Friday, May 2, 2008
Robert Mitchum in "Thunder Road," as an outlaw running bootleg whiskey in a fast '57 Ford Fairlane. Mitchum also wrote and sang the song. I've always been a fan of Mitchum and his sleepy anti-heroes that were doomed from the start. He managed to live outside the law, and still be honest. Unless, of course, he was playing the villain, which he did so well in "Night of the Hunter" and the original "Cape Fear." (Speaking of prohibition, Mitchum was also busted for pot in 1948 and served time in jail. Pot prohibition still hasn't been repealed, but that's another story.) I've painted Robert Mitchum several times, and here he contemplates a ring, as well as his own uncertain future.
In 1932, the Democratic Party platform included a plank to repeal Prohibition, and Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for president promising a repeal. In 1933, the state conventions ratified the Twenty-first Amendment, and liquor was legal once again. Suddenly bootleggers were out, and whiskey was back in business. Big business. Nowadays giant corporations make and market the vast majority of booze, but you can still find good, small-batch, artisan distilled whiskeys. And you no longer have to hide it from the cops.
You've got to hand it to moonshiners who tended stills during our stupid governmental ban on liquor. While creepy Christian moralists like Carrie Nation and the teetotalers in the Temperance Union railed against demon rum, these bootleggers made whiskey and sold it to people who felt like having a drink. One of those small-batch, artisan distillers was my own grandfather. It was a stupid law, and my grandpa was anything but stupid. Of course, we've still got creepy Christian fundamentalists telling people what to do, but they lost this battle once and for all. I'll drink to that.
Here's a short history of whiskey making in America:
Here the Grateful Dead perform "Brown-Eyed Women," a bootlegging song, in March of 1986: