What's Nostalgia Got To Do With It? —
People Pay Good Money For This Sort Of Thing
Vol. I, Issue II - Oct. 2010

J.R. Brinkley was taken with goat love. The vigor, the passion, the regularity, he couldn’t steer his eyes clear. Day after day, at the meatpacking company where he worked as the house doctor, he watched goats go at it with mile-long stamina. He stared; he studied. Forget the mating habits of rabbits, he must’ve thought. Goats don’t quit.

It didn’t take long before Dr. Brinkley decided he ought to marry his newfound goat knowledge with his medical expertise. He’d met enough impotent farmers in Kansas, farmers who wanted the hardiness these goats endowed, to know there was something marketable, something medical happening before his eyes.

But ol’ J.R. wasn’t really a doctor; he was just a man watching goats do it at a slaughterhouse. The year was 1917. Ah, simpler times.

Bill Stittsworth was his first. The farmer walked into Doc Brinkley’s practice in Milford, Kansas complaining of impotence. He left with goat gonads. More precisely, he went home with pieces of Toggenberg goat gonads implanted in his testicles. Weeks later, Stittsworth was bragging around town about his libido, and soon his wife was pregnant. The couple named their son Billy.

You should know that Doc Brinkley wore a thin goatee his entire adult life.

Here are some other things you ought to know: J.R. Brinkley’s daddy had been a real doctor back in the mountains of North Carolina where J.R. was born. J.R. was orphaned at age 10, he married two women (at the same time), and he was many things before a doctor: He sold snake oil, he worked as a railroad telegrapher, he traveled about injecting people with colored water until he finally bought several fraudulent diplomas, including his 500-dollar medical degree, and settled in Kansas.

Once news of Sittsworth’s improved sex life spread through Milford, farmers were lining up at Doc Brinkley’s door for implants. Brinkley charged around $750 a pop (more than the cost of his diploma), and he fashioned an ad campaign around baby Billy, Stitsworth’s goat-gonad-bred boy.

Over the next few years, Doc performed over 16,000 goat-gonad transplants. He experimented with different breeds of goats, different sizes of splices of testes, different advertising techniques. He got rich. He got famous. He bought a plane and flew all over the state. He ran for governor. And won. Well, technically, he lost because most of his winning votes were write-ins for “Doc” and “Doctor,” so he left Kansas and built the largest radio tower the world had ever seen, just across the Texan border in Mexico.

His million-watt station, XERA, introduced the U.S. to a virtually unknown family from the mountains of Virginia—the Carters. XERA broadcasted to both coasts and empty Midwestern corners, often blasting the airwaves with fiddle and banjo music from the mountains. Soon it pulled the biggest names in music to its studios: Jimmy Rogers, Patsy Cline, Gene Autry.

With money from sticking goat cojones in grown men, Brinkley started a Mexican radio station that disseminated the traditional ballads from Appalachia to America. He was an inventor, a creator, a pioneer. But soon the haters caught up with Doc, using names like charlatan, thief, and fraud.

Lawsuits piled up. He lost his money, his station, and eventually his legs after a heart attack. In 1942, he died as he began: helpless and dirt poor in the mountains of North Carolina.

But Brinkley’s is an odd story of defunctness. In all of the dying—the invalid procedures, the bankrupt radio station—he managed to (im)plant persisting seeds. His station’s format—commercials, talk, and popular music—revolutionized the radio industry, and his airplane-driven gubernatorial campaign created a new political strategy involving sound trucks and radio, trains and planes. He brought the world a genre of music that had been carried from the British Isles and holed up the Appalachian Mountains for centuries.

I sometimes think of Doc when I flip the hundreds of television channels in my living room and find commercials of old folks in steamy outdoor bathtubs or middle-aged couples slyly winking to light jazz, knowing when the pill is popped, it’s on. I imagine him in a white gown and goatee and gloves, slices of goat gonads resting on a tray and one of those smiling, polo-sporting, muscular, middle-aged men under anesthesia on the table. The graying, tan wife has already slipped into something more comfortable in the waiting room. What time will he be ready? she calls to Doc. Lick-a-dee-split, he winks, raising the scalpel. I sometimes say the words alas and virility before changing the channel to CMT to watch Miley Cyrus dance around.

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