Thursday, July 8, 2010

Creedence Clearwater Revival -- "Fortunate Son" (1969)

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don't they help themselves?
But when the taxman comes to the door,
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale

My 40th high-school reunion is scheduled to take place in less than a month.  As that event approaches, I've been reminiscing a lot about growing up in Joplin, Missouri, and some of those reminiscences have ended up in my blog posts.  I hope my foreign readers (including Americans who grew up on the east coast and west coast, which certainly were foreign to me when I was a kid) will find these posts of interest, but the people I'm really writing for today are the people I grew up with.  

This post has got a lot on its plate -- it will pay a Fourth of July-inspired tribute to a great American song from 40 years ago, introduce you to a remarkable new movie that was filmed in the Missouri Ozarks, tell you about how my ancestors got to the Ozarks, give you the latest illegal methamphetamine statistics (we're #1!), and who knows what else.

"Fortunate Son" is near-perfect two-minute-and-twenty-second work of art.  The words, the music, the performance are all just right.  (Everyone and their brother has covered the song, but there's nothing like the original.)  Most importantly, the attitude of this song is just right.  John Fogerty is pissed off at the powers that be, and he's not afraid to let everyone know it.  That attitude makes it not only a quintessential rock-and-roll song, but also a very patriotic song -- the Founding Fathers had some issues with the powers that were as well.

It's a song that I can't imagine ever being performed at a Super Bowl halftime show.  Of course, I couldn't imagine "Won't Get Fooled Again" ever being performed at a Super Bowl halftime show, but the Who fooled me.  (At least they weren't shameless enough to play "My Generation.")

I remember my mother expressing exactly the same sentiment expressed in the lines quoted above when I was a kid.  (People around here say "garage sale" or "yard sale," but my mother always said "rummage sale."  I don't know if that's a regional thing, or a class thing.)

It may have been possible to cheat on your taxes by hiding your more valuable possessions when the tax assessor made his yearly visit to check out your house, although I doubt that many people were able to get away with very much.  But my mother was convinced that the richer people in town were beating the system one way or the other. 

My parents grew up during the Depression, and both of their families had just enough to get by on.  Not surprisingly, they were somewhat resentful (envious?) of the "silver spoon" types.  

Also not surprising was their conservatism when it came to spending their hard-earned money.  We lived in a very modest house -- we had to share one bathroom, which is a horror I pray my children will never have to experience -- and ate out no more than once a week.  Our summer vacations were usually trips to Springfield or Tulsa for a few days in a motel with a swimming pool.

But somehow my father managed to save enough money to pay cash for the brand-new 1970 Olds Cutlass he gave me shortly after my 18th birthday.

A couple of years earlier, he had promised me a new car when I turned 18 if I fulfilled certain conditions -- I never forgot the promise, and to his credit, he lived up to his end of the bargain. (About 10 years ago, we bought a used Toyota Camry from my mother-in-law as a third car for my oldest son and daughters to drive to school. That used Camry cost less than my 1970 Cutlass had cost 30 years earlier -- and I made a whole lot more money than my parents did.)

John Fogerty, the author of "Fortunate Son," said he wrote the song with President Richard Nixon's son-in-law, David Eisenhower, in mind.  Eisenhower was not only the son-in-law of a president but the grandson of another president.

I don't think this was really a Republican/Democrat issue for Fogerty.  If Lyndon Johnson had been reelected in 1968 instead of dropping out of the race, Fogerty could have written the same song about one of LBJ's sons-in-law.  The singer of the song "ain't no senator's son" and "ain't no millionaire's son" -- and in this country, there are senators and millionaires in both political parties.  What mattered for the typical Vietnam draftee wasn't whether his father voted Republican or Democrat -- it was that his father wasn't a senator or a millionaire.

Ironically, neither President Nixon nor President Eisenhower grew up as "fortunate sons" -- both of their fathers struggled to make a living.  The two men succeeded despite not having wealthy or politically influential relatives to pave the way for them.  While David Eisenhower was certainly a "fortunate son" and he did not have to serve in Vietnam, he was on active duty in the Navy for three years, which he mostly spent on a guided-missile cruiser in the Mediterranean.  

By the way, Fogerty never went to Vietnam either.  He managed to get into an Army Reserve unit before he was drafted, and spent only six months on active duty -- all of it in the United States.  Maybe he felt a little guilty about that.

