Tuesday, September 27, 2016

If Your Mommy Is A Commie, Turn Her In-Frank Sinatra’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962)- A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

The Manchurian Candidate, starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, 1962 

There must be a certain irony that the film under review, the Cold War political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, was released right around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis a big moment in that Cold War which if a couple of factors had turned out differently could have led to a very hot war, very hot indeed. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed but as later evidence came out to the light when much of the information around that event was declassified there were more than enough anti-communist saber-rattlers in high governmental and military circles who were willing to go to the brink to stop the big red scare world-wide communist menace. That fact dovetails very nicely into the underlying plot of this film where both sides were trying for their own political reasons to undermine the other. No holds barred. Thus this film’s theme dovetailed with some very common anti-communist notions about “reds under the bed” and the headline caption about turning in even your mother if she was a red that we who came of age in the early 1960s took as gospel.       

Some political thrillers, heck, some plain old ordinary thrillers like the late Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho have not lost their capacity shock even after fifty plus years and with knowledge of what was to come around the next scene. The Manchurian Candidate fits right into that well-crafted company. Here is how it played out. During the Korean War of the early 1950s, a period when the Cold War turned hot, conventional weapons hot, and a period when Cold War tensions after the Chinese Revolution had been at a high point, the Soviets had captured a platoon of American soldiers (and as it turned out not just any platoon) and taken them to an isolated spot in Manchuria, part of their then ally China. The purpose of the trip was to “brainwash” the bunch for a greater political purpose.       

This platoon was led by Captain Marco (later Major), played by Frank Sinatra, and Sergeant Shaw, played by Laurence Harvey, who after their indoctrination were sent back to Korea. Part of the ruse upon their return entailed a fabricated story where Shaw had saved his platoon and thus was put in by Marco for a Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military honor which he received to the usual Washington fanfare. Later back in the States though Marco started having nightmares about what happened under interrogation (two members of the platoon had been murdered by Shaw with no compunction as an exercise in the success of the brainwashing technique). So didn’t another member of the platoon, an enlisted man. Still the Army stonewalled Marco until both Marco and that enlisted man identified the same photos separately.      

Then things started to heat up. Shaw, who in reality nobody in the platoon liked, had been worked on especially since his family were prominent right-wing yahoos yelling at the top of their lungs about commies coming out of the woodwork (a la the very real Senator Joseph McCarthy). This family also was positioned very well since Shaw’s step-father, Senator Iselin, was trying to ride the anti-communist wave into the White House. Pushed there by his lovely wife, Mrs. Iselin, played by Angela Lansbury in a very sinister role as it turned out. See somebody was using Shaw as assassin, carrying out murders along the way that would help position Senator Iselin toward the White House without putting the spotlight on what was going on, or why. The operative would use the Queen of Hearts as the trigger to get Shaw unconsciously to do that agent’s bidding.  

This is what Major Marco was up against, had to neutralize, as he finally realized that Shaw was up to something nefarious even if he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. At various times he confronted Shaw until he was finally able have some effect on his behavior although that was a dicey thing. Dicey because the operative who was calling the tune was none other than Shaw’s mother who was using the right-wing yahoo guise as a cover for her own communist agency. The big play was for Shaw to, at the right-wing party’s convention, kill the presidential nominee once Mrs. Iselin had maneuvered her half-witted husband into the vice presidential nomination. Thus assuring that if Iselin became President the rotten commies would control that high office. Nice, right. Remember I said no holds barred. Funny thing in the end Shaw did what he had to do. Watch this film to see what he did, and did not do. Remember this though in those days when somebody spouted forth that if your Mommy was a commie you had better turn her in that was no laughing matter.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Sons Of The Ghost Dance-With The Lakota Struggle At Standing Rock Against The Dakota Pipeline In Mind

By Fritz Taylor


Brad Fox, a little late summer September sunburn showing on his face for his efforts, was talking to Zack James, his old friend from high school in growing up poor Riverdale and later on the dope-strewn merry prankster yellow brick road during the high holy days of the 1960s counter-cultural movement, about a demonstration that he had attended earlier that day in support of the Lakota Sioux and their allies’ struggle against the Dakota pipeline. Brad had rekindled his friendship with Zack after a number of years when the two coasts separated them Brad returning home to Riverdale to run his father’s specialty carpentry shop after he had had a stroke and Zack remaining on the West Coast in pursuit of his journalism career. They had reunited at their 40th high school class reunion in 2004 and had since that time several times a month gotten together either at their old hang-out Jack Kelly’s Grille in Riverdale or at Zack’s slightly more upscale watering hole, Barney’s in downtown Boston.

Brad had called Zack up to report on the demonstration and the issues involved around stopping the pipeline something Zack, now retired from Rock Age magazine, had heard about on the news but had not followed closely but more importantly something that had happened at the rally that had reminded him of the time they had been out in Joshua Tree in California in the early 1970s. Brad had over his cellphone sent Zack photos of the rally which had started at Park Street Station the historic spot on Boston Common for all kinds of events since about colonial times and of the march that followed through downtown Boston, Back Bay and after crossing a footbridge over Storrow Drive ending with a water-cleansing ceremony at the Charles River.

