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Joel Speaks

A writer's online journal of

opinion, observation and musings.

Archive: January - June, 2003


Click on the date that corresponds to the topic, 
or scroll down for entries in chronological order.  

01/02/03    Old Long Since
01/07/03    What Would Satan Drive?
02/15/03    How Can I Keep From Singing?
03/17/03    March Madness
03/28/03    Drunk or Sober
04/18/03    Domino Theory
05/22/03    Lies and Damned Lies
06/17/03    Corked Bats

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01/02/03    Old Long Since

It's the literal translation for "auld lang syne" -- old long since.  The days of old long since are good to reminisce from time to time, and there is no other holiday so time-sensitive as New Year's Eve.  It's the only annual (non-sports) celebration I know of that requires a clock. Some religious events may begin at some precise moment of sunrise, sundown or moonrise, but those feasts and fasts need no mechanical clock to chime the hour -- indeed the precise second -- as does the arrival of the New Year.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Hank Williams.  Somewhere during the long nightime ride from Knoxville, TN to Oak Hill, WV on that New Year's Eve, the frail Hiram Williams succumbed to a self-induced slurry of beer, morphine and chloral hydrate. He was riding in the back seat of his own new Cadillac, driven by a teenage college student and part time taxi driver, Charles Carr.

Mr. Carr is still alive -- a 67 year-old Alabama businessman.  His remembrance of that night is vivid, but it still doesn't exactly jibe with other "facts" of the night, as recalled and written by other witnesses.  I guess fifty years would qualify as an old long since.

Hank was barely 29 years old, but his death, while tragically premature, was not a big surprise to his friends who had witnessed his rapid downward spiral in 1952.  He was headed for a New Years gig in Canton Ohio. (His December 31 date in Charleston, WV was a no-show due to a fogged-in airport, hence the long overnight drive to east central Ohio via West Virginia highways.)

That Canton Ohio show was an all-star event.  Among the acts on the bill was the young comedy act of Homer & Jethro.  I asked Jethro once about that sad day -- he was a friend of Hank's -- and how he heard the news. Jethro remembered it clearly and told me that Hank's new manager was there.  This manager was a "real asshole" in Jethro's terminology. The manager barged backstage and announced to everyone, "Well, Hank Williams has not showed up 'cause he was drunk, not showed up because he was passed out -- this time he ain't showing up because he's dead!"

Pretty cold words, even in January.

When Hank's death was recorded in the New York Times, his obituary called him a "folk singer" as did many eulogies of the day.  Before Hank, his kind of music was called "hillbilly" and after Hank it became "Country & Western."  (Roy Acuff morphed from "King of the Hillbillies" to "King of Country Music" in the 1950's) But there on the eve of 1953, a singer-songwriter from Alabama who used sock chords on his guitar with a band consisting of Hawaiian steel guitar, bluesy fiddle and stand-up bass, was called a "folksinger" by polite society.

It has indeed been an old long since. 



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01/07/03    What Would Satan Drive?

An interesting bit of trivia for future generations is the "WWJD" fad.  Those letters stand for "What Would Jesus Do?" and were all the rage among Christian and "Christianish" teenagers in the late 1990s.  The letters woven into cheap bracelets or on little plastic beads can still be found for sale at gas stations and drugstores throughout the midwest and south.

At the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the WWJD fad reached its peak.  More than a bit of self-righteousness mixed with genuine apostolic zeal, all wrapped up in a cheap pre-packaged bangle really appealed to middle America's bible belt.  The stodgy age-old admonishment for young people to lead a more Christ-like life was given the MTV-era treatment.  What would Jesus do?  The breezy question was asked a million times but the hard answer was seldom proffered.  I guess a beaded bracelet is more comfortable than a hair shirt.

The question was remarkably absent in the wake of 9-11.  It became uncomfortably clear that what we wanted to do was not what Jesus would ask us to do. You know -- turn the other cheek, love our enemies, give them our cloak, go the extra mile -- that kind of stuff.  No, America wanted revenge.  Our born-again bible thumper-in-chief, George "W" Bush, suddenly went "old testament."  Around the country, the WWJD bracelets were quietly exchanged for American flags, and the motto became, "let's roll."  On the eve of an invasion, the last thing the Marines look for in special forces are Christ-like soldiers.

