Monday, June 26, 2017

In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)






By Book Critic Zack James

To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe he truth, maybe just kicks, what he, or something associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, called the “beat” generation (beat of the drum, dead beat, dread beat, beaten down, beatified like saintly you take your pick of the meanings-hell they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the mean streets of New York, Chi town, North Beach in Frisco town) strictly second-hand. I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well. So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been there, being an understanding there at the creation.         

Of course anytime you talk about books and add my brother Alex’s name in that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh, still alive recently had me put together tribute book for in connection with the Summer of Love, 1967.  Markin was the vanguard guy who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. Some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before (and which nobody in the crowd paid attention to, or dismissed out of hand in those cold, hungry cultural days) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet, William Burroughs and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation but of a very different world. But above all Jack’s book, Jack’s book which had caused a big splash in 1957 and had ripple effects into the early 1960s (and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple and hard part). Had to spend some time thinking through the path of life by hitting the road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.     

Like I said above Alex was out two years and other guys from a few months to a few years. Markin started first but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely end.  With maybe this difference from today’s young. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly from hunger working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little “from hunger” takes a big tool on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys then, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley the “Scribe” fromteh time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then although nobody in their right minds would have Markin actually execute the plan that was for Frankie to lead. That was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduces some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into, still doesn’t, that genre despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out.) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using a term from the times could have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital.   


Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell a working class town very much like North Adamsville and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having my summertime blues. So it was through Markin via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.           

Saturday, June 24, 2017

English Pyscho-Ingrid Bergman’s “Gaslight” (1944)-A Film Review




DVD Review

By Sandy Salmon

Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotte n, 1944

Lowering gaslights (indicating pre-electric light times, 19th century times), strange noises from the attic and deep London fog which aids in nefarious work. All the ingredients for a full-blown old-time example of a suspense film without any gore or pyrotechnics. Oh yes, and a mad man obsessed by something which is driving him beyond the edges of rationality. This is what drives this first-rate classic Gaslight which garnered the beautiful and talented Ingrid Bergman last seen in this space playing the loyal wife, well kind of loyal wife, of Nazi-resister Victor Lazlo in the film Casablanca her first Oscar.          

Here’s why beyond her beauty and the depth of her performance in the part. Paula, Ms. Bergman’s role, is a sensitive and reserved young woman having had her famous opera singer aunt whom she lived with as a young girl murdered for unknown reasons. Paula follows in her footsteps or tries to. Then love enters the scene. The love of a pianist, Gregory, or whatever his real name was as we shall find out, played by Charles Boyer (whom I do not recall having mentioned in this space previously) who sweeps her off her feet. They marry and return (at his request) to the London house where Paula came of age.

Then the craziness begins. Craziness egged on by our boy Gregory who has an ulterior motive for attempting to undermine Paula’s sanity. A goodly portion of the film is spent on detailing the many vulgar and nefarious ways Gregory plays out his hand. He almost had her over the edge (with help from that noise in the attic, the London fog and those damn flickering gaslights-and a little help by the snooty housemaid played by a very young Angela Lansbury).     


Naturally this torture can’t, or won’t, go on forever, because of a chance encounter with one Inspector Cameron, played by Joseph Cotton, last seen in this space hunting down like a dog his old friend Harry Lyme in Vienna who had gone over his own deep end. The Inspector had been an admirer of Paula’s aunt as a child and wondered about the craziness going on between Paula and Gregory. Once he stepped in you knew it was curtains for the dastardly Gregory. Yeah, the mad monk Gregory had in his younger “wanting” habits days killed the aunt with the idea of grabbing her precious jewels and living the high life instead of being a stumblebum pianist for budding students. The whole ruse was to get control of that London house so he could grab the jewels hidden somewhere up in the attic in peace. All he will get in the end will be the hangman’s noose. A little loose in places and some of Ms. Bergman’s emoting seemed overdrawn but a very good suspense film without like I said gore or bells and whistles.          
A Ghost Of A Chance-Gene Tierney And Rex Harrison’s “The Ghost And Mrs. Muir” (1947)-A Film Review




