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Brothers Russell, Ron, Ron, and Russell Mael of Sparks, in March 1975 and in 2020.

The Carpenters were a ’70s band, not Sparks.

Sometimes the news doesn’t always get things right—whether its today’s headlines, or something from the world of entertainment or sports. Of course, depending on which network one frequents will determine the quantity of inaccuracies and the degree of any particular one. (And, I’ll leave it at that.)

 

For the most part, I find NPR to be as dependable as any news network— hiring not just any journalist, but those with experience, specialization, and plenty of recognition from their professional peers. But, even with those kind of chops, they can fall short from time to time.

 

On July 6, I was listening to All Things Considered (ATC), and the Paris correspondent for NPR, Eleanor Beardsley, was reporting on the opening of the 74th Annual Cannes Film Festival. In her initial/overall report, she pointed out that the opening night film was Annette,a highly anticipated musical by filmmaker Leos Carax, or as some have described it—a modern-day opera. It stars the acclaimed French actress Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver as lovers, with music by the 1970s band, Sparks.”

 

Here’s a link to the story…

The part about Sparks caught my attention as I had just seen the Edgar Wright documentary, The Sparks Brothers.

 

“A ’70s band,” I thought to myself? Well, if they are a ’70s band, then the Rolling Stones and the Beatles are both ’60s bands, but I’ve never heard anyone refer to a band by a particular decade if their work covered multiple decades. And in the case of Sparks, their 25-album discography covers five decades.

 

Soon, I found myself on the NPR “report a correction” web page pointing out this poor generalization of a band that I’ve known since 1975. I briefly stated my argument (listed above) and concluded with, “The Carpenters were a ’70s band, not Sparks.”

 

I had no expectations on a reply except the type that says something like, “This is an automated response confirming that your message has been received by the NPR staff who research corrections,” which I did receive.

 

However the following day, I received an email from Eleanor Beardsley herself—I was almost afraid to open it thinking she was going to blast me and point out how Sparks was indeed a ’70s band.

 

Much to my delight, here is what she had to say:

 

Morgan Tyree,

I got your message about Sparks. Good to know. I’m sorry I didn’t know them. But I’m going to be doing a story about the movie so I will be able to speak more intelligently about the group in the second piece. How would you describe the band, what is the band’s pull, Who follows them? etc.

Thanks!

Eleanor

Eleanor Beardsley, Paris correspondent

 

I replied with a short response saying she would do well to simply watch the trailer for the Edgar Wright documentary. I also included the following:

 

For the most part, they have been on the periphery of the rock ’n’ roll radar, but steadily cranking out a very prolific (and influential) discography since the early ’70s. They don’t dislike commercial success and would certainly welcome it, but that is not what drives them in all of these years—definitely marching to the beat of their own drum (and their art). They did what Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) did before she did it—started in the States (Los Angeles in the case of Sparks), and moved to England where they had their initial success and notoriety with the album Kimono My House.

 

Beardsley responded almost immediately thanking me and asking if I had plans to see Annette.

 

Yet, another example of good journalism practiced at NPR—admitting they didn’t get it quite right and asking for advice in doing so.

 

Photos by: Michael Putland (1975 Sparks) and Anna Webber (2020 Sparks)

A Confirmation of Coolness… Finally

Russell and Ron Mael by Gems/Redferns

While I was laying half asleep the other day, I heard the NPR Morning Edition announcer going through the usual list of sponsors for their show—watered down advertisements that bypass the hype of a product, but simply say who they are.

In that cloudy region of my head I remember hearing something about a new movie/documentary titled the “Sparks Brothers.” Unlike most times, I hear something like this and forget about it, but given the title of the movie, I made a mental note right there in my state of near-awareness to google it when I was more coherent. 

As I was making that note, I thought of the band that I came to know way back in the 9th grade—Sparks—and wondered if this movie was about that same band. Although they weren’t called The Sparks Brothers, two brothers formed the band—Russell and Ron Mael—and it was called Sparks.

As it turned out and much to my delight, the movie is indeed about the band from my youth, Sparks, and the two brothers who created it—Russell and Ron Mael.

