Nigeria’s 50th birthday was a fortnight ago. On October 1, 1960, the British officially turned over sovereignty of the country to the Speaker of the newly independent Nigerian Parliament, Jaja Wachuku, in the form of the Freedom Charter. The new nation nearly convulsed apart within ten years, and in many ways, it’s amazing such an entity has survived intact, an agglomeration of hundreds of ethnic groups (and indigenous languages), many of which were so recently colonized by Britannia that they were not very warm to the idea of sharing political commonwealth with a bunch of circumstantial peers.

The holiday got me thinking of what it means to me to be a Nigerian, born in Nigeria, educated in Nigeria and abroad, living (and naturalized) in the USA, but with a very strong sense of rootedness off the Bight of Bonny. Nigeria is enormous. I’ve read estimates that a quarter of all black people in the world are of recent Nigerian origin. Among such multitudes there is so much to say that I’ve just begged off to a series of vignettes in a number that suits the occasion, and I’ve broken the expansive result into three parts. Please do join me in this sampler from our enormous platter.

Prologue




Today & Yesterday

 

One afternoon in August 1850, as Arctic explorer Elisha Kent Kane stood talking with several fellow naval officers on the icy, snow-covered shores of Beechey Island, a sailor came stumbling over a nearby ridge.  “Graves!” he shouted. “Graves! Franklin’s winter quarters!”

Searchers for the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin had found what has since become the most famous historical site in the far north–the graves of the first three sailors to die during Franklin’s final voyage. At this desolate spot in 1846, while hoping still to discover a Northwest Passage, the long-winded Franklin conducted three sonorous funeral services.

Four years later, the American Kane led searchers in scrambling over the ice to the makeshift cemetery.  “Here, amid the sterile uniformity of snow and slate,” he wrote later, “were the head-boards of three graves, made after the old orthodox fashion of gravestones at home.”

Flash forward one hundred and fifty-seven years. Late in August 2007, as a resource person aboard an expeditionary cruise ship, I stood gazing at those three graves while a Scottish bagpiper played Amazing Grace and a light snow fell and instantly melted. Certainly, I felt moved by what I heard and saw – the skirling of the pipes, the desolate loneliness of the landscape.

Yet as I read the wooden head-boards, facsimiles of the originals, I felt more shaken by what I did not see – by the absence of ice. We had arrived at Beechey two weeks later in the season than Kane – and yet, where he had encountered heaps of ice and snow, both in Lancaster Sound and on shore, we found nothing but open water and naked rock and scree.

The contrast shocked me. Satellite images from the European Space Agency had recently revealed that, for the first time in recorded history, the Northwest Passage lay open to commercial traffic. The retreat of the polar ice cap, I knew, had revived an ancient dream in altered form. Business interests were looking forward not to carrying real gold from Cathay, as in the beginning, but to transporting black gold from the Alaskan oil fields.

Yet to see Beechey Island free of ice drove home the new reality of the twenty-first century, if only because, thanks to Elisha Kane, I knew how the area looked in 1850. As I stood at the three graves, I realized that the opening of the Northwest Passage brought a centuries-old saga to a surprising conclusion. This unexpected finale shed new light on the history of Arctic discovery, but especially on Elisha Kent Kane.

All through the twentieth century, historians portrayed the Arctic as a harsh world that changed hardly at all. The Arctic involved months of winter darkness and stupefying cold; it included pack ice, icebergs, and countless polar bears, walruses, and seals; and it featured “Esquimaux” hunters who lived in igloos or could at least build them.

Suddenly, we realize that this picture is obsolete. And that brings a corollary surprise. The hundreds of pages that Elisha Kane devoted to describing the High Arctic—people and animals as well as glaciers, ice fields, icebergs, and the Greenland ice cap – have become invaluable. They enable us to compare and contrast, and so to appreciate the scale of what is happening in the far north.

The supremely literate Kane, easily the most articulate of northern explorers, wrote of sailing among upraised tables of ice fourteen feet thick. He described hummocks, forced skyward by the pressure of pack ice, rising “in cones like crushed sugar, some of them forty feet high.” He would leave off hunting to sketch a glacier, describing it as “a stupendous monument of frost.” So vivid is Kane’s depiction of the mid-nineteenth-century Arctic that, for today’s readers, his work constitutes an irreplaceable touchstone.

Similarly, Kane’s descriptions of Arctic wildlife resonate with contemporary meaning. The explorer describes hunting birds, seals and walrus, all now seriously depleted in numbers, and waxes eloquent about polar bears. He relates, for example, how several bears ravaged a cache of provisions, smashing open iron caskets of pemmican and tossing aside boulders that had tested the strength of three men. Today, these magnificent creatures are nearing endangered status.

But above all, Kane’s writings about the Inuit, with whom he forged a singular alliance, have taken on new significance. His detailed depictions of clothes, sledges, weapons, housing and habits provide a unique opportunity to juxtapose today and yesterday. Unlike many others, this gentleman from Philadelphia proved humble enough to learn from hunter-gatherers who had been born into a tradition of Arctic survival. “I can hardly say how valuable the advice of our Esquimaux friends has been to us upon our hunts,” he would write. He marveled at how they observed every movement of ice, wind or season and “predicted its influence upon the course of the birds of passage with the same sagacity that has taught them the habits of the resident animals.”

By creating an unprecedented cross-cultural alliance, Kane not only saved the lives of most of his men, but set an example that would be remembered among the Inuit for thirteen decades. In the 1980s, after criticizing several explorers for their arrogance and insensitivity, the Frenchman Jean Malaurie would hail the “extraordinary agreements” Kane made with the Inuit and observe that “the favorable memory that Kane has left among my Eskimo friends is vague, certainly, but tenacious.”

Yet all this, I realized on Beechey, accounted for only half the sense of urgency I felt about Elisha Kent Kane. The other half came from a discovery I had made a few months before, when from my home in Toronto I had visited Calgary, Alberta, to view some Kane-related artwork at the Glenbow Museum. Afterwards, acting on impulse, I had hiked up a hilly street to visit my friend Cameron Treleaven, the antiquarian-adventurer with whom I had visited the Arctic in 1999, while working on my book Fatal Passage.

When I told Treleaven how I had spent the morning, he said: “You do realize that the Glenbow got those images from me?” The sketches and paintings at the museum derived from a collection he had acquired from descendents of Thomas Leiper Kane, the explorer’s dearest brother – some of it at a 2003 auction in Kane, Pennsylvania, a town I had already visited. Treleaven said he had retained the most important material, and that it included journals as yet unseen by any biographer.