DVD Review

By Film Critic Sandy Salmon

The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, starring Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, 1947

Excuse the jokey headline for this review but it rather concisely makes the point about what will happen in this film under review director Joseph Mankiewicz’s film adaptation of R.A Dick’s novel The Ghost And Mrs. Muir. After all if you want to have film about the relationship, a quasi-romantic relationship between a young widow and a long gone sea captain then you have to draw the conclusion that such a relationship cannot be consummated this side of the grave.    

Despite the obvious problems that one must overcome to suspend disbelieve in order cheer on a happy ending this is a quality film from the time when the lead actors Gene Tierney who plays Mrs. Muir (last seen in this space being hunted by a smitten detective played by Dana Andrews and a compulsive/obsessive older man played by Clifton Webb with murder and lust in his heart in the classic film Laura) and Rex Harrison who played the deceased Captain Gregg (last seen here chasing evil-doing Nazis for His Majesty in The Last Train To Munich) were emerging as major stars.     

As to the problems well Captain Gregg ran afoul of the pitfalls of being on land and not at the friendly sea and died in an accident. Mrs. Muir after years of being under the thumb of her late husband’s family decided to make a jailbreak from that scene. She wound up at the ocean-side town where the good Captain was killed and where he was currently in ghostly residence at his “haunted” house trying to keep the flux of turnover tenants from staying. He was rather easily able to scare the wits out of all previous dwellers but Mrs. Muir, along with her daughter, was made of sterner stuff. Therefore there will be a test of wills, an unequal test as it turned out, after they declared a truce (and after they were half in love with each other which you could see would be a problem given their respective conditions). And after the good Captain seeing that Mrs. Muir needed real life love lets her go and pursue love left the house for parts unknown.     


Obviously the lonely Mrs. Muir wanted and needed love, or thought she did but she ran in the wrong direction out once she had a real live gentleman caller, one Uncle Neddy. She was ready to go to the altar with him except for one little problem. She found out that this cad, played by George Sanders, was already married. Once burned she decided to leave the romance business alone. After that rude awakening the rest of the film details her growing older and more pensive alone. Growing older until her own end when the Captain returned and they were reunited that side of the grave. The woman friend I saw this one with called it a “chick flick” although I don’t think that term was used back in the 1940s. But it fits.       
When Lady Day Chased The Blues Away-“The Quintessential Billie Holiday (Volume 3-1936-37) 




CD Review

By Music Critic Seth Garth

The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Volume 3, 1936-37

Everybody, at least the everybodies who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, had at least heard the sad life story and junkie death of the legendary blue singer Billie Holiday. Knew that information either from having read her biography, the liner notes on her records (vinyl for those who have not become hip to the beauties of that old-fashion way to produce recordings), newspaper obituaries, or from the 1970s film starring Diana Ross (lead singer of Motown’s Supremes). So everybody knew that Lady Day (I believe that the Prez, the great saxophonist Lester Young, who backed her on many recordings and in many a venue gave her that name and it fit her as did that eternal flower in her hair) had come up the hard way, had had a hard time with men in her life and had plenty of trouble with junk, with heroin.      

Yeah, that is the sad part, the life and times part. But if you listen to this CD under review, the third volume in the series you will also know why in the first part of the 21st century guys like me are still reviewing her work, still haunted by that voice, by that meaningful pause between notes that carried you to a different place, kept your own blues at bay. That last statement is really what I want to hone in on here since Billie Holiday is an acquired taste, and a taste which grows on you as you settle in to listen to whole albums rather than a single selection. Here is my god’s honest truth though. Many a blue night when I was young, hell, now too, I would play Billie for hours and my own silly blues would kind of evaporate. Nice right. Here is the not nice part. Once a few years ago I was talking to some young people about Billie and they, maybe under the influence of the film or from their disapproving parents, kind of wrote her off as just another junkie gone to seed. I shocked them, I think, when I said if I had had the opportunity I would have given Billie all the dope she wanted just for taking my own blues   away. That is why we still listen to that sultry, slinky, sexy voice today. 


