Friday, October 21, 2016

The Gang That Couldn’t Rob Straight-Owen Wilson's Masterminds

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Masterminds, starring Owen Wilson, 2016

Sometimes when a friend recommends a film it turns out to be a dud, turns out to be less than expected and in the case of the film under review, Masterminds, make that much less than expected considering the cast. Makes one wonder why a great comedic actor like Owen Wilson took the job, took the chance to work on a funky film that had a chance to go in one of two directions, a straight line comic look at a true story or a farce that bombed. It took the latter. The direction toward the farcical led the vehicle astray when all is said and done.  

Here is the skinny, here is why the title of this piece can be called the gang that couldn’t shoot straight taking a page from an old Jimmy Breslin book. The story line based on a true incident about the doings around one of the great cash robberies in banking history, the Loomis heist in North Carolina 1997 for seventeen big ones-17 mil, okay not chicken feed then nor now. David Scott Ghantt, a security guard on a Lommis armored truck was hook-winked, no make that bewitched and bewildered by his sexy armored truck partner, Kelly, who had walked  out on the job over some harassment. A while later she wound up working hand and hand with a low-life short end of the stick criminal Steve, played by Wilson, who wants her to con, I am being kind here since this is a family sensitive outlet, David into being the inside man on a big heist of the company’s loot. David balked at first but Kelly lured him with her charms despite the fact he was two minutes to midnight away from getting married to another woman.        

The heist was a piece of cake for an inside job and David was told to lay low in Mexico until the coast was clear. The false lure was Kelly joining him soon, yeah, soon. The idea Steve thought though was that David was to get the short end of the straw, was the odd man out as he, Steve, was not going to share the dough with anybody but his loving wife and two unlovable kids. Meanwhile David was still forlornly expecting Kelly to join him in Mexico. Sucker. Double sucker because Steve threw the Feds onto him and he led them a merry chase before he got wise to what Steve, and Kelly, were up to. Steve in a panic, putting greed before good sense ordered a hit on David by a screwball hit man who couldn’t hit right-as was to be expected. They wind up switching same identities (it’s a long unfunny story so just go along with me) so that David wound up at Steve’s over-the-top mansion ready to get even. And he does in a way after the Feds got definitive proof that low-life greedy Steve and not pure-heart David was the evil mastermind behind the caper. Steve did 11 years, David pure-heart drew seven and Kelly a bunch too. With that enticing story-line it was a shame that the film was marred with so many unfunny slapstick jokes, some much low-rent bathroom humor and such a waste of an obviously talented cast. Yeah, what was Owen Wilson thinking. Some day when they do a retrospective of his work this one will not be included, I hope.     

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Good Guys?-Ben Affleck’s The Accountant (2016)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendricks, John Lithgow, 2016         

Every once in a I check out more modern up to date films that strike my interest (normally I am stuck in a long-term project to revisit the black and white beauties from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s mostly suspense and noir), usually if venture into that territory it is on the recommendation of a fellow movie devotee or has a star that might carry the film if the plot gets bogged down (a recent example, the latest remake of The Magnificent Seven with Denzel Washington and an ensemble cast carry a thin plotline). The film under review, Ben Affleck’s The Accountant, is an example of the former and the friend was not mistaken not only in Mister Affleck’s compelling presence but the twists and turns of this thriller.              

Here’s why I thought it worth recommending. Chris Wolff, Ben Affleck’s role as the autistic child turned adult hit man extraordinaire who still suffered the heartache of that disability from his military father’s refusal to get him experimental help as a child. The old man thought that young Chris (and his brother) should “man up” and this was the result. Now hit man Chris was a mathematics exemplar and thus found himself working as an independent accountant hand and glove for whoever who paid the freight. And the guys who were willing to pay the freight were some of the most wretched criminals on the planet who were worried that somebody in their organizations were “cooking” the books. Chris did his work well, working with a voice who directed his actions (who that “voice” was you can find out if you watch the film I will never tell because, well, because I don’t want to be blown away by a methodical vengenceful autistic hit man whose code of honor I have offended)         

Of course when you are working hand and glove with the wickedest of the wicked the government, here the Treasury Department, would deem you a “person of interest”-if they could find you. Find you in the person of a senior G-man running a young black agent with a checkered past to do the serious finding they (really she) finds out who he is. But not before Chris has blown away half the thugs in the universe (he was offing them so quickly I couldn’t keep the body count). He finds out from the “voice” that the government is on his trail, that methodical young black female agent working her magic under extreme duress,   and told to cool it for a while.  

Naturally Chris does taking on a legitimate project to find out who is embezzling serious money from a high tech robotics company headed by Lamar Blackburn (played by John Lithgow). The cooked books were discovered by the company’s accountant Dana, played by Anna Kendricks, who was in over her head in trying to find the problem, a problem that needed to be solved quickly since the company was in the midst of an IPO which would bring the company billions. With those high stakes Chris’s finding the missing link drove the rest of the film and dramatically increased the body count. Guess who the guy was who was very interested in making sure his company’s IPO went off without a hitch. And guy who also had a very serious interest in keeping Chris from spilling the beans. And guess who the guy was who hired his own hitmen to keep things quiet. And guess who the hired hitman was. Yes, you can figure all that out now. Remember though what I said about the voice. See this one if you have a couple of free hours.              