This I could not ignore. And three months later, I revisited Calgary to investigate. At his bookstore, Aquila Books, and later at his home, Treleaven produced an astonishing array of journals, documents, letters, drawings, photos and memorabilia. As I sifted through this material, slowly the truth began to emerge: I was making one of those discoveries that invariably happen to somebody else.

Some of the material was interesting but not useful – for example, a handwritten copy of the autobiography of the explorer’s father, Judge John K. Kane, a work readily available as a printed book. Other documents proved disappointing – like the “Boat Journal” which appeared to cover Kane’s Arctic escape, but turned out to be a handwritten copy of the final, anti-climactic section of a journal kept by seaman George Stephenson, who lacked anything approaching his leader’s sensibility and expressiveness. Nor could  many of the illustrations and memorabilia, some hitherto unknown, be regarded as more than potentially enhancing – not even the original marble bust of Kane from which a plaster copy was taken, and is now kept at the American Philosophical Society.

Still, that left three items of note – three handwritten, large-format journals that Kane had produced in the Arctic. Two of these are clearly significant, and one constitutes what I believe to be the most important primary material to surface in the field of Kane studies in one hundred and fifty years. The two significant items are, first, a 161-page journal from Kane’s 1850 expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, during which he visited Beechey Island; and, second, a 239-page “natural history journal” from his 1853 expedition, containing detailed observations on everything from the seal fishery to scurvy, loons, wolves and “Esquimaux.”

The one thunderously important item, if I may so describe it, is a 376-page logbook from that second expedition, covering the period May 31, 1853 to March 23, 1854. I do indeed refer to the long-lost Volume One of Kane’s private journal — the volume that opens at the beginning of the voyage, with the explorer describing, from on board the Advance, the experience of sailing out of New York to go in search of Sir John Franklin and an Open Polar Sea.

Kane evokes crowded wharves and “salutes, bell ringings and huzzas” wafting over the water in a continuous clamour: “To men bound for the Arctic region, sailors with undigested shore habitudes, officers with heads full of home thoughts and disrupted associations, this big response came very cheeringly.” Those words have never before seen print. No scholar or author has even read them in more than fifteen decades. The explorer continues: “I had lived for the past two years as, I suppose, all men live–with much to regret and something to cherish. I had followed one preponderating motive directly connected with my better nature; but had marred it by a host of interludes uncomfortable to recall.”

That “preponderating motive” was to find out what had happened to the lost Franklin expedition. To the less salubrious “interludes” we shall come in good time. Kane would write and reflect in this private journal for two years. In his neat, legible handwriting, while leading one of the most dramatic and arduous polar expeditions ever mounted, he would churn out more than 700 pages, filling two large-format volumes (8 ½ by 14 inches) with roughly 350,000 words.

The continuation of this journal, Volume Two, takes up where this newly discovered manuscript leaves off, on March 24, 1854. The original is housed at Stanford University in California. That journal is rightly regarded as the single most important item in the Elisha Kane archive. Several biographers — notably George Corner, who wrote in the 1960s — have put it to excellent use, comparing journal entries with more polished renditions in Kane’s published, two-volume masterpiece, Arctic Explorations. Microfiche copies of Volume Two are available in several archives and collections.

But with the possible exception of William Elder, who wrote a biography in the 1850s, I am the first author to have read Volume One. The manuscript covers the tumultuous period during which two of Kane’s men lost their lives as a result of a controversial sledge journey. But like its Stanford-held extension, this journal sheds light on the whole expedition–and, indeed, on Kane’s entire life.

That light, I realized on Beechey Island, had changed the way I viewed Elisha Kent Kane. Taken together with the opening of the Northwest Passage, it showed this forgotten American to be not only the most articulate and tragically neglected of Arctic heroes, but also the explorer most relevant to the twenty-first century. And that I felt driven to communicate.


PART ONE: CALL TO ADVENTURE

1

In Search of Franklin


On July 27, 1853, three years after his visit to Beechey Island, Elisha Kent Kane stood at the railing of the Advance, telescope in hand, and peered eastward across pack ice at Greenland. The fog had lifted at last, but now Kane perceived that the icebelt along the coast was breaking up. The conventional route north looked unpromising.

To the west, on the other hand, in the direction of the Middle Ice, the floating pack looked loose, and a deep current drove the largest icebergs north, some of them towering over the ship. His most experienced officers had warned repeatedly against entering the Middle Ice, famously a graveyard for both explorers and whalers. And so Kane, expedition commander at age thirty-three, faced a difficult choice. Should he follow the safe, slow route along the Greenland coast as far as possible, and forget about catching his English competitor, forget about making history by wintering farther north than any voyager yet? Or should he ignore his advisers and risk the Middle Ice?

To many back home in America, Kane well understood, this voyage in search of a lost British expedition seemed foolhardy, dangerous, quixotic, unnecessary. Yet he remained convinced that, while searching for the Northwest Passage, Sir John Franklin had got trapped in an Open Polar Sea at the top of the world. He believed that even, eight years after leaving London, Franklin and his men might be struggling to escape from behind a great barrier of encircling ice.

That was why, in the months before sailing out of New York, Kane had travelled the eastern seaboard raising funds, arguing that his projected voyage could not be dismissed as a scientific curiosity. Rather, it constituted a philanthropic effort to rescue John Franklin and his men, an enterprise that should engage “the sympathies of the whole civilized world.”

Early in 1853, speaking to audiences of hundreds in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington and New York, Kane had repeatedly reviewed the historical record. For three centuries, geographers and map-makers had speculated that a warm-water ocean, a polar basin teeming with fish and animals, might exist at the North Pole, ringed by an “annulus” of ice. He had cited expert after expert, starting with the testimony of voyagers from the sixteenth century, and ending with the eye-witness account of British commander Edward Inglefield, who just last year had penetrated Smith Sound and established a new “farthest north” in the western hemisphere.

Before being driven back by a gale, Inglefield had seen nothing to the north but open water. Had he glimpsed a passage to the fabled Polar Sea? Kane argued that he had. Furthermore, this young American, so handsome, so eloquent, and already celebrated for heroic deeds in the service of his country, believed that the Franklin expedition, missing since 1845, had entered that polar basin by another route. He contended that, from Beechey Island, Franklin had sailed north up nearby Wellington Channel and got trapped behind the ice barrier. Who could say otherwise?