At least one of the key characters in "Winter's Bone," a movie I saw today, was a Vietnam vet whose father wasn't a senator or a millionaire either.  "Thump" Milton is a meth dealer who is the most feared man in the part of the Missouri Ozarks where the movie takes place -- and his wife (who beats the snot out of Ree Dolly, the teenaged girl who is the protagonist of the film) is a close second.

"Winter's Bone" was filmed on location in the hills near Branson.  (One scene takes place at the Springfield stockyards.)  Take away the pickup trucks and satellite-TV dishes and things are much as they were 100 years ago -- one memorable scene shows Ree and her younger brother and sister hunting squirrel, and later skinning and gutting their catch before cooking them for dinner.

Here's the trailer for "Winter's Bone":

In one scene, Ree and her younger siblings are looking at an old family photo album.  Some of the pictures indicate that the family had been more respectably middle-class a generation or two earlier.  Those days are long gone by the time the movie takes place, however -- Ree and her family (like almost everyone else we meet in the movie) live in an isolated, broken-down house surrounded by junk and trash.  Her father supports them by cooking crystal meth and shooting the occasional deer, rabbit, or squirrel.

Based on the photos in the family album, you  would have expected his family to have ended up in a tidy little tract house in some tidy little town.  But somewhere along the way, the family's fortunes jumped the shark.

By the way, Missouri is the biggest meth-producing state in the country and it's not even close.  In most recent years, there have been at least twice as many seizures of meth labs and equipment by law-enforcement agencies in Missouri as in any other state.  In 2008, there were 9 seizures or other incidents involving meth labs in New York, 13 in Pennsylvania, 112 in Texas, 125 in Florida, 324 in Illinois, and 346 in California.  But there were 1471 such incidents in Missouri that year.

One reason that I wanted to see "Winter's Bone" is that some of my ancestors settled in the same area before the Civil War.  My great-great-great-grandfather, James Hailey -- who was one of 14 children -- settled in Douglas County, Missouri, in 1853, when he was 29.  Douglas County (which borders Christian and Taney Counties, where "Winter's Bone" was filmed) is one of the smallest counties in Missouri, with a population of just over 13,000.  The county seat is Ava (population 3000), which is the only incorporated city in the county.  Fewer than 10% of the county's adult residents have a college degree, and only 70% have graduated from high school.

James Hailey was kind of a big deal in Douglas County -- which local residents used to refer to as "Booger County."  He and two other men were appointed to locate a new county seat a few years after the Civil War ended, and James is credited with naming the new city Ava after a city in ancient Mesopotamia that is mentioned in II Kings, chapter 17.  (According to one source, James picked Ava as the name because he "wanted to ensure that all could spell the new name."  According to another, he picked the name because it meant "overthrowing," a reference to the fact that he and his two comrades stole the county records and brought them to Ava to ensure that it would become the county seat instead of a rival town.)  James served as circuit clerk, county judge, probate judge, county treasurer, and postmaster, and also owned a hotel on the courthouse square for some 20 years.  (Click here for a more detailed biography of James Hailey.)

My great-great-grandfather, William Franklin Hailey, was the oldest of James's nine children.  He seems to have been relatively prosperous as well, and was very religious -- he helped establish a Christian school and seminary in Ava, and named the oldest of his nine children Moses.  A daughter was named Clara Temperance Hailey, so I'm guessing he wasn't much of a drinker.

My great-grandfather, Moses Hailey -- who had 11 children to support -- moved around a lot (from Ava to North Dakota and back, and then on to Oregon).  That's sometimes a sign that things aren't going all that well, but things got even worse the next generation.  My grandfather Howard died at age 41, in 1934 -- in the middle of the depression -- leaving my grandmother with eight children to raise.  The oldest was only 16, and the youngest was a newborn.  I'm not sure how they survived.

But while it wouldn't have been all that surprising if some or all of them and their kids had ended up cooking or dealing meth to make a buck and eating deer stew and fried squirrel.  But none of them did.  My generation of Haileys is doing fine, and so far it appears that I don't have to worry about any of my kids ending up like the characters in "Winter's Bone."  (Knock on wood.)

Here's a video featuring "Fortunate Son":

Here's a link to iTunes:

Here's a link to Amazon:

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