A Mark Udall footnote

John posted the video of Mark Udall struggling to answer a series of easy questions in a frienldy interview (John posted the video here). What are the three books that influenced him the most? After asking for a do-over, Udall plumbs the depths of his memory to add two books to the only one that comes to mind, Profiles in Courage.

Does anyone younger than 50 remember Profiles in Courage? It was all the rage in the early sixties, like Dreams From My Father in the early years of the Obama administration.

Profiles won the Pulitzer Prize for JFK in 1957, even though JFK wrote little of it. The book was written mostly by Kennedy aide Theodore Sorensen, a revelation which has taken some of the shine off the book. Michael Birkner retold the story in the Weekly Standard after Sorensen’s death. I wonder if Udall has heard.

The disputed authorship of Profiles in Courage makes out another similarity to Obama’s memoir. Author Christopher Andersen has confirmed Jack Cashill’s thesis that Dreams was ghostwritten by unrepentant terrorist by Bill Ayers.

Birkner notes the lengths to which JFK went to conceal the help he received from Sorensen on the book. “Surely,” he writes, “it does no credit to Kennedy that, in the subsequent controversy over authorship, he consistently lied about his role in producing Profiles, and about Sorensen’s responsibility for it. Moreover, Kennedy, assisted by Clark Clifford, got Sorensen to issue a false affidavit denying columnist Drew Pearson’s assertion on an ABC television program that Sorensen was the main author of Profiles in Courage.”

Udall eventually names two other books, In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides and Centennial by James Michener At this point in the interview Udall sounds like he’s naming favorites rather than books that have influenced him, but it helps him get up to three. The report of his brain death — by Udall himself — was slightly overstated.

What is the last song you listened to? Udall also struggles with this question. First he ignores it. The second time around he resorts to the stratagem that helped him answer the question about books that influenced him. He names a favorite: “I love Shawn Colvin’s song about avalanches because it’s appropriate to Colorado.”

Udall was referring to Colvin’s “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” (video below, with Alison Krauss), off her Grammy-winning debut album, Steady On. I love Shawn Colvin and appreciate Udall’s citation of the song. It’s one of the first songs Colvin wrote. (She tells the story in her memoir Diamond in the Rough.)

Referring to “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” as a “song about avalanches,” however, is like referring to Shakespeare’s sonnet LXXIII as a poem “about choirs.” Hey, man, it’s a metaphor. I don’t mean to be picky, but the song isn’t about avalanches any more than the sonnet is about choirs. It’s a desolate song about a relationship that isn’t working. “The past is stronger than my will to forgive,” Colvin sings. I’m hoping that Udall’s citation of the song is an omen of Colorado’s breakup with Udall next month.

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