I have often thought that if everyone could attend a Neville Brothers show, there would be world peace. Sadly, the group no longer performs. Charles Neville, the Brothers’ spiritual leader, died of cancer in April 2018. Aaron Neville, perhaps the most well-known brother because of his successful solo career and eclectic collaborations with other artists, appeared in Portland billed as the “Aaron Neville Duo,” the other half of the duo being keyboardist Michael Goods. They performed a low-key set of songs, reaching back in time to Nat King Cole, The Drifters, Billy Joel and even the Mickey Mouse Club theme, and including the smash hit “Tell It Like It Is.” (Notably missing was “Over You,” Aaron Neville’s first charting song. Penned by Allen Toussaint, it was a modest hit in 1960, but contains lyrics not likely to be sung in public in the twenty-first century.) A highlight of the evening was “Save the Last Dance for Me,” a number-one hit for The Drifters.
The accolades to Aretha Franklin in numerous obituaries and tributes made note of her early years singing in her father’s church. Ms. Franklin was possibly the most famous of many popular artists who learned their craft in church: Little Richard, The Staple Singers, Sam Cooke and hundreds – literally, hundreds – more. The conflict between the sacred and the secular, has been an undercurrent of many careers. Performers whose formative years were rooted in the black church carried the craft learned there to a wider audience but with a twinge of guilt for taking god’s music and making it profane.
Unfortunately, much of this roots music is lost forever, recorded on vinyl and tape and never digitized.
Even if you weren’t around at the time, you probably know about the Vietnam War, or think you do. The secret war in Laos is remembered not so much. To counter North Vietnamese soldiers who had slipped across the border, the C.I.A. oversaw a fifteen-year covert war in Laos. (“Covert” meaning to keep news of it away from Americans who were already fed up with the Vietnam War.) U.S. aircraft dropped more bombs on Laos than they did on Japan in WWII.
The C.I.A. recruited thousands of Hmongs to fight on the ground against the communist forces so Americans wouldn’t have to. The Hmong ethnic group had a historically contentious relationship with the Laotian rulers. An estimated 100,000 Hmongs died – compared to 58,000 U.S. deaths in Vietnam. The C.I.A.’s official version makes only a single incidental mention of ethnic-Hmong participation. The U.S. left Laos and Vietnam in 1975, the communists took control and 250,000 Hmong refugees fled to Thailand. You would expect a grateful U.S. to welcome them into our country. Of course you would be wrong.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is home to a Hmong population of 40,000; nearly 25,000 reside in the Fresno area of California’s Central Valley. The current administration in Washington D.C. thinks that’s too many. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (U.S.C.I.S.) has begun efforts to denaturalize and deport naturalized citizens. The Laos government still holds a fifty-year grudge. Deporting a Hmong person to Laos puts that person into mortal danger. That would include the children and relatives of Hmong guerrillas who were recruited by the C.I.A. and fought on the U.S. side. As translators and interpreters in Iraq and the Middle East are learning, loyalty to the U.S. is a one-way path.
With all the news about #MeToo and Mr. Weinstein and a certain pussy grabber, let’s return to Depression-era Seattle. Drastic funding cuts to the Seattle Public Library in 1932 resulted in fewer hours and services and pay cuts for employees. Staff was also reduced. The Library Board of Trustees came up with an equitable way to implement employee terminations:
It shall be the policy of the Seattle Library Board not to employ a married woman whose husband is able to provide her a living. Any library employee marrying a husband able to provide a reasonable income will be required to tender her resignation.
Ten years later, World War II caused the Board to loosen its restrictions and allow the hiring of a married woman… if her husband was serving in the military.
With the exception of two school years (Spokane) and one summer (Burns) spent in the Far West (“Settlement largely controlled by corporations or government via deployment of railroads, dams, irrigation mines; exploited as an internal colony, to the lasting resentment of its people.”), I have lived my entire life – Eugene, Portland, Eugene again, Seattle, Arch Cape, back to Portland, Santa Rosa, and again Portland – on the Left Coast. (“New Englanders [by ship] and farmers and fur traders from Appalachian Midwest [by wagon]. Yankee utopianism meets individual self-expression and exploration.”)
The town of Yountville lays in the famous Napa Valley wine-producing region, halfway between St. Helena and the city of Napa. It’s home to many upscale eating places, including uber-celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s uber-expensive French Laundry, where the price of a meal is north of $300. (Don’t worry, you can’t get a reservation anyway.) Common folks still miss The Diner, a breakfast-lunch-dinner place with service at the counter or in booths. (The only place I’ve eaten – or even seen on a menu – spicy tapioca pudding.) The Diner closed in the early 2000s; another of Keller’s restaurants now occupies the building. Long before Yountville became a destination for disposing of disposable income, it was known for its Veterans Home.