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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

28 Responses

  1. Allen Wilson says:

    Looks like Bobby Nate’s baby wouldn’t be walking the streets of Baltimore today. She would drag him back to the farm in a hurry.

  2. Allen Wilson says:

    Bobby Bare, I hate auto complete.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Always happy to ring a bell with someone. One of my favorite songs of long ago is his “All American Boy”–a gapped humored sendup of Elvis, “Hot licks and all that jazz.”


  4. Irv Phillips says:

    Ah, I didn’t know it was Bobby Bare, I was familiar only with Gram Parsons’ version. The song was written by Harlan Howard, I just discovered.

  5. Ken Rosenberger says:

    Gram Parsons, buried in Joshua Tree by true believers, just as Edward Abbey was buried—unauthorized—in the Cabreza Prieta—by true believers.

    Trust me, I grew up in Baltimore and the city was pretty much always—from the early 60s— until today, what Trump would’ve termed a (some kind of) hole, in an honest moment. Most residents of Greater Baltimore would have told you themselves. In less than 100 years, it fell from being a CSA stronghold, to being run by Pelosi’s father. And he might’ve been the best they could’ve expected. It was downhill from there, aside from a small rebirth (thanks to racist gentrification) in the 70s and 80s.

    We lived in the west side suburb of Catonsville (in those days, not unlike a nice small town), a town the Berrigans (with an assist from Gregory Peck) would ensure eternal fame or infamy, while I was still in Junior High. How well I recall those summer treks to Memorial Stadium, to see Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell in the glory years, Dad driving stoically to Memorial Stadium, through Leakin Park and Mondawmin (later home of the hamhanded literary sensation Ta Nehisi Coates), already manifestations of the post- Reconstruction apocalypse. I knew from an early age to hope that I would never break down in these precincts.

    In 1968, we had the same April riots as many cities, and we sat in our family room, under an absurd 4pm curfew, watching “angry” protesters on tv burn down hundreds of square blocks of their own neighborhoods. And so now there was even less reason to go to an Oriole game (tough, if you remember ‘69-71).

    Now Baltimore seems beyond retrieving and Trump is demonized for repeating the words that the people in the suburbs had spoken of the city more than half a century earlier. I see little reason to hope, outside of the usual Biblical injunctions. Hint: if you’re a tourist, and have an overriding need to go to the Lexington Market for a jumbo crab cake, go there for lunch.

  6. James D. says:

    Bobby Bare is a good performer. He is probably best at interpretations of other writers songs. His version of New Cut Road, written by Guy Clark is my favorite. I didn’t think much of the song until I hear Bare’s take:


  7. Raymond Olson says:

    Bobby Bare’s OK, I’ll allow, but my favorite Baltimore song remains “Streets of Baltimore” as sung by Charley Pride in his album In Person, recorded in concert at Fort Worth’s Panther Hall in 1975.

    I was once stranded for an hour or so while my traveling companions took in a hot springs bathing facility somewhere in or near the skinniest part of Maryland–as close to Baltimore as I’ve ever been, closer to beautifully situated Wheeling, West Virginia.

  8. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Most country singer-songwriters make their daily bread singing other people’s songs. Johnny Cash is often treated as a creative genius, but when I ask people to name his great songs, it is always songs like “Sunday Morning Falling Down” or “Jackson”. Haggard is an exception since many of his biggest hits were written by himself or in collaboration. Bare did write, with a friend, “All American Boy”

  9. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    My friend Ray is walking in the footsteps of Nat Hentoff, who also preferred an earlier version of “Detroit City” performed by a black singer. I like Charley Pride a great deal, but when I read or hear these sorts of comparisons that implicitly put down a traditional Southern voice, I hear the sad sound of Minnesota Scandinavians lamenting the racist crimes they never got to commit.

    Or maybe they did.

