Monday, February 19, 2018

Happy, Happy Birthday Brother Frankenstein-On the 200th Anniversary Of The “Birth” of Mary Shelley’s Avenging Angel “Frankenstein”-A Comment 




A link to a 200th anniversary discussion of Mary Shelley and her “baby” Frankenstein on NPR’s On Point

http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2018/02/12/working-in-the-lab-late-one-night


By Lenny Lynch

We all know in the year 2018 that it is impossible to create a human being, maybe any being, out of spare human parts, and few jolts of electricity. Back in day 1818 when Mary Shelley (she of the thoroughbred breeding via feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and anarcho- philosopher William Godwin and channeling Romantic era poet Percy Shelley and who hung around with ill-fated heroic Lord Byron) wrote her iconic classis Frankenstein. I like the Modern Prometheus part of her title better since science was pretty primitive on that count, not much better that the former’s clay process, about the way our brother was put together in a slapdash manner but provided an impetus to further discovery. Unlike today where through genetic engineering we have better understanding of science and medicine although at times we need to treat science like a thing from which we have to run. (Example, a very current example, running the rack on discovering everything there is to know about the atom and then have such a discovery threatening a hostage world with nuclear weapons once the night-takers latched on to the military possibilities. At that point running away like cowardly Victor Frankenstein doesn’t mean a thing, not a thing.)      

Still Mary Shelley was onto something, some very worthy thoughts about human beings, about sentient and sapient beings, about where women fit into the whole scheme of things if we can at the flip of a button create life without human intervention which has already accrued to us today in marginal cases and probably would have shocked her sensibilities. Better if humankind can make itself out of odd spare parts, a little DNA that also puts a big crimp in the various ideas about God and his or her tasks once he or she becomes a sullen bystander to human endeavor. Not a bad thing not a bad thing at all. But the most beautiful part of her story is the possibility, once again, that we may get back to the Garden to retrofit that Paradise Lost that the blind revolutionary 17th poet John Milton lost his eyesight over. Yeah, tell us that we might be able to get back to the Garden. Nice choice Ms. Shelley.  

We know, or at least I know, that Frankenstein aka Modern Prometheus, has gotten a bad rap. Prometheus remember him from subtle Greek mythology and how he was able to create his brethren out of clay. Nice trick. Better, the brother did not leave humankind hanging by offering the gift of fire to move human progress at a faster clip. To keep the race from cold and hunger. Took a beating from psychopath Zeus for his lese majeste by having to roll that rock for eternity. Mister Frankenstein really has been misunderstood especially since the rise of the cinema starting from that first libelous presentation in 1931 which turned him from that misunderstood and challenged youth who if you will remember actually learned English, despite being “born” out in the wilds of 19th century Germany, so movie audiences could understand what he was saying.
The bad ass in the whole caper is this dolt Victor Frankenstein, the human so-called scientist who built a thing from which he had to run like some silly schoolgirl. If the guy had the sense that God, yes God, gave geese he would not have abandoned his brethren, his avenging angel. Wouldn’t have started a string of murders for which he not the so-called “monster” was morally responsible for. Instead the dink just let the bodies stack up like a cord of wood as he let his “creation” get out of control.

On this site my fellow writer Danny Moriarty has recently taken it upon himself to smash what he has called the unearned reputation of one Lanny Lamont, aka Basil Rathbone, aka Sherlock Holmes the so-called deductive logic detective who also let innocent bodies pile up before he got a bright thought in his dope-addled head about how to stop the carnage. That Danny’s take, Danny not his real name by the way but an alias he had been forced to use to protect himself and his family who have been threatened by a bunch of hooligans who are cultist devotees and aficionados of this Lanny Lamont known as the Baker Street Irregulars.

I don’t know enough about the merits of Danny’s crusade to decide whether he too is also an avenging angel, a blessed brethren in the fight for human progress against the night-takers, against the “alternate fact” crowd. But I do know that the idea behind what he is trying to do is solid. In his case the bare knuckle blowing up of an undeserved legend. That is my plan this bicentennial year of the existence our beautiful Mister Frankenstein, the Old Testament avenging angel, to defend his honor against all the abuse he has taken for far too long. That may be a tough task but so be it.         

Mary Shelley started something for us to think about and now we have to try to put the genie back in the bottle. 

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night- A Pauper Comes Of Age- For the Adamsville South Elementary School Class Of 1958-Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen



From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

This is the way my old corner boy, Fritz Taylor, from down in “the projects” told me the story one night years later when we were sitting on the grey granite steps of our high school, Miller High, in Seaside Heights, that’s in New Hampshire. Those projects by the way, all white projects  unlike the ones you hear about lately which are mostly populated by minorities, had originally been build right after World War II to help stem the heavy demand for housing from returning servicemen with young families and not enough dough to finance a house. The original idea as well was that the housing was temporary and had been built with a certain careless abandon by some low-bidder contractors. Fritz’s and my family had been among those families in the 1950s who did not get to participate in the “golden age” and so we were long time tenants all through our school years until we graduated from Miller High. Between the isolated location of the projects and the high number of kids the place had it had its own elementary school, Snug Harbor (sounds nice right, however, that school was also expected to be temporary and built as such by those same low-bidder contractors), where we both had gone through all six grades together (we started in the time before kindergarten became a step in one’s education). I am telling you about this because the story happened down there long before we got to high school.

So there we were sitting there on the steps, no dough in our pockets, our main guy for a ride out of town, Benny, also a corner boy, on a family vacation up in Maine, no girls in hand, or prospects either since any girls we were interested in had no interest us either because we had not car or because we were from the projects, come to think of it forget that last part it was because we were car-less and that world was filled with guys with cars, “boss cars,” swooping down on the interesting girls, talking slowly. Talking kind of softly for us although loudly or softly no one would have been around to heard us that warm summer night with about six weeks to go before school started again and we could go back and start our junior year, kind of dreamy too really about the first times we had been smitten by a girl, not necessarily a forever smitten thing (forever then being maybe a month or six weeks, no more except for some oddball couples who found love and stayed together for the next fifty years if you can believe that in this day in age) but with a bug that disturbed our sleep.

Yeah, that is exactly the way to put it, when some frail disturbed our sleep, the first of many sleepless nights on that subject.  (That “frail” a localism for girl, heavily influenced by our corner boy with the car Benny watching too many 1930s and 1940s George Raft or James Cagney gangster and Humphrey Bogart hard-boiled private detective movies.) So we were sitting there thinking about how we were now chasing other dreams, well, maybe not other dreams but older versions, sweet sixteen versions of that same dream.  Of course at sixteen it was all about girls but as it turned out that subject had its own pre-history way back when. Just ask Fritz Taylor if you see him.

Fritz Taylor, if he thought about it at all and at times like that dream vision night at sixteen on the steps in front of the high school he might have, probably would have said that he had his history hat on again like when he was a kid, loving history or even the thought of history since Miss Winot blew him away with talk of ancient Greeks and Romans. Blew him away so that when he got in trouble with that teacher for saying something fresh, and it really was, a swear word expression, “what the fuck,” that he heard all the time around his house which he thought everybody said when they were angry, assigned him a paper to write of five hundred words and he wrote an essay about Greek democracy which she actually read to the class she was so impressed. Miss Winot, blew him away more when she freaked him out with talk of Egypt and Pharaoh times with the Pyramids and the slaves and all time and he begged his older brother to drive him all the way down to the art museum in Boston to look at old Pharaoh stuff some guys from Harvard had unearthed. But all that is just stuff to let you know what kind of guy Fritz was in elementary school before he wised up, or kind of wised up, in high school. Funny one time when I wanted to take the bus down to Boston when I got the Pharaoh bug in high school he dismissed me out of hand. Done that, he said. So that night he had his history hat on so I knew I was in for a story, a bloody silly story if I knew Fritz but we had nothing better to do so I let him go on. Let him go on that sixteen years old summer night when out of the blue, the memory time blue, he thought about more modern history, thought about her, thought about fair Rosimund.

