May 3, 2015

"Everywhere the same voice, its odd Eastern accent, which in anyone else would have irritated Midwesterners."

"You could follow without missing a single word as you strolled by. You felt joined to these unknown drivers, men and women smoking their cigarettes in silence, not so much considering the president’s words as affirming the rightness of his tone and taking assurance from it."

Wrote Saul Bellow in "In the Days of Mr. Roosevelt," quoted in a Martin Amis essay about Bellow's nonfiction, collected in a new book titled "There Is Simply Too Much to Think About," which I just added to my Kindle. I can give you some more context:
A civilized man, FDR gave the U.S.A. a civilized government. I suppose that he was what Alexander Hamilton would have called an “elective king,” and if he was in some respects a demagogue, he was a demagogue without ideological violence. He was not a F├╝hrer but a statesman. Hitler and he came to power in the same year. Both made superb use of the radio. Those of us who heard Hitler’s broadcasts will never forget the raucous sounds of menace, the great crowds howling as he made his death threats. Roosevelt’s chats with his “fellow Americans” are memorable for other reasons. As an undergraduate I was fully armored in skepticism, for Roosevelt was very smooth and one couldn’t be careful enough. But under the armor I was nonetheless vulnerable. I can recall walking eastward on the Chicago Midway on a summer evening. The light held long after nine o’clock and the ground was covered with clover, more than a mile of green between Cottage Grove and Stony Island. The blight hadn’t yet carried off the elms and under them drivers had pulled over, parking bumper to bumper, and turned on their radios to hear Roosevelt. They had rolled down the windows and opened the car doors. Everywhere the same voice, its odd Eastern accent, which in anyone else would have irritated Midwesterners. You could follow without missing a single word as you strolled by. You felt joined to these unknown drivers, men and women smoking their cigarettes in silence, not so much considering the President’s words as affirming the rightness of his tone and taking assurance from it. You had some sense of the weight of troubles that made them so attentive and of the ponderable fact, the one common element (Roosevelt), on which so many unknowns could agree. Just as memorable to me, perhaps, was to learn how long clover flowers could hold their color in the dusk.
That's the last paragraph of the essay. Is it not as inspiring as Roosevelt on the radio? The people, united. Hitler appears. (The essay was written in 1983, 7 years before the first articulation of Godwin's Law.) Hitler and FDR are united in their use of radio, but not entirely. Bellow was united to the people who were united by FDR's use of radio, but not entirely. He was walking alongside the cars that were all playing the radio, but he didn't have a radio, and he wasn't inside a car like those other Americans. He was more connected to nature, conscious (via flower color) of the dimming light, and not conscious yet of the soon-to-be-dying elms.

31 comments:

Lem said...

Althouse: the internet, devoid of vocal chords with accents, spurred Godwin's Law.

How about that American Pharaoh?

Coupe said...

My ears kind of perk up a bit when different men in complete power are compared with each other.

Obviously the two men's lives were shaped by much different realities. Roosevelt, who seems like a caricature of the roaring 20's, but destined to marry into the family. You don't mix gene's when you've got the biggest safety deposit box in the basement of the biggest bank in America. In-breeding is required of such men. These kind of men don't find themselves facing the enemy with a rifle, a band of ammunition, and smelling of gunpowder even years after the battle ended. Their defecating in a trench they just dug, and igniting petrol on it to keep the flies to a dull roar, while the man in the west sits on the family porch and entertains the neighbor girls.

Hitler was a defective man, in a defective Country, on a defective Continent. A Continent that had been at war since the Ark landed and a family of co-conspirators of a mass murder disembarked. Still at war in the 21st Century, as Slavs kill each other to keep some order in the borders, and the peasants under control.

My first car had a tube radio in it. Slowly the tubes warmed, and the smell wafted and mixed with the mohair interior. The distinctive quality of AM radio at 50,000 watts up on the hill. The radio hypnotizing the young lovers to the sounds from bands they could never dream of dancing to at the fancy hotel downtown, when the radio ultimately fades and dies, the lights dim in the car, and the young boy swears, as he gets the jumper-cables out of the trunk and begs the others parked nearby for some of their 6 volts, thus getting his date home before her father comes looking for him.

Ann Althouse said...

"My first car had a tube radio in it."

Wow, Coupe. How old are you? I looked at your profile but it didn't say.

Coupe said...

I'm 61, but I'm the product of a farm boy who met a girl in France during a big German party (also referred to as World War 2).

Well, that, plus I've always liked Model-A cars.

traditionalguy said...

The early 1950s car models were lucky if the radio worked at all because the tubes would need replacement. Transistor radios did not become standard in cars until the late 1950s.

ddh said...

Coupe isn't old enough to remember the Congress of Vienna and the century-long more-or-less peace that followed. And where did he get the notion that Noah was a mass murderer?

FullMoon said...

traditionalguy said... [hush]​[hide comment]

The early 1950s car models were lucky if the radio worked at all because the tubes would need replacement. Transistor radios did not become standard in cars until the late 1950s.

All you had to do was bang on the dashboard until you replaced the oz4 tube.

