06 December 2020

6 December 12020

286,074   pandemic deaths here in the United States, and our fragile for-profit medical industry can’t handle it. Nothing can be done in this emergency, apparently, because our political class has tied its own hands and forced itself to sit idly by. Every one of them who has enabled Mitch McConnell’s DC follies is complicit in the carnage; the party label is irrelevant. It’s like that old song says: “Nothing is as it should be; | If this keeps on I’m sure I won’t get by. | But then I close my eyes and try to smile; | I know things are bad and getting worse…”

6 December 12020 is Saint Nicholas Day, the day when the ancient bishop drops by in his flying sled to fill children’s shoes with small bribes for good behavior. It is also Day of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technologies (Azerbaijan), National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (Canada), the Foundation of Quito anniversary (Ecuador), Independence Day (Finland), Constitution Day (Spain), and Armed Forces Day (Ukraine). It’s also the second Sunday of Advent, celebrated as a holiday in Germany and elsewhere.

The saint of the day is (obviously) Nicholas of Myra, the legendary bishop known for secret gift-giving and keeping flying reindeer as pets. In point of fact, as far as I can tell, we know nothing of the historical Nicholas of Myra, unless his name on some lists of participants in the council of Nicaea counts for something. (I am not impressed.) That doesn’t mean he never existed—something inspired the cult celebrating his life, and the simplest explanation is that that something was the life of a real bishop whose fame survived not only his death, but all historical knowledge about him. That’s not the only explanation however. Nicholas could originally have been a supernatural being, a fictional character, a hoax, that somehow became flesh and (at least retroactively) dwelt among us. But absent evidence for one of these possibilities, I’ll stick with a historical figure—like Billy the Kid, or William the Bard—who got buried under an avalanche of legend.

Famous people born today include Agnes Moorhead, Dave Brubeck, and David Ossman. Agnes Moorhead was a versatile actress apparently best remembered today for playing the pedestrian rôle of Endora—the mother-in-law from hell who is literally a witch—in Bewitched. I mean, she appeared in movies ranging from Citizen Kane (11941) to How the West Was Won (11962), was equally capable of playing voice-only and voiceless parts, and was at home in comedy, melodrama, and even tragedy. When I was a teenager she was my choice to play the Red Queen in a hypothetical movie version of Through the Looking-Glass (with music by Halim El-Dabh and sets by M. C. Escher), but NBC really dropped the ball on this one when they wasted her (as well as Jimmy Durante as Humpty Dumpty and the Smothers Brothers as Tweedledum and Tweedledee) in a witless charm-free made-for-tv movie (11966). Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, on the other hand, is justly remembered for such albums as Time Out, which employed time signatures other than the customary 3/4, 4/4, or 6/8. And David Ossman of course is remembered for playing George Leroy Tirebiter in Don’t Crush that Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, though I think my favorite performance is as the hapless astronaut Mark Time (in How Time Flys) who returns to Earth after a decades-long mission to Planet X to find that the space program has been shut down and nobody cares (“It’s all entertainment”).

On this day in history Meredith Hunter, a black teenager out to enjoy himself at a free concert hosted by the Rolling Stones and featuring legendary performers like Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Santana, was killed by one of the men employed to provide security at the venue. The ill-conceived venture was at least partly the brainchild of Eugene Leo “Emmett” Grogan, one of the founders of the Diggers, who seems to have envisioned a freeform event where multiple stages would be erected in Golden Gate Park and various musicians could drop in whenever the felt like and perform. Members of Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead were likewise floating ideas for some sort of Woodstock West. But Golden Gate Park turned out not to be available, and Sears Point Raceway was selected instead. That too fell through, so at the very last moment the affair was moved to Altamont Speedway, and a stage (rising only four feet from the ground) was erected as a growing audience watched. Somebody had the bright idea of employing Hells’ Angels as security, paying them in beer. The inevitable catastrophe followed, as rowdy members of the audience ran afoul of drunken motorcycle club members, and fights broke out. Marty Balin (Jefferson Airplane) by a roadkill-wearing Hells’ Angel who took offense at something the musician said. (I believe those words were “Fuck you.”) When a black teenager—Meredith Hunter—took out a gun to defend himself from one of the rampaging security officials the latter responded by killing him. (Believe it or not, the killer was later found not guilty by reason of self defense.) Eugene Leo Grogan, Jr., later penned a lame mea culpa in which he ironically apologized for his part in the mess by blaming everybody else. He was especially severe on the young black fan: “And Meredith Hunter dying like a sniveling maniac instead of like a determined man—that was his fault.” It looks to me like Grogan was reaching a bit there. A little too close to home, was it?

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