October 3, 2007

Justice Thomas steels himself by listening, over and over, to "The Greatest Love of All."

Yesterday, I wrote that I was blogging as I read my way through the Clarence Thomas memoir ("My Grandfather's Son"). That was at 11:26 am. (Really 12:26 for me here in New York. I keep the blog on Central Time, as always.) That turned out to be the last post of the day.

Perhaps you're thinking, Althouse got caught up in that thing we call real life. She complained about Thomas: "He hasn't said anything about sex." And then she must have gotten a clue and detached herself from the keyboard. She abandoned her readers to a long, weird comments thread, where they would mark time until the next tidbit about Thomas, the next tidbit that never came.

Or perhaps I had a class to teach and some other things to read and by the time I got back to the Thomas tome, I found I'd hit a boring stretch. I was saving up to say a few sharp things about this part, and then the boredom won over the desire to say something sharp, and I was asleep at 9:30.

Now, I'm up hours before dawn, ready to talk.

First, I can see one thing clearly. I lost my sympathetic feeling toward the author when he abruptly left his wife and child. On the first page of this book, Thomas writes about his own father's "inexplicable absence" from his life. Now, suddenly, Thomas is absenting himself from his own family and, for us, it's inexplicable.
It was the worst thing I'd done in my life, worse even than going back on my promise to Daddy that I would finish my seminary studies and become a priest. I had broken the most solemn vow a man can make, the one that ends... as long as you both shall live. I still live with that guilt, and always will.
So we know he feels bad. But this book is brimming with bad feeling about so many things. Bad feeling and then steeling himself to soldier on. We're in a chapter titled "A Question of Will," and two pages after he's drinking, driving, and deciding to leave his wife, he's bolstering himself by listening over and over to the song "The Greatest Love of All" (the George Benson version from the movie about Muhammad Ali).

According to Wikipedia, the song "has in certain circles become shorthand for cheesy music or kitsch." It's used and abused in many movies and TV shows: "Coming to America," "School of Rock," "Say Anything," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." The psycho killer in "American Psycho" identifies it as his favorite song. And that's apt. It's a song about self-love, a powerful declaration that self-love is the greatest love.
Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfill my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me
A man who leaves his wife and child is wallowing in the lyrics of a song about how people aren't fulfilling his needs? He has no one, and he must look only to himself for inspiration? Thomas writes that he "didn't even like" himself after what he'd done to his son, but that's why the song was so helpful.
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all
Thomas quotes those lyrics. So, you're down on yourself because of something you've done. A song said something that helped you out, but why? I've abandoned my son, the way my father abandoned me, but, really, the most important love is the love that I have for myself! Did he ever picture his own father out enjoying life, singing about how he'd found the greatest love of all, the love for himself?

Here's a line from the paragraph about the song: "I'd done what I thought was right." What? Oh, that's Thomas gliding quickly from remorse about his broken family to the more signficant topic: coming out as a black conservative.
I'd done what I thought was right, and I took heart from George Benson: I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadows/If I fail, if I succeed/At least I live as I believe/No matter what they take from me/They can't take away my dignity.
I'm picturing the movie version of "My Grandfather's Son." A despondent Clarence sits by his record player. He sobs. He listens. His face reflects a thousand emotions. Finally, he rises, restored, and walks into a montage of scenes in various federal offices, where we see him smiling and shaking hands with one smiling white male conservative after another, as the triumphant music swells: If I fail, if I succeed/At least I live as I believe/No matter what they take from me/They can't take away my dignity.

It's a cheesy, kitsch classic.

28 comments:

Verso said...

I used to sing that song a lot, too. Not for motivation, but because it was popular when I was in high school, and because it's a great, great song, with a great message.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZkSZaTzed4&mode=related&search=

rhhardin said...

I right away think, what was his wife's part in his leaving? He seems to have a wife he likes well enough now.

Everybody lives in a two story house.

Harlan Howard said that every time he got married, he got three country songs out of it. Every time he got divorced, he got three more.

