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.

3 comments:

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....

swac

Tom Sutpen said...

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