The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

A Tricky Explanation

Someone asked me, when I started putting up all those photos of Richard Nixon, exactly why I was doing it. It's a good question; an altogether fair one.

Richard Nixon has fascinated me no end for most of my life. He was the first U.S. President I was aware of and I still remember watching his administration fall apart. I didn't understand most of it at the time, but I was fixated on it anyway . . . I might have been the only 7 year old in America who made a beeline to watch the Watergate hearings when I got home from school . . . and since the whole final act, The Resignation, took place in August when I wasn't in school, I forsook my outdoor activities for the duration to watch the coverage; going from channel to channel, just to see what everyone was saying. I remember that rambling, demented farewell address Nixon gave the day of his resignation and even I could tell he was losing it on national television, but I knew something else: I didn't want it to end (turns out there wasn't a journalist or political junkie on the planet who didn't feel the same). The whole climactic second term of Nixon's presidency was to me an involving drama that I couldn't get enough of despite the fact that so much of it was beyond my grasp.

Nixon, consequently, became an all-absorbing figure to me. I was a dyed-in-the-wool Nixon buff by the time I was in my 20s and wound up reading at least two dozen books (certainly more) on his life. I loved (and still do) such Nixon-centered films as Emile deAntonio's "Millhouse: A White Comedy" (1971; which earned deAntonio a spot on Nixon's Enemies list) and especially Robert Altman's "Secret Honor" (1984) with Philip Baker Hall in a breathtaking performance as the 37th predident. I felt it was so close to the real thing . . . the real Nixon, alone in his study in the wee hours, boozing, praying, raging, pleading, crying, bellowing, reminiscing, dancing, playing that piano, talking to the pictures on the wall . . . that its being nominally a work of fiction didn't make a difference to me. Hall's was the Nixon I imagined from the time I was a child (I didn't have the same regard for Oliver Stone's 1995 fever-dream of a biopic; not only was it inaccurate bordering on Science Fiction, but Stone betrayed a hideously misguided sympathy for the man as well); in some sense the Nixon of my dreams.

I think for people like me who've had a keen interest in Richard Nixon, even now, more than a decade after his death, his endlessly involving, duplicitous, insincere, mendacious, insecure, damaged, devious character gave him the attributes of a protagonist in a drama . . . something I probably sensed all those years ago . . . more than any President in recent memory he was interesting to watch, listen to, read and speculate about (in contrast, whenever I see George W. Bush these days, all I want to do is change the channel and hope I never see him again).

So the "Tricky: Scenes from a Life" series is my contribution the chronicle of his life; no corner of which fails to yield some fascinating nugget. It's my tribute to Nixon's dramatic legacy.


Anonymous said...

I know exactly how you feel about Nixon, I was pretty much the same way at a similar age (I was born in '67), curious about this thing called "Watergate"--I thought it was some sort of dam--and wondering what this guy had done to get into such a heap o' trouble.

Heck, it wasn't even my country, but even as a Canadian I knew this was a pretty big deal. I also wondered why we had a Prime Minister who could even be called "cool" (when was the last time you heard a world leader called that?) while in the U.S. here was this guy who looked like a bassett hound scrambling to hold on to his power and dignity.

It was probably also my first major lesson in questioning authority, something we could use a lot more of these days. Small wonder that five years later I'd discover punk rock (and not long after that, my first viewing of Alphaville).

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I forgot to add....


Tom Sutpen said...

Ah, I knew it was you the whole time, Stephen.