Saturday, July 24, 2010

***In Search Of Lost Time- For Diana N., Class Of 1964

Peter Paul Markin, Class Of 1964, comment:

....with apologies to the great early 20th century modernist French writer Marcel Proust whose most famous (and massive) work I am stealing the title from in my headline. Apparently I will steal any literary tidbit, from any source and from any time, just to round out an entry in this space. I had also better explain, before some besotted, hare-brained, pencil at the ever ready, school of novel deconstruction devotee, probably tragically childhood’d, post-modern literary-type jumps on me I know, and I know damn well, that an alternative translation for the title of Proust's six volume work is Remembrances Of Things Past. But isn't this In Search Of Lost Time a better title for the needs of this space? In any case I promise not to go on and on about French pastry at teatime (which, by the way, brother Proust did do, for about sixty pages in the volume Swann’s Way, so there is the trade-off. Okay?).


As I, clumsily, pick up, or try to pick up some precious dirt to rub between my fingers from the oval in front of the old high school, on this bedraggled, prickly frigid, knife-like wind- gusting in my face, not fit for man nor beast, kind of a winter’s day as the shortly-setting sun begins it descent into night, I really do wonder what demons, what cast-out-of-the-inner-sanctums-of-hell demons, have driven me here, here to this worn-out patch of an oval, after so many years of statutory neglect. Moreover, picking up dirt from an oval that I have not walked on, much less picked up gravel from, in over forty-five years, although I have logged many a mile around a larger version (I believe) of this oval either practicing during track or cross country season, or, and this may jog reader memory, running the 600 yard dash as part of the old time President’s National Physical Fitness Test. Yes, I thought mention of that event might bring ring a bell, a bell of anguish for some, as they puffed and chortled their way to the finish line in their tennis shoes, or whatever knee-busting sneakers we wore in those days, in order to be cool. Hey, just like today.

In any case, here I stand, and now you know, or have a pretty good idea where I am. What you do not know, at least do not know yet, is that I am not here, rubbing some funky old town dirt through my fingers on a cold winter’s day just for the joy of it. For raider red oneness, either. Or some such old man’s quirks. Rather, I am here, and you can start calling 911 right now if you like, to evoke, evoke mind you so there is no fooling around about it, the spirit, the long past spirit of days gone by at the high school. The spirit of the time of my time. Probably not since old Tommy Wollaston went looking for a suitable site for his maypole debaucheries, and stumbled on Merrymount has this town seen such a land grab, in a manner of speaking. See, what I am thinking is that some dirt-rubbing, a little kabala-like, or druid-like, or keltic-like, or Navajo-like, or something-like, dirt-rubbing will give me a jump start on this “voyage”.

I will confess to this much , as this seemingly is a confessional age, or, maybe just as a vestige of that hard-crusted, family history-rooted, novena-saying, stations of the cross walking, ceremonial high mass incense-driven, mortal sin-fearing, you’ll get your reward in the next life so don’t expect it here, buster, fatalistic Catholic upbringing long abandoned but etched in, no, embedded in, some far recesses of memory that my returning to North Quincy High School did not just occur by happenstance. A couple of years before my mother, Doris Margaret Johnson (nee Radley) NQHS Class of 1943, passed away.

For a good part of her life my mother lived in locations a mere stone's throw from the school. You could, for example, see the back of the school from my grandparents' house on Young Street. As part of the grieving process, I suppose, I felt a need to come back to North Quincy. To my, and her, roots. In part, at least, for the feel of roots, but also to figure out, or try to figure out for the 584th time, what went wrong in our old, broken down, couldn't catch a break, working poor, North Quincy-historied, family. As part of that attempted figuring out, as I walked up Hancock Street from Walnut Street (the old, woe begotten, seen better days, ram-shackled homestead now standing guard above part of the Newport Avenue by-pass) and swung down East Squantum I passed by, intentionally passed by, the old high school. And here I stand, oval-stuck, dirty-handed, bundled up not to well against the day’s winds, or against the fickle, shifting winds of time either, to tell my tale.