No, before you get all set to turn to some other thing, some desperate alternate other thing, to do rather than read Fritz’s poignant little story, this is not some American Revolution founding fathers (or mothers, because old-time Abigail Adams may have been hovering in some background granite-chiseled slab grave in a very old-time Quincy cemetery while the events to be related occurred since Fritz was crazy about her too once he figured out she was the real power behind John and John Quincy) or some bold Massachusetts abolitionist regiment, the fighting 54th, out of the American Civil War 150th anniversary memory history like Fritz used to like to twist the tail around when you knew him, or his like. This is about “first love” so rest easy.

Fritz, that early summer’s night, was simply trying to put his thoughts together and figured that he would write something, write something for those who could stand it, those fellow members of our class who could stand to know that story. Although, at many levels that was a very different experience from that of the average, average Miller High class member the story had a universal quality that he thought might amuse them, amuse them that is until the name, the thought of the name, the mist coming from out of his mouth at the forming of the name, holy of holies, Rosimund, stopped him dead in his tracks and forced him to tell me that story and to write that different story later.

Still, once the initial trauma wore off, Fritz thought what better way to celebrate that milestone on the rocky road to surviving childhood than to take a trip down memory lane, that Rosimund-strewn memory lane. Those days although they were filled with memorable incidents, good and bad, paled beside this Rosimund-related story that cut deep, deep into his brown-haired mind, and as it turned out one that he have not forgotten after all. So rather than produce some hokey last dance, last elementary school sweaty-palmed dance failure tale, some Billie Bradley-led corner boy down in the back of Snug Harbor doo wop be-bop into the night luring stick and shape girls like lemmings from the sea on hearing those doo wop harmonies, those harmonies meant for them, the sticks and shapes that is, or some wannabe gangster retread tale, or even some Captain Midnight how he saved the world from the Cold War Russkies with his last minute-saving invention Fritz preferred to relate a home truth, a hard home truth to be sure, but the truth Here is his say:

At some point in elementary school a boy is inevitably supposed to learn, maybe required to, depending on the whims of your school district’s supervisory staff and maybe also what your parents expected of such schools, to do two intertwined socially-oriented tasks - the basics of some kind of dancing and to be paired off with, dare I say it, a girl in that activity. After all that is what it is there for isn’t it. At least it was that way a few years back, and if things have changed, changed dramatically in that regard, you can fill in your own blanks experience. But here that is where fair sweet Rosimund comes in, the paired-off part.

I can already hear your gasps, dear reader, as I present this scenario. You are ready to flee, boy or girl flee, to some safe attic hideaway, to reach for some dusty ancient comfort teddy bear, or for the venturesome, some old sepia brownie camera picture album safely hidden in those environs, but flee, no question, at the suggestion of those painful first times when sweaty-handed, profusely sweaty-handed, boy met too-tall girl on the dance floor (age too-tall girls hormone shooting up first, later things settled down, a little). Now for those who are hopped up, or even mildly interested, in such ancient rituals you may be thinking, oh well, this won’t be so bad after all since I am talking about the mid-1950s and they had Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on the television to protect us from having to dance close, what with those funny self-expression dance moves like the Stroll and the Hully-Gully that you see on re-runs. And then go on except, maybe, the last dance, the last close dance that spelled success or failure in the special he or she night so let me tell you how really bad we had it in the plaid 1960s. Wrong.

Oh, of course, we were all after school black and white television-addled and addicted making sure that we got home by three in the afternoon to catch the latest episode of the American Bandstand saga about who would, or wouldn’t, dance with that cute girl in the corner (or that leering Amazon in the front). That part was true, true enough. But here we are not talking fun dancing, close or far away, but learning dancing, school-time dancing, come on get with it. What we are talking about in my case is that the dancing part turned out to be the basics of country bumpkin square-dancing (go figure, for a city boy, right?). Not only did this clumsy, yes, sweaty-palmed, star-crossed ten-year-old boy have to do the basic “swing your partner” and some off-hand “doze-zee dozes(sic)” but I also had to do it while I was paired, for this occasion, with the girl that I had a “crush” on, a serious crush on, and that is where Rosimund really enters the story.

Rosimund see, moreover, was not from “the projects” but from one of the new single-family homes, ranch-style homes that the up and coming middle-class were moving into up the road. In case you didn’t know, or have forgotten, I grew up on the “wrong side of the tracks” down at the Seaside Heights Housing Authority apartments. The rough side of town, okay. You knew that the minute I mentioned the name, that SHHA name, and rough is what you thought, and that is okay. Now. But although I had started getting a handle on the stick "projects" girls I was totally unsure how to deal with girls from the “world.” And Rosimund very definitely was from the world. I will not describe her here; although I could do so even today, but let us leave it at her name. Rosimund. Enchanting name, right? Thoughts of white-plumed knighted medieval jousts against some black-hooded, armored thug knight for the fair maiden’s hand, or for her favors (whatever they were then, mainly left unexplained, although we all know what they are now, and are glad of it)

Nothing special about the story so far, though. Even I am getting a little sleepy over it. Just your average one-of-the-stages-of-the-eternal-coming-of-age-story. I wish. Well, the long and short of it was that the reason we were practicing this square-dancing was to demonstrate our prowess before our parents in the school gym. Nothing unusual there either. After all there is no sense in doing this type of school-time activity unless one can impress one's parents. I forget all the details of the setup of the space for demonstration day and things like that but it was a big deal. Parents, refreshments, various local dignitaries, half the school administrators from downtown whom I will go to my grave believing could have cared less if it was square-dancing or basket-weaving because they would have ooh-ed and ah-ed us whatever it was. But that is so much background filler. Here is the real deal. To honor the occasion, as this was my big moment to impress Rosimund, I had, earlier in the day, cut up my dungarees to give myself an authentic square-dancer look, some now farmer brown look but back then maybe not so bad.

I thought I looked pretty good. And Rosimund, looking nice in some blue taffeta dress with a dark red shawl thing draped and pinned across her shoulders (although don’t quote me on that dress thing, what did a ten-year old boy, sister-less, know of such girlish fashion things. I was just trying to keep my hands in my pockets to wipe my sweaty hands for twirling time, for Rosimund twirling time) actually beamed at me, and said I looked like a gentleman farmer. Be still my heart. Like I said I though I looked pretty good, and if Rosimund thought so well then, well indeed. And things were going nicely. That is until my mother, sitting in a front row audience seat as was her wont, saw what I had done to the pants. In a second she got up from her seat, marched over to me, and started yelling about my disrespect for my father's and her efforts to clothe me and about the fact that since I only had a couple of pairs of pants how could I do such a thing. In short, airing the family troubles in public for all to hear. That went on for what seemed like an eternity.

Thereafter I was unceremoniously taken home by said irate mother and placed on restriction for a week. Needless to say my father also heard about it when he got home from that hard day’s work that he was too infrequently able to get to keep the wolves from the door, and I heard about it for weeks afterward. Needless to say I also blew my 'chances' with dear, sweet Rosimund.

