Friday, July 10, 2009

The Last Great American Hero is dead and we killed him

The Last Great American Hero is dead and We Killed Him

Since I've jumped on this kick to do American pieces during the month of July, being that it's the same month that we got to blow a lot of shit up and piss away money doing so, let's turn our focus to the last great American hero and how we are the reason he's no longer here.

This happened some weeks back, but since I was busy getting drunk, preparing for comic con and relaxing after my vacation up north, I didn't have much time to write about it. But let's mourn a great man. If you can't read all of that, there's a couple of bold parts in there, so fuck you, you fuckin' Yankee blue jeans no reading mother fucker!

Moonshiner took his life to avoid jail
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Famed Appalachian moonshiner Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton, whose incorrigible bootlegging ways were as out of step with modern times as his hillbilly beard and overalls, took his own life rather than go to prison for making white lightning, his widow says.

"He couldn't go to prison. His mind would just not accept it. ... So credit the federal government for my husband being dead, I really do," Pam Sutton told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday from the couple's home in the Parrottsville community, about 50 miles east of Knoxville.

A few hours earlier she had buried Sutton, 62, in a private ceremony in the mountains around Haywood County, N.C., where he grew up. He went to his grave in a pine casket he bought years ago and kept in a bedroom.

Sutton — nicknamed "Popcorn" for smashing up a 10-cent popcorn machine in a bar with a pool cue in his 20s — looked like a living caricature of a mountain moonshiner. He wore a long gray beard, faded overalls, checkered shirt and feathered fedora. He made his home in Cocke County, where cockfighting and moonshining are legend.

He wrote a paperback called "Me and My Likker" and recorded videos on how to make moonshine. The History Channel featured him in a 2007 documentary called "Hillbilly: The Real Story."

"You might say he embodied a kind of Appalachian archetype, a character trait of fearlessness and fierce loyalty to regional identity even in the face of personal persecution and stereotyping," said Ted Olson, a regional writer and faculty member in East Tennessee State University's Department of Appalachian Studies.

Sutton conceded he was part of a dying breed in an interview last year with actor Johnny Knoxville for a video posted on Knoxville's "Jackass" Web site.

"All the rest of them that I know are dead," Sutton said in the profane, not-for-primetime clip. "I just hope and pray they don't send me off (to prison)."

Sutton's widow said he'd just gotten a letter to report Friday to a medium-security federal prison in south Georgia to begin an 18-month sentence for illegally producing distilled spirits and being a felon in possession of a gun. He had pleaded guilty last April.

On Monday, she came home from running errands and found him dead in his old Ford. Authorities suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Autopsy results may be weeks away.

Pam Sutton, who became Sutton's fourth wife in 2007, said carbon monoxide may be the method but that's not what killed him.

"He tried every way in the world to get them (federal authorities) to leave him on house arrest," she said.

"He was a true moonshiner," his widow added. "He would tell you exactly what he thought, whether you wanted to hear it or not. But he was also the sweetest, kindest, most loving man I ever met in my life."

John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tenn., recalled that Sutton made a still for the museum in the 1990s.

Irwin told Sutton to run nothing but water through it. But with thousands of people, including then-Gov. Don Sundquist, visiting for an annual homecoming event, Sutton decided to cook up some real sour mash and dispense it to the crowd in little paper cups.

"Popcorn is getting everybody drunk," the governor's Highway Patrol escorts complained and when Irwin told him to stop, Sutton packed up and left, Irwin recalled.

"I think most people have a warm feeling for him, but he bragged so much about it (moonshining)," Irwin said. "And then he got into it in such a big way. He wasn't just a poor old moonshiner trying to make a few dollars."

Sutton's last arrest followed a raid in which authorities found nearly 1,700 gallons of moonshine in Parrottsville and a storage unit in Maggie Valley, N.C., three stills, supplies, firearms and ammunition.

When he pleaded guilty, it was his fifth conviction. He'd gotten probation before, but U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer said he couldn't do that again, despite Sutton's age and physical infirmities.

His estranged daughter Sky Sutton, 35, of Northampton, Mass., had just completed a book about him, titled "Daddy Moonshine," the day he died. "It was beyond surreal," she said Wednesday. She hadn't seen him since she was 2, though they had talked on the phone.

