With Jesse Helms' decision to pull the plug on his sorry political career, attempts will be made to suggest that the senator from North Carolina contributed something of value to the public discourse during his three decades in the U.S. Congress.
In truth, he did - by way of inspiration.
When Jesse was leading one of his many crusades to censor "deviant art" in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he inspired one of America's savviest songwriters. Frequent National Public Radio contributor Loudon Wainwright III's "Jesse Don't Like It" was a minor hit - at least in artistic circles - and is a highlight of Wainwright's excellent 1999 Hannibal/Rykodisc Records CD, "Social Studies."
But Jesse really didn't like it. In a recent interview, Wainwright revealed that he heard from Helms' office about the song. The missive read, in part: "Well, thank you, Mr. Wainwright. If it weren't for people like you, left-wing, communist, radical, weirdo types, Senator Helms would not have won."
What was Wainwright's reaction to the petty partisan? "I thought," the songwriter recalls, "man, these guys won and they sent me this." The lyrics to "Jesse Don't Like It" explain a little about why Jesse didn't like the song, and a lot about why supporters of free expression didn't like Jesse:
If Jesse don't like it then it's prob'ly not art
Jesse knows what's good Ol' Jesse is smart
And if you don't like that don't feel sad
'Cause the art that you like is probably bad
Grandma Moses, she's OK
Never exposes anything; everything's far away
And the statue of David's all right with Jesse
'Cause Michelangelo gave him such a tiny pee-pee
If Jesse don't like it, it don't stay;
get it out of the museum, get it out of there today
Jesse's fav'rite painting is the one of the clown
with the daisy in his hand and a tear rollin' down
In the kindergarten years ago, Jesse got rude
He took a red Crayola and he drew a nude
And the teacher took a ruler to Jesse's behind
She beat his butt but she ruin'd his mind
Jesse prob'ly didn't like Picasso
But neither did the dictator Franco
And I know about art but I've got to take a hike
If I like somethin' that Jesse don't like
If Jesse thinks it's dirty it don't get any funds
They use the taxpayer's money on tobacco and guns
Your freedom of expression is bein' denied;
But if you're not sure what you like then just let Jesse decide
Don't photograph a penis; don't paint a breast
Don't write about the truth because it might offend Jesse
And don't tell it like it is, and don't show where it's at
'Cause Jesse don't like it and that is that.
Copyright 2001 The Capital Times