Now is this a tale of the hard lessons of the nature of class society that I am always more than willing to put in a word about? Just like you might have remembered about me back in the day. Surely not. Is this a sad tale of young love thwarted by the vagaries of fate? A little. Is this a tale about respect for the little we had in my family? Perhaps. Was my mother, despite her rage, right? Well, yes. Did I learn something about being poor in the world? Damn right. That is the point. …But, oh, Rosimund.

Present At The Creation-The French Revolution Comes To Spain-Natasha Portman’s “Goya’s Ghosts” (2006)-A Film Review



DVD Review

By Bradley Fox, Junior

[As of this post under the new regime of Greg Green, formerly of the on-line American Film Gazette website brought in to shake things up a bit after a vote of no confidence in the previous site administrator Peter Markin was taken among all the writers at the request of some of the younger writers abetted by one key older writer, Sam Lowell, the habit of assigning writers to specific topics like film, books, political commentary, and culture is over. Also over is the designation of writers in this space, young or old, by job title like senior or associate. After a short-lived experiment designating everybody as “writer” seemingly in emulation of the French Revolution’s “citizen” or the Bolshevik Revolution’s “comrade all posts will be “signed” with given names only. The Editorial Board]

Goya’s Ghosts, starring Natasha Portman as Inez and Alicia, Javier Bardem as Lorenzo, Stellan Skargard as Goya, a Spanish production done in English, 2006)

[I find it ironic that one of the first assignments that new site administrator Greg Green has handed out deals with the turmoil of the French Revolution through the prism of the famous Spanish artist Francisco Goya which roiled through Spain during the height of the revolution in France and later during various Napoleonic conquests including Spain. Sometimes apparently, and this may have been Greg Green’s point in assigning the review life mirrors art as in the case of Lorenzo, the Spanish priest turned exiled partisan of the French Revolution and Napoleonic agent during the French occupation in the early 1800s before his downfall at Waterloo.

Seemingly a parallel example exists between Lorenzo’s topsy-turvy career and fate and that of the previous site administrator Peter Markin, who not so coincidentally was a good friend of my father Bradley, Senior and who has recently retired from that position after a vote of “no confidence” by the writers. The main reason given was Peter’s obsessive tilting of the coverage of subjects in this space toward events from the turbulent 1960s when most of the older writers came of age exemplified by the over-the-top coverage of the Summer of Love, 1967 he ordered the writers, young and old, familiar with the period or not, to cover. There has been, and here the parallel with Francisco who would go to his execution under the Inquisition once the French were defeated and swept out of Spain by the British with the aid of Spanish guerillas, a persistent rumor that Peter was purged and that the retirement ploy was just that a cover for the more aggressive removal mainly through the efforts of the younger writers which in the interest of transparency included me. So maybe Greg Green is trying to make a cautionary tale out of using this film plot as a review. I will try to track this down as I get more information by if you heard that one Peter Paul Markin has fallen under the wheels of a modern day Inquisition don’t be surprised. Don’t be surprised at all.]
*******
Artists, artist like the title’s Goya sometimes have the uncanny sense to be at the right place at the right time-at least the plot of this little gem of Spanish production film would indicate that. He lived and worked in the time of the French Revolution which was bringing a serious breathe of fresh air to feudal remnant Europe with the overthrown of the monarchy and of the attempt to bring the new democratic forms to the rest of the continent-including Spain which is where that revolution intersects with what Goya was observing and painting. In a sense Goya is all over the place in his work from the court painter to the royal family to the painter of the horrific effects of war on civilians and soldiers alike to the famous, or infamous if you like, painting of the Maja, the naked Maja which may or may not have scandalized European sensibilities. That is the subtext to the plot here where a Spanish priest, played by Javier Bardem, and Goya, played by Stellem Skargard, intersect through a rich merchant’s daughter model, played by Natalie Portman, whom Goya used and who inflamed the priest to lustful and criminal desire.  

Spain was, and maybe still is, a tough dollar place to be a dissenter, dissenter mainly being anything but a Roman Catholic and a hardened monarchist (and possibly a closet Francoist fascist if the recent struggle for the legitimate right to independent statehood of the Catalan peoples is any indication). Spain after all was the land of Inquisition which did not take kindly to any dissenters and had the means (torture and the rack, ultimately the auto de fe and the stake) That is where the action in this film starts (so the faint-hearted should push the stop button now). Lorenzo is the main prosecutor for the tribunals always looking for victims via his extensive stoolie spy network and he finds one in the person of the lusted after Inez. She goes into the dock after being tortured for her confession and before long Lorenzo has had his way with her. That way with her leading to her bearing his child. Eventually Inez get out of the slammer but the place took a lot out of her, left her mentally damaged.

Meanwhile the Church has no place for Lorenzo who is now considered an albatross around its neck and he gets out of Spain by hook or by crook landing in France. The scene then shifts back to Spain some fifteen years later. Like a lot of hard-boiled men who seek the main chance he became a senior bureaucrat in Napoleon’s administration of Spain after its conquest. Such men changing allegiance as easily as changing their shirts. Inez has seen better days but Lorenzo is still interested in finding his daughter. That search is interrupted by the British invasion which finds Lorenzo unsuccessfully fleeing but being caught and once the old order is reestablished the Inquisition in reinstated as well. Live by the sword die by the sword Lorenzo is condemned and in a defiant and honorable finish refuses to recant before he is executed.

What about Goya who after all is the hook for anybody with artistic sensibilities to have even bothered to watch this rather dragged out epic. He hovers over the scene doing his sketches and plotting his painting while trying to help Inez as best he could. But this film is mainly about Lorenzo and that is really the problem for me since we all know every revolutionary period brings certain figures from the old regime with them-after the masses have brought the changes and have fallen back exhausted. The French and Russian revolutions were full of such men who landed on their feet- for a time. Not enough Goya here to make this one move off dead center.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Artists’ Corner-In The Aftermath Of World War I- Dada Takes A Stab At Visually Understanding A Broken World After the Bloodbath Which Mowed Down The Flower Of The European Youth     

By Lenny Lynch

I don’t know that much about the Dada movement that swept through Europe in the early part of the 20th century in response to the creation of modern industrial society that was going full steam and the modern industrial scale death and destruction such mass scale techniques brought upon this good green earth by World War I. (Foreshadowed it is agreed by the industrial carnage at places like Cold Harbor in the American Civil War, the butchery of the Franco-Prussian War and subsequent river of blood by its own rulers of the Paris Commune and the Boer War.) The war to end all wars which came up quite short of that goal but did decimate the flower of the European youth, including vast swaths of the working class. Such massive blood-lettings for a precious few inches of soil like at the Battle of the Somme took humankind back more than a few steps when the nightmare ended-for a while with the Armistice on November 11, 1918. An event which in observing its centennial every serious artist should consider putting to the paint. And every military veteran to take heart including the descendants of those artists who laid down their heads in those muddy wretched trenches. Should reclaim the idea behind Armistice Day from the militarists who could learn no lessons except up the kill and fields of fire ratios. 

I don’t know much but this space over this centennial year of the last year of the bloody war, the armistice year 1918 which stopped the bloodletting will explore that interesting art movement which reflected the times, the bloody times. First up to step up George Groz, step up and show your stuff, show how you see the blood-lusted world after four years of burning up the fields of sweet earth Europe making acres of white-crossed places where the sullen, jaded, mocked, buried youth of Europe caught shells and breezes. Take one look Republican Automatons. Look at the urban environment, look at those tall buildings dwarfing mere mortal man and woman, taking the measure of all, making them think, the thinking ones about having to run, run hard away from what they had built, about fear fretting that to continue would bury men and women without names, without honor either.          

