[DISCLAIMER: This episode o tells an extremely disturbing story. This is not suitable content for children or anyone who shouldn’t read a graphic and detailed account of murder.]
Spade Cooley came to California in the early 1930s, as poor as everyone else who did the exact same thing at the exact same time. Only, Spade became a millionaire. And all he needed to accomplish that was a fiddle, a smile and a strong work ethic. If it sounds like the American Dream, stick around to hear how it became an American nightmare of substance abuse, mental illness and, eventually murder.
The first 45 years or so of Spade Cooley’s life went more than alright.
Born 1910 in Grand, Oklahoma, with the name of Donnell Clyde Cooley, the official story is that Spade was one-quarter Cherokee. That’s backed up by his attendance at Chemawa Indian School in Oregon, where his family moved when Spade was 4 years old.
Spade’s father played fiddle at local dances and he hoped his son would one day find success as a classical cellist or violinist, a dream that Spade shared as a child and he took his lessons accordingly. Though his classical training did not lead to a classical career, it did eventually lead to paying jobs playing fiddle at local dances, just like his dad.
Performing music and doing a bit of amateur boxing seems to have occupied Spade’s time until he was around 18 years old, which is when he eloped with Anne, a full-blooded Inuk from school and soon-to-be mother of their son, John. A year deep into what is now known as The Great Depression, this young family would arrive in California with nothing but, and I’m quoting Spade here, “a fiddle under one arm and a nickel in [his] pocket.” The year was 1930 and, as it turns out, he didn’t have much to worry over…
Spade Cooley was always the kinda guy to make you feel like his best friend. He called every man he met “son.” He’d put his hand on your shoulder and a smile in your face. When he showed up for a job, he was there to work hard and make sure it got done right. Knowing his way around the fiddle like he did and the ability to sight read sheet music was enough to place Cooley at the top of several call lists for short-notice, pickup gigs. That “down home” good ol’ boy routine helped him move up the ranks of the Los Angeles music scene fast, which is how he came to play with the Jimmy Wakely Trio, Riders of the Purple Sage and Sons of the Pioneers.
Unless you go add it after listening to this, you won’t find Spade Cooley’s name on the Sons of the Pioneer’s Wikipedia page. To be fair, that legendary group is a bigger part of Spade’s story than he is a part of theirs. By the time Cooley came around, they’d already had their signature hit with “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and the group’s breakout star, Roy Rogers, had mostly moved on to work in major motion pictures. But Roy would still come around every now and then. Someone pointed out that Spade Cooley bore a passing resemblance to Roy Rogers. Before you know it, Spade was bringing down some extra cash by serving as a stand-in for Roy on movie sets during the day, while still playing pickup gigs with multiple bands on the L.A. dancehall circuit at night. With one foot firmly planted in each of Southern California’s most desirable professions, Spade was about to find himself a very rich and very famous man.
Every country music fan with more than a passing interest in Western Swing knows the name Spade Cooley.
It’s like a little bit of trivia for the genre.
There are two facts we associate with that name. One – Spade Cooley was “The King of Western Swing” long before that title was transferred to Bob Wills. Two – Spade Cooley murdered his wife.
But there’s a lot of story hiding in those two facts.
“The King of Western Swing” was more than just a cool nickname. For most of the 1940’s and 1950’s, Spade kicked as much ass as it was possible for a musician in Los Angeles to kick. It would be difficult to exaggerate his professional success. Not only does Spade Cooley have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame but at the height of his television show’s popularity it’s estimated that 75% of L.A. viewers were tuning in on any given night. Put it this way. In 1951, Frank Sinatra already had over 20 Top Ten singles to his name but his career wasn’t doing so hot anymore. He needed a comeback and part of his plan for that was a singing appearance on Spade Cooley’s hit TV show.
Looking back on it now, we can see things ended up working out pretty well for Frank Sinatra.
Spade Cooley, not so much. Because of that second little piece of trivia.
Now, I don’t know how so many people are comfortable using a simple word like “murder” to sum up Spade Cooley’s actions on the day of his wife’s killing. This was not a domestic argument that got out of hand. Not an accident with a dangerous weapon. Not a so-called crime of passion. This wasn’t even an isolated incident. It was a savage and deliberate execution which many people had to have seen coming.
One predawn morning in 1964, the already-legendary saxophonist John Coltrane was sitting in meditation in his Long Island home when the structure and themes of his masterpiece, the album A Love Supreme, came to him in its entirety. “It was the first time I had it all,” he said, as reported by his wife, pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, with whom he shared a practice of meditation and a deep interest in all things spiritual.