To enthusiastic audiences, while drumming up funds to undertake this voyage, Kane had detailed his expeditionary plan. Having secured the brigantineAdvance, the same sturdy vessel in which he had sailed to the Arctic three years before, Kane would proceed north along the west coast of Greenland into Smith Sound. As the weather turned cold and the ice grew thick, he would force theAdvance “to the utmost navigable point.”

During the ensuing winter, with the ship frozen fast, he would send dogs and sledges still farther north to create a chain of provision depots. The following spring, to rescue survivors from the Franklin expedition, he would take sledges and small boats and make for the Open Polar Sea: “Once there, if such a reward awaits us, we launch our little boats, and, bidding God speed us, embark upon its waters.”

Now, on July 27, as he stood on the deck of the Advance, the young explorer wrestled with the biggest decision of his life. If he sailed north along the coast of Greenland, he risked getting trapped by pack ice before he reached the perennially open North Water, and might spend the winter far south of where he needed to be. If instead he steered westward into the Middle Ice, he could shorten the voyage by days or even weeks, and get much farther north – but that treacherous icefield had wrecked hundreds of whaling vessels, and might make short work of the Advance.

Despite his youth, a weak heart and recurring health problems, Elisha Kane had made countless tough decisions in difficult circumstances. He had descended into a volcano in the Philippines, infiltrated a company of slave traders in West Africa, grappled with thieves on the Nile River, and narrowly survived getting stabbed during hand-to-hand combat in the Sierra Madre. For the past six months, he had understood that he might face a choice like the one before him–ever since the day he read, while recovering from illness in his home-town Philadelphia, that Edward Inglefield was returning to Smith Sound to resume the search for Franklin. . . .

During our first morning in the High Arctic, a polar bear drove us off Beechey Island. We had been walking along the snow-dusted beach where, in 1850, American explorer Elisha Kent Kane discovered the graves of the first three sailors to die during the tragic 1845 expedition of Sir John Franklin.

Kane, serving as doctor with the First U.S. Grinnell Expedition, had been standing with a couple of British officers on the icy, snow-covered shores of Beechey when a sailor came stumbling over a ridge, hollering: “Graves! Graves! Franklin’s winter quarters!”

Kane led his fellow searchers in scrambling over the ice to the makeshift cemetery where we had previously lingered. “Here, amid the sterile uniformity of snow and slate,” he wrote later, “were the headboards of three graves, made after the old orthodox fashion of gravestones at home [in Philadelphia].”

A few of us had had begun walking along the beach towards the ridge where Franklin’s crew had piled tin cans filled with pebbles, intending to use them as ballast. The polar bear, which had been loitering at water’s edge half a mile away, began trotting around a curved bay in our direction.

This one-ton creature, we knew, could outrun a race horse. So we scrambled aboard the Zodiacs, the inflatable craft in which we had landed on the beach. No sooner had we fired up the engines than the bear stopped running. It stood a moment gazing at us, then turned and shambled off over a hill.

History said goodbye to the natural world. But both would be back, and the meeting and mingling of distinct northern dimensions would prove characteristic of our two-week expedition.

This “High Arctic Adventure,” mounted jointly by Quark Expeditions of Connecticut and Toronto-based Adventure Canada, attracted eighty-seven passengers – most from North America (New Mexico to Newfoundland) but some from England, France, Switzerland, and Australia. Everyone had travelled to Ottawa, then caught a charter flight to Resolute Bay in Nunavut, where we had hopped into Zodiacs, boarded the Akademic Ioffe and settled into cosy cabins.

The Ioffe is no fancy passenger liner but an expeditionary vessel built and operated by Russians. Still, it offers radically different conditions than those faced by the early explorers. In 1853, when he led the Second U.S. Grinnell Expedition north to search for Franklin and the Open Polar Sea, Elisha Kent Kane sailed in the sail-powered Advance – an eighty-eight-foot brigantine that weighed 144 tons. The diesel-driven Ioffe, by comparison, is 384 feet long and weighs 6,450 tons – almost forty-five times the weight of the little wooden Advance.

One hundred and fifty-five years ago, after waving to a last group of whalers off the coast of southern Greenland, Kane lost contact with the outside world. He got trapped in the multi-year ice and, to survive, had to lead a spectacular escape using sledges and small boats. On the Ioffe, we had satellite telephones and email and could have summoned helicopters or other vessels in the event of emergency.

Where Kane battled scurvy and starvation, we ate three square meals a day in a full-service dining room and enjoyed snacks and single malt scotch in a comfortable lounge. The superbly literate American explorer, who came from a prominent Philadelphia family, entertained his men by declaiming the poetry of Alfred Tennyson.

The Ioffe carried a dozen resource people. These included two Inuit (Eskimos) from South Baffin Island; a Sante Fe-based art historian, Carol Heppenstall, who is a leading interpreter of aboriginal art; a marine biologist, an archaeologist, an ornithologist and a narrative historian (yours truly) who, with Berkeley-based Counterpoint Press, has just published a book called Race to the Polar Sea: The Heroic Adventures of Elisha Kent Kane.

For some passengers, the expedition was mainly about culture. Meeka and Jamesie Mike outlined the rudiments of the Inuktitut language and demonstrated how to hitch a dog team. And on the north coast of Baffin Island, we visited Pond Inlet and Clyde River, where we heard throat-singing, played Inuit games, and hosted a community barbecue. Along the way, we bought Inuit carvings and craft products and the Mikes raised $15,000 for a cultural “core knowledge” initiative.

For a second group of passengers, the expedition was mainly about the Arctic outdoors. At Croker Bay, we cruised along a glacier face and among spectacular icebergs. At seven or eight locations, we spotted polar bears, usually but not always alone, and a couple of those creatures clearly perceived us as seals wrapped in goretex.

While traipsing around Devon Island, we drew within a couple of hundred yards of a herd of muskox – as close as anyone wanted to get. And at a walrus haul-out near Monumental Island, while riding in Zodiacs, we drew so near a herd of one hundred walrus that people were gagging at the smell.

History buffs, too, had their moments. That first morning on Beechey, after fleeing the polar bear, we puttered east along the coast to Cape Riley and put in at the ruins of Northumberland House. Here, in the early 1850s, a British search expedition built a storehouse to serve Franklin, should he ever reappear. The rough structure remains visible, though now it lies in ruins, surrounded by rusty tin cans and barrel staves.

