Americans Who Got It Right

‘Godfather Of Modern Popular Gay Fiction’ Graduated From My Local, Rural High School

If you walk into Eaton High School in Preble County you will not find any quotes from our most prolific author. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard of Victor J. Banis — a 1955 EHS graduate.

I stumbled across his name on the Preble County Wikipedia page — and then I read his 2008, 400+ page memoir, Spine Intact, Some Creases.

I found him to be a very interesting individual.

His book should appeal to at least three categories of readers:

  • those interested in First Amendment rights,
  • the gay community, and
  • locals interested in Preble County’s 1940s-1950s history.

First Amendments Battles

Victor is listed as a juvenile living at home in his father’s 1954 obituary. In the book, Banis details his last conversation with his father.

Banis moved out of Preble County after high school and within a decade found himself indicted in Sioux City, Iowa for ‘conspiracy to distribute obscene material’. Banis was indicted for his novel The Affairs of Gloria. As Banis writes in the foreword of the re-release of The Why Not Gloria,

…had one ‘damn’ in it and one ‘go to hell.’ It did, however, significantly have some — again tepid — lesbian scenes.

The federal government and the U.S. Postal Service found the lesbian scenes morally offensive.

Banis would eventually be dropped from the case (the other defendants were not), but he still spent the first decade of his writing career with a suitcase packed and an open offer to move overseas should another indictment be handed down.

A conviction in these obscenity cases could yield a 20-year or longer prison sentence.

But, instead of prison, for more than a decade Banis was at the forefront of the popular gay fiction scene. And, in true capitalism form, it proved quite profitable because he had found an unmet need. In the early 1970s, Banis was earning about $200,000 a year — the equivalent of $1.2 million today.

Not bad for a former Preble County resident.

Eventually, Banis would write in several genres, including straight romance, but it is his 1960s gay C.A.M.P. series that collectors seek out. Those interested in his work will find a bibliography of about 150 titles in Spine Intact.

Being Gay In Small Town America

Although I found his First Amendment battles intriguing, and his personal life interesting, another appeal was the local history. Included in the 27-chapter book are roughly four chapters worth of local history. Some of it is a little salacious for this region — his cross-dressing Halloween adventure at the Armory at the age of 12, the first time a male classmate expressed a romantic interest in him, and his romantic liaison at 17 with his 26-year-old Boy Scout leader. He writes,

When I began a relationship with my friend I was lonely to a suicidal degree. I knew only one other gay youth in Eaton, Ohio. There were gay adult males in town but, mindful of their own safety, they avoided involvement with someone so young…In retrospect I suppose that the folks in Eaton, Ohio, who guessed what was going on with my friend and me thought it none of their business.

Banis’ parents are buried in Preble County.

The relationship would lead to a nonfiction work, Men and their Boys: the homosexual relationship between adult and adolescent (1966), in which Banis interviews homosexuals males that had relationships with older men.

Crimes Against Humanity

Early in this memoir, Banis states that Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is about Preble County (Anderson was born here, but moved by age two to Clyde, Ohio). If Banis’ assertion is accurate, Anderson’s work paints our dark side.

And when you read some of the incidents in Banis’ life, his assertion may be true.

In his book, Banis describes how his family ‘saw’ his oldest brother on a back country road in Preble County the night he was killed in Italy. Banis’ brother died in WWII shortly after his 23rd birthday.

As a Preble County resident, Banis grew up poor in the 1940s and 1950s. It was an era where being gay was a crime and it was a region, then as now, where homosexuality, by and large, is not accepted as natural. But, indirectly, this book challenges what we say we believe by showing us who we are. Banis mentions the gay local politicians, the homosexual book he found at a Preble County drug store in his youth, and the regional gay bars and hangouts that he frequented in his late teens/early 20s.

And he also exposes the crimes committed against gays by those in authority. Banis admits being gang raped by three officers (he does not offer location) and reports how, in Indianapolis, police officers abused gays at a party he attended. As you read the story of his youth and early 20s, the man has a right to be bitter, but he is not. Instead what flows through his words is a kind man filled with understanding, forgiveness and humor. He is witty. He occasionally ‘name drops’ (Hugh Hefner comes to mind). He jokes about his sexual liaisons with military personnel and, in general, he upholds his journey as one he was blessed to have travelled.

He also acknowledges the challenge his mother faced — being a Christian with a gay son. But, I feel his mother may have had a mischievous side when it came to the whispers that she almost certainly heard from the righteous.

While visiting him in California, Banis’ mom asked for a copy of some of his work (probably C.A.M.P., the gay male series, based on the vignette). And, as Banis notes, he presumed the books would go into a drawer somewhere so she could say she had a copy of them. Instead, mom decides to let her minister (Church of the Brethren), an aspiring writer who had expressed interested in her son’s writing career, read one. Banis writes,

The Reverend never expressed to her or to me any opinion on the books’ literary merits. Indeed, he never mentioned them to me at all, but he did look at me rather differently on my subsequent visits.

He never asked again about my writing either, and the next time I visited church with my mother the sermon was on ‘the Unintentional Sinner.’ I kept my gaze straight forward and sang the hymns with gusto, although I got through ‘He knows me as I am’ with some difficulty.

A Little Long

My only criticism of the book is it could have ended a little sooner. By his own admission, he meanders. By the end of the book, you will read several chapters offering would-be writers advice and some self-esteem tips. It’s all solid writing, it just feels somewhat out of place for this book.

Rated: 4 stars out of 5.


