Friday, December 31, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- When Frankie, Frankie From The Old Neighborhood, Was King

In a recent series of entries that formed of scenes, scenes from the hitchhike road in search of the great American West night in the late 1960s, later than the time of Frankie’s early 1960s old working class neighborhood kingly time, it was noted that there had been about a thousand truck stop diner stories left over from those old hitchhike road days. On reflection though, this writer realized that there really had been about three diner stories with many variations. Not so with Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood, stories. I have got a thousand of them, or so it seems, all different. Hey, you already, if you have been attentive to this space, know a few Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood, stories (okay, I will stop, or try to, stop using that full designation and just call him plain, old, ordinary, vanilla Frankie just like everybody else alright).

Ya, you already know the Frankie (see I told you I could do it) story about how he lazily spent a hot late August 1960 summer before entering high school day working his way up the streets of the old neighborhood to get some potato salad (and other stuff too) for his family’s Labor Day picnic. And he got a cameo appearance in the tear-jerk, heart-rendering saga of my first day of high school in that same year where I, vicariously, attempted to overthrow his lordship with the nubiles (girls, for those not from the old neighborhood, although there were plenty of other terms of art to designate the fair sex then, most of them getting their start in local teenage social usage from Frankie’s mouth). That effort, that attempt at coping his “style”, like many things associated with one-of-a-kind Frankie, as iy turned out, proved unsuccessful.

More recently I took you in a roundabout way to a Frankie story in a review of a 1985 Roy Orbison concert documentary, Black and White Nights. That story centered around my grinding my teeth whenever I heard Roy’s Running Scared because one of Frankie’s twists (see nubiles above) played the song endlessly to taint the love smitten but extremely jealous Frankie on the old jukebox at the pizza parlor, old Salducci's Pizza Shop, that we used to hang around in during our high school days. It’s that story, that drugstore soda fountain story, that brought forth a bunch of memories about those pizza parlor days and how Frankie, for most of his high school career, was king of the hill at that locale. And king, king arbiter, of the social doings of those around him as well.

And who was Frankie? Frankie of a thousand stories, Frankie of a thousand treacheries, Frankie of a thousand kindnesses, and, oh ya, Frankie, my bosom friend in high school. Well let me just steal some sentences from that old August summer walk story and that first day of school saga because really Frankie and I went back to perilous middle school days (a.k.a. junior high days for old-timers) when he saved my bacon more than one time, especially from making a fatal mistake with the frails (see nubiles and twists above). He was, maybe, just a prince then working his way up to kingship. But even he, as he endlessly told me that summer before high school, August humidity doldrums or not, was along with the sweat on his brow from the heat a little bit anxious about being “little fish in a big pond” freshmen come that 1960 September.

Especially, a pseudo-beatnik “little fish”. See, he had cultivated a certain, well, let’s call it "style" over there at the middle school. That “style” involved a total disdain for everything, everything except trying to impress girls with his long-panted, flannel-shirted, work boot-shod, thick book-carrying knowledge of every arcane fact known to humankind. Like that really was the way to impress teenage girls, then or now. Well, as it turned out, yes it was. Frankie right. In any case he was worried, worried sick at times, that in such a big school his “style” needed upgrading. Let’s not even get into that story, the Frankie part of it now, or maybe, ever. We survived high school, okay.

But see, that is why, the Frankie why, the why of my push for the throne, the kingship throne, when I entered high school and that old Frankie was grooming himself for like it was his by divine right. When the deal went down and I knew I was going to the “bigs” (high school) I spent that summer, reading, big time booked-devoured reading. Hey, I'll say I did, The Communist Manifesto, that one just because old Willie Westhaven over at the middle school (junior high, okay) called me a Bolshevik when I answered one of his foolish math questions in a surly manner. I told you before that was my pose, my Frankie-engineered pose, what do you want, I just wanted to see what he, old Willie, was talking about when he used that word. How about Democracy in America (by a French guy), The Age of Jackson (by a Harvard professor who knew idol Jack Kennedy, personally, and was crazy for old-time guys like Jackson), and Catcher In The Rye (Holden was me, me to a tee). Okay, okay I won’t keep going on but that was just the reading on the hot days when I didn’t want to go out. There was more.