On Day Six of the voyage, we visited Dundas Harbour on Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island in the world. Here, from 1924 to 1933, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintained a post comprising a house and three or four outbuildings, all of which remain standing.

At this same site, but seven decades previously, in 1853, an adventurous shaman from Baffin Island met the Franklin-searcher Edward Inglefield, who had sailed north into Smith Sound to 78 degrees 28 minutes. Kane would exceed that latitude by about 12 minutes (14 statute miles).

On the Ioffe, the history-minded were hoping to equal or better Kane’s high-latitude mark – a realistic objective given that the multi-year ice in the Arctic is a far cry from what it was in the mid-nineteenth century.

But on Day Six, at four o’clock in the morning, the captain found himself driving north against storm force winds gusting to fifty knots. The temperature of the sea water had fallen to within one degree of freezing, and the ship had started to ice up. Given time, and because the water ahead lay open, the captain might have put into a sheltered bay, waited out the storm and then pushed on. But at 77 degrees 25 minutes, about eighty-five miles short of Kane’s mark, he turned the Ioffe around and sailed south.

For many on board, major highlights were yet to come. My own favourite moment of the expedition came on Day Nine in the middle of Clyde Inlet, off the north coast of Baffin Island. The expedition’s finest Zodiac driver, John “Flipper” Suta, had agreed to convey me to Clyde River because I had to do a series of radio interviews.

Within minutes, in the fog and waves, we had lost sight of the ship. We passed a few icebergs, nothing huge, and Flipper got the Zodiac pounding along at fifteen or twenty miles an hour. Five or six miles from the ship, with the waves and rolling swells reaching a height of eight to ten feet, so that roaring over them felt like riding a roller-coaster, an image came to me unsought.

The scale was smaller, but yes, we were climbing upwards against one of the giant waves that featured in The Perfect Storm. When we crested that magnificent swell and started down the other side, I heard someone laughing a wild-sounding, crazy-man laugh and wondered who it was. I glanced over at Flipper and, in that instant, with a rush of exhilaration, recognized the insane laughter as my own.


Watch a video here.

Ken McGoogan sails as a resource historian with Adventure Canada.



The following is an excerpt from Bruce Pollock’s By the Time We Got to Woodstock:  The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Revolution of 1969.


Of all the cultural and political wars going on in 1969—between hawk and dove, moderate and radical, hippie and square, gay and straight, man and woman, parent and child, veteran and peace marcher, cop and protester, Nixon and his enemies—the battle between old guard singles fans of commercial AM radio and the new breed of album cut aficionados who preferred the mellow tones of progressive FM radio was nowhere near the most deadly. But it was nonetheless a surefire argument starter and social divider, the latest wrinkle in the age-old music fan caste system—epitomized in the past by Elvis vs. Pat Boone, the Shangri-las vs. Brenda Lee, Buddy Holly and the Crickets vs. Bobby Vee and the Shadows, and Bob Dylan vs. Peter, Paul and Mary (Dylan vs. the Beatles was a big one at first, the Beatles vs. the Stones was eventually a non-issue, Muddy Waters vs. the Stones was a red herring, Lesley Gore vs. Connie Francis was a fight none of us wanted to see, and the Four Seasons vs. the Beach Boys was strictly an East Coast–West Coast thing).

Launched in the summer of 1966, in less than three years the underground stations of the FM band had risen to become an instinctual if not street poetic force for all relevant music and propaganda, the voice of the counterculture, resulting in a concurrent surge of album sales, while the entrenched AM stations relied more and more heavily on market research, catchy slogans, canned bells and whistles, and the same twelve songs repeated every hour between Clearasil commercials.

At least, that was the format over WABC in New York City. Elsewhere, in the mythical secondary markets beyond the Hudson, great singles were born, played, and died unheard by sheltered Manhattanites and their brethren in the boroughs. But that was the price you paid for living in “the greatest city in the world,” on its way in the 1969 through May 1970 period to championships in professional football, baseball, and basketball. But even these secondary markets had a formula for what was playable, not at all based on artistry or the personal vision or taste of the deejay or program director. It had more to do with what the station up the road or across the river was playing: Buffalo looked at Cleveland, St. Louis looked at Chicago, Houston looked at Denver, San Jose looked at San Diego. Of course, a record had to start somewhere and somehow, usually in the even more mythical tertiary markets, their identities hidden from the average listener like the reporting bookstores on the New York Times best-seller list.

We all knew payola was still involved, chart numbers bought and sold, favors traded like Topps bubblegum cards, but exactly what the price of admission was, how much it paid for, and how much was earned was another mystery. As Berry Gordy implied in Motown’s inaugural hit in 1960, “Money” was what he both wanted and needed. But as the Beatles said in 1964, money alone “Can’t Buy Me Love.” For those remaining diehard transistor listeners with a strong antenna who could haul in some of those stations from their rooftop on a good night, the payola question was always rendered moot by the music. But by 1969 the limitless new world provided by progressive FM stations had all but eliminated the need to keep tabs on the weekly drama of the singles chart, unless, of course, you were a true believing fan of a form in danger of becoming a dying art.

Like John Sebastian, author of “Summer in the City” and “Do You Believe in Magic” for the Lovin’ Spoonful, reduced in 1969 to writing show tunes. “If anything I was pooh-poohing people who were trying to put art into rock,” he said. “At the time I was going, that’s really bullshit. A forty-five is special; it’s three minutes of heaven. It’s got to be an opiate. An awful lot of good chemistry has to happen in the studio. Moments—you have to get a series of them, magic moments that you did not plan, that you couldn’t train for . . . that just happen.”

“There’s something in me that’s singles-oriented,” Paul Simon told me. “You start to make a track and all of a sudden it’s got a great feel to it. A kind of magic happens that you couldn’t have predicted. ‘Let’s pull out all the stops and make an AM record.’ That sentence comes up a lot in the studio.”

“I once met John Lennon at a BMI dinner,” Doc Pomus said. “In fact, we spent the whole dinner together. And he was telling me originally all they wanted to do was reach a point, like Morty [Shuman] and myself, or like Carole King and Gerry Goffin, where they could make enough money to survive writing songs.”

Gerry Goffin attempted to explain.

There’s a certain magic that some records have and that some records don’t have. It’s not a quality you can capture unless everything is going right. I’m talking about even at a record session. There are so many personalities involved, so many variables. It has to go through a lot of different ears, different people have to decide if it’s something people want to hear. I could always tell if a song was going to be a hit or not, or how big a hit it would be, by listening to it on the radio. I never listened at home; I used to always listen in the car. It was just something about the resonance of the car radio. Usually with the good records you caught the sound of a hit single.

