The Barn-Black Friday
The Barn-Black Friday
The Barn was the name we gave to the massive structure which housed the 199th Personnel Service Company in Ascom, Korea. Not all of the 250 members of the 199th worked there, because the motor pool and the quartermaster's supply room were both separately located. However, what remained of the 199th had to fit inside the Barn. It was an L-shaped edifice, with the two parts resembling a pair of former gymnasiums, except for the low ceilings.
The result was a sprawling complex, with personnel lined and stacked everywhere. Semi-permanent room dividers were strategically placed to block vision, but not sound. Upon entering the Barn, what you heard resembled more a filled baseball stadium, while nothing is happening, a dull hum, with the occasional hoot or whistle audible.
The sounds of clackety-clicking type writers, antique xerox machines, and coffee mugs being simultaneously set back down on desks by more than 200 personnel, was sort of soothing. The noise volume ebbed and flowed around the barn at different times, not terribly unlike a lackluster attempt to get The Wave going at the ball yard.
Personnel Management Division orchestrated troop movement from Korea, to any base in the world. If a guy were going to Fort Lewis, Washington, but was taking leave in Miami, Florida, then he had to have orders saying that, and we were the ones who cut those orders. If you had an emergency leave, but were coming back, we cut the orders. Aside from Finance, there was no more valued job to be had in Korea. There were easier jobs to be sure, but not jobs that commanded such respect everywhere, not when you wore the 199th company patch on your shoulder.
There were about twenty desks in our division, fifteen of them for clerks who each handled about twenty-five hundred personnel, loosely bound together through company objectives. All medical personnel’s files were gathered under the same clerk's watchful eye. STRATCOM and other communications units, belonged, when possible, to the same clerk. There was another smaller personnel company down south, but we handled the bulk of non-commissioned men; luckily, some other company did the officers, because we sure didn't want to.
For example, as our company received rosters of troops all going to Fort Lewis, from many different sources in Korea, different clerks read the lists of names, and culled out the ones for whom they were responsible. All associated paperwork requesting leave, or additional weight allowance to bring home household items, had to be available to the clerk handling the file of that individual. Once an individual was within forty-five days of departure, his records were pulled, all associated paperwork was compiled, and orders were cut. Everything, for the most part proceeded smoothly, in our paddock of the barn.
Things got tense whenever an emergency arose while a soldier was within the last forty-five days in-country. Our division faltered seriously, at this absolute worst of times, and it made us look bad. Everything was still fine during the normal forty hour work week. It was the remaining 128 hours during the week, in which we were not at the Barn, that was magnified.
Emergencies came at any time, and the thirty-five thousand plus troops we handled, experienced their share. So any time a family crisis arose after the time that this paperwork process had begun, the duty officer had to scramble about the Barn madly, and too frequently, blindly, searching for all related material.
Precluded was any possibility of finding all paperwork in the same place. This would lead to frantic attempts to contact the clerk responsible for that serviceman's deployment, at any given hour of the day or night, while at the same time ransacking every desk and file cabinet that might contain what was needed. Nothing like having our own meltdown, in the middle of our serviceman's crisis. It might have combined to furnish lively drama, but it served to place PMD under an unwanted microscope.
I was one of those fifteen clerks with my own set of responsibilities. No matter how efficient I was, I still looked bad, if one of my guys encountered home problems. I had no control over a process that involved components beyond my desk. So Sergeant First Class Thomas Kuhn, as PMD duty officer, bore the brunt of this pressure.
Kuhn was a rare commodity in the Green Machine, an intelligent, compassionate man. He motivated us, simply by working as hard as any of us, and devoting his professional life to facilitating the single most anticipated event, in any serviceman's thirteen month stay in the R.O.K, his departure. Kuhn always seemed to take things personally.