Before going any further, I must confess that I was never a huge Sparks fan—a fan for sure nonetheless. I did purchase several of their early albums including “Propaganda,” the album that contained the first Sparks songs I heard.

An acquaintance with Sparks…
While attending Schrop Junior High School in the spring semester of 1975, Tim Kittinger and Terry Verble performed a lip-synch video in our 9th-grade English class of the Sparks song “Achoo.” This little in-class video was shot, recorded and played back in class. Beyond the quirkiness of the actual song, Terry Verble played the no-nonsense Ron Mael on the keyboards providing the lion’s share of the visual spectacle it was. Not long after that, I was chasing down the album for my own listening at home.

On a historical side note, I don’t recall a conversation in class about the video recording technology we used that day, but this must have been something very new for the time as VHS wasn’t out yet and Beta tapes had just been released. I’m guessing this was done on a Beta system the school had just purchased. Whatever the case, I recall watching the recording on a normal television after the production, not a reel-to-reel film that had to be processed.

At that time, I didn’t know how obscure Sparks was (or would continue to be), I just took it for granted that I was a little out of touch, and besides, Kittinger and Verble were way cooler than myself. Yet, looking back now, I wonder how my two classmates came to know of Sparks themselves, especially since few people in my circles knew of Sparks whether it was in high school, college, or any time beyond.

Given the suburbia status of Springfield Township just beyond the city limits of Akron, Ohio, it is still somewhat puzzling that there were so many eclectic students in my class (and surrounding classes) with a knack of discovering various non-mainstream acts like Sparks, or The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Todd Rundgren, and some of the local upstarts in The James Gang and The Michael Stanley Band. Although I really didn’t possess the same creative skills or smarts to be one of these students, I enjoyed their company, their keen wit and drew on their energy for those things beyond what were known and well established.

So, energized by this new movie release, I looked into how a few of us could have come to know about Sparks—way back in pre-internet, pre-MTV 1975.

Just who are Sparks?
Sparks (brothers Russell and Ron Mael) originated in Southern California, and like Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, they made their mark in the U.K. first—only before the Pretenders came along. It was after their success in the U.K. that Sparks experienced some popularity in the States, but it was somewhat limited to certain areas of the country—San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Cleveland.

Now the “How-We-Came-To-Know-Sparks Origin Story” was starting to make sense.

In particular, Cleveland’s WMMS jockey Kid Leo and his colleagues were playing Sparks, while the influential radio station sponsored a Sparks concert at the Akron Civic Theater on April 17, 1975 and a follow up show the next day at the Cleveland Music Hall. It’s very possible that my old junior high classmates had actually attended the performance at the nearby Civic Theater. And, given this was a time before MTV and music videos, attending the Civic Theater performance might explain how Verble knew how to mimic Ron Mael on the keyboards.

Passing it on.
It wasn’t long after the purchase of my first Sparks album that my best friend, Steve, who attended one of the Akron High Schools, also came to know of Sparks through me. In return, he would introduce me to other music that I adopted to my music collection starting with Jim Croce, Queen, Tom Waits, Jimmy Buffett and John Prine.

This started me thinking about how I came to know the various musicians and bands in my current music library—especially the ones that share a sense of obscurity with Sparks.

Seniors Mike Walent and Richard Sapronetti would have our art teacher, Mr. Bako, play The Sensational Alex Harvey band during my sophomore year with “Midnight Moses” becoming one of my favorite guitar riffs of all time.

The WMMS jockeys adopted and delivered Springsteen to Northeast Ohio before he was huge, Michael Stanley as he was gaining traction in Northeast Ohio and even the obscure live recording “Friday On My Mind” by a band from San Francisco appropriately called Earth Quake. This song was engrained in all of us as one of three songs played every Friday at 6.00 pm to mark the beginning of the weekend. The other two songs that kicked off the weekend were Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” and Ian Hunter’s “Cleveland Rocks.” (For those familiar with the WMMS Weekend Salute: Don’t think for one moment that I’ve forgotten Murray Saul. That’s a post of its own for another time.)