Local Trivia

Residents of Eaton, Ohio should know at least one of Banis’ sisters, Fanny. She was mayor of Eaton from 1993-1998.

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Categories: Americans Who Got It Right, Books I have read, My America, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties | Leave a comment

‘Muscle Shoals’ Looks At Man Behind Musical Sound, Hits

 

Documentary Muscle Shoals is an enjoyable walk down memory lane — showcasing some of the greatest music ever produced in the United States.

But, it is also a story of survival — of persevering through a life of setbacks and emotional pain.

The movie details the life of Rick Hall, founder of the Fame music studio located in Muscle Shoals, an Alabama town (population 13,600) near the Tennessee River. Although, the studio is far removed from the typical hustle and bustle of the large city studios in New York City and Los Angeles, it still produced hit after hit beginning in the 1960s.

Despite its ‘off the beaten path’ location, in time big-name bands and artists flocked in to record their music.

Rolling Stones & Company

Footage of the Stones’ recording sessions, including the production of hits like Wild Horses, is more than nostalgic meandering, it moves the story forward. But the movie is not just old clips, current interviews with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards offer reflection as they, and other artists, try to explain the appeal and magic of the region.

But, while these interviews and clips round out the story, make no mistake, Hall is the star of the film.

Hall’s story is a tale of triumph and loss. I won’t retell his story here because it would ruin an initial viewing of the film, but his life is proof that hard times make some people stronger — and, for people like Hall, something good can be created out of the aftermath of hard times.

Down A Long Hard Road

Hall, and the studio musicians featured in the film were, in many ways, just ‘good ole boys’ from down the road. However, that certainly did not equate to untalented. They were all extremely skilled. The studio musicians, The Swampers, even toured with The Who before returning to their Alabama roots, where they eventually split from Hall opening their own music studio. This only seemed to up the magic as the hits kept coming — ranging from Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll to Percy Faith’s When a Man Loves a Woman.

Missed Opportunities

Two musical incidents I found interesting, though, demonstrate the hit, miss and competitive nature of the business. Duane Allman — who would eventually helped form the Allman Brothers Band — camped out near Hall’s Fame studio trying to land a job as a session musician. In time, Hall hires him. Allman, being the creative guitarist he was, attempts to convince Hall to record, what is now known as southern rock. Hall, not interested in that style of music, nonchalantly admits on screen, ‘yeah I missed the boat on that one.’

The other story involves the best rock song ever recorded — Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd (I know some will argue that distinction goes to Welcome to The Jungle by Guns N Roses, but they’re wrong). When the studio version of Free Bird was recorded in Muscle Shoals, it was over nine minutes long (the live version is about 15 minutes — as it should be). The record company wanted the studio version shortened to less than four minutes. The recording studio refused saying it would destroy the integrity of the song.

The decision eventually cost them the contract.

Rated 5 out of 5

If you enjoy music, and the stories behind some of the biggest names in music, the documentary is a perfect blend of music, interviews and story. Be forewarned though, it may inspire you to dust off some old albums or to download some classic songs from iTunes.


My Interest In The Movie

Bob_Dylan_-_Slow_Train_ComingBefore watching the film, I knew nothing about Rick Hall, but I did know that Bob Dylan recorded Slow Train Coming in Muscle Shoals — his best work in my opinion. The 1979 Christian Rock album features bluesy cuts like Gotta Serve Somebody and Precious Angel as well as a somewhat humorous take on the Garden of Eden — Man Gave Names To All the Animals. Dylan also recorded the follow-up album Saved in Muscle Shoals.

 

 

Categories: American History, Americans Who Got It Right, movies | Tags: , , , , , ,

Former Students Carry On Legacy Of Teacher Who Died In Space Shuttle Explosion

ChristaMcAuliffeAs hard as it is for me to believe, today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Christa McAuliffe — the teacher selected to be the first civilian in space — who tragically died along with six others in the Challenger space shuttle explosion. Several stories are running today remembering the event.

  1. 30 years ago, Christa McAuliffe’s dream became the country’s nightmare: This short article includes images of McAuliffe with her two children. The kids, Scott and Caroline (8 and 5 years old when the explosion occurred) were onsite that day. In fact, Scoot’s entire third grade class were on hand. The report also includes quotes from a close friend.
  2. Christa McAuliffe, first teacher in space, continues to inspire: This story is told from a very unique perspective. It tells the story of a few of McAuliffe’s social study students who are teachers today. One of those previous students, Tammy Hickey said,

“As a teacher now, I know that I want to show respect and show my students that I care. I can say to emulate how she was, would be a service to these kids for sure.”

A Major Malfulnction

One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was about the disaster. An excellent book, written about the accident, Challenger : A Major Malfunction : A True Story of Politics, Greed, and the Wrong Stuff, includes the story of the relatively unknown Roger Boisjoly. Boisjoly predicted the explosion — and as an O-Ring expert his opinion should have mattered.

But, unfortunately it was a case of upper management:

  • Asking the wrong question
  • Wanting to please a customer (NASA)
  • Requiring hard data — instead of an expert opinion — from Boisjoly.

The data didn’t exist, Boisjoly’s concerns were overridden and — just as he predicted the night before the launch — the event was catastrophic.

Did NASA Learn Anything?

Of course, when another space shuttle disaster occurred in 2003, it caused many at the time, and since, to question what was really learned in the Challenger disaster. One article posted today takes a look at that question.

Categories: American History, Americans Who Got It Right, Current Events | Tags: ,