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Many Paradises

Paradise Beach
Paradise, Kentucky strip mine, Muhlenberg County

Sometimes so many coincidences come together that it's hard to believe that the universe is not sending a message—and then again, what could that message be?

It all started the other week when Adele and I were going to meet a friend for a walk. The friend suggested River Park in Sacramento. I hadn't heard of River Park, but my trusty Maps GPS application was able to find the route. So, off we went.

When the app finally indicated that we had arrived, we looked at each other, at the app, and all around—and didn't see a park. So, we drove several more blocks, and there was a parking lot for a park—an oddly familiar parking lot.

It turned out that it was the parking lot for Paradise Beach, and we had been here before—maybe five years earlier. Adele remembers that it was a hot day, maybe up near 100° and we were looking for a place to cool off.

From the parking lot, we walked to the crest of a levee and looked around—no beach. There was lots of brush as far as we could see, for maybe a quarter mile. So, we started walking into the brush, looking for a trail.

After getting nowhere, we saw an approaching maintenance vehicle, and it stopped near us to empty a trash can. I asked, "Could you tell me how to get to Paradise Beach?" He kind of pointed to a trail in the distant underbrush.

Then I asked, since the place looked like anything but Paradise, "Why do they call this Paradise Beach."

The maintenance said that since the beach is so difficult to find, back in the day, people enjoyed going there for skinny dipping. Then he added, "To some people, that's paradise."

Paradise sounded like a nice name for a song, so I Googled the name and found a song called Paradise by the recently deceased, John Prine.


When I listened to the song, I found that it was neither about Paradise Beach nor Paradise in heaven. It was about Paradise, Kentucky.

Boy, this was odd, because the first field trip that I went on when I started my engineering career was Paradise, Kentucky. It must have been the world's largest strip mine—miles and miles of desolation. I used to say that if you were blindfolded and opened your eyes in the middle of Paradise, you would think that you were on the moon.

Paradise was a unique coal field. I had recently moved to California from Carbon County, Pennsylvania—also a unique coal field. And Paradise, Kentucky is in Muhlenberg County— and I had previously lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania home of Muhlenberg College—where I had taught several classes.

About three years ago, I was taking a class in protest music at the Renaissance Society and I learned about Woody Guthrie's song, Deportee. It's a song, actually a poem, that Woody Guthrie wrote near the end of his life. It protested the lack of caring about a plane wreck in which many braceros died over Los Gatos Canyon. A decade later, the poem was set to music by Charles Hoffman.

Shortly afterwards, there was a massacre in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life Synagogue. I was touched and I wrote a set of lyrics and attached them to this tune. Well, it turns out that the tune to John Prine's Paradise seems to have been taken from Deportee. And that was the first song that I wrote.

Sometimes so many coincidences come together that it's hard to believe that the universe is not sending a message—and then again, what could that message be?

.~ Al Zagofsky





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