More recently, thanks to Wyoming Public Radio, I’ve come to know the music of Cincinnati-based singer and songwriter, Kim Taylor and Chicago/L.A.-based Gold Motel. Finally, during a field trip to Portland, a student of mine arranged for us to see Todrick Hall, while an episode of Letterkenny had my partner and I looking up Canadian artist Peaches and downloading some of her more-than-suggestive music.

Looking back, much of the more obscure music I’ve come to know over the years, seems to have come to me by way of these whimsical, short, odd (and yes, even obscure) moments in life where I happened to be in the right places at the right times. And, after watching this movie, I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing more of Sparks without the worry of explaining the music to anyone who comes along and says, “What/Who the hell is that?”

See the official Sparks Brothers trailer HERE.

Clichés, Hysteria, Ridicule… and Football

Recently, I wrote the following to the Powell Tribune regarding their lack of coverage (as I see it) in some of the outlying communities.

Dear Editor:
If the Powell Tribune can run a front page story about the monastery’s green light in Meeteetse, why can’t we get a little coverage on the same community’s athletics—even if it’s only the scores?

On a related note, the Tribune had a photographer covering the homecoming parade in Cowley for Rocky Mountain High School and not a word (or image) that the game played that evening was the first home game at their new field. What a missed opportunity that was. I wonder how many of your readers would rather have learned about the new venue and game outcome in Cowley as opposed to the ridiculously overworked piece on the various 3A playoff scenarios—all for a 4-3 football team that will likely be one-and-done in whatever playoffs setting that finds them.
—Morgan Tyree

The 4-3 football team I referenced above was our own local Powell High School football team. In the next issue of the Tribune, the following letter was printed from Powell High School’s head football coach Jim Stringer.

Life’s Lessons (the headline given to the letter)

Dear Editor:
My grandfather was a wise man, and he taught me many great lessons in life. Don’t get me wrong, Grandpa wasn’t a well-educated man in the image of great intellectual philosophers, problem solving rocket scientists or small college assistant professors of graphics arts/printing, however, he knew people and he knew dignity and he knew how to use one to treat the other.

As I learned the value of honest hard work living on my grandparent’s farm during the summer months of my elementary years, Grandpa also taught me important lessons in respect, appropriate social behavior and interpersonal communications. Many of the lessons continue to transcend time as sage clichés recognized and understood by most, such as: “Treat others as you would have them treat you.”

Or… “Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.”

And one of my personal favorites… “It is better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

Now, my grandfather knew that the latter was not always possible, so he would sometimes follow it up with the age-old classic, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

While this concept seems to be less and less popular in today’s society of reality TV drama, social entitlement and malicious free speech, it would be nice if an educated fool could ponder the impact of his words on many innocent young men of our community. Mr. Tyree, I have no knowledge of personal wrong doing or atrocities committed on you by members of the Powell High School football program so the motivation behind your deliberate and unprovoked attacks over the years completely baffle me.

Maybe it is because of another lesson I learned from my dear departed grandfather, “Misery loves company.” Mr. Tyree, you must be one of the most miserable individuals around to feel the need to ridicule young men for wanting to be a part of something wholesome and greater than themselves. Professionally, I find it reprehensible that another educator would deliberately and publicly insult the community’s youth and seek to demean their efforts and goals. It is unspeakable and inexcusable, and as a father of a young football player and proud member of our school community, I find your remarks tawdry and offensive.

Considering the number of young men and families you have malevolently insulted within our community, I only hope they will be able to subscribe to another of Grandpa’s wise old sayings, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” —Alexander Pope
Sincerely,
Jim Stringer
Powell, Wyo.

Here’s my response to the esteemed coach.

Dear Editor,
“It appears my hypocrisy knows no bounds.”
—Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in the movie Tombstone.

After reciting a litany of worn-out sayings that he subscribes to such as, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” Powell head football coach, Jim Stringer then turns around and in the same breath, refers to me as an “educated fool,” and “one of the most miserable individuals around.”

Golly Coach, that doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to say. What’s that your grandpa said again?

And all that for simply saying your football team is 4-3 and “will likely be one-and-done in whatever playoffs setting that finds them.” I actually thought my criticism leveled toward the Tribune was more severe.

I strongly disagree that my brief comment about the local football team was an attack on the community’s youth or families. I am not one to pull punches, and had I intended to insult, it would not have required a long-winded, sanctimonious analysis by Stringer to point it out.

