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Funny Messy Life

80 EpisodesProduced by Michael BlackstonWebsite

Stories about life, relationships, and culture delivered in a way that will help brighten your day or at least make you ask, "What is he smokin'?" But don't worry. It's all in good fun and it's family friendly. I'm Michael Blackston and these are tales from my blog - in audio form - all based on rea… read more

15:00

A Tribute To Lewis Grizzard - 046

   If you grew up in the south or even have been a fan of comedy journalism, mainly during the eighties, you may recognize the name of the man I want to pay tribute to in this episode.

   The writing style from which I draw my inspiration, at least the style you’re used to hearing and reading, was a constant companion of mine during my teen years. And it came from none other than a small town Georgia boy who grew up to make a name for himself as a journalist and best selling author. I’m talking about one Mr. Lewis Grizzard.

   A review of this podcast recently compared me to him and while I would never plunge my torchlight in the same ground next to his, I have to say it was an honor to even be mentioned in the same sentence with a writer and comedian that held so much sway over my formative years.

   I’ve recently decided to read back through his enormous and rich catalogue of work and thought I might start here with what I can only hope will be seen as a fitting memorial to, in my humble opinion, a southern literary genius. 

   I’m Michael Blackston and this is a special tribute episode of Funny Messy Life.

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   He’s been gone for a while now - since 1994 to be exact, but it still seems like yesterday that I anxiously awaited every publication of the newspaper out of Atlanta on the day that the new article was due from the man who hailed from Moreland, Georgia ... Lewis Grizzard.

   He was an opinionated cuss and left no stone unturned when it came to the culture of the day.

   I remember seeing his name on books in the school library and my uncle had a few of them on his bookshelf, but they didn’t mean much to me until I realized at fourteen that the world of literature was a magical place - a real one - a safe one where I could go amid the turmoil of my angst and difficulty understanding what was happening to me mentally and physically. I would find some solace in fiction, primarily Stephen King, and also a little Dean Koontz here and there, but my greatest discovery came when I first checked out a book titled, Don’t Sit Under The Grits Tree With Anyone Else But Me. It might a sound corny or cliche’, but his stories took me back to my own childhood, even then when I was still in it, to a simpler time. They were places I recognized because although I was still young, there were things I realized were gone for good and Lewis Grizzard had given me a tangible way to relive them, or something like it, as often as I wanted. Bike rides down old, forgotten roads in the woods, playing in creeks with my buddies and planning all of the awesome stuff we were going to do when we grew up. I was starting to have to make the real plans by the time I discovered Lewis Grizzard and there was a bit of a gut check for me that those innocent days had melted into a time when mistakes could be way more costly.

   Mr. Grizzard was known for his outlandish titles, a lot of times compiled from past articles in The Constitution. That’s what we Georgians called the aforementioned newspaper. The full name of the paper is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Some of the more hoity-toity folks who were already getting pedicures instead of cutting their toenails with a pocket knife called it, The AJC, and now that’s pretty much the go-to. Some of his other books, though, were biopic, such as If I Ever Get Back To Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet To The Ground. Mr. Grizzard unashamedly laid out his childhood and early adulthood for the world to see and he did it in a way that brought both laughter and tears. I’ll never forget the day one of his new books was announced. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a book dedicated to things of a sexual nature called, Don’t Bend Over In The Garden, Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes and my grandmother was appalled.  She was never one of his fans, but she didn’t miss an article and our conversations about what he’d most recently written gave us a tie to bind our generations together. 

   I think that’s what drew me to him from the start. He was real. He told you what he thought and didn’t care if you disagreed. In those days, political correctness was a thing of fantasy. Unicorns and fuzzy-headed trolls sliding down rainbows were the only companions of the politically correct because back then, you could be you. It didn’t make you right all the time, but by heavens, you were entitled to your own opinion and if somebody didn’t like it, then they could just keep on walking, preferably north or west, to be with your kind. Around here, I believe he would have argued, we cherish our mamas, respect our daddies, love women the way Christ loves the church, and allow people to think for themselves. There ain’t no dang room for forcing our beliefs on people, so we don’t. An if’n ya don’t like it, then BYE! I relish those days and I won’t give any more commentary on the disintegration of common sense or the concept of Live and let live. All I will say is that Lewis Grizzard would have had plenty of opinions on the matter and while I’m not happy he’s gone from us, I’m glad he didn’t have to see our world come to what it has.

   He got plenty of pushback from his writings at the time, though, even without the cancel culture of today.

