Monday, August 07, 2006

johnson's little girls

Several well-wishers have responded already to this new endeavor of mine, and there's been a common thread running through them all: shaddup, ya freak.

Well, not that extreme, but something similar. People have felt overwhelmed (the word was used by four different people, so I'm taking it to be representative). This is, I guess, understandable; I sleep very little, and during every single last second of the time when I'm awake, I'm 'on.' No computer games. No lounging around 'recovering' from work. This tends to produce a lot of verbiage, and in the initial stages of this new thing I'm doing, I gave the prospective reader very little in the way of Sherpa-guiding.

So I'll now be making separate entries for separate subjects, whether it be several in one day or not. Today, at least right now, it's books and digressions. Later tonight, or tomorrow, it might be comics, or the newspaper, or magazines, or more books. I hope this makes things easier on both of us.

And, as usual, I whole-heartedly encourage all of you reading this to MAKE COMMENTS. Please, feel free to RESPOND to anything you read here.

Anyway, here's what I have to say about books:

Randall Woods' biography of Lyndon Johnson was a very odd reading experience last night - it's a weird Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of book. On the one hand, it's prodigiously researched, with page after page after page of meticulously documented sources from a staggering variety of sources. On the other hand, it's almost comically poorly written. Woods tries for a breezy, in-the-know tone and always ends up sounding like and over-informed moron. Like when, in the book's conclusion, Woods refers to Ralph Ellison as "the celebrated black intellectual" for all the world as if he doesn't even KNOW that Ellison wrote a rather famous novel. There are slang expressions in every other sentence, some of which are already stale, and despite the research on hand everywhere, you come away from the book feeling certain Johnson himself, had he read it, would have said "Sheeeeit, that boy don't know what he's talkin' about."

The defect is made all the more glaring because much more than half of Woods' book is concerned with Johnson as President, and I couldn't help thinking about Robert Caro's eventually forthcoming volume on that very subject. Thinking about that, and salivating, since Caro is every bit the researcher Woods is but matches his library-work with a prose style that's nothing short of magnificent. His previous two volumes on Johnson, great as they were, will almost certainly be left in the dust by his next one. True, we the faithful will have to wait until 2009 to read it, but surely, surely, we don't need another LBJ book until then?

As for Steve's own personal take on the man, well, my loyal fans among you (you know who you are) will be able to intuit it pretty accurately: he hated the Kennedys, and he hated them for the worst, most venal, ignominious reason: personal envy. They had money, he came from nothing. They had looks (feel free to Google him). The country loved them (that might have changed, if JFK had lived failed to stop Vietnam from happening, but he WOULD have stopped it, had said many times over that he would and when he would and how he would - the difference being that he didn't give a damn if Congress loved him, whereas Johnson craved the approval of every special-interest hawk he ever met). And there was something just a bit unseemly about the sheer SPEED with which he had himself sworn in, before JFK's body was even cold.

Mitigating factors? A BIG one, in the Stevezone: he adored his dogs, placed their welfare well above his own even when he as President ... and those dogs, as all the world knows, were beagles.

I've seen well upwards of three million photos of dogs in my life, and I tell you honestly: the one I'm including of Johnson and his girls is one of the purest distillations of the sheer, mutual JOY dog-lovers can feel I've ever seen. So you gotta give the man credit for that.


Sam Well said...

But...didn't Johnson pick those very dogs up by the ears? That's an okay thing to do?

steve said...

It's only OK if the dogs liked it, and if they hadn't liked it, he wouldn't have done it! Nothing on Earth would have caused him to intentionally harm his babies!