Stringer’s use of the word “ridicule” jumped out at me beyond his “lessons with Grandpa” that he learned long ago. I looked up the word “ridicule” right after reading Stringer’s letter because (as an “educated fool”) I wanted to be sure I really knew and understood its meaning—especially since I was being accused of it.

Ridicule: the subjection of someone or something to mockery and derision. Since when was referring to a team by its win and loss record and predicting they will only last one game in the playoffs a form of mocking… how is it derisive/harsh? How is it so unreasonable as it is realistic? How does a football coach allow such a minor-league quip from a wimpy, 50-year-old rile him?

The truth be told, after spewing such hysterical drivel, I only wish to ridicule Stringer for coming up with such a poor and exaggerated interpretation of anything I’ve actually said about the Powell football program. Might his response be an illustration of the overly-sensitive climate that has gripped our country in the past decade, thus spurring the “Sanity Rally” this past week in Washington, D.C.? Of all the comical signs that were toted around, one in particular seems appropriate for Stringer to heed: “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”

Ironically, I can’t help but think that our model-of-toughness in Coach Stringer is rather thin skinned—and worse, suggests that his players (i.e., “innocent young men”) are the same. My guess here is that his football players who read my comments have easily recovered from the “ridicule” without counseling. Surely the trash talk they hear from their opponents on the other side of the ball during any given contest will render my words fairly inert in comparison. If not, perhaps football isn’t their game.

From my perspective, Coach Stringer blew a perfect opportunity in the handling of an unintelligent remark from an armchair quarterback (that would be me). Rather than responding with a personal attack on the commentator, Stringer could simply have addressed his team sometime before the big playoff game with, “OK boys, let’s show that lamebrain Morgan Tyree how stupid he is when it comes to Powell football!”

And had they actually won their first-round playoff game, perhaps a sharp rebuke could have followed in the next edition of the Tribune from the team captain that said, “Powell 28, Riverton 14. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it Morgan Tyree.” Rather, the seasoned head football coach responded like a spoiled little girl who was knocked down in a mud puddle.

I admit to being blunt and not having the most tact, but in a world full of Pollyannas (i.e., see Stringer’s worn-out and trite clichés), the last thing I want to be is another person who sugar-coats mediocrity in all of its forms—football included.

Perhaps my upbringing in Northeast Ohio (the cradle of professional football by the way) explains my crude perspective on football (or sports)—so, again, my apologies. Fans of the Cleveland Browns, Ohio State Buckeyes or the Massillon Tigers have never hesitated to praise or take jabs at their favorite team.

Be assured, the Powell football team or its coaching staff have never brought “personal wrong doing or atrocities” upon me as Stringer ponders. However, given that the coach considers comments I’ve made over the years related to the Powell football team as “deliberate and unprovoked attacks,” that could explain his attacks on my character.

Nevertheless, I am only a critic and the last I heard, that was permissible, even if considered “tasteless” or not popular. I do not speak as an educator (again, something pointed out by Coach Stringer) when it comes to football as I am not an authority—merely a fan of the game… with an opinion. Therefore, I seek no forgiveness in expressing such opinions as Stringer has subtly suggested. Nor does he need to seek forgiveness from me for the personal comments he’s directed at my character. It’s all good.

Lastly… I like Lovell’s chances.

—Morgan Tyree Touted keeper of “vitriolic negativity”

The Gas Pump Blues

When I was growing up, one of the things my father instilled in me was how dangerous it is to play with matches and, worse yet, the dangers of including gasoline in such frivolity. Everyone gets that lecture. And rightly so, as anyone who has ever worked with gasoline can attest to this everyday fuel’s extreme volatility.

Naturally, this is the rationale for the warning signs posted at gas pumping facilities stating it is forbidden to smoke or leave your engine running while one is fueling. And as big, bold, and numerous as these signs are, that should be enough to discourage anyone from doing otherwise. However, a population amongst us appears to have anointed itself exempt in following such safety precautions.