When The Blues Was Dues-With Mississippi Goddam In Mind   


By Fritz Taylor


Sid Jenkins was not quite sure when he first be-bopped the blues, knowingly be-bopped the blues although it must have been in early childhood on some vagrant radio station that would come meandering into the family house on a wiry windy Saturday or Sunday night for out in the wilds of America, out in some be-bop heaven at least that what it sounded like, places called Chicago and Detroit, with programs like Be-Bop Benny Blues Hour and Sal Mann’s The Blues Is Dues Show but those were basically backdrop, renegade musical shows against the Frank Sinatra croon, the Bing Crosby pitter-patter, the Patti Page whatever, the Peggy Lee flame and the Rosemary Clooney “come on to my house” stuff. The stuff that had gotten his parents through the war, World War II worrying music for those slogging through the mud fields of Europe or like his father the island wars in the Pacific. That was the main music blaring over the radio before rock and roll landed its bombshell. (Landed its bomb shell but a dud when it came to family room air time since Mother Jenkins, and behind her Father Jenkins acting as surly rearguard against the degenerate devil’s music banished all such WMEX madness from her presence until God-sent transistor radios solved the problem and he could listen away from preying ears and only have to deal with a snotty-nosed roommate brother.)    

Maybe somewhere in that rock and roll mix he had heard a stray saxophone that went blazing in the night to round out the deep croon of Bill Haley’s romping around the clock. In fact he knew if only by intuition that some linkage placed the saxophone of some forlorn Benny Goodman musician played stepfather to that far-out brother when he reached for the big high white note. But so much for history. All he knew when he watched the doings on American Bandstand was that some curlicue guy in a rented tux was blowing that rif, that rif that came from deep inside the pit of his stomach looking to be fed to a closed in world, looking for that high white note that would blow right out to the Japan seas like that night in Frisco town back when he first started. Blasted the joint wide open (blasted that joint too courtesy of some heady chick in a tight cashmere sweater who was all promise and then disappeared in the night maybe had been blown out with that high white note in the Japan seas) throw caution to the wind that night even though his bandleader a guy working six, two and even said cool the wild boy stuff, this was strictly the suburbanite set out for a night of drink kicks. Liquor kicks and being able to say they were there the night Kenny somebody they didn’t remember the last name blew the high white note out into the Japan seas like they would even know the thing happened they were probably talking stock futures and the latest recipes when that blow they would read about it in the next day’s newspaper reported by some second-string guy who replaced Ralph somebody from the Hearst chain who had been too drunk to write up a real review and that second brother heard that high white, heard it right. Blew blues too, blew for Chilly Doone when he was coming up in as the next big thing from out of Decatur, Chilly the guy whose signature was “later Decatur” and had half a generation getting into the rhyming simon thing that Sid would get caught up with when that fad blasted down to the junior high set, blew the blues right into the sunlight flaming sky if you asked anybody who knew what was what in the big horn world.


Maybe it was some good old boy fugitive from some farm outside of Memphis who once the share crop was a dusted reality to the mega-corporation agri-farm decided that Gloversville, Riverdale, Carver, Adamsville was too square for his talents and headed to town to take his chances, and they were chances. Went down to Sam Phillips’ place, his record shop cum recording studio and blasted the joint to the ground. Those good old boys feasting on fisted-two dollars to Sam to keep them from those dusty moth-eaten shoes they left behind and try to hit it big like good old boy (or rather good young boy since he passed away at twenty-nine of, well, of hard living and hard loving not a bad way to go when you think about the alternative). Grabbed an old Les Paul-inspired guitar or some Sears rendition of the same, went and got a little juice for the machine (and another kind of juice for the head) and let it rip, let themselves put the rock in rockabilly hoping that some record company would grab Sam’s lapels and insist that they manage that good-looking, women-pleasing, suggestively hip-moving, hair all slicked back bad boy to fame and fortune. Guys like Warren Smith who claimed that rock and roll Ruby could only dance to satisfy her soul, Sonny Burgess getting worked up over red-headed women (and who wouldn’t when you saw her shake that thing, shake it good and hard too, Ray Perkins jack-knifing across the stage to his classic Fireball, Billy James going all out Rock My Baby Down. Strangely there was a little rif, a little something not learned from listening to the Grand Ole Opry when they were kids, something with a “Negro” beat, maybe picked up in passing the 12th Street Baptist Church and sneaking a hear, hearing something primal, sometime from our homeland Mother Africa and that guitar just jumped along twisting Hank and the boys for a while. And so it went as a whole generation of good old boys gave it hell while it lasted, hell, none of them were complaining since it got them off that freaking farm.                 