After one of these particularly volatile events, compounded by missing paperwork associated with moving the serviceman's household goods back to the World, Kuhn was ordered into the CO's office. There he was ground into garlic powder, by an unreasonable company commander, who didn't have a clue as to what the problem was. It left us feeling lousy to see a good guy stomped on. We talked it over in the hooch one night, when the focus was not on music, so much as it was on the Barn, a strict violation of hooch protocol.
Carroll brought it up, I think because he still appreciated Kuhn's listening to us and requesting Carroll in the Barn. Guys don't forget a good turn, especially in something as big as internal placement. Thirteen months is a long time to spend in the motor pool, because no had your back. He said, "MacGuire really reamed Kuhn a new one today. What a chargee."
Addis put down the roach he had been trying to nurse back to life and said, "Nice talk, GI. Yeah, the good sarge fights the war, but loses every battle with that pogee."
"Was that you, just now, with the potty mouth?" I couldn't help asking that, though using Korean expletives was not the same as cussing in English. The words sounded too cute to be offensive.
"No sweat-tee-dah," replied Carroll, "but what about Kuhn? What's wrong that we have all of these disasters?" Tim was quick at picking up the process, but big picture stuff was still hazy. He was to find out that haze was as good as it got, unless things changed.
I said, "Blue can tell you that it's not PMD's fault. All we can do is put everything together as it comes in, and work through the process. It's just that the different steps take place around the office at different desks, so the paperwork gets spread out. What we need is a central filing system."
Miller had been working over the chords for “Sam Stone,” and he interrupted to ask, "Who wants to tackle that? It sounds like boucoup work for someone."
Orr jumped in, "What would you know about a lot of work, Miller? All you know a lot about is nothing."
"Go dok-barro to hell, and don't pass go, my friend." Jimmy was not pleased. The two initial letters of "my friend" actually stood for an overused Americanism, but not one essential for this narrative.
"Number ten! I'm trying to think here, and you're making static. Do you like to see Kuhn dangling? I'm sick of it." I reached over to grab another Hamms. "I think we need to consolidate the process in PMD, so that paperwork doesn't end up in several places. That's where Kuhn gets bogged down."
Addis spoke up. "Now your head's on straight. That's exactly why it will never happen. You're thinking good, Markus. And that always makes 'em nervous."
"Yeah, but what I'm suggesting isn't going to create less work; if anything, it's going to create an additional slot, and more work. But more is less, in this case. If we do the extra work, anyone-and I do mean anyone-would be able to come in to PMD, go to one file cabinet, and access all paperwork dealing with servicemen under the forty-five day mark. Even a colonel could do it. Too beautiful for words."
Carroll spoke up. "So Kuhn isn't going to have a problem with this? And what about Eighth Army? What are the Brass going to say?"
I spoke quickly, "Listen. Last month, some bird colonel flipped his wig because one of his troops had an emergency leave, and it took three hours to get the paperwork together. It turned out that the guy who needed to get back to the World, was a special assistant to this colonel, and so now I think we may have an ally. By the time the dust had settled, he could see that we weren't bozos, but that there was a flaw in the system. He's just the guy we need to push this through."
The colonel's name was Kelley, and he was actually a personable guy. We had obviously ignited a short fuse that was attached, like dynamite, to the welfare of his troops. When something was wrong with one of the cogs in his well-lubricated machine, he blew a head gasket. Criticizing Colonel Kelley would be the same thing as criticizing a ball player for expressing his frustration at striking out. What would you have him do? Doff his cap and smile? No, you expect him to be mad.
The thing to do was go to this powerful figure, and present a logical solution to any future possible problems. Because he worked at Eighth Army Headquarters, when I went to see him, I would have to wear shades to diffuse the light from all the Brass. However, Brass had never intimidated me. I had no fear of blowhards in army apparel, and that may have been stupid of me, but there was nothing about me that would draw one second glance from anyone, at this juncture of my military career.
There had been times in the recent past, when I tended to delay haircuts, or maybe I chose to wear five days' growth of whiskers, but now I kept myself well within the traces of my redeployment sled, so as not to upset the balance.