He quickly highlighted the struggle of the tribes who had gathered out in the badlands of Dakota to stop the desecration of sacred burial lands and the continuing pollution of their water sources by the unchecked construction and destruction caused by the pipeline headed from the Dakotas to Illinois. He told Zack that he would provide links to sites which could fill him in on the specifics (which he subsequently did do) and then went on to describe the particulars of the support rally. It was that aspect of the event that caused Brad to envision long ago memories that he knew Zack would have remembered without much prompting.                   

After some of the usual milling around time always associated with almost any political event before the organizers gathered themselves for their tasks all the fifty to seventy-five attendees were called to form a healing welcome circle. Then one of the organizers, a Native American woman who had been delegated by the tribes out in the Dakotas to speak for them, passed along the circle to distribute some good spirits incense in the form of smoke with which to insure the well-being of the participants. Then she and a male Native American organizer stepped to the center of the circle after she had put the remnants of the incense vessel on the ground. Then the male began beating lightly on his hand-held drum increasing the tempo as he went along. All of a sudden he started chanting the ah, ah, ah, oh, oh, sounding chant that made Brad flash back to the early 1970s out in Joshua Tree. The female organizer began to chant as well and both did so for several minutes. Brad knew he would have to call Zack immediately after the demo to see what his reaction would be.

Zack almost before Brad could finish describing the ceremony blurred out “ghost dance in Bryant’s Canyon” and Brad smiled the knowing smile of the initiate. Before Brad could continue with his version of that long along story Zack started talking about their old friend the late Peter Paul Markin whom everybody had called the “Scribe” in those old high school days after Frankie Riley had christened him with that moniker. Markin had earned the title after faithfully serving as the mouthpiece, flak for Frankie, the leader of the boyos in front of Tonio Pizza Parlor over on Thornton Street in the old hometown. The Scribe had been the guy who had set all the corner boys heading west after they had finished high school and during that uprising of the young associated with the summer of love, 1967 and all the mad dope, rock and roll, sex escapades that followed. He had been the first to head west in that year. Brad and Zack followed later in the late winter of 1968.  

Of course the way to travel in those days for poor boys and the adventuresome was to follow the karma of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road which was mandatory reading for the footloose youth of America, particularly the male portion, and hitchhike out. That is what Brad and Zack did one cold day as they headed for the truck depot behind the Coca-Cola plant near the Charles River entrance to the Mass Turnpike where they expected to start grabbing a ride from some lonesome or talkative long haul truck-driver maybe going to Chicago or some other point west. They got a ride although that first one was only to Cleveland but after a series of shorter rides they wound up in Denver where they met Smiling Jack and Handsome Johnny who would form the foursome who would wind up in Joshua Tree and who would wind up serving as the vessels for the ghost dance which would brand them forever as among the kindred of ancient warriors. 

But that is getting ahead of the story slightly because that Denver stop after meeting Jack and Johnny on Larimer Street one afternoon when they were looking to score some dope and they were passed a huge blunt by Johnny meant they would stay for week in the Humble Pie Commune where Jack and Johnny lived. There they would be introduced to the ancient delights of peyote buttons and other magic mushroom delights. It was there that the newly endowed foursome would decide to go to California by the southern route as fast as they could going through desert country that none of them had ever seen before. After a short stay in Phoenix and a couple of short rides they wound up getting a ride from a Volkswagen van with four or five travelers inside stoned to high heaven (to this day neither Brad nor Zack could be sure of the number in the van when they were picked up right at Needles on the California-Arizona border).  

This crew with the four add-ons decided to stop at Joshua Tree one later afternoon since there was no place to stay cheaply if they went further that day. So they made camp at one of the primitive campsites (then primitive anyway) near a broad and beautiful canyon that had several layers of rock in various colors showing. Needless to say by the time they had gotten to Joshua Tree they were in the language of the day “ripped.” Had also started taking peyotes buttons to chill out with after smoking so much weed. Somebody, maybe Sunshine Mary, the driver of the van’s girlfriend, neither were sure on that detail  forty years later,  started a huge and glowing fire and as the sun went down to the west the shadow of the flames made crazy patterns on the layered canyon walls. The young woman also started to put a big pot on the grill to make a hell-bent soup. 

While the young woman was preparing some vegetables Smiling Jack suddenly got up and started to slowly dance, not a rock and roll dance, but a dance like he had maybe seen the “Indians” do on television when he was a kid. As he danced he began to take off most of his clothes and to slowly writhe in the coming light from the fire. He began an ah,ah, ah,oh,oh chant slowly picking up the tempo as he moved around the circle. A few minutes later Brad who had just eaten another peyote button, as he said later “flipped out,” and began to get up and follow Jack in his circle, kept his clothes on but chimed in with on Jack’s chant. A few minutes later Johnny and Zack followed suit. They did this for at least an hour without stopping, or not stopping much. As that hour approached though Zack, Zack the then college drop-out to “find” himself because he knew no Indian languages began to call on some ancient forebears out in the canyon to give him strength to fight the “white devils,” to avenge the rape of his lands, women and culture. The other three soon joined in grabbing some soil and some water to paint themselves up as warriors. Then just as they were at fever pitch as if on command all the heat of the day, the lack of food, maybe water too, the long exertions and above all those fiery drugs they all collapsed almost simultaneously in a heap in front of the fire.       