Is everything in this CD or in her overall work the cat’s meow. No, toward the end in the 1950s you can tell her voice was hanging by a thread under the strain of all her troubles, legal and medical. But in the 1930s, the time of her time, covering Tin Pan Alley songs which seem to have almost been written just for her she had that certain “it” which cannot be defined but only accepted, accepted gratefully. Check out Pennies From Heaven and I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm and you will get an idea of what I am talking about.     
When Rock And Roll Rocked The Known World-John Lennon’s Rock And 
Roll-A CD Review





CD Review 

By Josh Breslin

Rock And Roll, John Lennon, 1974-5

I really wish my long departed old friend, Peter Paul Markin, met in San Francisco in the Summer of Love, 1967 could have reviewed this CD. He was just enough older than me at the time to have been able to appreciate the influence that the classic age of rock and roll, what he calculated as between 1955 and 1965, had on a poor street tough (just look at the cover and you will see what I mean) from the depths of Liverpool had on John Lennon. Made me appreciate this stuff that growing up in Podunk Maine I was not really that familiar with at the time. See Markin (everybody called him the Scribe when he was growing up poor on the tough streets of America but I knew him first under the moniker the Be-Bop Kid on that first long ago meeting) came to his blessed rock and roll music the same way. Let the beat seep into his brain just like Lennon.

While Markin had no particular musical skills he had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of what rocked his kindred on those mean streets (and not just the denizens of the mean streets either). What Markin also knew was that along with the quintessential American black-centered blues that rock and roll was being revered and played in the back alleys of England long after those genre were being by-passed by what Markin called the musical counter-revolution that got sprung on the teenage world in the late 1960s and would not be broken through until guys like John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards crossed the Atlantic in the British invasion of the mid-1960s.       


So what you have with this production is John Lennon, post-Beatle John Lennon, going back to the roots. Going back to what kick started his young street tough brain. Are the individual songs performed here the best covers ever done on the classics from the 1950s. No. Does this production even in remastered form give uniformly quality values. No. Does this thing make you want to get up and dance even in your shadowed AARP-worthy life. You bet. Yeah, Markin would have given you why and what for on individual covers like Be-Bop-A-Lula, Stand Be Me, and Sweet Little Sixteen and told you to grab this thing with all your hands as a prime example of what it was like when people played rock and roll for keeps. I agree. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

For The Late Rosalie Sorrels-Our Mother, The Mountain- The Traditional Mountain Music Of Jean Ritchie



If I Could Be The Rain I Would Be Rosalie Sorrels-The Legendary Folksinger-Songwriter Has Her Last Go Round At 83

By Music Critic Bart Webber

Back the day, back in the emerging folk minute of the 1960s that guys like Sam Lowell, Si Lannon, Josh Breslin, the late Peter Paul Markin and others were deeply immersed in all roads seemed to lead to Harvard Square with the big names, some small too which one time I made the subject of a series, or rather two series entitled respectively Not Bob Dylan and Not Joan Baez about those who for whatever reason did not make the show over the long haul, passing through the Club 47 Mecca and later the Café Nana and Club Blue, the Village down in NYC, North Beach out in San Francisco, and maybe Old Town in Chicago. Those are the places where names like Baez, Dylan, Paxton, Ochs, Collins and a whole crew of younger folksingers, some who made it like Tom Rush and Joni Mitchell and others like Eric Saint Jean and Minnie Murphy who didn’t, like  who all sat at the feet of guys like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger got their first taste of the fresh breeze of the folk minute, that expression courtesy of the late Markin, who was among the first around to sample the breeze.

