Monday, January 16, 2017

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find On His Mind-The Trials and Tribulations of Lance Lawrence


...yeah forever young  


By Seth Garth   

Sam Lowell had never seen anybody as skirt –crazy as his old friend Lance Lawrence, a guy that he had met in college, met at Boston University when by the luck the draw they became roommates freshman year and had remained in contact, sometimes with serious lapses of time, sometimes like now over forty years later almost daily. Day one freshman year they had hardly gotten their books from the bookstore when Lance had propositioned some young thing (his expression for the fair sex, for young women, okay, which he has used until this day even though who he is speaking or thinking of had lost the sweet bloom of youth long ago), Not only had propositioned her but had coaxed her (Sam’s gentile word for a lot more than some innocent coaxing) up into their dorm room on Bay State Road (leaving Sam, for the first but not the last hanging somewhere not in the dorm). That seduction, no, that coaxing a definite no-no in the hard-pressed later 1960s when freshman were supposed officially by the in locus parentis school authorities to be above such sexual desire and ways to relieve those desires. Nothing ever came of that indiscretion and like a million other Lance indiscretions for which he became something like campus famous never looked back, never thought such conduct was anything but the natural order. Lance’s natural order and if pressed today would probably wonder what the hell anybody was talking about, making a big deal about it as just the way he operated in his silver spoon world. And he had had since those fresh bloom days three, count them, three full-fledged divorces and a myriad of affairs to put paid to that sense of wonder like some Fitzgerald Dutchman looking for the first time at that fresh green breast of the Long Island of his deportee dreams.        

No question Lance was a good-looking guy, a good-looking guy in that sly, wicked way that guys back in the day looked to the opposite sex and which no longer commands those longing loving looks from forlorn midnight sitting by the telephone young women who charted his life and theirs by their meaningful glances (nowadays by the way waiting almost anyplace by the cellphone). Tall, not too tall, lanky, a little wiry which meant don’t mess with him and which on occasion especially under drink was very good advice, a long tousle of dark black hair and bedroom eyes (that remark made Sam mad when girls, his date girls, would ask him who the guy with the bedroom blue eyes was with a slightly suggestive sexual emphasis that usually did rouse to his benefit later in the evening). So, yes, Lance was a piece of work. And although Lance had lost several steps in the aging process he still believed that he had what it took to get the now no longer young “mature” women who engaged his attention a quick tumble just like that first freshman day.

So yes skirt-crazy as ever. Skirt-crazy through those three marriages two which broke up due to that very chasing (the third, his first flighty one when he expected to be shipped out to Vietnam and had worried himself to perdition that he would die unsung, and unmarried, was due to her chasing some football player type while he was in Dear John Vietnam without a scratch on him except whatever heart bleed he secretly harbored against the “bitch”). Of late Lance had been momentarily down in the dumps due to the break-up of his latest affair, an affair with Minnie Murphy whom he had had an “affair” with, the gentile way that he put it to Sam one night over drinks at Sam’s favorite watering hole in Cambridge, Joey’s Grille, although they had been shacked up for at least a decade before she gave him his walking papers. The breakdown of the Lance crisis had not been that he had done his damnest to earn those walking papers by his ever-lasting philandering, which he had, or at least that went unspoken but you never knew with quiet Minnie, a habit of hers drilled in childhood by a drunken father who made it his business to shut his whole brood up. No, Lance was beside himself with the fact that he was lady-less, was without a companion after an almost endless string going back, well, going back to that first freshman wayward day. Had been alone almost a month at that point.

Lance at least in Sam’s presence had never before been known to be reflective about his romantic downturns so Sam was rather surprised when Lance mentioned how his inattention, his distance, his indifference to Minnie’s feelings and he self-absorption had left Minnie no choice but to flee the scene, to go on her own quiet quest to “find herself” without the tensions of having to bear whatever mood Lance was in at any given time. Sam should have known that such self-analysis was a “cover,” a convenient way to introduce some latest scheme to grab some skirt rather than own up to his boorishness with Minnie. (Sam, a victim of his own two divorces and scads of college-weighted kids always had a soft spot in his heart for Minnie, especially after one meaningful night when he half-drunk brought up the subject and Minnie, gently as was her way always, told him that she had some feelings that way toward him too but Lance was her man and that was that, damn Lance.)

