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Duck, Buckley

Los Angeles Times
"Duck Dynasty's" Phil Robertson makes a call.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – On March 20, 1974 – nearly 40 years ago – the UPI wire service featured a story, headlined “Sen. Buckley calls on Nixon to resign.”

At the time, conservative Republican U.S. Sen. James L. Buckley of New York - the older brother of conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr.- had recommended President Richard M. Nixon resign as soon as possible, or “the country will be in for a trauma the likes of which we haven’t seen.”

Buckley added that for Nixon to do so, would be “an extraordinary act of statesmanship and courage.”

Interestingly, in the article, three future presidents – Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the vice president, the governor of California and the Republican Party Chairman, respectively – were interviewed, saying that they disagreed with Buckley’s recommendation.

“I hope no American wants the president to resign for political expediency,” Ford said. “And I hope he won’t.” Ford would become president less than five months later, following Nixon’s August 9, 1974 resignation.

“Resignation to me is a non-answer,” Bush said. “I worry about the instability that resignation – without proof of guilt – brings to our system.”

And Reagan, patiently waiting in the wings for his “time,” stated that Nixon’s resignation would be “far more disruptive” to the country than the impeachment process.

Meanwhile, in California, rock-n-roll singer-songwriter Neil Young, hot off of his cathartic and dark Time Fades Away tour (which resulted in a hard-to-get-but-amazing-live-album-of-the-same-name) and the recording of the Tonight’s the Night album (to be released in 1975) was recording new material for an album that would be titled On the Beach, which would be released on July 16, 1974. On the album cover is a picture of Young standing on a beach with his back to the camera looking out to sea, perhaps for some “wooden ships, on the water”?

In the foreground are the tail fins of a cream-colored Cadillac and two chairs and a table with a garish, yellow umbrella. Under the table is newspaper. What is the headline? “Sen Buckley Calls For Nixon to Resign.”

We’ve all long-known that Young was no fan of Nixon, as he sang with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash on “Ohio” in 1970 (with current Ada, Okla. resident Johny Barbata on drums). And he later noted Nixon in “Campaigner” where he said “even Richard Nixon has got soul.” Hmm.

One of the most amazing tracks on On the Beach is “Revolution Blues,” an incredible song and one of my favorite songs in the vast Neil Young canon. And this, on one of Young's more surrealistic 70's albums.

It’s here where guitar-playing Canadian is joined by drummer Levon Helm and bassist Rick Danko, both of The Band, as well as his CSN&Y pal David Crosby on rhythm guitar. This song is very much of its time and the class-warfare-inspired lyrics are very spooky – the gun-totin’ country boys vs. the longhairs and elites.

Sings Young: “Well, I’m a barrel of laughs, with my carbine on, I keep ‘em hoppin’ till my ammunition’s gone / But I’m still not happy, I feel like there’s something wrong. I got the revolution blues, I see bloody fountains / And 10 million dune buggies comin’ down the mountains. Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon is full of famous stars, But I hate them worse than lepers and I’ll kill them in their cars.” 

Chilling stuff, particularly with the overt references (though unnamed) to the kidnapped Stockholm Syndrome revolutionary bank robber Patty Hearst (whose grandfather was the late publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the subject of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane) and to mass-murdering mastermind and cult leader Charles Manson (featured in Rolling Stone just a few weeks ago). The dune buggies, of course, were part of the “attack battalion” Manson allegedly had planned after a race war – the “Helter Skelter” scenario Manson envisioned. Clearly Manson had an impact on Young, following their initial encounter.

Of course Neil Young spent a lot of time in Laurel Canyon and many of his musician friends in bands like Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Doors, The Monkees, and Love all lived and hung out together in that exclusive enclave, as outspoken, avant-garde rock musician and anti-drug leader Frank Zappa watched over them all like a loving father, Mama Cass looking on. Look for more about that next spring in the new Dave McGowan book Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon. We've addressed this topic in 2008 and ever since.

Artistically speaking, it is interesting that Young seems to take the point-of-view of a deranged, revolutionary killer in “Revolution Blues.”

Syncing with Neil Young, of course, is the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd which would release the biggest song of their career – “Sweet Home Alabama,” released in late June of 1974, just as Neil-heads were trying to interpret songs like “Revolution Blues” and “Ambulance Blues.”

