Weekly Roundup: Midnight Rider Edition

Long live the terminological buccaneer! You probably didn’t notice at the time, but the middle of the Twentieth Century wasn’t just notable for some real humdinger-style global military conflicts both hot and cold; it was also the site of two pitched battles in the EXCITING WORLD OF LITERARY CRITICISM! I put that part in capital letters so it would seem more dramatic.

The first World War, if you will, was between the “Formalists” and the “New Critics”. The Formalists had ruled the roost for a long time, and they believed that you couldn’t understand a book (or poem, or any other “text”) without understanding the author. If you took a high school English class where you were lectured extensively on Herman Melville’s poverty or Toni Morrison’s infallibility, you were the (unwilling target) of watered-down Formalism. The New Critics, on the other hand, had the CRAY CRAY idea that everything you needed to understand a “text” was inside the text itself. They believed that the purest and most intelligent criticism came from treating the text like a found object, the same way we regard something like the Rosetta Stone or the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As an idea, New Criticism was long overdue — and as a way of wedging humanity out of Formalism, it was absolutely necessary. There was just one problem: no text is truly a “found object”. Imagine Aldous Huxley’s Brave New Word being read by someone who doesn’t know what a “flivver” is, or what the line “Ford’s in his flivver” is meant to reference. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that, because it’s happening right now in colleges across America. Our eighteen-year-olds are very skilled at Fortnite and they know the lyrics of Ariana Grande songs the same way people used to know the King James Bible, but they don’t read Robert Browning and they don’t know enough history to identify a “flivver”.

The New Critics would tell you that you can fully understand Brave New World without any of that information. This position was so obviously absurd that it eventually yielded, in a sort of Second World War, to Post-Structuralism, which is obsessed with context. A proper Post-Structuralist reading of Brave New World would require that you know everything that Huxley knew when he wrote the book. This, as you’d imagine, is not easy. In fact, it’s impossible. As a result, there was a long Cold War between the people who could not abide New Criticism or Post-Structuralism. The Cold War was resolved when a milder, more practical version of the Post-Structuralist philosophy was advanced by the eminent critical scholar Northrop Frye in the Sixties. Mr. Frye, who considered himself a “terminological buccaneer”, borrowed and stole liberally from the best aspects of New Criticism and Post-Structuralism to create a workable framework for literary criticism.

Frye shaped the course of “lit-crit” from 1960 to 2005 or so, at which point gender and race theories became all-powerful, effectively terminating our culture’s chances of obtaining any further understanding of literature on any basis that is not directly related to university-grade progressive dogma. Our schools are busy teaching themselves to forget proper criticism, which is why today’s readers are drowning in a tsunami of young-adult trash and third-tier feeling-junkies like Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman. We simply don’t know any better, and deliberately so.

Happily for Frye, he did not live to see this stupidity become canoncical. He died in 1991 with his position as the first man of literary criticism utterly secured, believing that he would continue to influence the way thoughtful men read books for decades to come. He may have even influenced you — Frye was often tapped to assemble anthologies of literature and/or criticism for undergraduate education. His influence on me was somewhat more direct. One of Frye’s most devoted students was a fellow named Edward Tomarken, who in turn became my faculty mentor and life-long friend some twenty-six years ago. “Eddie” and Frye maintained a personal correspondence until Frye’s death. I, in turn, continue to meet Eddie once a year or so either in Florida or at his home outside London. Which goes a long way toward explaining why I have a hyper-critical attitude towards automotive journalism; once you’ve learned to thoroughly disassemble a brilliant writer like Alexander Pope or William Makepeace Thackeray, reading the dreck in today’s car magazines is like sticking your hands elbow-deep into a construction-site latrine.

It might also explain why one of my son’s Christmas presents led to the two of us having an uncomfortable conversation about prison snitches.

If you follow my Instagram, you may know that I have been the guest of Taylor Guitars at a few recent music-industry shows, and that I’m currently playing the Taylor 614ce V-Class Builder’s Edition as my primary instrument. (The guitar can also be seen in my Mississippi Blues piece.) My conversion to the Gospel Of Bob Taylor is just about complete; in the past month I’ve sold all of my Martins, and I’ll be selling a couple of high-end Gibson acoustics, including a Ren-Ferguson-built Doves In Flight, at my local consignment shop next month. During the winter, I’ll continue to play my RainSongs, but if you see me playing unplugged any other time, I’ll be strumming a Taylor, guaranteed.