What had Lance down in the dumps was his latest “search” for some skirt. See, as he told Sam that bleary self-confession barroom drinking night he had recently joined a senior-oriented in-line dating service, Seniors Please, and had been hard-pressed to find his niche, his place in such an off-hand way of meeting women, “mature” women but Sam knew in his mind Lance was working the same game plan he had used to floor women since he was about six. Lance, as long as Sam had seen him operate under all weathers, always depended on those piecing bedroom eyes and a gift of blarney that would make any honest Irishmen weep for their inadequacies. That meant that he would meet some woman at a bar or at work (or at a bookstore when that was in style and there were bookstores, brick and mortar bookstores, where women would congregate to get their weekly reading materials and as it turned out when he found out later lingering around to see if there were any prospective men within fifty miles of the place the idea being that a guy who at least read a book was a likely prospect. Yeah, the bar at a certain age was pretty low.). Then work his magic based on some chemistry between them or some lust (on her part as likely as his also something Lance had found out from experience).

This on-line dating business was ass-backward. You filled out a “profile” of rather simpleton and non-responsive questions, some bullshit prompted lines about what you were looking for (sex of course, not only the province of the young), and a decent photo. The hook though was when you placed your profile on-line and got a few bites you couldn’t respond because you were not a member of the service and had to pay the entry fee which Lance begrudgingly did. Once he did that he got very few responses that he was interested in (what he would later find was that there were benighted trolls, a blight on all social media sites and something he had never expected “cougars,” older women “stalking” younger men, that could be an eighty year old hunting for sixty year old, Jesus). The photo and bullshit written profile did not play to his strong suit, did not play to that chemistry. The old days were long gone when you met somebody live say at a party, clicked, and exchanged phone numbers (or went out to parked car if it was that kind of night). So what was an “active” man to do when there were no other obvious ways to meet women when there were none at work or in his profession, the law profession, in general who were around his age and were interested in anything but making partner, where the “meat market” bars were way behind him and where his hi-jinks in the art museum he was advised to go to in order to meet women only gave him a headache.                 
Lance made Sam laugh with some of the stuff he mentioned he had run into (out loud laugh because some of the situations were funny and secretly laugh that finally the playboy of the western world had been taken down a peg or two). That cougar older woman hunting young man business but also the way Lance talked about what women, seemingly rational and intelligent women, put on-line. The expected bullshit “profile” stuff about finding a soul-mate and eternal love but also some impossible stuff like seriousness, good manners, and gentlemanly behavior. Jesus, Lance told Sam what the hell did they expect from guys who probably had at least a passing acquaintance with the 1960s and looser styles and mores. But the photographs were the tip-off that Lance was in deep trouble. He could not believe that these same women who were looking for eternal love unabashedly put photographs of themselves with their broods of grandchildren in the lead photographs (although Lance loved his own brood of grandkids he hardly would advertise himself as grandpa of the year). Could not believe that they put amply photographs of their pets (sometimes looking cuter than their owners) among their selections. Had flipped out when one woman had a photograph of her big bruiser of an adult son who looked like a professional football player all surly beside his mother looking for all the world like he would bust some guy’s nose if he looked cross-eyed at his dear mother.


Lance went on with his funny descriptions until he and Sam had had enough to drink and decided to head for their respective homes. As they parted after going out the door Lance said to Sam that he had to go home and boot up the computer to see if greeklady123 or coolocean47 (on-line monikers that everybody assumed on site) had responded to his messages. Yeah, Lance was a skirt-crazy guy, no question.          

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reality Is Stranger Than Fiction-Ewan McGregor’s “The Ghost Writer” (2010)- A Film Review       





DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

The Ghost Writer, starring Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, directed by the legendary Roman Polanski, 2010

Okay, everybody back in the day, back in the 2002, 2003 day in the lead-up to the disastrous and ill-fated Iraq War misadventure to get Saddam Hussein out of power knew that that the British, that then Prime Minister Tony Blair specifically was George W. Bush’s “poodle.” That the long gone British Empire and its residue were in lockstep with whatever Washington had planned. Whatever caper the U.S government was up for they could depend on the “cousins” to back them up. That situation, that understanding of realpolitik is what underlies the film under review, The Ghost Writer, with the interesting fictional notion that those locksteps were not happenstance but a result of nefarious actions by, well, by who else but the American CIA. Although given how badly that organization “slam dunk” dropped the ball on Iraq intelligence I seriously question that proposition in realpolitik but makes a nice premise for a film.     