It was Addis who asked, "Are you OK with going up to Eighth Army and traipsing through all of that power to get to the Man?"
"Hell, yes. I'll strut right into Eighth Army Headquarters, with my spit-buffed boots, and my starched fatigues, as well as anybody, and if I talk to Smitty at the admin desk, I can get into Kelley's office like that..." snapping my fingers, with one hand, and producing a joint with the other.
That created the desired effect, and everyone broke into laughter, though the general consensus was that maybe I should keep the joint in my pocket. "No biggee-dah. I can restrain myself myself with the best of them. Just so long as we can get this thing pushed through. Then I'll have job security for the foreseeable future, and won't that be nice?"
Miller spoke up again, "You are one sick puppy, Dude, but whatever blows air up your skirt."
Miller's comment washed over me like salve on sunburn. I felt good about what was stewing in our PMD pot. Already, I was on the proverbial treadmill, with demands that kept me at the grindstone for more than my weekly forty hours. I was able to routinely supplement my desk time, with many hours of extra effort, while performing guard duty in the Barn.
Though normally associated with Eleven Bravos on the DMZ, standing guard in the Barn had become standard operating procedure, ever since the local slicky boys had made the connection that a typewriter would fetch a surprising amount of wan, out in the ville. The preferred style was simply a smash, grab and dash, as the slicky boys would break a window, grab one or more typewriters, and run. If the guy on guard duty was even awake, it was still a toss-up as to whether or not he would hear the sound of breaking glass.
I remember receiving a cassette tape in the summer of 1972, that first summer away from home, that contained music from an album just released by the group, America, called “Horse with No Name.”
"You know, I been through the desert on a horse with no name, and there ain't no way to deal with the pain; yeah I been through the desert on a horse with no name 'cause there ain't way for to feel no pain..." Everyone felt the pain, they were right about that, and the music was fresh; even the name of the group predisposed me to want to like the music. Was this a sliver of patriotism trying to pierce the armor of my nationalistic stoicism? Not in this life or any yet to come.
Home was home; America was not so much the "Land of the Free," as it was the land of Bob's Big Boy, and Shakey's Pizza Parlor, and In-N-Out Burgers. Unfortunately, as I listened to my new music, with an ear towards anything that I could introduce to the hooch as potential fodder for our singing/recording efforts, I was also listening for the tinkle of broken glass.
The modus operandi for slicky boys, was that they worked in threesomes, with only one actually committing the break-in. The concept was diabolically simple. One peered though the grimy windows to determine the location of the duty clerk, signaled the second one, who then relayed the information on to the third. He was primed to run, and there was very little to be done.
Emotions ran high at one juncture, when a clerk received an Article Fifteen, for having had the bad luck to have been on duty when such an incident had occurred. By the time he responded to the noise of the break-in, having had to scurry from one end of the "L" to the other, all that had been left to do was call the MP's and sweep up the glass. Whereas an Article Fifteen was nowhere near as severe as a court martial, it still produced a letter of reprimand in your personnel file, and it followed you wherever you went.
The highly incendiary action of trying to prosecute this clerk, brought the full force of the 199th's anger down on Eighth Army Headquarters. It was like trying to prosecute the keeper of the gate, because an airplane dropped a bomb on the inside of the walls. How do you protest injustice in the army? The manual tells you to "follow the chain of command."
Anyone could lodge formal complaint, if he chose to proceed up the ladder in the established order. We went to Kuhn, our immediate superior, and he took it to the Captain. This was not a few members of the prosecuted clerk's hooch; this was 250 strong, and we threatened point blank to refuse to step foot in the Barn.
Think of it as a power failure, and then think of Red Tailed planes heading back to the world, half filled. Think of GI's waiting for orders back to Kansas, wherever that happened to be for them, and then imagine the resulting chaos. It brought a smile to my face just picturing it.
Generally speaking, it is not wise to threaten mutiny in a military setting, unless the reason is so egregious as to merit a closer look. Then, cooler heads prevail, because one outlet troops always had, and still do, is their congressional representative. These icons of our political process, champion this sort of controversy, because they love the attention.