Now I will also confess, but without the long strung-out stuff that I threw in above about my Catholic upbringing, that in figuring out why ill winds blew across my family’s fate I was unsuccessful. Why, after all, should the 584th time bring some sense of enlightenment, or of inner peace, when the other five hundred, more or less, did not do so. What this sojourn did do, however, was rekindle, and rekindle strongly, memories of sitting, without number, on the steps of the high school in the old days, in the high school days, and think about the future, if there was going to be a future.

I tried to write this story, or a part of it, a couple of years ago so a little background is in order so the thing makes some sense to others. That now seemingly benighted entry, originally simply titled,A Walk Down “Dream” Street, started life by merely asking an equally simple question posed to fellow classmates in the North Quincy High School Class of 1964 about whether their high school dreams had come true or not, as least for those who had thought about the issue, on the Classmates. com website. I had “discovered” the site that year after having been pushed and pulled in ways that drove me back to memories, hard, hard-bitten, hard-aching, hard-longing, mist of time, dream memories, of North schoolboy days and of the need to search for my old high school friend and running mate (literally, in track and cross country, as well as “running” around town doing boy high school things, doing the best we could, or trying to), Bill Cadger. I posed the question this way there:

“Today I am interested in the relationship between our youthful dreams and what actually happened in our lives; our dreams of glory out in the big old world that we did not make, and were not asked about making; of success whether of the pot of gold or less tangible, but just as valuable, goods, or better, ideas; of things or conditions, of himalayas, conquered, physically or mentally; of discoveries made, of self or the whole wide world, great or small. Or, perhaps, of just getting by, just putting one foot in the front of the other two days in a row, of keeping one’s head above water under the impact of young life’s woes, of not sinking down further into the human sink; of smaller, pinched, very pinched, existential dreams but dreams nevertheless. I hope, I fervently hope, that they were the former."

Naturally, the question was posed in its particular form, or so it seemed natural at the time for me to pose it that way, because those old, “real”, august, imposing, institutionally imposing, grey granite-quarried (from the Granite City, natch) main entrance steps (in those days serious steps, two steps at a time steps, especially if you missed first bell, flanked by globular orbs and, like some medieval church, gargoyle-like columns up to the second floor, hence “real”) is a place where Bill and I spent a lot of our time, talking of this and that.

Especially in summer night time: hot, sultry, sweaty, steam-drained, no money in pockets, no car to explore the great American teenage night; the be-bop, doo-wop, do doo do doo ,ding dong daddy, real gone daddy, rockin’ daddy, max daddy, let it be me, the night time is the right time, car window-fogged, honk if you love jesus (or whatever activity produced those incessant honks in ignition-turned-off cars), love-tinged, or at least sex-tinged, endless sea, Wollaston Beach night. Do I need to draw you the big picture, I think not. Or for the faint-hearted, or the merely good, denizens of that great American teenage night a Howard Johnson’s ice cream (make mine cherry vanilla, double scoop, no jimmies, please) or a trip to American Graffiti-like fast food drive-in, hamburger, hold the onions (just in case today is the night), fries and a frappe (I refuse to describe that taste treat at this far remove, look it up on Wikipedia, or one of those info-sites) Southern Artery night. Lost, all irretrievably lost, and no thousand, thousand (thanks, Sam Coleridge), no, no million later, greater experiences can ever replace that. And, add in, non-dated-up, and no possibility of sweet-smelling, soft, bare shoulder-showing summer sun-dressed (or wintry, bundled up, soft-furred, cashmere-bloused, I would not have been choosy), big-haired (hey, do you expect me to remember the name of the hair styles, too?), ruby red-lipped (see, I got the color right), dated-up in sight. So you can see what that “running around town, doing the best we could” of ours mainly consisted.

