A simple but devastating note on Joe Bageant's web site today:
After a vibrant life, Joe Bageant died yesterday following a four-month struggle with cancer. He was 64. Joe is survived by his wife, Barbara, his three children, Timothy, Patrick and Elizabeth, and thousands of friends and admirers. He is also survived by his work and ideas.
According to Joe's wishes, he will be cremated. His family will hold a private memorial service.
Most of you are probably wondering, "Who the heck was Joe Bageant and why should I mourn his loss?" Oh, you should, you should and you read everything he ever wrote.
I first encountered Joe Bageant a few years ago when my wife slipped me a copy of his seminal and probably best work, Deer Hunting with Jesus in my Christmas stocking. It is the story of redneck America, as seen by a fellow redneck who in the 1960s got enlightened.
How did Joe Bageant get enlightened? Well, he served in the military, not always a source of great enlightenment, but thanks to Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program this ordinary redneck from Winchester, Virginia went to college, something no one in his family had done, and worked as a journalist for many years.
Joe was a great writer. How great was Joe? Hunter S. Thompson great. Alas, he did not earn Thompson's fame, because he was just an educated redneck, but his prose and insight were unparalleled. Think Molly Ivins. Joe, however, was grounded, rooted you might say in the redneck culture. He understood it from the ground up. He knows why rednecks feel passionate about guns. He knows why, contrary to their interests, they tend to vote for Republicans who further impoverish them as a class. In Deer Hunting with Jesus we enter this world through a lunch counter: the Royal Lunch in downtown Winchester, just a couple of blocks from the Amtrak station.
To get a taste for Joe, read this blog entry from last July, Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball. This was one of his last entries before cancer took a hold of him. But it just rings with sharp insight and amazing writing:
As the people's wealth accumulates, it is steadily siphoned off by government and elite private forces. From time to time, it is openly plundered for their benefit by way of various bubbles, depressions or recessions and other forms of theft passed off as unavoidable acts of nature/god. These periodic raids and draw downs of the people's wealth are attributed to "business cycles." Past periodic raids and thefts are heralded as being proof of the rationale. "See folks, it comes and goes, so it's a cycle!" Economic raids and busts become "market adjustments." Public blackmail and plundering through bailouts become a "necessary rescue packages." Giveaways to corporations under the guise of public works and creating employment become "stimulus." The chief responsibility of economists is to name things in accordance with government and corporate interests. The function of the public is to acquire debt and maintain "consumer confidence." When the public staggers to its feet again and manages to carry more debt, buy more poker chips on credit to play again, it's called a recovery. They are back in the game.
Dealer, hit me with two more cards,. I feel lucky.
Joe left us a rich legacy of insightful writing, but something of a parting present. His book Rainbow Pie is available on Amazon for preorder. You'd be smart to order it.
Joe, I'm gonna really miss you. Thank you for your grounded enlightenment, and thank you for taking me inside the world of the redneck and making me care about them.
Here's a YouTube clip with an interview with Joe so you can get a sense of the man: