Saturday, November 2, 2019

Rippy Family

Richard Rhea Rippy Family History
By Jan Looper Smith

This article is based on a work by Gayle Campbell, called "The Life and Times of John William Rippy." Gayle is one of John William's great granddaughters, as am I. Gayle did some excellent research by accessing original documents and newspaper accounts, as well as visiting local museums. She thoughtfully included background information on the various locations where the Rippys lived in order to set the scene. However, I found that the colorful details served to obscure the plain facts in my memory, and I was unable to repeat the salient details. Therefore, I have written a sort of top-level summary of the plain facts, which I’m hoping will make them more memorable.

First Generation
Matthew Rippy (1740-1817)
The story starts with Matthew, who was born in Ireland, and came to America with his family in 1744, when he was four years old. His father was named Edward Ross Rippy. His mother, Susannah Thomas, was born in Wales. The Rippys came here before the Revolutionary War, and settled in North Carolina, in the county of Orange. They were farmers.

About 1759, Matthew married to Nancy Ann Holliday. They had twelve children. Their daughters were named Frances, Susannah, Virginia, Jane, and Sarah. Their sons were John M., Thomas C., Edward, Matthew Jesse, Joseph H., and James.

In his mid-thirties, Matthew provided supplies to the American army during the Revolutionary War. Later, he was designated as a Patriot by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Further research shows that the Rippys were slave-holders. According to his will, when Matthew died in 1817, he had $400 in funds, over 300 acres of land, and four slaves to pass on to his children.

Second Generation
Edward Rippy (1764-1828)
Matthew’s eldest son, Edward, was born in Orange, North Carolina.  He married a woman named Nancy, like his mother. They had eleven children.

In 1811, when Edward was 47, he moved his family to Sumner County in Tennessee. He died there in 1828.

Third Generation
Thomas Matthew Rippy (1809-1884)
Thomas Matthew was born in Orange, North Carolina, before his family moved to Sumner County, Tennessee in 1811. He was a farmer. Thomas Matthew was married to Rosanna Williams and they had five children. He died in Sumner County in 1884.

Fourth Generation
Edward D. Rippy (1836-1902)
Thomas Mathew’s son Edward D. Rippy was born in Sumner County, Tennessee.

Edward was a farmer. He was married to Frances Lane. They had ten children in Sumner. Around 1884, when Edward was 48, he and Frances moved their ten children to Stony, which is in Denton County, in Texas. Another son was born there.

Denton is in Central Texas North, about half way between Dallas-Fort Worth and the Oklahoma border.

Speculation: Gayle wonders why anyone would move from the “lush, green hills” of Sumner, Tennessee to the dry, rocky land of Stony, Texas. “Perhaps it was the lure of cheap land, or maybe just getting away from all the other Rippys.” I think she’s right on both counts. The Rippy family were pioneers in sparsely populated Denton county, so it seems likely that land was cheap. Also, since families were so large in those days, young people were forced to spread out in search of farm-lands and wives.

I can’t find any documentation about this, but I’m speculating that Edward D. bought a large farm, which was then inherited by his eldest son, John William.

Fifth Generation
John William Rippy (1864-1941)
John William was the first-born son of Edward D. Rippy and Frances Lane. Like most of his siblings, John was born in Oak Grove, in Sumner County, Tennessee, but in 1884 when he was 20, he moved with his family to Denton County, Texas.

In 1886, when he was 22, John William married Louisa Griffen. He was farming in Denton, but he also owned a lumber yard. John and Louisa had four sons: Richard Rhea, Max, Herschel and Maud.

Louisa died in 1894, when her sons were all under 5 years old.

in 1895, less than a year later, John married Mary Anna Nail, called Anna. Anna and John adopted the daughter of a friend of Anna’s who had died, in addition to having four sons and one daughter together. That is ten children in total.

Also in 1895, John’s home was destroyed by fire.

In 1896, John’s lumberyard was damaged by a tornado.

By 1910 John and Annie had moved to Otter Creek, in Kiowa County, Oklahoma. John was 46 years old. This was the Rippy family’s first venture into Oklahoma.

By the fact that he later moved back to Denton, I speculate that John had retained ownership of their farm there, leasing it out to others while they were gone.

In 1920, John and Annie were living in Moore, in Cleveland County, Oklahoma, according to the census. Their adopted daughter Ruth was a school teacher there. Moore is close to Oklahoma City, and also to Norman, where the university is located.

In 1923, they were living in Shawnee, Oklahoma, which is a good size town in the same region. Their son Max owned the Pickwick Market there, and their son Herschel worked there as well.

In 1928, when he was 64, John and Anna were again living on a farm in Denton County. John also owned a filling station, probably on a corner of his own land, which he leased out. This “filling station” must have been a sort of community center; in addition to selling gas and oil, the mail came there, and there was a lunch counter. In July of 1928, John was accused of killing the fellow who leased the filling station from him, J. I. Hornsby. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in the penitentiary.

When it came to trial in April of 1929, the case against John was solely circumstantial. Several people had been passing through the area—bus-riders, bike-riders, drivers—who testified that they saw John near the station about the time of the shooting, carrying a shotgun. Hornsby had been killed by a shotgun. John testified that he had gone to the station to get his mail on the day of the killing, and had returned home through a field, stopping to shoot a rabbit with his shotgun.

John’s motive was supposed to relate to the lease on the filling station. Hornsby had been leasing the station for about six months, and since he didn’t want to extend the lease, John had found a new tenant, who wanted to take possession a week before the lease was up. When the tenant approached Hornsby about this, Hornsby said he wanted to hold onto the station until the lease was up. John said that was agreeable with him; however, a few people reported to the court that John was dissatisfied with Hornsby—because he wouldn’t sell beer or whiskey—and John had been known to make drunken jokes about giving Hornsby trouble.  Many others reported that the two men were on good terms, and John Rippy was known as a law-abiding citizen.

Six months later, this decision was reversed and remanded because a witness for John Rippy had not been permitted to testify. A new trial was set for December, 1930.

In the second trial, the prosecution again presented many witnesses who saw John in the area of the filling station, and a few that who thought John felt some ill will toward Hornsby.