Look too at honor denied, look at the handless hand, the legless leg, the good German flag, the Kaiser’s bloody medal, hard against the urban sky. The shaky republic, the republic without honor, shades of the murders of the honest revolutionary Liebknecht walking across Potsdam Plaza to go say no, no to the war budget and grab a hallowed cell the only place for a man of the people in those hard times and gallant Luxemburg, the rose of the revolution, mixed in with thoughts of renegade burned out soldiers ready for anything. Those former were forever your brethren and breathe. Weimar, weak-kneed and bleeding,  would shake and one George Groz would know that, would draw this picture that would tell the real story of why there was a Dada-da-da-da-da movement to chronicle the times if not to fight on the barricades against that beast from which we had to run.      




Step up Max Ernst and show us your stuff, show us what four fucking years of war did to the brain.  Ernst was drafted and served both on the Western and the Eastern front. Such was the devastating effect of the war on the artist that in his autobiography he referred to his time in the army thus: "On the first of August 1914 M[ax].E[rnst]. diedHe was resurrected on the eleventh of November 1918." How could one any longer draw bowls of fruits or natty portraits of high society fashion or even peaceful fishing villages like their forbears. The times were out of joint, connected only by the most tenuous thin reed bonds.   


History In The Making-In The Unmaking Too-Audrey Tautou’s “Coco before Chanel” (2009)-A Film Review



DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

Coco Before Chanel, starring Audrey Tautou, 2009   

Apparently Greg Green who hands out the assignment here, all the assignments here unlike before he came over to manage this sit and headed the film department at American Film Gazette where I was a stinger for a while early in his tenure has decided that I am to be the “women’s film” reviewer in residence since with the film under review Coco before Chanel marks the fourth straight women-oriented film I have reviewed. I don’t like, don’t like that implication at all, since if I had wanted to shell myself into a cozy non-threatening spot I could have kept my by-line at Women Today where I reviewed many things including films which were only marginally about women, one about a couple of gay men where there were no women at all.

The real thing that bothers me about this assignment from Greg who although he had posted in public that he reviews every film before assignment seemingly could not have done so here though is the subject matter on two counts. First dealing with famed Parisian haute couture fashion designer Coco Chanel when I do not give a damn about high fashion or low and resent that I have to blather on about fashionable hats and dresses like that meant anything in the real world. Fellow writer here Josh Breslin who was my companion for some years before I went to my by-line at Women Today can testify that I threw the bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume he gave me one Christmas  across the room one time later when we having a drawn out, drag down fight about something. So much for fashion, high or low. The more egregious point though is that this is basically a dishonest film, a film which very conveniently cuts away before the German occupation of Paris when Ms. Chanel according to now disclosed documents worked hand and hand with the occupiers of what could have been burning Paris if Hitler had had his way and never was held truly accountable for her collaboration and her convenient grabbing fortunes when the Jews were rounded up. Thus this vehicle portrays yet another rags to riches by the bootstraps by a poor trodden down orphan who falls in love and is disappointed. Damn another two-bit love story.          

Holding my nose, officially holding my nose if anybody including Greg Green is asking, I will do what is expected ever since Sam Lowell’s days as film editor and tell a few details about the plot-line. Coco and her sister were treated as wayward orphans at the hellish Catholic orphanage they grew up in after their mother died. When they came of age (after learning how to sew at the orphanage) they hit the road as a sister singing act and drew the attentions of some high society patrons of the saloon where they worked (and where Coco got her moniker). These upscale relationships gained them, and eventually Coco alone, some important connections with high society, with the world of money where women as “pet poodles” were as conscious about fashion as they were about having their sullen little side affairs.     

Coco’s relationship with one such high society male got her entrée into the provincial country elite and then off to gay Paree where her hats first and later high end dresses gave her a certain cache. The film’s tension is between her overweening ambition, not a bad thing in and of itself especially for a single woman of limited means, and a love affair with a British businessman that cannot go anywhere since he, seeking his main chance, is engaged to be married to some daughter of the England nobility. Before that happens though the beast died in a car accident and that was that. Although Coco never married she was at least a mistress to some high ranking German when the Nazis tried to devour Europe, including Paris. I am still holding my nose. No mas.    

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The Real Scoop Behind “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”-Martha and the Vandellas- Dancing In The Streets



This sketch takes place in the 1970s but is driven, and driven hard, by the music of the early 1960s when the grifter described here first came of age and hence its inclusion. Frank Jackman

“Hey, brother, can you spare a dime?,” (or sister now something unheard of back in the day, back in the early 1960s, when some cop might pinch you at her request for disturbing the fair sex  for  being unseemly in public asking a proper lady for anything. Now here in the go-go 70s any human form is qualified for the hustle where every low-rent guy takes a shot figuring maybe to get something so the other party, particularly women, can get you out of their faces and move on) followed by “Got an extra cigarette, pal (or gal, ditto the sister thing except unlike back in the day, pal or gal, in the new age, as likely as not, probably has no butts, has no “cigs,” doesn’t touch the stuff ever since the Surgeon-General’s report put the fear of God in lots of people)?”

Yeah, Billy Bailey, William James Bailey, used-to-be brash corner boy, a contender for the title of king hell king of the corner boy night around Salducci’s Pizza Parlor, “up the downs” back in North Adamsville in the old days, the old days these days being the early 1960s before smart and brash corner boy Frankie Riley put an end to that dream by trumping all upstarts since  he was “in” with the shop owner, certainly had the panhandler lingo down, down pat, after only a few days on the bum. Funny during these few days on the bum this time he would almost blush when he thought back to the days when he used to laugh in the faces of swollen-faced raggedy-assed guys trying to pan-handle him for dough, trying to bum a smoke, and here he was with the brethren. Hustling maybe a little cleaner in attire that the brethren since he had not gotten down to second-hand Sally goods yet although a few more weeks with constant use of the few clothes that he did have might have him howling. Hustling too with cleaner breathe since he did not drink (that jones long over and done with substituted by several subsequent joneses including his current burden. He still felt that contempt for the buggers since he “knew” that a few days of this street work and he would be off the skids, on his feet again and then able to go back to laughing at the brethren, a good laugh too, while they pipe-dreamed their lives away.

Yeah, this was strictly temporary because his ship would come in before he wound up on cheap street like the boyos hanging around the Common swilling rotgut wine (or maybe low-rent whiskey if the day’s take was good) smoking tobacco “roaches,” butt end really off the ground and pissing all over themselves. However every once in a while he would get a funny feeling, kind of turn up his collar a little more, push his baseball cap lower on his head, put on sunglasses ( a real no-no in the pan-handler racket since you want the “marks” to see your desperate eyes, your pleading desperate eyes, to close the deal. Besides sunglasses might make them feel you just blew in from the coast.) when he realized that he was on the bum in his own home town, his ever-loving’ roots, Boston. (His hometown of North Adamsville close enough so that he did not have to tell people who asked the name of the town and could get by with Boston unlike if he was from Lowell or Lawrence or places like that. Sure he had been on the bum a few times, nothing big, once on the Mission in Frisco (where in the same day he walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and that night slept, slept newspaper for a pillow sleep, under that edifice), a couple of times on Larimer Street in Denver before they gentrified the damn place and along the arroyos down in Los Angeles with a bunch of Vietnam veterans like himself who unlike him couldn’t adjust to the “real” world. 