(I should tell you here in parentheses so you will keep it to yourselves that the former three mentioned above never got over that folk minute since they will still tell a tale or two about the times, about how Dave Van Ronk came in all drunk one night at the Café Nana and still blew everybody away, about catching Paxton changing out of his Army uniform when he was stationed down at Fort Dix  right before a performance at the Gaslight, about walking down the street Cambridge with Tom Rush just after he put out No Regrets/Rockport Sunday, and about affairs with certain up and coming female folkies like the previously mentioned Minnie Murphy at the Club Nana when that was the spot of spots. Strictly aficionado stuff if you dare go anywhere within ten miles of the subject with any of them -I will take my chances here because this notice, this passing of legendary Rosalie Sorrels a decade after her dear friend Utah Phillips is important.)

Those urban locales were certainly the high white note spots but there was another important strand that hovered around Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, up around Skidmore and some of the other upstate colleges. That was Caffe Lena’s, run by the late Lena Spenser, a true folk legend and a folkie character in her own right, where some of those names played previously mentioned but also where some upstarts from the West got a chance to play the small crowds who gathered at that famed (and still existing) coffeehouse. Upstarts like the late Bruce “Utah” Phillips (although he could call several places home Utah was key to what he would sing about and rounded out his personality). And out of Idaho one Rosalie Sorrels who just joined her long-time friend Utah in that last go-round at the age of 83.

Yeah, came barreling like seven demons out there in the West, not the West Coast west that is a different proposition. The West I am talking about is where what the novelist Thomas Wolfe called the place where the states were square and you had better be as well if you didn’t want to starve or be found in some empty arroyo un-mourned and unloved. A tough life when the original pioneers drifted westward from Eastern nowhere looking for that pot of gold or at least some fresh air and a new start away from crowded cities and sweet breathe vices. A tough life worthy of song and homage. Tough going too for guys like Joe Hill who tried to organize the working people against the sweated robber barons of his day (they are still with us as we are all now very painfully and maybe more vicious than their in your face forbear)Struggles, fierce down at the bone struggles also worthy of song and homage. Tough too when your people landed in rugged beautiful two-hearted river Idaho, tried to make a go of it in Boise, maybe stopped short in Helena but you get the drift. A different place and a different type of subject matter for your themes than lost loves and longings.  

Rosalie Sorrels could write those songs as well, as well as anybody but she was as interested in the social struggles of her time (one of the links that united her with Utah) and gave no quarter when she turned the screw on a lyric. The last time I saw Rosalie perform in person was back in 2002 when she performed at the majestic Saunders Theater at Harvard University out in Cambridge America at what was billed as her last go-round, her hanging up her shoes from the dusty travel road. (That theater complex contained within the Memorial Hall dedicated to the memory of the gallants from the college who laid down their heads in that great civil war that sundered the country. The Harvards did themselves proud at collectively laying down their heads at seemingly every key battle that I am aware of when I look up at the names and places. A deep pride runs through me at those moments)

Rosalie Sorrels as one would expect on such an occasion was on fire that night except the then recent death of another folk legend, Dave Von Ronk, who was supposed to be on the bill (and who was replaced by David Bromberg who did a great job banging out the blues unto the heavens) cast a pall over the proceedings. I will always remember the crystal clarity and irony of her cover of her classic Old Devil Time that night -yeah, give me one more chance, one more breathe. But I will always think of If I Could Be The Rain and thoughst of washing herself down to the sea whenever I hear her name. RIP Rosalie Sorrels 



CD REVIEW

Mountain Hearth And Home, Jean Ritchie, Rhino Handmade, 2004

The last time that the name of traditional mountain folk singer Jean Ritchie was mentioned in this space was as part of the lineup in Rosalie Sorrel’s last concert at Harvard University that spawned a CD, “The Last Go-Round”. At that concert she, as usual, she performed, accompanied by her sweet dulcimer, the mountain music particularly the music that she learned in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky and that she has been associated with going back at least to the early 1960’s. Here, in the CD under review, “Mountain Hearth and Home”, we get a wide range of those traditional mountain songs from those parts that provide something for every palate.