Zack would later write that as best as he could understand what had happened that night for one minute he and his brethren knew what it was like to be an avenging angel warrior going back ten thousand years to turn the earth back to mother. And thus these days to support the struggles out in Standing Rock. 


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Notes From The Jazz Age- F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side Of Paradise (1920)-A Book Review

Book Review

By Zack James   

This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Scribner, New York, 1920      

Josh Breslin, the old time cultural critic, mostly in the music and film milieu but occasionally with an adventurous foray into the printed word which had caused him more anguish from angry authors, had to laugh a couple of years back when approaching retirement after many years of free-lance journalism for publishing houses, small presses and an occasional off-beat journal he decided that he would review a wide selection of books by authors long dead. As one might expect he would therefore not have to deal with those troublesome and irate authors since they would have been long in the grave and beyond care for what some early 21st century adventurer might have to say, or not say, about some literary gem. Or so he thought when he attempted to do a short review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early coming of age novel, This Side Of Paradise.     

Now everybody, everybody that counted for Josh anyway, mostly other reviewers and their hangers-on knew that The Great Gatsby was Fitzgerald’s masterwork, knew that it was one of the great classics of the old-time “dead white men” pantheon. He would not when reviewing Paradise try to take that masterpiece away from its proper place in the literary pantheon but instead to tweak a few laconic noses he decided to argue that Paradise was on a level with Gatsby, that it should book-end the classic. Published such deliberate effrontery in several small literary journals and more importantly the literary blog, American Musings, a blog which several well-paid professional book reviewers, college professors, semi-literate high school English teachers, a smattering of graduate students in American Literature and most importantly a cohort of doctoral and post-doctoral literary lights out to make a reputation as gunslingers in the mad dash of that lightless world read and wrote for. Naturally the damn thing caused something of a fire storm as a result. Maybe you did not hear about it if you are not a devotee of such endeavors and just went about your life in ignorance of such earth-shattering blazes. But in that good night circle guns were drawn and ready, acid was added to the pen of many who saw that they could take down a two-bit has-been reviewer who obviously had not read anything since about age twelve-except maybe comic books.

That was the exact reaction that Josh had expected, had savored the prospect of igniting on fire. Had worried, worried to perdition that when he wrote the review nobody, no sensible person could, give a rat’s ass (his corner boy expression never entirely dismissed from his adult vocabulary) a couple of books almost one hundred years old from a guy who was on that “dead white men” extinction list mentioned above. He smiled with secret glee when the first review by a lonely undergraduate student who was trying to muscle herself up the food-chain by condemning Josh to East of Eden took him to task for even mentioning both books in the same universe much less in the same small breathe. Dared Josh to come up with one paragraph, one which she put in bold-face for emphasis as if Josh was some errant schoolboy that came up to that last couple of paragraph when voice Nick talks after Gatsby’s bloody demise about the feeling of those long ago Dutch sailors who came upon the “fresh, green breast of land” that would later become Long Island and had upon viewing had enflamed their sense of wonder. A paragraph she had written her freshman term paper on for American Literature which the professor had given her an A on-so there.

Josh, again acting as the provocateur, in return cited the dance scene in the club in Minneapolis with Amory and his prey, Isabel, as he attempted against all convention to grab a small kiss from her sweet lips. Argued that after all Paradise was about the roamings and doings a young adult trying to figure out his place in the world and who was finding it not easy to find his niche. Josh contrasted that with the too uppity habits of a small-time hood from nowhere USA hustling whatever there was to hustle trying to step up in class out with the big boys and got pushed back down the heap once he got in over his head with Daisy and what she stood for-wealth, conformity and letting the servants clean up the mess.        

That comment seemed to have put that earnest undergraduate in her place since she went mute before Josh’s logic but no sooner had that dust-up settled down that Professor Lord, the big-time retired English teacher from Harvard whose books of literary criticism set many a wannabe writers’ hearts a-flutter took up the cudgels in defense of Gatsby. Pointed out that  the novel was an authentic slice of life about the American scene in the scattershot post-World War I scene and that Paradise was nothing but the well-written but almost non-literary efforts of an aspiring young author telling, retailing was the word the good professor used, his rather pedestrian and totally conventional youth-based comments. Those sentiments in turn got Professor Jamison, the well-known Fitzgerald scholar from Princeton, Scott’s old school, in a huff about how the novel represented the Jazz Age from a younger more innocent perspective as well as Gatsby had done for the older free-falling set who had graduated from proms and social dances. So the battle raged.    

Josh laughed as the heavy-weights from the academy went slamming into the night and into each other’s bailiwicks and stepped right to the sidelines once he had started his little fireball rolling. Laughed harder when he, having had a few too many scotches at his favorite watering hole, Jack’s outside Harvard Square, thought about the uproar he would create when he tweaked a few noses declaring Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises as the definite Jazz Age novel and put Gatsby in the bereft dime store novel category by comparison. Let the sparks fly.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

To Seek A Newer World-The Trials And Tribulations Of The Non-Violence Path 

Frank Jackman comment:

Anna Riley my maternal grandmother was a great believer in the social message of the Catholic Worker movement, gave great credence to the essentially non-violent social change message that leaders like Dorothy Day had to say about pursuing the course. In my youth, my younger days, the idea of non-violent not passive like Tolstoy or even Gandhi but more on the assertive lines of the black civil right movement in the South that was unfolding before my eyes  seemingly every night on television held great sway over me. I have mentioned elsewhere that my very first public political street action demonstration had been a SANE-Quaker and other religious pacifistic organizations rally at historic Park Street Station on Boston Common around the struggle against nuclear weapons in the fall of 1960 (at a time when I was also campaigning like crazy to get one of our, Jack Kennedy, elected President, even though he was rattling the “missile gap” saber-go figure).        