Here's what was behind the why. I intended, and I swear I intended to even on the first nothing doing day of that new school year in that new school in that new decade (1960) to beat old Frankie, old book-toting, mad monk, girl-chasing Frankie, who knew every arcane fact that mankind had produced and had told it to every girl who would listen for two minutes (maybe less) in that eternal struggle, the boy meets girl struggle, at his own game. Yes, Frankie, my buddy of buddies, prince among men (well, boys, anyhow) who kindly navigated me through the tough, murderous parts of junior high, mercifully concluded, finished and done with, praise be, and didn’t think twice about it. He, you see, despite, everything I said a minute ago he was “in.”; that arcane knowledge stuff worked with the “ins” who counted, worked, at least a little, and I got dragged in his wake. I always got dragged in his wake, including as lord chamberlain in his pizza parlor kingdom. What I didn’t know then, wet behind the ears about what was what in life's power struggles, was if you were going to overthrow the king you’d better do it all the way.  But, see if I had done that, if I had overthrown him, I wouldn’t have had any Frankie stories to tell you, or help with the frills in the treacherous world of high school social life (see nubiles, frails and twists above. Why don’t we just leave it like this. If you see the name Frankie and a slangy word when you think I am talking about girls that's girls. Okay?)

As I told you in that Roy Orbison review, when Roy was big, big in our beat down around the edges, some days it seemed beat six ways to Sunday working class neighborhood in the early 1960s, we all used to hang around the town pizza parlor, or one of them anyway, that was also conveniently near our high school as well. Maybe this place was not the best one to sit down and have a family-sized pizza with salad and all the fixings in, complete with family, or if you were fussy about décor but the best tasting pizza, especially if you let it cool for a while and no eat it when it was piping hot right out of the oven.

Moreover, this was the one place where the teen-friendly owner, a big old balding Italian guy, Tonio Salducci, at least he said he was Italian and there were plenty of Italians in our town in those days so I believed him but he really looked Greek or Armenian to me, let us stay in the booths if it wasn’t busy, and we behaved like, well, like respectable teenagers. And this guy, this old Italian guy, blessed Leonardo-like master Tonio, could make us all laugh, even me, when he started to prepare a new pizza and he flour-powdered and rolled the dough out and flipped that sucker in the air about twelve times and about fifteen different ways to stretch it out. Some times people would just stand outside in front of the doubled-framed big picture window and watch his handiwork in utter fascination.

Jesus, Tonio could flip that thing. One time, and you know this is true because you probably have your own pizza dough on the ceiling stories, he flipped the sucker so high it stuck to the ceiling, right near the fan on the ceiling, and it might still be there for all I know (the place still is, although not him). But this is how he was cool; he just started up another without making a fuss. Let me tell you about him, Tonio, sometime but right now our business to get on with Frankie, alright.

So there is nothing unusual, and I don’t pretend there is, in just hanging out having a slice of pizza (no onions, please, in case I get might lucky tonight and that certain she comes in, the one that I have been eyeing in school all week until my eyes have become sore, that thin, long blondish-haired girl wearing those cashmere sweaters showing just the right shape,  please, please, James Brown, please come in that door), some soft drink (which we called tonic in New England in those days but which you call, uh, soda), usually a locally bottled root beer, and, incessantly (and that "incessantly" allowed us to stay since we were paying customers with all the rights and dignities that status entailed, unless, of course, they needed our seats), dropping nickels, dimes and quarters in the jukebox.

But here is where it all comes together, Frankie and Tonio the pizza guy, from day one, got along like crazy. Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, map of Ireland, red-headed, fair-skinned, blue-eyed Frankie got along like crazy with Italian guy Tonio. That was remarkable in itself because, truth be told, there was more than one Irish/ Italian ethnic, let me be nice, dispute in those days. Usually over “turf”, like kids now, or some other foolish one minute thing or another. Moreover, and Frankie didn’t tell me this for a while, Frankie, my bosom buddy Frankie, like he was sworn to some Omerta oath, didn’t tell me that Tonio was “connected.” For those who have been in outer space, or led quiet lives, or don’t hang with the hoi polloi that means with the syndicate, the hard guys, the Mafia. If you don’t get it now go down and get the Godfather trilogy and learn a couple of things, anyway. This "connected" stemmed, innocently enough, from the jukebox concession which the hard guys controlled and was a lifeblood of Tonio's teenage-draped business, and not so innocently, from his role as master numbers man (pre-state lottery days, okay) and "bookie" (nobody should have to be told what that is, but just in case, he took bets on horses, dogs, whatever, from the guys around town, including, big time, Frankie's father, who went over the edge betting like some guys fathers' took to drink).

