For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is Man, his child and care
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
(from William Blakeís The Divine Image)
He goes out. He meets strangers. He smokes. He drinks. He listens.
He comes back with stories.
Thatís what Charlie LeDuff does. He tells tales of broken lives, haunted dreams, dirty labor and tender friendships. He chronicles the human condition in all its staggering diversity, desire and heartbreak.
Itís a good hustle. He gets paid for it. And it's usually The New York Times that writes the check.
Lately the stories have been coming through video. Teaming up with Time's photographer turned videographer Stephen Crowley, Charlie has started to travel around the country finding people with a story to tell. In Detroit, a city that's fallen on extremely hard times, Charlie introduces us to Mike Thomas, a working man whose business rises as the city falls. He is a body snatcher. A collector of corpses. And business has been good.
In Greek mythology, the ferryman of Hades was a gentleman called Charon. For a price, he rowed the newly dead across the river Styx into the underworld. Mike Thomas may be his modern day counterpart, winding through the delapidated crime-stricken streets of Detroit, picking up bodies and bringing them home to the morgue, each corpse fetching a $14 dollar payment from the city. Charon, however, had a notoriously grim disposition. Mr. Thomas hasn't let the job take his heart or his mind.
After the story appeared, Mike Thomas got canned. Turns out certain folks in the city would rather he kept quiet about the job he does for them. They are not pleased with the publicity. It's causing a big stink inthe papers. For now, our favorite body collector shares a fate as uncertain as his city.
We phoned Charlie and asked him a question:
Q: "You keep returning to Detroit for stories. What's so important about Detroit?"
A: ďDetroit is the story of whatís happening in the United States. Detroit is the birthplace of modern industry. Itís the birthplace of the assembly line. Itís the birthplace of the middle class. And itís dying.
This isnít facts and figures. Itís blood. Itís human beings.Ē
ďThe terror of annihilation is the terror of the annihilation of memory.Ē
(Petr Dravik, Czech Anthropologist)
That Which is Backwards
Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaugherhouse Five considers Tralfamadorians, time travel and the 1945 firebombing of Dresden, Germany, which killed tens of thousands of civilians. Vonnegut was there as a POW. He saw the aftermath of the bombing, an episode that might be said to have altered his comic perspective. Click here to hear him read an excerpt from the book.
On the Farm
Another short video from Charlie Leduff. Check out the brief, but memorable, portrait of a kid out in the plains.
Our Terrible Hardships
A visitor to planet earth might need but a glimpse of our values and priorities before determining that we are criminally insane.
Consider this brilliant video short which offers an arch and moving revelation of our broken consciousness.
Are You An Art Lover?
Hidden among the occult signals of TV broadcasting, you may find glimpses of pure truth revealing the essence of our culture in one fell swoop. Click here to witness such a sacred moment.
Duke Ellington's Portrait of Mahalia Jackson.
Just because it's such a beautiful piece of music.