I’m on a trip and my brain hurts (I drank moonshine last night), so until I get back to my office in Chicago you’ll have a diet consisting largely of persiflage.

“You can’t pooh-pooh Paducah:
That’s another name for Paradise.”

Those lines, taken from the video below, are the exaggeration of the century. In reality, Paducah is more like the photograph below, taken by a student coming from Puerto Rico to study at Murray State. This is not a joke, but a real pair of signs stuck on the rear window of a pickup truck (of course) parked at the Paducah Wal-Mart (of course). You can imagine how a foreign student or, indeed, any rational person would react to this. It’s all the insanity of conservative America compressed into one square foot.

whitebacklash (2)

I’m 100% sure that this Bible-thumping white person is “bitter” because we have a black president.

On the drive from Paducah to Murray State when I arrived, I saw a Confederate flag flying high and proud by the highway (there was no American flag next to it). I was taken aback but my hosts said that it was nothing out of the ordinary. This is a very red state.

Still, Paducah, Kentucky, is notable for one thing: it’s where John Scopes, of Scopes Trial fame, is buried. He and his family were actually from Paducah. On my way home today (I’m flying from Paducah), I hope to visit the cemetery and photograph his headstone. After all, how many people have made a pilgrimage to Scopes’s grave?

And reader Stephen Barnard (of Idaho photography fame) sent this clip of the swing song “Paducah”; the YouTube notes say this:

This is one of MANY great numbers from the Busby Berkeley 1943 musical “The Gang’s All Here” with Carmen Miranda. One of the era’s best musicals, with some of Hollywood’s worst acting. It’s a hoot!

Indeed, Goodman shows his chops on the clarinet—he was the greatest jazz clarinetist of all time (Artie Shaw was a close second)—and Carmen Miranda swans around singing, sadly not wearing one of her trademark fruit hats. The lyrics are dumb but funny, and Goodman sings some of them—unless his  voice is dubbed.

I’ve discovered that some of my friends (and I) like to say “Paducah” because it sounds funny.


  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    The only thing that sign is missing is something about “happy holidays” & the war on Xmas.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 24, 2013 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      ‘Merika has declared war on Xmas??
      Dang, my atlas doesn’t even tell me where Xmas is. Do you mean that the forces of the American military are about to land on Xmas Island.
      Will they all fit?

  2. gbjames
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    That looks like a pretty fruit-like hat to me! I’d call it a giant cherry tomato.

  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I plan on visiting Paducah right after I visit Peshawar, Pakistan, Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and the suburbs of Damascus.

  4. Paul Lurquin
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Sidney Bechet was the greatest jazz clarinetist of all time…

  5. Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I observe signs of this level of Moranacy literally everywhere. Fortunately, only a few stand out as starkly as this one.

    But for every Moran as disturbed as Mr. White Man, there are a hundred others silently clapping him on.

    The Daily Kos recently linked to a page on their FB account that helps immensely in understanding the nature of the difficulties we experience in this world as well. Here’s the link:

  6. George
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Kentucky has always confused me. It did not secede during the Civil War. While there were many Confederate sympathizers in the state – or commonwealth, much of it was a hotbed of Unionism. Kentucky has been a huge beneficiary of federal programs – addressing the poverty of Appalachia and the Black Lung Disease of its miners. West Virginia is much the same. Yet they have both turned bright red. To me, the obvious reason is race.

  7. krzysztof1
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Moonshine! That stuff’ll cool ya!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 24, 2013 at 3:54 am | Permalink

      Depends if you make it properly. Making moonshine (or poteen, or uisge bhagh, depending on which side of which Pond (Ponds) you’re on. Also akkavit. And I can’t even be bothered digging out more names. There is no shortage of names. Flash.) is not rocket science. Though you can use the product as part of rocket fuel.

      • krzysztof1
        Posted November 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        No doubt there will soon be [if not already] a proliferation of designer moonshines for sale at fancy prices, for the upscale mountain man in all of us!

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted November 27, 2013 at 5:03 am | Permalink

          Real mountain men make their own. Always have done ; always will do.
          I am the proud holder of the life-time post of “Science Officer” to the Aberdeen University Gaelic Society (Drinking subsection) for my proven ability to turn a standard university halls apartment kitchen into a distillery in under 30 seconds. It wasn’t a great distillery – only about a 50% reduction in water content – but it was proof of concept. In front of witnesses, some of whom could remember what they saw later.
          If you suspect that beer was involved in the decision to award the post, you’d be right. There was also a model of the Star Ship Enterprise for reasons clear to no-one but the Mad Irishman Whose Name Should Not Be Mentioned in Full For Fear of Him Darkening The Doorstep, Again. But the model set the tone for the meeting, and Fionnlaigh’s (dec.) soliloquy in praise of my product so moving that the award was a foregone conclusion.