My son started playing the upright bass in his school orchestra a few months back, so I decided to call my pal Matt Emick at Sweetwater and buy the Taylor GS Mini Bass for him as a Christmas gift. Happily for me, John took to it like the proverbial duck to water. A few days, he asked if we could play some songs together, so I selected three simple tunes that wouldn’t wear out his hands or his patience.

We started with “Ragged Wood” by Fleet Foxes, which he liked but which is also a little boring for the bassist. Next was “Diane Young” by Vampire Weekend, which he liked enough to make his own copy of my sheet music together with his notes. Finally, we picked “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers. This one was by far his favorite, and after I put him to bed I could hear him singing it quietly to himself.

Yesterday we had a three-hour roundtrip to an indoor skatepark and we listened to a variety of “Midnight Rider” covers. His pick for second place behind the original: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, as seen in the video above. (The affiliation with the Revel Ultima system in the Lincoln MKZ turned out to be a happy coincidence.) He started asking me questions about the song: What is it really about? Why does he have one last silver dollar? Can you even buy anything with one dollar? and so on.

This was the perfect time for me to make a decision: Would we approach this like New Critics, using only the “text”, or would we discuss the history and context of the Allman Brothers, a topic which, as it happens, has been covered here before? Given three hours in which to chat, it didn’t surprise me that we eventually got around to that context: Duane Allman’s death, the uneasy status of the Allman Brothers as both cultural appropriators and superb innovators, and the fact that Gregg Allman is a snitch.

“Dad, what do you mean when you say he was a snitch?”

“Well, he testified against his drug dealer, and his drug dealer went to prison for 75 years.”

“Aren’t drug dealers bad people?”

“Well, yeah, but…” And all of a sudden I had to consider the wide gap between my own life and the life I want for my son. I grew up around people who considered “snitching” to be the worst thing a man could do. Regardless of the crime in question, and regardless of the consequences. I would no more snitch on someone than I would jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. Were my son in Gregg Allman’s position, however — facing serious time and potentially fatal consequences — I’d want him to snitch immediately. It should also be noted that “Scooter”, Gregg’s dealer, eventually had his 75-year sentence reduced to five years, and that he would later credit Allman’s snitching with saving his life. So I took a deep breath, and continued, “…You know what, drug dealers are bad people, and maybe Gregg was right to get his dealer in trouble. I don’t ever want you to get hurt, or bullied, because you refuse to tell a teacher or an adult about something bad that has happened. If you can’t find a teacher, or an actual adult, you can always tell me.”

“Okay, Dad.” He was clearly satisfied with the interaction, and I felt that I’d successfully defused yet another one of those land mines that lurks in any conversation with your own children. It would be smooth sailing from here to the skatepark. Until…

“Dad, why was the album called ‘Eat A Peach’ if Duane didn’t really get killed by a peach truck?”

“Well… Duane once said that he would eat a peach for peace.” And I snickered.

“Why is eating a peach funny?”

“Uh, because peaches are, ah, fuzzy, and, ah, it’s just funny to eat a peach instead of an apple.” Another land mine defused, albeit badly! I might have to run away from my son’s occasionally eerie perception, but I’m not gonna let ’em catch me, no — not gonna let them catch the terminological buccaneer!

* * *

Brother Bark reviewed all his rental cars at once.

For R&T, I praised a Lexus and offered some potential New Year’s Resolutions.

24 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: Midnight Rider Edition”

  1. AvatarPDQ

    I envy the relationship you have with your son. I never really had that with my father. He was a good man, a good provider and he and my mother were married for 40 years prior to her death. But he and I shared no real interests in common. He was a jock – I never had any interest (my sister was the jock). I liked cars – he had no interest. And on and on…… It was only when I went to work for him in my 20’s after college that we finally had something that I could do and gain his approval.

    I am digging Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings though! I read that she passed in 2016, right about the time she was nominated for a Grammy. Any albums that they did that you would recommend?

  2. Avatarsafe as milk

    At what age do children realize that their parents are lying when they tell them that it’s always better to tell the truth?

    Hey better “midnight rider” than “one way out.” Dreading the day my daughter asks about that…

  3. AvatarJohn C.

    Interesting the generation gap between the senior Mr. Baruth purchasing a mildly powered Camaro as part of his celebration of being back home and Mark’s opinion that the current Camaro isn’t a sensible purchase without a big engine. Mark, listen to your father, 80% or the experience for half the money is a great deal and the volume of the base makes possible the headline grabbing specials.