While the hit single never did die out entirely, by the end of the 1960s AM radio was a severely wounded white buffalo staggering through the hinterlands, its whole oeuvre called into question by critics cramming for term papers in league with record executives looking for a bigger slice of the profits to be derived from album sales. As a longtime singles diehard, owner at the time of a life-threatening stack of Cashbox magazines, whose first attempt to get published was an enraged essay submitted to Seventeen magazine about the emotional veracity of the single “Judy’s Turn to Cry” by Lesley Gore, my bias is as pronounced now as it was obsessive then. However, 670 singles made the Billboard chart in 1969 for at least a week, and while that was down from 1966’s peak of 743, the next decade would barely average 500. With FM stations continuing to siphon off the album market of sophisticated college students, more and more the single was regarded as the lowest of common denominators, the gateway drug, as it were, for lusty adolescents fiddling with their first radio….

In 1969 you could still listen to both AM and FM radio; that is, singles and album cuts, the best of all possible worlds for an Elvis-bred connoisseur. Unfortunately, with WMGM having gone the way of Beautiful Music in 1962 and WINS tragically driven to all-news one dark day in April 1965, only “the Good Guys” on WMCA stood between the diehard and the dreaded WABC, which basically played the same twelve well-established monsters over and over again every day, whereas WMCA had room for the occasional sleeper, the odd stiff, an album cut or two. But even by 1968, the Good Guys, waging a losing battle against the soul stations on one side of the dial and the FM underground on the other, were edging into the all-talk format that would take them over in 1970.

The AM experience was a simple one, hit based, like a daily newspaper, filled with headlines, ads, and little else. FM was more like a literary magazine. You got poems, elaborate essays, funky short stories, excerpts from novels in progress. You could appreciate AM for the familiarity it offered, the chance to hear your favorite single during any given half-hour stretch. On FM the object was just the opposite, to hear something totally unexpected. If AM was order personified, adhering to a dictum passed down from the home office, FM made order out of chaos. If the role of the deejay on AM radio was strictly entertainment, on FM it was creative, educational, and, epitomizing the buzzword of the era, mind-expanding. The primary tool of the AM deejay in fulfilling his mission was the bell or the whistle; the FM deejay was instead schooled in the art of the segue.

A lost art on free radio, to be sure, segues can still be heard here and there, on public and/or listener-supported stations of 5000 watts or less, situated between two mountain ranges and broadcast only during daylight hours in months that end in Y. Satellite radio has become fairly popular of late by offering the kind of segues developed during the heady heyday of so-called “free form,” “progressive,” or “underground” radio in the late ’60s, but minus the creative dimension, the element of surprise, and hence the magic. If you’re listening to a station called Garage Rock, most of your questions have already been answered.

But, luckily, over the course of the last ten years technology has enabled everyone to become a music programmer, indulging a personal segue philosophy on mixed tapes for all occasions, from breakup to make-up to the eternal vernal equinox. Unluckily, this development has mainly served to reveal the paucity of the average person’s imagination, to say nothing of the average person’s record collection (let alone the aching and perhaps irreparable gaps in the record collections digitally stored in cyberspace). Going hand in hand to make a good segue, or, ideally, a good series of segues, leading to a lengthy, satisfying set of music, an extensive imagination and an unlimited record collection can never in and of themselves substitute for the kind of emotional commitment to the music and to the art that some generational bigots tend to think are beyond the grasp of anyone who didn’t come up in the era of “Radio Unnamable,” circa 1966 to 1970. (It was after 1970 that the segue started to go the way of the hula hoop and the hippie, as consultants were already out in force, looking to “monetize” the FM experience, eventually transforming it into, lo and behold, the New AM.)

labianca interior

Jerry and Mary Neeley used to own the best video store on the east side of L.A. That’s where I met them, and since they closed shop two years ago to sell movie collectibles online, we’ve occasionally met for coffee and talk of, among other topics, true crime. We’ve also kept in touch by e-mail, and last week Mary sent the following message:

As you know, the 40th anniversary of Tate/LaBianca is this August 8th & 9th. (Technically, the 9th & 10th because both parties were killed after midnight.)

I wanted to go to the LaBianca house around 1am on the 10th to see if anyone else shows up. Would you be interested? I don’t want to walk up there alone at 1am.


GALICIA, SPAIN-

I awake at 7 am, mostly from unwieldy nervousness. Before I have time to pause and consider what is to come, I strap on my 20 pound backpack, leave the pilgrim’s shelter in Sarría and ascend a firm incline for about 45 minutes into a Tolkien dream sequence.

Once inside, the misty mountain top has no visible exit; white pulpy air hangs still upon all scenery within a 100-foot diameter.

The path levels out, my head soaking in frosty sweat; I feel like am in the heart of a chilly other world, alone.


You have to do this alone. It’s part of the allure of el Camino. It also offers you a chance to forget about the maddening urban life that is Madrid, or Berlin, or Oslo, or Paris, or Los Angeles or wherever it is that you came from in order to do this.

Going hiking usually necessitates the presence of friends, but this modern pilgrimage is essentially a journey into self, regardless of whether you believe in God, believe positively that God does not exist or simply don’t care. To do it with a group of others is just another way of having a good time and cracking jokes or philosophizing while taking an slightly arduous, unending stroll.

An hour passes, the fog clears and the sun blesses every inch of the surrounding farmlands and endless green with its idyllic royal luster: the divine yellow ignites smiles on all the determined pilgrims and brings an easy contentment to northwestern Spain on this early April day.


Three hours in, my bottle is long since drunk and the only thing my dry mouth cares about is where can it find be sated with fresh water. As this thought becomes an ever-increasing concern, one of the many dilapidated walls that offer the ubiquitous yellow arrow that points all pilgrims toward the proper path–the path toward Santiago de Compostela–offers a distinct green arrow that says fuente.

My mouth salivates; I quicken my steps.

***

Walking, such a simple action that is taken for granted until it is compromised in some way.

It is the only mode of transportation on this pilgrimage besides the option to ride a bicycle or a horse.

If you walk the entire Camino Francés from Ronces Valles on the border of Spain and France at the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela near the Atlantic, you will walk 800 km (500 miles). Most pilgrims do it within one month. Some of the extremists take three weeks, clocking an average of 40 km (25 miles) per day; others take five or six weeks, averaging 20-25 km (12.5-15 miles) per day.