Maybe it was some exotic, exotic to a white bread Riverdale working poor (po’, okay if we are going down to the ground) from the Acre and never having seen a black person in the flesh until he went in Boston and got a who mix of people he never had seen out in the sticks, rhythm and blues beat dig up from the muds by guys like Big Joe, Sammy Sacks, Lenny Boy, Sonny Boy, Hi Hat McCoy and he kept wondering why he was snapping his fingers to the sway of say Big Joe telling his lady friend to shake that thing (of course by then Sid was aware, totally aware, of what that was command was suggesting) and digging the mood created. Dug that simple pitter-patter which reflected his own hard scrabble take on the world, on the hard to swallow fact that those down on the floor stayed on the floor and nobody gave a damn whether nobody ever got up on his or her hind legs and said the hell with it. Put plenty of time trying to put out the fire in his head that would not let him rest (and a million years later would wind up going through some crazed mantra trying to slow down, to rest, to be at peace to stop that self-same fire in his head that he could never extinguish for hell nor high water).              

Maybe, just maybe though, thinking back to that Mother Africa idea, that raw back beat that seemed to be in his head from baby-hood had joined him with dusty old sweated plantation workers hacking away their lives for Mister’s cotton, soy beans, peanuts, who come Saturday let Mister and his products go to hell and raised hell themselves down in Uncle Billy’s tavern (illegal of course since the place would pass no inspection even under Mister’s lax laws where Uncle Jim, Sleepy John somebody, Mississippi Fred, John, Joe or somebody, Tom from over in Clarksdale now but who grew up under Mister’s shadow would take out some old National steel guitar or, better, some Sears catalogue-ordered grand stand guitar and wail the night away for the folk, the folk swilling up Uncle Billy’s illegal, cutting up Harlem sunsets, and generally making a mess of things as that beat drove the night’s proceedings. Or more probably some late arriving traveler from Mister’s country heading up the river following some modern Northern star finding him or herself in some Maxwell Street gin mill his old plug-in guitar (showing a new complex of sound never heard down at Uncle Billy’s) handy after a day of sweated factory labor wailing hell out of the damn thing and the night away for the folk, the folk swilling up Uncle Billy’s illegal, cutting up Harlem sunsets, and generally making a mess of things as that beat drove the night’s proceedings. Hard to imagine such roots but how else explain that strange mix that drove Sid all his livelong life, that simple three chords and out.                     

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Once Again-Put Out That Fire In Your Head-With Patty Griffin’s "You Are Not Alone" In Mind

By Fritz Taylor

Sam Lowell didn’t know how the whirlwind hit him, how his long affair with Laura Perkins had hit bottom, had made her leave their home after so many years together (although “years together” unlike in prior generations was not the glue that held most modern marriages, most modern relationships together as Sam well knew from his own two failed marriages). Didn’t know that his inability to put out the fire in his head as he called it got rolled up into causing the break-up.  

Frankly, after Laura had gone and he had that lonesome nighttime to think about the whys and wherefores of how that whirlwind caught him flat-footed, he should have known that things were wrong, had gone freaking wrong and he didn’t have sense to pull back. But then that fire in his head wouldn’t let think straight, wouldn’t let him see what was right before his eyes-his inattention despite his assumption that he was attentive, his undervaluing Laura’s positive affect on his homely life and he not being at peace with himself had led to disaster.

Funny he thought one night, one night when the loss of Laura had hit him hard and he decided to have a few glasses of wine to fight his depression he had been several years before had been the one who said they could not continue on acting as essentially roommates ( that reintroduction to wine after a long period indifference to alcohol stemmed from a suggestion of Laura’s that they have a weekly “wine date” to just sit around and talk, talk foolish stuff or whatever was on their minds and he had bought into the idea without an argument). He remembered the day exactly since he and Laura were driving north up to Carlsbad on U.S. 5 from San Diego when Laura had made some off-hand surly remark, or he took it as surly not a word associated in his mind with fragile Laura, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He went off, started talking about how they had drifted apart, how they were not connecting anymore, and that things had to change or else they were headed for a split.   

What Laura did not know, or at least she did not say anything about it at the time, although she said plenty later when the flame hit the fan, was that Sam had been maneuvering his way around getting out of the relationship since he had struck up what seemed to him a breath of fresh air promising relationship with a fellow high school classmate, Melissa Loring, whom he had run into on social media around their mutual interest in their upcoming 50th class reunion from Riverdale High. In high school he had attempted to make a play for her but was told by a confidante (who had his own motives to give Sam disinformation) that she was “spoken for” something that meant something in the working class culture of the “Acre” section of Riverdale, and most of his friends had grown up with (only later to find out that “hands off” business was honored in the breech more than the observance) and so backed off. Melissa and he laughed when he told her that story and the treachery of that ill-fated confidante when she told him that guy had “hit” on her knowing very well she was not spoken for. In the end that budding reunion-driven affair did not lead anyway since Sam had backed off (and Melissa too once she saw the writing on the wall about Sam’s, what did he call it, soul-mate relationship with Laura) but it was a close thing, a very close thing.       

