“The Sirens of Coarsegold”


I herein offer full public confession.

The only true hero to whom I pledge unyielding allegiance and unqualified endorsement is the late American science fiction author/genius/philosopher/poet/crazy man Kurt Vonnegut (1922 – 2007).

Private First Class Vonnegut was behind enemy lines during the Rhineland Campaign in the final days of World War Two when he was captured by Wehrmacht troops and became a prisoner of war. Vonnegut and his fellow POWs reached a Dresden work camp where they were imprisoned in an underground slaughterhouse known by German soldiers as “Schlachthof Fünf.”

On the evening of February 13, 1945, a series of Allied firebombing raids reduced Dresden, the “Florence of the Elbe”, to a fiery inferno, killing as many as 135,000 Germans — primarily women, children and the elderly. It was the single most destructive bombing of the war—including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Little, if anything, was accomplished militarily, since the Germans were already on the verge of surrender. It was an act purely punitive in nature, which is why one never hears much about it on this side of the Atlantic. Ironically, Private Vonnegut and his fellow prisoners emerged physically unscathed among a handful of survivors, having been protected by their prison bunker several levels beneath the earth . Spiritually, Vonnegut was changed forever, later recounting the horrors of war and survival in “Slaughterhouse Five.” I never knew about Dresden until I saw the film version in 1972 — when I also discovered Vonnegut.

But more than a dozen years earlier, while still unknown, Kurt Vonnegut wrote “The Sirens of Titan”, a book later described by Esquire Magazine as “his best book”, adding, “Vonnegut dares not only to ask the ultimate question about the meaning of life, but to answer it.” The story is a fabulous trip, spinning madly through space and time. Jerry Garcia bought movie rights. The Central Valley Tea Party’s forthcoming “Family Freedom Fest” next Monday on the Fourth of July in Coarsegold brings
“The Sirens of Titan” to mind, “Sirens” being, in classical literature, beautiful sea maidens with overpowering attraction impossible to resist. In Homer’s “The Odyssey”, the Sirens sing a song so captivating that none can hear it and escape. Not even Bart, Marge, Lisa or Maggie.

Similarly, the “Family Freedom Fest” has signs all over promoting “Old Fashioned Patriotism and Family Fun”, “Free Children’s Activities”, “Bounce Houses”, “Water Slides”, “Crafts”, “Food”, “Historic Costumes”, “Music”, Young Patriots’ Booth and Activities”, a “Children’s Performance”, “Melodrama Honoring Veterans and Active Military”, “Nashville recording artist Linda Lanier” and “Inspiring Speakers.” “A Free Community Event!”

It certainly sounds like a fine old time and I fully intend to attend, just as I did last year when a similar Tea Party event was held in Oakhurst Community Park. There’s everything to be honored and respected in well-founded patriotism, national celebration of hard-won freedoms and justifiably proud flag waving on the Fourth of July or any other American day. It’s the “Inspiring Speakers” part of the program that brings those Sirens of Titan to mind — a sharp, stabbing hook at the end of all that lovely red, white and blue bait.

As the 400 wealthiest people in our Country own more than the bottom one hundred and fifty million of us, recent Tea Party talk of “Government run health care”, “our Socialist President” and, especially, “Union thugs trying to organize WALMART” are starting to reveal a deeper, darker, brilliantly manipulated nature from way, way up above, but hardly heavenly.

In “The Odyssey”, King Odysseus escapes The Sirens by having himself tied to the mast of his ship and the crews’ ears plugged up with beeswax. In “The Sirens of Titan” our protagonist, Malachi Constant, uses The Sirens in an advertisement for cigarettes, attempting to mitigate their frightening beauty through blatant commercialism.

Around here, The Sirens of Coarsegold will be countered by the Oakhurst Democratic Forum on Saturday, July 23rd, at River Creek Golf Course on Road 600 in Ahwahnee with a public showing of “The Billionaires’ Tea Party: How Corporate America is Faking a Grassroots Revolution”, a 54 minute documentary by Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham. I like what Rob Williams wrote about it : “Regardless of your political leanings, Oldham thoughtfully details how modern political propaganda works in our culture, and ought to be required viewing.” Jeff Eisinger, Professor of Sociology at Reedley College, will be on the scene to lead an open discussion on various issues presented. $10.00 tickets for dinner at 5:30 are available at 559-658-5227, while the 7 PM program is absolutely free of charge to all, regardless of party affiliation or preference.

Hoping to see you in Coarsegold AND Ahwahnee, please allow me to close with this Happy Fourth of July quote from Kurt Vonnegut in “The Sirens of Titan”:

“Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules— and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.”

One Response to ““The Sirens of Coarsegold””

  1. Charles J. Shields Says:

    Good post and analysis! Incidentally, I’m blogging about my experiences as Kurt Vonnegut’s biographer at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

    Best,
    Charles J. Shields
    And so It goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November)

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