Tag Archive: politicians


Penny For Your Thoughts?

George Wallace

George Wallace was a politician in the ‘60s and ‘70s who served as Governor of Alabama for the 3rd longest gubernatorial stint in post-Constitutional U.S. history, and was also a losing presidential candidate four times.

George Wallace was notorious as a strict segregationist, which basically reads today as “racist.” But back then, in the time and place he existed in, everybody was a racist – at least by today’s standards. Alabama in the early ‘60s was not a friendly place for black people. Wallace’s most famous incident was when he stood at the doors of the University of Alabama on the day black students were granted the right to admission into the university. And make no mistake – he was standing there in a symbolic gesture of blocking the students from entering. Alabama was being desegregated and a lot of people, Governor Wallace chief among them, were not happy about it.

Arthur Bremer

Arthur Bremer

In 1972, George Wallace was running for president again. He had just won his 2nd bid for governor, and his presidential bid was run on a platform of racism and mudslinging. On May 15th, he was at a mall campaigning, using his extremely vitriolic racist rhetoric. Arthur Bremer was there, too. Wallace gave his speech, but he wasn’t standing on a stage like politicians do today; rather, he was down among the crowd with a small circle of space between him and his constituents. Arthur Bremer pushed his way forward when Wallace was shaking hands after his speech, pulled out a revolver and shot Wallace four times, emptying his gun and injuring three others before being subdued. Wallace survived, but was in a wheelchair the rest of his life.

Bremer didn’t do it because of political rage at Wallace’s controversial stances, or out of some high-minded sense of right and wrong, or even as a hired assassin in a massive political struggle. He did it for a much more elemental, selfish and id-based reason – he did it because he wanted to be famous.

Bremer tried to time the assassination for when it would make the evening newscast. He picked a high-profile and divisive individual, one whose assassination would have a much greater ripple effect than someone who was universally well-thought of. There were better candidates, though. Bremer had first fixated on Richard Nixon, but decided it would be nearly impossible to get near him. And the kicker, he had even thought of a memorable catch phrase to recite when he pulled the trigger. “Penny for your thoughts?” This would further cement him in the public’s mind, perhaps especially because it was so cornball. He didn’t say it, though – the heat of the moment must have driven the phrase from his mind.

Bremer wrote An Assassin’s Diary, published in 1973 shortly after his attempt on Wallace’s life. The book details not only the facts of the incident on May 15th, but also provides a chilling first-person perspective on his motivations and thought processes. In it, Bremer explains that he wasn’t particularly opposed to Wallace’s campaign positions, and didn’t really care about politics at all. Rather, he had an attachment to Wallace, and Richard Nixon before him, because killing such a note-worthy and famous figure would in turn make him internationally famous.

His logic (if you can call it that), seems sound. You usually don’t talk about John F. Kennedy without at least mentioning Lee Harvey Oswald. Likewise, no one talks about Abraham Lincoln without bringing up John Wilkes Booth (except Steven Spielberg). Killing someone famous makes you famous. But why would someone even want to become famous for something as heinous and terrible as murder? Everyone looks at you as the epitome of evil and all that is wrong with the world, at least for a time. Look at George Zimmerman.

There are two reasons for this. One: killing someone is a much easier and faster way to become famous than building something yourself, like the person you want to kill. Destruction is always easier than creation, but it pays much smaller and less satisfying dividends. Two: people who do these types of things don’t care why they’re famous. All that matters is that when people hear your name or see your face, they have an instant and inescapable association with it. The specific nature of the association is not nearly as important as its existence. And the stronger the association, the better.

Peter Gabriel read An Assassin’s Diary, and the result is the song “Family Snapshot.” Gabriel never mentions Bremer specifically, and even the scenario laid out in the song doesn’t resemble the Wallace assassination attempt. Details are mentioned, and it much more closely mirrors Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. The song is in first-person except for a brief section that’s in second-person. Here, the killer addresses his target, explaining that they were “made for each other,” but not in the romantic you-complete-me way. Bremer thought that his and Wallace’s destinies were destined to intersect in this particular way. And in a disturbingly twisted way, he was right.

It’s ironic, though, that so much time has passed and virtually nobody knows who George Wallace is anymore, let alone Arthur Bremer. All he wanted was to be famous, and it didn’t work.