Yeah, those were a few day bums, maybe a week, couple of weeks, no more than a month and then back to the world. Short falls, maybe drunk too much and jobless, later maybe too much gambling on run-out horses and dogs (and no money coming in to feed the habits once he got behind), maybe some twist threw him over for a steady guy after he wore out his welcome (and her pocketbook). On the bum this time, this time though a real fall, in hock and up to his ass in debt, mostly big score no-go dope on credit deal debts,  when he had tired of drunk risks, gambling risks, frail risks,  guys looking for him, not Boston guys thankfully, well, looking for him to pay up. During the long days of pan-handling this time though he would think back to the old days, the days before the “falls” when hustling dough was just for some short money, pick up some spare change, to wander into free campsite, Volkswagen bus pick-up sharing stews, brews and dope hitchhike roads looking for the great blue-pink American West night with some honey, some Angelica honey, bum like a few years back. Angelica, the proto-type of his sexual desire in those days, all Midwest blonde, slender, frisky, proud and sensible, traipsing after him across half the continent before going home to Indiana and then later joining him in southern California before she decided on white picket fences and kids. Sweet kiss, baby, you were probably right when that last night you said your gallant knight was made of sawdust. Yeah, that was a while back, late 1960s back when even he sensed the world might be turned upside down. Hoped maybe he and his would get a fair shake in the world even though more pressing personal issues drove his days and nights. 

Those days, those days after the hellish army routine, the “Nam bummer, the Nam bummer before he hightailed it with the arroyos brothers who couldn’t face the “real” world down in L.A. he practically made a religion, yah a religion out of living “free,” living out of the knapsack(oddly an old World War II surplus job found at Snyder’s Army and Navy which he father had told him he carried all thorough Europe when it was to kick ass with the Nazi), living under bridge (not arroyos brother bridges but nice, meaning girl company nice, sleeping bag also Army surplus and light campfires and fine stews), no sweat, if need be. But those “golden days” dried up a few years back and now here in 1976 he was facing a real skid row choice. How it happened he will get to along the way but first let’s set the parameters of what 1976 panhandling, to put an eloquent name on it for “bumming”, shiftless bumming , looked like and how to survive in the new age of everybody me-ing themselves, even with people who were not on the bum. Christ, lord the times were hard, hard times in old Babylon, no question.

See, a guy, a guy who called himself “Shorty” McGee for obviously physical reasons but who knows what his real name was, maybe he didn’t remember either after all the rum-dum sterno heat years and the endless backsides of skid row haunts, that he had hitched up with for a minute, an overnight minute at the Salvation Army Harbor Lights Center over in the South End kind of hipped him to the obvious tricks of the new down-at the-heels road. Like putting the two requests, change and “cigs,” together when you were panhandling. See, Shorty said it was all a matter of psychology, of working the crowd, the downtown crowd, the bustling workaday Park Street Station crowd hurrying to and fro looking for quick lunches, maybe a minute shopping spree in Jordan Marsh’s or Filene’s, and the Copley Square sunning themselves crowd on the benches across from the library maybe reading a book or feeding the pigeons, right to get you out of their sights and back to whatever sweet thing they were doing. So you endlessly put the two requests together, time after time after time, and always. And what happened was that when they turned you down for the dough ( as happened a lot), or maybe took you literally and pieced you off with just a dime, Christ a dime that wouldn’t even buy a cup of joe, could feel good about themselves, if they smoked, smoked cigarettes anyway, by passing you a butt. Billy thought, nice, this Shorty really does have it worked out just about right. Of course dimes and drags were not going to get him out from under, not this time.

Well, rather than leaving the reader out in the dark, Billy Bailey this fair 1976 spring was not just on the bum, but on the lam as well, keeping his head very far down just in case there were some guys who were looking for him, or worst, the cops, in case some irate victim of one of his scams took a notion to “fry his ass.” Of course he was counting on them, those victims, being mainly friends and acquaintances, of not putting “the heat” on him since he had already promised through the grapevine that he would make restitution. But we are getting a little ahead of the story, let’s step back.

The early 1970s were not kind to “free spirits” the previous name for what on this day were “free-loaders” and Billy, well, got behind in his expenses, and his bills, his ever expanding bills. But see the transition from free “s” to free “l” caught him off-guard, moreover he was just then in the throes of a fit of “the world owes me a living,” a serious fit. Why? Well see, he as a pauper son of the desperate working poor, “felt” that since he missed out on the golden age benefits of his youth that he was to make up the difference by putting the “touch” on the richer friends that he had acquired through his doing this and that, mainly high-end drug connections (not really rich but richer since the really rich were hunkered down behind about fifteen layers of fortresses, physical and legal, and as some writer who knew what he was talking about really were different that you and me, no question).

The long and short it was that he work the deal this way, this way once he got his hard wanting habits on first he would “borrow” money off Friend A under some scam pretext of putting it to good use, usually using some exotic drug story as the front (yes, his good use, including several long airplane fight trips to California and other points west-no more hitchhike roads for this moving up the food chain lad) and then borrow dough off Friend B to cover some of his debt to Friend A. Something like an unconscious classic Ponzi scheme, as it turned out. And then when he got to Friend X or somewhere around there things got way too complicated and he started “kiting” checks, and on and on as far deep into his white- collar crime mind as he could think. That could only go on a for a short while and he calculated that "short while" almost to the day when he would have to go “underground” and that day had sprung up a couple of weeks before.

So it took no accountant or smart-ass attorney to know that dimes and drags were not going to get him back on his feet. Nor were many of the schemes that Shorty had outlined over at Harbor Lights as ways to grab quick cash. (Hitting the poor boy charity circuit, good mainly one time, grabbing stuff on credit using somebody’s credit card gained through guys who sold fake credit cards and then selling the stuff quick and deeply discounted. Some check finagling. All things that really took sunnier times to work and squeak maximum benefit from. These were chicken feed for his needs, even his immediate needs, although some of the scams would fill the bill for a rum-dum or life-long skid row bum. But here is the secret, the deep secret that Billy Bailey held in his heart, after a few nights on bus station benches, cold spring night park benches, a night bout under the Andersen Bridge over by old haunt Harvard Square (girl-less and with no cozy sleeping and stew campfires), and a few nights that he would rather not discuss just in case, he finally figured out, figured out kicking and screaming, that the world did not owe him a living and that if he wanted to survive past thirty he had better get the stardust and grit out of his eyes. But just this minute, just this undercover spring 1976 minute, he needed to work the Commons. “Hey, brother, hey sister, can you spare a dime?” “Pal, have you got an extra cigarette?”

Postscript: Not all wisdom ends happily, and not all good intentions grow to fruition. Yes, Billy paid off his debts to his friends, mostly. However, Billy Bailey was killed while “muling” in a drug war shoot-out in Juarez, Mexico in late 1979 trying to do an independent score when the bad boy Mexican and South American cartels were bundling things up. Found face down with two in the back of the head. Yeah, Billy Bailey had moved down the chain a lot since the days when he was a contender for the king hell king of the corner boy night.