In retrospective those heady days when the black civil rights movement was carrying all before it were also the heydays of my belief in creative non-violent action. The time when whatever Doctor King and the other leadership said about bowing our heads before the aggressors held me in its thrall. Although, and here is my contradiction of the time if you will, I was enamored under the spell of my maternal grandfather, Daniel Riley, an ardent Irish nationalist of the struggle in Ireland that got its modern start around Easter, 1916. So let’s put it down that I was probably more tactically committed to non-violent actions (and under current circumstances still am with what I see of the disparity of forces on our side and leveled against us.

The great change, maybe of emphasis, maybe of getting older and wiser, and maybe, just maybe as a result of my truncated Army career which was a watershed of sorts since that service happened during the Vietnam War (where I didn’t go although I was 11 Bravo, an infantryman but that is a story also told elsewhere). The savagery of the American government against a small but real national liberation struggle which could not be fought any other way except under the gun led me away from even that previous total tactical acceptance that non-violent action could slay the evil dragon. And that stance has not changed much in the last forty years or so, although I wish those who can “keep the faith,” the faith of my youth, well.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

An Encore-Frank Jackman’s Fate-With Bob Dylan’s Masters of War In Mind


From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

Jack Callahan’s old friend from Sloan High School in Carver down in Southeastern Massachusetts Zack James (Zack short for Zachary not as is the fashion today to just name a baby Zack and be done with it) is an amateur writer and has been at it since he got out of high school. Found out that maybe by osmosis, something like that, the stuff Miss Enos taught him junior and senior years about literature and her favorite writers Hemingway, Edith Wharton and Dorothy Parker to name a few, that she would entice the English class with stuck with him with through college where although he majored in Political Science he was in thrall to the English literature courses that he snuck in to his schedule. Snuck in although Zack knew practically speaking he had a snowball’s chance in hell, an expression he had learned from Hemingway he thought,  of making a career out of the literary life as a profession. Would more likely wind up driving a cab through dangerous midnight sections of town  occasionally getting mugged for his night’s work to satisfy the muse. A hard-shell working-class boy, a son of the bogs, the cranberry bogs that made the town famous, in the up and coming 1960s when colleges became a realistic possibility for a whole swath of previously neglected youth would not throw away whatever chance he had in order to get hit on the noggin for that beautiful muse.  

Here's the funny part though that high and mighty hotshot  Political Science major winding up producing about the same practical results as the literary life though since he wound up spending several years doing slave labor before he hit bottom and worked his way up again. But that was later. The writing bug stuck with him, savior stuck with him, through his tour of duty during the Vietnam War, and savior stayed with him through those tough years when he couldn’t quite get himself back to the “real” world after ‘Nam and let drugs and alcohol rule his life so that he wound up for some time as a “brother under the bridge” as Bruce Springsteen later put the situation in a song that he played continuously at times after he first heard it with its beginning line “Saigon, long gone…."  Stuck with him after he recovered and started building up his sports supplies business, stuck with him through three happy/sad/savage/acrimonious “no go” marriages and a parcel of kids and child support.  And was still sticking with him now that he had time to stretch out and write longer pieces, and beat away on the word processor a few million words on this and that.  

Amateur writer by the way if you asked him (although probably it is wiser to just assume he did not earn his living in the prints and move on unless you want an hour tirade about the differences and not all accruing to the professionals either) meaning nothing more than that he liked to write and that writing was not his profession, that he did not depend on the pen for his livelihood(or rather more correctly these days not the pen but the word processor). That livelihood business was taken up running a small sports apparel store in a mall not far from Lexington (the Lexington of American revolutionary battles to give the correct town and state) where he now lived. Although he was not a professional writer his interest was such that he liked these days with Jimmy Shore, the famous ex-runner running the day to day operations of the store, to perform some of his written work in public at various “open mic” writing (and poetry) jams that have sprouted up in his area.

This “open mic” business was a familiar concept to Jack from the days back in the 1960s when he would go to such events in the coffeehouses around Harvard Square and Beacon Hill to hear amateur folk-singers perfect their acts and try to be recognized as the new voice of their generation, or something like that. For “no singing voice, no musical ear” Jack those were basically cheap date nights if the girl he was with was into folk music. The way most of the "open mics" worked, although they probably called them talent searches then, was each performer would sign up to do one, two, maybe three songs depending on how long the list of those wishing to perform happened to be (the places where each performer kicked in a couple of bucks in order to play usually had shorter lists). These singers usually performed in the period in front of the night’s feature who very well might have been somebody who a few weeks before had been noticed by the owner during a previous "open mic" and asked to do a set of six to sixteen songs depending on the night and the length of the list of players in front of him or her. The featured performer played, unlike the "open mic" people, for the “basket” (maybe a hat) passed around the crowd in the audience and that was the night’s “pay.” A tough racket for those starting out like all such endeavors. The attrition rate was pretty high after the folk minute died down with arrival of other genre like folk rock, heavy rock, and acid rock although you still see a few old folkies around the Square or playing the separate “open mic” folk circuit that also has run through church coffeehouses just like these writing jams.