Your backpack should weigh no more than 10 % of your body weight. You should carry no more than three changes of clothes and the essential items, which vary from pilgrim to pilgrim. For me, the essentials include a flashlight, earplugs, basic toiletries, toilet paper, a swiss army knife, nail clippers, a notepad and pencil, etc. All else is superfluous.

I am here on my own volition even though I was required to walk for two days as part of the class by the same name in which we studied most of the aspects regarding this historic pilgrimage.

Something’s been nagging me since I started studying the phenomenon: the translation of the name. El Camino de Santiago is normally called “The Way of St. James” or sometimes “The High Road to St. James”. The word camino in Spanish is bunch of different things, but it’s normally NOT “the way”: road, journey, path are the usual equivalents. Yet on this massive hike, people commonly say to the pilgrims ¡Buen camino!, which I’m certain would not get translated as “Have a good way!”. Probably the most accurate expression would be “Have a good journey/trip”. But what nags me about it is that neither of these truly capture the essence of the Spanish.

I suppose this simple example illuminates  the trappings of translation quite compactly.

At its most basic, my motivation is to find out what it means to be a modern pilgrim and to try and get a glimpse into what it meant to be one 1000 years ago.

The medieval pilgrim did it for different reasons: penitence, infirmary or punishment. Many pilgrims did the journey because they were lepers, diabetics or mysteriously stricken with some unknown disease. Cancer and lunacy were unknown then, as were weak hearts and pretty much every other currently known disease. To go on the pilgrimage was to seek the divine, helpful hand of God via his Jesus’s trusted confidant and apostle, St. James, the patron saint of Spain.

The history of the pilgrimage is rather long and unfitting for a space such as this, but it’s worth mentioning the crux of the story.

St. James was decapitated in the year 44 by Herod in Israel. His body was placed on a small one-body vessel that made it through the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic until it reached the Galician shore.  About 750 years later his body was discovered where the city’s cathedral now stands. Throughout the following 1000 years, the pilgrimage acted as a sort of political/religious coagulant for a broken, post-Roman Europe, one that the Catholic church used–along with the pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem–to unify Catholics and countries which in that era were inextricably linked.

It worked, making el Camino de Santiago the most popular of all the western pilgrimages in the past millennium. The cities of Burgos, León and Santiago de Compostela actually grew into their modern metropolises thanks only to the existence of the Camino and the infrastructure built around it to help the pilgrims make it to Santiago.

The kicker–for me at least–is this: the body in the cathedral has a head attached to it. It’s never been decapitated. It has scientifically been proven that the body in the sepulcher of St. James is either not St. James or he somehow gained a head after death. This latter story is the official Catholic one, the one the preaches miracles abound. One of the main impetuses for medieval pilgrims was to be able to touch the reliquaries that held supposed relics from saints in hopes that they themselves would receive some of the divine magic and cure themselves. And St. James the headless-headed enigma buried beneath the massive Cathedral is one of the biggest relics of them all, with the exception of wood from Christ’s cross. (Interestingly enough, if you took all the supposed splinters of wood that people have claimed was from the original cross, you would have need a large boat to support its weight, or it would take 300 men to hold it up.)

For the modern pilgrim, blisters, chaffing and inclement weather are the biggest enemies; the pilgrim who embarked on this journey that started around 800 AD and reached full peak around 11th-13th centuries, had death looming over most of the time. Their average life span was 35-40 years, the majority of babies were stillborn, a dry spell in the weather meant starvation for at least a year and the bubonic plague was as much of a concern as the bandits who often pursued and killed pilgrims just for being on the road. Not to mention the imminent fear of the Moors, who had come to reign in about 80% of Hispania in part of this middle ages.

To the medieval pilgrim, traveling alone was unthinkable.

To boot, if they made it to Santiago de Compostela, they had to go back–on foot–which is the mother of all understated anticlimaxes. The modern pilgrim grabs a bus, plane or train and is back sleeping in their climate-controlled queen-sized bedroom while listening to their Ipod and cooking a frozen pizza.

***

The first day ends after six hours of walking. I arrive to Portomarin…

and pay 3 euros in the community shelter. I get the top bunk in a room with 40 other bunks.

I eat, scribble some words on a notepad, snap a few photos, climb the ladder to bed around 8-9 pm and put in the ear plugs in order to mute the cacophonous snoring that pilgrims naturally emit while resting.

As I lay my head down, I realize that day one really doesn’t count.

It doesn’t count because your fresh and amazed by the newness of it all.

Blisters are a few days away, as are charlie horses and strained muscles.

For the same reason, the second and third day don’t really count either.

Day four is when you’re almost almost accustomed to walking 25 km a day that you go an extra two or three or four, on to the next pueblo or two to gain some ground.

And then — inevitably — it rains a steady, windy drizzle, sometimes pouring down.

I put on the poncho on day four and get so figuratively lost in my thoughts — which are mostly centered around the miserable nature of the day — that I literally get lost. I miss a crucial arrow and before long, I’m on the highway walking alongside coches and camiñones that spray water on me.

My cheap poncho starts ripping down in the chest area, making my inner shirts wet — another preoccupation of the modern pilgrim. Wet clothes and shoes make for an unpleasant journey.

I would give you a full play-by-play of the events, but I realize now as I type this, what, really, is there to tell?

I walked, I ate, I rested, I walked on, I rested, I ate, I slept.

I took pictures.

I sometimes called on the help of others when I needed it; I sometimes helped others who needed it.

I was exhausted and, by the time I reached the cathedral, exhilarated.

In total, I walked about 120 km in five days, enough to obtain the official pilgrim’s credential that logged me as another number for the year. In 2006, 100,377 pilgrims did at least this same distance that I did; in 2007, 114,026 walked it; in 2008, 125,141. (These stats come from the Archbishop’s office of Compostela itself.)

The volume of books that have been written about the Camino in the past 15-20 years is astonishing. It seems like if you can string together a sentence and snap some photos, you too can write about what it means to be a pilgrim (myself not excluded). Paulo Coehlo did it, as did Shirley McClaine. I’ve read the Coehlo one and excerpts from others and, honestly, I wouldn’t recommend a single one in terms for literary merit. (But if you ever decide to do it, they certainly are helpful to know what to expect.)

