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Author Topic: Mellencamp’s ‘Minutes to Memories’: Brought to Life  (Read 5484 times)
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« on: March 01, 2011, 03:39:07 pm »

We came across a very interesting use of the theme of John's song "Minutes To Memories." The author provided us an introduction and then his full piece:

The author, Roger Wright, writes as “Chicago Guy” on the site

What are Republican Governors' Destroying?

The great songs are the ones that can be brought to life. Like in “Minutes to Memories,” when that old man starts talking about his life and his times, it’s as if you were on that bus too. The song brings that bus ride alive. You know that man. You can see him.

And when we all share a common challenge, like the current move to silence a people’s right to bargain together for safe, fair, work, that’s when the great songs really come to life. In all their glory.

Like in this story. When a very young man meets an old man on a bus ride. And one of the truly great songs again comes alive.

Here is the full piece Roger wrote:

Boarding the night bus out of Chicago, north up Highway 94 to a 3:00 am St. Paul Minnesota where she’d be waiting. A gentle snow like a muted trumpet fanfare walking back to 509 South Snelling Avenue. Second floor front. Cracks on the plaster ceilings were secret maps to treasures we would find together. While I whipped off lines like Scott Fitzgerald’s “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”
How hard could that be, right?
She’d take pictures. She could see shapes and colors in walls and doors. She could hear music in architecture. See dancing in pottery. And I really did have an ancestor, A.W. Dow, who once taught Georgia O’Keeffe. So we were ready.
We’d get jobs. Of course we’d get jobs. Everybody got jobs. Didn’t really think about it that much. The real search took place in the sparsely furnished cupboards of the mind, looking for stories that had to be there somewhere. Pictures that were just around the corner. Jobs would come. It was life that mattered.
Candles flickering on a red-checkered tablecloth, the red gravy on the pasta from tomatoes that sang to the earth in joy. The garlic bread drenched in butter, the cheap wine like a magic fruit nectar, a walk back home to the little rooms with the radiators banging, second hand copies of Bellow and Algren tossed across the room as love closed the day, sang to unknown stars and lasted well on to the first lights of dawn.
Boarding the bus that night. Visions of being done with her dorm room at Macalester, a college much like the one I knew. Where living off campus was like some far away dream of being some new kind of grown up.  Sure, I’d miss home. Miss Chicago. But we had talked it out. It was time for us to make a place somewhere different. Sometimes when you are twenty-one, you get this feeling that it’s time to be brave. And you don’t know what to do. So you leave. And besides, I wasn’t really leaving. Wasn’t really all that brave either. I’d been up to see her in St. Paul dozens of times.
Boarding the bus, enveloped by that bus smell familiar to anyone who’s ever ridden long distances by bus. It’s a potent cocktail of human sweat, fear, and failure wrapped in a plastic coating and sprinkled with the sense that somewhere something might be burning. Drenched in the seats and windows and walls so it never goes away. Leaving the old tired neon glare of the downtown Chicago bus station, it wasn’t long till we met the frozen farmland and the stars northwest of Chicago.
Scott Fitzgerald again:
“ When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air.”