In the past year, when filling my gas tank on three different occasions, I noticed someone who was smoking and/or running their engine as they fueled their vehicles. In fact, two of these incidents happened last summer on the same day—once in Evanston and the other, later that evening, in Riverton. To no surprise, the offenders were both young men (under 30) reeking with invincibility as if they were a super-hero comic book figure.

After the Riverton incident, I headed toward Powell in dismay, wondering if the laws had changed regarding the handling of gasoline or if the oil companies (unbeknownst to me) had recently changed the chemistry of gasoline so it was no longer flammable outside an internal combustion engine.

In the first two occasions, I pointed out their dangerous “oversight,” and asked them to quickly correct their action, without sounding too offensive (but really, who is offensive in this scenario?). I half-expected them to acknowledge my vigilance—if not outright thank me—but instead the young man in Evanston gave me a sly smirk as if to say, “Whatever old man,” and slowly leaned out of his rig and snuffed the fag out on the concrete of the petrol station. The young man in Riverton didn’t even acknowledge what I’d said, but walked away to the cashier’s box, flicking his cigarette to the concrete slab without snuffing it out.

Maybe it’s not that dangerous anymore to smoke while pumping gas. I thought it was. And what of the danger associated with running your engine while pumping gas? I reckon that’s just a bit of pump station hysteria. So then, what gives with the signs?

I decided to call around and talk with those who might know the truths and laws related to fuel handling and the dangers associated with the activity. My first calls went out to the local petrol stations in town to see if they could fill me in. Yes, they all reassured me that gasoline is indeed highly flammable and that the signs posted are not just there to make peoples’ lives more difficult. What struck me odd, however, was that no one really knew for sure if disobeying such signs was a violation of any law(s). One manager told me that if they see someone smoking, they’ll request them to put it out, while another said they were to shut off the pump immediately. None mentioned a course of action that would involve reporting such violations to law enforcement officials.

I decided to call law enforcement here in Powell to see what they knew about this. At first, no one had an answer for me, but they’d check into the matter and call me back. I called later in the day after not receiving a response. They seemed a bit annoyed, but I pressed them.

I asked, “What would happen if a police officer pulled up to a petrol station and observed someone pumping gas into their vehicle as they were smoking or their vehicle was idling away?” Both Powell and Cody officials (including one officer) “didn’t know of” or “didn’t believe” there was any law against such activity.

“Didn’t believe.” “Didn’t know of.” How’s that for getting it from the horse’s mouth?

One police official told me rather matter of factly, “If a person wants to have a cigarette while they fuel their car, I guess that’s their business.”

I questioned both departments about the consequences of discharging a .22 from my back porch into the blue yonder above. They didn’t have to do any research on that question. Without hesitation, I’d be ticketed and fined.

Am I the only one who finds all of this a bit odd—I can risk the lives of several people by simply ignoring safety notices at the pump and not be fined or ticketed? Yet, I’ll receive a fine for firing a tiny piece of lead into the air that won’t lead to anything catastrophic (unless it lands in the middle of a gas station where some careless individual has spilled gasoline all over the island). Better yet—how would speeding down Bent Street at 50 mph be any more dangerous to the general public than smoking while pumping gasoline?

If the gas station management is unsure about any laws that address negligence at the gas pump and local law enforcement “doesn’t know of any laws,” why are those annoying signs posted all over the place? What leg does some peon like me have to stand on if I wish to stop such careless actions?

Well, thankfully, I hooked up with an official at the state fire marshal’s office in Cheyenne. In that little phone call, I learned what all gas station owners, operators, employees, and law enforcement officials should already know: Those signs aren’t just for safety matters only. They are state law, according to the 2003 International Fire Code (IFC) which was adopted by the State of Wyoming and is considered law. Violations can be a misdemeanor and punishable by fines and/or jail time.

What was really disconcerting for me in our little visit was the laws regarding gas station attendants. You know the people who take your money, stock the shelves, clean the toilets, sweep the floor, make the coffee and all that. Section 2204 of the 2003 IFC spells out the following: “Attended self-service motor fuel-dispensing facilities shall have at least one qualified attendant on duty while the facility is open for business. The attendant’s primary function shall be to supervise, observe and control the dispensing of fuel.” From my experience, this primary function appears to be way down at the bottom of their list of job duties.