Here’s the play on this fine political thriller from the direction of Roman Polanski and the main actors. Like a lot of sports figures, socialites, and entertainers politicians who want to publish their memoirs need some editorial help, need a ghost writer to take the mass of gibberish and turn it into a finely wrought book that people will actually read. That was the situation with Tony Blair, oops, Adam Lang, the ex-Prime Minister of England during the catastrophic Iraq War (2003 version in case there is confusion) when he wanted to write his memoirs. But a funny thing happened before they could be whipped into shape. The original ghost writer, a political confidante, was washed up on shore in Martha’s Vineyard when Lang was spending his “exile.”  Seemingly an accident so another “ghost” had to be brought in, this time a nameless ghost played by Ewan McGregor. He went to work trying to patch things together from what the difficult Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan, had written and would divulge in personal interviews between the two.

Then world politics intruded. Allegedly Lang while knee deep in collusion with the Americans had authorized the use of illegal seizure of suspected terrorists turning them over to the CIA for torture and the International Criminal Tribunal wanted his head. That hard fact was what led the ghost to investigate what the hell was going on after being given some information that the original ghost writer’s death might not have been an accident. Then the world begins to get very scary for him (although I am not sure I would confide in him for anything important since whenever he got some kind of lead he would immediately blab the whole thing to whoever would listen-and not all them it turned out were disinterested parties).       

The more the ghost learns the more it looks like back in his youth Lang had been recruited by the CIA seemingly for the long-term purpose of having him vie for leadership of the Labor Party and who knows maybe the Prime Minister-ship. A compliant “poodle” no question. But looks are deceiving since it was not the half-bright Lang who had been recruited by the CIA but the power behind the throne-Lang’s wife the fetching and brilliant Ruth, played by Olivia Williams, who had been recruited by a Harvard Law professor. That came out though only after Lang had been assassinated by a distraught “gold star” father of a British soldier killed in Iraq. That CIA connection is the secret that the original ghost had left clues for in the manuscript re-write and other evidence. As for the ghost he in his naiveté wound up with an unknown fate-all we know is that once Ruth found out that he knew the score he was apparently run over by a very convenient speeding car while he was looking for a cab as the incriminating pages of the manuscript were scattered to the four winds.       

This was a very good political thriller, a good piece of fiction, but here is a sobering thought. None of the real main actors in the Iraq war crimes Bush, Blair, Rummy, slam dunk Tenet, Cheney or their underlings stood in the docket anywhere for their criminal actions. Don’t blame that on the film though -see this one.     

     
The Ghost Of Tom Joad-Resurrected-With John Ford’s Film Adaptation Of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes Of Wrath” In Mind 








By Zack James

The ghost of Tom Joad weighted heavily on Bart Webber’s fertile mind, some would say futile including a couple of ex-wives who nevertheless bled him dry, ever since he had first read John Steinbeck’s Grapes Of Wrath in high school. He was not sure whether he had read it as part of an English class assignment, not likely since he was not into reading then as much as he would later turn his after-burners on and read everything that he could lay his grubby rawhide hands on, or had read it in the library in the days when he was trying to break from his reckless addition to the midnight creeps of corner boy life. The midnight creep being simple nighttime burglaries of waiting and inviting homes-not all of them loaded with riches but as likely to be low-hanging fruit convenient places in the working class neighborhood of Carver where he had come of age. 

Reason: simplicity itself-that was where goods that could be “fenced” were found which allowed him and his corner boys to survive if not in style then to have date night money during high school. One night he and Jimmy Jenkins his closest corner boy were almost nabbed by the coppers as they came out a house which had a silent security system guarding the premises something unusual at the time although almost an afterthought now. The haul brought about twenty bucks and he began to think better of the idea of avoiding hard time in county or the state pen for such little benefit. And so the summer between junior and senior year he dived into whatever the library had to offer to keep him occupied. Now some forty years later as he thought about it more that was probably the place where he read the book.

