Th'4 Michigan Daily
Monday, October 16, 1989
Rainmaker, Rainmaker go
*h*Z M ff A - . I I --- I . - .
BY MARK SWARTZ
Exit the Rainmaker is the story of a
runaway. Only Jay Carsey was not
your typical runaway; he was pres-
ident of a Charles County Commu-
nity College in Southern Maryland
at the time. (Some of you out there
ight want to leave a copy of this
book on a certain South University
doorstep.) Jonathan Coleman wrote
the Exit the Rainmaker, published
last month by Athenium. Coleman,
former CBS reporter and author of
At Mother's Request, was in Ann
Arbor last week.
gaily: Who is Jay Carsey?
Jonathan Coleman: A seemingly
simple question. He's the man in the
grey flannel suit who came of age
during Eisenhower's America, a
child of the Depression, long before
consciousness-raising of any kind
could have touched him. Somebody
who was brought up to believe, at
least from his father, that emotions
were private. If something was trou-
bling you, you were quiet in the face
of adversity. I think he's typical of
many WASPs of his generation,
maybe more so than somebody of a
more ethnic background. He keens
everything in. He lives inside him-
He's charming. Everyone who
meets him likes him. He wasn't
called Uncle Jay - by everybody,
not just children - for no reason.
He's the sort of person you feel
comfortable with, and yet, there's a
sort of detachment. A certain emo-
tional distance that, if you observe
him over a period of time, it be-
comes clear to you that he finds it
much easier for him to listen to you
and sort out whatever's troubling
you, than to talk about himself.
Though I think that that has become
easier for him with his new life,
with his new marriage.
But what I thinks most fascinat-
ing about him is that there's a little
or a lot of Jay Carsey in all of us.
That's what drew me to him - that
he wasn't Donald Trump. I can't
connect with Donald Trump's life at
all, but when I look at Jay Carsey I
see a lot of people I know. Achieved
a certain amount, have gotten what
they wanted or thought they did.
T'ia '.. what troubling about the
atsy: o i th- surface, he had what
',zaybody de fms of having, a large
1 cuse, two cars, the love of a com-
munity, an attractive wife. But he
realized there was something miss-
D: What happened to him May 19,
JC: What happened that day had
been building up for a long time.
Certainly he was unconsciously
building up to this for years. Con-
scious planning began six months
prior to May 19, and working very
hard to make it seem that nothing
was out of the ordinary. That re-
quires a lot of energy in and of itself,
but he's a good actor. On that par-
ticular day, he was ready to go. He
had deliberately decided to go before
graduation, which was one of his
mischievous touches. He'd been
through 17 graduations, which he
hated, and he wasn't going to go
through another one.
So he left four days before, hav-
ing had his secretary cancel a dental
appointment, and then heading to-
wards Washington. First to get
$28,000 dollars that he had slowly
been moving from one account into
another, and then heading towards
D: What's the meaning of the post-
card he sent that day?
JC: He wrote it to John Sine, Dean
of the College, now the President.
"Dear John, Exit the Rainmaker.
Good luck, Jay. Please handle." Jay
had been in an amateur theater pro-
duction of The Rainmaker in the
early '60s; John was the director.
It refers, in a larger sense, to
Carsey's own view of himself, as a
rainmaker - as somebody who cre-
ates miracles, success after success.
Somebody who other people follow,
who they look to to solve their
"Please handle" is what he would
write on memo after memo. It's a
little bit of his sense of humor.
he had said to John Sine, it was
a kind of a hint though John didn't
pick up on it. He said, "We don't
have to take tlis anymore. This isn't
fun anymore. We could go tend bar;
we'd be a lot happier. And that's
what he wound up doing for a period
of time, taking some of the money,
the $28,000, and buying into a bar
in El Paso.
D: Part of the Phillip Larkin epi-
graph to the book calls a move like
Carsey's "an audacious, purifying,
elemental move." What makes us
want to applaud what Carsey did?
JC: I think my use of this quote has
been misunderstood. Here's my read-
ing of the Larkin poem: I was using
it to counter the Thoreau ("The mass
of men lead lives of quiet despera-
tion"). I took it to mean that maybe
there is an assumption that you al-
ways approve when you hear that
someone has just chucked everything
and cleared off. But I took it to mean
that that's not necessarily the case.
Somebody may think that's a pretty
awful thing to do. You as the reader
have to decide as you're going
through this book: was Carsey a
hero? Was he a coward? Was he a
combination of both? Did it take a
combination of courage and gutless-
ness to do it. That's what I find a lot
D: As an author, didn't you want to
address the issue yourself, or did you
want to remain objective?