Mostly, we spoke of dreams of the future: small, soft, fluttery, airless, flightless, high school kid-sized, working class-sized, North Quincy-sized, non-world–beater-sized, no weight dreams really, no, that’s not right, they were weighty enough but only until 18 years old , or maybe 21, weighty. A future driven though, and driven hard, by the need to get out from under, to get away from, to put many miles between us and it, crazy family life (the details of which need not detain us here at all, as I now know, and I have some stories to prove it, that condition was epidemic in the old town then, and probably still is). And also of getting out of one-horse, teen life-stealing, soul-cramping, dream-stealing (small or large take your pick on dream size), even breathe-stealing, North Quincy. Of getting out into the far reaches, as far as desire and dough would carry, of the great wild, wanderlust, cosmic, American day and night hitch-hike if you have too, shoe leather-beating walking if you must, road (or European road, or wherever, Christ, even Revere in a crunch, but mainly putting some miles between).

We spoke, as well, of other dreams then. I do not remember some of the more personal aspects of the content of Bill's dreams. If you want the “skinny” on Bill’s dreams he’s around, ask him. However, a lot of what Bill and I talked about at the time was how we were going to do in the upcoming cross country and track seasons, girls, the desperate need to get away from the family trap, girls, no money in pockets for girls, cars, no money for cars, girls. (Remember those were the days when future expectations, and anguishes, were expressed in days and months, not years.) Of course we dreamed of being world-class runners, as every runner does. Bill went on to have an outstanding high school career. I, on the other hand, was, giving myself much the best of it, a below average runner. So much for some dreams.

And, maybe, on my part, I also expressed some sketchily-drawn utopian social dreams, some fellaheen justice dreams. Oh, you don’t know that word, "fellaheen", perhaps. To have oneness justice for the "wanters" of the world; for the “no got”, not the other kind, the greed-driven kind, want; fear-driven, fear to go left or right or to put two feet in front of you want; for the misjudgment-making from having too little of this world's goods want; for all the cramp-spaced in this great big planet want; for the too many people to a room, one disheveled sink, one stinking toilet want: for the bleary-eyed pee-smelled, dawn bus station paper bag holding all your possessions want; for the two and three decker house no space, asphalted, no green between want; for the reduced to looking through rubbish barrels, or worst, want; for the K-Mart, Wal-mart, Quincy Square Bargain-Center basement outfitted out of fashion, no fashionsista, no way, want,; for the got to have some Woolworth’s five and dime trinket to make a small brightness want; for the lottery, keno, bingo, bango, mega-bongo waiting for the ship to come in pay-out want; for the whiskey soaked, wine-dabbled, or name your poison, want; for the buddy, can you spare a dime want; for the cop hey you, keeping moving you can’t stay here, want; for the cigarette butt strewn pick-up streets want; for fixing, or fixings, to die want; and, for just plain, ordinary, everyday, non-descript want, the want from whence I, and, maybe, you came.

This is the sing-song of the fellaheen, the life-cycle of the fellaheen, the red masque dance of the fellaheen; the dance of the working, or not so working, poor, the day time dance. The dance that I will dance, at least it looks that way, until I draw my last breathe. For the night time, the "takers", stealth thief, jack-roller, pimp daddy, sweet-dark covering abandoned back alley streets, watch out behind you (and in front too), sweated, be-fogged, lumpen fellaheen night, the no justice wanted or given night, you will have to look to the French writers Genet, Celine, or one of those rough boys, the takers have no need of my breathe, or my tears. I have had my say now, and it was worth standing, as the night devours the sun, at this damn wintry oval to say it, alright.

Monday, July 19, 2010

***Coming Of Age, Our Coming Of Age In The Be-Bop Night-Oldies But Goodies- A CD Review- For Sissy, Class of 1963

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Mark Dinning performing his teen tear-jerker, Teen Angel to set an "appropriate" mood for this post.

*The Last Waltz- The Never-Ending Review Tour-Coming Of Age, Period- Oldies But Goodies

CD Review

Oldies But Goodies, Volume Ten, Original Sound Record Co., 1986

This series had fifteen separate CD's in it. I have selected one to
highlight the music that we grew up wit. You can Google or go to for the others.