  8. Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I can understand, and I have empathy for, a member of the underclass being bitter about his economic situation. A situation which has been made worse because of illegal immigration and its resulting downward pressure on wages, unionization, and job security.

    The sign is, to my eyes, a historical artifact of the mendacious genius of the Republican party, who have led its owner, no doubt, to be a fervent supporter and frequent voter for the self-same political party which celebrates labor law policies which generate cheap labor.

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 23, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      “… because of illegal immigration and its resulting downward pressure on wages, unionization, and job security.”

      All of which could be quickly addressed if we dared crack down on the employers rather than the immigrants themselves. But of course you know that.

    • onkelbob
      Posted November 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      The trick is to circumvent the the logical facilities by overwhelming the emotional ones. If people stop to think about the consequences of their behavior, they often do not behave in the same way.

  9. mordacious1
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Paducah is also the birthplace of Boots Randolph, who among other things wrote Yakety Sax (Benny Hill theme). Where would high culture be without that song?

    I know Goodman’s wife is from Kentucky (the lovely Alice Hammond Duckworth), maybe she’s from Paducah? It would explain the song.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 23, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      I know that Paducah [particularly the Hotel Metropolitan] was on the “Chitlin Circuit” for Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway & many other *colored* performers. HERE is a link for the “colored hotel” & I guessed the lyrics for the song originated from a black act in the early 1900’s which was “borrowed” & updated by white songwriters. However I can’t find any evidence for that & in searching I came across this from the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau facebook page :-

      A comment from last year left by Barbara Hart Cavanah:-

      “My father-in-law, Henry L. (Pete) Cavanah, passed away last year at age 89. Among his papers, we found a newspaper clipping explaining the history of this song. Pete worked for NBC radio in Chicago. According to the article, Leo Robin, the song’s composer, while in the studio asked Pete where he was from. Pete replied that he was from Paducah. Robin started calling Pete “Paducah” and one day after a broadcast was sitting at the piano when Pete walked in. Robin said “Hello, Paducah! You know, I like that name; I believe I’ll write a song about it. The name is melody itself”

      [I think Robin was the lyricist & Warren the “composer”]

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      This is an interesting article about “the cultural appropriation of black art” ~ Benny Goodman gets a sizeable mention.

  10. ploubere
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Kentucky is indeed a strange and contradictory place, but for the most part sad and regressive. It actually makes Tennessee seem progressive. Louisville is a pretty good town, though (in spite of naming its arena the KFC Yum! Center).

    • Larry Gay
      Posted November 23, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      Kentucky’s choice of senators supports your assertion. Someone, perhaps Rachel Maddow, has been referring to those red states below the Mason-Dixon line as the “neo-confederacy”.

      • Posted November 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Lemme guess… that would be the Honorable Mitch McConnell(husband of former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao) and the Honorable Rand Paul. Proud representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, home of the Discovery Museum.

        I’d like to say that explains a lot.

        But it doesn’t.

  11. David Chumney
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Are you familiar with the music of John Prine? Although he was not from Western Kentucky, his parents were. One of his best songs is called “Paradise” and talks about how the coal company destroyed the environment there. Here is a link to the lyrics:

    • George
      Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      I started college in 1974 in Chicago. I was fortunate to see John Prine (and Steve Goodman) many times. I love his music. He lives in Nashville now and rarely comes back to Chicago.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      A verse from John Prine’s Space Monkey

      Now Leningrad is Petersburg and Petersburg’s hell
      For a card-carrying monkey with a story to tell
      The Space Monkey was reportedly last sighted about
      A half a block off of Red Square
      In a karaoke bar having a few drinks with some of his friends
      There was the dog that flew Sputnik
      And a blind red-headed, one legged parrot
      Who had done some minor research for Dow Chemical
      They were drinking American Vodka
      Imported all the way from Paducah, Kentucky
      And reportedly had their arms around each other’s
      Shoulders singing.
      “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end”

  12. krzysztof1
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Re: Goodman v. Shaw–I find it hard to compare them because they had two completely different personalities, musical and generally. I picture Goodman as the more “intuitive” player and Shaw as the uncompromising perfectionist (I just was reading his wikipedia bio wherein is noted that he was an expert marksman and fly fisherman as well–both being skills that take a lot of practice.) Shaw was also a troubled person, apparently–married at least 8 times and had undergone psychoanalysis. Both guys could play anything; I wouldn’t want to be without either of them.

