And there was thunder, thunder over Thunder Road
Thunder was his engine, and white lightning was his load
There was moonshine, moonshine to quench the Devil’s thirst
The law they swore they'd get him, but the Devil got him first.
Ballad of Thunder Road
But a review of the 88 criminal cases Thompson handled at the U.S. attorney's office in Nashville, from 1969 to 1972, reveals a different and more human portrait -- that of a young lawyer learning the ropes on routine cases involving gambling, mail theft and, in one instance, talking dirty on CB radio.
There were a few bank robbers and counterfeiters. But more than anything, Thompson took on the state's moonshiners and a local culture, rooted in Tennessee's hills and hollows, that celebrated the independent whiskey maker's battle against the government's revenue agents.
Twenty-seven of his cases involved moonshining -- more than any other crime.
I read that and it got me to thinkin' (uh-oh!) - ain't nuthin' more American than the manufacture, transport, commerce and consumption of untaxed whiskey.
From the song "Copper Kettle" which I'd heard by Joan Baez but didn't know was also done by Bob Dylan until just now:
Get you a copper kettle, get you a copper coil,
Fill it with new-made corn mash and never more you'll toil.
You'll just lay there by the juniper while the moon is bright,
Watch them jugs a-filling
In the pale moonlight.
Build you a fire with hickory, hickory, ash and oak,
Don't use no green or rotten wood; they'll get you by the smoke.
We'll just lay there by the juniper... etc.
My daddy, he made whiskey; my granddaddy, he did too.
We ain't paid no whiskey tax since 1792.
1792, of course, was right around the time of the Whiskey Rebellion of local distillers against the federal imposition of a tax which would have cost them any profit on their product.
What's more American than that?
A little more ominously, from "Rocky Top":
Once two strangers climbed ol' Rocky Top
Lookin' for a moonshine still
Strangers ain't come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will
It musta scared the crap out of the feds! To this day, they'd rather tax citizens than manufacturers of almost anything.
One only hopes that the living memory of some of the 'shine boys back there in Tennessee will cost Thompson the 'untaxed whiskey' vote fer bein' on the side of the revenooers.
Go see Moonshine Runners, History, and Their Cars. Good story, cool photos.
The early Americans used lotsa distilled liquor. It was handy as a cleaner and an antiseptic, and was used as currency, but mostly they drank it. They weren't stupid - they knew it might kill 'em, but they also knew that the natural untreated water of the day surely would.