March 29, 2012

Goodbye to Adrienne Rich and Earl Scruggs.

She was 82. He was 88. Famous people die in 3s — it has been noted — but who could complete the triad that begins with Rich and Scruggs?

He was the ultimate banjo player...
... best known for performing alongside the guitar-playing Lester Flatt with the Foggy Mountain Boys. Among their signature songs were “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” which was used as the getaway music in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde,” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song of the 1960s television sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
For TV and movie watchers of the 60s, this was the sound of freedom — Jed moves away from there, there being wherever it was that the poor mountaineer "lived," and Bonnie, she follows Clyde, who said to her:
You're different.... You know, you're like me. You want different things. You got somethin' better than bein' a waitress. You and me travelin' together, we could cut a path clean across this state and Kansas and Missouri and Oklahoma and everybody'd know about it. You listen to me, Miss Bonnie Parker. You listen to me.
And later, she says: "You know what, when we started out, I thought we was really goin' somewhere. This is it. We're just goin', huh?"

That's what poured into our ears back in the 60s, lubricated by banjo music. Adrienne Rich got her cultural foothold in the 60s:
Once mastered, poetry’s formalist rigors gave Ms. Rich something to rebel against, and by her third collection, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” published by Harper & Row, she had pretty well exploded them. That volume appeared in 1963, a watershed moment in women’s letters: “The Feminine Mystique” was also published that year.
In the collection’s title poem, Ms. Rich chronicles the pulverizing onus of traditional married life.....
I'm going to pulverize your onus, baby. The funny thing though: Rich was a lesbian. And yet she married a man:
In 1953 Ms. Rich had married a Harvard economist, Alfred Haskell Conrad, and by the time she was 30 she was the mother of three small boys....

By 1970, partly because she had begun, inwardly, to acknowledge her erotic love of women, Ms. Rich and her husband had grown estranged. That autumn, he died of a gunshot wound to the head; the death was ruled a suicide. To the end of her life, Ms. Rich rarely spoke of it.
I think I once bought one of her books. It seemed like something in the spirit of the times that one should partake of, but I never read it. I find most poetry annoying, and hers was no exception. I did read that essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," which all the radical feminists were taking terribly seriously circa 1990. It was the assigned text in one of the law school radical feminist reading groups I participated back in those days. There were all these earnest, intelligent, heterosexual women who studied that text and gabbed about it until they genuinely got their minds around the amazing realization that they should not be heterosexual. Not that they should be having sex with women, but in some other, conceptual way. I'd tell you what the concept was but my mind is not longer around that particular realization, and I don't have the time right now to redo all that hard intellectual work that I did amongst the feminists in 1990/1991.

I'm sure it was all about freedom, but I'm free of that now. Since I'm quoting Bob Dylan today:
A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now


edutcher said...

Hearing the name, Adrienne Rich, rang a very faint bell.

I knew exactly who Earl Scruggs was.

The gulf between, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence", and good banjo picking is pretty vast.

traditionalguy said...

Edutcher... Bandjo picking lesbians do not make a good mix, because their fingers get calloused.

I do love your mind, Professor.

minimus said...

Robert Zimmerman, the father of George? Holy Cow! This is getting strange. No wonder Bob changed his name.

ricpic said...

Adrienne Rich: Lesbo love is the best.

Earl Scruggs: Well, evahbody's gotta strum on sump'n.

Smilin' Jack said...

Famous people die in 3s — it has been noted — but who could complete the triad that begins with Rich and Scruggs?

Hilarious. Earl Scruggs died; there are still two to go.

Since I'm quoting Bob Dylan today:

[Several lines of the kind of gibberish one would expect of the kind of phony, pretentious, puffed-up poseur who would change his name from Zimmerman to Dylan.]

Please stop.

Robert said...

I'd vote for Justice Breyer to be the third.

Since we're all about polls and shit.

john said...

Maybe Spike Lee's militia is going to bag Zimmerman today.

That would be three.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...


Hilton Kramer? Or isn't he famous enough?

wv: ghlidg inetrugh. Man, these are getting arcane.

dbp said...