How better to garner the spotlight, than to ride to the defense of some poor puppet, dancing to the beat of injustice? Maintaining good public relations was paramount to the army, even though there was still a draft at the time, because so many Americans had family and friends in the service, and they followed all matters military in the media.
This particular situation, of the clerk in the Barn, was a no-brainer. It was over before morning coffee break, when it crossed the desk of the Battalion Chief. The way things worked in the army is that either everyone got the shaft, or no one did. We performed the most outrageous of work details, without hope of any intervention, because everyone had to perform the same atrocious jobs. Single out one guy though, as a scapegoat, and you had better prepare for a volatile response.
So, as I sat and listened to “Horse with No Name,” I also listened for anything out of the ordinary. I didn't even put the cassette player on my desk, preferring to place it a couple of desks over, so as not to have the music interfere with my ability to hear well. I went back over the idea of a central filing system.
The amount of initial work was staggering, because I would have to take all of the existing files from the fifteen clerks, including my own, and combine them into a central system. The bright spot was that once all of the consolidating was done, then I would only have to file paperwork for those orders cut on any given day, within the office. They would also come to me in a steady flow, from first thing in the morning, through the end of the day. I had high hopes, that this system would eliminate those rare blemishes on our record.
We followed through on the plan, and things fell into place, seemingly as a consequence of Colonel Kelley, a man who was not afraid to listen to an idea which would help facilitate future redeployment. We set up a process where I, as the coordinator of our central file system, made two runs past Eighth Army Headquarters, mid-morning, and mid-afternoon, instead of the one pickup, which had brought everything available, but then ignored everything that came in during the next twenty-four hours.
I brought all rosters, assignments and individual requests for adjusted circumstances in redeployment together, collated them and distributed them to individual clerks involved. The difference is that now, everything came back to me so that I could file everything in a centralized bank of cabinets. The next time that Colonel Kelley had to deal with an emergency departure from Korea, he could come to the Barn, and go straight to my station. There, he could open a file cabinet which was organized alphabetically and grab the paperwork that he needed.
I got an ArCom for that little idea. That was an Army Commendation Medal, and I knew only one other guy who got one. This wasn't the same as a Good Conduct Medal, which was awarded to most guys, if you never got any citations, such as the one I would have been issued the time I had let my beard grow beyond appropriate standards.
The ArCom was accompanied by a statement that read in part, "Specialist O'Neill's outstanding professional competence, mature judgement, devotion to duty, and exemplary military bearing earned him the respect of his contemporaries and superiors alike. Specialist O'Neill's keen observation of the mission requirements led him to develop and effectively utilize new procedures within the Redeployment Section. His section, as a result, has become one of the most efficient within the Personnel Management Division."
I was pretty proud of that award, because it was the result of a refusal to give in to the most unreasonable of conditions, that is, our presence in Korea. As a team, those of us who had to work within the system, were still able to rise above the surface of the haze, and clarify an important part of the redeployment process.
Knowing what we did, and having our collective finger on the pulse of all that was important within the army mosaic, it is astonishing that we did not see BLACK FRIDAY coming. No one did. I have experienced some tough times, but only one BLACK FRIDAY. Even blowing out my anterior cruciate ligament twenty years later on a Friday afternoon, ten minutes before the end of the day, could not compare with the immediate magnitude of this day.
Finding out that the army had adjusted the length of time that a GI could get out of the Machine early, from one hundred fifty days to ninety was the content of the memorandum, which crossed SFC Thomas Kuhn's desk, late one Friday afternoon, with only twenty minutes left in the day. He went to each of our desks, as he moved around the office, quietly asking us to gather round up front, so he could talk to us. We did this so routinely, that even at that moment, we still did not read anything more into his request.
We started to notice, big time, when instead of standing in front of us and proceeding to outline whatever was coming at us, he leaned back against his desk, and slowly eased back until he was seated in the center, whereupon, he paused, while we finished prattling, and seemed to gather up his thoughts.
