Saturday, September 3, 2011
Measuring the Pulse of the Country
I've been reading Hampton Sides' Americana. It is not really a "road trip" in the sense of Travels with Charley or even Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although he starts in Vegas with a madcap skateboarding and motorcycle extravaganza called HuckJam, put in on by daredevil Tony Hawk. It is a series of dispatches from different times that in their own way measure the pulse of the country.
I assume he wrote most of these "chapters" for magazines over the years. I liked the way he deconstructed G. Gordon Liddy in his chapter, Waiting for Liddy, in which he takes one of Liddy's "security seminars" only to find out Liddy just had his name affixed to the program and makes his entry only at the end to hand out diplomas.
His piece on Russell Means was very good, as Sides manages to encapsulate the rise and fall of the American Indian Movement in one man, along the acrimonious feuds he has had in the years since the movement ground to a halt with most of its leaders behind bars.
There is a bit of the Gonzo in the way Sides is able to capture details, but he prefers to write straight up, letting the persons he interviews in "American Originals" pretty much speak for themselves, except Liddy, who he was unable to pin down for anymore than a few quips.