And what this “connected” also meant, this Frankie Tonio-connected meant, was that no Italian guys, no young black engineer-booted, no white rolled-up tee-shirted, no blue denim- dungareed, no wide black-belted, no switchblade-wielding, no-hot-breathed, garlicky young Italian studs were going to mess with one Francis Xavier Riley, his babes (you know what that means, right?), or his associates (that’s mainly me). Or else. Now, naturally, connected to "the connected" or not, not every young tough in any working class town, not having studied, and studied hard, the sociology of the town, is going to know that some young Irish punk, one kind of "beatnik' Irish punk with all that arcane knowledge in order to chase those skirts and a true vocation for the blarney is going to know that said pizza parlor owner and its “king”, king hell king, are tight. Especially at night, a weekend night, when the booze has flowed freely and that hard-bitten childhood abuse that turned those Italian guys (and Irish guys too) into toughs hits the fore. But they learn, and learn fast.

Okay, you don’t believe me. One night, one Saturday night, one Tonio-working Saturday night (he didn’t always work at night, not Saturday night anyway, because he had a honey, a very good-looking honey too, dark hair, dark laughing eyes, dark secrets she wouldn’t mind sharing as well it looked like to me but I might have been wrong on that) two young toughs came in, Italian toughs from the look of them. This town then , by the way, if you haven’t been made aware of it before is strictly white, mainly Irish and Italian, so any dark guys, are Italian period, not black, Hispanic, Indian, Asian or anything else. Hell, I don’t think those groups even passed through; at least I don’t remember seeing any, except an Arab, once.

So Frankie, your humble observer (although I prefer the more intimate umbrella term "associate" under these circumstances) and one of his squeezes (not his main squeeze, Joanne) were sitting at the king’s table (blue vinyl-seated, white formica table-topped, paper place-setting, condiment-ladened center booth of five, front of double glass window, best jukebox and sound position, no question) splitting a Saturday night whole pizza with all the fixings (its getting late, about ten o’clock, and I have given up on that certain long blondish-haired she who said she might meet me so onions anchovies, garlic for all I know don’t matter right now) when these two ruffians come forth and petition (ya, right) for our table. Our filled with pizza, drinks, condiments, odds and ends papery, and the king, his consort (of the evening, I swear I forget which one) and his lord chamberlain.

Since there were at least two other prime front window seats available Frankie denied the petition out of hand. Now in a righteous world this should have been the end of it. But what these hard guys, these guys who looked like they might have had shivs (ya, knives, shape knives, for the squeamish out there) and only see two geeky "beatnik" guys and some unremarkable signora do was to start to get loud and menacing (nice word, huh?) toward the king and his court. Menacing enough that Tonio, old pizza dough-to-the-ceiling throwing Tonio, took umbrage (another nice word, right?) and came over to the table very calmly. He called the two gentlemen aside, and talking low and almost into their ears, said some things that we could not hear. All we knew was that about a minute later these two behemoths, these two future candidates for jailbird-dom, were walking, I want to say walking gingerly, but anyway quickly, out the door into the hard face of Saturday night.

We thereafter proceeded to finish our kingly meal, safe in the knowledge that Frankie was indeed king of the pizza parlor night. And also that we knew, now knew in our hearts because Frankie and I talked about it later, that behind every king there was an unseen power. Christ, and I wanted to overthrow Frankie. I must have been crazy like a loon.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop Night- Scenes From The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- Westward Ho!

Al Johnson comment:

The scene below stands (or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline .

Scene Six: Westward Ho! In The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night

As I stepped down onto the yellow-sunned, farm-fresh soil from the farm-fresh cab of the farm-fresh truck that had deposited Angelica and I out into the waving-fielded, farm-fresh Neola, Iowa September day I quickly flashed back to stepping down from Colonel Eddie’s truck cab in Winchester, Kentucky that had started this whole segment of the trip westward. Christ that seemed like an eternity ago although it had been only a few summer heated, summer sweat-soaked heated weeks. Life on the road had it own tempos but this one, for reasons that I will discuss later, had run out of tempo and we were living on pure fumes just then.

While I am thinking about Winchester, Kentucky I might as well tell you what had happened since then to get us here to yellowed-sunned, waving-fielded, farm-fresh country and that will go a long way to explaining our need, our desperate need, for a jump start. Needless to say if you read the last scene, the scene where fair Angelica and me are kicking our heels up at a barn dance (and kicking those same heels after as well) in greater Prestonsburg, Kentucky and me about four sheets to the wind, no five or six sheets to the wind from the local , well-aged (about six minutes) “white lightning” then you know that we, thanks to Angelica, got promised a ride from Prestonsburg to Winchester which is just outside of Lexington, Kentucky.

Our chauffer, our Angelica-smitten chauffer, for the occasion turned out to be one ancient hard-driving (as we quickly found out), hard-drinking (as I knew from his condition as we met up with him), ghost of a truck-driving Colonel Eddie. (The colonel part is made-up, made up by him, all these Kentucky guys from the lowliest pig farmer on up call themselves that, or did back then. I think for about two bucks you could get yourself an “official” certificate designating you as such. If old Eddie had been a “real” colonel then that would go a long way to explaining the South’s righteous lost back in Civil War days). And despite this awful build-up of the guy, and a little off-hand character assassination above, he actually got us there, to Winchester that is, in one piece. Colonel Eddie was one the last of the good old boys, for sure.

What that one piece, by the way, looked like after traveling more back roads in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that seemed humanly possible in order to us get there is another story. See that is where the “white lighting” (rotgut, according to a somewhat miffed Angelica) had something like seven lives. Every time I thought I was feeling better, just a tiny it better like maybe I would actually survive the day, we would hit a double-reverse triple somersault hairpin turn followed by a triple-reverse double somersault hairpin turn that made me wish that, if there was any mercy in this flea-bitten old world, we would just go over the top down into some heavenly embankment and be done with it. But, as I said, we got there, and although we were pinching pennies a little, my condition was terminal and we needed, as a matter of simple primitive medical wisdom, to stay at one of those cheapjack motels that dot the back roads of this world to rest up for future battles, for future tilts at the westward windmills.

No, I am not going to descript this cheapjack motel, this back road, and what did or did not happen there, for the simple reason that I don’t really remember much about what it looked like it, or what happened there. Except this, this is etched in my brain and I can feel the cool- handed, cool-toweled sensation even as I am writing. Angelica, miffed or not, had taken a towel, wrapped some ice from the ubiquitous, usually whiskey fixings-friendly motel ice machine in it, and placed it on my forehead and held her hand on the compress for a while until I fell asleep. Of such kindnesses long-lasting civilizations should be created.

But enough of medical reports and folk wisdom medicines, sweet gestured or not. We were on the road west now, the blue-pink road west and for the first time since Angelica and I had met really on our own. Winchester, Kentucky heading to Lexington on our way west. Next morning, next already hot, steamy, sulky July Monday morning, having had a decent night’s recovery, and a thimbleful of food in my stomach to be on the safe side, we are off. Tonight we will sleep in no “bourgeois” roadside motel, ice cubes included free of charge or not, but out in the great outdoors, out in the promised great American night, and save our dwindling cash for stormier times. Thumb out, Angelica thumb out here, and we are indeed off. A half hour later after being picked up by a wayward sedan, driven by a nondescript but kindly driver, we are on the road to Lexington. And arrive we do without fanfare, or flourish.

This is really what is important about Lexington though. See, like I told you and I know I told Angelica before, that suitcase that she had packed up for Steubenville in her Muncie break-out days was fine to live out of for Steubenville motel cabin existences but no good on the hitchhike road, of whatever color. I didn’t tell you this before because Angelica had been such a trouper, especially with that ice-encrusted towel, but she had complained like hell about the damn dangling suitcase every time we had to push on in a hurry. Truth be told I had carried the thing more than she had, invalided as I was. So when we hit Lexington we hit the first Army-Navy store we could find to get her one of those fungible mountaineer backpacks.