This was not the first time that Coltrane, who came to consider his musical improvisation a form of meditation in itself, experienced what he thought of as divine grace. He’d sweated out addiction — his first, failed path to transcendence — in 1957 after what he described as a “life-changing spiritual experience” that helped him overcome heroin and alcohol and set him on a search for other means of transcendence, through meditation, prayer, and music. His search would also profoundly influence the jazz world, and the cultural landscape of western society itself.
Fifty years after his death in 1967, Coltrane remains a cultural and spiritual icon, exerting an influence over jazz that is impossible to escape — so much so that it has given rise to a strange phenomenon, surely one of a kind: the Saint John Coltrane Church. Based in San Francisco, the SJCC is an actual community of worship that continues to this day, using A Love Supreme, Coltrane’s signature work, as scripture and hymnal.Before Coltrane, jazz had largely been regarded as a sensual, even risqué form of expression, linked as much to libation as to liberation. But jazz and spirituality have always been linked.
Jazz is an improvisational art form — it requires the moment. Total immersion in it, that is. I have long been struck by the unusual purity of the best of this music, despite the fact that it was so often developed under the most impure of conditions: smoky clubs, alcohol, drugs, and the inescapable burden of racial prejudice. How could this be possible? As a Zen practitioner/teacher and musician myself, I feel the answer lies in a brand of what we in Zen call working samadhi – an immersion in moment-to-moment activity so complete that it becomes essentially a meditative state. Improvisational music, at least at the level of complexity exhibited by jazz, requires a putting aside of the ego — if you start thinking of good or bad, try to impress, become distracted by the flubbed note of the last moment, try to anticipate the next moment, or give yourself over to anything else but what’s happening now, you’re lost. To play truly great improvisational music, you have to lose yourself.
The best musicians, like Coltrane, are able to summon an immersion in the moment that can transcend even the worst environments, personal problems, or state of health. Of course, this doesn’t mean that certain players don’t inflate themselves after the fact, building themselves up and taking credit for what in essence, had passed through them — via, perhaps, the greater power to which Coltrane often alluded. But Coltrane was not one of these.
Few poets offer their biographers as rich a vein of material as the Chilean Nobel Prize-winner Pablo Neruda . Born in Parral, Chile, in 1904, Neruda transcended his modest origins and provincial upbringing to achieve success and significance far beyond the dreams of most writers . Books like “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair,” “Residence on Earth ” and “Elemental Odes” have sold tens of millions of copies . Nearly 45 years after his death, Neruda continues to be regarded as one of the most significant poets of the 20 th century. In his home country, he remains a beloved and potent national symbol.
Mark Eisner’s new biography, “Neruda: The Poet’s Calling,” explores the complex confluence of factors that accounts for Neruda’s extraordinary fame and success. Far more than most modern poetry, Neruda’s body of work is quite accessible — a fact that reflects not only his personal preferences but also his political views. Moved at an early age by the exploitation of the disadvantaged, he viewed poetry as existing for the benefit of the common people. “Poetry is like bread,” he famously wrote. “It should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity.” When it was not overtly political, his poetry tended to concern itself with matters of quotidian existence, finding love and beauty in the commonplace, ordinary objects of daily human life.
Politics was never far from Neruda’s mind, and the story of his life is largely concomitant with the political history of the 20th century. The Chilean capital of Santiago, when he arrived there in 1921, was the center of an active student movement that hungered for progressive poetry. In the 1930s, he watched Spain fall into civil war from his post as a diplomat in Barcelona. Neruda already leaned toward socialism as a result of his Chilean experiences; now, watching as the Soviet Union stepped in to support the Spanish Republicans against Franco’s fascists while the rest of the world remained largely indifferent, he became a loyal communist and supporter of Stalin.
The origins of Neruda’s esteem for Stalin, then, are largely understandable. But his loyalty would persist for decades, long after reports of the brutal reality of Stalin’s dictatorial regime began to emerge, and though he did eventually repudiate that loyalty, it is not entirely clear why it took him so long. (Of course, Neruda was far from the only leftist intellectual of whom this could be said.)
Closer to home, his political activities were easier to admire. In Chile, he always managed to be on the side that opposed the dictators. When, in the late 1940s, the country’s Communist Party was outlawed and protests by coal miners were brutally suppressed, Neruda criticized the government in the international press and on the floor of the Chilean Senate. When the government tried to arrest him, he made a dramatic escape on horseback across the border into Argentina.
He returned to Chile in the mid-1950s and would spend most of the rest of his life there. His death from cancer , on Sept. 23, 1973 , occurred a mere 12 days after the U.S.-backed coup in which Augusto Pinochet ’s forces seized control from the democratically elected president Salvador Allende. Neruda’s funeral be came a spontaneous public demonstration of defiance against the new regime. While soldiers looked on, armed with machine guns but holding their fire, the crowd chanted, “He isn’t dead, he isn’t dead! He has only fallen asleep!”
photo by Edgar Boyles
Kristine Tompkins is a former CEO of Patagonia and current president of Tompkins Conservation. Tom Butler is the author of Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition and vice president for conservation advocacy at Tompkins Conservation.