On The 50th Anniversary Of Tet- “What The Hell Are We Fighting For-Next Stop Is Vietnam”-Never Forgive, Never Forget” From The North Adamsville Vietnam War Class of 1969- Novack-Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” Documentary




For “Mogie” Crocker and all the other brothers and sisters who laid down their heads in that goddam war. Never forget, never forgive-Sam Lowell, Si Lannon, and Allan Jackson-War Class of 1969  

By Sam Eaton

If 1967 was dominated by the Summer of Love (the 50th anniversary of which was commemorated last year mainly on the West Coast which was the central axis of the movement and which had a hell of a lot of space in this blog in 2017 since a goodly number of the older writers from North Adamsville were involved one way or another) then 1968 was the Year Of Tet, the year of war, real war for a lot of the same guys around our way who celebrated the “drugs, sex, and rock and roll” cultural explosion of the previous year. You may wonder why I, Sam Eaton am writing this piece since usually in this space I do a little political commentary, mainly around war issues, books, and music and am not one of the guys listed in the epitaph. That answer is simple and two-fold. First, none of those North Adamsville guys after seeing the ten part Ken Burns/Lynn Novack series and the memories it stirred in them felt up to the task of actually writing about those old-time war experiences. (Even Frank Jackman who was in his own way part of the North Adamsville War Class of ’69, a soldier in the Army at that time but one who unlike them refused orders to Vietnam and served some serious time in an Army stockade which will be expanded upon below refused to write about his experiences.) Secondly, I too am a member of the War Class of ’69 although I came from Carver about forty miles south of North Adamsville and have unlike the other guys never mentioned that hard fact in the public prints. Hell most of the people I know do not know I was in Vietnam during that hellish war. In the Burns’ documentary very early on one of the “talking head” ex-Vietnam Marines mentioned that a very close friend of hers husband had been in Vietnam as well as her own husband but it was not until twelve years into their friendship that the even knew that mutual fact. So this is me coming out of the closet and so bear with me if I stumble a bit. (By the way my association with the North Adamsville guys happened a few years later after Vietnam when we were all way or another in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, VVAW, mostly in Boston with former Secretary of State John Kerry and later, and now too, with Veterans Peace Action, VPA)  

One of the big things that jogged my memories while watching the early parts of the documentary was how very similar the backgrounds and attitudes of the various “grunts,” the guys who fought the war on the ground, the mainly white working class and black and Hispanic (Latino if that is the preferred reference) whose stories were being told. How much of a true cross-section of the millions of men who went to that war I don’t know but the stories “spoke to me,” spoke of my own upbringing. Spoke too of a lot of the values and unquestioning subservience that we all were brought up in during that heinous Cold War red scare time. “Better dead that red,” “if your mommy is a commie turn her in” real slogans that expressed the underlying terms which we dealt with for anything that moved anywhere not 100 per cent pro-American “my country right or wrong” another key slogan, could be construed as pro-Soviet or pro-“Red Chinese’ an actual expression used to describe that country after the victory of Mao and his brethren.)

I will go into the very similar “life-styles” of the North Adamsville guys, the “corner boys” which meant something in working class culture in the 1950s and 1960s but is something I was not part of down in Carver since in those days before it became something of a bedroom community for the high tech industry about twenty miles away it didn’t have anything like a corner pizza parlor, bowling alleys or variety store to be a corner boy around. Or enough guys with time on their hands to hold up the wall in front of the place. Carver in those days was something like the cranberry capital of the world and those in the town, including four generations as far as I can figure on the Eaton side and three on the O’Brian side, who actually worked the bogs, were called derisively “boggers” which defined the class division in the town. Including where you lived, our section called the “Hump.” 

For our purposes though the “boggers” and the other cohort, the middle class cohort called “the Pilgrims” since many of those families could trace their roots pretty far back although I do not remember that any family could claim forebear’s passage on the Mayflower shared common patriotic holiday traditions with parades and other festivities which is the only time there was social mingling. With the exception of a couple of great bogger football players those lines held all through school, most rigidly in high school where you had no chance with the Pilgrim girls and either tied up with a bogger girl or looked out of town, something which I tended to do since I couldn’t deal with what the bogger girl expected on their guys, marriage right out of high school and some Hump small apartment.

The big thing though is that in the Hump you went into the military when called up by the draft, or more usually since the high school drop-out rate for boggers was pretty high volunteer. In my own family, mostly uneducated, I would be the first to actually go to college and get a degree, those four generations of boggers all went to war when called going back to World War I. On the O’Brian side likewise and my mother’s uncle, Frank, has a square still named after him in the town common having died in World War I. So, and it came through loud and clear in the various documentary interviews, where was there room for not going into the military when I was drafted. Where was there a support system if I, or anybody in town, had refused. At the time this town would have crucified any young man who refused the draft, thought about Canada which was not even on the radar, or even thought to express an anti-war opinion whatever they thought instead and whatever doubts they had about going to war especially in my time, my war class time of 1969 when all hell was breaking loose in Vietnam, and in this country. So I went in, did what I had to do to survive and tried to forget about the awful things I did, and had seen done to people I had no quarrel with. It took a few years to shake that horror loose before I grabbed a life-line from a bunch of guys, fellow veterans, who wanted to stop the war madness- and still do.

The impetus for my getting off my duff had been watching a bunch of Vietnam veterans marching in silence (and in an orderly march manner something which tended to be lacking up to this day in later anti-war veterans peace marches and such), down a hot and humid Miami boulevard during the week of the Republican National Convention in 1972. The sight of those be-medaled soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, stirred something in me that no dope, no alcohol my previous remedies of sorts could slake. Their rough treatment by the Nixon-fired up forces of law and order further made something in me snap. Don’t ask me now some fifty years later to explain everything I was thinking that pushed me on to the brink of self-destruction and everything that pulled me back any more than you could ask all those soldiers and Marines on the Ken Burns interviews what moved them to anti-war action. Amazingly when asked to articulate some of that experience and the why of it those interviewees stopped and could not come up with an answer other than the very familiar “I don’t know.”  Except I knew, they knew,  all roads led back to Vietnam, led back to the bad stuff we did there, stuff that we could never live down.  

Back in 1972, maybe 1971 too I was living in Rhode Island to be away from friends, family, girlfriends, everybody while I sorted things out. Didn’t let anybody but growing up friend Will Badger know where I was since while he had been in the Navy during the war shelling the hell out of places like Da Nang and far from the daily butchery on the ground he was a troubled soul as well. He did slip up one time and somehow my girlfriend who had been my fiancé before I left for Vietnam but as was the nature of the times we decided not to “go bourgeois” and get little white house with picket fence, kids, and dog married and wind up like our respective parents followed him one day. After something of a screaming match initiated by me we decided to keep company, be companions again and I was glad of that in the end even though we drifted apart a few years later when she wanted to get married and I was against the idea.

All through those experiences I kept thinking about that powerful silent veterans march and that fall of 1972 I went up to Boston once I found out where there was an active VVAW chapter. (This remember before the days of the Internet which would have let me find the organization in about two minutes. Then I had to check the telephone directory and got no information since the phone number was not listed as yet in that publication and only found out where they had an office and telephone number by going to Providence and Brown University to a Vietnam Mobilization office where they had such information about what was what in New England.)          

At that first meeting in Boston two things happened which marked me then and to this day. One was that in the political divide within the organization about what is always an issue with left-wing groups whether to push the electoral button or go for street confrontations I tended toward the street cred guys, the flame-throwers against guys like former Secretary of State (and U.S. Senator from Massachusetts) John Kerry who even then was looking for the “main chance” which he sought with a vengeance. This issue tended to draw something of a class line as well since those who favored the electoral essentially reformist way to deal with social change, with the struggle against the military machine and war tended to have been ROTC or OCS officers and from very middle class backgrounds and those like the guys from North Adamsville who I will discuss in a minute and me who wanted to “burn the mother-fucker down,” go after those in the mansions.            