    • Avatar-Nate

      The reality John is that very few who purchase the big engine option, will ever make much use if it or even know how to unleash it’s potential .

      Just this morning I buzzed up the serpentine Pasadena Freeway @ 85 MPH in my 34 year old 460,000 + mile Mercedes, it didn’t break a sweat and had plenty of power left to apply .

      I often do this and almost always pass Porches, Camaros, Lancias and yes ever Lambos & Ferrari’s (this is the same freeway the rich folks use, understand) as the drivers simply don’t have the skillset necessary to do this .

      Mark, Jack and many others here would easily pass me in the inside smiling as they go ~ I make no claim to be a fast driver, my point is : some really do have good reason to want the faster option .


      • AvatarJohn C.

        Your 85 mile an hour drives speak well of the durability of the MB diesel. It must be fairly close to the redline at that speed. Mercedes was pretty bold to put their turbo diesels in the W123 coupes and even the S class sedan. Some of that was how bog slow their gas engines were once fitted out for emissions and diesel weren’t graded yet on CO2 or soot so were okay. My S class reference book claims the W116 300SD was faster than a federalized 280SE with of course the mileage and durability improvement.

        • Avatar-Nate

          No, not really ~it will go to 125 MPH and I’ve had it faster, IIRC when new the governor in the injection pump maxed out @ 83MPH . 5 cylinder 3.0 Liter turbo charged engine .

          I’ve peaked and tweaked it of course, not finished yet, no smoke (I _hate_ smoky old Diesels !) and passable fuel economy that’s all over the map depending on how much I run the AC anf flat foot it when the freeway/highway is empty….

          Usually 21 ~ 26 MPG’s I got one tank of 29 MPG in Nevada a couple years ago and two of three tanks @ 26 ~ 27 in 2018 .

          The better German cars used to be designed and built to run as fast as they’d go, all day, all night, with no damage done .

          Folks who don’t know cars are always telling me how neat it is, I’m very sure that the serious GearHeads here would fall out laughing to look at it .

          It’s _quick_ not fast and there’s a world of difference .

          I also have a 1982 240D, it’s not quite bog slow but it’s not quick nor fast and it’s top speed of 83 MPH is working the engine pretty hard so I don’t do that .


    • AvatarCJinSD

      The problem with the Camaro is that the 80% of the experience that isn’t about the engine is about awful ergonomics, awful visibility, and lousy practicality. It’s like a relationship with a women’s studies major without the sex.

      • Avatar-Nate

        CJ ;

        This may have to do with age ~ in the 1960’s when I was a young man, Cmaros seemed foolish to me for the reasons you mention .

        Now that I’m a Geezer I think a pre 1971 with AC & slush box would prolly be nice, depending on how much the seats beat my back up ~ I usually have to have the seats modified to reduce the pain .

        Now, I think early Camaros are cute little pony cars .


  4. Avatarhank chinaski

    /Homer Simpson drool…..’hmmmmmm, peaches’.
    I recently happened to catch the old-ish flick ‘Rush’ and surprise, surprise, there was Greg Allman as the coke kingpin.

    Speaking of defusing landmines, I highly recommend ‘Land of Mine’. Teenagers defuse land mines in Post War Denmark. Bring a tissue.

  5. Avatarstingray65

    The difference between a 1969 Camaro purchase and a modern Hellcat or Lexus purchase it the much greater wealth of today, and the much lower survival rate of yesteryear. Not many could afford to purchase a 1969 Z-28 or SS-396 Camaro as a “weekend” car, so they got driven as everyday drivers and rusted out after 5-10 years in northern climes, and/or were blowing blue smoke and in need of expensive rebuilds, and 8-12 mpg wasn’t too attractive during the 1973-4 or 1979-80 fuel crises. I was in high school in the late 70s, and such cars were very affordable and very clapped out by that time, and were heading to the scrap yards on a daily basis. Today a lot more people can afford a “weekend” or “future collector” car and only drive it occasionally to keep the mileage down, even though today’s high performance cars have galvanized/aluminum bodies that don’t rust and much more durable engines that can go 150-250,000 miles without needing a rebuild. So in 2048 I suspect there will be lots of Hellcats and GT350s, etc. being hauled out of garages in pristine condition with 25,000 miles or less, but I wonder if parts will still be available and if anyone will want to get out of their self-driving pods to actually buy one. We will soon be one year closer to finding out – Happy New Year everyone.