The defense offered testimony by George Smith and Will Drake who both said that they had seen Hornsby alive after the time that the State alleged he had been killed. Gayle’s report seems to mix the two men’s names, but one or both of them declared that he stopped at the station after the alleged time of the killing, and found Hornsby “standing in the door of the station while a white man and two Mexicans were there in a Ford touring car.” He said a shotgun was in the front seat of the car, and that the white man was drunk and was trying to trade a half-gallon of whiskey for some gasoline.

The drunken white man, therefore, was another potential suspect. Since it is known that J. I. Hornsby refused to sell liquor, it seems plausible that some sort of fracas might have broken out when the white man tried to trade whiskey for gasoline.

However, the jury wasn’t convinced. They convicted John again, and lengthened his sentence from 25 to 35 years!

John’s attorneys appealed the decision, so in 1934, over 3 years after the second trial, he was granted a third trial and a change of venue to Dallas.

John was convicted again, and sentenced to life in prison, but that trial was overturned a few days later because, during his summation, when referring to the fact that John had not testified in this trial, the prosecutor got the names of Hornsby and Rippy mixed.

A fourth trial was set, but John failed to appear and forfeited his bail.

John and Anna fled to Oklahoma, where four of their children were already living. Richard and Herschel were in Tulsa, Maxwell was in Shawnee, and their adopted daughter Ruth was in Cushing. Lloyd and John had already moved to California, and were living in Whittier.

In 1935, John and Anna had settled in Bristow, a tiny town, about halfway between Tulsa and Shawnee. They lived in town, as John was too sick to manage a farm. He went by the name of Bill, and that is the name on his grave in Bristol cemetery.

In 1941, John’s wife Anna, sometimes called Annie, was struck by a fast passenger train while walking into town with a neighbor. Annie was 77 at the time. Witnesses said that seeing the train coming, she had attempted to dash across the track, but misjudged the train’s speed. John died of natural causes later that year.

John William was Gayle’s main subject, so she concludes her story there. However, John's son Richard Rhea was my grandfather, so I’m going to piece together what I know of his story.

Sixth Generation
Richard Rhea Rippy, 1889-1959

Richard Rhea was born in Denton County Texas, the first child of John William and Anna.

The next recorded event in Richard’s life was when he married Lillie Mae Ragle in 1911. Toward the end of her life, Lillie wrote her own memoir, entitled Whistle and Hoe.

Lillie was born in Parker County, Texas. Her farming family moved to a few other counties in Texas, before becoming pioneer settlers in Olney, which is in Young County, Texas.

When Lillie was a senior in high school, her father rented their farm out, and the family moved into the town of Olney. Without her father’s permission, she began going out with boys, and she met Richard at a party there. When her father discovered her one night alone in a buggy with another boy, he beat her severely with three branches of a peach tree.

After a year, her father moved the family back to the farm. Lillie refused to go with them. She got a job at a general merchandise store, and a furnished room, and lived on her own for awhile.

The following year, 1910, Lillie’s family moved 400 miles west to the town of Ralls, which is in Crosby County, near Lubbock, and not far from the border with New Mexico, and her father persuaded her to go with them. She soon found a job at the Crosby County Courthouse in nearby Emma, as the Deputy County and District Clerk. Her main job was recording deeds and licenses.

After about a year, she got a letter from Richard Rhea asking her to marry him. He was farming in Stony, in Denton County, on a farm near John and Anna’s place. Although she wrote back that she wasn’t ready to get married, he came out to Emma anyway. They were married that very day by the judge at the County Courthouse where Lillie worked. Born the same year, Richard Rhea and Lillie Mae were both 22 years old.

Richard was a tenant farmer, leasing first one farm and then another. They raised cotton and grains, and Richard did some livestock trading as well. Every year or two brought another move, and another baby.

In 1912, they had one son: Jay William Rippy. The following year, Lillie lost a baby.

In 1914, they moved to the Ralls area, where Lillie’s family lived. They rented a farm of about 300 acres, and they had a daughter, named Hazel. The next year Lillie had another stillborn baby.

In 1917, during the First Word War, they had a daughter. They named her Dulon after Mrs. Dulon Assiter, who was very helpful to them at that time. She was the wife of the man who owned the land they were renting.

In 1918, when Dulon was 13 months old, their son Fred Rhea was born.

The next year was a good crop year, and they were apparently able to save some money, because in 1919, Richard and his brother John bought a restaurant in Ralls, and the family moved to town. However while they were there, Richard had rented a farm and had a Negro working it on the shares. This venture was a failure due to a hail storm, and they had to return to farming. That year, Lillie had another stillborn child.

In 1920, their son Russell was born.

In 1922, they had daughter that they named May Ellen. Both Richard and Lillie were 33 years old.

The Payne-Rippy Feud
In 1923, while they were living on a farm near Ralls, Richard, known as Dick at the time, got into a feud with David Leonard Payne, who was known as ‘Poppin’ because of his skill with a pistol. This feud has become something of a legend in that part of Texas.

This is the way it was reported at the time by the Galveston Daily News, and other newspapers: "The Vendetta between Payne, Sweaza and the Rippys began when Payne won their money in a poker game. The trio beat Payne with a cane-bottomed chair until they thought he was dead. The attackers summoned an undertaker to pick up Payne's body; however, when the mortician arrived he discovered that Payne was still alive. Knowing that Payne earned his nickname "Poppin" because he was an expert shot and fearing that he would seek revenge for his beating, the gang decided to finish the job by ambushing him as he approached a Ralls barber shop. Payne was wounded but survived this attack as well. Next, [switching to a shotgun] the trio fired upon him from an automobile as he worked in his garden in Ralls." Once again, Payne survived, and his attackers were put on trial for attempted murder in Crosbyton, Texas. During a break in the trial, Maud Rippy and Sweaza were at the east entrance of the courthouse conversing with their attorney when Poppin Payne killed them "by a fusillade of 45-caliber pistol bullets as they sat on the courthouse steps. Six bullets penetrated Rippy´s body, one of the shots going into his heart. Sweaza was shot twice, once through the heart. Poppin Payne…surrendered to Sheriff John McDermett in the Courthouse."