Jack was not surprised then when Zack told him he would like him to come to hear him perform one of his works at the monthly third Thursday “open mic” at the Congregational Church in Arlington the next town over from Lexington. Zack told Jack that that night he was going to perform something he had written and thought on about Frank Jackman, about what had happened to Frank when he was in the Army during Vietnam War times.

Jack knew almost automatically what Zack was going to do, he would somehow use Bob Dylan’s Masters of War lyrics as part of his presentation. Jack and Zack ( one of many Vietnam veterans who got “religion” on the anti-war issue while he in the Army and became a fervent anti-war guy after that experience despite his personal problems) had met Frank in 1971 when they were doing some anti-war work among the soldiers at Fort Devens out in Ayer about forty miles west of Boston. Frank had gotten out of the Army several months before and since he was from Nashua in the southern part of New Hampshire not far from Devens and had heard about the G.I. coffeehouse, The Morning Report, where Jack and Zack were working as volunteers he had decided to volunteer to help out as well.

Now Frank was a quiet guy, quieter than Jack and Zack anyway, but one night he had told his Army story to a small group of volunteers gathered in the main room of the coffeehouse as they were planning to distribute Daniel Ellsberg’s sensational whistle-blower expose The Pentagon Papers to soldiers at various spots around the base (including as it turned out inside the fort itself with one copy landing on the commanding general’s desk for good measure). He wanted to tell this story since he wanted to explain why he would not be able to go with them if they went inside the gates at Fort Devens.

Jack knew Zack was going to tell Frank’s story so he told Frank he would be there since he had not heard the song or Frank’s story in a long while and had forgotten parts of it. Moreover Zack wanted Jack there for moral support since this night other than the recitation of the lyrics he was going to speak off the cuff rather than his usual reading from some prepared paper.  

That night Zack was already in the hall talking to the organizer, Eli Walsh, you may have heard of him since he has written some searing poems about his time in three tours Iraq. Jack felt right at home in this basement section of the church and he probably could have walked around blind-folded since the writing jams were on almost exactly the same model as the old folkie “open mics.” A table as you entered to pay your admission this night three dollars (although the tradition is that no one is turned away for lack of funds) with a kindly woman asking if you intended to perform and direct you to the sign-up sheet if so. Another smaller table with various cookies, snacks, soda, water and glasses for those who wished to have such goodies, and who were asked to leave a donation in the jar on that table if possible. The set-up in the hall this night included a small stage where the performers would present their material slightly above the audience. On the stage a lectern for those who wished to use that for physical support or to read their work from and the ubiquitous simple battery-powered sound system complete with microphone. For the audience a bevy of chairs, mostly mismatched, mostly having seen plenty of use, and mostly uncomfortable. After paying his admission fee he went over to Zack to let him know he was in the audience. Zack told him he was number seven on the list so not to wander too far once the session had begun.

This is the way Zack told the story and why Jack knew there would be some reference to Bob Dylan’s Masters of War that night:

Hi everybody my name is Zack James and I am glad that you all came out this cold night to hear Preston Borden present his moving war poetry and the rest of us to reflect on the main subject of this month’s writing jam-the endless wars that the American government under whatever regime of late has dragged us into, us kicking and screaming to little avail.  I want to thank Eli as always for setting this event up every month and for his own thoughtful war poetry. [Some polite applause.] But enough for thanks and all that because tonight I want to recite a poem, well, not really a poem, but lyrics to a song, to a Bob Dylan song, Masters of War, so it might very well be considered a poem in some sense.   

You know sometimes, a lot of times, a song, lyrics, a poem for that matter bring back certain associations. You know some song you heard on the radio when you went on your first date, your first dance, your first kiss, stuff like that which is forever etched in your memory and evokes that moment every time you hear it thereafter. Now how this Dylan song came back to me recently is a story in itself.

You remember Eli back in October when we went up to Maine to help the Maine Veterans for Peace on their yearly peace walk that I ran into Susan Rich, the Quaker gal we met up in Freeport who walked with us that day to Portland. [Eli shouted out “yes.”] I had not seen Susan in about forty years before that day, hadn’t seen her since the times we had worked together building up support for anti-war G.I.s out at the Morning Report coffeehouse in Ayer outside Fort Devens up on Route 2 about thirty miles from here. That’s when we met Frank Jackman who is the real subject of my presentation tonight since he is the one who I think about when I think about that song, think about his story and how that song relates to it.   

Funny as many Dylan songs as I knew Masters of War, written by Dylan in 1963 I had never heard until 1971. Never heard the lyrics until I met Frank out at Fort Devens where after I was discharged from the Army that year I went to do some volunteer anti-war G.I. work at the coffeehouse outside the base in Army town Ayer. Frank too was a volunteer, had heard about the place somehow I forget how, who had grown up in Nashua up in southern New Hampshire and after he was discharged from the Army down at Fort Dix in New Jersey came to volunteer just like me and my old friend Jack Callahan who is sitting in the audience tonight. Now Frank was a quiet guy didn’t talk much about his military service but he made the anti-war soldiers who hung out there at night and on weekends feel at ease. One night thought he felt some urge to tell his story, tell why he thought it was unwise for him to participate in an anti-war action we were planning around the base. We were going to pass out copies of Daniel Ellsberg’s explosive whistle-blower expose The Pentagon Papers to soldiers at various location around the fort and as it turned out on the base. The reason that Frank had balked at the prospect of going into the fort was that as part of his discharge paperwork was attached a statement that he was never to go on a military installation again. We all were startled by that remark, right Jack? [Jack nods agreement.]