The price of peace after that Melissa upheaval was that Laura, after having plenty to say about his treachery which he accepted without grace but with the knowledge that something was seriously wrong with their relationship, had insisted that they go into couples counselling which Sam was in no position to deny although he was not much into the “touchy-feely” stuff that idea implied in his mind. In the event Sam actually believed that the counselling helped (it had been the source of that wine date idea and a few others that seemed very practical to help break the routine of their lives) and that he was being more responsive although he always had sneaking suspicion that Laura was still burned up about the Melissa affair, believed that was one of the hidden causes of this final break-up that was breaking his heart.    

Things were at times rough-edged but they got some real benefits and practical tips out of the experience (although Laura as they talked through the final break-up felt that the counsellor had “favored” him as a professional lawyer, a talker, over her as the quiet, reserved and fearful of talking that had been instilled in her by an overbearing alcoholic father). So they moved along made breakthroughs and had some defeats but Sam was committed to the process one hundred percent once he got over his New Age touchy-feely hang-up. Laura had always wanted to go to Paris and as part of the reconciliation process they planned a Paris trip about a year into their couples counselling. They had planned to see the museums they had so much about and through Air B&B rented a garret for their week there. Everything went well, went as well as could be expected given the vast travel and set-up and they enjoyed each other’s company immensely during their time there.

However about a week after they got back Laura lowered the boom on Sam for the first time, told him she wanted to leave (or for him to) and was on the verge of leaving when she came up with the idea that he should go to group counselling-or else He consented and amazed Laura with the speed with which he found a group and began getting some help. (Sam said that the couples counselling experience had opened him up more quickly and that he was “under the gun” and knew he was, knew that the fire in his head had brought him to another impasse.) That group experience, while not always directly beneficial since he did not open himself up on many occasions and he had also seen himself for a period as an “assistant” moderator to the professional psychologist running the group. Had not taken advantage of the occasion until as it turned out too late where he expressed his deepest feelings that he was not at peace with himself, had not sought the needed rest of an aging man, was filled with unresolved inner turmoil, and had not put out the fire in his head.  

Sam continued in the group for most of a year as he had committed himself to do in his agreement with Laura when summer came and they took their usual Maine seaside vacation. Again they had a great time. Then a week or so later  lowered the final boom (There might be something to it if the reader gets the idea that Laura had some issues around her own paths to happiness or unhappiness but this story is about the fire in Sam’s head not Laura’s). She had determined that she would not back down with her desire to leave this time. Said among other things that her always fragile heath was being affected by the tensions of late in the household and that she though Sam was part of the reason for those problems. This cut Sam to the quick, began that process of self-examination in earnest about the fire in his head    

Sam tried for the month they still had left together before she finally packed her bags and left to let her words about him not being at peace with himself, not growing old gracefully, and that he should not have spent so much time trying to please her in good ways, and some frankly silly ways which he recognized once she pointed out the episodes that had upset her in the recent past. He recognized that some of her points were valid, had something to them. The kicker though was that she since her retirement Laura had tried to find out who she was, what she was to do meaningfully with the rest of her life, to find some spiritual balance, and to live more in the present. So a lot of what anguished her about her own plight was exacerbated by Sam’s problems, with his restlessness. Laura had always been close to the New Age remedies being offered by the Cambridge crowd that lived and died by some such therapies. Of late she had been doing what amounted to spiritual acupuncture which she claimed had both released positive physical energies and had made her more aware of what she did not want. Said Sam should look into the possibilities of that therapy to help him find his way, help him whatever search was driving him to distraction, and maybe, just maybe help put out in the fire in his head.                       

Sam had turned seventy earlier in the year we are chronicling, an age unlike others which represented to him a certain definitive milestone, a negative milestone (remembering the biblical three score and twenty) in that his health had taken an unexpected turn for the worse. He had always considered himself a healthy person but a whole series of pokings and proddings by several doctors and their prescribed medications had sent him in a tailspin. The cluster of medications had actually turned him a bit off-center, had made him grumpy and distraught and he knew it, although that knowledge had come too late once he decided to check out the value of the medications for what ailed him. Got taken off a couple as counter-productive. Obviously with a decline in health, the aging process, thoughts of his own mortality began to plague him but rather than slowing him down and making him more reflective he was driven in his writing and his political work to make sure he had a worthwhile mark on this wicked old world as he   expressed his fate one night to Jack Callahan over a couple of drinks. So Laura and his two world were colliding and he was clueless about the other one.      

But sometimes even an old curmudgeon like Sam can learn a few things in life. He did take Laura’s advice, too late for them but he did take it, about seeing that spiritual acupuncturist (he had not been opposed to acupuncture per se since for his aches and pains he had gone to one for a number of years just not once claiming to lift a person’s spiritual well-being). More importantly he had, also at Laura’s suggestion, taken up meditation, a very hard task for him, very hard. So he for his own benefit at last was trying to become at peace with himself, trying one last time to put out the fire in his head.    