    • AvatarCJinSD

      I’m pretty sure the reason our generation was taught not to snitch was because keeping your mouth shut can be an essential survival skill when the time comes. Are the consequences of snitching no longer perilous?

      • AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

        I believe it depends on the company you keep. In one of the circles I travel, it’s considered a top level offense punishable by excommunication, or worse.

        • AvatarJay

          For me snitching is not a black or white subject. It’s important to weigh the consequences. Does being loyal to your drug dealer/friends/classmates/coworkers mean more to you than the consequences you’d face from the authorities? What about the consequences you’d face from those friends? There are people in my life that I would never ‘tell’ on, and those who would immediately get thrown under a bus if it seemed I had something to gain. In hindsight, Gregg made the right choice but it sure sounds like it was a hard decision at the time:
          Snitching on a 6’7″ tall guy who had ties to the “Dixie” mob and was known to order executions? No thanks.

  6. Avatarbullnuke

    I became a convert to Taylor guitars many years ago. A bit pricey at the time (I still had five of six rugrats floating around the house) but I’d sneak down to Absolute Music in Fairborn and goof around with the wall-hanging stock. Finally pulled the trigger around 10 years ago – purchased a 555 12-string and a 614-CE. I’ve always believed the action and sound of Taylor’s to be superior to any Martin I’ve played. My youngest daughter (the blue’s guitarist) inherited my old Gibson B-12 that I played from ’65 to around 2007. It was the guitar that inspired her to play.

  7. AvatarDisinterested-Observer

    I think “snitching” would require that both the person ratting and the person being ratted on were equally culpable, facing similar consequences, and that the victim was not actively plotting against the snitcher. For example, even though he was a stupid and altogether repugnant person, the fact is that if Henry Hill had not gone into the witness protection program James Burke would have murdered him anyway.

  8. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    Jack, with you being the big Zeppelin fan, I’m surprised he hasn’t asked you what a backdoor man is.

    When my son, my only son, Moshe, whom I love, was four years old we were riding in the car with a Peter Himmelman CD on. There’s a line in Beneath The Damage And The Dust, which I believe is about the protagonist wanting to help a damaged woman, that goes, “And they say, she’s as dangerous as a child that can inspire lust.”

    From the back seat comes, “Abba, what’s lust?”

  9. AvatarMgobrew

    Question for Bark: how do you manage your time away from home, esp on special occasions etc, with your marriage and your children?

    We spent a significant time overseas growing up, on numerous foreign assignments, and additionally my father spent significant time away from home, averaging a few months a year at least, but home on weekends — or Sunday’s at the least, but my mother and family had a very Asian attitude to it, to say the least — he who provides for the family, shall be appreciated for doing so, he works very hard and we should appreciate it,

    Few years into current, potentially forever, relationship, and when broaching the topic with my very American (Caucasian) GF, the idea is wholly unacceptable and unmanageable to her — although likely to be a very real potential possibility for my future in my career.

    • AvatarBark M

      I try to focus on quality, not quantity. I coach my son’s soccer team, I take my daughter roller skating, I try to be as involved as possible even when I’m not there. I don’t miss the “non-negotiable” days. I never miss games or recitals. I’m fortunate that I write my own travel schedule, so I have that flexibility.

      • Avatar-Nate

        ” I never miss games or recitals. I’m fortunate that I write my own travel schedule, so I have that flexibility.”

        Indeed .

        When my son was very young I worked swing shift for a couple years and missed too many if his grade school events…..

        Not many dads came to those but I felt it important to try and make as many as I could .

        You will be well rewarded for making this happen when your kids are grown and not insecure in their place in the world .


  10. Avatarsgeffe

    Good God, I haven’t heard of a literary work referred to as a “text” since college English classes!

    The class was called “Literature of Laughter,” but it wasn’t anything to laugh about! Basically, Shakespearean stuff, and how they could be called comedies. “She Stoops To Conquer,” IIRC, was one of the works.

    The instructor, however, was likely Black Panther material, through and through. Probably the closest I came to a progressive indoctrinaire during my college career back in the late ‘80s-early ‘90s, and which is probably the rule rather than the exception on today’s college campuses.


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