But the genesis of his admiration for John Steinbeck’s best-known work was not what was making his carry a heavy Tom Joad load lately. That had been directly prompted by two separate events, or better occurrences. First he had gone to an exhibit of photography at the local art museum (that designation being a little disingenuous since that was the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which is much more that a local hang-out but that is what drives Bart’s expressions sometimes and so we will indulge his habits and move on) which featured some of the photography of Dorothea Lange who was famous for her work with the hard scrabble farm migrants from which a character like Tom would have come, would have come out of the hills of Oklahoma like the second coming or something. The photos not only struck a chord as pieces of history but made him rage inside against his own Joad-like beginnings, a feeling that was never very far from the surface.
The second occurrence was one night when his wife, Loretta (wife number three and a keeper after those two previous blood-lettings) happened to have gone to the local library (this was a correct designation since it was merely a branch of the Cambridge library system) looking for some DVDs of interest. For some reason the John Ford film adaptation of Steinbeck’s book was featured prominently in the DVD section and having always loved Henry Fonda and she not having seen the film or read the book thought that Bart would enjoy seeing the film with her.                       

Bart certainly had enjoyed the film that night but a few days later he began to flash back in his mind how vividly he felt the fate of Tom Joad, of Tom Joad’s people as they were thrown out of dust bowl Oklahoma and left to their own circumscribed capacities to get to sunny California, the new garden of Eden the best way they could. Which was none too good. He had been most struck by the totally destitute condition the Joad clan was in when they were hustled off the land just ahead of the bulldozers come to do their foreclosure best to obliterate a couple or three generations of work on the land (the dust balls having set the whole frame up as well as the world-wide Depression that they were incapable of doing anything about even if they understood how the damn thing melted down-which they didn’t taking it as providence lacking any other suitable explanation).        

But it was really Tom Joad and his fate which gathered Bart’s attention. Tom had, as the film opened, just gotten out of prison for a homicide that he had committed a few years before over some girl or something at a dance. (Half of Bart’s corner boys had before they were done been through some prison or other and as mentioned it had been a close thing in his own case, a very close thing.) He went looking for his people back in Podunk Oklahoma and they were not at the old homestead but had begun the first stage of the trek to the “promised land”. Tom caught up with them at a relative’s homestead and decided that he would head west with them despite that decision being a violation of his parole conditions. Along the way, the tough road west in a beaten down jalopy held together mostly by prayers, the tough Highway 66 through the high desert into Southern California Tom and the family sensed that once again they will be left out of the garden. That they had been sold a bill of goods. That proved to be the case as they hit the overcrowded farm stoop labor company store camps where a million other Joads were losing their illusions if not their dreams.     

The part of the film though that drew Bart’s fervent attention was when Tom, a guy like him and his corner boys really as far as their early up-bringings had made them very conscious of their poverty but also clueless about what had caused that condition and more importantly what to do about it-if anything. But Tom out west “got religion,” saw that nothing was going to change, no family, including his, was going to get ahead in this wicked old world if they just sat there and took it, let the bosses beat them down and then throw them away. Some Okie/Arkie hard-headed gene about what was right and what was wrong got kick-started. He would devote himself to taking care of whoever and whatever of the beaten down peoples of this good rich earth where he saw things going wrong.

Bart didn’t know if Tom’s epiphany would have survived the Okie/Arkie settling down after the war when everybody was expecting to make it on their own and let the devil take the hinter post. Sure there were the aimless hot-rodders and Hell Angels motorcyclists who lived for the moment and didn’t give a damn about living the ticky-tacky life but mostly the brethren did. All Bart knew was that the weight of Tom’s commitment to some rough-hew justice as he settled in the West was driving him crazy of late since the current political situation pointed to his own having to get back out on the streets, to “get religion” again after years of conducting an “armed truce” with what was happening in Washington and elsewhere. Hell he was getting too old for this. Then the ghost of Tom Joad entered his brain with these words from the film:

“I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too.     


Damn old Tom Joad, damn him to hell.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Working The Blues Street Corners-With Blind Willie McTell In Mind











By Zack James




Seth Garth was always intrigued by what he called the “blinds,” not the old railroad jungle hobo, tramp, bum use of the term ‘riding the blinds” but his own personal shorthand way to describe the large number of old bluesmen, mainly country blues guys who made a living on the streets mostly on the towns down South who were blind. Blind Willie McTell, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Earl Avery, Blind Amos Morris, you get the point, get the picture. Get the picture too of guys hanging on the street corners, hat in hand or maybe in front of them on the sidewalk a guitar at the ready. Guys, and gals too, still do that today on urban streets and in subways although Seth never remembered any of them being blind, at least not really blind although he had run up against a couple of con artists working a grift faking that blind deal.