That said, it seems to be a slippery task to be able to write about this and not fall into the abyss of cliché. El Camino, the road, the journey not the destination, do it, push yourself beyond your limits, persevere/ struggle through the hardships, never lose site of the goal, be patient, give 100%, etc.

In the end, over a month after having done it, I still wonder what it was that I learned. I never got what I expected: no revelation, realization or epiphany. Maybe this is was part of it: don’t expect anything. It will be different than whatever you do expect, so keep them minimal. The only thing El Camino de Santiago really offers you is some time alone and with strangers, some silence, some nature, some beauty, some exercise, some challenge.

Now that I think about, that’s quite a lot.


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Only we capitalists could come up with such story: a fairy who pays cold, hard cash for human teeth.

In ancient Europe, they would simply bury the teeth. But in 18th century France, a story appears in which a good queen hires a mouse to hide under a bad king’s pillow and to knock out all of his teeth when he is asleep. From there, the story has been somewhat transformed.

Today in Spanish speaking countries, we have a tooth mouse named Ratoncito Pérez, who makes the occasional appearance in Colgate commercials. He replaces the tooth for candy or money.

In Italy the topino (little mouse) often replaces the Fatina (Tooth Fairy). French children also get visits from the tooth mouse, or La Petite Souris. But in lowland Scotland, he outsources to a “fairy rat” to do his rounds for him.

In Greece, kids throw their milk teeth at the roof. They then recite a little rhyme which comes out to something like, “Take sow my tooth and give me an iron one so that I can chew rusks.” In some regions of Greece, it is a mouse not a sow which is invoked.

There is no Tooth Fairy in Germany – kids instead collect their teeth in a container called a Zahndose.

Filipino children bury their teeth in order to make a wish.

Turkish children don’t bury their teeth—their parents do.

Chilean and Costa Rican kids get their teeth made into a charm.

In Japan, kids throw their teeth straight down and up into the air as a request for straight teeth (depending on bottom or top jaw). In other parts of Asia, children either throw their teeth at the roof or in the spaces in the floor and shout out a request that they will have teeth like a mouse that will keep growing all their life.

I don’t get that one either. But who am I to question Wikipedia?

So why are teeth so valuable in our culture? Why are we are instructed to put those precious pearls under our pillows so that we can trade them in for hard currency. And furthermore, for something to be valuable, there has to be demand. Has anyone thought of that? Are there others out there vying for a place in the market, which the Tooth Fairy has clearly monopolized? Some Cavity Gnome or Incisor Elf we’ve never heard of?

And why only baby teeth? Why can’t the guy who just got his head bashed in during a boxing match cash in to help ease the pain?

Is the Tooth Fairy really female? What’s the going rate? And furthermore, what does the Tooth Fairy DO with all those baby teeth once purchased?

This last question – this question of motivation – is a major weakness in the whole story, in my opinion. When the question was posed to me by the mother of one of my daughter’s friends who just lost a tooth, I was stymied when I realized that I had no idea.

I did some research.

The two most popular reasons available on the Internet are as follows:

1. The Tooth Fairy uses the teeth she collects as building materials for her castle.
2. The Tooth Fairy throws the teeth into the air, where they become stars.

Now, I’m no architect, but it seems to me the first explanation is a bit problematic. First of all, think about the constant struggle of keeping those teeth from rotting out from bacteria. Does she live in an arid climate? Does she need to scrub the walls down daily with toothpaste? Does she file down the roots to make them fit? Building an entire edifice out of teeth just seems impractical. If she’s got an endless supply of small bills – and it would seem she does – then why not invest in specially formulated concrete or stone, selected for longevity.

And that’s not even touching on the “creepiness factor” of the whole project, which shadows Howard Hughes in his crazy years by a long shot. It sort of reminds me of that church in the Czech Republic that is decorated entirely with human bones that the monks dug up during some plague.

And as for the star theory, that just seems like a good way to misinform children about the awesome nature of our universe.

“The stars? No, they’re not in fact giant suns, each potentially hosting an entire galaxy complete with planets and possibly even life. They’re, uh, molars. Yep.”

I decided to ask around to some of my friends to find out how pervasive these theories actually were, since I had never heard of them. Here is a sampling of some of the answers I got:

Grinds them down to make fairy dust. Duh.
-Kimberly Wetherell

Where do you think tooth “paste” comes from?
-Scott Archer

She makes really frightening jewelry and sells it on eBay.
-Kirstin Orwig

The tooth fairy has a giant mouth the size of New Hampshire where you can find all the teeth of the world. She sits on the dark side of Mercury chomping on rocks.
-NL Belardes

The Tooth Fairy likes to collect teeth in an elaborate filing system. Each kid has his own drawer labeled with his full name. The Tooth Fairy is a librarian with an acute case of OCD.
-Found on a random blog

The tooth fairy grinds up those teeth, turns them into a fine dust, then uses that dust to powder the long flowing cape of the ghost of Bruce Lee. Then again, maybe the tooth fairy just turns in those teeth with her other recyclables and is able to make another few extra bucks.
-Richard Ferguson

She puts them in random places and when she finds them wonders why she didn’t date the baggie or envelope and now wonders if they are really worth keeping, and then realizes it’s kinda gross to have all these teeth, but can’t bring herself to throw them away.
-Sarah Kimmett

All teeth go to heaven, where they will be reunited gloriously one day with their loving masters.
-James Michael Blaine

The tooth fairy doesn’t have teeth of her own. Since she’s small, she can only use baby teeth for her own dentures, which have to constantly be replaced.
-Anonymous

And my personal favorite:

She breaks them in half and feeds them to the sugar bugs.
Alexandra Pavlidis (age 4) – this was after a lecture from the dentist about brushing so that the “sugar bugs” don’t eat her teeth.

First off – I am thankful that nobody but two people seemed to know about the castle and the stars.  But secondly, I’m all for traditions and folklore, but it seems to me that we have a few weaknesses in our Tooth Fairy story. As a culture, we collectively need to get our story straight.

So what do YOU think the TF does with all those teeth?


Louis Eugene Walcott was born on May 11, 1933, in the Depression-era Bronx.

Around the same time, a preacher in Detroit named Wallace Fard Muhammad disappeared.

This is significant.

A white man by some accounts and Arab by others, Wallace Fard Muhammad was a salesman. Peddling raincoats door-to-door afforded him just the right opportunity to evangelize.