JC: I think there's a point of view
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This fateful postcard was sent by Carsey on the day of his departure. The
picture of President Reagan on the reverse alludes to the budget
difficulties the college was facing thanks to Reaganomics.
in this book that is subtle, and not
heavy-handed, not insistent. I think
the point of view is that I do finally
agree with Carsey. It's easier to see
the gutlessness of what he did. Very
easy to say "that's a crappy thing to
do. He should have been able to say
to his wife 'I want a divorce.' He
should have been able to go into the
college and say, 'I'm in this job 17
years, ten years longer than the na-
tional average and this is it. I don't
want to do this anymore."' It's a lit-
tle harder, you have to dig a little
deeper to see the courage in it. To
essentially walk away from an entire
life. I think finally came down to
feeling, "How car. you project your-
self insid: someb icy else's skin?" If
he truly felt, that he was dying inside
- - which I became convinced he was
- it was the only way he could do
D: How did writing this book com-
pare to writing your first book, At
JC: This is, again, human behavior:
Why did Jay Carsey leave in the way
that he did? How could Mark
Schroeder's mother persuade him to
kill his grandather? I am propelled
by questions of human behavior.
How one action impacts on a huge
number of people. But this is a more
internal book. It's really, on a cer-
tain level, an exploration of an entire
man's life, coupled with what he ul-
timately did and how that affected his
wife, his friends. How everybody
was sort of jarred into looking at the
world by his action. The hope is the
universal can be drawn out of the
D: That sounds like an especially
literary goal. Have you considered,
writing fiction as well?
J C: No, I keep thinking that it
would be easier. In the sense that if
you get into a corner, as a fiction-.
writing friend of mine says, "If you
get stuck, you just lie." You can't
do that in non-fiction. I sometimes
think I'm getting to old to travel
around as much as these books re-
quire. I lived in Europe, I lived in El
Paso. I lived in Washington for three
months. But somehow, the events of
the day always seem more interest-
ing to me. At least so far, I've been"
drawn to what Dante talked about as
the "dark side of the wood."
D: At Mother's Request was a suc-
cessful CBS mini-series. Are there
plans to put this work on the screen?
JC: I think this is more likely to be
a feature. I think it's a role of a life-
D: And who do you picture playing
J C: The person that's been talked
about is Harrison Ford. You need
somebody who can look absolutely
wonderful, a golden boy, and can
also look like a wreck. Harrison
Ford, Redford. I personally think
Alan Alda, but he's not considered
big enough to carry a movie at this
point. Sam Shepard would be great
for the El Paso part. I think William
Hurt could do a great job with it.
The author, Jonathan Coleman, followed Carsey's trail around the country
and overseas, researching material to put together Exit the Raimmaker.
"Boogie" Bill Webb
Lkinkin' and Stinkin'
At age 64, "Boogie" Bill Webb was coaxed
fro his lawnmower repair job to cut his first
songs since 1953, and his first album ever:
Drinkin' and Stinkin'. A disciple of Tommy
!ohnson, one of the first commercial blues artists
in the 1920s, Webb later played with rhythm and
blues legends including Muddy Waters, Professor
Longhair, and Fats Domino. Born in Mississippi
$nd raised in New Orleans, Webb learned how to
lay guitar on a two-stringed instrument called a
,'diddley bow" made from a cigar box and screen
door wire. Getting the nickname "Boogie Bill"
for his upbeat Creole blues, Webb later embraced
;all forms of the blues, searching for his own
On Drinkin' and Stinkin', there is evidence of
his travels through the musical world of blues.
Ranging from the country feeling of "Come for a
Ride" to the urban rhythm of "Rocky Mountain
Blues," the album is an enjoyable compilation of
the variant experiences of a true bluesman.
The album opens with "Drinkin' and
Stinkin'," Webb's self-proclaimed blues "opera"
about the dilemma of a man in love with a
woman who doesn't wash: "girl you smell like a
garbage can/ a lady that nice/ if i tell you what
you been doing/ it'll make you want to fight."
Following are "Bill's Boogie Woogie," an up-
beat jig; "Cuttin' Out Baby," a polyrhythmic
city story. Then there's "love me cause i love my
baby so": a song in a casual lounge-style created
from clips of conversations he picked up on the
streets. He also covers a Leadbelly song, "Red
Cross Store," about a hardworking but unsucces-
ful man who turns to charity, with his reluctance
emphasised by the slow walking tempo blues. In
"You Can't Tell my Business After Dark" he
humorously addresses color divisions within the
black community in a boppin' Louis Armstrong
The rest of the album is filled with a country
blues serenade, a lonely Oklahoma ballad, a
Tommy Johnson confessional, an instrumental
soul cover, a Howlin' Wolf chord progression
and even a goofy a cappella whisky rap.
This album is a fun romp through the history
of blues with a musician with talent, humor and
remarkable staying power.
The Partridge Family
Americans have always loved cheese. I'm not
talking about Brie or Edam. I'm talking about the
stylized form of tackiness that has endeared Amer-
See RECORDS, page 11
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