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In memory of the funky president

Welcome to 2007 and the special “last throes” edition of this blog!  Today we’re looking back over the events of the past week and mourning the passing of President Gerald Ford.  Ford took office after the scandal of Watergategate, which was not only named after a famous hotel but set in motion a series of far more serious Presidential scandals, such as Filegate, Travelgate and of course the queen of them all, Monicagate.  But from the first moments of his brief tenure in the White House, Ford set about restoring Americans’ faith in government with a series of groundbreaking hits such as “(Get Up I Feel Like I Gotta) Whip Inflation Now,” “Cheney Don’t Make No Mess,” and of course “Funky President (People It’s Bad).” Watching the memorials for Ford last week, I found myself strangely moved by their evocation of a time before rank partisanship and outrageous nut-flexin’ overtook Washington, when Republicans and Democrats could work together as friends and white people welcomed Black Power accompanied by serious musicianship—before Democrats poisoned the well by forcing Republicans to drive people like Ford and Rockefeller from positions of power in the GOP, before the R&B charts got so nasty and confrontational and full of songs that are hard to sing.

Not many people know that Ford was actually born in Barnwell, South Carolina, under another name, Leslie Lynch King Joseph Brown, Jr.  His father left the family not long thereafter; Ford did not meet him again until he was released from a juvenile detention center and began work at a Greek restaurant.  After touring the South with the Famous Flames and playing football at the University of Michigan, Ford was elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican.  In his later life, he often said of his time in Washington that although he was widely known as the hardest workin’ man in the House, he had no real ambition to become the Godfather of Soul, hoping simply to become Speaker of the House if his party ever regained the majority.  Ironically, although Ford remained a Republican all his life, his enthusiastic embrace and eventual pardon of Richard Nixon cost him much of his support in the black community.

I especially liked this bit from the CNN obituary:

Allies and opponents alike remember Ford as a gentle, gracious man, nothing like the bumbler familiar to us from Chevy Chase’s portrayals on “Saturday Night Live.” “He was actually a brilliant and innovative dancer,” noted distinguished statesman Tom DeLay.  “And what stamina!  I remember when they put that cape on his shoulders, he looked so exhausted I thought they were going to have to carry him off the stage.  And then he stripped it right off and started singing and doing the splits and everything, just as fresh as a daisy!  Whooooo-eee!  That man was truly Mister Dynamite!” Deeply divisive former president Jimmy Carter agreed, saying that Gerald Ford “frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need to get on the good foot and dance ‘til you feel better.”

I personally believe that by the late summer of 1974, when he took office, Ford’s best work was behind him.  Still, his increasingly staccato vocals, in which his shouts and exhortations, like Jimmy Nolan’s “scratch” guitar, became primarily a rhythm instrument, helped pave the way for rap and hip-hop; and of course his “Our Long Funky Drummin’ Nightmare is Over” has since become one of the most-sampled speeches in the history of American oratory.  Most of all, though, he will be remembered as the president who got us through the exceptionally bleak period of Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun,” the Carpenters’ “Top of the World,” and Olivia Newton-John’s “If You Love Me, Let Me Know.” We had to get over that crap before we went under!  For Ford’s calm demeanor and funkalicious footwork, the nation will always be grateful.

Posted by on 01/02 at 11:37 AM
  1. And don’t forget he was a golfer.

    But I have a serious question for you, O Tolsonite:  is it possible Tolson consciously revised Hawthorne anywhere in his corpus?  And if he actually did, where might one look first?  Just wondering.

    Captcha:  “answer"--HAL is at it again!

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  01/02  at  01:08 PM
  2. Who is this “Hawthorne”?

    I’ll check my Tolson, but I can tell you ahead of time that if he didn’t adapt something from Hawthorne, that would make ol’ Nat practically the only American writer to whom ol’ Melvin did not allude.

    And I did not know that Hawthorne was a golfer.

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  01:59 PM
  3. I’m sorry, but how you can praise a person who both pardoned Nixon and fired Bootsy Collins is beyond me.

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  02:05 PM
  4. In this context, you might also have mentioned the successful resolution of the 1994 Get Up/Get Down deadlock, which paralysed the National Funk Congress for weeks:

    “Until our country’s funky leaders can resolve this deadlock, U.S. funk leadership, and the booties of all Americans, will remain immobilized,” said Gregory Tate, domestic motorbooty-affairs reporter for The Washington Funkenquarterly. “Unless a compromise can be reached soon, the entire nation’s thang could be in serious jeopardy.”

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  02:36 PM
  5. Get Up/Get Down was long after Ford’s time. He was originally a Upublican, but by 94’ the party had changed so much that he probably would have sided with the Downocrats, had he been willing to say anything in public at all.