"There were all these earnest, intelligent, heterosexual women who studied that text and gabbed about it until they genuinely got their minds around the amazing realization that they should not be heterosexual. "

Did it occur to any of these "intelligent" women that Adrienne Rich might have had a psychological reason for her essay, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence"?

She was attracted to women a decade before writing her essay and the break-up of her marriage and husband's suicide may both have stemmed from that attraction.

rhhardin said...

Kate McGarrigle, for actual musicality on the banjo.

madAsHell said...

Ms. Rich is described as "Triply marginalized - as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew".

Does the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest have a award for newspaper journalists? Hmmm...maybe the question answers itself.

tim maguire said...

Famous people die in 3's?

Fortunately, there is no time frame or definition of who counts. You are free to wait as long as you wish for a third who you think belongs in this triad.

Then you can say, "see, 3s!"

rhhardin said...

Somebody already posted my favorite Adrienne Rich parody, The Griefs of Women, which turned up in Brand-X Poetry p.335

john said...

Instead, let's celebrate all those accomplished women who actually did something with their lives.

My short list: Gertrude Bell, Mary Chestnut, Ada Lovelace (not Linda).

Close to my heart: Carol Kaye.

My all time fave: Florence "Pancho" Barnes.

Surfed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Famous people die in 3's.

Sonny Igoe
Died as well.

Surfed said...

Saw Flatt and Scruggs at the Miami Pop Festival in December of 1968. They recieved a very long standing ovation for "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" from 50,000 hippies. The ovation demanding. They had to play the song again. I was front row at the Hialeah racetrack where the festival was held and got see the bemused wonderment as they looked at each other in an "oh my what have we here" kind of way. Of special note were the "longhairs" in the band (the Scruggs children et al). Wonderful memory. I don't think I ate any of the brown acid...

Sigivald said...

Famous people die in 3s — it has been noted

1) No.

2) Who are these two?

3) Thus, who doesn't count as "famous" for some context, and who decides the "threes"?

4) No.

Jay Vogt said...

Blogger madAsHell said...

Ms. Rich is described as "Triply marginalized - as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew".

I'll see that triply marginalized for Ms. Rich and raise it for Mr. Scruggs.

He was quadruply marginalized - as a short, hick, banjo player . . . um . . .ah . . with the last name of Scruggs.

Rest in peace both.

JAL said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rabel said...

Being unenlightened to the wisdom of celebrated lesbian poets, I read Ms Rich's essay, "Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity."

Wonderfully written, but all I got out of it was "Daddy Issues" leading to a confused rejection/acceptance of her partial Jewishness and the good life her Father made possible.

Also, she should get over herself, but it's too late for that now.

Probably misperceptions due to my gentile, patriarchal upbringing.

William said...

"Triply marginalized." What a crock. She was born into a family of affluence and learning. During the course of her life she seems to have received a great number of perks and privileges all the while claiming to be afflicted and oppressed. She probably chose to be Jewish rather than Episcopalian because it's truly hard to be an oppressed Anglican. She doesn't look like the kind of person who would pass up bacon and eggs on religious grounds. Ditto with the lesbo stuff. She probably had as many hetero urges as lez ones, but the lez lifestyle offered another opportunity to partake of faux suffering without missing a meal. I don't think sex was the big wheel that drove all the little cogs of her life.....I suppose upper middle class women of her generation had less opportunity than upper middle class men. Boo hoo. All in all she seems to have had a remarkbly privileged and cosseted life, all the while actively lobbying those around her to feel guilty about whatever transient troubles clouded her life.

Ann Althouse said...

"a short, hick, banjo player . . . um . . .ah . . with the last name of Scruggs"

He new what he had and he worked it.

That's all any of us can do.

Blue@9 said...

This is why I never pay attention to the politics of artists. I don't know Scruggs that well, but I was/am a fan of Adrienne Rich's poetry. Bash her beliefs, but she was wonderfully skilled and gifted poet.

The Drill SGT said...

Scruggs was a master of his craft. I love the trio version he did with Joan Baez of "Love is just a four letter word"

go watch it over at Powerline

Kenneth Burns said...