MadisonMan said...

I'm picturing the movie

Who is playing Clarence Thomas? LeVar Burton? James Pickens Jr? Isaiah Washington?

peter hoh said...

Should I ever get around to reading Atlas Shrugged, I'll make sure that I have that song playing nonstop in the background.

Trooper York said...

I really hate it when people post song lyrics posing as commentary. Either come up with something original or shut up!

Andrew Shimmin said...

Can't wait to find out if Thomas is redeemed, for you, when he takes custody of the child, or if that makes him even less sympathetic.

Trooper York said...

Actually the court awarded Kevin Federline custody. No justice, No peace.

peter hoh said...

What more song revelations will we come across? Did "MacArthur Park" help him deal with the slings and arrows of confirmation? Does he keep a copy of Charlene's "I've Never Been to Me" in his office to lift his spirits?

Trooper York said...

Another can of worms
Another stomach turns
Yeh yr ghetto burns
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

You got a stupid man
You got a Ku Klux Klan
Yr f*ckin' battle plan
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

A sieg heil-in' squirt
You're an impotent jerk
Yeh a fascist twerp
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

Black robe and swill
I believe Anita Hill
Judge will rot in hell
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

Yeah a cross on fire
By a christian liar
A black attack on fire
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

Yeah the president sucks
He's a war pig f*ck
His shit is out of luck
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

Another nazi attack
A skinhead is cracked
My blood is black
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

We're banging pots and pans
To make you understand
We gonna bury you man
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

I'm a human wreck
A redneck in check
I killed the teacher's pet
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate
It's the song I hate, it's the song I hate

(Sonic Youth 1987)

Jeremy said...

I've long thought that that is one of the worst songs of all time, precisely because of the message: "You can do whatever your want, even terrible, selfish things and as long as you feel good about yourself, you're set." Without reverting to Brother Jed mode, it's the anthem of our society. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."

Caroline said...

"They can't take away my dignity."

What a poignant phrase coming from a black man growing up in the times that he did.

Zeb Quinn said...

First, I can see one thing clearly. I lost my sympathetic feeling toward the author when he abruptly left his wife and child.

Sorry to come across as a meanie, but since it's you who's deciding to make personal judgments about the judge, tell us how old your children were when you divorced, whether you label it as their father leaving wife and child, and what song it was if any that you did it to.

Trooper York said...

Josh Silver: Look, uh, Miss Stewart. I can't fail another class this semester. ok? I mean if I do my father may cut me off.
Prof. Nicole Stewart: All you do in this class, Josh, is crack jokes and check out my ass neither of which is on the syllabus.
Josh Silver: Look at me, bitch!
Prof. Nicole Stewart: Get out of here. Get out!
(The Substitute 3, 1999)

Dust Bunny Queen said...

tell us how old your children were when you divorced, whether you label it as their father leaving wife and child, and what song it was if any that you did it to.

You didn't ask me, but I'm going to share anyway. Child 12 yrs old. Father leaving.

Song:
Got along without ya before I met ya
Gonna get along without ya now.
Gonna find somebody twice as cute
`Cause ya didn't love me anyhow.
You ran around with ev'ry girl in town
And ya never cared if it got me down.
You had me worried always on my guard.
But ya laughed at me `cause I tried so hard.
Boom, boom. Boom, boom.
Gonna get along without ya now.
Boom, boom. Boom, boom.
Gonna get along without ya now.

Got along without ya before I met ya
Gonna get along without ya now.
Gonna find somebody twice as cute
`Cause ya didn't love me anyhow.
I lost my money and I lost my pride
Didn't have much money, but I really tried.
It made you happy when you made me cry.
And ya broke my heart so I said goodbye.
Boom, boom. Boom, boom.
Gonna get along without ya now.
Boom, boom. Boom, boom.
Gonna get along without ya now.


