Thunder Road Bites the Dust

Driving up the bend of Jacksboro Highway, retired cowpokes squint their eyes upon a familiar landscape unchanged in 50 years. It is the sepia-toned Massey’s 21 Club and the Rockwood Motel, a 1930’s motor lodge, surrounded by green hills and bathed in a massive horizon. Old farmers and former Fort Worth rodeo cowboys mosey on in around happy hour. This is the same bar they’ve been drinking at since they were young and wild, when Jacksboro Highway was known as “Thunder Road”—a 16-mile stretch between Fort Worth and Azle, Texas.
Jacksboro Highway attracted the meanest white people in all of Texas. Outlaws hid there and gangsters flourished within the 40-odd honky-tonk beer joints and lavish nightclubs. The 16-mile stream of neon offered a proliferation of illegal slot machines, backroom gambling, whores, dope, booze and constant shootouts.
By 1990 the Highway Department will be razing Massey’s 21 Club, along with most of the remaining old honky-tonks along the Jax.

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Wayne Newton’s Altamont

Nostalgia for the 50th anniversary of Woodstock will soon begin. Woodstock itself has been insidiously branded and commercialized like shaving cream, beer and everything else. And so we will also be reminded of the fatal Altamont concert, headlined by the Stones, which followed later that same year. Four people died (a homicide, a drowning, two hit-and-run car accidents). But few remember the Summer of Newton. This disaster at the World Trade Center preceded Al-Qaeda by 18 years. I was the only one to cover the event, in my weekly Naked City column for Screw, July 25, 1983, reprinted here:

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Lullaby of Tiny Tim

Tiny Tim deserves a permanent speaking forum. Many of the national TV podiums from which he performed in the late ’60s have cast him aside, regarding him as a “charity guest.” He struggled for two decades before hitting the big time as a singer/pop aberration, then hit the Vegas bandwagon for resuscitation. He became a great American fad before having a chance to nurture his cult status as a unique artist and musicologist of early 20th century popular song, a virtually forgotten era—save for Tiny’s determination to sing its glories. He is also a most extraordinary connoisseur of women.

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Nellie and Her Sons.

Nellie Hatt and her sons Ned, left, and Carl on farm at Baileyville, Me., where all were born. If crops are bad, Ned said, “We make do, then. We don’t ask nobody’s help.”

The above caption and photo ran on page 37 of The New York Times, July 2, 1974. It has haunted me ever since. It was taken by Arthur Grace, for a story called “Maine Farmers See Aid in Beef,” by Alden Whitman. The dateline was a town called “Meddybemps,
Maine.”

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Can Anyone Stop This Man From Writing?

My father, Bruce Jay Friedman, was saddened by the news that Philip Roth is gone.He found it disturbing, unexpected, and doesn’t think there is anyone around who will fill his shoes. Roth gave his entire life to what he did.

The BJF vs. Roth trope was a slightly annoying subject in my family. Or at least, I’ll speak for myself. It was grating to hear Roth’s name come up, automatically, when someone praised my father. What does Roth have to do with it? They have nothing to do with each other. Why must I hear that echo? A petty annoyance, probably not worth mentioning.

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