In 2014, the "Shootout on the Courthouse Steps" was re-enacted by high school students as part of Crosby County's celebration of the 100th anniversary of its courthouse. According to that version, the feud started with a poker game in the town of Dimmit, the county seat in Castro County. "Poppin Payne was sitting at a deal table with what seemed a kind of prohibition-era gang of three. The three were J. Sweaza and Dick and Maud Rippy. Poppin Payne was winning every pot, and finally the gang of three were completely cleaned out.  It isn’t known if Poppin Payne laughed as he rose from the table with all their money, but it is clear the gang of three never wanted to see Payne alive again. They picked up their cane-bottom chairs and began beating him with all the rage their chagrin could inspire.

"Finally, he lay not only still, but dead. At least they assumed he was dead, and without fleeing the scene, they did what they figured was right — they called the undertaker to come get the body.  But Poppin Payne wasn’t dead. He revived. And later…the gang of three feared revenge from a man they knew could shoot with deadly accuracy. There was only one thing to do — take out Poppin Payne.  When he stepped out of a barbershop in Ralls, they were waiting.  Apparently they got off just one shot, and it only hit Poppin Payne in a fleshy part of his arm.  He was angry, and they knew it. A court trial had been set to deal with the issue, and Poppin Payne was the witness. They had to finish the job.

"This time, they picked a shotgun, which with its scattered pattern, couldn’t miss. Poppin Payne and his wife were working in their garden when the gang of three arrived for a kind of drive-by shooting. They hit him in the back with a load of buckshot, and that made it war.

"While he was getting the buckshot taken out, Poppin Payne learned the doctor had a 45-caliber gun. He needed a bigger gun for something he needed to do, he had said, and traded a small-caliber gun for the doctor’s .45." However, his assailants were in jail, so he didn't get a chance to use the pistol until the they were tried for attempted murder. The story goes on:

"At a break in the trial, two members of the gang of three — Maud Rippy and Sweaza — were sitting outside on the steps of the Crosby County Courthouse, and Dick Rippy was checking on something inside. Poppin Payne appeared with his .45 and quickly dispatched Maud Rippy and Sweaza where they were, because, as everyone knew, he was a good shot.  Dick Rippy saw what was happening and fled out another door to hide in the restrooms, which were outside the courthouse at the time.

"Poppin Payne went inside the courthouse and surrendered to Sheriff John McDermett and was taken to jail in Lubbock. At his trial, the jury acquitted him, either because the jurors considered it self-defense after the fact, or else they just didn’t blame Poppin Payne for what he did."

Although this story is dramatic and memorable, it isn't credible. It appears the so-called "prohibition-era gang of three" was laughably inept at committing murder, and Payne was remarkably resilient. Moreover, the story has it that Richard and Payne, who both lived in Ralls, went all the way to Dimmitt, over 100 miles away, to play poker with Maud and Sweaza.

Just who were these characters, anyway? We already know that Richard was 34 years old, and the father of six children, one just a year old. His adversary, David Leonard Payne, was 50, and the father of nine children. Both lived in Ralls at the time of their quarrel. Maud, Richard's brother, was a County Commissioner in Castro County and lived in Dimmitt.
Digging around the web for information on J. Sweaza, I found long quotations from the "Sweazea Family History." The man known in the newspapers as J. Sweaza was actually James Franklin Sweazea. James was born in 1850, so at the time of the 'feud' in 1923 he was 73 years old. He was a widower, retired and living in Dimmitt, in Castro County, Texas. He was friendly with the Cone family, who lived a few miles down the road, and frequently helped them out. The way he got involved with the Rippys is that one of Mrs. Cone's son-in-laws, Maud Rippy, asked him for a ride to Ralls; Maud doubted that his old model T would make it 100+ miles, while James had a new touring car. Maud had heard that his brother Dick was having serious trouble with his neighbor Poppin Payne and wanted Maud to come help decide what to do.

The Sweasea Family's version has nothing about poker or cane-bottomed chairs. It says that when Maud and James got to Ralls, Dick and Maud must have decided that they had to kill Poppin Payne. "With James F. passed out from drink, they drove by Payne's house, and shot Payne with a shotgun." Although all three were charged the same, it looks like Maud did the driving and Richard did the shooting. They failed to kill him, and all three were arrested for attempted murder.

The Sweasea Family History goes on to say that during a recess in their trial, while they were sitting on the courthouse steps with their defense attorney, James and Maud were shot by Poppin Payne. Payne slipped up behind them and shot James F. In the back of the head. When Maud jumped to run, Payne shot him in the back; he fell, but continued to crawl, so Payne shot him several more times. Then he shot Sweazea again, in the forehead. He didn't get Richard because he was in the restroom.

The Sweazea version states that Payne was tried for manslaughter in the killing of James F., because James wasn't involved in the Payne-Rippy feud. According to a report on the Texas Rangers, who guarded the courtroom during Payne's trial, another indictment against Payne was pending for killing Maud Rippy. Payne received a sentence of seven to twelve years, but on appeal the sentence was reduced to three to five years, and Payne served his time.

Payne was 58 when he died of natural causes in 1932, nine years after Richard had tried to kill him.

The court documents from the trial of the Rippy brothers and Sweasea that have been quoted say nothing about poker, cane-bottomed chairs, or three failed attempts at murder. The three men were tried only for the drive-by shot-gun shooting. Nor was Payne considered 'not guilty' because the jury didn't blame him for getting his own revenge on his attackers.

The only contemporary source I can find for the colorful details in the legend of the Payne-Rippy feud is a short, sensational article in a big-city newspaper from the time. It appears to have been based on rumor and hearsay.

Richard's brother John, and his father John William, got involved when Payne was tried for killing James Sweasea. John wrote about it much later in a letter. Since the shooting had taken place on the steps of the Crosby County courthouse in Crosbyton, Payne's trial was moved to Canyon, a distance of about 100 miles.