And that night the heroic, our kind of heroic, Frank Jackman told us about the hows and whys of his Army experience. Frank had been drafted like a ton of guys back then, like me, and had allowed himself to be drafted in 1968 at the age of nineteen not being vociferously anti-war and not being aware then of the option of not taking the subsequent induction. After about three week down at Fort Dix, the main basic training facility for trainees coming from the Northeast then, he knew two things-he had made a serious mistake by allowing himself to be drafted and come hell or high water he was not going to fight against people he had no quarrel with in Vietnam. Of course the rigors of basic training and being away from home, away from anybody who could help him do he knew not what then kept him quiet and just waiting. Once basic was over and he got his Advanced Infantry Training assignment also at Fort Dix which was to be an infantryman at a time when old Uncle Sam only wanted infantrymen in the rice paddles and jungles of Vietnam things came to a head.

After a few weeks in AIT he got a three day weekend pass which allowed him to go legally off the base and he used that time to come up to Boston, or really Cambridge because what he was looking for was help to file an conscientious objector application and he knew the Quakers were historically the ones who would know about going about that process. That is ironically where Susan Rich comes in again, although indirectly this time, since Frank went to the Meeting House on Brattle Street where they were doing draft and G.I. resistance counseling and Susan was a member of that Meeting although she had never met him at that time. He was advised by one of the Quaker counselors that he could submit a C.O. application in the military, which he had previously not been sure was possible since nobody told anybody anything about that in the military, when he got back to Fort Dix but just then, although they were better later, the odds were stacked against him since he had already accepted induction.

So he went back, put in his application, took a lot of crap from the lifers and officers in his company after that and little support, mainly indifference, from his fellow trainees. He still had to go through the training, the infantry training though and although he had taken M-16 rifle training in basic he almost balked at continuing to fire weapons especially when it came to machine guns. He didn’t balk but in the end that was not a big deal since fairly shortly after that his C.O. application was rejected although almost all those who interviewed him in the process though he was “sincere” in his beliefs. That point becomes important later.

Frank, although he knew his chances of being discharged as a C.O. were slim since he had based his application on his Catholic upbringing and more general moral and ethical grounds. The Catholic Church which unlike Quakers and Mennonites and the like who were absolutely against war held to a just war theory, Vietnam being mainly a just war in the Catholic hierarchy’s opinion. But Frank was sincere, more importantly, he was determined to not go to war despite his hawkish family and his hometown friends’, some who had already served, served in Vietnam too, scorn and lack of support. So he went back up to Cambridge on another three day pass to get some advice, which he actually didn’t take in the end or rather only partially took up  which had been to get a lawyer they would recommend and fight the C.O. denial in Federal court even though that was also still a long shot then.  

Frank checked with the lawyer alright, Steve Brady, who had been radicalized by the war and was offering his services on a sliding scale basis to G.I.s since he also had the added virtue of having been in the JAG in the military and so knew some of the ropes of the military legal system, and legal action was taken but Frank was one of those old time avenging Jehovah types like John Brown or one of those guys and despite being a Catholic rather than a high holy Protestant which is the usual denomination for avenging angels decided to actively resist the military. And did it in a fairly simple way when you think about it. One Monday morning when the whole of AIT was on the parade field for their weekly morning report ceremony Frank came out of his barracks with his civilian clothes on and carrying a handmade sign which read “Bring the Troops Home Now!”

That sign was simply but his life got a lot more complicated after that. In the immediate sense that meant he was pulled down on the ground by two lifer sergeants and brought to the Provost Marshal’s office since they were not sure that some dippy-hippie from near-by New York City might have been pulling a stunt. When they found out that he was a soldier they threw him immediately into solitary in the stockade.

For his offenses Frank was given a special court-martial which meant he faced six month maximum sentence which a panel of officers at his court-martial ultimately sentenced him to after a seven day trial which Steve Brady did his best to try to make into an anti-war platform but given the limitation of courts for such actions was only partially successful. After that six months was up minus some good time Frank was assigned to a special dead-beat unit waiting further action either by the military or in the federal district court in New Jersey. Still in high Jehovah form the next Monday morning after he was released he went out to that same parade field in civilian clothes carrying another homemade sign “Bring The Troops Home Now!” and he was again manhandled by another pair of lifer sergeants and this time thrown directly into solitary in the stockade since they knew who they were dealing with by then. And again he was given a special court-martial and duly sentenced by another panel of military officers to the six months maximum.

