In the time between 1980 and 1994, if you lived in Atlanta you heard about Lewis Grizzard. Some people loved him. Some did not. He told good old boy stories about growing up in rural Georgia. Many of them were enjoyable. He also made social and political commentaries, which upset a few people. This is a fishwrapper friday repost, with historic pictures from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”. Wired for Books is no longer available online.
PG had mixed feelings about Lewis. The stories about Kathy Sue Loudermilk and Catfish were funny. His opinions about gays, feminists, and anything non redneck could get on your nerves. His column for the fishwrapper upset PG at least twice a week.
In 1982, Lewis (he reached the level of celebrity where he was known by his first name only) wrote a column about John Lennon. Lewis did not understand why Mr. Ono was such a big deal. PG cut the column out of the fishwrapper, and put it in a box. Every few years, PG would be looking for something, find that column, and get mad all over again.
The New Georgia Encyclopedia has a page about Lewis, which expresses some of these contradictions. If Grizzard’s humor revealed the ambivalence amid affluence of the Sunbelt South, it reflected its conservative and increasingly angry politics as well. He was fond of reminding fault-finding Yankee immigrants that “Delta is ready when you are,” and, tired of assaults on the Confederate flag, he suggested sarcastically that white southerners should destroy every relic and reminder of the Civil War (1861-65), swear off molasses and grits, drop all references to the South, and begin instead to refer to their region as the “Lower East.” Grizzard also wore his homophobia and hatred for feminists on his sleeve, and one of the last of his books summed up his reaction to contemporary trends in its title, Haven’t Understood Anything since 1962 and Other Nekkid Truths (1992).
In the end, which came in 1994, when he was only forty-seven, the lonely, insecure, oft-divorced, hard-drinking Grizzard proved to be the archetypal comic who could make everyone laugh but himself. He chronicled this decline and his various heart surgeries in I Took a Lickin’ and Kept on Tickin’, and Now I Believe in Miracles (1993), published just before his final, fatal heart failure.
As you may have discerned, Lewis McDonald Grizzard Jr. met his maker on March 20, 1994. He was 47. There was a valve in his heart that wasn’t right. The good news is that he stayed out of the army. At the time, Vietnam was the destination for most enlistees. The bad news is that his heart problems got worse and worse, until it finally killed him.
Sixteen years later, PG found a website, Wired for Books. It is a collection of author interviews by Don Swaim, who ran many of them on a CBS radio show called Book Beat. There are two interviews with Lewis Grizzard. The first one was done to promote My Daddy Was a Pistol and I’m a Son of A Gun. This was the story of Lewis Grizzard Senior, who was another mixed bag.
PG found himself listening to this chat, and wondered what he had been missing all those years. The stories and one liners came flowing out, like the Chattahoochee going under the perimeter highway. Daddy Grizzard was a soldier, who went to war in Europe and Korea. The second one did something to his mind, and he took to drinking. He was never quite right the rest of his life. His son adored him anyway. When you put yourself in those loafers for a while, you began to taste the ingredients, in that stew we called Lewis Grizzard.
PG still remembers the anger that those columns caused … PG has his own story, and knows when his toes are stepped on. The thing is, after listening to this show, PG has an idea of why Lewis Grizzard wrote the things that he did. Maybe PG and Lewis aren’t all that different after all.