John's story skips over the start of the feud, but he adds a lot of colorful detail of his own. He says that he came down from Oklahoma City for the hearing, where Dick would be a witness. Brother Max furnished him a 30.30 rifle, and brother Hershel gave him a 45 Colt automatic, "and I went out to kill." A sheriff was supposed to take Dick from Ralls to Canyon, a distance of about 100 miles, and the Rippy brothers apparently feared that they might be ambushed by Payne’s sons on the way. Dick and his father, John William sat in the backseat of the sheriff's car, and brother John sat in the front seat with the sheriff. John was the spokesman. "Before we started, I told the sheriff we…thought more of Dick's bull dog than we did of him and if he led us into an ambush I would put the first shot in him and I had the forty five in my hand cocked and ready.

"Nothing happened until we were almost to Canyon City. Then we ran into a road block. The sheriff slowed down and I told him to drive on. Papa, Dick and I had agreed to shoot it out and kill every Payne in sight. When we got close enough to the blockade it turned out to be four sheriffs and two Texas rangers who took over the situation, also our guns, and escorted us to a rent house where we were guarded day and night until the trial started."

The report on the activities of the Texas Rangers includes a quote from the judge who asked for them to guard the courtroom during Payne's trial that confirms the high level of tension surrounding the case. It says the judge understood that the killing grew out of "a bitter factional feeling in Crosby County, and that it is believed that the respective factions are well organized and determined against each other, and that in all probability there will be further trouble growing out of the situation, and it is feared that there may be some outbreak during the trial…"

Brother John recounts a comical incident that did take place during the trial. "Nothing happened until the second day of the trial just after lunch when someone tried to start their Model T and it back fired three or four times. Court broke up--they thought the fight was on. Spectators jumped through the open windows but it was soon over and the Judge called a recess for thirty minutes."

There is no report about the disposition of the case against Richard for attempting to murder Payne in the first place, but it appears it was dropped. It is notable that this feud caused the deaths of two innocent men, and ruined the life of Poppin Payne.

In 1924, Richard fled to Shawnee, Oklahoma, where his parents and a couple of his brothers were living. Lillie sold out in Ralls, and took the children with her to Shawnee on the train. Lillie doesn’t say what Richard did for a living in Shawnee, but since his brothers Max and Herschel had a market there, I’m guessing that’s where Richard learned the skill of meat-cutting.

Around 1925, Richard and Lillie and six children headed back to Texas to pick cotton, stopping in a place called Dozier. By the end of the season they had enough money to rent a farm for themselves. They raised cotton and feed.

They stayed in Dozier for about a year, then moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a big city in the eastern part of the state. From Lillie's memoir, it appears they spent 1926 and 1927 in Tulsa. She doesn't specify Richard's occupation, but I'm guessing he worked as a butcher.

In 1928, they returned to Shawnee, again living in town. They were both 39 years old. Their oldest child, Jay was 16; Hazel was 13; Dulon was 11; Fred was 10; Russell was 8; May Ellen was 6. Lillie bore another son that year, that they named John. Richard worked for his brother Maxwell, who owned the Pickwick Market there, and his brother Herschel worked there as well.

They next moved to Sapulpa (which is between Shawnee and Tulsa), and then they moved back to Tulsa. Lillie doesn't say what Richard was doing there, but I'm guessing he worked as a butcher, probably with Herschel.

From Lillie’s memoir it appears that they were in Tulsa about nine years. After Richard's father John William was accused of murder, he lived with them for awhile. Both Jay and Hazel got married toward the end of that period.

In 1937, when they were 48 years old, Richard and Lillie moved to California. I believe they took all the children except for Jay and Hazel, who were already married and established in Oklahoma. I think that son John, known as Johnnie, was nine years old, May Ellen was 15, Russell was 17, and Fred was 19. I surmise that Fred and Russell were soon working and living on their own.

The family first settled in Fullerton. Lillie's story lacks detail, but it seems they lived in Fullerton until around 1945, with interruptions, and that Richard had one, or a succession, of butcher shops.

In the first four years, Lillie made six trips back to Tulsa, once hitch-hiking, though she was in her fifties. At one point during this period, they moved to a farm in Enid Oklahoma, where they bought and sold milk cows.

They lived in Enid a year, but when the man who was running the meat department at their store in Whittier, CA, was drafted, Richard returned to California to take over. Lillie sold all their livestock, and moved back to California with Hazel, Dulon, and Johnnie.

Richard and Lillie lived in Whittier, not far from the market. Hazel helped Richard in the meat department, and Dulon, with her husband Frank, ran the grocery and produce sections. The market did a pretty good business, and within a few years, Richard sold out to Dulon and Frank.

Richard was 64-65 years old when he retired. He and Lillie bought a house in Whittier and fixed it up. He lived until he was 70, but he was bed-ridden the last year before he died. Lillie lived to be 93.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

My Chinese Influence

As a resident of Silicon Valley, I swim in a sea of immigrants and the offspring of immigrants. On my street alone are neighbors from Bolivia, Iran, India, Taiwan and China, while our housekeeper and yard man are both from Mexico. As a nondescript old white lady, I'm virtually invisible to all these people as they dart about self-importantly. It appears we have nothing in common, and that it is I who is out of place.

However, through our neighborhood writer's group, I have recently established a channel of communication with a fellow of Chinese descent who is half my age, and we seem to be on the same wavelength, sometimes.

This new friendship has caused me to think about the big influence of Chinese culture in my life. In my twenties, I was primarily seeking enlightenment, and I read books about Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen without concern for their national origins. My first book of Chinese philosophy was the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tse Zu. I associate Taoism with peace of mind through rational detachment from the past and the future, and total immersion in the present.

During that period a Jewish friend and mentor got me interested in the I Ching, an ancient Chinese book of divination, or fortune-telling. For several months, we consulted the I Ching whenever a question about the future arose. Instead of giving a pat answer, like a fortune cookie, the I Ching presents a set of evocative imagery about mountains and lakes, and other aspects of nature, that require deep interpretation, thus stimulating the imagination. It gives totally non-Western advice like, "The Great Man leads by following, or "Great action may be achieved by doing nothing."

When I was 28 years old, I was shocked to discover, on the last page of Time magazine, a profile of Maxine Hong Kingstong, a Chinese-American woman my age, who had written a book called The Woman Warrior that had quickly become required reading for freshman English majors. When I was an English major, only ten years before, we read only the work of white guys, mostly dead—very few females, and no authors who were thought of as second-generation immigrants at the time. I read Maxine's book then, and twice or three times more over the decades. It is such a heady mix of fantasy and reality that I still don't feel I have conquered it; it always leaves me in a state of mystification.

