On July 17, Paul Somerville, an accomplished satirist who masqueraded under the name of “Brother Paul,” died in Oklahoma City at the age of 58. John Lawrence (myths_americana) and I knew Paul – John was one of Paul’s professors at Morningside College in the late 1960s and later became a lifelong mentor; and I had the privilege of knowing Paul and working with him in his role as resident agitator on H-Net in the late ’90s. I respected Paul for his wit and his relentless assaults on self-righteousness, but in the end I think I most cherished him because he and I proved that people who disagree strongly on important issues can nonetheless carry on a dialogue and maintain a friendship driven by mutual respect.
How very American. At least, it’s typical of an America I remember. And it’s something I hope for America in the future, when our voices finally give out from shouting at each other and we have no choice to retreat into rational, sensible discourse.
In Paul’s honor, John and I have established brother_paul, the Brother Paul Archive on LiveJournal. We will post things periodically, as we extract them from the H-Net archive, and with luck some of what we offer up might even prove timely. As we throw open the doors for the Grand Opening you’ll find two pieces introducing Paul penned by Dr. Lawrence and four of Paul’s missives, including his brilliant 1994 essay, “My Nuclear Neurosis: Memories of An Atomic Teenager.”
You’ll find a bit more about Paul on the info page, where the site is introduced by both John and Paul’s personal editor from H-Net, Dr. Tad ver Bose of UNC-SC (ver Bose’s intro is included below).
John and I hope you find some value in Paul’s writings and his legacy. In many ways, he symbolized so much of what we envision becoming, and we hope we can be worthy of the legacy he leaves behind.
Editor’s Introduction to the Brother Paul Archive: Laugh at Everything
by Dr. A. Thaddeus “Tad” ver Bose
Paul Somerville, aka Brother Paul, aka Frater Paulus, was loved by those who knew him well. He was also loathed by some who knew him very little, and in their reactions one could readily learn more about these people than they sometimes realized about themselves.
A satirist extraordinaire, Paul enjoyed a reputation that, despite the comparatively modest size of his readership – several hundred to a few thousand at any given moment – was nonetheless international in scope, and his wit had a tendency to scrape the hardest on those whose senses of humor were overweighed by their senses of self-righteousness and political correctness.
Therein was the sweetest irony – laying like a snake in the weeds. For Paul Somerville’s unbounded glee at poking sharp sticks at sacred cows was like his own flyover country politics – it started at home. Truly, though many an ox was gored by Paul’s caustic keyboard, his own ox stood for the worst beatings of all, a fact that went uniformly unnoticed by his detractors. It was as though Paul were teaching by example, and the lesson was simple: lighten up and laugh. At everything.
For some time it was my great privilege to serve as editor of Paul’s Samizdat Online News Service©. The missives archived on this site appeared initially on the H-PCAACA listserv, an online forum for members of the Popular Culture and American Culture Associations, from about 1995 to 1998. I was named to the Brother Paul Desk after it became clear, in the eyes of the list’s management, that of all the things Paul needed in life (and there were many), editing was the one they could actually provide. It was quickly evident that there was little way out of the trap that had been laid for me by my peers, so I chose to be honored by my election to the position.
Over those three or four years Paul wrote with an enthusiasm that was exceeded only by his appetite for cigarettes and steak dinners, and I believe he took great pride in the fact that his correspondence with the list caused several of its more self-serious types to unsubscribe in protest. Of course, an editor is a filter that collects garbage no matter which way the stream flows, and as such I probably absorbed more of the abuse aimed at Paul than he did. Looking back, I can see no reason why, at this late stage, I shouldn’t claim to be proud of the dedication with which I endured my job.
On July 17, 2005, Paul Somerville slipped gently from this world. Along with his dear friend and lifelong mentor, Dr. John Lawrence (aka myths_americana, the esteemed Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Morningside College), I have taken up the task of creating a fitting memorial to the legacy of Brother Paul Somerville, and mining the best of his writings from the e-mail archive at Michigan State’s H-Net site for presentation here seems a logical and appropriate first step.
We hope you enjoy Paul’s writings, and if Paul were here, he’d hope you were occasionally offended. He’d also hope that you’d get over it and laugh at yourself with as much gusto as he laughed at himself. For, all things Paul Somerville seemed to know – and there were many – this one was the key to the deepest wisdom he had to offer: life is too short to be too serious about it.
Dr. A. Thaddeus “Tad” ver Bose
Associate Professor, Creative Writing
University of North Carolina at Silas Creek