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Gaillard's greatest hits

Plus, what Churchill said

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Frye Gaillard, a longtime Charlotte journalist (and former Creative Loafing columnist) who has now returned to his home state of Alabama, has published a stellar collection of some of his finest profiles of various Southerners, garnered from decades of work. Think of it as a sort of Frye's Greatest Hits, as this collection is one of his very best.

Now for some full disclosure: Some of the essays in With Music and Justice For All were originally published in Creative Loafing during my tenure as editor. In fact, I came up with the headline for the profile that gave this book its title. So, yes, I'm biased -- not only biased, but proud of the work we published by Gaillard in CL.

Frye has always had a gentle way of slapping readers in the face with the truth, a quality that's rare in a writer as passionate as he. Often, I think, his secret is that he's such a great storyteller, the more unpleasant aspects of a tale don't come across as particularly offensive. In that way, of course, Gaillard is an archetypal Southerner.

That special talent is evident in the first essay, "Deliverance: The Greensboro Four," a moving piece about Charlotte's Franklin McCain and his fellow protestors who helped kick-start the Civil Rights movement with their historic sit-ins at the Greensboro Woolworth lunch counter in 1960. Gaillard has a knack for revealing his subjects' personal quirks just enough to color readers' impressions without savaging whoever he's talking about, as evidenced by his reporting on differing opinions within the black community about the Greensboro sit-ins.

The element of surprise is always lurking in Gaillard's essays, even in his choice of subjects -- nowhere more evident than in his award-winning profile of Karen Graham, a former Charlottean who for several years was a dedicated pro-life leader in the city. Graham comes across not as a right-wing harridan, as one might expect from a profile by a progressive such as Gaillard, but rather as a three-dimensional human being with her own strengths and weaknesses, convictions and doubts.

As befits a "greatest hits package," this terrific collection contains a wealth of highlights. One is the title piece, a muscular profile of Charlotte activist/singer/songwriter Si Kahn, once described as the most famous man in Charlotte that hardly anyone in Charlotte knows about. Others include portraits of Billy Graham, Johnny Cash, Robert F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, as well as lesser knowns whose stories are nonetheless captivating: Baptist renegade preacher Will Campbell; Perry Wallace, the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference; author Robert Allen; and others. Not to be missed by Charlotte readers is Gaillard's excellent "Charlotte's Holy Wars: Religion in a New South City," an insightful look at changes in the tenor of the area's churches, first published in CL and later expanded into a book.

Another Southern writer, Roy Blount, Jr., has already described With Music and Justice For All as "a fresh, non-standard survey of Southern culture over the last 40 years." I agree completely, and would only add that let's hope there's lots more to come from Frye in the future.

Frontline Press, a new book publisher in the Charleston area, starts off with a bang with this clever, hilarious collection of "Great Political Comebacks, Putdowns & Ripostes" through the ages, snazzily illustrated by artist Steve Stegelin. The book's title comes from a famous remark by Great Britain's Winston Churchill. He had been drinking heartily at a party when he accidentally bumped into a Socialist member of Parliament, Bessie Braddock, who told him, "Mr. Churchill, you are drunk!" Churchill, not too drunk to be witheringly funny, replied, "And Bessie, you are ugly. But I'll be sober in the morning."

That kind of cutting wit fills the book, ranging from fifth century BC orator Pericles being smacked down by his nephew Alcibades for being old-fashioned to Vladimir Putin telling George W. Bush, who urged the Russian President to allow more democracy in his nation, that "We certainly would not have the same kind of democracy as Iraq." In between, classics abound, such as writer Dorothy Parker's tête-à-tête with conservative Congresswoman Claire Booth Luce. When the two political adversaries arrived at the door of a New York restaurant simultaneously. Luce moved aside and cattily said, "Age before beauty," to which Parker replied as she walked past, "And pearls before swine."

Anyone interested in humor and politics ought to get a kick out of I'll Be Sober In The Morning. Anyone who isn't, well, what's wrong with you? Let's end with one more quip from Churchill, who was asked if he was thrilled by the large crowds he was drawing to his speeches. "It is quite flattering," said the Prime Minister. "But whenever I feel this way I remember that if instead of making a political speech, I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."

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