(Yeah, “Blind” Willie Sampson took him and many other unaware transit riders for a “ride” at the Park Street subway stop at the Boston Common where he held forth playing very good blues guitar although he had the look of a kid from the suburbs, a white bread kid, not from the best but maybe a town like Seth’s Riverdale about forty miles west of Boston where working class and lower middle class merged and created a fairly ordinary community except the “rich” section over on Abbotts Hill where the descendants of the various now closed textile mills that created the growth of the town lived. Sampson would “hustle” dough based on his singing almost like Taj Mahal the modern blues master but also because he was “blind”-that was/is social reality when a blind man or woman puts a basket or uses his or her guitar case to lap up the dough and seemingly is trying to earn daily bread rather than whatever the social welfare agencies wanted to distribute. With Sampson, real name Nicolas Drummond, Seth had been walking along Tremont Street when he saw a guy who looked familiar with a guitar heading to the Chinatown stop. The guy walking just like the sighted guy he was had been Sampson. Seth the next time he exited the Park Street subway stop mentioned that to Willie who looked pretty non-plussed about the matter. Seth read the “riot act” to him but also told him that he had connections at the Club Nana, a coffeehouse in Cambridge and gave him the manager’s name to get in touch with for an audition. A few weeks later Seth was in the audience at Nick Drummond’s first paying gig at the club.)            

He often wondered what it would have been like to pass them on some forlorn street, and wonder is all he could do since all those august names and others that he learned about on the way as part of his job as a music critic for various publications like Big Honey Small, Laddie Layne, and “Smokin’ Sam, all blind who did not put their condition in their moniker, had passed beyond well before he came of age. Before he became old enough to appreciate the blues tradition that he got hopped on as a kid after accidently hearing Blue Blaine’s Blues Hour out of Chicago one fugitive Sunday night when the airwaves were in just the right seventh house position. Or something like position that since even though a science wiz in high school, a guy who went on to be a weather man (not Weatherman like in the 1960s SDS split-off leftist action of whom he had known a few of them as well after a series of articles he did on the theme of music and politics using Bob Dylan’s phrase “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”) tried to patiently explain that it was not some voodoo magic but had to do with airwaves and wind currents. Whatever had caused that intersession that hooked him for good even though he did not hear anything by any of the previously mentioned blues artists that night. That would come much later after he became an aficionado and became, maybe as a result of those fugitive airwaves, a folk music critic back in the day for several then thriving and authoritative alternative folk and blues publications.

According to ‘Bama Brown, the great harmonica player for legendary Johnny Boy Williams’ blues band who was the last living link to those “blinds” the reason that they were able to survive on the streets is because even in the Jim Crow South a blind black man posed no direct threat to Mister. ‘Bama was by his own description “blind as a bat” not from birth but after having been in some rumble with some others down in Clarksville in the Delta, the Mississippi Delta  and had lost his sight to some grievous thumb-gougings when things turned very drunkenly ugly. He had started on the streets of Mosley up river where he had kin and where Johnny Boy heard him one night outside a juke joint out in the backwoods around Mosley singing for hi supper and signed him up immediately. But when he, all two hundred and twenty tough pound of him and if sighted a brute that Mister would certainly not let on his streets, continued with his thoughts ‘Bama said they all  could walk the streets with their hats or little tin cups, maybe with some black sister to aid them (true in the cases of Blind Willie and Blind Blake), maybe sing harmony in an off-hand minute, maybe play a little tambourine to draw a crowd, to give the word since preaching on the white streets, the streets where the money was on say a drunken sot Saturday, by a black man was frowned upon. Whites had their own set of holy-rollers to patronize and did not need any blacks to draw away from their purses. That would get a black guy, blind or not, a swift kick back to Negro-town, to the cheap streets.     