The songs, simple songs of the mountains that befit a simple folk with simple lyrics, chords and instrumentation representing what was at hand, many of which have their genesis back in the hills of Scotland and Ireland, never fail to evoke a primordial response in this listener. The songs speak of the longings created by those isolated spaces; and, occasionally of those almost eternal thoughts of love, love thwarted, love gone wrong or love disappearing without a trace. Or songs of the hard life of the mountains whether it is the hard scrabble to make a life from the rocky farmland that will not give forth without great struggle or of the mines, the coal mines that in an earlier time (and that are making a comeback now) represented a key energy source for a growing industrial society. Many a tale here centers on the trails and tribulations of the weary, worked out mines and miners. Add in some country lullabies, some religiously- oriented songs representing the fundamental Protestant ethic that drove these people and some Saturday dancing and drinking songs and you have a pretty good feel for the range of experience out there in the hills, hollows and ravines of Eastern Kentucky.

Several time over the past year or so I have mentioned, as part of my remembrances of my youth and of my political and familial background, that my father was a coal miner and the son of a coal miner in the hills of Hazard, Kentucky (a town mentioned in a couple of the songs here) in the heart of Appalachia. I have also mentioned that he was a child of the Great Depression and of World War II. He often joked that in a choice between digging the coal and taking his chances in war he much preferred the latter. Thus, it was no accident that when war came he volunteered for the Marines and, as fate would have it despite a hard, hard life after the war, he never looked back to the mines or the hills. Still this music flowed in his veins, and, I guess, flows in mine.

My Boy Willie

Traditional

Notes: This song has the exact same tunes as the song "The Butcher Boy" and is of a similar theme.


It was early, early in the spring
my boy Willie went to serve the king
And all that vexed him and grieved his mind
was the leaving of his dear girl behind.

Oh father dear build me a boat
that on the ocean I might float
And hail the ships as they pass by
for to inquire of my sailor boy.

She had not sailed long in the deep
when a fine ship's crew she chanced to meet
And of the captain she inquired to
"Does my boy Willie sail on board with you?"

"What sort of a lad is your Willie fair?
What sort of clothes does your Willie wear?"
"He wears a coat of royal blue,
and you'll surely know him for his heart is true".

"If that's your Willie he is not here.
Your Willie's drowned as you did fear.
'Twas at yonder green island as we passed by,
it was there we lost a fine sailor boy".

Go dig my grave long wide and deep,
put a marble stone at my head and feet.
And in the middle, a turtle dove.
So the whole world knows that I died of love.

"The L & N Don't Stop Here Anymore"

When I was a curly headed baby
My daddy sat me down on his knee
He said, "son, go to school and get your letters,
Don't you be a dusty coal miner, boy, like me."

[Chorus:]
I was born and raised at the mouth of hazard hollow
The coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
But now they stand in a rusty row all empty
Because the l & n don't stop here anymore

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With script enough to buy the company store
But now he goes to town with empty pockets
And his face is white as a February snow

[Chorus]

I never thought I'd learn to love the coal dust
I never thought I'd pray to hear that whistle roar
Oh, god, I wish the grass would turn to money
And those green backs would fill my pockets once more

[Chorus]

Last night I dreamed I went down to the office
To get my pay like a had done before
But them ol' kudzu vines were coverin' the door
And there were leaves and grass growin' right up through the floor

[Chorus]


Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies

Come all ye fair and tender ladies
Take warning how you court your men
They're like a star on a summer morning
They first appear and then they're gone

They'll tell to you some loving story
And they'll make you think that they love you well
And away they'll go and court some other
And leave you there in grief to dwell

I wish I was on some tall mountain
Where the ivy rocks were black as ink
I'd write a letter to my false true lover
Whose cheeks are like the morning pink

I wish I was a little sparrow
And I had wings to fly so high
I'd fly to the arms of my false true lover
And when he'd ask, I would deny