I followed Maxine's career, and read all of her work. Then as fortune would have it, I had a chance to meet this great author through mutual friends. She and I, with our husbands, have attended the same annual Christmas party for many years. When we chat, she is always very supportive of my own paltry efforts at writing; she's a great teacher as well as a great writer, and she taught at UC Berkeley for most of her career. From Maxine I got the idea that the effort to synthesize the Chinese and American cultures into one workable personality is challenging but rewarding.

As a student of art history, I'm also familiar with some contemporary Chinese artists. Until the 20th century Chinese art was confined by tradition and consistent adherence to art values that had been dictated centuries ago. There was little room for innovation or individualism. But in the 20th century some Chinese artists asserted their individuality, and adapted tradition to an entirely radical message.

The most obvious example is Ai Wei Wei, the maverick who got himself imprisoned by exposing the hard reality behind cheery Chinese propaganda. An iconic example of Ai's work is an installation of a long snake-like form composed of identical children's backpacks, such as those worn by the school children who were killed when a school collapsed due to shoddy construction. The show which has had the most impact locally was installed at Alcatraz a few years ago. Ai used the abandoned cells as exhibit spaces for installations related to the prisoners' experience—such as the recreation of the hospital ward, and another with speakers playing recordings of prisoners talking.

On of my favorite contemporary painters is a Chinese-American named Hung Liu. Hung Liu was a teenager in China during the cultural Revolution, and was sent to work in the fields at the time she was supposed to be entering college. She survived that and went on to get an art education and become a successful art teacher. But she always felt her personal vision was repressed by Chinese traditions of paintng, and even more confined by the dictates of the Communist Government. She was always looking for a way to get to the U.S. In her late thirties, she finally came here as a graduate student and quickly settled in, establishing a family and becoming a citizen. Most of Hung Liu's paintings reflect sadly on Chinese culture before it got erased or perverted by the Communist geovernment. She is adept at all Chinese traditional forms, but she always includes abstract element in her canvases, such as a veil of linseed oil drips, to show that her work is modern—as well as to express a feeling of loss.

As long as I'm doing an inventory, I could mention that the first international trip my husband and I made together was to Hong Kong. I remember colorfully elaborate architecture and decor, huge shanty-towns, opium addicts asleep in the street, vibrant Chinese temples with arcane rituals, and a hovercraft ride through a huge and fascinating harbor. My Hong Kong experience was completely disorienting—please forgive the unavoidable pun.

For me, exposure to Chinese culture and philosophy has been a crack through which I could escape the aggressiveness and hostility of Western thinking. With Westerners, life is all about dominance and power. With the Chinese philosophers, life is about detachment and acceptance, for the sake of peace of mind. I can relate to that. My goal is to let go of thoughts and emotions, to let them pass, for the sake of attending to the present moment.

It's reassuring to have this connection with one of the Chinese-Americans in my neighborhood. It makes me feel less like a stranger in my own land.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

J. D. Salinger: Franny and Zooey

Franny and Zooey is a novel by J. D. Salinger,  who is most famous for his earlier work, called The Catcher in the Rye.  It consists of two parts, Franny and Zooey;  each was originally published separately in The New Yorker in the late 1950s, but they were always intended as one novel, as they were published in 1961.

The novel's most attractive quality is its humorous tone: self-conscious, over-sophisticated, and supercilious. On the very first page, Salinger describes the voices of a group of college boys at a railway station, waiting for their dates to arrive for a big week-end, as "collegiately dogmatic, as though each young man, in his strident, conversational turn, was clearing up, once and for all, some highly controversial issue…" How well I remember boys like that!

The set-up has multiple layers of artifice, as though the narrator were hiding his true meaning, and his true personality. The narrator, Buddy, presents himself as an unqualified teacher of literature in a small girls' college in the ski country of New England, who is also trying to build a career as a writer of fiction. Buddy claims he got the story from the main characters themselves—Franny and Zooey and their mother Bessie—in long, detailed conversations and letters.

Dialog dominates the narrative to such an extent that it would be easy to stage the scenes as a play. The number of locations is minimal and there is very little action. Franny has scenes in a railway station, taxi, and restaurant, but Zooey mainly takes place in a bathroom—while Zooey is sitting in the tub, hidden behind a shower curtain— and a few other locations around the house. The action is so static that it would be easy to transform the novel into a series of radio plays.

We first meet Franny in a letter she has written to her boyfriend Lane. She is painfully self-conscious, apologizing in advance for her scattered thinking and bad spelling, as English majors are wont to do. After Franny arrives for the week-end, the pair have lunch at a fancy restaurant. Lane is also self-conscious, in a self-important way, wanting to look right and act right, and to have everything go right, according to his conventional pre-conceptions. Franny and Lane long to be in love with each other, but each criticizes the other constantly, and their hypocrisy breaks through appearances in comical ways. Describing Franny's internal life, Salinger says, "Sometimes it was hell to conceal her impatience over the male of the species' general ineptness, and Lane's in particular."

Franny veers back and forth between playing her role of giddy, gushing college girl and expressing her true feelings of doubt and disgust. For instance, she forces herself to listen to Lane's discourse with a "special semblance of absorption," and then totally condemns his speaking style and his self-presentation. She feels completely detached from Lane, but she covers it with an affectionate gesture.

Franny is suffering from total disillusionment with social conventions and conformity, with phoniness and self-promotion. Her way of life—majoring in English and acting in summer stock—seems embarrassingly ego-driven. She finds herself drawn to mysticism and prayer—in particular the so-called Jesus prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a miserable sinner." The conflict between her desire to conform and her spiritual inclinations finally causes Franny to faint in the midst of lunch with Lane. This gives her an escape, and an excuse to go home and languish on the couch, where Zooey starts.

Buddy interrupts his story at this point to give us the basics of Franny's improbable family background. Her parents, Bessie and Les, had been a popular vaudeville act, and all seven of their children had been youthful brainiacs, who performed on a radio quiz show for kids. To make it weirder, the two oldest boys indoctrinated their younger siblings in spirituality in general and Buddhism in particular from the beginning.

