We met Joe Bageant the way we meet many of our best friends, through a mutual acquaintance that may have stepped on the wrong side of the law a few times. The brother in question, Earl Fish, did a couple of stints in the pen for safe cracking, and a couple more for trying to escape. Earl was down here in Antigua a few months ago, visiting from his half-a-year-home in Oaxaca where he also provides a hide out when we’re creatively transporting booze back across the Guatemala / Mexico border. Over a few beers I mentioned to Earl that I’d found a powerful voice for social justice and good whiskey on the interweb and that his name was Joe Bageant. Earl said, “Joe, he’s an old buddy of mine. Want me to drop him a line and see if you might use a few of his pieces for your magazine?”
I believe my response was both a spit take and a “Hells Yeah! But that doesn’t get you off the hook for writing me a piece or two, yer-self, Earl.”
Earl smiled more wryly than Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales eyeballing a copperhead and said, “Well, if you want the real good stories, you’ll have to wait for the statute of limitations to expire.”
Earl’s a gem, and anyone who would see him only through the lens of the crimes he’s done, and not the man he is, is a rat-hearted fool, as far as we’re concerned. Earl might have strayed from convention a bit in his younger days, but he’s about the best friend a guy could want. Honest as the day is long, never afraid to call shit, shit, and a brother who would walk a mile over broken glass if you said you’d come up light on a bar tab or just needed someone to shoot the shit with on a long, dark night of the soul.
Joe feels the same way, too, as it turns out. Within hours of Earl dropping him a line, Joe wrote us back saying that “any friend of Earl’s is a friend of mine.” He’s since allowed us to print a number of his essays in these pages, and we thank him for that enormously and promise him a barrel of free beer when he makes good on his promise (threat?) to come and visit us. We’ll keep you posted.
Joe’s honesty of spirit and clarity of soul carries through all of his writing, as readers of this mag will no doubt attest, and for those of you who don’t know his voice, we strongly urge you to discover it for yourself by checking out his website at www.joebageant.com. And in his book, Deer Hunting With Jesus, Joe brings that hard-living, great-loving spirit to the fore. I know there’s at least one copy of his book in town, and I might be inclined to lend it to you if you ask real nice.
Joe grew up in Winchester, Virginia, though he now splits his time between his old hometown and a small cabaña in Hopkins Village, Belize. In Deer Hunting With Jesus, Joe points out that Winchester is neigh on the most northern outpost of the old Confederacy, but it is still, undeniably, “The South.” It is a community of a few well-to-do who live in the airy Virginia sun above the majority of Rednecks who work the line, fix the cars, sing the Karaoke, love their country, and fall a bit deeper into debt to a system rigged to fuck them at every turn, until they die penniless in some run-down old folks storage container at the edge of town, or just over the state line.
Joe is a rarity in his hometown, and in the United States, writ large. He is a man who comes from a certain class (poor, under-educated and white) and yet was able to transcend the coarsest aspect of that acculturation, while maintaining the love and the connection that he feels for family and friends, even when they don’t see eye to eye. And even those few times when they might see eye to clenched fist.