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  02:47 PM
  6. And who can forget the Funky President’s penetrating analysis of the Watergategate scandal, “For Goodness Sakes, Listen to Those Tapes (Part 1).”

    Posted by J—  on  01/02  at  03:04 PM
  7. I disagree, Terry Jacks was a genius. Few politicians have contributed as much as he has to the end of everything as we know it.

    Posted by Centrally Certified Content Publisher  on  01/02  at  03:09 PM
  8. how you can praise a person who both pardoned Nixon and fired Bootsy Collins is beyond me

    Look, it’s not my fault if Republicans nursed their grievances for twenty years and decided to take them out on Clinton.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/02  at  03:24 PM
  9. You have me convinced. If not for his untimely death, Ford would have qualified for this year’s ”20 Most Annoying Liberals in the Galaxy. Evah!

    Posted by Roxanne  on  01/02  at  04:25 PM
  10. Clearly the Ford funkiness was not sufficient to crossover the crossroads into the BeeGeeian Ronny disco era, and thus the lack of support from his own handlers (promoters, managers, posse, entourage, hangerson, groupies, et al) when he was up for that major award in 1976. 

    On a clearly not humorous note whatsoever reading Robert Parry today has been somewhat satisfying in the sense that i am not alone in feeling the way i feel.  Of course part of it was that i was working with the Dead during those years and the Fordian dance routines were necessarily hated, and still are.  Likewise John Prados reminded me of yet another hideous insult to my own hardwork for American Indian education in those years.

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  04:34 PM
  11. Clearly the Ford funkiness was not sufficient to crossover the crossroads into the BeeGeeian Ronny disco era

    And in the 80s, as disco faded and rap rose, Ronny stayed hip to the trend, proving he was indeed the Great Communicator and Break Dancer.

    Posted by J—  on  01/02  at  05:35 PM
  12. Well, I’ve read in the business press that Ford was about to go broke anyway, despite laying off most of his domestic staff. So, whatever.

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  05:49 PM
  13. Can’t we all sing together, “Please, please, please, don’t go” and put a cape on the coffin?
    Maybe then we’ll watch as old number 39 steps back on the Palladium Presidential stage.

    Posted by Dick Durata  on  01/02  at  05:57 PM
  14. Pee in your pants funny.  Gotta go freshen up now.

    Posted by Hattie  on  01/02  at  05:58 PM
  15. You may dis’ Olivia Newton John’s album, If You Love Me, Let Me Know, all you like, but, if you recall, Carter’s performance of the album’s 5th track during his second debate with Ford clearly turned public opinion in his favor.

    Free the people from the fire,
    Pull the boat out of the raging sea,
    Tell the devil he’s a liar,
    Come and save the likes of me.

    Captcha: I’ll always remember that moment.

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  06:29 PM
  16. I never knew Ford one way or the other. I hope the Flames he toured with in the South were the Atlanta Flames before they became the Calgary Flames! If not, then he is still alright by me.

    The thing is: shouldn’t they bury the poor guy already? I mean, he died on December 27th and here we are at January 2nd; Ford is still being dragged around like part of a dog and pony show, from state to state and fridge to fridge.

    It’s bad enough that “W” would have to be the President to eulogize him; that alone would hasten the decomposition of any corpse. But honestly, how long can something like this go on?

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  07:50 PM
  17. Dear Michael,
    This is a response to the previous post but I was afraid you wouldn’t see it there. You were a luminous highlight of my 2006: First getting to meet you by having you over to watch the Sopranos when you were marooned at the National Humanities Center (I met the NHC director last summer, btw, and he claims that he has HBO and you could have watched at his house). And then after I got breast cancer during the summer, I can’t tell you how many difficult days you brightened during the fall especially by making me laugh more deeply than anything else could (until someone gave me a copy of CancerVixen for Christmas). I’m so sick of news and politics these days that you’re the only blog I can bear to read any more except when Billmon resurfaces. You do more good, and move people more deeply, than you imagine probably, and I’ll miss you terribly if you disappear. So cut back if need be. But know that you’re loved and appreciated by people you barely know.

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  08:18 PM
  18. Foucault is right.  Enough pining for Ford.

    Captcha: alone

    Posted by ifthethunderdontgetya  on  01/02  at  09:07 PM
  19. Yeah man--we’d better save our best emotions for when it’s time to start pining for Berube’s blogue! Who will write the French eulogy? (Don’t look at me, folks; I got a B- in French Intermediate II).

    Flora, I hope you feel better and hang in there.

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  09:13 PM
  20. I’m not so happy with this last throes of the blogue bit.  Heck, I just got here!

    Note to Michael: stop stopping by Billmon.

    Note 2: you could have other fine folks put posts up, until and when you feel like putting your own two cents in.

    Captcha: name

    A rose....