“Sweet Home Alabama” was an answer to two of Young’s songs – “Southern Man” and “Alabama,” which dealt with themes of racism and slavery in the American South.

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her / Well, I heard ole Neil put her down / Well, I hope Neil Young will remember / A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow.”

This single was released jut two-and-a-half weeks prior to the release of Young’s On the Beach

As Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant said at the time at their criticism of Young’s attack on the South: “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two.”

And in “Sweet Home Alabama” the band is believed to be embracing racist Alabama Gov. George Wallace (they are not) while adding that “Now Watergate does not bother me, does your conscience bother you, tell the truth.” And the rebel flag is furiously waved, while Duck Dynasty fans who are purchasing every piece of DD merchandise in sight come to the old man's defense. The class divide widens.

Yes, look no further than the current flap over the A&E program Duck Dynasty. The patriarch, Louisiana duck-call maker Phil Robertson, causes an uproar following a GQ magazine interview where he makes disparaging comments about gays, linking them to bestiality.  Robertson also suggests African-Americans were happier under Jim Crow when he was a young man. America. Love it or leave it. 

Late in life, prior to his death in 1998, Wallace, who sought support from working-class whites during his 1969, 1972 and 1976 presidential bids would renounce his earlier segregationist views, where he wanted to protect Alabama’s “Anglo-Saxon people” from “communistic amalgamation.”

It is interesting that on “Revolution Blues” – again, echoing a time 40 years ago! – that many of the things Young was singing about are being synchronistically repeated. And Young himself is back in the news, touring to support the Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation Legal Defence Fund.  He is criticizing fans for texting during his concerts or getting band from certain Canadian radio stations for saying that the tar sands near Fort McMurray, Alberta looks like the nuked remains of “Hiroshima.” Again, the nuclear apocalyptic imagery remains strong with this guy and syncs with our recent observations.

The Summer of ’69 “Helter Skelter” killings were reportedly inspired by Manson’s obsessive interpretation of songs on The Beatles’ White Album, released in late 1968. It was around this time, ’68 or so, when Young would pop into Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson’s house, as Young recounts in his bio Waging Heavy Peace.

Young said, “After a while, a guy showed up, picked up my guitar, and started playing a lot of songs on it. His name was Charlie. He was a friend of the girls and now of Dennis. His songs were off-the-cuff things he made up as he went along, and they were never the same twice in a row. Kind of like Dylan, but different because it was hard to glimpse a true message in them, but the songs were fascinating. He was quite good.”

So good that Young tried to get Manson a record deal at his label, Reprise. This was shortly before the Sharon Tate-LaBianca murders made Manson a household name and his career in rock music effectively ended.

And it was 30 years ago – 1983 – when Young purportedly dedicated “Revolution Blues” to Manson, the same year Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson mysteriously drowned.

A strong sync of late involves the actor Gene Hackman. And just as Nelson Mandela was linked to a bizarre “time-loop” death hoax prior to his actual, recent death, Hackman was linked to his own celebrity death hoax. Hackman is very much alive.

In that wild time leading up to Nixon’s resignation, and just a few weeks after Sen. Buckley suggested that Nixon step down, Francis Ford Coppola’s Academy Award-nominated film The Conversation, starring Hackman as a sax-playing, surveillance expert named Harry Caul, was released and had Hackman recording covertly recording conversations for clients. The crux of the film involves one of the recorded conversations.

Coppola would later be shocked when he learned that his film “utilized the very same surveillance and wire-tapping equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used to spy on political opponents prior to the Watergate scandal.”  Coppola said the script for the film was completed in the mid-1960’s, before Nixon rose to power, and the film was completed prior to the most revelatory Watergate stories came out in The Washington Post.

And today, four decades later, The Washington Post is reporting that President Obama (who has been repeatedly shown as morphing into “Richard M. Obama”) will have a “pretty definitive statement” on proposed NSA reforms in January. The widespread surveillance is far more expansive than it was in Nixon’s day.

Hackman long believed his role as Harry Caul, in The Conversation, a decidedly tragic character, was one of the best performances of his career. Three years after The Conversation appeared in theaters, Hackman would embrace the memorable role of criminal mastermind and super-villain Lex Luthor in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. His bizarre real-estate scheme involving the diversion of a nuclear missile to the San Andreas Fault in California and causing much of the state to fall into the sea was ultimately thwarted by Superman.