That was ‘Bama’s story anyway and it sounded plausible, when Seth first heard it on his first trip down south to see who if anybody was left and he ran into ancient ‘Bama in Clarksville one of the old time Meccas  of the country blues and a place when king hell king Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil, all signed and sealed, in order to play the devil’s music better than anybody else and probably was as close to a reason that the blinds survived as any. Then, But later after some research, after listening to some precious oral histories provided to the Library of Congress by the Lomaxes, father and son, he started to question whether ‘Bama had the deal down pat as it seemed at the time (and as he had written about in an article about ‘Bama as the last living link to a lot of the old country blues singers, especially the Delta boys from where he had hailed before heading north to Chicago and fame with Johnny Boy).
Seth had been particularly struck by one oral interview given by Honey Boy James, a great slide guitarist in the mold of Mississippi Fred McDowell, who before he passed away in the late 1940s told Alan Lomax, the son, that the real reason that the “blinds’” were left alone was that in their heyday, the late 1920s and early 1930s before the Great Depression hit hard and nobody had spare change for records or for giving alms to anybody, even blind men, was that the record companies from New York and Chicago mainly would sent scouts out to the small towns of the South looking for talent. Looking for a sound for their ‘‘race” labels and in the process those agents would get word out that there was dough to be had if anybody, anybody okay, could find some talent. Obviously the roughnecks and hillbillies, the white breads, were as anxious to get dough as anybody else and the only way they could grab some was listening to the black guys on the streets, on Mister’s streets. And the only black guys allowed on Mister’s precious streets were the “blinds.”                



Seth found that piece of news interesting but he was more than a little pissed off that old ‘Bama whom Seth had given good cash to for his interview had “forgotten” to tell him about that possible explanation. Especially since ‘Bama at the time was with Johnny Boy when RCA came looking for a new black sound and the band had been scouted and recorded by Mac Duran, a well-known white record agent in Memphis at the time. Damn.  
Behind The Stately Mansions Of England-Cary Grant’s “The Grass Is Greener” (1960)-A Film Review




DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

The Grass Is Greener, starring Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons, Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, 1960

The old saw the grass is greener meaning what you don’t have and the other person do makes you envious, jealous or whatever other untoward emotion comes to mind has various applications not all of them serious, or seemingly serious. That idea gets full play in this 1960s film under review, The Grass Is Greener, a comic look at the other side, the comic side of the old saw. The comic look in the film takes place in one of the stately mansions of England and involves a certain amount of hanky-panky by adulterous adults. Usually adultery gets serious play in dramas and such but here it will all work out in the end-maybe.    

Hey, wait a minute what about one of those ten commandments, you know the one about not coveting (nice word) thy neighbor’s wife (or husband to be up to date, coveting wives and husbands if you are in a polygamous society or sect to cover every possibility). That rule gets short shrift here. This is the skinny. The owners of the old family estate, the Earl, Victor, played by Cary Grant, and his wife the Countess, Hilary, played by Deborah Kerr are up against it what with taxes and upkeep now like many aristocrats in post-World War II England. Their solution was to open their mansion to royalty crazy tourists, including lots of Americans who secretly long for the royal touch. Fair enough.                      

But one of those Americans, a rich one, a rich oil man, Charles Delacro, Delacroix, or whatever his surname was, played by Robert Mitchum not known for his comedic talents, barges into the private area of the mansion and confront the Countess, Hilary, and makes a big play for her with plenty of old time sweet and high blown words. Normally such a situation would have the guy shown the door. Not here, not Hilary in the end, since above and beyond those tax and upkeep problems she is bored with her life, bored with hubby (amazingly bored with Cary Grant the epitome of suave and sexy manhood in those days-go figure) and very open to an affair. Hence the bit about coveting thy neighbor’s wife above. And along the way to show his devotion and to tweak Victor as well Charles provided a now politically incorrect mink coat.      

Remember this is a comedy and so some hi-jinks come into play as does the Victor’s ex-girlfriend an American heiress, Hattie, played by Jean Simmons who is covering for Hilary while she is having her affair and at the same time trying to rekindle her own past affair with the Earl. Victor showing that nth degree of good breeding, a smart guy when you think about it instead of beating himself over the head for his inadequacies or his fallen wife for her indiscretions attempts to win her back from that upstart arriviste American, oil millions or not. He makes a lot of big sophisticated and witty talk to his wife, to Charles, and to anybody else who will listen.