Oh love is handsome, love is charming
And love is pretty while it's new
But love grows cold as love grows older
And fades away like morning dew

"BLACK IS THE COLOUR"

Black is the colour of my true love's hair
Her lips are like some roses fair
She's the sweetest face and the gentlest hands
I love the ground wheron she stands

I love my love and well she knows
I love the ground whereon she goes
But some times I whish the day will come
That she and I will be as one

Black is the colour of my true love's hair
Her lips are like some roses fair
She's the sweetest face and the gentlest hands
I love the ground wheron she stands

I walk to the Clyde for to mourn and weep
But satisfied I never can sleep
I'll write her a letter, just a few short lines
And suffer death ten thousand times

Black is the colour of my true love's hair
Her lips are like some roses fair
She's the sweetest face and the gentlest hands
I love the ground wheron she stands

Blue Diamond Mines

I remember the ways in the bygone days
when we was all in our prime
When us and John L. we give the old man hell
down in the Blue Diamond Mine

Well the whistle would blow 'for the rooster crow
full two hours before daylight
When a man done his best and earned his good rest
at seven dollars a night

In the mines in the mines
in the Blue Diamond Mines
I worked my life away
In the mines in the mines
In the Blue Diamond Mines
I fall on my knees and pray.

You old black gold you've taken my lung
your dust has darkened my home
And now I am old and you've turned your back
where else can an old miner go


Well it's Algomer Block and Big Leather Woods
now its Blue Diamond too
The bits are all closed get another job
what else can an old miner do?


Now the union is dead and they shake their heads
well mining has had it's day
But they're stripping off my mountain top
and they pay me eight dollars a day


Now you might get a little poke of welfare meal
get a little poke of welfare flour
But I tell you right now your won't qualify
'till you work for a quarter an hour.
For The Late Rosalie Sorrels-In Honor Of Lena Spencer- Caffé Lena And Saratoga’s Folk Scene





If I Could Be The Rain I Would Be Rosalie Sorrels-The Legendary Folksinger-Songwriter Has Her Last Go Round At 83 (June 2017)

By Music Critic Bart Webber

Back the day, back in the emerging folk minute of the 1960s that guys like Sam Lowell, Si Lannon, Josh Breslin, the late Peter Paul Markin and others were deeply immersed in all roads seemed to lead to Harvard Square with the big names passing through the Club 47 Mecca and later the Café Nana and Club Blue, the Village down in NYC, North Beach out in San Francisco, and maybe Old Town in Chicago. That is where names like Baez, Dylan, Paxton, Ochs, Collins and a whole crew of younger folksingers who sat at the feet of guys like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger got their first taste of the fresh breeze of the folk minute (that expression courtesy of the late Markin, who was among the first around to sample the breeze. (I should tell you here in parentheses so you will keep it to yourselves that the former three mentioned above never got over that folk minute since they will still tell a tale or two about the times, about how Dave Van Ronk came in all drunk one night at the Café Nana and still blew everybody away, about catching Paxton changing his Army uniform when he was stationed down at Fort Dix  right before a performance at the Gaslight, about walking down the street Cambridge with Tom Rush just after he put out No Regrets/Rockport Sunday, and about affairs with certain up and coming female folkies at the Club Nana when that was the spot of spots. Strictly aficionado stuff if you go anywhere within ten miles of the subject with any of them -I will take my chances here because this notice, this passing of legendary Rosalie Sorrels a decade after her dear friend Utah Phillips is important)

Those urban locales were the high white note spots but there was another important strand that hovered around Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, up around Skidmore and some other colleges. That was Caffe Lena’s, run by the late Lena Spenser, a true folk legend and character in her own right, where some of those names played but also where some upstarts from the West got a chance to play the small crowds who gathered at that famed (and still existing) coffeehouse. Upstarts like Bruce “Utah” Phillips (although he could call several places home Utah was key to what he would sing about and rounded out his personality. And out of Idaho one Rosalie Sorrels who just joined her long-time friend Utah in that last go-round at the age of 83.