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Under The Sign Of The Jazz Age-With The 1970s Film Adaptation Of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby In Mind  

By Zack James
Josh Breslin was astonished by the fact that he still could be thrilled by either reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or viewing the 1970s film adaptation starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Usually it did not take much, maybe a trip to New York City via the Long Island Ferry onto Long Island itself , maybe some headline about a new kid on the block rich guy who was trying to bust into high society and was taken down a peg, maybe some crazy political fundraiser where the cream of the crop so-called gathered to donate tons of money, money gotten from who knows where, to some cause or candidate, or maybe it was just the need to read some outstanding descriptive language in a classic American novel or view the lavish and outlandish spectacle of the rich when they gather the tribe in. This time however Josh was driven by a bet, a bet made with his old-time friend Sam Lowell whom he had known since high school days in his growing up town of Riverdale some thirty or forty miles outside of Boston.          
Josh Breslin, for those not familiar with the name, had been after his stormy youth, a youth drive by the joys, sadness, and excesses of the countercultural 1960s as had Sam’s been a free-lance cultural critic, mostly music and film for a whole assortment of small publishing houses, small presses and small coffee table journals (which he forced his friends to subscript to under penalty of excommunication). Upon his recent retirement, or perhaps semi-retirement is a better way to put the matter, he had taken a few off-hand assignments for Ben Gold the editor of The Literary Gazette to write occasional reviews about whatever he wanted to write about on cultural matters. Given that free rein Josh had decided that he would write reviews of old-time books that he believed should still be in the American literary pantheon, still be read by millennials and whoever else appreciated great literature. His motivation for writing about what would be mostly “dead white male” authors was that unlike the irate authors, musicians and film directors who complained about his acidic reviews, complained that he did not know good books, music, film from a hat-rack nobody would give, to use an expression from his Acre working class neighborhood youth, a rat’s ass about his reviews of books already reviewed one hundred or so years ago. Moreover he decided that he would, now that he did not need to depend on his fees to cover his costs of living, would tweak a few noses, be a little provocative, a little edgy, edgy as some literary piece could ever get, and challenge the orthodoxy.
Little did Josh know, not having been around the academy for a long time that academic types actually read the Gazette and were willing with mighty pen in hand (or better these days fingered word processor) to smite the Philistines or anybody who encroaches on their protected turf. Josh in his first article had merely postulated that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early work This Side Of Paradise which made him both famous and sought after by book and magazine publishers alike should be bookended with The Great Gatsby as comparable classics by that master. The initial response had been tepidly understandable, mainly a few college English Lit major undergraduates who had been assigned the readings and had done some term papers on one or the other book defending Gatsby against the savage Visgoths. Kid’s stuff really, mostly a rehash of whatever their professors had directed them to think about the literary worthiness of either novel. He thought nothing more of it, weeks passed by while he was working on another piece, thought he was done with that small bit item and could move on. Then the deluge. Not so fast since Professor Jacobs, the retired English Lit department head big wig at Harvard let the cudgels down and had through some connections actually got his response placed in the Letters To The Editors pages of the Gazette (Ben Gold claiming somewhat disingenuously Josh thought that he knew nothing about the matter since it was not his bailiwick at the publication).
The good professor’s point was that of course the earlier work Paradise was simply the well-thought out meanderings, his term, of an Ivy League prodigy, nothing more and that anybody who placed the two in the same breathe was mentally deficient, or worse. Josh made a short sweet reply directly to the professor stating that he was merely tongue-in-cheek attempting to upgrade Paradise as an important novel depicting the Jazz Age. Done. Again not so fast. Professor Lord the well- known Fitzgerald scholar who had held the Fitzgerald chair at his old alma mater Princeton took on Professor Jacobs’ remarks in a subsequent letter to the editors also published in that section stating that Professor Jacobs was essentially clueless about how Fitzgerald had very early caught the spirit of the impending post World War I Jazz Age with Paradise and that Gatsby merely brought the era into sharper focus once the period ran to full bloom. Cited about twelve footnotes about six articles he had written on the subject which Jacobs had obviously been unaware of and thus contributed mightily to his own misunderstanding of Fitzgerald, the Jazz Age and most of the literature of the middle third of the 20th century. That ignited the “firestorm” as the adherents of both sides armed themselves to the teeth with footnotes and addenda. Josh merely stepped aside and smiled to himself that he had done what he set out to. The two sides were probably even now sucking the air out of cyberspace trying to best the other.                                 
