Monday

JOE BAGEANT — we are all deer in the headlights of America

Joe Bageant at the Royal Tavern
— from joebageant.com —
"Around My Home Town, With Two Stops For Beer"


"These photos of Winchester, Virginia and nearby West Virginia were taken by New York photographer, Sean Gallagher.

Most of my essays and stories are set and rooted in this old Virginia town and its surrounding area in the historic Shenandoah Valley. My original ancestor came here with the English General Braddock's army in the 1740s.
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We've been here ever since, and seem to have chiefly occupied our time geting fatter and more religious. Whatever the case, this is my home. Home to everything thoughtless and dangerous about America these days, home to most of the people I have loved and certainly home to all my ghosts."





"Two fat guys smiling at one another.
Me and Larry, owner of the Royal.
Larry is the one hometown boy I sent my writing to during all the years I was out West,
because I knew most
of the rest of Winchester would never get it.
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He is one of the most soulful people on earth and, along with his wife Anne, has managed bars and clubs all his life.

Which is why the Royal is perfection as taverns go.
"









Bageant writes commentary on America for numerous foreign media,
including the BBC, ABC (Australia)
CBC (Canada) and numerous publications
ranging from Playboy Magazine to the UK’s The New Statesman.

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Joe Bageant, in Belize



THE New American
Dream Interview

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JOE BAGEANT, 62, is the author of “Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War," (Random House Crown, 2007).

He lives half the year in the Black Carib Village of Hopkins, Belize, and half in his hometown of Winchester, Virginia.

Bageant writes commentary on America for numerous foreign media, including the BBC, ABC (Australia) CBC (Canada) and numerous publications ranging from Playboy Magazine to the UK’s The New Statesman.

A product of the post-Beat era, he has counted among his friends, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg and Hunter S. Thompson.

His favorite water sport is fishing.

His favorite Nebraska-brewed beer is “anything below 50 degrees and less than five bucks a sixer.”

He does not play the harmonica, but is not entirely ashamed of his Delta blues guitar style.

Asked if he were on a construction crew, which would he be:

a. a foreman
b. a carpenter
c. a bricklayer
d. a guy who unloads and loads the trucks, he says, “Actually, in my younger days I’ve done all of the above except bricklaying. When you fuck up a masonry job it’s too obvious.”





NAD: Joe, hello, welcome.
Do you hunt deer?

JOE BAGEANT:

Lordee no! I used to though, simply because I grew up in the Appalachian Scots Irish hunting culture and it was a way of life.

My people were redneck meat hunters in that tradition.






NAD: Would Jesus hunt deer? How about pheasants?


JOE BAGEANT:

I reckon if he got hungry enough he’d hunt wharf rats if it came to that.

Actually, the title of the book came from the subject matter, the white rural American working class, which is a stronghold of fundamentalist Christianity and deer hunting in this country.

I mean, not many urban Jewish lawyers or L.A. rap music fans hunt deer.

It’s a heartland thing, ya know.





I consider myself fortunate to have a sense of place, of roots.
_______________
Not many folks in America have that anymore.





NAD: What's Winchester, Virginia like? Any connection to the rifle?

JOE BAGEANT:

No connection to the Rifle, it was named by American colonists for Winchester England.

Winchester is a historic old Virginia town which dates back to the 1730s.

Like most Southern towns, the past is very much alive there, both the good and the bad.

Despite its terrible class distinctions, it’s refusal to let go of its defeat in the Civil War, and its general ignorance, it’s still the place that made me whatever I am.

It holds all my ghosts, ancestors, old girlfriends, the ghost of my boyhood … I consider myself fortunate to have a sense of place, of roots.

Not many folks in America have that anymore.





I had always been a voracious reader,
_______________
but in Philadelphia my intellectual life was opened up.




NAD: You were in the Navy in Vietnam? Did you see combat? Did you see people die? ... Then you came back and became a counter-cultural author.

What's the connection. Or, maybe you were already a writer before the war?

Did it come as a surprise to you that you were a writer?

Did you always see a writer in the mirror?



JOE BAGEANT:

Oh no, nothing like that!

I am what they call a “Vietnam era vet.”

I spent my time on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier — the U.S.S. America.

I dropped out of school and went into the Navy at age 16 and a half under what was then called “the minority age enlistment plan.”

Mostly I just wanted to escape the claustrophobia of Southern small town life.

Then while in the Navy, I was stationed in South Philadelphia for naval aviation training. In my off time I drifted around the city, particularly Center City, and discovered the post beatnik culture of that time … poetry, folk music, the world peace movement, which was huge, worldwide in those days.