Yeah, out there in the West, not the West Coast west that is different, where what the novelist Thomas Wolfe called the place where the states were square and you had better be as well if you didn’t want to starve or be found in some empty arroyo un-mourned and unloved. A tough life when the original pioneers drifted westward from Eastern nowhere looking for that pot of gold or at least some fresh air and a new start away from crowded cities and sweet breathe vices. Tough going for guys like Joe Hill who tried to organize the working people against the sweated robber barons of his day (they are still with us as we are all now very painfully and maybe more vicious than their in your face forbear)Tough too when you landed in rugged beautiful two-hearted river Idaho, tried to make a go of it in Boise, maybe stopped short in Helena but you get the drift. A different place and a different type of subject matter for your themes.  

The last time I saw Rosalie perform in person was back in 2002 when she performed at what was billed as her last go-round, her hanging up her shoes from the dusty travel road. She was on fire that night except the then recent death of another folk legend, Dave Von Ronk, who was supposed to be on the bill (and who was replaced by David Bromberg who did a great job) cast a pall over the proceedings. I will always remember her cover of her classic Old Devil Time that night -yeah, give me one more chance, one more breathe. But I will always think of If I Could Be The Rain whenever I hear her name. RIP Rosalie Sorrels

     


Caffé Lena, Kate McGarrigle and various artists, directed by Stephen Trombley, Miramar Production, 1991

I know of the work of, and have reviewed in this space, the late Utah Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels, obviously Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, The McGarrigle family, David Bromberg and many of the other “singing” heads that populate this tribute documentary or found their way to Café Lena’s. Lena Spencer, owner, operator (and, from all accounts off-hand fairy godmother), through thick and thin, as thoroughly documented here , of Saratoga’s Café Lena was the impresario of the upstate New York’s booming 1960s folk scene. So there is a certain sense of déjà vu in viewing this film. This documentary film was probably as much about our youthful dreams and ambitions (and that hard musical road, although voluntarily chosen) as it was a tribute to Lena.

I know Saratoga and its environs well and if New York City’s Greenwich Village and Cambridge’s Harvard Square are better known in the 1960s folk revival geography that locale can serve as the folk crowd’s summer watering hole (and refuge from life’s storms all year round). From the descriptions of the café ‘s lifestyle and of the off-beat personality of Lena it also was a veritable experiment in ad hoc communal living). The folkies that did find found refuge there have been interesting behind- the- scenes stories to tell about Len that make this a very nice slice of history of the folk revival of the 1960s.

A special note to kind of bring us full circle. My first CD review of folksinger Rosalie Sorrels and the late Utah Phillips combined works together, who are highlighted in this documentary along with Kate and Anna McGarrigle, mentioned a spark of renewed recognition kindled on my part by the famous folk coffee house “The Café Lena” in Saratoga Springs, New York. Thus, it is rather fitting that Rosalie performs Utah’s “If I Could Be The Rain” and Utah his “Starlight On The Rails” here. Even more fitting are the McGarrigles performing their “Talk To Me Of Mendocino”, song composed in honor of Lena.

"Talk to Me of Mendocino"

written by Kate McGarrigle
© 1975 Garden Court Music (ASCAP)


I bid farewell to the state of old New York
My home away from home
In the state of New York I came of age
When first I started roaming
And the trees grow high in New York State
And they shine like gold in the autumn
Never had the blues from whence I came
But in New York State I got 'em

Talk to me of Mendocino
Closing my eyes I hear the sea
Must I wait
Must I follow
Won't you say come with me

And it's on to South Bend, Indiana
Flat out on the western plain
Rise up over the Rockies
And down on into California
Out to where but the rocks again
And let the sun set on the ocean
I will watch it from the shore
Let the sun rise over the redwoods
I'll rise with it till I rise no more

Talk to me of Mendocino
Closing my eyes I hear the sea
Must I wait
Must I follow
Won't you say come with me