Rich and Scruggs were great American artists and titans in their fields. Both were awarded the National Medal of Arts, though Rich refused hers.

Jay Vogt said...

Ann Althouse said...
"a short, hick, banjo player . . . um . . .ah . . with the last name of Scruggs"

He new what he had and he worked it.

I no! (I have no right to be a grammer policeman, as I'm so often in violation myself, but Ann you are normally so fastidious in that regard).

We should all make as much of our lot in life as Mr. Scruggs did.

R. Chatt said...

A. Rich -- RIP I was fortunate to hear her read and witness her extraordinary intelligence and beautiful eyes. I also saw her
again when I delivered a manuscript, Special Delivery, to her home when I worked for the Postal Service. A third time I saw her purely by accident at a rest stop off of 101 S. on the way to Los Angeles.

My favorite Rich poem, seems appropriate:


Living in the earth-deposits of our history

Today a backhoe divulged out of a crumbling flank of earth
one bottle amber perfect a hundred-year-old
cure for fever or melancholy a tonic
for living on this earth in the winters of this climate

Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil

She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power


chickenlittle said...

"Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted." - Albert Einstein

He said that because she lived like a grad student her entire life.

Oh, and she and Pierre had to take a whole summer off very early on in their research because of sickness.

Canuck said...

Your reading group sounds annoying. Were the reading selections chosen by a lawyer?

Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.


cassandra lite said...

To blog daily and express a dizzying array of informed opinions require that you not be younger than that now.

rhhardin said...

Armstrong and Getty tribute to Earl Scruggs:

A banjo player leaves his banjo in an unlocked car, remembers and runs back but it's too late.

Two banjos.

leslyn said...

ALthouse said,

"I did read that essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence...." Perhaps the short version would be less distasteful:

"Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common." --Dorothy Parker.

leslyn said...

P.S. Be careful about getting an epitaph from Althouse. You're just lying there, dead in your coffin, and your struggles and life's work become just so much tinder.

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

"Not that they should be having sex with women, but in some other, conceptual way. I'd tell you what the concept was but my mind is not longer around that particular realization,"

I love it. Maybe you're working at deconstructing the mind of Anthony Kennedy. Your mind is around that particular realization now. The Marquis de Sade showed some time ago that 'pulverizing onuses' is the route to literary immortality in the modern age. Anthony Kennedy in, case reference please, made pulverizing onuses mainstream in these United States. He rather took up the spirit of the radical feminist. So maybe our decoder ring should add an inquiry into what would be a decision that would 'pulverize onus' and add 'accountability' in the PPACA decision.

Patricia said...

I remember the "Compulsory Heterosexuality" essay ... had to read it in a law school class about, IIRC, feminist legal theory taught by Catherine MacKinnon. IIRC, the idea was that women had no way of knowing if they were really attracted to men (or if they were just assumsing they were) because the culture is set up to assume heterosexuality. It seemed rather deep and profound at the time, but, at this point, I wonder whether it was in part her way of dealing with her divorce and her husband's suicide.

leslyn said...

At the risk of offending (except hardly anyone is reading this post anymore) I think the essay was revealing the secrets of its time. No doubt it was informed by her experience.

And so I'm going to repeat Dorothy Parker, because I think it's just so good:

Heterosexuality is not normal. It's just common.

Suburbanbanshee said...

If a woman or a man doesn't know who she or he is attracted to, then obviously the attraction isn't terribly strong.

If you are willing to get married and have kids with someone who doesn't sexually attract you strongly, then it's not fair to change the rules later on, should you meet someone who does attract you strongly. You should just regard the whole thing as a boring instance of your body doing a panicky middle-aged hormone increase, and never mind what sexual orientation is involved.

Cheating on one's spouse is not any less a cheat, if done with someone of the opposite sex to him.

That said, it's strange that male poets' faithlessness is seen as bad though roguishly free, whereas a female poet apparently can't bear being bad and has to teach others that she's good and should be imitated. Same thing with that Reiko writer chick. Why not be bad like a pirate queen, if you're going to be bad? Why insist that it's an act of virtue, and besides, your victims were really oppressive and evil, and it's all society's fault?