John McCain & Robert Service

Reopened October 2019 - includes archived threads from pre-2019

John McCain & Robert Service

Postby toucana on August 27th, 2018, 5:12 am 

Senator John McCain is being remembered in many anecdotes from friends and rivals over the years. This one comes from December 1999.

As a former POW and bona fide hero, McCain is generally inoculated against the journalistic heel-snapping that bedevils other presidential candidates. But two weekends ago, as he was campaigning across New Hampshire, a team of comics with a camera crew from the cable network Comedy Central clambered aboard his campaign bus to enlist him in their own little game of gotcha.

"Who's your favorite poet?" they asked McCain.
According to the cosmology of the sophisticates at Comedy Central, politicians are not supposed to have favorite poets.

McCain hesitated, and then said, "Robert Service, I guess."
"Okay", the comedians pressed as the cameras rolled,"Then recite some of his poetry."

Gotcha? Here again, the Comedy Central team revealed their own provincialism. They were apparently ignorant of one of the ironclad rules of modern poetry: Anyone who likes Robert Service can recite Robert Service. By the yard.

And that's what McCain did. After a bumpy push-off, by one witness's account, he ran through all 14 stanzas of "The Cremation of Sam McGee," Service's great ballad that deathlessly begins
There are strange things done in the
midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run
cold . . .

On the bus in New Hampshire, the wise-asses from Comedy Central were apparently impressed with McCain's performance. As they were breaking down their camera equipment, McCain mentioned offhandedly how he had come to memorize "Sam McGee." "The guy in the cell next to me," he said, "it was his favorite poem. He used to tap it to me on the wall, in Morse Code. That's how I memorized it."
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