In April 1967, Clyde Lewis delivered a 3-minute history of the world to a group of maybe one or two dozen spectators gathered in the parking lot of the Union Grove Fiddler's Convention at Union Grove, North Carolina. Mike Seeger was there with his Nagra portable tape recorder to capture the talk, which is now available on Close To Home, an invaluable selection of Seeger's field recordings.
The atmosphere of the parking lot is intense in the 38-year-old recording. Seeger writes that the Fiddler's Convention,
was getting huge and more than a little wild in the late 1960s. It was quite a scene. As I recall, Bessie Jones stayed in the car, probably a wise decision for an elderly Black woman ... People were playing fiddles, banjos, and guitars all over the place, some drinking, others undoubtedly taking other substances ... somebody came and got me, saying "There's somebody over here you need to hear."Lewis' Talk on the World needs no commentary, but after several years of frequent listening, some exorcism would do me good. It's mesmerizing, in part because my father would have loved this recording more than any other I own. In the late sixties, he was delivering very similar speaches to Knights of Columbus audiences across Illinois.
Lewis begins (I should add that there are no typos in what follows):
My subject for this evening am entitled, "Whyfore, Wherefore, and How Come." But before I starts to commence to begin, there am some mighty important trifles that must be took into sideration before the main subject of the discourse am discoursed on this here elevated platform.The character Lewis is playing stepped right out of a medicine show, like an overstuffed small-town mayor, a holiness preacher, a snake-oil salesman, or Shakespeare's Polonius. Lewis mainly lampoons the high-falutin' ways of the excessively educated and their obsession, especially at the time, with the idea of progress.
The main target for the Talk on the World is celestial navigation, long the branch of astronomy most useful to navies and corporations. Europe's global empires were built on it.
The world were always round like an apple. This epileptyc shape on account on of the axil what done perperates through the middle of the center in congestion with the latitude of the horizontal. Now then, when the solar plexus of the sun's violet rays congregate on the middle of the bisection, there am set in motion the magnetic conundrum ...I can't help but be reminded that Lewis and his Appalachian audience — their world so deeply and brutally defined by the mining industry — know very well that the benefits of science and technology are not always evenly shared:
And in the year fourteen and ninety-two AD (AD, understand, mean After Dark), they discovered Columbus, Ohio. That's where the dark ages of history done stopped. Christmas [Columbus] done leave all his men in Ohio, he scoots back to the Queen of Spain, she done tapped him on the head with a sword and made him a knight. The men what stayed in Ohio got tapped on the head with swords and was made angels.Lewis even reminds the attendees of this Fiddler's Convention of the dubious benefits of modern media technology:
And did you ever stop to think what a great invention the raido am to the chromonology and the welfare of the universe? Sure am a coppious invention. All you got to did am sit right at home and revolvitate the dials and the music am preambilated through the atmosphere and comes right down the chimbley onto your Aunt Emma.It's clear from the editing of the piece that Seeger has more of Lewis and that day in Union Grove than he's provided on Close To Home, and I rack my brains trying to think of a way to get at those tapes.