“Family Snapshot” goes through phases that mirror the state of a killer’s mind. It starts with quietness and calm, then gets more nervous and jittery, the drumming becoming gradually more frantic. It builds to a tension-filled climax, and then when the shot is fired, the music instantly converts back to the calm, beatless quiet, where the killer reflects on his early life and what brought him to this point.

This is clearly a new approach from Peter Gabriel. “Family Snapshot” and Melt in general see PG acting like the doctors in A Clockwork Orange, forcing Alex’s eyes open while horrors unfold on the screen in front of him. But instead of standing at a distance and scribbling on his clipboard, Peter’s there with you, holding your hand, and whispering, “Look…”

Next: the “gated drum” technique.

Discernment

John Lennon had a way of seeing into the truth of things. All the masks people use to hide their true selves were just smoke screens to John. Not only did he not really have any of his own, but he could see past other peoples’ and get a glimpse of who they really were. It’s one of the reasons I admire him so much, for I share that quality. I see what a person projects sub-consciously as well as what they want me to see. Sometimes I’m pretty myopic about certain things, and I often have no idea what to do with my knowledge, but I can usually look at a situation and tell what’s really going on.

The technical term for that is “discernment.” John’s own discernment is no clearer than on the track “Crippled Inside.” Humans have all sorts of masks that they hide behind, and to someone like John (and me), they’re frustrating because they’re so pointless. It’s like an elephant holding up a little twig and saying “You can’t see me!” On “Crippled Inside,” John cuts right to the quick and leaves you with nowhere to hide. Its bouncy and music-hall melody make it easier to swallow, but it’s always gone down pretty easily for me; just like John, I don’t have any masks, either.

John’s frustration with the facetiousness and contrivance of scared little men comes from a simmer to a boil in “Gimme Some Truth.” The sentiment in this song is yet again something I completely understand. Seeing the truth of a matter makes it even more frustrating when people purposely try to conceal it. Politicians are the easiest to blame, and John has some pretty unkind words to say about them. When a politician says something, I know that what they don’t say is even more important than what they do. There’s often a hidden agenda behind their smooth words and breezy attitude, and a si9ngle statement probably doesn’t mean exactly what it says.

Politicians have the gift of spinning something until it revolves around what they want it to revolve around, but it usually doesn’t work on me. I know there’s some hidden side that they’re not discussing nearly every time they open their mouths. The direction they want it to go is usually along the lines of what their constituents and their political party wants to hear. Republicans and Democrats have packages of things they say, and you can almost predict what they’re going to say as if from a script. It just takes a little discernment to unravel their manipulation.

Taking a different than both “Crippled Inside” and “Gimme Some Truth,” the smoky, bluesy hypnosis of “I Don’t Want to Be a Soldier, Mama, I Don’t Want to Die” uses heart and soul instead of the blunt approach of the other two. Instead of talking plainly about lies and deceptions, John reveals on “Soldier” his existential longings, his desire to find his place and finally be comfortable in his own skin. He lists all the things he doesn’t want to be, but what does he want to be?

John and I may share a discerning nature, but John had a big advantage I don’t have, and that’s boldness. My interest in harmony and not starting fights is quite often bigger than my desire for complete honesty. John, on the other hand, saw harmony as something that had to be fought for. It wouldn’t just generate on its own, so we need to work to create it, and then work some more to maintain it. This is great wisdom, and all too often people let their own needs and desires trump the principles of peace, love and coexistence.

“all we are saying is give Jesus a chance!”

What’s ironic is that in fighting for peace and harmony, John Lennon was one of the most controversial figures of his day, generating a lot of discord. Isn’t that term strange? “Fighting for peace.” All in all, John Lennon may have been in the papers as out in front for the struggle for peace, but he didn’t actually create any harmony until his tragic and senseless death. While it’s not true that real artists aren’t appreciated in their own time, it is true that words aren’t usually enough to change people’s hearts. Sometimes things need to get a lot worse before they can get better, and it often takes something as horrible as a murder to put things on a different and more positive path. Just look at Jesus.

Yes, I really did just draw a parallel between John Lennon and Jesus Christ. Deal with it.

Next: it wouldn’t be a John Lennon album without a personal attack or two.