The bet had been triggered after Josh had told Sam one night at Terry James’ Grille in Riverdale where they occasionally met to rekindle old time stories from their growing up days about a “firestorm” that he had created. Josh had added that at the end of that review which had caused the battle royal that he had “wondered aloud” whether Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises might be more evocative of the Jazz Age doings than Gatsby. Nobody in the melee had seen fit to note that blasphemous statement since they were all Fitzgerald specialists as far as he could tell and as he told Sam with a wicked grin on his face that a future article would present that case for dissection. Josh had casually mentioned to Sam that he would be willing to bet that bringing that battle of the Titians to the pages of the Gazette would create another set of fireworks in the academy.     
Suddenly Sam called out “Bet.” Josh retorted quickly and almost automatically “Bet.” The only question then was the size of the wager which turned out to be for one hundred dollars. See back in their school boy days Sam, Josh and the other guys who hung around Tonio’s Pizza Parlor on lonesome, date-less Friday or Saturday nights would to wile the time away make bets on almost anything from sports to the size of some girl’s bra. Of course those bets were for quarters, maybe a dollar or two revealing the low dough nature of their existences in those days. The most famous “bet” of all just to give the reader a flavor of how deeply embedded in the night these issues were had been the night the late Peter Paul Markin had challenged Frankie Riley, the leader of the guys around Tonio’s, to bet on how high Tonio (or whoever was working that night) could make the pizza dough they were kneading go. Frankie “won” the bet that night because he had an arrangement with the guy doing the pizza dough that night who owed him some moola. Markin did not find out about the switch-up until much later. The important point was that when a guy called “Bet” to a guy on any proposition no matter how screwy the other guy was duty-bound to take the bet under penalty of becoming a social outcast. Therefore the speed in which Josh answered called to wager on whether there would be another flameless flare-up after Josh’s next article.  
As these propositions went, for a quarter or one hundred dollars, Josh always prided himself on taking pains to try to win. Sam had, perhaps being a lawyer had been even more naïve about the incessant in-fighting in the academy than Josh had declared that he would bet that there would be no controversy surrounding Josh’s notion that Hemingway’s book was more evocative of the Jazz Age than Fitzgerald’s. The whole thing seemed childish, his term, and after the dust-up between Jacobs and  Lord had exposed all to charges of infantile behavior no one would dare to read even a cursory letter challenging Josh’s frayed little idea. Josh, truth be told, had not read Gatsby in a few years and due to the press of other commitments he did not intend to since he believed he could win the bet without doing so, to have to do another of his periodical re-readings of the book, one of his favorites. He figured that he could do an end around by viewing the 1970s film adaptation of the book, the one starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. So one night he along with his third wife, Millie, streamed the Netflix version of the two hour film.    
After viewing this film Josh began to panic a little at the prospect of, kiddingly or not, trying to defend Hemingway’s book as the definite literature on the mores of the Jazz Age. Afraid that his written claim that The Sun Also Rises was better at that seemed pretty threadbare. He was worried and as he tossed and turned that night he tried to see what in Gatsby, even the film version he would have to deal with in order to draw enough fire to flame up a controversy.
Although any book, any piece of literature, words, printed material   always were more important to Josh’s understanding of the world, understanding in this case of the period he had to admit that the feel of the film really did give a sense of what the Jazz Age was about from the scenes at Gatsby’s over the top mansion where the party-goers danced, wined, ate and sexed the night and early mornings away. There was definitely as sense that those who had survived the World War had left their pre-war sense of order and proper manners behind and that “wine, women [men] and song” was a mantra that both sexes could buy into as working day to day premise. It was like the survivors, those who had slogged through France and those who were left behind to wait for the other shoe to drop had a veil lifted. That dramatic effect, that sense of abandoning the old life on a re-reading of the expatriate life in Hemingway’s novel didn’t strike Josh as decisive as in Gatsby.       
The real thread though that Josh thought would undo him was that striving for the main chance that drove Gatsby either to grab the dough or grab the love flame with a show of what he had achieved by his efforts to “prove” himself worthy of Daisy. The new money though couldn’t break through in the end because Gatsby forgot rule number one about the old monied rich, and about Daisy as a representative character, they may make the social messes but somebody else is left to clean up afterward. Funny because in a sense Gatsby really knew that when he was asked to explain what he heard in Daisy’s voice one time-the sound of money. That said it all.    
Although the film did not quote the whole paragraph from the last summing up page of the book Josh once he heard the talk by Nick about the Dutch sailors and the fresh breast of new land that they found when they came up Long Island Sound back in the 1500s he knew in the back of his brain that he would never have more than a weak argument in defending Hemingway’s book as the definitive Jazz Age take. How could he beat out the notion that the fresh breast of land which had caused those long ago sailors to set out in ragged ships heading into uncharted waters to find their own dreams, to refresh their sense of wonder which had taken a beating in the old country from which they had taken the chance to flee.  
[Sam not unexpectedly won the bet since the only response that Josh got from anybody about his article that time was why he didn’t view the updated 2000s version of Gatsby by some undergraduate student who had never heard of Mia Farrow. And so it goes.]