But then last year the Jesus question resurrected in an unlikely quarter.  An ad campaign has emerged from a few socially conscious and ecologically-oriented Christians asking us all, "What would Jesus drive?"  The implied answer is that Jesus would of course drive a modest, efficient, non-polluting late-model vehicle which would use less foreign oil and put fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  A midsize sedan or hatchback perhaps would do for the Son of God.

I dunno.  I always figured Jesus to be more of a public transportation man.  Kind of a bus & subway guy.  I bet he would hitchhike a lot.  If he did own a car it might be a $200 thrift lot special, like a 1974 two-tone Oldsmobile.  I mean, anybody that could turn water into wine would have no problem topping off the fluids in a rusty Cutlass. Why it'd purr like a kitten.  Plus, you can easily fit a gang of twelve in those old cars from the 70's -- I've seen them cruising downtown.  My question is, would he keep a statue of himself on the dashboard?

No, I don't know what Jesus would drive, but I have a pretty good idea of what Satan would drive.

Cadillac just unveiled their latest concept car at the Detroit auto show this week. It's called the "Sixteen."  That refers to the 100 horsepower V-16 engine that pulls this sleek leather-bound metallic beast. That's right -- 16 cylinders of phallic splendor. (The back seat reclines into a full size bed.) It will cost a cool quarter-million.  They don't bother to quote mpg stats, but if you want to idle for more than 5 minutes, you might want to do it while parked at a gas station. 

Yeah, that's just the vehicle for a modern CEO -- or dark lord of evil.




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02/15/03    How Can I Keep From Singing?

It has been a blur these past few weeks.  Since my last entry, I came down with a vicious head cold which put me in a state of suspended animation.  Upon my re-entry into the realm of the living, I was part of the first Mid-Winter Singing Festival held in Lansing, MI.  That was a marvelous two-day event of nothing but singing. All types of songs, but heavy on the folk.  Immediately after that, I was off to Nashville, TN for the annual Folk Alliance conference, or the "folk olympics" as I call them -- four days and nights of uninterrupted elbow rubbing with some musical moments on the side.  Just home from that and getting my homelife sorted out and here we are today, at the ides of February, with sunlight lengthening the days and cold winds blowing their worst.

The backdrop to these past weeks has been war-mongering at its most bellicose, and a spacecraft scorching to earth for unknown reasons. There has been a run on duct tape, and "reality" television programming is more and more absurd.

But today, all around the world, in cities large and small, millions upon millions of ordinary people are marching against the war in Iraq.  London reports the largest peace rally in the history of England. The chant from New Zealand is "One Two Three Four, we don't want your bloody war! Five Six Seven Eight, why don't you negotiate!"

In these darkest of days, it is indeed heartening to see people standing up for peace.  At the singing festival, Mark Dvorak led us all in "This little light of mine -- I'm gonna let it shine" and I see these lights everywhere today.

We started both nights of the singing festival with the old hymn, "How Can I Keep From Singing." (This is an old Baptist hymn, by the way. Written by Robert Lowry of Philadelphia, and not a Quaker hymn as is often asserted.) We left out the Doris Plenn verse from the 1950's about "tyrant's trembling sick with fear." I was asked to write a new verse for peace. This is what I came up with:

When men of war come bang the drum
And march their troops before us
Then friends of peace link hand in hand
And join as one in chorus
Their voices rise from every land
An anthem sweetly ringing
I hear their song of Peace On Earth --
How can I keep from singing

This past week a group of twenty women dressed in black went to their Congressman's office in Lansing and sang this verse to his staff.  I don't know that a song can change the course of a nation's path, but people can. If there are enough of them -- marching, writing, speaking and singing for peace.




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03/17/03    March Madness

It is St. Patrick's Day. Here in West Michigan the morning fog is burning away and we are enjoying our first thaw of this year and a pungent whiff of spring. Breathe deeply -- this may be the last day of peace for a decade.

Yesterday our president flew to a small island in the Atlantic to parlay with his only two allies in his war -- the leaders of Spain and England -- for an arrogant  press conference telling the world that today, this Monday, is the last day of the world as we know it. It is the moment of "truth." Bush comes to shove. Get with the program or get out of the way. In order to bring peace to the world, he will launch all-out war in the middle east, probably Tuesday. (I can guarantee the words "Let's Roll" will be uttered with a smirk.)