The other thing that has stayed with me to this day are the friendships, social and political friendships, I struck up with the guys from North Adamsville and guys they had gathered around them like Josh Breslin from up in Maine whom they met out in California during that Summer of Love, 1967 that was the hot topic here last year and Fritz Taylor and Ralph Morse met in the Army. Everyone was a flame-thrower, a “burn the mansion down” guy then, and not far from that now either although time has mellowed them (and me) personally-a bit. The basis of that mutual attraction was the incredible similarity of all of our growing up experiences, the white working class and white trash poor backgrounds whether in North Adamsville, Carver, Olde Saco, Maine or with Fritz Fulton County, Georgia, the unquestioning patriotism, the anti-communism culled from the red scare Cold war night that enveloped us all, and the small town-ish values about “Mom, God and apple pie” Fourth of July parade façade that we swallowed hook, line and sinker.

Here is an antidote from the mad wizard Seth Garth which kind of sums up the social milieu around the war issue mid-1960s working class style which tells a lot, maybe all you need to know about how Uncle Sam got the “cannon fodder,” not my term originally but one that we all have adopted since back in the days, to fight his wars then, now too probably even with an all-volunteer army, the volunteer part subject to lots of social, class, racial, ethnic, and economic provisos. Seth had decided to attend his fiftieth class reunion, the Class of 1964 but the other classes around that time produced the same fact once the corner boys from different graduation years compared notes on the subject, a few years ago and as a prelude to that the organizers of the reunion (not so strangely the same “social butterflies,” male and female who were the “in crowd” back in high school at least the ones who were still standing), set up a class website to gather information about those still standing.

That class, that heart of the baby-boomer class, had about five hundred members of which about two hundred or so responded, about evenly divided between male and female. (By way of comparison my whole combined junior and senior high school had five hundred students to give another example of how small Carver was then.) One of the questions asked was about military service which in that day would have been a question asked and answered almost totally by males. Of that one hundred or so respondents ninety of them put down some military service from National Guard to Vietnam including a small clot of military lifers. That alone tells the tale about who went and what the environment was like for anybody who thought for a minute about resistance or even just questioning the aims of the war, or of war.           

We still gnash our teeth over our collective naïve, our collective taking in the bullshit without question and our failures to do something about the whole damn thing long before we were drafted or enlisted. (That latter condition, drafted or enlisted, the only thing that separated the entire collective which was as much about personal circumstances as anything since it never entered anybody’s mind, even special case, Frank Jackman, not to go into the military in our youth.)
The North Adamsville guys, I will deal with Josh, Fritz, and a couple of other guys in passing, were cemented together by one thing, they all grew up in the desperately poor working class and working poor neighborhood of the town called the “Acre.” All were members of the North Adamsville classes of 1963, 64, 65 (the prime years for young men who would face the grist mill of Vietnam which cut too many from those years in their prime). Josh was Olde Saco Class of 1967, Fritz Robert E. Lee High Class of 1962). More importantly the social glue that kept them together centered in their high school days around Tonio’s Pizza Parlor where they were the so-called corner boys, a mainly derogatory sociological and cultural term coined by legal professionals, cops, and academics who were worried about the angst and alienation of this swath of  youth. The term fit so completely that they adopted the expression for their own amusement. Mainly that amusement was hanging around Tonio’s since they rarely had dough for dates and such or going on what they called the “midnight creep,” grabbing stuff through burglaries to get dough for dates and such.  A hard dollar any way you look at it and it was a close thing that they mainly survived to tell the tale.       

You cannot, I cannot although I only him slightly personally and more through endless talk of his legend, talk about the North Adamsville corner boys without mentioning their “leader” Peter Paul Markin, always known as “Scribe.” (This is the real Markin who died in the 1970s not the former site manager of this blog who used the moniker on-line in honor of his fallen comrade which explains a lot of that “leader” point just made.) The Scribe was not the leader, leader, you know the one who kept things in order that was Frankie Riley who wound up 4-F (unfit for military duty) and who later became a very successful lawyer in Boston, but something like the intellectual leader. He was the guy who got Sam Lowell, Si Lannon, Jack Callahan, Bart Webber, Allan Jackson, Seth Garth, Frank Jackman, Jimmy Jenkins who would die in Vietnam in 1968, and Frankie all except Frankie who would be drafted or enlist in the military to head out to California in the summer of 1967 and get knee-deep, no, neck-deep in the Summer of Love. (Other North Adamsville corner boys Rick Rizzo and Johnny Kelly who lived right next door to each other and joined the Army together laid down their heads in Vietnam in 1966 so never got the chance to experiment with the “drugs, sex, and rock and roll” that drove those days.) Josh met this crew out there as well before his military service. Fritz came into the group through Sam when they were in the Army together.

Markin too was the guy who probably was the most affected by his loss of innocence from his Vietnam experience, by the shattering of his Summer of Love-like dreams for a new world which he really expected to happen according to all the guys. Like me his was “lost” coming back to the “real” world as we called it after landing in the U.S.A from Vietnam. He would drift back out to California and start writing for a bunch of alterative newspapers which were flourishing out there for a while. Did some award-winning work when he found and joined an alternative society of returned Vietnam War G.I.s who like him could not adjust to the “real” world and lived along the railroad tracks and bridges of South California doing the best they could. Singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen would name a song later which would fit-“brothers under the bridge.” Markin wrote, or rather let them tell their stories for a while.

Josh who lived out in Oakland with him in a communal house then said he was starting to come out of his shell with that work. Not for long though because later in the mid-1970s he would develop a very serious cocaine habit which he fed by dealing the drug, always a bad proposition and wound up getting killed, murdered, down in Mexico after a botched drug deal with a couple of slugs in his head in some back alley. Nobody knows to this day exactly what happened although they still shed a tear every time his name is mentioned.

All of that was a few years later though when it was unmistakable that the “newer world” was not going to make it.  In 1972 they were under Markin’s guidance members of VVAW and in attendance that that first meeting I went to. They all had, except Frank Jackman who I will discuss in a minute, various evidences of their service on. As had I. My 101st Airborne patch on an old faded olive drab shirt with my name tag on it. Si had been attached to the same division and was the first to welcome me. The meeting, the long meeting as such things went in those days when in the interest of “democracy” everybody got to speak for as long as they wanted and seemingly whatever they wanted even if off-topic, went as expected as they were planning an action on Boston Common in conjunction with the inevitable Fall/Spring semi-annual anti-war mobilizations coming up a few weeks later. They invited me to Durgin Park for some food and drink (mostly drink and later some dope). During this meal/drink-fest Markin, who was back from California for a while since he was looking for a couple of guys who he had met “under the bridge” to get their “back stories” asked for my story.

Everybody except me laughed when I had finished my seemingly sad little tale of a story. Laughed a sardonic laugh when you think about it because Si asked me whether I had grown up in North Adamsville. I didn’t understand the question until he said that my story, like their stories, like the stories of Mogie, Mulgrave, Sullivan in the Burns’ documentary, was too familiar. That the working class from small towns and sections of cities and poor bastards in the ghettoes and barrios bore the brunt of the crap that went down in Vietnam no matter what happened at home (or among those groupings in Vietnam, not always brotherly, no way, the racial tensions would sometimes get hot and heavy especially when the mainly white officers overplayed placing black men on point or down in the fucking tunnels but also when guys from small white bread towns like me couldn’t figure out what made the black guys tick and the same the other way).   So I was “initiated” and like Josh and Fritz (and Remmy and Jamal, a couple of black brothers who have since died one of an overdose of heroin started out in the Golden Triangle madness) became an honorary North Adamsville corner boy. And I still am, proudly am.                 