    Posted by ifthethunderdontgetya  on  01/02  at  09:19 PM
  21. Can I ask an off-topic question? From What’s Liberal, p. 77:

    “For over a decade now, colleges have been hiring three new fixed-term, part-time, adjunct faculty for every tenure-track position on the books...Think of what this means: thousands of eighteen-year-olds...taught and graded by people with little or no job protection.”

    Why aren’t you all unionized?

    Posted by  on  01/02  at  11:57 PM
  22. I just ran out to see Half Nelson.  And hey, there wasn’t any wrestling in that movie!  Most misleading title since 12 Monkeys.

    Flora, thanks so much—for this comment, and for hosting me on Sopranos Night.  But when I read “after I got breast cancer during the summer” I just about yelled so the whole block could hear me.  I’m so sorry to hear the news, and so sorry for all your difficult days.  We’ll be thinking of you—Janet’s sister is a survivor since 1999, and we hope your strength and your CancerVixen will see you through.

    As for that NHC director, well, sure he claims he has HBO—now.  But don’t believe everything you hear from that man.  He still claims I hit his car in the NHC parking lot this March.

    you could have other fine folks put posts up, until and when you feel like putting your own two cents in.

    This did occur to me.  I even tried to interest Laura Kipnis in the idea of taking it over from me full-time.  Unfortunately, unlike Pandagon and Feministe, this blog is named in such a way as to dissuade people from taking the helm long-term.  Who knew?  The same consideration prevents people from joining in and making this a group blog.

    Why aren’t you all unionized?

    That’s a damn good question.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/03  at  12:36 AM
  23. hasten the decomposition of any corpse. But honestly, how long can something like this go on?
    Enough pining for Ford.

    My mother ex-president is a fish an ex-parrot.

    Posted by  on  01/03  at  12:58 AM
  24. Flora -
    Best wishes for a full and speedy recovery!

    Posted by Oaktown Girl  on  01/03  at  04:31 AM
  25. Why aren’t you all unionized?
    That’s a damn good question.

    Well i am guessing it would have something to do with the acronyms?  Education is just so chock full of them, and they get so confusing sometimes.  Consider AAUP, sounds downright dismissive and canadian: “aaa yup!” Then there is the NEA, which in most circles outside of the academe refers to something about money for the arts (obviously an elitist liberal conspiracy and very bad thing), or a taunt by kids on playground Neya Neya.  The GSU isn’t so off target, but that could also be numerous universities or some strange syndrome.  AFT is oft heard as “Lafta, got to be Lafta someday”; and UTA is clearly a commie latino spearhead for their invasion.  SEIU, ASCME, CSEA, and so many more out there are just ripe for slurs and ridicule.

    So just coming up with an adjunct professor union acronym naming seems an unbearable task (United Federation of Departmental Adjuncts--ufda).  Then there would of course be all that messy organizing, and we all know what that means.  Just ask WalMart.  Then again some of my best friends are unionized edumacators.

    Posted by  on  01/03  at  01:10 PM
  26. I don’t know whether it’s still the case, but when I was at Buffalo the graduate student association in the English department was known as the Mother Language Association (MLA).

    Posted by Bill Benzon  on  01/03  at  01:55 PM
  27. I especially appreciated the comments of Vice President Clyde Stubblefield, a.k.a. “The Funky Drummer”:  “Jerry was a prince.  He was a sweetheart.  Everyone was better for being around him.  Even Tricky Dick, that foul-mouthed mo-fo, said, “Pardon me,” when talkin’ to the Jer’.”

    Posted by  on  01/03  at  02:41 PM
  28. Thanks, MB!  I must confess to only reading the Tolson poems that’ve been anthologized.  Have loved ‘em, but haven’t gone further.  And yes, didn’t you know Hawthorne was accused of misappropriating government funds and accepting inappropriate “gifts” from South-leaning Democratic Party funders for his golf junket with John O’Sullivan and Franklin Pierce to St. Andrews in 1855?  It almost brought down the Pierce presidency!  Fortunately, it soured English relations with the South enough to keep them from intervening in the Civil War in favor of their cotton suppliers.  The Egyptians who benefitted and suffered from England shifting cotton production their way during and after the Civil War thus have Nathaniel Hawthorne to thank and blame.  The more you know....

    Posted by The Constructivist  on  01/03  at  09:49 PM
  29. Ford was actually born in Omaha, NE.  I’ve been to his birthplace site a couple of times (nice place).

    Posted by  on  01/04  at  03:03 PM
  30. Ford was actually born in Omaha, NE.

    A common enough misconception.  But, of course, Ford pointedly left Omaha out of his list of cities in his famous “Night Train.”

    Posted by  on  01/05  at  09:04 AM
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    Posted by  on  01/11  at  11:57 AM





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