Frank admitted at that point he was in a little despair at the notion that he might have to keep doing the same action over and over again for eternity. Well he wound up serving almost all of that second six month sentence but then he got a break. That is where listening to the Quakers a little to get legal advice did help. See what Steve Brady, like I said an ex-World War II Army JAG officer turned anti-war activist lawyer, did was take the rejection of his C.O. application to Federal District Court in New Jersey on a writ of habeas corpus arguing that since all Army interviewers agreed Frank was “sincere” that it had been arbitrary and capricious of the Army to turn down his application. And given that the United States Supreme Court and some lower court decisions had by then expanded who could be considered a C.O. beyond the historically recognized groupings and creeds the cranky judge in the lower court case agreed and granted that writ of habeas corpus. Frank was let out with an honorable discharge, ironically therefore entitled to all veteran’s benefits but with the stipulation that he never go onto a military base again under penalty of arrest and trial. Whether that could be enforced as a matter of course he said he did not want to test since he was hardily sick of military bases in any case.                                       

So where does Bob Dylan’s Masters of War come into the picture. Well as you know, or should know every prisoner, every convicted prisoner, has the right to make a statement in his or her defense during the trial or at the sentencing phase. Frank at both his court-martials rose up and recited Bob Dylan’s Masters of War for the record. So for all eternity, or a while anyway, in some secret recess of the Army archives (and of the federal courts too) there is that defiant statement of a real hero of the Vietnam War. Nice right?      

Here is what had those bloated military officers on Frank’s court-martial board seeing red and ready to swing him from the highest gallow, yeah, swing him high.

Masters Of War-Bob Dylan 

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it’s your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people’s blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I’m young
You might say I’m unlearned
But there’s one thing I know
Though I’m younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead

Copyright © 1963 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991 by Special Rider Music

Monday, September 19, 2016

When At First You Practice To Deceive-Max Ophuls’ The Earrings Of Madame de… (1953)

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

The Earrings Of Madame de, starring Charles Boyer, Daniele Darrieux, Vittorio Desica, directed by Max Ophuls, 1953

There are plenty of things that films, especially older films can do to portray various aspects of the lives of people who have inhabited this wicked old world. The film under review, Max Ophuls’ The Earrings of Madame de… is almost a perfect expression of the Belle Epoque, the period of peace and stability for the upper crust before the ugly storm of World War I washed away all such illusions that the industrial age would bring unencumbered  progress and benefits to the Western world. To show rather graphically how the ill-thought out consequences of the moral decay of the period would bring the flower of the European youth to its knees before that conflict was over. At another level this film, for those who want to shy away from the political storms, represents an exceptional example of a master filmmaker at work using one simple thread to tell his story, to tell of the consequences of what the headline to this review points out-when you first practice to deceive-watch out for the blowback.   

For those who want to accept the film for its latter view here is how things came to such a nasty personal end. Madame de (and the beauty of this film other than as an example of the decadent French aristocracy is we never learn, never need to learn really the rest of Madame’s surname-a brilliant stroke), played by Daniele Darrieux, a big star of the French cinema in the post-World War II period, a flighty and self-indulgent wife of a count and General in the French Army, played by Charles Boyer, in the post-Paris Commune period was in hock up to her pretty eyebrows to a party (or parties) unknown. To get out from under dear Madame had hocked an expensive pair of earrings that the good General had given her as a heartfelt wedding gift. From there it is a question of following the bouncing ball, following the trail of the earrings and what they mean to the receivers in various contexts.        

Obviously to Madame they did not mean much in that stage of her marriage (she had plenty of other hock-able goods around her boudoir)  since she hocked them and then made up an outrageous story about losing them at the opera. Wrong move. Once the “theft” became public the jeweler who Madame hocked the jewels to got cold feet and sold them to the stiff upper-lipped general a second time. The General, in turn, used them as bait in his rush to get rid of an inconvenient mistress that he had tired of whom he was sending off to Turkey. She, in turn, hocked then when she got in over her head in gambling debts in some Kasbah casino. They were subsequently purchased by a Baron, played by Vittorio DeSica, who was on the way to Paris to take up a diplomatic post. Are you still with me?   

This is where things got dicey. The Baron met and was enchanted by Madame who used every coquettish trick in the book to entice him, and to discard him like an old shoe. Eventually they do become lovers and as a token of that love the kindly Baron gives Madame, you guessed it, the earrings. Problem: she can’t wear the things as a sign of her love for the Baron since the game would be up with the General. So the hair-brained Madame “finds” the missing jewels. Oops. The general already suspicious took the “found” jewels from Madame and confronted the Baron with the truth of Madame’s lies. Get this though. He wanted the Baron to sell them to the now obviously seriously wealthy jeweler so he could buy them a third time and present them yet again to Madame. Meanwhile the Baron seeing what the real picture was bowed, out of the scene. All very civilized, civilized indeed.         

Done, right. Are you kidding. The irate General gave them to Madame but told her to give them to a niece who has just given birth to a child. She, the niece, in turn, sold those freaking earrings to the now over the top rich jeweler to pay off hubby’s debts. The reckless if wealthy jeweler tried to sell them to the General a fourth time but he balked on this one. Madame stepped up to purchase them though after hocking some goods that she could have hocked to begin with. That purchase, that final purchase (at least in the film) was the tripping point for the General knowing that Madame was purchasing the jewels back out of devotion to the Baron. The General decided to confront the Baron with his indiscretions with Madame, with his wife. Such matters of honor were then settled in a very civilized way-divorce court. No, no on the field of honor among gentlemen-a duel. The Baron was doomed but would not back down. As a token trying to save the Baron through some miracle Madame placed the earring as a donation at her church. No go. The Baron caught the westbound train, was killed by the General’s single well-placed bullet. Madame, well, Madame, began to fall apart as usual when any slight or grand thing laid her low. A great film which you really must watch when you get a chance. And remember the moral too.       