"Well, Men," (He addressed us in many different ways, from amigos to dickheads, depending on his mood, but he never addressed us as "Men.") and then he stopped, seemingly at a loss for words. Kuhn? Loss of words? He was a speech major at the University of New Mexico, and he simply did not have to search for words. He was only in the military, like everyone else, because he was drafted. However, he had embraced the challenge, in those pre-computer days, and had proven that he could handle an important role in PMD, and had rapidly scaled the promotion ladder to E-7.
"OK. This ain't easy." (Again. "Ain't?") "You all know how Uncle Sugar likes to make us all bend over; well, some are you are going to have a hard time sitting tonight. If you haven't already got your extension paperwork, signed and delivered, to Eighth Army by close of business today," glancing meaningfully at the big OD green clock, "you are SOL. O'Neill. Stop right there." He'd dragged out the O, so it came out, "Ohhhhhhh'Neill."
I'd already been on my way to my desk for a last minute effort. Then I too glanced at the clock, which I hadn't done in at least five minutes, which wasn't bad for Friday afternoon. If I was already standing in the foyer of the Captain's office, paperwork in hand, I could still never have gotten to his desk and then made it to Eighth Army HQ in time. I walked back over to my brothers.
"Sorry, O'. I know you could have tried, but no. OhhhKayyy. At ease." The rest were stunned and deathly quiet.
"I didn't know shit about what was coming down, so you know that they kept a lid on it." We knew, because Kuhn usually knew the latest scuttlebutt, before the rest of us, having his own chain of command, with the non-com staff at HQ.
"You've all been asked to do, and you've all done, more than you're fair share of work. No one denies that. Hell, it's the opposite. You guys make the rest of these crackerjacks look like what they are." He paused, to let the praise hang in the air, like a puff of smoke from a just-fired rifle.
"Those of you not impacted, tread carefully." He was addressing both three-year guys, and lifers, which comprised over half of the assemblage. There was an ongoing, one-sided debate between the two factions, as to the worthiness of the army as a valid career choice. We didn't bother to dignify the concept with a response.
Kuhn was just informing them, bluntly, not to choose this time to spout off about their vocations. Implied was the threat that any confrontation, initiated by someone to antagonize one of the impacted men, was going to result in Kuhn's personal interest.
What Kuhn was saying was that every one of us who was planning on leaving the military at the end of our stay in Korea, just got sixty extra days tagged onto our tours. Here's the way my situation worked. I came in-country June 11, 1972, so I was due to leave on July 10, 1973, to go back to the World for reassignment. However, because my date of completion of service, was January 9th, 1974, that would have given me only six months left in the service when I arrived back in the World. That's a pretty short time to make it worth while relocating a solder, training him in his new job, for all of maybe twenty or so weeks. And any guy who is winding down his tour to within thirty or so days, is pretty worthless anyway.
So initially, if I had filed the paperwork to extend my tour from July to August, I could have exited the army, one hundred and fifty glorious days early. If I had filled out the paperwork. I just didn't figure I had to worry about it, working where I did. Who would ever have thought that the army would actually do something that made sense?
Now I had to stay until October, so that I was within ninety days to exit. Sixty additional days tacked onto my sentence for the crime of taking my position in the 199th for granted. Even the 199th could not overcome the power of the Army. It wasn't the extra sixty days that hurt; it was the fact that had I filled out the paperwork in a timely manner, I could still have gone home on the original plan. It was such a steep price to pay for such a small lapse.
He went on. "We've gotten through some rough times, and we'll make it through this." He was right on both counts, but being right did not take the wrong out of it. Everyone thought about the individual reverberations. There was the pending graduation, already planned for, that now would be viewed through photographs. There was the already accepted position back at the firm where one guy had done his internship, prior to being caught up in the draft. There was the due date of the birth of a child.
Someone simply said, "Why? I mean, why now?"