Army-Navy store? Ya, Army-Navy store. Don’t snicker about so, well, about so yesterday, okay? Out on the hitchhike road you needed sturdy stuff, whatever it was you needed, because stuff got pretty banged around and your “faux” hitchhike road designer goods would last about seven miles (or about as long as the owner of such goods would be on the road before hailing a cab to the nearest airport). And as much as we hated the notion of deadly military weapons and anything military in those days we, we of youth nation, were strangely drawn to that fashion look, and the indestructible nature of their “camping” equipment. Besides the stuff was cheap, remember it was bought as World War II surplus mainly, hell, maybe World War I, but cheap.

Naturally, as events kept unfolding Angelica was showing more and more her origins as a Midwestern flower, and although a total stranger to such a place was thrilled (and mystified) by this place, including the odd , musty smell that goes with such stores. I will quote her, “Wow, does all this stuff really work?” So you can see by that simple statement that, every once in a while, she will throw out her Indiana naïve to confuse me. In any case, soon enough she will know whether it works or not. Of course she took forever to decide on which of two types of olive green backpacks “fit” her. Christ, women (oops, sorry). After that we made other purchases in order to set up “housekeeping”. Like. Well, like a small very portable army pup tent, complete with staves, to shelter us from storms and summer bugs. And a couple of canteens, small useful three-prong knives, a shovel, and mess kits.

I, as I write this, still smile over the fact that Angelica talked for days about how whoever invented such a useful thing as a mess kit was a genius, a pure genius. So you see again what I meant about that Muncie thing. Best of all to her sheer unmitigated delight we purchased a warm, cozy, snuggly army surplus sleeping bag (hey, the best kind okay, you can’t have soldiers freezing their buns off in Alaska, Korea, Northern China or wherever). And also delighted, blushingly delighted, when I, off-handedly, whispered in her ear about how many people could fit inside the thing, in a pinch. And, finally, a green (naturally) army blanket, for emergencies, real emergencies, not those in a pinch kind.

After completing those purchases we stepped just outside the store door to a nearby bench, placed there probably for just such purposes, and ceremoniously transferred her stuff from the suitcase to the backpack. Here is the kicker though, which may tell about human nature or maybe not. I just kind of threw everything into my knapsack and hoped for the best. Hope, for example, that a pair of socks, matched, showed up when needed. Angelica, as I noticed back in the Steubenville pack-up, neat of suitcase also took pains (and would do so throughout the trip) to keep her stuff organized just like in the suitcase. I wonder if we had decided that plastic bags were absolutely the best for travel gear whether she would have done the same. Probably. In any case, Angelica’s yesterday Angelica miffs had turned around and she was beaming, at me, at her new existence, at the whole wide world for all I know. I liked it, I told her so, and we are off to a campground just outside of town that the Army-Navy store owner told me about to “camp out” in the great dark American night. Hell, even I was excited. Still I noticed, just a glimmer of a notice, that she turned back wistfully for just a second to take one last look at the suitcase that we left on that bench for someone else in need.

Every once in awhile, just as things are going right and this old world seems full of bright-eyed possibilities, things get twisted around. Let me tell you about it and see what you think. As we were walking, Angelica proudly practically hip-hop walking with her new backpack bouncing up and down with each step, decided she needed to discuss something, one of our little “adjustments” talks. Apparently the miffed Angelica of yesterday was not so much miffed at my condition as that when we went to sign in at that cheapjack motel I wrote down my real name and her real name indicating that we weren’t married, or at least not related. Some primordial sense of modesty, no, I know, just Muncie conventionality, made her feel ashamed.