Last night a "rolling candlelight vigil" was organized via the internet. In a scene replicated all over the world, at 7 pm my wife and I went downtown with our candles and joined a few hundred other folks in lining the street in front of the federal building. Children, college students, parents and grandparents in like numbers all did their parts in testifying with their presence that they do not wish to wage this war.  The rally was both uplifting and depressing. While the fellowship was a personal comfort, we know Bush does not care in the least what we think or say.  Hope is as thin as this president's pretexts.

And this morning the radio and TV news reporters wait for war news to break and in the meantime give us basketball predictions, spring fashions, corned beef recipes, box office receipts and the usual banal Monday banter.

No one in the media seems to be asking the obvious questions: if Saddam DOES have these weapons of mass destruction, won't he use all of them the moment we drop the hammer? Or else, won't we ourselves disperse these chemical and biological agents when we bomb the stockpiles?  Or if by military intelligence we KNOW where these things are stored, and thus can avoid unleashing the plague, why haven't we pointed these spots out to the UN inspectors, and had them destroyed peacefully? 

No, the questions asked at his highly-staged press conference last week were along the lines of, "Mr. President, what are your personal thoughts at this stage of the negotiations?" or "Mr. President, how does your faith sustain you in these times?"  No questions about the lucrative war contracts given to Halliburton, Mr. Cheney's cohorts and co-investors, and no questions about holocaust or World War Three.

America is whistling in the dark today.  Green parades and greener beer, basketball tickets and talk about "rebuilding" Iraq, as though the war will be over and done by the start of baseball season.  Because that is our last best hope.  This war was inevitable once the Supreme court appointed George W Bush as supreme commander of the world's largest military force. Regime change in Iraq was in the republican game plan well before his inauguration and before 9/11 -- the right wing "think tank" white papers are there to prove it.  For all the candles, songs and peace rallies, the best hope now is that the war is quick and the bombing precise.  

But it is a fool's hope.  War is never neat and tidy.  At the risk of playing Cassandra, my best hope is that my worst fears will not be realized. I cannot deny the real possibility that this very week could be the onset of the deadliest world-wide conflict in the history of humanity. 

And do you want fries with that?



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03/28/03    Drunk or Sober

Just after the State of the Union speech, George "W" Bush came to west Michigan to give a rah-rah speech, ostensibly about health care, but of course it was about war with Saddam.

It was delivered in Grand Rapids, of course.  Whenever republican presidents want to be bathed in adoration they come to give a speech in true-blue republican Grand Rapids, where the Dutch reformation is still building steam.  After his speech, a TV reporter asked a woman in attendance what she thought of the president.  Her eyes fluttered and she reached for her throat as a little quiver ran through her body.  She searched for the words:  "Oh, the man is so... godly!"

I wonder if she -- or any of his religious-right supporters -- paid attention to an article in Time magazine this week.  I snagged it off the web.  Here's a short passage:

"Fuck Saddam. We're taking him out." Those were the words of President George W. Bush, who had poked his head into the office of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. It was March 2002, and Rice was meeting with three U.S. Senators, discussing how to deal with Iraq through the United Nations, or perhaps in a coalition with America's Middle East allies. Bush wasn't interested. He waved his hand dismissively, recalls a participant, and neatly summed up his Iraq policy in that short phrase. The Senators laughed uncomfortably; Rice flashed a knowing smile. The President left the room.

By Michael Elliott and James Carney -- Time Magazine Online
Posted Sunday, March 23, 2003; 2:31 p.m. EST

And you talk to Jesus with that mouth, George? But I suppose we can cut a little slack for an old Texas cowpoke like Dubya.

As I write, that cowboy's war is going badly by many accounts.  Rumsfeld's chief hawk advisor, Richard Perle, just resigned his post. He had predicted the Iraqi's would dance in the streets, welcoming the US with open arms.  Just 8 days into it and the quagmire is sticking to the boots already.  Rumsfeld complains that those dirty Iraqi's don't fight by the rules.  Gee, you invade a country and all of sudden the sneaky locals shoot at you from hiding places.  Who woulda thunk it?