Kuhn snapped back, probably snippier-sounding than intended, "'Why’ doesn't mean squat to the army. Why now? Because someone got a burr up his backside, and actually made a decision. Again, I'm sorry. This is a tough one." Coming from any other lifer, the words would have sounded hollow, indeed. Coming from Kuhn, presuming as he did, that we would recognize the futility of raging, the words sounded sincere and heartfelt.
I had good company that night, as I stumbled back into the hooch; they staggered in from every direction. There was no ville-hopping, because that would have implied, and possibly created, festivity, and there was none to be had. There was no locker lift-off, because that always made us laugh, and there'd be no laughter tonight.
United as we were in the struggle against the daily grind, none of us was prepared to absorb this additional hit of emotional battery. The multiple levels of pain, heaped on top of fresh scar tissue, combined to plunge us into the depths of depression.
Reefer helped, as it helped everything, but as always, for the ultimate comfort drug, we sought out music. For once, our guitars took a back seat to the masters. We had an unlimited amount of music, and we played it on stereo equipment that was not only the highest quality available, with the close proximity to Japan, but very inexpensive, with no sales tax.
Quality of sound was not on our mind, however, as we chose carefully, the music that would console us. We went around the circle. Not all of us were uniformly impacted, because some were three-year guys, slated to return for reassignment stateside, but everyone grieved. We started with George Harrison. As much as most everyone appreciated the music of the original Beatles, we turned to the work of the individual artists for consolation.
“All Things Must Pass” stood out for its universal theme loving life, and living for love. Just now, it presented us with a gangplank to crawl out of the sea of momentary despair, and begin our slow ascent, back to at least the point of equilibrium we had earlier established, before this most recent blow.
“Beware of Darkness” warned us to "Watch out now, take care; beware the thoughts that linger, winding up inside your head—the hopelessness around you in the dead of night. Beware of sadness. It can hit you; it can hurt you." I wondered if George Harrison experienced waking up at night and crying, because it sounded as though he sang from experience.
Trying to minimize the hurt, led me to the song "All Things Must Pass,” so that when I pondered shedding my own tears in the darkness, I heard "...a cloudburst doesn't last all day...it's not always going to be this grey. All things must pass, all things must pass away...None of life's strings can last, so I must be on my way...and face another day."
Those words were supplemented by many more. In “Carry Me,” David Crosby and Graham Nash sang, "When I was a young man I found an old dream was as battered and worn a one as you have ever seen. But I made it some new wings and I painted the nose, and I wished so hard up in the air I rose, singing, 'Carry me, carry me, carry me above the world...'" The words tried to do what the reefer could only partly do tonight, carry us. We were starting to defrost.
Then we put on “Daniel”, ever the mood brightener, despite the sad parting being presented. To gain meant pain. We all knew that, when it came to forming friendships in the Machine. The time eventually arrived when all of the accumulated wealth of camaraderie and support, collided with the reality of separation.
I remember hearing Elton John's music, and thinking how different, and how frequently poignant it was. Not our usual fare, it became so, through Daniel, who was "traveling tonight on a plane, I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain..." That image of traveling via the red tail, always hung on a wall in a side gallery of our minds, and we incorporated it as part of our musical regimen.
Where did we want to go, besides home? I wanted to return to Big Sur. Like everything else, I had taken it for granted, until I could no longer partake at all. Then I turned to a most unlikely source. Not that the Beachboys, of all artists, didn't provide a nostalgic sound from California, but their new generation of music incorporated some of my most cherished dreams, those involving migration to Northern California.
They devoted almost an entire side of “Holland” to Big Sur, in a stirring tribute to a place so beautiful, it roused my spirits just contemplating being there. As I listen to the words again, it's hard to cull out those lines which most perfectly impart the emotion I would feel upon hearing the trilogy of the “California Saga.”
