Saturday, July 5, 2008
Never the twain shall meet
Roy Blount, jr is funny in a deadpanned, droll, smart-assed educated redneck kind of way. He's become something of a celebrity in the PBS set because of his repeated appearance on the panel of the hilarious radio revue, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me.
I met Blount once in the billiards room of the Mark Twain House (a billiards room in which he remembers meeting Garrison Keillor) when I was helping to direct a video segment for a Twain House fundraiser. In fact, they were creating the video to help raise money for the visitors' center which is now the multi-million dollar anchor dragging them to the depths of bankruptcy ("Mark, twain," the depthfinders on river paddle boats called as the apocryphal story goes.) He was affable, direct and adamant about the need to preserve the Twain house as a reminder of the Twain legacy.
In a very enjoyable new essay in Time, Blount reflects upon Twain, his celebrity, his prescience, and the example he set for modern-day humorists and satirists.
He also talks about the financial troubles that the Twain house is having, similar, apparently to the troubles Twain himself had with the house when his million-dollar anchor was a proto-type (NPI) automatic typesetting machine.
Blount also quotes Twain, an always enjoyable pastime, from some of his lesser-known, and darker works, on war, religion and politics.
My favorite, and one I hadn't read before, is now a favorite. In defense of keeping "In God We Trust," on US coins, when Teddy Roosevelt wanted to protect God's name from being exchanged in questionable establishments, Twain wrote that the tribute to the creator was: "simple, direct, gracefully phrased; it always sounds well--In God We Trust. I don't believe it would sound any better if it were true."
BTW, I think a quick-fix answer to the troubles at the Twain house is a benefit concert by Bruce Springsteen (who has visited the Twain house more than once) and the E-Street Band at the (lord help us) XL Center, hosted by Garrison Keillor with a warm-up by the panel of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me. It may seem like a disconnect, and Twain might not enjoy Springsteen's earnestness, but he would be delighted with his politics. Jim Koplik, consider Huck Finn, would you?