The siege of Baghdad is imminent.  This could be when things get truly ugly. So far, for all the disappointed generals and pundits, I have been somewhat relieved at the lack of the horrific destruction I had imagined.  It is real war, make no mistake. But mostly it is Iraqi military buildings that have been anihilated, and no rockets launched towards Israel, or deadly chemicals set loose.  

So far. 

Of course, to paraphrase Will Rodgers, all I know is what I read on the internet.

I still hope for a quick end to the fighting.  And yes, I hope we win.  Yes, I believe in peace. I still think this war was a big mistake, and that George Bush is a boob for starting it.  But at this point, pulling out and handing a victory to the Ba'ath party would be an unimaginable disaster. But it is a moot question. No way in hell would the US pull out of this war now.

I ran across a quote from GK Chesterton that I copied down several years ago. He wrote: "My country right or wrong, is a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober!' " 

This is just such a desperate case.  Imagine your mother drunk and in a bar fight which you are powerless to stop.  You don't want her to fight, you don't want her to be drunk -- you wish she had never entered the saloon. But by golly, you don't want her to lose!  After all, she's still your mother.

The real problem with the alcoholic mother -- make that the power-drunk administration -- began long before the current fight.  When the battle is over, we need a big pot of black coffee.  This country needs to sober up and fly right.  Regime change starts in 2004.

As for our bible-thumping hypocrite-in-chief, I remember the words of the candidate Bush in 2000, when he thought the microphones were off: "Major League Asshole!" 

Pardon his "French."




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04/18/03    Domino Theory

A month later and it's all over but the looting.  And the looting at the hospitals, museums, banks and palaces is only the tip of the iceberg.  Wait 'til the hand-picked American corporations start "rebuilding" Iraq, using the money from the sale of oil that, of course, is the "sole property of the Iraqi people."  That's when the world class looting starts.  It's not about the oil? Notice how the marines immediately secured the oil ministry last week when the looting began and left the Baghdad hospitals to treat thousands of innocent bomb victims with only rags and dirty water. 

As in all crimes, follow the money.  Follow the money.

Yep, it only took three weeks and a few billion dollars worth of depleted uranium bombs to bring down the Ba'ath regime.  A relative pushover. Which makes me wonder if Saddam was chosen as the first domino not because of his looming danger to us, but because he was the easiest to topple. And how about those weapons of mass destruction that were the reason for this war?  Saddam didn't use 'em.  We still can't find 'em.  Maybe they're in Syria now.  Rumsfeld and Bush looking for the weapons of mass destruction is starting to sound like OJ searching for the "real killers."

It helps that Saddam was the very picture of an evil tyrant.  A nasty brute that a mother could love only at the point of a gun.  There's plenty just like him in Asia and Africa and South America, but unfortunately they don't have the kind of oil fields that Iraq has.

And where's Saddam?  In a cave praying with Ossama?  In Argentina playing poker with Hitler? In hell playing "Risk" with Nixon? Well, no matter. We've got plenty of statues to pull down for the TV cameras.  Fox News got their "money shot" with the jubilant crowds hitting the bronze Saddam with their shoes while shouting their love for Bush.  

It would behoove us to remember that these same crowds two months ago were hitting pictures of Bush with their shoes and shouting their love for Saddam.  These folks have been trained to pay attention to who is holding the guns in the city square.  Ever since British troops rolled into Baghdad in 1917 and declared they would rebuild the shattered Ottoman empire into a free and liberated Iraq, the locals have been under the thumb of a dictator of one flavor or another.

But this time it will be different.  We can trust the Bush administration to ensure free and fair elections in Iraq.  Maybe Bush will appoint Katherine Harris to see to it.




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05/22/03    Lies and Damned Lies

Remember a few years ago when we impeached a president for lying?  What was that lie again? It was either that he had sex with a woman and said he didn't or that he said he believed "oral sex" wasn't "real sex" but secretly did believe that all sex was "sex." 

Can't let a good old boy off the hook on a whopper like that, even if he did create millions of jobs and turned in balanced budgets.

