Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Watching an excerpt of "The Civil War" on PBS this evening. Like Tom Kirkendall, I could listen to Shelby Foote read the phone book.
I saw Burns' documentary when it first came out. Just now I watched the Shelby Foote video you linked and was shocked to hear he was dead at suck a young age. Then I did the math.
Was he really close to 70 when he did those interviews? I hope to look that good at 50.
The original documentary aired in the US in the fall of 1990, as forces were gathering for an eventual invasion of Iraq. I was deployed in the Cruiser USS THOMAS S GATES (CG 51), and for Christmas, my parents sent me the VHS tapes, which arrived shortly after New Years. We were inport somewhere--probably Jeddah in Saudi Arabia--when they arrived, and I claimed the wardroom television one morning and sat down to begin watching the tapes. Word spread pretty quickly through the officers that something pretty cool was on TV, and by about an hour into it, there was quite a crowd sitting around watching. None of us (except our Captain) had fought in Vietnam, yet we were all pretty sure we were about to participate in the first big war of our lives. Sitting there that day, with those men, in that ship--listening to what those men in the Civil War were thinking and writing--in many cases delivered to us in the words and voice of Shelby Foote--was a particularly emotional experience. Every now and then while watching the tapes, I'd look up and survey the eyes of the men watching around me--and there was great emotion in those eyes. Thanks for helping reconnect with a pretty important memory.
I read somewhere that you can't really understand his writings on the Civil War without understanding Walker Percy. Percy and Foote were close friends as teenagers and Percy was enormously influential, it's said, on Foote's writings.
I've read much of Percy but little of Foote so I'll defer to the "somewhere" and "it's said" on this one.
I remember seeing Shelby Foote in an interview some years back. What blew my feeble mind in that interview was when Foote revealed that he had become so identified with the Civil War due to the pBS series, that there were people who actually thought he fought(!) in it. Once when a woman asked him just how bad he had it during the Civil War, he just just smiled at her and in that slow drawl said, 'It was Hell ma'am."