And, seems the age of the car was the obvious question.
And Radio in a Model A? hmmmm.

Ann Althouse said...

"I'm 61, but I'm the product of a farm boy who met a girl in France during a big German party (also referred to as World War 2)."

Hey, you sounded super-old, but you are younger than I am.

My parents met when my father was in the Army in WW2. So was my mother!

Ann Althouse said...

I remember tubes in radio and TV, just not in cars.

I remember the hardware store used to have this console where you could plug in your tubes and test them.

And TVs would break all the time and there were repair guys who'd come to the house and who'd often have to come back on a separate occasion with the right tube.

The behavior of tubes -- and the sounds and the smells -- were a part of life that seemed modern then but would feel old-time-y now.

Coupe said...

FullMoon said...Radio in a Model A? hmmmm.

Well, a Model-A hand-me-down, with a Motorola from the 50's :-)

paminwi said...

Wow, the memory of the TV repairman and his briefcase full of different tubes! I also remember the guy having to come back on a different day and how my dad would be upset because he couldn't watch Johnny Carson's monologue.

Coupe said...

A funny film about a man who builds his own tubes. Fascinating, but the music may get a little repetitious.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzyXMEpq4qw

Sebastian said...

"A civilized man."

Really.

The passengers on the St. Louis, the residents of Dresden, and Eleanor might disagree.

And anyway, he vacationed in segregated Georgia and never expressed support for SSM: clearly a racist, anti-gay bigot.

"if he was in some respects a demagogue, he was a demagogue without ideological violence"

The "economic royalists" would disagree. "Unconditional surrender" sounded pretty violent too. And imagine Barry calling for "faith in our united crusade." Those were the days.

FullMoon said...

Coupe said...

FullMoon said...Radio in a Model A? hmmmm.

Well, a Model-A hand-me-down, with a Motorola from the 50's :-)


Wolfman Jack when the atmosphphere and elevation was just right?

Coupe said...

Ann Althouse said...Hey, you sounded super-old

I was possibly immersed in the flavor of your post, which seemed to tug at the nostalgic past we read about, or saw in movies..

Wally Kalbacken said...

In the 60's my parents had a Motorola Quasar television. It was known as the "works in a drawer" set, with a number of small circuit boards in a vertical drawer which would slide out of the cabinet. The theory was that the technician would open it up, identify the failure, replace the circuit board, and you'd be up and running in no time. As I recall in my youth, it would fail, the technician would remove the entre drawer, indicate that they needed to order parts, he would take the drawer out to the truck and drive off, returning in 3-4 days with the drawer to reinstall. In the meantime you had a non functioning television with a large opening in the cabinet. Another reason there is no Motorola television today. They really screwed the brand.

FullMoon said...

Coupe says:.....when the radio ultimately fades and dies, the lights dim in the car, and the young boy swears, as he gets the jumper-cables out of the trunk and begs the others parked nearby for some of their 6 volts, thus getting his date home before her father comes looking for him.
Kinda learn to park on a hill or push the car and jump in and pop the clutch after the first dead battery, right?

Michael McNeil said...

Bill Moyers did a program many years ago (part of his “Walk through the 20th Century” series) comparing Franklin Roosevelt and Hitler, called “The Democrat and the Dictator.”

David said...

Yesterday was the 60th Anniversary of Hitler's suicide.

Coupe said...

ddh said......And where did he get the notion that Noah was a mass murderer?

Well, he could have said "No thanks God, I'll drown with my friends." But, no, he walked up the ramp.

Leaving the unicorns behind was probably his worst mistake.

Coupe said...

Michael McNeil said......called “The Democrat and the Dictator.”

Which label went with which man? :-)

ddh said...

Coupe,

Noah didn't make that decision. Noah's neighbors, if he had any nearby, are absent in Genesis; after the animals enter by themselves, "the Lord shut him in."

MisterBuddwing said...

Yesterday was the 60th Anniversary of Hitler's suicide.

More like the 70th.

rcocean said...

People forget that FDR didn't unite the country. Read "New Dealers War" by Thomas Fleming. In fact, when the British Ambassador met with Republican Senators in private in 1944, they complained that FDR instead of uniting the country was dividing it. Almost 45% of Americans voted AGAINST him in the Middle of WW2.

Jack Wayne said...

When it comes to the Cult of Personality, how can you pick a winner?

The not made me pick an egg and sausage sandwich as a hamburger?

Jack Wayne said...

Bot

ken in tx said...

I knew a heroin user whose nickname was Quasar because his parents found his works in a drawer.

Richard Dolan said...

"The weight of troubles that made them so attentive"

Yes, indeed. Troubles on the magnitude that 1933 presented served to concentrate the mind, both here and in Germany, and made normally cautious men willing to trust in a strong leader promising a way out of those troubles.

MrCharlie2 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MrCharlie2 said...

Blogger MrCharlie2 said...
I remember reading the whole paragraph Amis quotes in "Humboldt's Gift". It was a non-sequitur in the story, but obviously a memorable chunk of text.

Did Bellow recycle his nice prose?

Unknown said...

My father hated FDR. Really, really hated him.