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

March 31, 1878

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Jack Johnson, the first . . . possibly the greatest . . . African-American Heavyweight champion in the Professional Boxing racket, was born on this day in 1878, in Galveston, Texas. His extraordinary, prodigious achievements in the ring were matched only by his unapolgetic shenanigans outside of it for outraging White people, who spent the better part of his adult life seeking vengeance in the name of their own mediocrity.

Here are five images and one hideous postscript:

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Johnson and so-called 'Great White Hope' James J. Jeffries square off in Las Vegas on July 4, 1910; a bout that determined for White America who its Daddy was.
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A Sunday Supplement illustration of the Vegas bout.
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Two years to the day after winning the championship, when no one else would get in the ring with him, Johnson faced off with a middleweight, 'Fireman' Jim Flynn, again in Vegas; destroying him in a beating of such ferocity that the cops elected to intervene on behalf of the loser and stop the match.
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A year later, Johnson was indicted by a Grand Jury for violating a federal statute by having conjugal relations with his then-wife in a state not his own. The persecuted pugilist, upon his conviction, jumped bail and fled to Europe where his life slowly fell apart.
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In return for losing his title to Jess Willard in Havana in 1915, Jack Johnson was admitted back into the United States, where he resumed the status of a (ahem) free man. He died in 1946.
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Postscript: In one last kick in the groin, Jack Johnson's life was memorialized in a 2004 documentary by one of White mediocrity's key cultural figures, here pictured doing what he does best.

7 comments :

swac said...

Nice essay...which I had the Miles Davis record handy while I read this. And who knew that Ken Burns was a karate expert?

Brent McKee said...

There's an odd story that surfaces every decade or so concerning Jack Johnson. According to this story a group of wealthy business people in Saskatoon arranged a "secret" non-sanctioned heavyweight fight between Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey here in Saskatoon in the mid-1920s (around the time of the Tunney fight). According to the legend Dempsey beat Johnson - may even have knocked him out. As I say it pops up every decade or so when someone reads some old magazine which picked it up from the local Saskatoon paper.

Apparently what really happened was that the sports editor of one of what were then two local papers was a bit of a boxing nut and would occassionally write up fantasy fights for the paper, one of which was Johnson-Dempsey. Of course he never labelled them as fantasies so when some researcher years later was reading back issues, they might come upon the story of the Johnson Dempsey fight and label it as "real".

Tom Sutpen said...

Stephen wrote:

And who knew that Ken Burns was a karate expert?

*****
Oh, you might not think it to look at him, but I've heard tell that Ken Burns is one badass muthafuckah up there on the mean streets of Walpole, NH. Don't let that yuppie sociologist demeanor and Beatle haircut fool you; he's the Jerry Lee Lewis of cinema, and no mistake.

(just gearing up for this blog's April Fool's Day festivities, folks . . .

. . . yes, that's a not-so-subtle hint, Stephen)

Tom Sutpen said...

Stephen lamented:

Nice essay...wish I had the Miles Davis record handy while I read this

*****
That reminds me. Have you heard the 5-CD "Complete 'Jack Johnson' Sessions", Stephen? It takes a while getting used to hearing Miles go over the same passages again and again; looking for the anguish, so to speak. But I think it's the best of those multi-disc sets of his work out there.

Tom Sutpen said...

Brent wrote:

Of course he never labelled them as fantasies so when some researcher years later was reading back issues, they might come upon the story of the Johnson Dempsey fight and label it as "real".

*****
Such is the power of Wishful Thinking.

swac said...

I know of the Jack Johnson set...I don't know that I have the nerve to listen to it all though.

That Guy said...

And the Mann Act was created in hopes of containing him.
It was used against Chuck Berry when his career had hopes of crossing over....