I had always been a voracious reader, but in Philadelphia my intellectual life was opened up.

Mostly by very hip Jews who had an entirely different take on America.

A leftist take.

I went to coffee houses, listened to poets, felt the dynamic beating heart of a great America city … got my first blowjob from a wonderful hipster chick who took it upon herself to educate me about a life of the mind.

Needless to say, given her opening act, I became pretty enthusiastic about improving my intellectual life.

But seriously, so much happened there I was never going to be the same again.

Even at that age I’d read Rimbaud, Genet, Kerouac … But somehow it wasn’t real to me, just exotic and intoxicating stuff from a world I had no evidence existed.

At some point I read Ginsberg’s “Howl” and it shook my world forever.

It was about a spectral America that I’d always felt in my bones, a deep but inchoate sense that much of America was pure illusion, but had no interior language for.

I grew up very poor, and never quite believed in Ozzie and Harriet or the supposed land of equality.

But like I said, I had no language to express my discontent, and in fact, did not even know I was allowed to do so.

Well, by the time I was on board the ship, I understood that the aircraft carrier was an instrument of death, as did quite a few other working class kids aboard.

You never read about it, and probably never will, but there was a counter-culture building inside the military during the mid-Sixties too.

Not a big one, but it was there.

So after a while I decided to quietly work toward getting out of the military.

It took a while, but thanks to a lieutenant JG legal officer, who himself had come to the same conclusions about our nation’s war making sickness, I did it. And with an honorable discharge to boot.






NAD: You are an advocate, in your writing, of working class folks — right? I remember reading Jim Goad's "The Redneck Manifesto." No question there, I just remember reading it.

Are you a defender of the working class?

Do they need defending? Defining? Describing?

Who are "they."

Would a real class war, let's say with fists, no guns — would that be a good thing?


JOE BAGEANT:

Damned! That’s quite a string of issues Bub!

Am I an advocate for working class folks?

I suppose I am in a way. But I never thought of it like that.

I’ve always thought of it as telling the truth about America’s class system through simple and compassionate reporting on the real lives of my people.

As to being their defender, that would be hubris.

No one can defend them but themselves.

And in America my people, the rednecks, trailer trash, truck driver or technician, it doesn’t matter, they don’t seem very capable of doing that.

It would take a revolution, a real one with the people willing to use force, and by force I don’t mean fists.

Our new authoritarian corporate state, our declining empire, was built on using force against anything in its path, whether it be directly, as with the red Indians or by Israeli proxy against the Palestinians.

There is simply no way to “work within the system” and do that.

The system IS the problem.

In addition, our civic religion of American exceptionalism and the capitalist commodification of our national consciousness through media has made revolution rather inconceivable, don’t you think?

In any case, we are now seeing a dispensation of some absolute minimum of mercy upon the great toiling underclass of this country by Obama during this twilight of the American empire.

(Darkness in America cannot come quickly enough to suit much of the rest of the world, I can tell you from personal experience.)

But I don’t kid myself about the significance of these slight national improvements, in the big picture. The same elites still have all the guns and money around this ailing planet.

To me, health care for the working poor, the rejection of torture as official policy, these are decent and good things that any civilized country has been practicing all the long.

But in terms of ‘saving America,” it’s too little too late.

I look elsewhere for the emergence of the next great civilization.

Certainly not China, which is just a Mandarin version of U.S. materialistic folly, but without the human rights.

But it might possibly be spawned in a united Europe, or even Latin America, now that our grip is lessening there.

Something tells me it’s gonna be a long time coming, certainly not in my lifetime, but getting much closer, despite the ongoing ecocide and gangsterism of global financial, political and military elites.

But the process sure as hell ain’t gonna be pretty.






Anyway, I’m thinking red beans and Johnny cakes, same as usual, but maybe with some catsup from the village store.
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The kids love catsup and I’m no organic purist.
You can’t be in a place like this.






NAD What is your passion today? When you woke up this morning, what did you feel you had to get done before supper time?


JOE BAGEANT:

Well, the Garifuna family I live with down here in Belize just had a new baby at home this morning, no midwife, just a cluster of attending village women.

Their eighth child was a boy.

So the main thing on my mind was what to feed the rest of the kids in the household while mama Marzy recovers, nurses the new child, and gets her bearings again.

Thanks to the globalization of the food production, and its pressure on Belize to grow only oranges and sugar cane; all other foods are very expensive here, even traditional staples like rice, beans and flour.

Anyway, I’m thinking red beans and Johnny cakes, same as usual, but maybe with some catsup from the village store. The kids love catsup and I’m no organic purist. You can’t be in a place like this.




It was my one last attempt at doing the American middle class thing, which I did because … well … I was afraid not to.
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Just like everybody else.




NAD: What did you do these past eight years, ever since the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, in four lines or less.


JOE BAGEANT:

Until three years ago, I was a senior editor for a history magazine group in Leesburg Virginia, punching out an occasional online essay for Counterpunch and the like to relive my terrible frustration with America.

Commuting an hour and a half each way to work, paying the mortgage, being one more faceless “productive American” moving through the zombie circuitry of this national workhouse we all live in. It was my one last attempt at doing the American middle class thing, which I did because … well … I was afraid not to.

Just like everybody else.




Hell no, writing isn’t enough!
Writing isn’t anything at all.
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It’s just writing.




NAD: Is writing enough when people are dying?

Have you healed any poor neighborhoods with your books?

What good is a book?


JOE BAGEANT:

Hell no, writing isn’t enough!

Writing isn’t anything at all.

It’s just writing.

As for healing any poor neighborhoods, nope!

A few years ago I organized a tenants union for slum dwellers in my spare time, got some safe housing ordinances passed in my hometown … did a few positive things, which the powers that be have since erased.

What good is a book?

Not much in the hands of people who do not think, and to be honest, most Americans do not even know how to think.

Just consume. I write because writing is a disease, or a calling, I can never figure out which.

But whatever it is, I’ve got it and so must suffer the consequences.




NAD:
What else would you like to add? What else should I have asked?

JOE BAGEANT:

Oh, I dunno. You should ask anything you choose.

My job is to give you a straight answer.

As for adding anything myself, well, at this late age I’ve learned that it’s best that I try to live in the moment.

And at the moment eight kids in the sand out back of my little shack need a meal.

So, though I am no Christian, I would end with a quote from Jesus: “Feed my sheep.”





NAD: Please insert a link here to something you would like linked to, with a brief tag re: where that link goes:

JOE BAGEANT:

Thank you. — Mike

More: http://www.energygrid.com/”society/ap-bageant.html




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About

THE New American Dream Feature Interviews

If you search the archives below, you will find, in a sort of order [last to first], interviews with:

Frida Berrigan, a lifetime of faith, hope and love

Denise Diaz, brewing up a revolution, at The Ritual Cafe in Des Moines

Deanna Taylor, Green Party activist, teacher, in Salt Lake City

Rossie Indira-Vltchek, writer, filmmaker in Jarkarta, Indonesia

Nora Barrows-Friedman, Pacifica reporter in Gaza

Delaney Bruce, Friends of Peltier

Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs

Michael Sprong, South Dakota Catholic Worker


Brian Terrell, Des Moines Catholic Worker

Bob Graf
, One of the Milwaukee 14

Loren Coleman, Bigfoot researcher

Monty Borror, Sci-Fi artist from Virginia

David Ray, Great American Poet

Jack Blood, radio show host, in Austin, Texas

Danny Schechter, A Real Reporter

Bob Kincaid, host, Head-On Radio Show

Tony Packes, Animal Farm Radio Host, Keeping An Eye on Big Brother

Richard Flamer, Working With the Poor in Chiapas

David Ray Griffin, 9/11 Truth activist author

Barry Crimmins, U.S. comedian, author, social activist

Bret Hayworth, political reporter for the Sioux City [IA] Journal

Lisa Casey, publisher of website All Hat No Cattle

Joe & Elaine Mayer, activist couple in Rochester, Minnesota

Fr. Darrell Rupiper, U.S. priest revolutionary

Whitney Trettien, MIT student, Green Party activist

Meria Heller, radio show host

Phil Hey, professor, poet

John Crawford, book publisher

Steve Moon, Iowa Bigfoot researcher

Carol Brouillet, California social activist, 9/11 Truth

Russell Brutsche, Santa Cruz artist

Kevin Barrett, professor, radio show host, 9/11 Truth activist

A'Jamal Rashad Byndon, social activist in Omaha

Chris Rooney, Vancouver, Canada Catholic Worker, website publisher

Marc Estrin, political novelist, from the left

Peter Dale Scott, poet, professor, author, activist

Anthony Rayson, anarchist zine publisher, works with prisoners

Alice Cherbonnier, editor of The Baltimore Chronicle, an independent newspaper

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