I also learned that all the regulations of the IFC are the result of someone seriously injured or killed related to the listed violations. In other words, we learned the hard way that smoking at the gas pump and leaving your engine running is has some serious consequences.

When I shared my findings with the fire marshal’s office regarding law enforcement’s ignorance on this topic, they showed no surprise in this lack of policing at the pump because local police do not deal with IFC violations very often.

Perhaps this local-level confusion regarding one particular state law explains and illustrates the series of intelligence blunders resulting at the federal level regarding the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

In defense of local law enforcement, we can’t expect them to stay up with every fire code that’s out there, but this particular one is directly related to the responsible operation of a vehicle and, in my mind, should be policed no less than violations for speeding or failure to stop at a controlled intersection.

Despite this ambiguous and apparently obscure law, I suppose if someone wants to flirt with exiting this world in a blaze of glory at the local gas pump, who am I to stop them, all I ask is that they not include me in their science project. Does anyone else object?

No doubt, some of you out there are probably saying to yourself, “So what? Who cares? I see this stuff all the time and nothing ever happens.” This is just another one of Morgan “Tyrade’s” rants.

Well, maybe we are all a bit lucky to date, but keep this in mind: If and when a gas station does go “poof,” I doubt the resulting injuries will be a little scratch or a bump on someone’s head. There is approximately one “gasoline incident” per month in the state of Wyoming alone. Not all of these lead to an ignition, but the potential outcome in these spills is considered hazardous enough to report.

If all of this isn’t enough, earlier this month, on my way out of town and topping off my tank at the Maverick Store, a late-model pickup truck attended by yet another young man pulled up and started pumping gasoline while his engine was chugging away. Surely he didn’t notice my family sitting in the car in his approach. In dismay, I looked around and sure enough, there were those darn signs about not smoking and turning off your engine while fueling.

What is it about these guys? Is showing a lack of caution while fueling your rig a part of proving one’s manhood now, or is it just dumb luck on my part that carelessness at the gas pump seems to be practiced by young men in pickup trucks? I suspect such wrecklessness extends beyond this demographic—for better or worse.

Like last summer’s incidents at the pump, I confronted this latest young man asking if he was aware that a vehicle’s engine is required to be off while fueling. He confidently looked at me and replied, “Yep.”

I sounded off again, “What then, do you think you’re better than everyone else around here?”

“Nope,” said the monosyllabic homo-habilis.

And that was it. He climbed into his daddy’s idling truck after the tank was filled and away he went.

I walked into the Maverick store and informed the cashier of the incident as he drove off. I’m sure nothing became of it because attendants are likely no better informed than law enforcement in this violation of fire code.

As I returned to my car, I reasoned that this was the ultimate rationalization for reinstating mandatory gas station attendants who work the pumps as well—as in Oregon. Maybe big government is the best thing for everyone because the masses can’t be trusted to be 100 percent responsible. Think Enron, think Columbine, think Halliburton. “Trickle down” is a great concept, but there will always be those who abuse its inherent lack of accountability—ruining it for everyone else.

Too bad I’m not more confrontational than my series of spineless questions. I recalled how my Uncle Earl would have handled this in his day. Nothing would have been said. No, my Uncle Earl would have walked over and simply punched the “homo-yungmanis” square in the chops and then reached into his truck and turned off the ignition. And that would have been the end of it.

Of course, that’s not how things work in this day and age. Assuming I didn’t get beat up for attempting such an act and actually succeeded in duplicating the feats of Uncle Earl, no doubt I would have ended up in jail for several days, fined and sued for over $100,000—and of course dismissed from my job.

Finally, here’s the irony of it all—anyone can fill up his vehicle while the engine idles and he has a smoke with the potential outcome of disintegrating any number of innocent folk along with him. Assuming nothing catastrophic unfolds in this gamble of lives, (at best) these offenders will likely only be reprimanded by schmoes like myself in such modest confrontations or editorials. Yet, there would be a stiff penalty to pay if someone had given him a deserving and—for the most part—harmless fat lip for his total wrecklessness and disregard of others.

One morning in the near or distant future, I’ll awaken to the news of some families cremated while they sat inside of their cars at a gasoline station. Surprise will unlikely overwhelm me.