We first meet Zooey in that most intimate of activities, the long hot bath. His expectation of privacy, is frustrated by the entrance of his mother, Bessie. The fact that Bessie intrudes on his privacy tells us a lot about her character, and the fact that he lets her, with grudging good humor, tells us a lot about their relationship. Bessie is a genuine comic character, appearing in a hair net and a kimono whose pockets are so overloaded with paraphernalia that she "clinks faintly when she walks." She is worried about Franny's depression and wants Zooey to get her to snap out of it.

Zooey is a hidden character. When he finally emerges from behind the shower curtain, he quickly hides his face by lathering for a shave. When he tries to help Franny recover, he spends most of the time lying on the floor with his face hidden from her. When that doesn't work, he talks to Franny over the phone, pretending to be their brother, Buddy, who purports to be the author of this story.  Zooey's personality is a contradiction in terms. He is extraordinarily handsome; he has astounding recall of everything he reads; his voice is naturally sonorous. In fact, he has quite naturally become a sought-after television actor, with additional roles on stage or in some independent film. The unexpected contradiction is that he has been fighting a private war against narcissism since he was seven or eight years old; he tries not to look at himself in mirrors, the way Narcissus of myth doted on his own image reflected in a pool. Zooey has already been through the sort of spiritual crisis Franny is experiencing, and he has been re-reading a letter that Buddy wrote to him at the time, looking for inspiration to share with Franny.

In Franny and Zooey, Salinger sought to express a spiritual synthesis of the highest order. He considered how a naturally creative performer can escape their ego and live consistently with their spiritual beliefs. His solution is both amusing and liberating.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Jack Kerouac: "On the Road"

What I like about Jack Kerouac's classic novel On the Road is the poetic visions that Sal has. The narrator, Sal Paradise, is a seeker who thinks he'll find the truth by traveling rough around America. Like a prophet of old, he is seeking ultimate knowledge by living in self-imposed poverty and mingling with the most downtrodden and lowly folk, people he calls "beat." In this way, he has inspiring visions of the unity of humankind and expresses them in colorful and moving language.

Sal is a graduate student and budding novelist who periodically feels a need to take a break from academia and conformity in order to experience life more intensely; he craves a life of mythic proportions. As his guide, he chooses a "wild child" type character named Dean Moriarty who was born "on the road" and more or less raised by criminals. In other words, he is totally amoral, irresponsible, and self-indulgent. This allows the flame of pure enthusiasm and intelligence to blaze forth brilliantly. Sal is bewitched by Dean and periodically risks everything to travel with him; at the same time, the novelist in Sal recognizes good material for a story.

I like Dean because I too was once entranced by a wild and crazy character who lured me into doing wild and crazy things for the sake of kicks. With her also, I sank to some low points of recklessness and poverty.

I like Dean because he is attentive to his senses and wants to "dig" everything—to see and hear every detail of a new experience, and to feel it in the depths of his soul.

Dean is a pure hedonist, like Bacchus in Roman mythology, freely indulging in sex and booze. He has wives, or ex-wives, on both coasts, and children, too. Part of him longs for the luxuries of family life, but that part is frequently overcome by a mania that drives him to travel from coast to coast by any means available.

Dean Moriarty is famously based on a real person named Neal Cassady, who was a prominent figure in both the Beat generation and the Hippie era, but Dean is bigger than Neal; he is a character of mythic proportions, "a western Kinsman of the sun." He is a figure of folk tales, like Paul Bunyan. Where Paul Bunyan had prodigious feats, like carving the Grand Canyon with his ax, Dean performs fantastic feats of driving and parking in scene after scene.

I like Dean because he is obsessed with verbalizing every nuance of his experience. In several scenes he is shown baring his soul, or trying to, through outpourings of words, whether or not he understands them. And I like Saul because he is obsessed with listening, with absorbing this avalanche of thoughts and impressions. Ultimately, it is Dean's impassioned verbiage that fascinates Sal; he wants to give his own language a similar freedom and intensity, and he achieves that in passage after passage.

I like the musical theme in On the Road. In their travels, Sal and Dean constantly seek out jazz, bebop, and blues, and Sal makes a conscientious effort not only to describe individual performances, but to summarize the entire history of these musical styles. Beyond that, he tries to write passages that invoke inspired instrumental solos. I believe he even tried to imitate a musical form called a rhapsody, in which a set of themes is worked into a rapturous outpouring of melodic sounds. While I was reading this novel, I happened to hear Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which is a compendium of American musical themes from marching bands to movie sound tracks, whipped into a satisfying lather of sound, and the similarity in purpose between Gershwin and Kerouac became apparent to me.

I can relate to the theme of traveling because, although I wasn't "born on the road" like Dean, when I was 2 1/2 my father was drafted, and my mother and I followed by car as the army transferred him from base to base for a year or more before sending him to Japan. We traveled on the cheap and picked up hitch-hikers for help with driving and gas money. From the snows of South Dakota to the heat of south Texas we traveled to be with my dad.

Moreover, as an adult I have visited nearly every major city in America, and innumerable smaller towns. Of course, I was middle-aged and well-funded, I was traveling with my husband, and we generally held fast to orderly plans,  but there was still room for over-indulgence and risk-taking, and we had our ecstatic moments.

It's appropriate that Dean eventually burns out, like a dying star, losing his way and even his capacity to talk. Likewise, it's appropriate that Sal finds a good woman, escapes the tormenting fascination of aimless wandering, and writes the novel of his dreams.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Late Monet: Always Innovating

"The Late Monet" was a very important, and very large, exhibit at the de Young Museum that finished its run on May 27. The strongest impression I got from the show was that far from being a placid old man sentimentalizing his garden in his dotage, Monet was a relentless experimenter and tireless innovator throughout his career.

Monet was 32 years old in 1876—and already and accomplished realist—when he painted Impression, Sunrise, which is the source for the name Impressionism, a movement that lasted only about 10 years, but had an enduring impact on painting and painters. Instead of carefully delineating forms, Monet vaguely indicated boats and water with broad, casual brushstrokes. His main concerns were the light and color in the scene.