Christ Angelica, there is not one cheapjack (or five star, for that matter) motel, hotel, inn,
Youth hostel, ashram, whatever in the whole world that in the year 1969 cares who you sign in as. I could have put down Queen Elizabeth and Richard Nixon (although that combination might have raised my eyebrow) and they would have been nonplussed, as long as the coin of the realm, cash, was in hand. I didn’t put quotation marks around the above sentences but I think I could have because that, in my mind’s eye, is probably exactly what I said to her. Her plea, and here I will quote, “I feel ashamed and like a tramp (exact word) and couldn’t we just say we were married when we signed into places?” Apparently the time I was going to spend with this woman was going to be filled with throwing in towels because that is just what I did, I agree to this proposition. Why? Well, in those days I, frankly, didn’t have an opinion, at least a strong opinion, about married or not married and to keep peace I conceded the point. Now would be a different story. But, hell, let’s get to the camp and the great American night.

There are camp sites and there are camp sites. Today you can belly up to some sites with your seven ton, overloaded monster “trailer” home and put in plug or two and act just like you never left Cicero, Albany, or whatever your port of origin. Or you can go back up into the hills, some forlorn shaggy hills, mainly some Western hills these days, carrying in with you whatever you are going to bring on your back, and be not that far removed from those old pioneers who feared every dangerous animal, dangerous man, dangerous natural condition step of the western way, and carried on nevertheless. The real westward ho crowd. That day though Angelica and I found ourselves at a plain old-timey campsite which we could see from the road in was dotted with various tents, some small trailers sitting in the beds of pick-up trucks, some free-form trailers pulled by trucks and a couple of psychedelically multi-colored converted school buses. The last had been popping up on the road ever since people started hearing about Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters and their mad eastward escapades a few years earlier. Not a monster trailer in the house, a good sign. I can see a little river as well. Best of all there a small supermarket right across the street. Yes, this portends to be a great American night, and maybe nights.

After I passed the test at the camp office we went to our site, a cozy little site for a tent not too far from the river. What test? Come on now, pay attention, you know the test. Did I or did I not sign us in as Mr. and Mrs. (no Ms. then). Well, I am still sitting here writing this thing so of course I did. Angelica was beaming, beaming like an old married lady (at nineteen, jesus) but, maybe, just maybe because her “hubby” played it straight with her. (I never did get all the details, and she never put them all out there for me, but back in staid old homey Muncie some guys definitely did her wrong, tramp-treating wrong). Of course unlike the “bourgeois” upper class dwellers here in their little campers we were primitives (a word I have actually seen used to designate some campsites) and had to set up camp from scratch. Hell, we had more fun trying to set that damn Army-Navy tent and setting up for dinner on our little fireplace. There are not many times in life when just a couple of goofy, simple things provided so much entertainment. We napped then feasted.

As it got dark though I heard some music, the Stones, I think coming from one of the multi-colored painted, converted buses down the dirt lane. Nothing loud, but also something that said “youth nation” among the families of three and four that seemed to dominate the camp. We moseyed (like it?) on down and as we got closer I knew we had found kindred spirits, at least I thought we had. Angelica said, “What’s that strange smell?” Of course it was nothing but grass (marijuana, herb, ganja, whatever your term), and from the smell high-grade stuff. I thereafter proceeded to tell Angelica the “skinny”. She seemed a little non-plussed by the news but, however, confessed that she had never smoked or done any other drugs. And from the tone of that response seemingly did not want to.

Those were good and simple days to be young, especially on a road situation like this. Perfect strangers, unknown to one another, except by a telltale beard, or longhair, or long dresses or some slightly off-key sign, immediately embraced and as a welcome “gift” passed you a joint (or whatever drug of choice was available that day) and you passed whatever you had. We had some store-bought wine. I knew, knew from hard Arizona and Connecticut experiences, as well as the lore of the road, that carrying drugs was not “cool.” Many a road comrade spent many a night in some godforsaken cooler for making that mistake when the grim-reaper, usually small town, cops needed to boost their arrest records. Thus, for me it was nice to have a chance to get “high.” (inhaling even) although Angelica passed and was happy getting a little silly on the wine. We spent a nice night hanging out, listening to the Stones and the Doors, and a couple of other things that I don’t remember. I do remember, as we went back to our own site to turn in, that Angelica said she finally “got” what her parents, her neighbors, her minister, her schoolteachers, and some of her former boyfriends were afraid of. The feared great boxed-in break-out. She started to go on about it, but I gave her a knowing “preaching to the choir” smile and she stopped.