    Here in Rockford, when I arrived in 1984, Swedes told me that up here they didn’t have race problems. But, when they malled in part of the downtown and a busload of black children arrived, the Scandihoovians never showed up again and the mall was dead up until now. One of my colleagues explained to me that up here, they avoided deseg suits by putting the gifted and talented and arts programs in the same building with ghetto kids, though they had separate entrances, facilities, etc. I snorted, predicting a deseg suit, which, when it came, was more irrational than anything I have witnessed or heard about in the South. So maybe the Swedes do have something to be ashamed of, and maybe Charley Pride is a better country singer than Bobby Bare, and maybe “Dr. King” wrote his own dissertation and didn’t really molest children or tell American soldiers not to fight for their country…

  10. James D. says:

    Yes. Very true. Of course, Hank Williams wrote most of the songs he made famous. A few were collaborations or interpretations of old standards. Waylon Jennings wrote quite a few of his biggest hits, but he mostly recorded the material of other songwriters. Honky Tonk Heroes, the album that put Jennings on the map, was written by Billy Joe Shaver. Shaver, still alive, is an underappreciated writer and performer. David Allan Coe has written and recorded dozens (hundreds?) of his own songs, but many of his biggest songs are covers. Commercial country music is mostly now a wasteland and is being subverted with hip hop. The “songs” seem to be intentionally mindless and aimed at mocking the people who listen to them. There are some really great country artists out there, but most people have never heard of them. Corb Lund, a Canadian country artist has been releasing great albums for over a decade now. Chris Knight, a country artist who had a brief period of fame as a songwriter for country stars, is set to release another album this Fall. His releases are sporadic, but always good. I have a list of a couple dozen artists who I keep tabs on and seek out their new material, but you would never come across most of them on the radio.

  11. James D. says:

    One more note. Texas (and neighboring parts of Oklahoma,) which Dr. Fleming has noted is one of the few places in this country which still has an authentic and functioning culture, continues to have its own native music scene, which largely functions apart from corporate manipulation. “Red Dirt,” as its known, has a wide range of sound, from hard rock to country, bluegrass, western swing, etc. You could stumble into any dance club in the hinterlands and hear better music than you’d hear in 50 years of listening to “country” music radio.

  12. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    There used to be a good deal of regional music. Where Ray Olson grew up, they must have had polka. As a child, I had virtually an allergic reaction to Frankie Yankovic and the Yanks, but in reading Tony Bukoski’s stories, I have grown to like it so much that I torture innocent people by playing it. I know they still have Polka in Ohio and Pennsylvania and, I believe, in the “Twin Ports”. Perhaps Ray can tell us–if he can tear himself away from Charley Pride–if they still play the polka in Minneapolis ( a shameless rip off from Steve Goodman,)

  13. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Hank Senior was without doubt the master of country music. On the subject of songwriters, Willie Nelson wrote many good songs, but his signature tune, “Blue Eyes Cryin in the Rain,” had been recorded by Hank Senior and already by Roy Acuff, whose partner Fred Rose actually wrote it. Rose also co-wrote Ka Lija with Hank Senior and GeneAutry’s signature tune “Back in the Saddle Again.”

  14. James D. says:

    Pennsylvania still has a number of polka acts and polka festivals. All of my wife’s relatives (Italian and Polish) are polka fans. I listen to polka when I’m riding in the car with my father-in-law. He is a big Frank Yankovic fan and seems to know every word to every song. I believe that Scranton, PA was the home base for a number of popular polka bands. I’ve always regarded polka as a sort of eastern European folk music or the equivalent of country music in the South and bluegrass in Appalachia. My wife and I had a rehearsal dinner party the night before our wedding and we had a band that played country and polka music. Quite a combination! The older folks all danced to the polkas and the younger crowd liked the country music.

  15. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I learned to dance Polka, Schottische, etc at country dances, when as a boy I would stay with a Swedish farm family–the father was a hunting pal of my father. Sometime go on Youtube and get a Frankie Yankovic recording of “Just Because” which he does jointly with a Mexican polka band. The Germans brought brass band music and accordions to Mexico. Interestingly, Serbs seem to like Mexican music a lot. Frankie was a Slovene and their style of polka is very distinctive. I hear distinctly Balkan rhythms. You probably know that Serbian folk music and some Greek is often written in 12/4 time and other to us (pre-Brubek) exotic signatures.