   He had his share of detractors, especially his ex-wives, of which there were more than one. One of them even wrote a book of her own about him and their time together, chronicling many of his bad qualities, and I guess he had it coming. I don’t remember exactly to what degree, but he gave the women in his life reason to seek literary revenge, I think. But there were other Grizzard non-fans as well. I don’t think my grandmother particularly liked his sense of humor. Females tended to find him quite chauvinistic and I could always see their point. But reading him, I think I understood where he was coming from most of the time. He was just trying to be funny, but he was hard-headed and the more he got called out for his views that sometimes seemed backward or too far behind the times, the more he reveled getting the reader’s dander up. I always looked at it as a game of tug of war between Lewis and those who didn’t understand him.

   Ok, so if you’re one of those who are familiar with Lewis Grizzard and would have tugged the rope on the side of Team I-Don’t-Understand-Him, let me remind you that there are a ton of women who enjoyed his work. My wife is one of them and I was surprised when once she started reading his books, she chewed through one after the other until there was nothing left. She’s even showed interest in reading through all again with me.

   My wife is not very surface-minded. She looks deeper into the meaning behind a thing to try and find the heart of it and in the writing of Lewis Grizzard, she found the same things I did.

   He was a great appreciator of southern culture and tradition. He talked a comical game against the likes of Yankees and Florida Gators, but I believe that if given the opportunity, he would have invited them into the front porch into a big, old, wooden rocker that might have a fresh coat of white paint or might just as well have been weathered by wind and time, and shared stories with them over a tall, perfect glass of sweet tea. When the Bible mentions nectar, that’s what it’s talking about. Southern sweet tea.

   Lewis Grizzard loved his family. He wrote about his mama with dignity and respect and a devotion to her that knew no bounds. He wrote an entire book about his father, titled, My Daddy Was A Pistol And I’m A Son Of A Gun. That book had a profound effect on me and helped me to realize the power jerking tears violently from the eyes of readers with stories that relate and require an emotional response. That book made me cry over and over again because of the love and respect he held for his father. The way he opened up to his audience was pure trust.

   There were characters he called back to from his childhood again and again. Names I’ll never forget, like Cordie Mae Poovey and Waymon C. Wanamaker, Jr. a great American, and the voluptuous Kathy Sue Loudermilk. The tales of their antics buried deep in my memory and I found myself right alongside them as I read on, never thinking about the fact that some day I would try to retell my own childhood stories in a way that maybe - just maybe - took my readers and listeners into that same magical space where they could be there right beside us as the old rope swing broke or we conned my cousin’s neighbors out of their change to buy cigarettes. Each one of them just another member of the gang, breathing dust kicked up from the red Georgia clay and sweating granny beads onto our necks in the summer heat.

   We had other things in common that made a connection for me; a love and loyalty to our sports teams, for one. We both eagerly awaited the first kickoff of the college football season when the mighty Dawgs of UGA take the field and hunker down to lay a stompin’ on whoever dares to step cleat ‘Tween The Hedges. He was a devoted Dawg fan who, if I’m remembering rightly, never missed being in the stadium during the home games. He didn’t live long enough to see the Braves take the World Series, but I feel like he was there anyway. I thought of him when the play was made to win it all in ‘95. I cried like a baby in my wife’s arms. Silly, I know. A grown man acting that way over a game, but it had been such a long, hard-fought road to get there, and I think maybe some of those tears were on his behalf. I doubt I’m the only one who thought of Lewis Grizzard on that day.

   Lastly, he was an American. Agree with him politically and philosophically or not, there was no denying he loved his country. His daddy fought for it and he believed in the principles of life, liberty, and freedom that were the foundations of that fight. If you wanted to get him riled up, speak poorly about the United States of America. He’d fight you tooth and nail because he knew he owed that - I think we all do - to the men and women who, like his father, gave blood and so many, their lives to make sure our great nation thrived and held strong to the ideals it was founded upon.

   I strongly urge you to seek out his writing or even his standup comedy. I had the privilege of seeing him do his routine live once. I was a teenager and I went to the concert alone. I wanted to be, just once, in the same mom room with the man who had such a profound impact on my life - a man who had a heart valve replaced with the valve from a pig’s heart, then wrote a book about it. They Tore Out My Heart And Stomped That Sucker Flat, it was called.

   In case you’re interested, here are just a few of the other titles I haven’t mentioned in this piece, but this list is by no means, all of them. If you’re a binge reader and like to devour everything an author has produced, you’re in for a treat.

*Kathy Sue Loudermilk, I Love You

*Won’t You Come Home Billy Bob Bailey?

*If Love Were Oil, I’d Be About A Quart Low

*Shoot Low Boys, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies

   Like I said, there are many more, but I’ll let you be the one to discover them. That’s part of the allure of the man.

   The reviewer of this podcast I mentioned earlier, called me the Lewis Grizzard of our time. It’s such an an honor that they recognized him in my writing to be sure, and it was an unsolicited response, but I have to respectfully disagree. I know the person who made that review and he will understand why. The reason is simply this:

   There has never been and never will be another Lewis Grizzard.

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