With Skip James’ Lyric I’d Rather Be With The Devil Than Be That Woman’s Man In Mind-Why I Won’t Vote For Hillary Clinton (Needless To Say Dump The Trump Too)

By Fritz Taylor
Okay, let’s go by the numbers. Sometime in maybe late 2007, early 2008 in any case before it became clear that one Senator Barack Obama of Illinois would pose a serious challenge to then Senator Hillary Clinton of New York I had been bombarded with a few books written probably by minions or otherwise tied to the Clinton brand name. As such things go they were political biographies commissioned to advance Mrs. Clinton’s ultimately ill-fated campaign or material to be used a sound bite fodder for the same purposes. I was asked by some serious political people, maybe political pimps is the better way to put the matter to get on board her train or at least review the various books to let people outside her direct camp know how good a candidate, how well-qualified she was and so on. I balked at such an insidious task although I did to my subsequent regret review some items for which I was sent to the gallows by those same serious political folk. (At that point I had not particular animus against the relatively unknown Obama although I was subsequently to have many a vile word to say against him and his endless wars and endless bullshit about a “post-racial” society and the sand in my mouth “hope” noise he spouted).         
My vantage point for writing about the various Clinton works was encapscalated almost perfectly by the old sweet falsetto-voiced bluesman from the late 1920s Skip James, who would be “discovered” by us budding folkies in the 1960s folk minute and have a second short career before passing on, in a signature song of his-Devil Got My Woman. The key line which I used shamelessly every time I could during the early part of that campaign year before I gave up covering the whole thing as one more act of futility for those of us who were serious about social change and who furthermore had no illusions in anything any candidate speaking for the Democratic Party of war and corruption had to say-“I’d rather be with the devil than be that woman’s man.” (Needless to say the various Republicans were and are beyond the pale and not worth even a sardonic look.) That very factual comment got me in hot water with some of my die-hard Clinton supporter friends (mostly politically savvy women looking to launch the first woman into the barren American presidency). But it also got me in Dutch with my more radically-inclined feminist friends who saw my comment as “sexist,” misanthropic and misogynous. Jesus didn’t they do their own castigations and aspirations against that woman for her lug-head vote with both hands for the Iraq War resolution which still lives with us burnt in our memoires for seemingly all eternity.   
Come 2016 and the age of Dump the Trump supposedly a greater threat to the American democracy than the “reds under every bed” of the red scare Cold War rhetoric of my youth back in the early 1960s and those same cohorts have taken once again to making the same silly accusations about my Neanderthal attitude (I am being kind to myself here since their language was significantly more heated that I care to quote). But everybody knows that bourgeois politics, hell, any politics is a tough dollar so for those who forgot my retort back then about my socially backward ways I am resurrecting my talisman-my defense.     
You see the blues lyrics, folk music in general, is almost always open to copying and tweaking. So the great modern (and very feminist) blues singer Rory Block came to my rescue after I remembered that she had done a version of Skip James’ song. Except naturally when she sang the song she said- I’d rather be with the devil than be that man’s woman.” Touché. I used the masculine version of that statement when somebody asked me if I supported Barack Obama for President in 2008. (I supported the very black, the very beautiful, and very feminist ex-Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney in her Green Party-etched efforts and Jill Stein of the same party in hers this year so there). I use the feminine version this year for Mister Clinton once again. Oh yeah, and Dump The Trump.       