Now we got another southern governor who just used his position as commander-in-chief to invade and overthrow a sovereign country. This unprecedented act of aggression was sold to us on the pretext of hunting weapons of mass destruction.  He and all his cronies pounded the pulpit for months, preaching fear of mushroom-cloud smoking guns, biotoxins, nerve gas, drone planes and other doomsday bombs -- all headed our way any minute now!  Turns out they were all lies. Damned lies.  If not, then this entire war machine has the combined military intelligence of  Larry, Moe and Curly. No, they were lies. The oil fields are secure.

The pentagon's team of WMD searchers are now headed home, having turned up nothing more than fertilizer and pesticide.  And the new lie is that the old lie doesn't really matter.  We won, didn't we? That's all that matters.  And Saddam was bad.  Baaaaad.  (And the latest $45,000,000 pentagon contract for rebuilding Iraqi telecommunications goes to --- ta-dum --- WorldCom!")

And now, this week, the Bush re-election campaign has officially begun.  He's the "mission accomplished" president. That was the bigger-than-life banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln when Bush addressed the nation on Mayday with his big naval guns thrusting rigidly on deck.  Remember when only the nasty communists paraded their military might on Mayday? And only petty dictators dressed up in military uniforms?

Tell you what -- let's not elect him this time either.



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06/17/03    Corked Bats

These past few weeks have been subdued for me. I was laid low by a quite UNcommon cold that crawled down my nose and into my chest by way of my brain.  In fact my previous entry was written during a fever episode.  But I wasn't delirious -- those WMD remain figments of someone else's imagination. 

Lesser lies have made the news lately.  Saddest was Sammy Sosa's corked bat.  The mighty Casey is in a slump this season and just happens to take to the plate with his one and only trick bat -- the one he uses to dazzle the kids before the game knocking 'em out of the park.  Just a mistake, sez Sammy.  Tell it to the Marines, kid.  

When I was a boy, (how I dread to begin a paragraph with that phrase) I would go over to Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals play.  Before the game, the elder power hitter of the team, Stan Musial, would stand in the infield with a basket of used, scuffed balls and lob them into the stands for the kids to catch and keep.  No need for cork in the bat for that kind of class.  Forty years later and I am still dazzled.

Strike 2. It is now reported that the Houston public school district has been cooking its books for years concerning test scores and drop-out rates.  Rod Paige worked the "Texas Miracle" during the Bush years by such tricks as counting drop-outs as "transfers," and actually transferring any "troubled teens" right out of the district.  In fact the Houston schools stink. And now Mr. Paige as Bush's Secretary of Education is working the same magic for the GOP nationwide. No child left behind, indeed.

Strike 3.  Mr. Bush himself visited Poland recently where he toured the Auschwitz concentration camp and told the world that we needed to learn the lesson that Nazi Germany taught us.  What lesson was that, George? According to John Luftus , Emmy winning journalist and president of the Florida Holocaust Museum , the Bush family made a killing in Nazi-occupied Poland.  

Here's the story in a very small nutshell: Bush's grandpa, Prescott Bush, and his great-grandpa Herbert Walker, along with their Nazi buddy, Fritz Thyssen, through the money-laundering Union Banking Corporation (UBC) financed Adolf Hitler. The old prize fighter & scalawag Herbert Walker set up his Yale-educated son-in-law Prescott as a VP at Harriman & Company in 1926. Harriman had major holdings in UBC and Consolidated Silesian Steel Corporation.  Prescott Bush managed UBC and Silesian Steel until Hitler seized the reigns of the steel company and ran it with slave labor -- from Auschwitz.  The US government froze UBC's assets in 1943 because of its dealings with Hitler, which is when Prescott Bush resigned his post. But he kept his 1% share in UBC and cashed that in  for a cool 1.5 million when UBC was finally liquidated in 1950.  That money financed his Senate campaign and became the seed for the Bush family fortune and the beginnings of the political dynasty. Read the whole story here: <http://www.john-loftus.com/Thyssen.asp>

And this past weekend we saw the entire Bush family cavorting in Maine at the vacation compound on "Walker" point for Father's Day. After a hard day of golfing and fishing, I imagine George Walker Bush and George Herbert Walker Bush even watched a little baseball on TV.

It's America's pastime.



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