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Struggle Continues...Supporter The Military Resisters-Support The G.I. Project   


By Frank Jackman

The late Peter Paul Markin had gotten “religion” on the questions of war and peace the hard way. Had before that baptism accepted half-knowingly (his term) against his better judgment induction into the Army when his “friends and neighbors” at his local draft board in North Adamsville called him up for military service back in hard-shell hell-hole Vietnam War days when the country was coming asunder, was bleeding from all pores around 1968. Markin had had some qualms about going into the service not only because the reasoning given by the government and its civilian hangers-on for the tremendous waste of human and material resources had long seemed preposterous but because he had an abstract idea that war was bad, bad for individuals, bad for countries, bad for civilization in the late 20th century. Was a half-assed pacifist if he had though deeply about the question, which he had not.

But everything in his blessed forsaken scatter-shot life pushed and pushed hard against his joining the ranks of the draft resisters whom he would hear about and see every day then as he passed on his truck route which allowed him to pay his way through college the Boston sanctuary for that cohort, the Arlington Street Church. Markin had assumed that since he was not a Quaker, Shaker, Mennonite, Brethren of the Common Life adherent but rather a bloody high-nosed Roman Catholic with their slimy “just war” theory that seemed to justify every American war courtesy of their leading American Cardinal, France Spellman, that he could not qualify for conscientious objector status on that basis. And at the time that he entered the Army that was probably true even if he had attempted to do so. Later, as happened with his friend, Jack Callahan, he could at least made the case based on the common Catholic upbringing.  Right then though he was not a total objector to war but only of what he saw in front of him, the unjustness of the Vietnam War.

That was not the least of his situation though. That half-knowingly mentioned above had been overridden by his whole college Joe lifestyle where he was more interested in sex, drink, and rock and roll (the drugs would not come until later), more interested in bedding women than thinking through what he half-knew would be his fate once he graduated from college as the war slowly dragged on and his number was coming up. Moreover there was not one damn thing in his background that would have given pause about his future course. A son of the working-class, really even lower than that the working poor a notch below, there was nobody if he had bothered to seek some support for resistance who would have done so. Certainly not his quiet but proud ex-World War II Marine father, not his mother whose brother was a rising career Army senior NCO, not his older brothers who had signed up as a way to get out of hell-hole North Adamsville, and certainly not his friends from high school half of whom had enlisted and a couple from his street who had been killed in action over there. So no way was an Acre boy with the years of Acre mentality cast like iron in his head about servicing if called going to tip the cart that way toward straight out resistance.         

Maybe he should have, at least according to guys he met in college like Brad Fox and Fritz Tylor, or guys who he met on the hitchhike road going west like Josh Breslin and Captain Crunch (his moniker not real name which Josh could not remember). The way they heard the story from Markin after he got out of the Army, after he had done his hell-hole thirteen months in Vietnam as an infantryman, twice wounded, and after he had come back to the “real” world was that on about the third day in basis training down in Fort Jackson in South Carolina he knew that he had made a mistake by accepting induction. But maybe there was some fate-driven reason, maybe as he received training as an infantryman and he and a group of other trainees talked about but did not refuse to take machine-gun training, maybe once he received orders for Vietnam and maybe once he got “in-country” he sensed that something had gone wrong in his short, sweet life but he never attempted to get any help, put in any applications, sought any relief from what was to finally crack him. That, despite tons of barracks anti-war blather on his part from Fort Jackson to Danang.     

Here’s the reason though why the late Peter Paul Markin’s story accompanies this information about G.I. rights even for those who nowadays enter the military voluntarily, as voluntarily as any such decision can be without direct governmental coercion. Markin, and this part is from Josh Breslin the guy he was closest to toward the end, the guy who had last seen him in the States before that fateful trip to Mexico, to Sonora when it all fell apart one day, had a very difficult time coming back to what all the returnees called the “real” world after Vietnam service. Had drifted to drug, sex and rock and roll out on the West Coast where Josh had first met him in San Francisco until he tired of that, had started to have some bad nights.

Despite the bad nights though he did have a real talent for writing, for journalism. Got caught up in writing a series about what would be later called the “brothers under the bridge” about guys like him down in Southern California who could not adjust to the real world after ‘Nam and had tried to keep body and soul together by banding together in the arroyos, along the railroad tracks and under the bridges and creating what would today be called a “safe space.”

Markin’s demons though were never far from the surface. Got worse when he sensed that the great wash that had come over the land during the counter-cultural 1960s that he had just caught the tail-end had run its course, had hit ebb tide. Then in the mid-1970s to relieve whatever inner pains were disturbing him he immersed himself in the cocaine culture that was just rearing its head in the States. That addiction would lead him into the drug trade, would eventually lead him as if by the fateful numbers to sunny Mexico, to lovely Sonora way where he met his end. Josh never found out all the details about Markin’s end although a few friends had raised money to send a detective down to investigate. Apparently Markin got mixed up with some local bad boys in the drug trade. Tried to cut corners, or cut into their market. One day he was found in a dusty back street with two slugs in his head. He lies down there in some unknown potter’s field mourned, moaned and missed until this very day.