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
Impression, Sunrise, 1873
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
For the next 10 years, Impressionism was all the rage in Paris, with many excellent painters being preoccupied with the effects of light and color, and the use of a variety of brushstrokes.

After traveling widely in search of subjects, in the 1880s Monet settled down with his family in a rural town not far from Paris called Giverny. There he turned much of his creativity toward landscaping, and created a large garden that became the only subject of his work.

"The Late Monet" presented works from around 1900, when Monet was 60; most of the works were from 1913 to 1926, Monet's final period. He died at the age of 86.

Monet's most famous subject is the water lily pond he created on his property, a subject he painted obsessively. The most amazing result is how different each is from the other. That is partly because Monet was observing the pond in different seasons and at different times of day. But the main difference is in the brushstrokes and the level of detail; every work is a painterly experiment.

Water Lilies, Reflections of Tall Grasses, ca. 1897
Private Collection
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019

Water Lilies, 1906
The Art Institute of Chicago
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
Which of the vague forms represent real plants, and which patches of color are reflections of the sky? 

Water Lilies, 1914-1915
Portland Art Museum, Oregon
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
Some of the lily pads in this painting are barely indicated by one or two crude brushstrokes in an oval form. An unrecognizable yellow bloom is merely indicated by a few streaky brushstrokes. Or are those yellow strokes reflections of a plant hanging overhead? Some of the blue vertical strokes represent the plants growing beneath the surface, but other blue patches seem to be reflections of the sky. Monet merged different aspects of the scene into one flat, and highly decorative pattern.

Water Lilies, ca. 1914-1917
Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
Monet suggested the distance between one clump of lilies and another merely by lightening his colors and making his forms even more vague in the distance. Is that patch of sky in the upper section real or reflected?

Water Lilies, 1915-1917
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
Unless the light is just right, the large violet patch on the lower right of this canvas looks unfinished and muddy. When you look at it directly, the downward streaking brushstrokes seem to indicate the scene beneath the water, but the beautifully modulated color suggests reflections of the sky.
Does this painting show the light of late afternoon? Do the downward streaks and bluish colors suggest a melancholy mood?

Water Lilies, 1915-1917
Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
This bright color combination and balanced composition is immediately attractive, but very vague. Painting reflections gave Monet an excuse to be vague and formless. Color and light were his abiding concerns.

Water Lilies, ca. 1916-1919
McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
We accept this as a lily pond, but why? The lily pads are pinkish, and the blooms are like roses. All the loose brushstrokes around them are vague; only the variation in color gives the picture a sense of spatial depth, and suggests a shady dell beneath overhanging trees.

Water Lilies, 1916-1919
Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
This painting is so abstract and dark that the viewer might not recognize it as waterlilies in a pond. What are those white streaks? Are they underwater plants or reflections of something overhead? What are those purple splotches? Are you sure this is Monet?

Water-Lily Pond, 1917-1919
Private Collection
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019

Water Lilies (Agapanthus), ca. 1915-1926
Saint Louis Museum of Art
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
With its soft and appealing blend of colors and its almost total lack of definition, this work seems to express a state of heavenly grace or pure bliss. 

During the same time period as the water lily paintings, Monet depicted a variety of other plants in his garden. But he wasn't interested in botanical exactness. Each work has painterly concerns.

Day Lilies, 1914-1917
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
The painterly concern in this work is those long green brushstrokes, arching so convincingly like the leaves of a day lily. The delicate red and purple flowers emerge energetically from the plant. The gorgeous pink and blue background is not tied to any reality.

Irises, ca. 1914-1917
National Galley, London
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
The dominant painterly value here is the bold, almost geometric composition. The subject also gave Monet a chance to work with long brushstrokes, each one so plant-like. The composition is flattened, as though this were a detail of a much larger overhead view.

Yellow Irises, 1917-1919
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
Those joyous upswinging green strokes rushing toward a bright and buoyant sky express the luxuriant growth of springtime. This is sort of a worm's eye view, which makes it seem fresh and bold.

Another frequent subject of Monet's was a Japanese-style arching footbridge. It was Monet's private touch to shelter the bridge with a wisteria arbor.

Monet, right in his garden at Giverny, 1922
Here's a photo of Monet on his bridge late in life. With plantings along the railing and an arbor overhead, the bridge doesn't look very Japanese any more.

The Japanese Footbridge
Here's a modern photo of the bridge, with arbor above and weeping willows behind.

The Japanese Footbridge, 1899
National Gallery, Washington D.C.
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
Just before the turn of the century, Monet did a depiction of the footbridge that is fairly realistic. The forms are definite, the color is springtime fresh, and the depth of space is rendered convincingly. But the dark horizontal green bands—are they underwater views or reflections of the surrounding plants? Monet loved his tricks of perception.

The Japanese Bridge, 1919
Kunstmuseum, Basel, Switzerland
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
In this version from twenty years later, Monet gave the barest hint of the forms of the bridge and the plants and the water. He reduced the scene to an essay of greens, coming ever closer to nature's own elusive green. It seems to express the abundant growth of springtime.

The Japanese Bridge, 1918-1924
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
Later in the year, maybe early summer, the wisteria arbor comes into bloom, and the garden becomes a riot of color. This is one of many paintings by Monet that seems too red and contrasty. This coloration is generally seen as a "fault" and explained by the fact that he had cataracts at the time he painted it. However, it is also significant that European painting had already completed the period of Fauvism, when everyone was experimenting with the use of color to express feelings and emotions. The brushstrokes are also wild and crazy, each one distinct against the background. This painting seems to express the intense heat and humidity of the garden in high summer weather, and to express it better than "realistic" forms and colors. The careless scribbles, streaks and jabs of color also seem to express anger, perhaps because his vision was letting him down.

The Japanese Bridge, ca. 1923-1925
Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
The intense reds and yellows bursting from dark shadows immediately suggest anger, as do the smudged and layered brushstrokes. But the colors also relate to autumn when most of the leaves in his beloved garden turned vivid colors, just before withering. The painting also contains a painterly trick of perception. If you look at this painting carelessly or from the wrong direction, it appears to be random, messy and flat; but if you get just the right angle, the image conveys amazing depth. The longer you look at it, the more "realistic" it seems.