  16. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I should add that six months or so ago I stumbled on a made for TV movie called something like The Polka King, starring Jack Black as the real-life polka-playing Ponzi scheme huckster from Pennsylvania, who came out of jail with a new song, “Polka Rap.” I am not making this up and the basic story is real and the real-life con artist appears at the end. In the best seen some IRS investigator is going through his records and JackBlack says, “In my country we have thing called bribes. Do you do bribes. No? Forget I said anything.” The movie’s dumb and there is not enough polka too suit me, but there is only so much an innocent audience can take.

  17. James D. says:

    Thanks, Dr. Fleming. I will give it a listen.

    I’m guessing that German influence is the reason that you occasionally hear accordion in Texas music. Or, perhaps it was borrowed from Cajun music? There is a good Texas country band called Eleven Hundred Springs. They have a number of songs which feature the accordion.

  18. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    It’s. mostly the German, along with some Mexican, though there is a separate cajun influence on a lot of country music.

  19. Allen Wilson says:

    In my father’s day, from the 40’s through the 60’s, polkas and waltzes and the tunes that accompanied them were common in night clubs and social occasions. Of course they would have been played in a country style, but sometimes there was an accordion.

    My grandmother and parentsused to watch Laurence Welk, and my father watched itjust to

  20. Allen Wilson says:

    just to hear Myron Floren play his accordion.

    That may be why, when I “discovered” German Slager music, despite the shallowness and cheeziness of much of it, it was a refreshing experience, like a home coming. The German influence on the more traditional forms of American music may be bigger than we realize, even in the South.

  21. James D. says:

    Of course they had to start the article with a shot at Europeans, but what else do you expect from NPR? Anyhow, the rest of the article is interesting and relates the spread of the accordion throughout Texas:


  22. Dot says:

    Dr. Fleming: Sometimes on a summer night my friends and I would go to the Polish section of town to listen and dance the polka. It was always a great evening. We also went to the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) to socialize and dance on a Friday night to the tune of popular music. A DJ was there and also a priest. It was always fun and a great way to spend a Friday evening. The CYO closed many years ago. I don’t know what the teens did after it closed.

  23. Raymond Olson says:

    First, I assure you, Tom, that I meant no invidious comparisons of Bobby Bare and Charley Pride. I DO like Charley better. I don’t scorn Bobby or any other Southern singer.

    Yes, polka seems to be alive and hearty in Minnesota and even in Minneapolis, where there’s an Eagles Club that features, every weekend and some week day nights, polka as well as cajun and Tex-Mex bands that come all the way up the river to play regularly. I remember cringing at polka when I was a kid but secretly liking its Gemutlichkeit. I got over all that by the time I went to college. The last time I danced the polka was at a club in Berwyn, Illinois, many long ones back. The band was Brave Combo from Texas. OK, I don’t follow polka, never have, so my likes and dislikes are few and held lightly. I prefer polka bands with a horn or two (clarinet/alto sax, trumpet/cornet) besides accordion, bass, and drums. I’ve heard hot polka clarinet tear the place down.

    Les Blank’s hour-long documentary, In Heaven There Is No Beer?, is about polka culture in the early ’80s, from Pennsylvania to . . . Minnesota. No commentary, just some talking with musicians, dancers, and drinkers, and plenty of polka.

  24. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Ya sure! We’re going to the Boone County Fair today–the next county over, which is more rustic–and they promise a polka show at noon. “Hoop de doo, hoop dee do. I hear a polka and my troubles are few.”

  25. Harry Colin says:

    I hope that the polka show you attended, Dr. Fleming, included that most politically-correct, long-time favorite polka of the feminist movement – “The Too Fat Polka. (“She’s a twosome, she’s a foursome, if she’d lose some, I would like her more, oh, I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me!”)

  26. Ken Rosenberger says:

    I trust that Mrs Wisniewski provided plenty of cabbage rolls and coffee at the concession stand.

  27. Harry Colin says:

    My punishment for recalling the “Too Fat Polka” yesterday has been my inability to get that tune out of my head. Perhaps the punishment fits my crime – as someone who would need to grow from 6’4″ to 7’8″ overnight to have a balanced height/weight proportion myself.