Note: The term “last waltz” used in the headline is used here as a simple expression of the truth. Just when I thought I had completed this “Oldies But Goodies” series at Volume Ten I now find that this is a fifteen, fifteen count ‘em, volume series. Therefore I am whipping off these last five in one day and be done with it. After all how much can we rekindle, endlessly rekindle, memories from a relatively short, if important, part of our lives, even for those who lived and died by the songs (or some of the songs) in these compilations. How many times can one read about wallflowers, sighs, certain shes (or hes), the moonlight of high school dances (if there was any) and hanging around to the bitter end for that last dance of the night to prove... what. Bastante! Enough!

I have been doing a series of commentaries elsewhere on another site on my coming of political age in the early 1960s; you know the age of our own Jack Kennedy, the age of the short-lived Camelot when dreams seemingly were actually within our grasp, and of realizing the need for struggles against all kinds of wars, and all kinds of discriminations, including getting a fair shake for the working people, those who labor, of this benighted world. But here when I am writing about musical influences I am just speaking of my coming of age, period, which was not necessarily the same thing.

No question that those of us who came of age in the 1950s are truly children of rock and roll. We were there, whether we appreciated it or not at the time, when the first, sputtering, musical moves away from ballady Broadway show tunes and rhymey Tin Pan Alley pieces hit the radio airwaves. (If you do not know what a radio is then ask your parents or, ouch, grandparents, please.) And, most importantly, we were there when the music moved away from any and all music that your parents might have approved of, or maybe, even liked, or, hopefully, at least left you alone to play in peace up in your room when rock and roll hit post- World War II America teenagers like, well, like an atomic bomb.

Not all of the material put forth was good, nor was all of it destined to be playable fifty or sixty years later on some “greatest hits” compilation but some of songs had enough chordal energy, lyrical sense, and sheer danceability to make any Jack or Jill jump then, or now. And, here is the good part, especially for painfully shy guys like me, or those who, like me as well, had two left feet on the dance floor. You didn’t need to dance toe to toe, close to close, with that certain she (or he for shes). Just be alive…uh, hip to the music. Otherwise you might become the dreaded wallflower. But that fear, the fear of fears that haunted many a teenage dream then, is a story for another day. Let’s just leave it at this for now. Ah, to be very, very young then was very heaven.

So what still sounds good on this CD compilation to a current AARPer and, and perhaps some of his fellows who comprise the demographic that such a 1950s compilation “speak” to (and here some early 60s songs as well). Of course, Bob Dylan’s It Aint Me Babe. Carl Perkins original Blue Suede Shoes (covered by and made famous by, and millions for, Elvis). Or the Hank William’s outlaw country classic I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Naturally, in a period of classic rock numbers, Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue (or, like Chuck Berry and Fat Domino from this period, virtually any other of about twenty of his songs).

But what about the now, seeming mandatory to ask, inevitable end of the night high school dance (or maybe even middle school) song that seems to be included in each CD compilation? The song that you, maybe, waited around all night for just to prove that you were not a wallflower, and more importantly, had the moxie to, mumbly-voiced, parched-throated, sweaty-handed, asked a girl to dance (women can relate their own experiences, probably similar). Here the Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By fills the bill. Hey, I did like this one, especially the soulful, snappy timing and voice intonation. And, yes, I know, this is one of the slow ones that you had to dance close on. And just hope, hope to high heaven, that you didn’t destroy your partner’s shoes and feet. Well, one learns a few social skills in this world if for no other reason that to “impress” that certain she (or he for shes, or nowadays, just mix and match your preferences) mentioned above. I did, didn’t you?


....and a trip down memory lane.

MARK DINNING lyrics - Teen Angel

(Jean Surrey & Red Surrey)

Teen angel, teen angel, teen angel, ooh, ooh

That fateful night the car was stalled
upon the railroad track
I pulled you out and we were safe
but you went running back

Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love

What was it you were looking for
that took your life that night
They said they found my high school ring
clutched in your fingers tight

Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love

Just sweet sixteen, and now you're gone
They've taken you away.
I'll never kiss your lips again
They buried you today

Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love
Teen angel, teen angel, answer me, please