June 2011

Musin’s and Thinkin’s

A Monthly Stroll Down Folksy Byways

with Jack Pendarvis

Much has been written of the old murder ballads. But what of the old hugging ballads? These quaint tales of people hugging may not carry as much intellectual clout as their bloodier cousins, with their torrid and piquant descriptions of sharp daggers, burying holes, and thwarted passions, but, in their own way, hugging ballads paint a fuller picture of a more rustic time, providing a much-needed counterbalance in the cultural imagination.

“Lord Hampton met Tom Worley out upon the foggy moor / They hugg’d and hugg’d and hugg’d and hugg’d / And then they hugg’d some more / Lord Hampton hugg’d his friend so hard his eyes popp’d from his head / And half an hour later poor Tom Worley lay there dead.”

That’s a terrible example.

Hugging as we know it today enjoys a long and notable history, dating as far back as the Jimmy Carter administration. Carter, nicknamed “The Friendly President,” loved to play pranks on visiting dignitaries who were unaccustomed to his folksy Southern style. Presidents prior to Carter were renowned for their taciturn and even sour demeanors, especially Chester A. Arthur, who was such a big jerk you wouldn’t believe it. Oh, sure, if you complimented his muttonchops you couldn’t shut him up. He’d tell you all about his special shampoo, but you didn’t dare try to change the subject, or even let your gaze wander in embarrassment as he sat there just stroking his muttonchops with an almost-erotic intensity! Countless unfortunates had their citizenship revoked in just that way.

The election of Carter, then (significantly, the first president to abandon “the muttonchop look”), heralded a fresh start for the country. But little did anyone expect a crazy new fad to take hold. It all arose from Carter’s natural warmth.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Jack Pendarvis has written three books.

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