The Scribe was one end of what happened to some guys during and after the war but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the special case of Frank Jackman, another North Adamsville corner boy. In the Burns documentary the famous Vietnam War writer Tim O’Brien laments, no anguishes over the fact that he had not refused to be drafted, not refused to go to Vietnam. Others both in that presentation and in real life in the organizations I have belonged to most recently Veterans Peace Action where there are clots of guys who anguished over those kinds of decisions that young people, young soldiers are forced to deal  just like Tim O’Brian had had to do. It may be hard for the couple of generations that have now come of age since Vietnam time to fathom what EVERY young male had to go through back then even those who were gung-ho to go. Draft refusal, going to Canada or Sweden, going to jail, going to the stockade, faking all kind of injuries that would make one 4-F (unfit for military duty) some of them pretty gruesome, faking mental disorders,. faking homosexuality then a way out, scrambling to get into National Guard or Armed Forces Reserved units. I could go on but you get the picture, decisions all around the subject. So plenty of similar stories and regrets. After the service, after the fact. That was my case and the case of all the North Adamsville corner boys, real and honorary, everybody except beautiful and righteous Frank Jackman was did refuse to go, who let his conscience and maybe a few generations of hard won integrity and thoughtfulness DNA guide his decisions. A little balls too as we used to say back in the day when somebody did some action worthy of such a note, jail time always a qualifier, once he had orders to do so, to report to Fort Lewis for transit to Vietnam.     

Now we all know, and if the reader doesn’t then a run though this ten-part Burns-Novack series will enlighten you to the fact, that during the American portion of the war, the American War as the Vietnamese rightly called it, every and I mean every young man had a decision to make, consciously or unconsciously, about what to do about his participation in the war machine. Like I said above some refused the draft, some went to Canada, some filed and received civilian conscientious objector status of some kind, some when in the service went AWOL, and a lot of other things. Maybe Burns could have spent more time on those anguishing decisions and on the resistance in the military itself especially after Tet, 1968. A few, and Frank Jackman was one of them, were of that small, small as against a couple of million man army, category of military resister. Went in like the rest of us did but at some point said no-no to Vietnam, no to the killing the rest of us, anti-war and pro-war, proud of service or not, have spent the rest of our lives trying to square up. Funny because of all the guys who hung around the corner one would have expected the wild man Scribe, Markin, to have been a resister if anybody was. Still Frank Jackman’s story can serve as a very graphic example of the anguish of the generation of ’68.

If you noticed the headline to this piece there is a reference to the War Class of 1969. That is because everyone who I have mentioned here from North Adamsville to Fulton County, Georgia, including myself, served in the military during that fateful year, the year after Tet proved to all who cared to see, all who had anything but a hidebound refusal to see, that the war, the American war once again as the Vietnamese correctly called it, was unwinnable. Meaning that those who served in say 1969, who were the grunts, the “cannon fodder” were serving for no reasonable reason except as we learned later through The Pentagon Papers and other Freedom of Information documents governmental hubris. Only the names changed throughout the changes in government the hubris remained until almost the very end. They, we, all served and forevermore called ourselves the class of 1969. That class included one soldier, Frank Jackman, who did not serve in Vietnam but who will forevermore also be a member of that class of 1969.

Frank Jackman had had orders to report to Fort Lewis in Washington for transit to Vietnam and through a rather long process including stockade time refused to go. We would often talk, we still do although not when Frank is around because he like a ton of Vietnam era guys, military guys, don’t like to talk about those times even if he was righteous and as courageous as anybody who went to death trap Vietnam, about how Frank out of the almost dozen guys was the one guy who refused to go, refused to righteously go despite no support at home and no history of there being anything like it done in his town, my town, our collective clot of towns, before. Frank was not a leader among the North Adamsville corner boys like Frankie Riley or the Scribe but a sideliner, a guy who was as comfortable with a book as a jimmy for those infamous midnight creeps. (Everybody, all hands, except the Scribe who planned many of the creeps but who was totally incompetent to carry them out participated in every caper on principal-or would have gotten the boot.) Make no mistake he had imbibed, believed all of the stuff us other guys did about duty, patriotism and the like but there was something of the quietude in him that spoke of something more, or maybe as he pointed out when we discussed it later, that was so much eyewash.

Frank like all the others accepted induction in his case after he finished college in 1968 and received his draft notice to report in January 1969 (he had received four years of deferment for going to college standard at the time dependent on decent grades but in a way the kiss of death for the army with smart civilian citizens mixed in with the usual high school graduates and drop-outs). It was about after three days down in Fort Gordon for basic training far from home that he realized that he had made a mistake, that he should have refused induction. Being isolated down in the South he waited until he got back home after receiving order to Vietnam as an infantryman to decide what to do in August 1969. (Yes, the August 1969 when half a million other kids, boys and girls, were like lemmings to the sea to Woodstock nation and good luck.)

All he knew was that the war was over for him. He made his way over to Cambridge and the Quaker Meeting House where they were offering G.I. counselling for those who were military refuse-niks. For years the anti-war movement had bene centered on draft resistance and maybe rightly so but as the years rolled on and the number of Frank-like guys started needing help organizations like the Friends expanded their operation. There was a political component to it as well since protesting government policy was leading up a blind alley and if the natural objective of the anti-war was to stop the war then they had to get to the troops. Get down in the mud at the base and stop depending on some politician-savior to break the fall, to half-heartedly call the whole thing dust in the eyes.  

Through the counselling process plans were outlined, options presented the most reasonable given Frank’s situation was for him to go absent without leave (AWOL) for more than thirty days which would leave him dropped from the rolls out in Fort Lewis (AWOL a chargeable offense itself although pretty far down on the totem pole of penalties) and then turn himself to the nearest local fort, Fort Devens about forty miles from Boston to put in an application for status as a conscientious objector. A strategy while outlined which was aided by assigning him a pro bone civilian lawyer. (Not all G.I.s sought, desired, or received civilian lawyers partially because so few of them were familiar with the arcane Code of Military Justice but the way Frank presented himself, presented the case they thought he could use good legal advice and make some splash. That turned out to be true on all counts.)  
As that time conscientious objector status for those who were actually in the military was rare, very rare, and in due course he was turned down although at every level those who interviewed him believed he was sincere which would help him later when he got to civilian federal court. By a stroke of luck, and a good attorney, he was able to get his case into the federal court in Boston along with a temporary restraining order to keep him in the jurisdiction of the court. (The stroke of luck was getting a notoriously conservative judge to see that Frank had a case in civilian court that he could win. That too would come in handy later. But that was only the surface, the technical stuff.)            

That is where that idea of whatever Frank had inside him, whatever grit the generations had left in his DNA came to the fore. He decided that he would no longer play the soldier and so one Monday morning when the weekly formation came up he walked onto the parade field in civilian clothing and a sign “Bring the boys home.” Immediately a couple of lifer sergeants grabbed him and that started his road to the stockade. He would eventually serve two six month sentences for refusing to obey orders to wear the uniform. For years he would make the few people he told his story to laugh when he told them that if the federal court had not granted his writ of habeas corpus he might still be in that stockade he was so determined to fight the bastards to the end. So maybe that story should have gotten some play, or stories like that when Ken Burns was trying to tie the knot around what the whole thing meant. Might have thought twice, as a civilian, about a remark attributed to him about “war being in the DNA of the human species and hence all beyond the pale, all doomed to bloody up the world and let untold number lay down their heads for some stupid cause. Still and all Frank belongs in that small cohort of the war class of 1969 as some kind of beacon. That says it all, all that needs to be said.