Such an upbeat happy tune. :-) Boom boom

One thing I have learned it that you cannot judge other people's relationships. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors. (another song for Trooper)

Chip Ahoy said...

I'm feeling a laughing fit coming on.

Trooper York said...

We always wanted a big two story house
Back when we lived in that little two room shack
We wanted fame and fortune
And we'd live life the way the rich folks do
We knew some how we'd make it, together me and you

With dreams and hopes of things to come
We worked and never stopped
Not much time for you and me
We had to reach the top

We bought that big two story house
And soon became the envy of the town
With all our work behind us
We'd finally settled down

Now we live (yes we live) in a two story house
Whoa, what splendor
But there's no love about

I've got my story
And I've got mine, too
How sad it is, we now live, in a two story house

The house is filled with rare antiques
There's marble on the floor
Beauty all around us
Like we've never seen before

There's chandeliers in every room
Imported silks and satin all about
We filled the house with everything
But somehow left love out

Now we live (yes we live) in a two story house
Oh what splendor
But there's no love about

I've got my story
And I've got mine, too
How sad it is, we now live, in a two story house

How sad it is, we now live, in a two story house

(T. Wynette, G. Tubb, D. Lindsey)
(Sorry Dust Bunny good luck)

James Kabala said...

Madisonman: Surely it will be the breakout starring role for Leslie David Baker.* (Although he would be better as the Thomas of 1991 or today than the mid-thirties Thomas of this incident.)

Trooper York: How could Sonic Youth have written a song about Anita Hill in 1987?

James Kabala

Trooper York said...

Sorry baby, I guess it's a typo. I guess the liner notes I had are wrong. Just think of it as "funny but accurate." Thanks you Dan Rather, you saved me again.

former law student said...

Thomas's father abandoned his family; Thomas divorced his wife. Unless Thomas subsequently failed to support his son both financially and emotionally, the two situations are not the same.

In the absence of an explanation, I presume Thomas and his wife divorced because living together had become intolerable for both.

Revenant said...

Man, a therapist could get filthy rich off of Clarence Thomas.

Bonus points for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer talent show reference, Ann.

Andrew Shimmin said...

A piece of careless reading on my part, that I should correct: Thomas did not take custody of his child, at any point. He took custody of his nephew's child, after he nephew was sent to prison, in 1997. So, no redemption. There's indication, in the ABC interview writeup, that he did support his ex-wife and son, though not, that I could see, whether he did so adequately, or what sort of relationship he maintained his son. Thomas's son did serve as his best man at his second wedding. That doesn't prove anything, but does seem relevant.

Revenant said...

Interesting link, Andrew. According to the information there, it was actually Thomas' wife who filed for divorce -- not him. The impression I'd gotten from the book passages I've seen quoted was that the choice to divorce was his.

Ralph said...

It may have been his choice to leave, and hers to divorce and get alimony/child support.

peter hoh said...

Rev, I don't think you can infer much from which spouse filed for divorce.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I have a friend, a mother of four, who played "Tub Thumping" by Chumbawamba often while she was going through a divorce.

I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never going to keep me down


Annie Gottlieb: see comment at 11:40 a.m.

Revenant said...

Rev, I don't think you can infer much from which spouse filed for divorce.

You can infer that the divorce was something both of them wanted -- Thomas because he says so in his book, and his wife because she filed for it.

Seneca the Younger said...

Let's see: you don't like it that Thomas left wife and child? or you don't like it that he says (after the fact) that it was the worst thing he'd ever done and he feels guilt about it even now? Or you don't like it that he decided that he had to be true to himself? Or you don't like it that he listened to a song you don't like while doing so?

Okay, so Thomas is a bastard for leaving his wife and child, and for feeling horribly guilty about it now, years afterward, and for admitting he did it and felt bad about it, and for playing the wrong music when he made the decision, does that about sum it up?

amba said...

(Sorry reader) You can go your own way, Go your own way . . .

(And that wasn't even a divorce.)

"The Greatest Love of All" is a disgusting song.