Here is the closer. Victor challenges Charles to a duel, a duel of honor like back about ten generations before as the way to settle this violation of his sense of honor. By hook or by crook they have their duel in which the Earl is mysteriously wounded (mysterious since the Earl’s butler acting as second had put blanks in each gun). This gallant behavior wins Hilary back and Charles finally is shown the door. Hattie, well she walked out with him-and with that now politically incorrect mink. So breathe a sigh of relief as Cary Grant keeps his title as a guy that women do not leave.   

Friday, January 13, 2017

Working The  Blues Street Corners-With Blind Willie McTell In Mind





By Zack James




Seth Garth was always intrigued by what he called the “blinds,” not the old railroad jungle hobo, tramp, bum use of the term ‘riding the blinds” but his own personal shorthand way to describe the large number of old bluesmen, mainly country blues guys who made a living on the streets mostly on the towns down South who were blind. Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Earl Avery, Blind Amos Morris, you get the point, get the picture. Get the picture too of guys hanging on the street corners, hat in hand or maybe in front of them on the sidewalk a guitar at the ready. Guys, and gals too, still do that today on urban streets and in subways although Seth never remembered any of them being blind, at least not really blind although he had run up against a couple of con artists working a grift faking that blind deal. 

He often wondered what it would have been like to pass them on some forlorn street, and wonder is all he could do since all those august names had passed beyond well before he came of age. Before he became old enough to appreciate the blues tradition that he got hopped on as a kid after accidently hearing Blue Blaine’s Blues Hour out of Chicago one fugitive Sunday night when the airwaves were in just the right seventh house position. Or something like that since even though a science wiz in high school, a guy who went on to be a weather man (not Weatherman like in the 1960s SDS split-off leftist action of whom he had known a few of them as well after a series of articles he did on the theme of music and politic using Bob Dylan’s phrase “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”) tried to patiently explain that it was not some voodoo magic but had to do with airwaves and wind currents. Whatever had caused that intersession that hooked him for good even though he did not hear anything by any of the previously mentioned blues artists that night. That would come much later after he became an aficionado and became, maybe as a result of those fugitive airwaves, a folk music critic back in the day for several then thriving and authoritative alternative folk and blues publications.

According to ‘Bama Brown, the great harmonica player for Johnny Boy Williams’ blues band who was the last living link to those “blinds” the reason that they were able to survive on the streets is because even in the Jim Crow South a blind black man posed no direct threat to Mister. That they could walk the streets with their hats or little tin cups, maybe with some black sister to aid them (true in the cases of Blind Willie and Blind Blake), maybe sing harmony in an off-hand minute, maybe play a little tambourine to draw a crowd, to give the word since preaching on the white streets, the streets where the money was on say a drunken sot Saturday, by a black man was frowned upon. Whites had their own set of holy-rollers to patronize and did not need any blacks to draw away from their purses. That would get a black guy, blind or not, a swift kick back to Negro-town, to the cheap streets.     

That was ‘Bama’s story anyway and it sounded plausible, and probably was as close to a reason that the blinds survived as any but later after some research, after listening to some precious oral histories provided to the Library of Congress by the Lomaxes, father and son, he started to question whether ‘Bama had the deal down pat as it seemed at the time (and as he had written about in an article about ‘Bama as the last living link to a  lot of the old country blues singers, especially the Delta boys from where he had hailed before heading north to Chicago and fame with Johnny Boy).
Seth had been particularly struck by one oral interview given by Honey Boy James, a great slide guitarist in the mold of Mississippi Fred McDowell, who before he passed away in the late 1940s told Alan Lomax, the son, that the real reason that the “blinds’” were left alone was that in their heyday, the late 1920s and early 1930s before the Great Depression hit hard and nobody had spare change for records or for giving alms to anybody, even blind men, was that the record companies from New York and Chicago mainly would sent scouts out to the small towns of the South looking for talent. Looking for a sound for their ‘‘race” labels and in the process those agents would get word out that there was dough to be had if anybody, anybody okay, could find some talent. Obviously the roughnecks and hillbillies were as anxious to get dough as anybody else and the only way they could grab some was listening to the black guys on the streets, on Mister’s streets. And the only guys allowed on Mister’s precious streets were the “blinds.”                