She has no doubt Sutton died on his own terms. "Of course he did. That man went out in a blaze of glory, and flipping his finger as we went," she said.
I know what you're thinking, Moonshine may not be tasty at all, but if I spent my whole life in Appalachia I'd have to be perpetually drunk as well. Well, in this case the ATF cost a man his life and while we go out and try to save the endangered animals, we fail to realize that we're losing a bit of culture in our actions to feel safer. You see, Marvin 'popcorn' Sutton was great man. He was an outlaw, a family man, a symbol, a good hearted soul and a link to a vanishing world.

keep a jar waiting for me, friend . goodnight sweet prince

Popcorn lived in the mountains of eastern Tennessee/western North Carolina. He was famed for being the last of the moonshiners, and this was no idle boast. the documentary film "The Last Damn Run of Likker' I'll Ever Make", while factually inaccurate in title and concept, is an amazing work focusing on the technical and spiritual elements of brewing moonshine. the film's focus lies in how to both produce and consume grain alcohol in the traditional southern manner. There's something to the history of moonshine that makes it really interesting.

You see, back in the old days, Appalachia was almost entirely isolated from the rest of the country due to the mountains. It wasn't very easy to get in or out. They might as well be a sea apart from the rest of America. The country had horrible roads and a complete lack of reliable railroads outside of the cities in the valley. Most people living in the mountains were subsistence farmers. What with the mountains having arable land and the locals really had no knowledge of terrace farming. The only reliable crop was corn, and if you wanted to sell your surplus of it, you had to load up a skid (most roads were too rough and steep for wagons) and sometimes travel for days to the nearest market. Add in that corn was always cheap, so you were lucky to make any real money at all with it.

popcorn in recent years, posing with his book Me and My Likker

So when god gives you lemons, you pray that you get some sugar and water to make it into Lemonade. That's what these hillbilly folks did. You see, you can make moonshine pretty much anywhere and the value added was enough to make the days-long trips to town worthwhile. Especially without any Mother's against drunk driving group, this made the trip go by a lot more interesting.

But a farmer that put up enough corn could make a tidy profit making moonshine. A moonshiner could save up enough money to buy a mule. pigs, goats, better seeds and the works. So when an honest farmer was lucky to just scrape by, it would be foolish not to set up a distillery. Hell, it's no accident that pretty much every creek back in those days had a still on it if you knew where to look.

And before you get all bent out of shape about moonshine, think of the advances towards technology that it pushed. NASCAR was created because of it. NASCAR evolved out of moonshine running because the moonshine runners modded the fuck out of their cards to be able to outrun the cops and then they took to racing them in their spare time. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, much like indie music, it was cool till it got so goddamn popular.

Just think about it. You basically had these guys blast around a fucking dirt oval and crash into each other in a drunk craze. Then they'll get out of and beat the holy hell out of each other for causing an accident. Then the drunk fuckers in the stands who were still alive after like a dozen cars ran into them would beat the shit out of each other and everyone would go home dead or near dead. Now those were good times.

popcorn's junk shop in Maggie Valley, NC

When the government made alcohol illegal with the prohibition, that's when the Appalachian folks really hit pay dirt. It was the best thing that ever happened to the Appalachian residents. They had been making liquor for hundreds of years and had the skills and isolation to be good at it and the sudden massive demand for their product brought a shitload of money into an otherwise poverty stricken region.

Besides that, moonshiners in the mountains never really had problems with the mob on the scale that the rest of the country did. They basically shot anyone that tried to come in and tell them how to do things. Try collecting "protection money" from a person who has a massive collection of guns and eats road kill. Good luck with that.

I suppose the biggest concern you have is about the idea of going blind on booze. In all truth, the blindness thing is a holdover from prohibition when bootleg liquor sometimes was cut with wood alcohol by unscrupulous distributors. Moonshine can't make you blind anymore than beer or wine do, they have the same fermentation byproducts. Moonshine just has more of it.

If anything, moonshine will just give a really wicked hangover. It's like if you buy Trader Joe's Vodka of the Gods or Two Buck chuck.. You're just going to be waking up wishing you were dead.

If you like either moonshine or overweight southern men picking a banjo while drinking moonshine, you will love the documentary on Popcorn film. You see, I'm an amateur brewer, in that I've made one batch of beer that neither turned me blind or tasted like ass. So maybe I just want to know how to run my own distillery. It's a good trade, I'd say. especially if I have a lot of corn.

Popcorn, I will play my creepy banjo tonight in the woods in his memory. You really should try to find the independent Popcorn Sutton documentary.

Rest in peace

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