PUERTO VARAS, Chile — “Sustainability” may be a worthy goal, but the word has become cliché, now typically deployed in its adverbial form to modify various nature-exploiting activities like “logging” and “fishing” or the catch-all “development.”
So let’s quit talking about “sustainable” this or that and face the overarching question about the future: Can we create a durable civilization in which humans become good neighbors in the community of life? Where our society is embedded in a matrix of wild nature that allows all creatures — from microorganisms to blue whales — freedom to pursue happiness and raise their progeny in a secure habitat?
The path to that flourishing future for the diversity of life is “rewilding” — helping nature heal by returning missing species and processes to parts of the planet where they’ve been eliminated or diminished by human activity. In a strange and inversely proportional ratio of planetary sickness to public concern, there seems to be less attention paid to the mountains of data that scientists are gathering on Earth’s ecological and climate unraveling. We have, however, seen the power of rewilding projects to capture public imagination and gain widespread support.
Recently, Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his family spent a weekend with the rewilding team from Tompkins Conservation, learning how biologists are reintroducing missing species to their former home in the Iberá marshlands of northern Argentina. After successfully returning giant anteaters, pampas deer, tapirs and green-winged macaws, the rewilding team is now working to breed jaguars in captivity so that their offspring may again roam freely in one of South America’s greatest natural areas.
In his first term, Macri established multiple new protected areas including Iberá National Park; its designation was prompted by the donation of privately assembled land from Tompkins Conservation. Macri has also articulated how expanded parks can help promote ecotourism-related economic vitality and help Argentina meet its commitments to address climate change: wild habitat equals natural carbon sequestered in soil and vegetation.
Similarly, on the other side of the Andes Mountains, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is creating new marine and terrestrial protected areas. Several weeks ago, before leaving office, Bachelet stood in front of a herd of wild guanacos grazing in the Chacabuco Valley and signed a decree creating the new Patagonia National Park. This act was part of her administration’s agreement to accept a land donation of 1 million acres from Tompkins Conservation along with all of the public-use infrastructure built for two new flagship parks.
Credit Illustration by Mike McQuade; Photograph by Tom Brenner/The New York Times
Despite stiff competition, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is by common consensus the worst of the ideologues and mediocrities President Trump chose to populate his cabinet. Policies aside — and they’re terrible, from an environmental perspective — Mr. Pruitt’s self-aggrandizing and borderline thuggish behavior has disgraced his office and demoralized his employees. We opposed his nomination because he had spent his career as attorney general of Oklahoma suing the federal department he was being asked to lead on behalf of industries he was being asked to regulate. As it turns out, Mr. Pruitt is not just an industry lap dog but also an arrogant and vengeful bully and small-time grifter, bent on chiseling the taxpayer to suit his lifestyle and warm his ego.
HAVANA — Through the Space Age, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Internet era, Cubans held one constant: A Castro ruled the nation.
That is about to change.
Raúl Castro, 86, is expected to step aside as Cuba’s president this week, ending the epochal run of two brothers who sent shock waves through 20th-century politics. Nearly two decades into this century, and less than two years after Fidel Castro’s death, his brother’s exit from Cuba’s top job leaves this insular island at a crossroads, weighing how fast, if at all, to embrace change.
“This is an important moment for Cuba, but the truth is, nobody knows what to expect,” said Camilo Condis, general manager of Artecorte, a community project in Havana. “I mean, other than Fidel and Raúl, who is there? You didn’t really know anyone else.”
“It’s about Raúl Castro saying, ‘I am president, but I have a term, and then someone else is going to lead . . . . If you are someone who really wants the regime to endure, it’s what Raúl needs to do.”
The transition is happening at a time when a decade-long opening under Castro has already begun to alter the fabric of Cuban life. Access to the Internet is still subpar, but hotspots are more widely available than ever before. There are now more than 5 million cellphones in this nation of 11.5 million people. More than 550,000 Cubans work in the private sector. After years in which Cubans were forced to obtain permission to leave the country, Cubans these days can travel freely. It is now possible to buy and sell real estate.
Yet in a country where streets are still swimming in 1950s Chevys and Fords, Cuban life can feel stuck in time, and plagued with problems that never really went away. Locals talk of periodic shortages — eggs, potatoes, toilet paper. In a potential sign of discontent, turnout in recent municipal elections stood at 82.5 percent — the lowest in four decades, and a stunningly low number in a country where citizens face high pressure to vote.