    By the way, I was fortunate to have been in the Phoenix Symphony when “Mr. G” performed a concerto by Louis Spohr. He followed that with an improvised jazz solo, and was joined by the principal bassist! It seemed impromptu, but may not have been. Also, his recording of the Brahms E Flat Sonata is one of the first classical recordings I ever heard, when I was 8 or 9 years old. I didn’t even know what a clarinet was, but I knew what it sounded like!

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Ah, the incomparable Carmen Miranda, eponym of the Miranda warnings:

    You have the right to wear fruit on your head.
    You have the right to a conga player.
    If you wish to have a conga player but cannot afford one, a conga player will be appointed to you at no cost.

  14. Jacob Howard Riley
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I actually live right outside Paducah (near a part named Reidland). I unfortunately missed Dr. Coyne’s lectures in Murray (it’s a fifty minute drive). Between Paducah and Murray is Graves Co., and I know of at least one school teacher in Graves who teaches creationism in her classroom. I tried to direct her to “Why Evolution is True” and “The Greatest Show on Earth” but she refused to listen. If you intend on deprecating evolution, at least learn something about it.

  15. Posted November 23, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    I grew up about a hundred miles north of Paducah and those stickers are par for the course for that region. I had some very scary neighbors. I’m glad I got out as soon as I could.

  16. Lianne Byram
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Did you fall in love in Paducah Jerry? While drinking moonshine perhaps? 🙂

    • Posted November 23, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      If he did, and if the lucky gal happens to be a 16-year-old cousin, consanguineous beyond the second degree, he sure enough picked the right Commonwealth to do it!

      • Posted November 23, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        Apologies in advance to the fine citizenry of the Kentucky Commonwealth. I’m an Ohio native who attended university in the southern part of the Buckeye State, so wisecracks about Kentucky stereotypes were as much a staple of collegiate life as weekend binges across the bridge in the riverfront dives and honky-tonks of Newport’s notorious strip.

  17. uglicoyote
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  18. Keith
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    All that good whiskey in Kentucky and you went for moonshine? Oy…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted November 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      The risk of blindness is bad ass.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 23, 2013 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

        To paraphrase the youngster upon being warned of the false etiology involving masturbation and blindness:

        “Can I keep drinking it just until I need glasses?”

  19. hhislander
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Kentucky is NOT a “very red state” — as a matter of fact, the governor and lt. gov. at the present time are “blue”. And there are many good people living in Paducah, many of whom support the theory of evolution. So, I think you’re a little out-of-line here.

    Having lived in Louisville for 12 years, I can report that the elections are typically close, evenly divided between reds and blues. Again, Kentucky is NOT a “very red state”. Stick to the facts.

    Wm. A. Bradnan

  20. kent
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    You don’t know the half of it. I’m a plumber in Lexington, Ky. You would not believe the crap I hear on a daily basis on a construction site. Lexington is very progressive for Ky., and most of the guys I work with are union, but they’re all Fox news junkies. They can’t figure out that they cut their own throats every time they vote.

  21. Posted November 23, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    let me correct that last bumper sticker

    “scared, whiny pathetic piece of shit”

    As my husband has said “I’ve never been so scared to need either a gun or a god.”

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 24, 2013 at 3:59 am | Permalink

      As my husband has said “I’ve never been so scared to need either a gun or a god.”

      Nice one! If we did “bumper stickers” here, I might actually consider that one.

      • Posted November 24, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        Thank you. He was very pleased with that one. 🙂

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted November 24, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

        Agreed; superb sentiment! And, while I’m more than a little abashed that I had a god for 25 years, I’m proud of the two facts that (1) I no longer do, and (2) I’ve never had a gun.

  22. David Duncan
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    I looked at the truck stickers before reading Jerry’s comments and thought the truck belonged to a liberal who was mocking the rednecks. Just crazy.

  23. Star Lover
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Paducah, KY has another claim to fame. It is the “Quilt Capital of the World”.
    In 2001, my astronomy club invited Will Tirion, the pre-eminent star chart maker, to be the keynote speaker at our star party. He was delighted, as he had always wanted to attend a star party but it seems they are not common in Europe.
    He lives in the Netherlands and had never been to the U.S. but his wife had been to Paducah to take quilt classes.
    The upshot was that our star party began on Sept 12, 2001 and he never made it that year, due to the tragic events on the day before. But he came the following year and was wonderful.
    He sat beside us as we observed during the night and knew EVERYTHING in the areas of the sky that we looked at. We had an interactive, human star chart for those nights.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted November 24, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      Yes, Tirion is amazing. The book I grab most when I want to check on something about a star or a constellation is the Princeton Field Guide Stars & Planets written by Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion. It’s superb.

  24. Filippo
    Posted November 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    If I correctly recall, I read the following congenial, charitable quote attributed to Artie Shaw: “Benny Goodman plays the clarinet: I play music.”

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