Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Connections: Steinbeck and Smith (#Grapes of Wrath # Pine Top Smith)

 by Daddy X

Folks who have received an email from me may have noticed the sigs I’ve used for years:

"Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of."
Preacher Casy

"Use what you got 'cause that's all you get."
Clarence "Pine Top” Smith

These are the things I believe in. They are basically how I lead my life.

Regarding the first quote, I can’t tell you how many people have either called me on the spelling of Casy or were confused by the reference. The quote is of course spoken by Jim Casy, (not Casey) the defrocked minister/philosopher and de facto conscience of Steinbeck’s Grapes Of Wrath.

Here’s the entire quote:

"Before I knowed it, I was sayin' out loud, 'The hell with it! There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do. It's all part of the same thing.' . . . I says, 'What's this call, this sperit?' An' I says, 'It's love. I love people so much I'm fit to bust, sometimes.' . . . . I figgered, 'Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,' I figgered, 'maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit-the human sperit-the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of.' Now I sat there thinkin' it, an' all of a suddent-I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it."

Casy wonders if there isn’t one big collective soul that all human beings share, as he proposes, ‘a part of’. Are we connected in some spiritual way to each other?

I believe so. I can’t say specifically how it all works and will argue with anybody who thinks they have the answers down pat. All I have is the inkling. That one little inkling.

An inking that is an inherent element of most religions.  Let’s call it a soul. Is our soul that little part of the whole each of us carries around?

Maybe we carry that minute sliver to make connection with another sliver— another little ‘part’ of the whole. That would make our two slivers collectively twice as big. Twice as more. More powerful. More complete.

But there’s no rule that says strength in numbers always works for the betterment of the whole.

We know the power of crowds, of like-minded people assembling to increase their influence and strength through numbers. There are many examples showing groupthink is an actual phenomenon to be reckoned with. The power of crowds can operate for good or for ill. Take what transpired in Charlottesville as the worst possible effect of these multifaceted connections.

Why worst?

Because the very idea of a universal soul renders false the idea that we’re basically different. The idea of hating someone of a different ethnic group would be anathema in a culture of universality.

Take an all-knowing, all-powerful being. What would such a being possibly lack? If an entity knew everything, could plan anything, what would be on its experiential bucket list? I understand that I am postulating the unpostulatable (is that even a word?) here, humanizing something that isn’t knowable by humans.

No matter. I already said that anyone who could get it all down in a logical form would be suspect.

Perhaps an all-knowing, all-powerful being would like to know ignorance. Perhaps that all-powerful being would want the experience of getting itself out of situations it wasn’t prepared for, wouldn’t know it could easily satisfy its earthly needs by the power it wields in its entirety. Just for the challenge. Why not put a little dab of itself into an ignorant host? Spread itself out over multiple ignorant hosts and try, over millennia, to get back to the whole, using only human achievement through connection. Sort of a self-help exercise for a God.

The challenge being to reassemble somehow by connection—each additional connection forming a larger, more knowing, more powerful entity, getting closer eon by eon to the whole.

However it works, it’s IMHO all about connection. Perhaps that’s why I have such a high regard for sex. Sex, after all, is the most direct, most powerful and potentially most rewarding of connections. But, as we well know, that also can go either way.

"Use what you got 'cause that's all you get"
Clarence "Pine Top” Smith

Pine Top Smith (b. 1904) was an early proponent of “Boogie Woogie”. He wrote and recorded Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie in 1928. The next year, he died of a gunshot wound the night before another recording session.

The quote speaks for itself: There is value in the talents you possess. Try a variety of interests to see what you’re geared for. Things we enjoy and excel at are what we should go for in our lives. It also implies that there’s no free lunch.

As a matter of fact, I was living this philosophy well before I was aware of the quote or aware for that matter, of Pine Top himself.

Momma X and I had been the first in our crowd to marry and get our own place. We became the entertainers of our circle. After all, it was a safe place to smoke weed, drink beer, eat potato chips and do whatever hippies did in ’64. (fuck each other) Over the years the refreshments took on more sophistication. There was still the weed, but as we gained a semblance of affluence, the food and drinks got way better. I found I had the sensibility and palate of a gourmet. And that I could make food taste good.

Back in the 70’s, without a pot to piss in, looking for a job was becoming dismal. So I started a catering business. I managed to do a few small dinners for friends just to get my name out there and hand out some business cards.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say the catering business was by any stretch a success, but we did a couple of big weddings and by way of reputation, landed a restaurant job. And contacts. Word of mouth contacts, a quaint concept in this day of digital promotion.

In later years, I morphed my appreciation of beautiful things into another business, which I named “Curiosities”—just for the understatement of it all. I bought and sold antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt as well as pre-Columbian and other ethnographic arts from all over the world.

To view a cross section of what I handled:

Getting back to ol’ Pine Top Smith:

Lyrics from Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie have been co-opted over the years by top musicians like Tommy Dorsey, Bing Crosby, Count Basie and Ray Charles. “See that girl with the red dress on. She can do it all night long”, “Shake that thing” and “Mess around,” sound familiar? All Pine Top’s lyrics, used again and again by a century of blues artists and beyond.

Check out Ray Charles’ “Mess Around” and “What’d I Say” for the Pine Top Smith influence. Though he didn’t live a very long life, his talents survive in generations of music. His soul became one with so many others, whether musician or music lover.

Now there’s a connection.


  1. I've been a Steinbeck fan since my teens, and I associated Preacher Casy's revelation with a line from the WWI poet Rupert Brooke (my mother's favorite poet.) Brooke is best known (if at all) for his "Some corner of a foreign field that is forever England" line that eerily predicts his own death, but it's the first lines in the second stanza that really resonate with me. "And think that soul, all evil shed away/A pulse in the eternal mind, no less/..."

    I like to think of each of us as pulses in the eternal mind. It's not a belief, exactly, more like a musical chord that vibrates in the spirit.

  2. I have always loved both your signature quotes, Daddy. And knowing you, they're both incredibly appropriate.


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