Fard’s message went something like this: as descendants of the transatlantic slave trade, American blacks had been stolen from their spiritual and physical home in Africa. Because of Islam’s widespread influence in West Africa, most slaves had originally been Muslim. Which meant most American blacks were originally Muslim. According to the Qur’an, Muslims were Allah’s original human creation, so by proxy, Black Americans were actually God’s chosen people. The white man had been sent down as a test, a test blacks in America were failing. Once all black people returned to Islam, the only true religion, Allah would come down, return his people to Mecca and kill the white devils.

Fard’s gift of persuasion and the stress of the Depression worked in tandem; he quickly amassed a devoted following of black congregates.

Thus was founded The Temple of Islam.

Islam is the Arabic word for ‘submit’ and it refers to a person’s submission to God’s will in order to achieve peace.

Fard’s version of Islam espoused the prototypically strict moral code against drinking, smoking and pre/extramarital sex while also focusing on self-improvement and self-reliance. But the introduction of black supremacy essentially contradicted established Islamic practice, as the Qur’an explicitly rejects racial discrimination. Hatred of whites therefore defined the Temple of Islam as a distinctively American creation and heretical from an Islamic perspective.

Fard Muhammad was not the first nor the only person in America at the time preaching a mélange of Islam, Christianity, black nationalism and sundry religious elements. He picked up most of his ideas in Chicago, where the ideology was having a major moment, and in various other major cities poor and malcontent blacks were also gravitating towards similar schools of thought.

Meanwhile, Louis Eugene Walcott’s mother, a woman named Sarah Mae Manning who had come to the U.S. from St. Kitts in the 1920’s, moved Eugene and his brother Alvan from the Bronx to the Roxbury section of Boston. She was a strict disciplinarian who talked candidly to her
two sons about racial injustice and self-reliance.

Louis Eugene’s father was reportedly a Jamaican cab driver from New York uninvolved in his son’s life.

Louis Eugene went to Boston’s public high schools for gifted children, Boston Latin School and English High, where he made straight A’s, ran track and was a model student. In junior high he took up the violin. By age 13 he was performing with the Boston Civic Symphony and winning national competitions.

In 1951, at age 18, Louis Eugene won a track scholarship to the all-black Winston Salem Teacher’s College. Instead of attending Julliard to study music, he moved to North Carolina to pursue a teaching degree.

Because of the Temple of Islam’s burgeoning popularity, Fard Muhammad needed to train an understudy, and so he selected an autoworker named Robert Poole who fervently believed Fard to be Allah incarnate. As was de rigueur, Poole cast off his slave name and accepted the moniker Elijah Muhammad. Together the two continued converting hundreds of members, enjoying considerable success recruiting directly from prisons. The movement was just gaining traction when Allah incarnate was ordered out of Detroit as a result of his “cult activities” and subsequently dropped off the face of the earth. The circumstances of Fard’s disappearance have never been resolved.

Elijah Muhammad was immediately promoted to Supreme Minister.

On September 12, 1953, Louis Eugene married his childhood sweetheart, Betsy Ross, at 6:00 p.m. in St. Cyprian’s Episcopal church in Boston, where he had sung in the choir growing up.

He was forced to drop out of Winston Salem when Betsy began having pregnancy-related complications with the first of their nine children. Teaching career iced, Louis Eugene returned to music, pursuing a career in show business and recording a successful calypso record.

His stage name was The Charmer.

After playing a show in Chicago one February night in 1955 (which he headlined) Louis Eugene was invited by his saxophone player to a church gathering. The church turned out to be a mosque and the gathering turned out to be the Nation of Islam’s Saviour’s Day convention.

Elijah Muhammad was speaking that night.

Louis Eugene felt Truth dawn on him.

A few months later, in July of the same year, Louis Eugene officially joined the NOI and customarily dropped his slave name, replacing it with an X and later adopting the Muslim name Farrakhan. He convinced Betsy to convert as well. They had been married two years.

Ideological tensions between Elijah Muhammad and his most legendary convert, a young ex-convict named Malcolm X, were wreaking havoc inside the NOI. After Malcolm’s horrific but unsurprising assassination in February 1965, internal NOI politics gets so shady and twisted it cannot be adequately explored here.

Louis Farrakhan ascended to Minister at the Boston mosque in a few short years, and was transferred to Harlem Mosque in New York, where he served from 1965-1975.

In 1975, Elijah Mohammad died.

His son, Wallace (later re-named Warith Deen) Muhammad, succeeded him, and began moving the organization in a Sunni direction, closer to orthodox Islam. The NOI began accepting white members.

Although these changes had been brewing for some time (in fact Malcolm X attempted to bring about a similar transformation) Minister Louis Farrakhan freaked, walked away, then re-grouped and came back in 1978 with his own faction of the NOI, preserving its doctrine of black separatism.

Warith Deen Muhammed renamed his particular group and broke away from the NOI.

In the years after Elijah Muhammad’s death up to the 1990’s, Minister Louis Farrakhan attracted a level of attention the NOI hadn’t seen since Malcolm X. He was accepted as the NOI’s national leader and became The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

The H.M.L.F. is a beloved figure to many prominent members of the black community regardless of their, and in spite of his, religious affiliation.

Over the course of his extremely controversial and influential career, the H.M.L.F.has stated and retracted, then stated again, then clarified and re-re-stated an enormous number of shall we say charged remarks about Jews, homosexuals and whites, which is why he ranks pretty high up on the Anti-Defamation League’s blacklist (for lack of a better term). But his rhetoric, and what the press loves to call his “rage”, is almost always taken out of the smaller context of his famously prolix sermons and out of the larger context of the black liberation tradition, in which preaching has always been characteristically loud, physical and impassioned.

And while Farrakhanist delivery is often mistaken by the mainstream as a call to violence, theology scholars argue his preaching style should be understood mainly as an aesthetic to engage listeners, challenge those in power and raise questions for society to ponder.

Perhaps the best summary of why the H.M.L.F. is so revered and hated may be this:

Farrakhan, in his unremittingly vehement rejections of integrative ideals and his shrill calls for racial separation, succinctly articulates the sentiments of an increasing number of black – and many non-black – Americans, for whom the post-civil rights era of race relations in the United States has proven to be a very deep, painful and persistent disappointment.

– The Farrakhan Phenomenon, Robert Singh. Georgetown University Press, 1997.

In 2003, the H.M.L.F. celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary to Betsy Ross, now known as Mother Khadijah Farrakhan.

It is reported the H.M.L.F. is suffering from an untreatable recurrence of prostate cancer.