Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, January 19, 2004


It's Martin Luther King Jr's Birthday holiday today, so I have the day off. King was a prophet. His last famous speech, "I have been to the mountaintop" -- he made it a few days before he died. The "mountaintop" is an allusion to Moses on Sinai. Moses never made it to the Promised Land. King knew he was going to die. People have written about the Religion of Elvis, about how he has been transformed into a religious icon. The iconography around King is similarly divine. Every year a billboard goes up around Seattle with a brooding photo of King, captioned with his name and the years of his life, 1929 --. Left open-ended. If we were honest about our natural polytheism, we could be more open about our worship of these prophets. (Not equating King with the King in terms of moral stature or cultural importance, but I'm cool with Elvis worship. The man could sing, and music is a central stream of my personal religion. He could dance too. In aesthetic terms, King's oratory and Elvis's music were both tops. And although King's oratory needs no assistance, the great drummer and civil rights activist Max Roach recorded a spectacular and beautiful drum accompaniment to King's "I have a dream speech.")

So, Happy MLK Day, everybody. I can't hear his "I have a dream" speech without crying. If you're ever in Memphis, you should check out the Civil Rights Museum, built in the motel where the assassin(s) murdered King. They've kept the room where King last slept intact, and the parking lot has cars from the era. It's spooky -- just a little inconspicuous motel. Hope work and sacrifice and horror and violence -- and hope. America has made real strides, but the struggle continues, as do the hope and work and sacrifice and horror and violence, and we're now more aware of how they've gone global. Walmart still locks its nightshift in all night, but Paul Bunyan moved to Brazil, and the blood and bone exploitation of the bosses has mostly left our shores for cheaper labor markets. And racism still stalks this land.

It's utopian and hallucinatory and wild and beautiful, this prayer:

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
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