Forgotten Music, Governors, and Congressmen

My oldest, a/k/a WMD#1, brought home a lovely gift from a classmate on friday that by saturday evening manifested itself as a major strain of vomitus majesticus that soon spread to all members of the family. Anyone who saw The Exorcist and the pea soup scenes has some idea of what my household has been like the last 48 hours. As I was the least affected, I have been running around dispensing ginger ale, comforting hugs, and doing lots of laundry.

However, every cloud has a silver lining. Yesterday I caught on MTV an hour long show on the making of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.

If you need me to explain what that is, then you are too young for this to make any sense.

I pulled out the old double LP and put it on the my old turntable. By that time WMD#1 was on the road to recovery, and was amazed by the analog pops and cracks and fascinated by the album artwork. I have always been a keyboard guy, and Elton and The Piano Man will always have a warm spot in my memories not matter now many drugs they ingested or trees they ran over. Then I hit the forgotten repeated skip in “The Ballad of Danny Bailey”, so I pulled the LP and went to the CD. Some time later, as the final notes of “Harmony” drifted away, I remember thinking that there was a time when popular songs of whatever genre had good music and good lyrics.

In the meantime, I found my old copy of Patriot Before Profit, a biography of Governor Thomas Nelson of Virginia, governor during the revolutionary war. Nelson funded a regiment and pushed state spending policies to the nth degree to maximize supplies for the men in the field. During the siege of Yorktown, he was on the field as commander of the Virginai Militia. Told that Cornwallis had set up his HQ in Nelson’s home, Nelson requested that the colonial artillery level the house…hopefully while Cornwallis was on the premises!

Occasionally you get an email recounting the privations and losses suffered by signers of the Declaration of Independence. Nelson is always listed as a man left penniless by his support of the Revolution, and the implication is that he went bankrupt in support of the cause. The truth is a little more interesting. When he died he was penniless but he was not bankrupt per se. He actually owned three plantations, plus thousands of undeveloped acres, two homes, a few hundred slaves, and had a significant amount of tobacco cured and ready for shipping. But because of his support of the revolution and the relatively illiquid nature of his assets he had to borrow significantly to keep afloat. Upon his death his estate sold much of his property, settled his debts, and left his family in a very comfortable position…however, he did almost literally die penniless.

On rereading parts of Mogers From Bourbonism to Byrd I was reminded of another great man, but one who has no book written about him (note to self-literary project here?), but is one of the most important Virginia elected officials of the first quarter of the 20th century. Henry De La Warr Flood, better known as Harry, was the 2nd in command of the Martin Organization. He was a ranking member of Congress, and would have gone to the Senate on the death of John Daniels were it not for the risk of a party split if he fought Claude Swanson for the position. Flood authored and presented the congressional war resolution for World War I, was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, and was the linking personage who led the Virginia Democratic Party in the years after the death of Thomas Martin and prior to the rise of Harry Flood Byrd, his nephew and namesake.

As the sturm and drang of the senate campaign roil around us, I read these biographical materials and wonder. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is in the oldies bin, Nelson is now a community college and Flood a state road. For all they did and meant, they are now pale, blurry memories outshone by the vibrant glow of our contemporaries. But in their day, they were giants. And, as I prepare to watch blogging of the Senate debate tonight, I wonder if we will ever see their like again.


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