Seth found that piece of news interesting but he was more than a little pissed off that old ‘Bama whom Seth had given good cash to for his interview had “forgotten” to tell him about that possible explanation. Especially since ‘Bama at the time was with Johnny Boy when RCA came looking for a new black sound and had been scouted by Mac Duran, a well-known white record agent in Memphis at the time. Damn.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Race, Gender  And Space-The Black Women’s Place-“Hidden Figures” (2016)-A Film Review     







DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Hidden Figures, starring Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, 2016  

Come on now when you are thinking  about the super-duper advanced mathematicians, computer whizzes or aerospace engineers who put men and women into space and to the moon  you are thinking about short-haired crew-cut  white guys in white shirts with those plastic sleeves in their shirt pockets filled with off-hand pens sitting in mission control at Houston calling the shots as part of a vanilla team of anonymous figures (except the head guy whose head was always being fitted for the platter with each early rocket failure back in the late 1950s and early 1960s after the red scare Cold War Russians put an object and then a man in space leaving the United States of America flat-footed and looking kind of foolish what with all the expertise and dough around).

Yeah, you are thinking in those days, somewhat still true now as well of guys who went to big time science schools like Cal Tech and MIT maybe an oddball from Stanford (although now you will see at least at MIT which I am most familiar many Asian guys and gals filling the classrooms with their computers at the ready but also with those plastic sleeves still holding their pens-the gals too.) What you would not be thinking about is three black women (complete with kids at home something you don’t associate with those white-shirted guys too busy figuring out the latest orbital trajectory) who did not go to Cal Tech, MIT or even an oddball at Stanford but in the case of one Podunk West Virginia and another having to attend night school at some previously all white high school to get up to speed in order to become an aerospace engineer. But that hard if long delayed acknowledgement is what drives the film under review Hidden Figures about those three black women who were pioneers in a man’s world (along with help from other black women from the “colored” pool of human computers from which they were selected). Hell there weren’t even that many white women come to think of it but this film is a black-etched story not a generic women’s story.          

Here’s the way the plot-line played out and why we should admire the tenacity and their sense of patriotism of those women. As mentioned above the U.S. was caught flat-footed by the Russians in the late 1950s with Sputnik first of all and so NASA down in Virginia was pushed hard, pushed hard politically to show some results-to catch up and surpass the Ruskkies (with the object of winning the big prize-landing on the moon not in the distance future but as per Jack Kennedy by the end of the 1960s). So everybody needed to pull some weight-all those highly prized Cal Tech and MIT guys had to push the envelope. Aided of course by those human computers who if you can believe this in the age of the personal computer and an average eight year old’s ability to handle the damn thing with ease used adding machines and pocket calculators-maybe slide rulers too. They appear to have been mainly women-“colored” (hey that is the term of the time so let’s let that stand here as well) and white women working in separate areas of the complex at Langley.           

That seemingly ancient situation which may seem weird in our so-called “post racial” society was however the social reality in early 1960s Virginia due to the Mister James Crow laws and their strict enforcement  in that state despite whatever the courts had proclaimed in the 1950s (or for that matter the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution from the 1860s). This is the “race” part of the “race and space” title of this review. Those laws and “customs” extended right up to those highly educated white- shirted guys who in a very  telling scene put a separate “colored” coffee pot in their break area (and in another scene it took almost a second civil war to get convenient restroom facilities against the previous distant “colored” women’s restroom- Jesus)               


Why was all this breaking down of the social norms of post-bellum Virginia necessary beyond the national goals and pacing set in far-off Washington? Well one Katherine Johnson, played here by Taraji Henson, a natural and brilliant mathematician, was put on the team on her merits which would be fully tested as the white guys were behind the curve most of the time on the critical trajectory tight numbers needed to insure a safe reentry from orbit to “splash down.” One Dorothy Vaughn, played by Olivia Spencer, who was in charge of the “colored” human computers and for a long while not given her due with the actual rank of supervisor who brought her “girls” over after learning the Fortram computer language which was the wave of the future in the computation world. And one Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae, who at great effort would become the first African-American (not “colored”) aerospace engineer at NASA. Their neglected contributions to the space program and their having to facing with dignity the skewed racial ethos of the time made this an enjoyable and thoughtful two hours. Yeah, move over Cal Tech and MIT the sisters are in town.