And that’s when the old man, my seatmate, began to speak.
“Come Janesville,” he said, you can be stretching out for the rest of the ride. I’ll be getting off.”
“Oh. Well. Thanks!”
“Got a seven o’clock shift at the Chevy Plant. Yep. Sure do. Gotta be fresh.”
The old man wore a faded red flannel shirt. His sleeves rolled up. Wiry forearms. I could see the strength in his hands. The stories in his eyes. I started asking questions.
“How long you been working at the Janesville Plant?”
“47 years son.”
It had never occurred to me that jobs lasted that long. That ANYTHING lasted that long. This was a man even older than my parents!
“What kept you going over all those years?” I asked. Having no clue as to the answer.
“Oh it was never one thing. Be careful of folks who tell you that ANYTHING is cause of one reason. They are always missing something.”
“Well, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”
“My family. Pretty much the first thing that always comes to mind. Had to take care of my family. I gotta son. He’s going to college. And you know what? I got a daughter, she’s finished college! She’s a social worker in Milwaukee now. Not really sure what that means. Something about helping people I guess. Her Mom, she likes that. I like when we went to visit? She took us to the bar in the Pfister Hotel and I had the beer in the big tall glasses.”
“So your  family was first. What else?”
“I guess I couldn’t have done what I done without the union.”
And when he said that, my newly minted college brain came forth and I told him I didn’t believe in unions.
I thought he’d get mad. I wasn’t trying to be rude. But where I went to college, we were supposed to speak up when we disagreed.
The old man smiled just a touch and said, “Well, why’s that son?”
“Two reasons. First, it seems like they’re not efficient. I mean how do they help productivity? If two groups want to work something out, like labor and management, shouldn’t they just do it directly? Why do they need someone in the middle?”
“Well son, let me ask you this. Do you think that’s a fair fight?”
“I’m sorry?”
“A fair fight. Both sides have equal power? And even if they did. Do you think that the two groups would know HOW to work things out together? And what if you put those two pieces together? One group has no power? The other doesn’t know how to make a deal where everyone wins? What do you think is gonna happen?”
“I guess,” I said, it could be a mess. I guess someone’s gonna get hurt.” But I had taken an economics class, so I pressed on. Don’t the unions hurt the shareholders of the company?”
“Sure. Sometimes. When they’re not doing their job in the negotiation. Their job is to make sure that everybody wins.”
“What about public unions? What good are those? Why, if you think about it, they could hurt taxpayers! If their job is to fight for public employees, then the taxpayers are going to have to pay for it all right! And if me and my girlfriend get jobs up in St. Paul, I think we might have to pay taxes too!”
“Boy, “ the old man chuckled. “You’re talking about a negotiation the way a lot of folks see it. It’s a game called, ‘I win if I crush you into the ground.’ And that’s not a negotiation. That’s a war!  When real negotiators do their work, what happens is that they see the full picture of both sides. They work in the MIDDLE of the problem. Not from one end or the other. And they make something that everyone can live with.”
“But what about the money? Isn’t this all about the money?”
“Hah! Don’t let anyone ever tell you that. Unions are not about money. Unions are about taking care of each other. Unions are about my kids in college. The food on my table. The cars that we make. See here’s the thing son: “You make a world with no unions and you know what you got? You got a world with no ‘US’. A world with no “Us.’  You understand what I’m saying?”
“I think so. It’s like, if you got a bully on one side of a fight and a tiny little guy on the other---you gotta have someone in the middle to make sure that everybody wins. Even the bully. Because if the bully just stomps his foot and wins every time, that’s just not. . .what’s the word I learned in econ. . .that’s not sustainable. With a union standing in the middle of the discussion, that’s the only way everyone can win.”
“Now you said you had another question?”
“Oh yeah. I heard a lotta union guys are crooks. That true?”
“I don’t know. But I’d guess it is true.”
“So why do you like unions?”
“Because, son I see crooks everywhere I go. Don’t make it right. Maybe some of the union folks are crooks, maybe they don’t know how to do their jobs. Maybe a little of both. But son, “just because something isn’t always done well, doesn’t make it a bad idea.”
He nodded his head. I did too. And then as the bus cut through the Wisconsin night, he fell asleep.
When the driver called out “Janesville!” He woke up. I told him I was impressed about being able to sleep on the bus. He laughed. And as I let him out into the aisle to stand and grab his bag from the rack, he stopped for a moment. Looked at me and said, “Young fella. Just remember. Like it says in the song by that John Mellencamp guy from Indiana.
“An honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind.
So suck it up, tough it out, and do the best you can.”

« Last Edit: March 01, 2011, 07:33:34 pm by TonyBClubManager » Logged
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