Another frequent subject for Monet was the rose arbor in his garden. 

Flowering Arches, Giverny, 1913
Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
This version of the rose arbor is very descriptive. There is a clear division between the land and the pond, and between the sky and the reflections of the sky. In addition to the rose arbor, the painting gives us recognizable water lilies and iris. The painting is so pretty in its coloration and symmetrical in its composition that it is almost like a commercial product.

Path under the Rose Arches, Giverny, 1920-1922
Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
Less than ten years later, Monet took a more modern approach to the rose arbor. Instead of looking at it placidly from a distance, he got right under the flowering vines. His coloration is again the tones of autumn and anger. Not only is his vision failing, but his garden is going dormant in the autumn weather. In a trick of perception, from certain angles this painting is just messy and arbitrary like the overdone crayon drawing of an angry child, but from the right angle you get an impression of tremendous depth, looking down the arbor with the path rising to meet the horizon at the end of the tunnel. The forms don't seem to matter as much as the pattern of shadows and brights that creates the feeling of a mysterious tunnel.

After his cataracts were surgically removed, Monet returned to a more normal and harmonious palette. Instead of being angry scribbles, his brushstrokes became more descriptive and true to nature.

During the First World War, Monet painted a series of images of a weeping willow tree. It has been suggested that the willow's drooping foliage represents fallen soldiers.This subject also gave the painter a different kind of problem in light and shadow, and represents his passion for painterly experimentation as much as his wartime sadness.

Weeping Willow, 1918
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
The willow tree is on the left of the canvas, with a murky recess on the right. Judging by the contrast between brights and darks, it appears to represent the late afternoon of a sunny day in the summer.

Weeping Willow, 1918-1919
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Photo by Jan Looper Smith, 2019
This autumnal view of the weeping willow is expanded to reveal shadowy recesses on either side of the brightly lighted trunk.

Some of Monet's late works are shocking and even repellant at first glance; but as you dwell on them, you begin to understand the painterly experimentation that motivated them. Even when they weren't popular, Monet's late works influenced several generations of painters to follow, and therefore the works of his old age still seem quite edgy and modern. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

'Wise Blood' by Flannery O'Connor

Wise Blood was the first novel by Flannery O’Connor, who is generally known for her short fiction; it was first published in 1952, though it was based on short stories that had already been published in magazines. It was challenging for me because none of the characters seem likable or even rational, and their actions seem arbitrary and mysterious. O’Connor was a Southern woman and an ardent Catholic, as well as a lupus sufferer, who died at the age of 39. All these factors figure in this story. 

The main theme is redemption through acceptance of Christ. The protagonist, Haze Motes, was raised in a Christian home and his grandfather was an inspired preacher. Motes had also intended to be a preacher until he was drafted. In the service, he became totally disillusioned with religion, enough that when he gets back to the states, he decides to found a church without Christ, and to preach the falsity of religion. He lives largely in his mind, often unable to see or hear anything beyond what is going on in his head, or in his soul. 

Haze Motes attracts one follower, even before he declares himself an anti-Christ preacher, an 18-year-old boy named Enoch Emory, who also lives in a world of his own imagining, based on his religious upbringing. He is crazy with loneliness, and would follow just about anyone who gave him a pat on the head, but Haze rejects him, mainly because he can’t really see outside himself. 

Haze is inspired by a beggar named Asa Hawks who pretends to be a blind, unemployed preacher. He claims that he blinded himself for Jesus. Haze takes him seriously at first, but is later disillusioned. 

Soon after Haze starts preaching the Church without Christ, a con man named Hoover Shoats tries to latch onto him, and to make a profit from his fervor. When Haze rejects him, Shoats hires a beggar to imitate him, dressing him in the same way, and coaching him to act in a similar manner.

The tone of the novel is Southern Gothic Humor. The idea is that the events in the plot are so horrible that they make you laugh, but they are played out in the generally benighted and backward culture of the south: religion is ubiquitous, and generally phony;  police violence is routine, not just against black people but anyone they deal with; women are a little more in touch with reality, but they are ugly and gross, both in body and in spirit.

The story is loaded with religious symbolism and circular plot moves, as if for the amusement of graduate students in literature. Psychological 'truth' is irrelevant; Haze and Enoch behave in ways that symbolize certain ideas.

Though the novel is about redemption, reading it would not reinforce anyone's faith, nor would it cause anyone to seek salvation. Although the author, Flannery O'Connor, was herself a devout Catholic, but she had so much detachment that she could make an extended joke about the idea of salvation.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

'Catcher in the Rye' by J. D. Salinger

The very popular novel Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger, seemed insignificant to me because the protagonist, Holden Caulfield, is a first-class jerk. Holden Caulfield is an over-privileged, over-entitled, over-sophisticated adolescent who has just failed out of his elite prep school. He has a nervous breakdown, and eventually gets sent to a fancy rest home where he spins out the story of what he was thinking about when he hit bottom.

I think the thing that appeals to readers is his disenchantment. In the manner of a supercilious jerk, he sees the phoniness of everything. He sees that no one is quite what they claim to be. He sees that purity and idealism are impossible in the practical world; everyone espouses principles that they can't follow.

It is notable that a number of assassins and mass murderers have referred to Catcher in the Rye in explaining their motivation. This point was charmingly explained by the young trickster in a great old movie called Six Degrees of Separation. It was his surprisingly literary monologue that motivated me to re-read Catcher, which I had first read long ago. Like Holden, these killers and would-be killers were totally disenchanted with life, and obsessed with phoniness and pretension.

There's no arguing with Holden. Any teenager emerging from the protected dream of childhood, can see that nothing is what it seems to be. The briefest of looks at the political news or advertising or entertainment shows us that people are constantly trying to sell falsehoods and illusions. One of the major problems of growing up, at any age, is accepting this painful realization.

To quote an old song, "When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies..." Total despair may cause a person to become a killer or to commit suicide, or to have a breakdown like Holden. Holden gets the opportunity to spell out his feelings, and after he gets through the negativity he finds love for his faulty world. As the song continues "...don't you want somebody to love, don't you need somebody to love." So a seemingly insignificant story about a jerk freaking out, actually treats one of life's major problems: transcending disillusionment through love.