Beginning with “Big Sur,” we heard "Cashmere hills filled with evergreens, flowin' from clouds down to meet the sea, with a granite cliff as a referee...Under Big Sur skies and that's where I belong...Big Sur I've got plans for you. Me and mine are going to Add ourselves to your lengthy list of lovers, and live in canyons covered with a springtime of green..."
From “The Beaks of Eagles,” they sang, "From the eagle's beak, we know that nature's balance is undone. And it is the birthright of man, to unify and live his life as one. A whisper of the word will let you soar with your soul."
Finally, from “California,” "On my way to sunny California, On my way to spend another sunny day...Water, water, get yourself in the cool, clear water, The sun shines brightly down on Penny's place...Have you ever been south of Monterey? Barrancas carve the coast line and the chaparral flows to the sea...And have you ever been north of Morro Bay, the south coast plows the sea, and the people there are of the breed, they don't need electricity...in the open air, one big family, the people there love to sing and share their new found liberty."
These songs filled me with a sense of belonging to a part of the world, where conventional norms ceased to apply, and we developed a new set as we went along. How accurate this was going to be, I could not foresee, except to say, that our success encompasses three generations, spanning four decades.
As we started to emerge from the blackness late that night, we turned to Cat Stevens and jumped on board his “Peace Train.” "Now I've been crying lately, thinking about my world as it is. Why must we go on hating? Why can't we live in bliss? Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train...Oh peace train take this country, Come take me Home again..."
By this time we were beginning to get some feeling back into our souls; the numbness, the sense of frustration was starting to melt. There was never going to be an end to it, until we boarded that Red-Tail about which Elton sang so eloquently. Like any fresh wound, the initial shock and pain had begun to deaden, and we now looked for immediate medication to ease the throb.
We were already taking in music intravenously, so we now fortified our tenuous attempts to recover through the process of the "Illegal Smile." I have mentioned that Miller brought this album back from Japan on a recent three-day pass. We could get contemporary music in the PX, but we had deduced that there was only one shipment per month, and then only one of anything.
We could also buy new Korean-manufactured albums, but they were only good for one or maybe two playings at the most, before they started snapping and popping. The idea was to buy the album, record it on our good equipment during the first play-through, and then relegate the album to the hooch library. Tonight, as we listened to Prine, we listened to “Illegal Smile” as usual, and then we went on to listen to the entire album.
Earlier, when I was expressing my disdain for country music, I was thinking more of the "twang, twang, my baby, left me, I lost my job and my dog died" kind of country music. I also recognize and appreciate that there are some very moving country singers out there. I can't hear Patsy Kline's "Crazy" without acknowledging that there is very little I listen to that can match the soul and pathos of her words.
I love listening to The Marshall Tucker Band, though country rock is a shift in perspective. So John Prine, who is very much a crossover sound, lends impact to his music through his lyrics. His range of topics was so extensive, and the themes he chose to expound upon, so relevant, as to vault his music into the forefront of our attention. Every song struck personal notes with different members of the Fellowship.
Addis was from West Virginia, and he was awfully proud of his heritage and his community. He described to us a picture of a working class populace, with blue collar values, who toughed out an existence, originated by his great-grandfather and the others who had dug the original mine shafts. A few years ago, during a reunion of some of the Fellowship, Addis had taken his old friends around his hometown.
He had shown them the highways and byways of his neck of the woods, and he had been pleased to do it. It was as though he was saying that Cali had a lot going for it, and Colorado was truly majestic, but when it came to civic pride, we couldn't touch him. He'd listen to Mr. Peabody's Coal Train to hear Prine sing, "Let me take you back down to Muellenberg County, down by the old coal yard where Paradise lay. Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking, Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away." See, he didn't know where the Paradise that Prine sang about was located, but he knew about coal trains, and how they functioned in Gauley Valley, West Virginia.
As we listened to the music and thought about places we wanted to be, I guess we all came to the same conclusion. Two years was a long time but, at the end of two years, it would all be over. No matter how those two years played out, and an extra sixty days in Korea did seem long, there were still only twice times 365 days, and we were most of the way through that.