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Latte At Café Lena’s Anyone-With Susie Sampson In Mind
By Sam Lowell
Lance Andrews had had to laugh at the coincidence even though the hurt inside his head which resulted from the incident made him feel kind of weird for laughing just then. Here is how it played out for those who are curious about old flames, about busted romances and, well, about the fate of coincidences. Lance had been on assignment for the small folk publication that he wrote for, American Folk Gazette, an assignment that had taken him to Saratoga Springs after an absence of maybe forty years, possibly more. For those not in the know about folk music over the past half century or so the name Saratoga Springs at one time was, and still is if less so even today, synonymous with Caffe Lena, the tiny club just off the center of the downtown area. Through those portals passed folk legends like newly minted Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, Dave Von Ronk, Utah Philips, Rosalie Sorrels, Arlo Guthrie and a host of others too numerous to mention. Lance was in town to do a story about the old café for a new generation fairly well untouched by the wand of those previously mentioned legendary names. He had consciously failed to mention that through those portals passed Susie Sampson, an up and coming new voice folk singer back around 1975 and at one time Lance’s paramour. The coincidence? The very night that Lance had been scheduled to go to the club to drink in the atmosphere a bit the headliner was one Susie Sampson.                
But maybe we should go back a bit for the big affair between Lance and Susie and their subsequent separate paths could stand in for the vagaries of trying to survive on the edges of the music world, the edges when the early 1960s folk minute which took American campuses and other prominent locales by a storm ebbed taking no prisoners. In those days Susie had been a student at nearby Skidmore College studying music and as she entered her senior year had been wondering if the folk scene would provide her with enough income to make a career of it, at least for a while. She had grown up down the road at Clifton Park and had taken up the guitar after her parents had bought her one for a Christmas present her freshman year in high school. Susie, always shy and somewhat withdrawn around her farming family, would spent hours practicing the instrument up in her bedroom and while her talents as a guitarist were always behind her real instrument-her voice-she proved adequate enough to get into the coveted music department program at Skidmore. Through high school (and college as well) she was the prime soloist for the chorus and had initially had thoughts of a classical career. Then the folk bug hit her, the ebb of the folk bug around the time that the British invasion and “acid” rock had turned former folk devotees on to those genre.               
One night in 1965 she discovered Caffe Lena’s, with hostess Lena, a character in her own right, at the door taking admissions, and Tom Paxton on the bill. That was the night that she also found out that Lena’s had an “open mic” night on Tuesday for anybody who wanted to do a two song set (and pay the two dollar entry fee). She was excited about the prospects of performing in a non-school situation and find out whether she had the stuff to take a run at a performing career. So a few weeks later she showed up at Lena’s (Lena on the door again taking admissions) and placed herself on the list which gave the order of performances. She had decided that she would do one religious-oriented song reflecting her pious Methodist upbringing among the farming brethren having always been intrigued by that last phrase “I hear the noise of wings,”  Angel Band, and one more contemporary, a cover of Woody Guthrie’s Deportee. Needless to say she wowed the mostly student audience. What she had previously been unaware of was that talent-spotting Lena (between bouts of admission taking) had taken note of her performance and the audience’s reaction to it and had taken Susie aside before she left and asked her if she would like to be the opening act for Larry Rivers, then an up and coming talent (whose light would fade later after bouts of cocaine addiction), and a crowd-pleaser in a couple of weeks with his off-beat folk repartee. Of course she had said yes to that proposal and began the next day to put together a six song set featuring a couple of Patsy Kline tunes and a couple of Joan Baez covers thrown in along with a song she had written but had never performed in public. The night of the performance she may not have outshined Larry but if not she came close. That was also the night that Lance Andrews then a student at Siena who was in Saratoga in order to date a student at Skidmore who was the sister of his roommate. That roommate’s sister was with him that night but Lance’s eyes were all over Susie.
Later, a few weeks later, when they finally met Susie would tell him that he had made her “nervous” while he was looking at her as she was singing-nervous but wondering to herself who he was. The way Lance played his hand to meet Susie was pure Lance. As a journalism student at Siena he had finagled the editor of the school newspaper to do a “human interest” story, a story on area budding singers- a generic fluff piece but the editor, Ben Samuels, said what the hell. So that weekend he was off to Saratoga to “meet” Susie. Another Lance touch he had Lena make the introductions to add her imprimatur to his weak credentials. So Lance made like a reporter although he also peppered his interview with her with lots of personal questions that did not seem to fit with the subject he was supposed to be covering-new talent. As he finished the interview he shook Susie’s hand (she would later tell her girlfriend roommate that the shake was so gentle she had felt somewhat flush after he removed it from hers) he asked her what she was doing after her performance. Recovering smartly for such a shy young woman she said going with him for something to eat because she would be starving since she did not eat before a performance since it made her feel logy. Bingo. And that started the on again off again love affair between Susie Sampson looking for fame and the bright lights and Lance Andrews who wanted to help her get there.                                
Maybe the times were just out of joint. Maybe 1965, 1966, 1967 the years of their torrid affair mixed in with Lance trying to get his foot in the journalism door at the Albany Times and Susie was trying to break out of the confines of upstate New York, of the Caffe Lena, were just a bit too late for either to make their marks. Lance was the first to speak of making a break, of heading west to see and hear all about was brewing out there in fantasyland, out in the summer of love. Susie balked at that, said she had to get to the Village and get her break. Said she was not built for Grace Slick and Janis Joplin mixes, felt she could make a living on folk if she could just get to the big city and not have to depend on an occasional feature at Lena’s or over at Siena and Skidmore or worse, much worse working for the “basket” at Sonny Red’s in Albany. So they split-for a while. In 1969 they were back together after Lance had sowed his wild oats in California and had worked a niche for himself in the alternative newspaper scene as a “cultural” reporter meaning reviewing the myriad new groups sprouting up in the acid-rock etched night. Susie had had her moment in the Village, had done a feature at the Gaslight where she did well but she was like in a time capsule trying to get some place when there was no some place to go to.                     
They would make one more go in 1972 and by 1975 had closed out whatever it was that had flamed but now was burned to the edges. He went up to Boston and had a checkered career as a free-lance journalist mostly for old friend Ben Gold’s Spectator, had had three wives all divorced now and a slew of kids who cost him dearly for sundry college educations. Susie, a couple of years after that final split decided, prompted by her straight-laced family, to quit the folk scene. Had gotten married to a guy from her high school, had had the requisite three children and had recently been widowed when that high school friend keeled over one night after spreading seed on their fifty acre farm.     
As Lance took his seat that night in the seemingly unchanged tiny room that passed for a folk club and Susie came on to do her feature he was all eyes, like a kid.  Later, a few hours later, during intermission when they met to cut up old touches Susie would tell him that he had made her “nervous” while he was looking at her as she was singing-nervous but wondering if he was still married to wife number three. Later after cutting up those old touches with a few flirty asides thrown in Lance asked Susie what she was doing after her performance. Having found out from a mutual friend also in the audience that night that he had divorced number three she recovering smartly for such a not so shy mature woman she said going with him for something to eat because she would be starving since she did not eat before a performance since it made her feel logy. And that would start … Only at the Lena.