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“Lord Have Mercy, I Think It’s the Cops”: Larry Craig and Madame George

September 4th, 2007 · 3 Comments · Activism, Culture, Essays, History, Human Rights, Journalism, LGBT, Music, News, Politics, Theater

Astral WeeksForgive me for posting twice in a row about Larry Craig. After the past week, surely it’s time for him to begin shrinking in the collective rear-view mirror of our culture.

But I can’t help it. On Sunday, someone who goes by the nom de net Blueness posted an absolutely beautiful diary on Daily Kos, called “Say Goodbye To Madame George (R., Id.),” which looks at Larry Craig through the lens of Van Morrison’s classic song “Madame George,” and Lester Bangs’ 1978 essay about the album it belongs to, Astral Weeks.

It is without a doubt the most poignant thing you’ll ever read about Senator Larry Craig of Idaho.

But first, the background.

If you’ve got the “Madame George” handy, you might want to put it on and listen to it. Maybe even read the lyrics as you listen.

Now, in his Astral Weeks essay, Bangs wrote:

“Madame George” is the album’s whirlpool. Possibly one of the most compassionate pieces of music ever made, it asks us, no, arranges that we see the plight of what I’ll be brutal and call a lovelorn drag queen with such intense empathy that when the singer hurts him, we do too. (Morrison has said in at least one interview that the song has nothing to do with any kind of transvestite – at least as far as he knows, he is quick to add – but that’s bullshit.) The beauty, sensitivity, holiness of the song is that there’s nothing at all sensationalistic, exploitative, or tawdry about it …

The setting is that same as that of the previous song – “Cyprus Avenue”, apparently a place where people drift, impelled by desire, into moments of flesh-wracking, sight-curdling confrontation with their destinies. It’s an elemental place of pitiless judgement – wind and rain figure in both songs – and, interestingly enough, it’s a place of the even crueler judgement of adults by children, in both cases love objects absolutely indifferent to their would-be adult lovers. Madame George’s little boys are downright contemptuous – like the street urchins who end up cannibalizing the homosexual cousin in Tennessee Williams’s Suddenly Last Summer, they’re only too happy to come around as long as there’s music, party times, free drinks and smokes, and only too gleefully spit on George’s affections when all the other stuff runs out, the entombing winter settling in with not only wind and rain but hail, sleet, and snow.

What might seem strangest of all but really isn’t is that it’s exactly those characteristics which supposedly should make George most pathetic – age, drunkenness, the way the boys take his money and trash his love – that awakens something for George in the heart of the kid whose song this is.

Blueness riffs on this, and writes:

Now of course there is no indication that Craig crossdresses, nor–much–that he was drawn to underage males. The connection is not as superficial as that.

But it is a fact that Larry Craig was, and is, gay. Woefully, lonesomely gay. Shammed in a marriage entered into in 1982 in a panic that he might be outed in that season’s Congressional page scandal. Stalled into expressing his suppressed sexuality in furtive restroom encounters.

And it is also a fact that everyone in a position with the need to know, in both the state and national Republican parties, knew Larry Craig was gay. And it is a fact that all these hotshot GOoPer “little boys” were content to “come around,” sharing with ol’ Lar the “music, party times, free drinks and smokes” … just so long as Larry toed the party line, and successfully kept his little self secret. But just as soon as that raw Minnesota cop said “come along,” all Larry’s usefulness … well … it all “run out.” And all the hotshot GOoPer boys “only too gleefully spit on [him and his] affections.”

And, as in “Madame George,” our empathy should flow most naturally to Craig. Not to those who used and abused him.

There’s much more, and I’ll stop quoting there because it really deserves to be read in its entirety.

The diary doesn’t really address Larry Craig’s hypocrisy — the reason that I, like so many other GLBT people, have celebrated his downfall is that Craig was willing to viciously attack openly gay people for behavior he furtively indulged in himself, behind the closet door.

The fact is, Larry Craig is just the latest member of the Roy Cohn Hall of Fame.

But Blueness’s post is a beautiful piece of writing nonetheless, and it reminds me just a little of the scene where Ethel Rosenberg says Kaddish for Roy Cohn in Angels in America. There is a kind of bedrock compassion that should be available even to our worst enemies.

Because at a certain point, but for our compassion, there would go us you or I.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Aaron

    There DO go we, again and again. Even the younger gays are willing to toss us older ones to the wolves, more often than not…they’re worse than snippy teenage cheerleaders, and about as smart, too.

    It is a tragedy that anybody forces themselves to live a life of quiet, desperate “closetedness,” but Craig’s hypocrisy really does trump any sympathy I might have felt for him. While he’s been enjoying the acceptance of his conservative neighbors (even if it was based on a lie), others of us are being discriminated against, beaten and even murdered. And now, he’s “reconsidering resigning.” This oughtta be interesting…

    Sorry–Craig can sink or swim. Hope he has a good backstroke.

  • Jill Bernard

    Auntie Dave, I read an article today that said:

    Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the airport and the law firm it hired to prosecute the cases, said Mr. Craig was the only man charged with two offenses because he had peered into the police officer’s stall and had used unspoken signals — foot tapping and hand motions — known as ways to solicit restroom sex.

    Auntie Dave, what if I’m just innocently flashing my gang signs whilst having a foot twitch? Could I be accidentally soliciting restroom sex and I don’t know it?

  • Ocelopotamus

    Good point, Jill! I saw that same article. And I wonder, with the explosion of attention to this subject, how many people are going to be arrested/punched out etc. for innocently tapping their foot to a song on their iPod in the coming months …