In Steve Amm, Me, & Them Other People, read how the author:
200 pages ISBN 0960489452
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Steve Amm, Me, and Them Other People is a collection of personal reminiscences by Natty Bumppo (who was born and known as John Dean through all chapters but the last two), focusing more on the people he meets in them than on himself. Maybe it’ll remind you of Henry Miller; maybe not. You might want to read the epilogue first if you’re in a hurry to know what the book is about. The title is explained in Chapter 15, “God, Steve Amm and Them Other People” – the wannabe country singer Steve Amm was writing a book to be titled God, Me and Them Other People.
Both Dostoevsky and Hesse were deceased when I discovered them; but Henry Miller was still living, in Big Sur, California. I was curious; and I found his address, and wrote him a letter, enclosing a stamped postcard for his reply. “In Tropic of Capricorn and Tropic of Cancer and Sexus, Nexus and Plexus,” I wrote, “I was fascinated with your accounts of people who were obviously real, and with whom you were intimately acquainted. Did you use real names for them, or phony names?"
I received his reply on my post card: “Phony names!” was all it said.
The accounts in my present volume all began with “phony names”; but it has been 50 years, more and less, since I wrote these; some of the peo;le now are deceased, and the rest, I have assumed, no longer care. So I have rewritten most of them with real names.
The truth of all matters (as it were) came to me on Northern Ireland’s "Bloody Sunday," January 30, 1972. Thirteen civilians were killed by gunfire from British army troops at a demonstration in Londonderry.
I heard about it on the car radio somewhere between Evansville and Vincennes, Indiana. Kris and Groad and Carol and Lizzie (real names) and I were on our way back to Chicago from a weekend at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. We were stoned out of our minds; so the report from Londonderry made a strange kind of sense to me, once I sorted it out.
The Irish Republican Army was blaming the British soldiers for shooting indiscriminately into the crowd of demonstrators. But the British said their shooting was provoked by reports from IRA snipers’ guns. When British Home Secretary Reginald Maudling parroted the British army version for Parliament, M.P. Bernadette Devlin (whose speech at the Londonderry demonstration had been forestalled by the massacre) called him a liar. She had been there. She and the other protesters had seen the soldiers fire indiscriminately, without reasonable provocation. But the soldiers, jittery from previous riots and snipings, had a different idea of what was reasonable. And in Londonderry on January 30 they knew that rocks were being thrown at them and that snipers were firing at them. They had been there, too. This, of course, is how wars begin, and are sustained. Each side is so convinced of the rightness of its argument that it will not concede the possibility that it is wrong. There is no hope of reconciliation. One does not compromise when he knows he is absolutely right.
But both the IRA and. the British army could not be right in laying the blame entirely on the other side. The truth lay with one side or the other or, more likely, somewhere in between. It is true that the IRA provoked the troops, who were understandably edgy over repeated sniper murders of soldiers dating back a year or more. But it is true also that the Irish were indignant – not self-righteously, but righteously – over the occupation of their country by foreigners. And yet the occupation was not wrong, given the majority of loyal subjects, albeit British but most of them born in Northern Ireland, not by their choice. Tracing the blame is tracing through history, most of it inaccessible, and all of it clouded by emotion.
The point is, at some level both sides are wrong. Their statements of blame are generalizations and simplifications. Any generalization or simplification is wrong when applied to a specific case. Moreover, any statement made anywhere, anytime by anyone, is a generalization or simplification. There is not time enough to fully describe a situation (it would take an eternity), let alone discuss it. Therefore, every statement is wrong; it can merely approach the truth. Every statement ever made, anywhere, is a lie. Including this one. Since the foregoing statement also is a lie, there must be a true one. It is this one.
So this book – even with “real names” – is one big lie. It is composed of numerous little statements, all of them lies. And so the book may be regarded as fiction, even though most of the events reported actually happened, to real people, most of whose real names are used, although a couple of names have been changed, to protect the guilty as well as the innocent. All distortion is intentional, partly for amusement, partly to get at the truth, all to tell the real story. With this caveat, we’ll get on with the stories.
| Some will ask, is it all
true? No, as I said in the foreword, none of it. It is all
lies. And this is why. It’s in the newspapers.
Take the February 11, 1972, issue of the Chicago Sun-Times, for which I used to work. The Page 1 story, in the early editions, was about a fatal gunfight in suburban Berwyn. Back on Page 34, under a l˝-column, 18-point headline, “Sex counter at airport,” was this vignette:
. JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH
AFRICA (AP) –
Heard on the public address
system of the Johannesburg
“Will all female passengers
kindly proceed to the left-
hand gate, all males to the
right-hand gate and those
of you who are uncertain
please proceed to the infor-
mation counter for classification.”
Such signs of the times are often muscled out of later editions by more “important” stories, which is why many readers prefer the early editions. An especially fertile hunting ground is the sports section of the Sunday Sun-Times, where, in early editions of November 7, 1971, appeared a three-column photograph of a grown man tapping his front teeth with his index finger. Underneath was this caption:
Football coaches release
their tensions in different
ways. Bob Spoo, of Loy-
ola Academy, for instance,
taps his teeth sometimes.
(Sun-Times photo by
Such “minor” Event reporting is not confined to the Sun- Times, of course. These slices of life are scattered through-out every metropolitan newspaper, like this report in the November 26, 1971, issue of the Indianapolis Star:
REFUSES ON HAIRCUT
One of the 72 elevator operators in
the Senate Office Building in Wash-
ington who have been ordered to cut
their hair has refused, saying his hair
is shorter than Senator Edward Ken-
Then, of course, there is the recurrent Event of cheesecake that so offends the women getting themselves liberated. Not just Miss America cheesecake, but the obligatory winter photograph of a beauty in a bikini on a beach in Sydney (summer there), whose picture is in the paper for no apparent reason other than that she is bikinied and beauteous (and on the beach).
Those who smugly deride the publication of this alleged trivia ought to deliberate a little more before rendering judgment. Newspapers are in the business of reporting Events, and major Events may go excusably unrecognized as such until long after they happen.
For example, the first Southern student sit-in, at Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 2, 1960, made only Page 22 of the February 3 New York. Times. The play story:
FRENCH ASSEMBLY VOTES
DE GAULLE SPECIAL POWERS
seemed pretty important at the time, but the sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter proved to be the decade's major Event.
And to pick another time in the memory of many of us, the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election was considered a major Event. Subsequent history showed, however, that the significant Event was not Goldwater’s defeat but Lyndon Johnson’s victory.
And the invention of the electronic digital computer in 1944 was probably the major Event of the century, perhaps even of the last million years, since it may have been the latest step in evolution. It was reported on page 17 of the New York Times while World War II, which seemed significant at the time, was on page 1. So what intelligent persons consider to be a waste of space on trivia does not necessarily degrade these “minor” Events, such as tooth-tapping.
An apple once fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head. That wasn’t in the papers at all; and if it had been, people would have laughed. But it helped him formulate the law of gravity.
Before criticizing a newspaper for promulgating cheesecakery and other alleged trivia, one should consider Marshall McLuban’s two major themes: The medium is the message; the user is the content. If I might add a corollary, the message may be the medium. That is, a newspaper can be defined by what it prints. It is further defined by those who read it (the user is the content), and, in turn, its total statement, from major Event to trivia, is the true report on the society we live in.
“Over hamburgers sold!”