This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,579) on Friday, May 15, 2020.
One of the bright spots we had going for us this spring — among so many spots that were not quite so bright — is the garden, which with plenty of rain and somewhat cooler temperatures had gotten off to a good start. Potatoes were fully up, and the corn, beans, and okra were beginning to appear. Then late last week, we had something we didn’t expect in the second weekend of May: frost.
So, we spent a good part of the weekend covering and uncovering our 100-foot rows of plants. The frost came and went, I’m glad to say, without much damage. A couple of tomato plants got nipped, but otherwise everything survived. Another mini-drama on the farm.
Thanks to my friend and former colleague Gary P. who pointed out that in the post last week about Clare Hollingsworth, I had World War II starting in 1938, rather than the correct year of 1939. I apologize for the mistake and am always glad to be corrected. I hope that you are fully correct and accurate as you enter the weekend and that, above all, you are staying safe.
Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,581 subscribers and had a 28.4 percent open rate; 2 persons unsubscribed.
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A stay-at-home presidential campaign is nothing new to American politics
Joe Biden is stuck in his basement.
Donald Trump is stuck in the White House or in Mar-A-Largo.
Neither of the presidential nominees-to-be is out “on the hustings” or “pressing the flesh,” as would be happening in normal quadrennial years. No big rallies, no $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinners, not even conference rooms with staffers to plan and discuss strategy.
This situation, however, is not as abnormal as you might think. As Jon Grinspan, curator of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, has written in a recent New York Times article:
. . . history shows that for the first century of American politics nearly all candidates stayed home. Parties ran their races for them. The idea of a man promoting his own election, The New York Times wrote in 1892, “disgusts the people.” In an age of tribal partisanship, feuding candidates and frequent epidemics, this style of socially distanced stumping drew record turnouts and protected a candidate’s honor, and maybe his health. Such a retro campaign might suit the weird world in which we live today. Source: Opinion | How to Run for President in the Middle of a Pandemic – The New York Times
Most famously, Abraham Lincoln stayed at his home in Springfield, Illinois, during the 1860 presidential campaign, not saying a word to the public.
There were lots of reasons to do this. Candidates were not selected because of their abilities as public speakers. Still, Lincoln has proven himself to be an effective speaker by the fame he had achieved in the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858. Earlier in 1860, Lincoln had gone on an introduction tour of the northeastern states and had delivered a stirring address at New York City’s Cooper Union.
But the situation in the summer and fall of 1860 was such that Lincoln believed that anything he said after receiving the nomination would be misconstrued by his opponents, so he said nothing. He left the speech-making to others.
One of those was William Seward, senator from New York and himself a candidate for the Republican Party nomination. After losing out to Lincoln, Seward undertook a speaking tour of the western states on Lincoln’s behalf, and his stops included Springfield. When he arrived at the train station, Lincoln was there to greet him.
The 19th century model of presidential campaigning was finally broken in 1896 by William Jennings Bryan, a Democratic representative from Nebraska and a noted public orator. Bryan had captured the Democratic nomination by a captivating speech to the Democratic convention in Chicago.
Bryan’s opponent was Republican William McKinley, who had few oratorical skills but far more campaign money than Bryan would ever be able to raise. Bryan, therefore, had to hit the campaign trail, and he did so like no one ever before him. He gave 600 speeches and spoke to an estimated 5 million people.
It didn’t work. Bryan lost the election (he would also lose in 1900 and again in 1908), but he had permanently changed American presidential election campaigning. Theodore Roosevelt, no stay-at-home guy himself, campaigned vigorously for election to a full term in 1904.
In 2020 America may again be in for what used to be called a “front porch campaign.”
Baseball: Missed by some but not by others
The absence of baseball this spring (as I noted last week) has been hard to ignore, try as I might. I miss the beginning of the season: the fast starts by some teams and individuals, the show starts by others. I miss the surprises, and I miss the things that aren’t so surprising.
Mostly, I think, I miss the radio broadcasts of the game — I rarely watch a game on television — the ones that I can listen to while sitting out on my back porch after dark, content with the world whatever state it’s in.
One person who does not miss any of this is my good friend Chris Wohlwend, newspaper and magazine writer/editor extraordinaire, who has recently reprinted on Facebook a piece he wrote in 1994 for the Boston Globe titled “Prose Strikes Out.”
In it, Chris takes to task the idea of baseball and all of the literariness that it has inspired through the decades. Chris is having none of this nonsense, as you will find if you read the article:
The scribes, stimulated by the sunshine of Fort Myers, have filed their first spring-training stories, thrown out their first cliches of the season.And as sure as the hopeful reports will continue from City of Palms Park, as sure as the Mets — individually and en masse — will do something juvenile, baseball’s great myth, its greatest cliche, will again be perpetrated. . . .