Syncing with that, for me, was that I recently referenced a dream I had early in the morning of March 11, 2011, at precisely the same time the tsunami struck the coast of Japan, subsequently destroying the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant – which continues to contribute to an ecological catastrophe to this very day. The connection? The apocalyptic horror as shown when Krypton is dying and about to explode and an infant Superman is launched into space towards Earth. That and 9/11-esque images were combining to sync with the earthquake/tsunami off the Japanese coast on 3/11/11.

And like Duck Dynasty’s swamp-dwelling, Bible-thumping, gay-hating Phil Robertson, Hackman’s patriarchal character in 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, by Wes Anderson – the urban throwback Royal Tenenbaum - repeatedly says rude, racist things but seems to mean well and want the best for his troubled family of geniuses. Sound familiar?

It is in that film, which I wrote about recently, where Chas Tenenbaum’s (Ben Stiller) son’s dog Buckley is killed by reckless driver and family friend Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). Poor Buckley didn't duck. The "Buckley" name has been a strong resonator for me.

And duck? Well, Duck Dynasty remains in the news. Ironically, noted a Cuban-American friend of mine, a word for "gay" in Spanish is pato, which translates as "duck." This, with a duck-obsessed conservative man whose phallic-looking merchandise, well, brings to mind other things. 

And Obama, surprisingly, did not comment on Duck Dynasty at yesterday’s press conference, although he had an opening there to echo Robertson by saying “sin is not logical.” This, after reporters remind Obama what a bad year he had as president, not unlike the comments reporters were making to Nixon 40 years earlier. One analyst is already suggesting that Obama may resign before the 2014 mid-term elections due to the debacle over the Affordable Care Act. Conservatives are gleeful at the thought. And the divide widens.

As Business Week notes: “Conservatives will see in A&E’s actions evidence of a double standard in the media by which TV executives vehemently support free speech, unless the controversial viewpoints happen to upset liberals. In the meantime, progressives will frame the suspension in terms of civil rights and being on the correct side of history. Through it all, TV executives will be caught in the middle, trying to muddle through a fervor that’s ultimately fueled by the same thing as their fat profit margins: the current ascendency of cable-TV programming in American life.

Can you imagine us getting this worked up about anything in literature? For better or worse, cable TV is one of the few cultural languages that most everyone in America currently speaks. As a result, cable now offers an unparalleled opportunity for people trying to influence the direction of American cultural norms—be it Sarah Palin, or GLAAD—to escalate singular instances involving cable-TV personalities into sweeping manifestos about proper civic behavior and what it means to be American.”

And as I read the Bertrand M. Patenaude book Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary, we learn about Stalin’s “Operation Utka” or “Operation Duck.” This was Stalin’s secret project, launched in 1939, to “liquidate Trotsky by any means necessary.” Trotsky would be assassinated in 1940 following a rather unpleasant encounter with an ice pick.

Noting Sen. Buckley's younger brother, William F. Buckley Jr., on a 1968 episode of Firing Line, he interviews Socialist Workers' Party presidential candidate Fred W. Halstead and vice-presidential candidate Paul Boutelle. The SWP was the main Trotskyist political party in the United States at that time. Our friend, and one of the subjects of this article, Richard M. Nixon, of course, would be elected president that year. 

Buckley, meanwhile, has a somewhat civil conversation with the two Trotskyists on the program that evening. Many former Trotskyists would morph into the neoconservatives of today.

"I suspect that even you would have a place in a socialist system," Halstead tells Buckley. In turn, Buckley quips, "I'm a very good typist, I'm sure you have a lot of forms."

Later, in a 1990 interview involving Buckley and Christopher Hitchens (a one-time Trotskyist), Hitch notes that white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants like the snobbish Buckley (obviously a WASP, but actually Roman Catholic) and Alabama's George Wallace (a WASP but not of the upper-class Buckley emerged from) are not all that different at a certain level. The issues of class, which are accepted more in England, was addressed by Hitchens. And with a clear divide in America, I suspect the issues of class are there but not addressed on quite the same level. 

There are certainly calls for A&E to eliminate Duck Dynasty from the airwaves. There are all sorts of ducky things happening out there and I think 2014 will be a very interesting year where the deep divide in America will be ever wider, particularly leading into the mid-term elections next autumn. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how these dramas play themselves out.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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