The Atrophy of an American Symbol


Back in the ’60s, Independence Day on Stevenson Avenue in Akron, Ohio was probably no different than it was in any other town throughout America. In fact, I suspect it wasn’t much different than it is here in Powell today. More than the fireworks, I remember the Fourth of July and the American flags that suddenly appeared in the early morning hours on almost every front porch in our neighborhood. Back then, the simple act of displaying the flag on Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans’ Day was a show of patriotism.

I suppose Old Glory’s popularity has grown since my childhood. The flag, its likenesses, and colour scheme have appeared nearly everywhere—matchbook covers, clothing, lapel pins, shot glasses, ball point pens, football helmets, notebooks, bumper stickers and used car lots. And these days it seems the flag is getting more exposure than ever, thanks to the events of the Gulf War, September 11, Afghanistan and most recently the evolving boondoggle in Iraq. Yet, back in the ’60s when the Vietnam War was producing more occupied American body bags than any other conflict since, I find it hard to believe that the country’s barometric pressure for patriotism was any less than it is today.

So, what’s with the flag and the deluge for displaying it everywhere on anything at anytime?

Has flying the American flag beyond the flagpole become a trend? Have we become paranoid, thinking that if we don’t display Old Glory in some form we might be thought of as un-American? Are we so insecure that we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are Americans in these tasteless presentations of our national colours?

Every time I see the likes of a Ford Taurus with a little American flag (in multiples at times) waving frantically above the car’s roofline, I’m reminded of a circus or parade. I say, let’s leave such tacky decoration of our vehicles and other personal belongings to the Shriners in their tiny cars that ebb and flow in any given community parade. Further, it’s disheartening enough to see Old Glory burned in the streets of Baghdad let alone ripped to shreds as the result of 500 miles of Interstate driving at 70 m.p.h.—regardless of its size.

Is it a wonder why we hear of America and Americans being despised throughout the world? We constantly wear our patriotism on our sleeve with relentless visual and verbal reminders of America’s greatness to the world even when they surely know of it. What great person remains great when they keep on reminding everyone around them how great they are?

If Jesus dwelled amongst us here in America now, would his pickup truck have a “God Bless America” bumper sticker on it? While sitting under a giant cottonwood tree just off of Lane 8 all day, would Buddha wear a sleeveless t-shirt with a big American flag on it? And finally would Plato quote Socrates as he sipped from his huge, 48-ounce insulated coffee mug with Old Glory screenprinted on its plastic exterior? Perhaps we would all do well if we were to contemplate the fine line between patriotism and narcissism the next time we are overcome with a sudden urge to show our national pride.

I often ponder the sacredness of the flag when one can buy it (in numerous sizes) at places like Wal-Mart. And it seems the more available they are, the more irresponsible we are regarding their proper care. Once I found a soiled and tattered small flag that probably broke off from one of those “flag-decorated” cars at a busy intersection in Gillette. It was laying on the side of the road with all the other litter that was mindlessly discarded from cars occupied by thoughtless drivers and their passengers. Where is the reverence in this scenario? What if the sacred and consecrated holy eucharist was found right next to the Milky Way candy bars at the local mini-marts? Would it be as sacred? Surely no priest would stand for that.

Most of us will never forget JFK’s famous speech about how we should ask what we can do for our country. I wish our President today would deliver a message with the same impact, challenging all of us to monitor our national enthusiasm and to speak softly especially when travelling abroad. I’m reminded of a joke I heard in New Zealand: You can always tell an American, but you can’t tell him much.” Sometimes our fanatical patriotism reminds me of an oversized TV set in a tiny living room.

Like those summer days on Stevenson Avenue, I still enjoy the home front show of flags on these national holidays despite their worn out use everywhere else. I don’t have an American flag for my front porch and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get one assuming the current glut of red, white and blue continues—America need not shout any louder. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that this country will continue to be blessed as it has been in the past, especially our troops who loyally serve without questioning the judgment of our national leadership. More importantly, I hope other countries that are currently experiencing turmoil, genocide, and economic strife are blessed through it all, especially those where our own less-than-perfect foreign policy has failed them.