grew up here, so I’m allowed. I’m laughing with my fellow Apacheans, not at them.
#10: Do you feel that breeze?
There was a lot of controversy over the installation of 150 wind turbines southwest of Apache because of the blight on the landscape. Not surprising: when you have been living with an unobstructed view of the Wichita Mountains for years, and suddenly someone proposes to build wind turbines across the horizon, that’s bound to put a bee in your bonnet. But the Slick Hills (as the foothills of the Wichitas are known) supposedly have some of the best wind in the USA. The Blue Canyon Wind Farm now produces the energy equivalent of powering 60,000 cars on the road. Now with gas hovering just under $4 a gallon, I don’t think the residents mind so much anymore.
#9: We’ll have to wait our turn to get on the bridge.
We actually didn’t stay in Apache for the weekend; instead, we rented a cabin in Medicine Park, a tiny tourist village about half an hour away just outside the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge. If you can desensitize yourself to an over-abundance of junked out cars, scrap heaps, and crumbling mobile homes, Medicine Park is quite a cute destination and the natural beauty is astounding. Definitely worth a weekend trip from Dallas-Fort Worth. But my mention here is just about the one-lane bridge that goes across the river in Medicine Park and joins East Lake Drive with West Lake Drive. You don’t see many of these anymore.
#8: Look, it’s Tow-mater!
In Medicine Park we found what must be the actual model for Tow-Mater from the animated movie Cars.
#6: Wow! Look at the view from the wastewater treatment plant!
The fact that the most beautiful real estate in at least a 200 mile radius is used by a waste water treatment plant is astounding to me. With a view of the Wichita Mountains, Lake Lawtonka and the surrounding hills, this plot would be turned into million dollar homes (or, adjusted for Oklahoman prices, maybe $250K homes). Seriously, it made my heart sad to see the $32.5m facility sitting smack dab on top of the best view in the area.
#5: Hey, the stoplight is working!
I remember when the blinking red stoplight was installed at the main intersection when I was in junior high in the early 80′s. It seemed like no time at all had passed before the light burned out. No one seemed to notice, really, and it took years before it was replaced. Clearly progress has been made because the town’s only stoplight was blinking when we drove through town.
#4: The Apache Rattlesnake Festival drew 60,000 people last year.
Our little town of Apache is host to one of the largest Rattlesnake Festivals in the USA. The Apache Rattlesnake Festival was created by some local townspeople (one of whom was my high school best friend’s Dad) back in 1986, and features guided snake hunts, contests for the longest/heaviest/ugliest rattlesnake, an ever-growing flea market/craft fair, and a carnival. Last year, they had 60,000 people come through for the 3-day event, and Discovery America was there to film it. Pretty good for this small hometown.
One of the big attractions of the Fair is livestock judging. Most FFA students have animals that they show at fairs such as this for prize money and bragging rights. This night was cattle judging night, so Jack and Luke got plenty of opportunity to see cows. I think this was the first real “Moo” they had ever heard, poor things. Usually it’s me trying to sound like a cow when I sing Old MacDonald.