Thursday, June 26, 2014

The gas chamber at Parchman Farm, the state penitentiary in north Mississippi, was used from 1955 until 1989. I was strapped to that chair in the Spring of 1969 but got a last-minute reprieve from my Problems of Democracy teacher, Mr. Solomon. I remember it as the electric chair and swear I can remember a big toggle switch on the wall in the outer room. Maybe it was dual-use, in case of power outage?
  • Larry Piltz I still can't fathom how Problems of Democracy became an actual class at Biloxi High School, even in 1969. Problems? What problems? By way of comparison, the history teacher in the room next door was a vocal Fresca-guzzling John Bircher, the commonists this and the pinkos that. Maybe the administration assumed we'd be learning how to stomp the integrationist sympathizers more effectively.
  • Larry Piltz My high school was so backward that in '68 or '69 the biggest name to appear at a student assembly was the man who did the actual whistling for the opening segment of the Andy Griffith Show. It was a solo act. He performed for 30 minutes. By that I mean he whistled for 30 minutes. It was pretty quiet otherwise. That old dude could really whistle though! He whistled a separate tune out of each side of his mouth at the same time. Today he'd just drop the mic and walk off triumphantly. Beat that, Davey Jones!

    Well, Wikipedia just schooled me again. Earle Hagen was his name, and it turns out he was actually a very well-known and successful composer. "He wrote the Andy Griffith Show theme and themes for Make Room For Daddy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Spy, That Girl, and The Mod Squad. He is also remembered for co-writing and whistling 'The Fishin' Hole', the melody of the main theme to The Andy Griffith Show, and the instrumental classic 'Harlem Nocturne' ".

    The attached photo is from 1968, of him winning an Emmy for the I Spy theme song. So this is what he looked like. I think I truly remember him. His awesome and famous Harlem Nocturne is here.
  • Larry Piltz Quickly, two other memories of high school from 1968 and 1967. George Corley Wallace won a landslide victory in Biloxi High School's mock presidential election in 1968. Of course he did. And I do mean 'mock'.

    The other is that the TV program "Where the Action Is" filmed a show in Biloxi at the beach in 1967. That was the only day I seriously considered skipping school. The longing to be where the action is had quite a pull.  I was pretty sure if I witnessed the filming, I'd gain the hip credentials I'd need once I left Biloxi after senior year. Besides, there would be bikinis, and likely Paul Revere & The Raiders, paragons of hipness. That's "Where the Action Is", baby, in Biloxi.  Take that Greenville High! 
  • Larry Piltz We must always remember, if there had been no Paul Revere and The Raiders, there might never have been a GWAR.

  • Larry Piltz And finally of course to the Frippin' missing link between Paul Revere and GWAR, which brings us right back to where we started, with 21st Century Schizoid Man and His continuing bromance with capital punishment, tough gurney love.  From coffee, tea, or me to gas, electric, or cocktail?
  • Larry Piltz This is 2014. You can hear the entire 44-minute album on Youtube for the small price of watching a 15-second ad. What we wouldn't have given back in the day!


  1. Larry Piltz. In retrospect, regarding the American cultural revolution of the 1960s and earlier 1970s, for all the positive impact it had resensitizing Americans to the brutality and absurdity of war for war's sake, sometimes when I see footage or certain photos of that era, from Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Monkees, Wavy Gravy (bless his living memory), die-ins, levitating the Pentagon, Tiny Tim, Doc Severinson's wardrobe, the Vidal-Buckley debates - worthy ideas, people, and pursuits all! - I sometimes think the real cultural competition was to see if the youth culture could become even more corny than the black-and-white 1950s culture it was trying to replace. I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners versus Good Times and Maude. May the corniest culture win! And hopefully the more peaceful. Which took itself more seriously, the gray flannel suit culture or the tie-dyed bell bottom culture? It might have been a tie.
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  2. Amazing! The Mississippi schools were on the same circuit -- we 8th graders at Whitten Junior High bussed it up to Parchman "Farm" for a tour and a gracious invitation to take a seat in the "hot seat," the chair in the gas chamber. Lord have mercy! We've got to exchange memories, Larry. Did the prison band entertain y'all, too, for an evening dance in the cafeteria, once the tables were cleared away? I think I sent you and Grace a copy of my second novel, The Patron Saint of Red Chevys, which has a scene of that absurdly comical visit to Parchman.
    And Whitten, too, was "entertained" by the whistler for the Mayberry tune. Man, was that hot stuff! Love you, dear friend!

  3. Yes, we were on the same circuit, even then. From the hot asphalt to the hot seat to the hot blazing Parchman sun. Not to mention the hot riffs of the Mayberry man. It seems almost Incredible he wrote Harlem Nocturne! I remember your terrific scene from Patron Saint of the dance. I'll have to read it again now. It hadn't occurred to me when I wrote this post last night. My group had to leave before dark because of our long ride to the coast. I did get to sit in the prison barber chair with the inmate barber thwacking that long-handled razor blade back and forth across the sharpening strap. The guards told us to ask him what he is 'in' for. As we each took a turn sitting there, with the blade moving like a pendulum, naturally he said, "murder". We knew it was a bit, but the momentary vulnerability was real enough to raise a gulp and it be a relief to let someone else have their turn. I felt a relief upon getting up from the chair in the gas chamber too. Mostly though what I remember is the unbearable sadness of the place, and a there but for fortune feeling. If I'd been in junior high at the time instead of a senior in 1969, I think it might have been a bit more of a giddy experience.


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