Or maybe it isn’t really The Game itself, but the musings themselves, as William Zinsser wisely noted in his book, “Spring Training”: “Writing about baseball seemed to be some kind of validating rite for the American male.” Or maybe it is simple guilt. A baseball game consumes several hours, time that could be spent on the Great American Novel, on an insightful political treatise, or a profound philosophical tome. The game must be elevated to The Game to atone for wasted time. Source: (1) Chris Wohlwend
Despite his obvious lack of a baseball soul, Chris is an excellent writer and author of Ridge Running: A Memoir of Appalachia.
I miss my lunches with Chris during this time of isolation, but like baseball, those too will one day return.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Smokey Robinson, Motown’s founding brother
Berry Gordy is undoubtedly Motown’s founding father, but Gordy would not have achieved his spectacular success without Motown’s founding brother, Smokey Robinson.
Behind the scenes, however, Robinson was far more than that. He was a songwriter, record producer, and key player in just about every aspect of the Motown operation. Most importantly, he was Berry Gordy’s best friend and a man who had been with Gordy from a time before Motown existed.
Robinson was born in 1940 in Detroit and grew up in the North End. He got the name “Smokey Joe” when he was a child because of his love of Westerns at the movies. In 1955 he and some friends formed a doo-wop group called The Five Chimes, which was later changed to the Matadors and still later to the Miracles. Robinson met Gordy in 1957, and Gordy was impressed with Robinson’s passion for — and commitment to — writing songs. Robinson had showed Gordy a notebook in which he had about 100 original songs.
Gordy helped Robinson and the Miracles produce a single, “Got a Job,” an answer to the hit tune by The Silhouettes‘s “Get a Job.”
Gordy was determined to develop his own record label, and one of the first acts he signed was The Miracles. In 1960 they recorded “Shop Around,” which became the first big hit for Gordy’s company. In those early years of Motown, Robinson became one of the chief sources of hit songs for many of the groups that Gordy signed. They included “Two Lovers”, “The One Who Really Loves You”, “You Beat Me to the Punch” and “My Guy” for Mary Wells; “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, “My Girl”, “Since I Lost My Baby” and “Get Ready” for the Temptations; “Stillwater” for the Four Tops; “When I’m Gone” and “Operator” for Brenda Holloway; “Don’t Mess With Bill”, “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” and “My Baby Must Be a Magician” for the Marvelettes; and “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar” for Marvin Gaye.
By 1969 Robinson wanted to retire from active performing and spend more time with his family and as executive vice president of Motown. But then the group recorded “Tears of a Clown,” and its success induced Robinson to stay with the group until 1972.
Robinson did retire them but came out of retirement a year later had many successful songs and recordings during the next two decades.
See these previous posts about Motown:
Podcast recommendation: Phoebe Reads a Mystery
If you have ever listened to the Criminal podcast, you are familiar with the unique and compelling voice of Pheobe Judge, the writer and narrator of the show. Judge, stuck at home like the rest of us these days, now brings her voice to the world of fiction by reading, chapter by chapter, some of the great mystery novels of the past on Phoebe Reads a Mystery on Apple Podcasts.
Judge begins with Agatha Christie’s early novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. She has completed that one, and all 13 chapters are now available. Each episode is around 30 minutes (some shorter, some longer). She has also completed The Hound of the Baskervilles, a famous Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle.
She is now reading Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, considered the first modern detective novel.
These are the podcasts where you should listen late at night with all of the lights off. What better way to spend a half an hour.
Judge is still doing her Criminal podcast too, and it’s one of the best of the true-crime podcast genre.
Check out last week’s newsletter: Clare Hollingsworth’s ‘scoop’ of the century, William Styron’s ‘mistakes,’ the Temptations, and reader reaction: newsletter, May 8, 2020
Barbara H.: Thank you for “The Illusion of Certainty” by Rory Sutherland.
Alice K: Your series on Motown has been fun and brought back memories from the 60s, such as “My Girl” by the Temptations, and Marvin Gaye singing “I heard it through the grapevine.” The caricature of the Temptations is amazing.
Diana R.: Thank you for your weekly emails. I look forward to them and keep learning and learning from them, a good thing to do at age 80. After I read the article on William Styron, I clicked on a link to the room singer Odetta. Wow! I hope you have time to look at it.
Thanks for helping me learn more about the world during my earlier years. Take good care of yourself and your loved ones.
Eric S.: I’m almost finished reading Styron’s “Confessions of Nat Turner.” It’s a great American novel.
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
“An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark — that is critical genius.” Samuel “Billy” Wilder (1906-2002), Austrian journalist; American film director, producer, humorist and three-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter
Bonus quote of the week:
“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” Joseph Addison, writer (1672-1719)
Helping those in need
Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Clare Hollingsworth’s ‘scoop’ of the century, William Styron’s ‘mistakes,’ the Temptations, and reader reaction: newsletter, May 8, 2020
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