Totally Pure – Joe Bageant drops out

I posted pieces about Joe’s books, “Deer Hunting in America: Dispatches from the Class War” and “Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball”and “Rainbow Pie”.  I noted that it took a few essays to really set the hook at first…, but hooked I was…, and am.  Probably…, hell…, no doubt…, my favorite essay is, Ghosts of Tim Leary and Hunter S. Thompson.  Yeah…, Joe and I had a lot of likes, loves and lusts in common…, liquid libations, lovely ladies and Lysergic Acid Diethylamide.  And always…, always…, some music in the background.  The dedication to that piece was a teaser too, “This essay is dedicated to Gypsy Joe Hess (1919-1988).” 

The intro to it was this…,

Everything Americans think they know, they learned from a televised morality play. It’s all theater. You root for some good guy and boo some bad guy. You pick your own, but you dance to the tune of the men running the show. It’s mind control, pure and simple, and if there is an American immune to it, then he is probably living in a snow cave somewhere in Alaska.
— Gypsy Joe Hess (1919-1988), prospector, self-educated philosopher and horse trader

Damn right I Googled “Gypsy Joe Hess” when I read the essay a couple years back…, and got no hits.  I do now though…, after this title piece by John Lingan was run at The Baffler – Totally Pure – Joe Bageant drops out.

We are offered glimpses of Joe’s life in his books and essays…, but most of them are from his life back in West Virginia in his early years or later in life when he returned.  Lingan paints a very nice portrait of Joe’s life throughout…, with plenty of quotes from Joe’s work…, and I found out that we had a lot more in common than I thought…,

They bought the shack in 1982, with no electricity, running water, or address. It was on a dirt road about halfway up a mountain, which must have recalled Shanghai Road. Joe worked tirelessly, clearing forest and planting a garden behind the house. He built a barn for horses and livestock.

That “shack” was near St. Maries, Idaho, just a couple hours from my old home stomping grounds in north central Idaho. I remember spending a long afternoon in The Sasquatch Bar there in about 1984 or so.  But I wouldn’t have known Joe Bageant if he had been sitting beside me…, and probably wouldn’t have let him interrupt my concentration on the cute little bar maid anyway.  And in the summer of 1986 my brother and I hired out a couple of machines and ourselves on a powerline construction project well north of St. Maries…, so I made weekly trips through there for four or five months.  I kind a like to think that this old hippie met that old hippie on the road a time or two. 

Often at my speaking engagements or readings, I see one or more of them in the audience,” he wrote, “long gray hair, loose-fitting, sensible, well-worn clothing, soft eyes, and perhaps an herbal amulet around the neck or in the hair. . . . Immediately after the reading or talk or whatever, I seek them out if at all possible (press agents sometimes screw this up). Always there is the big smile and the hug.

And we are again brothers and sisters, as we used to sincerely address each other on the street. And again I have been granted the gift, that brief spark of unquestioned mutual love and goodwill in a darkening time.

I made a move to Forks, WA in 87 and he moved to Moscow, ID in 88…, he went to Eugene, OR in 91 or 2 and I went to southeast AK in 91.  I came back to Forks in 94 and the property we bought didn’t even have the shack on it…, let alone running water. But we got the horses and a barn and a garden and a Bar(n) now.
So I don’t think I will be following Joe’s path down Mexico way…, at least not anytime soon.  I will hold out here…, tend the garden and the horses…, and hope for more ghosts like “Toxically Pure” to appear.

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Scott R.

A "rehabilitated" former logger and now a "wannabe" cowboy..., and writer. Living and loving with my drop-dead gorgeous wife Julie here on our "Ranch"..., on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula of Washington state..., with our three horses and too damn many dogs, cats, and chickens.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I worked with Ken Smith,Joe’s friend, literary admin, who got Joe online & keeps the site running. Cloned his posts ‘just in case’, when Ken wanted to move the site to WordPress.
    Have PDFs of all essays & talking about another volume – Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball did not exhaust what Joe had to say. We miss him & need him.
    I can’t write like Joe, but I’m gonna take the gloves off and try to honor his memory in the coming months. Been through some ‘life-changing’ circumstances over last few weeks and realize I don’t have time for the petty shit that’s been taking up my days.
    Time to get Down-and-Dirty.
    Stay Tuned.

    • I May Be Wrong…,
      but it seemed to me that the essays from the blog had a bit more bite than what got translated or edited into the books. Haven’t followed up to see for sure. I would be interested in seeing some of his older stuff from the Colorado and Idaho days…, the Oregon stint doesn’t sound too appealing.

      Looking forward to what you have say as well…, right on partner…, write on.

  • Ken Smith maintains Joe’s blogsite and randomly posts stuff from Joe’s early days.
    All the essays are on the site too.
    Ken may have done a bit of minor editing for Waltzing At The Doomsday Ball.
    I really want to publish another volume but need to talk to Ken about that and let him interface with Joe’s family.
    I would collect & publish as free Kindle/Epub but most of Joe’s readers probably don’t go that route and paperback would cost a few bucks. I printed the PDFs for myself but haven’t gotten around to binding into a book yet.

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