We wound up staying for few days, got to know most of the twelve or fifteen people connected with the buses (two at two adjoining sites, actually) and found out that they were on “vacation” from a little farm house that they all lived in communally, including some primitive farming and weaving to keep body and soul together, just outside of Springfield, Illinois. They were leaving Saturday morning and we were welcome to join them and stay at the farm for a while. We talked it over and it seemed right, especially for Angelica, as we could by-pass sweet home Indiana that she wanted avoid at all costs, so we left with them. That Saturday morning Angelica with great tenderness, and by herself, struck our camp (“our home” she called it by the end) as we prepared for the next leg of our journey. Ah, pioneer woman.

You know some towns you can say that you have been in but that is misleading. You might have passed through them, you might have been caught having to sleep on some forsaken bench in some lonely bus stop there, or stretched a watery cup of joe in some lonelier diner against some cold , rainy night wait, or, in flusher times, just hopped on a plane out of the place. So, yes you can tick that town off on your map as you move along in the world but you don’t know the town, no way. That is my recollection of Springfield. Oh sure I knew it was Lincoln’s home area, I knew it was the capital of the state of Illinois, I knew that people in that area were not Mayor Daly’s (the first one) people and that there was plenty of farmland there. But Springfield on this trip (or ever) was just that dot on the map because once we passed through it and we got to the farm a few days and joints after leaving Lexington that was it. We spent some quiet, well maybe no so quiet when the music went decibel high, but youth quiet time on the farm, did a little work for our keep, Angelica got a little more sun that she thought was good for her, and we relaxed before pushing on. Westward ho, ever westward ho in the blue-pink great American West night.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop Night- Langston Hughes’ Poetry- “The Weary Blues”

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of performances of Langston Hughes’ poetry as described in the headline.

Markin comment:

You know, and if you have been reading some of the writings in this space you should know, that clearly I am not the only one in the universe who has gone out searching for that be-bop, blue-pink great American night, or the high white note either. Thanks, Brother Hughes.

The Weary Blues

Langston Hughes


1 Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
2 Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
3 I heard a Negro play.
4 Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
5 By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
6 He did a lazy sway ....
7 He did a lazy sway ....
8 To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
9 With his ebony hands on each ivory key
10 He made that poor piano moan with melody.
11 O Blues!
12 Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
13 He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
14 Sweet Blues!
15 Coming from a black man's soul.
16 O Blues!
17 In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
18 I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan--
19 "Ain't got nobody in all this world,
20 Ain't got nobody but ma self.
21 I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
22 And put ma troubles on the shelf."
23 Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
24 He played a few chords then he sang some more--
25 "I got the Weary Blues
26 And I can't be satisfied.
27 Got the Weary Blues
28 And can't be satisfied--
29 I ain't happy no mo'
30 And I wish that I had died."
31 And far into the night he crooned that tune.
32 The stars went out and so did the moon.
33 The singer stopped playing and went to bed
34 While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
35 He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
To Notice and Consider:

Summary: The speaker of Langston Hughes's "The Weary Blues" describes an evening of listening to a blues musician in Harlem. With its diction, its repetition of lines and its inclusion of blues lyrics, the poem evokes the mournful tone and tempo of blues music and gives readers an appreciation of the state of mind of the blues musician in the poem.

Relationship Between Speaker and Subject: Lines 1-3 create what grammarians call a "dangling modifier," a sentence logic problem wherein the clauses preceding the main subject and verb of the sentence ("Droning a drowsy syncopated tune," and "Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon," which precede "I heard") don't most logically refer to the subject of the sentence ("I"). Has Hughes simply made a grammatical error? Probably not. Rather, he's using his sentence structure there to show the relationship between the singer and the audience, the dual effect of the music on the performer and on the listener. The singer is droning and swaying as he performs, but so is the audience as it listens, thus they become conflated grammatically in the sentence that describes their interaction. Here, then, Hughes suggests that the blues offer a sort of communal experience, that they express the feelings of not only the artist, but the whole community.

"Down on Lenox Avenue": Lenox Avenue is a main street in Harlem, which in terms of the geography of New York, is North, or uptown. We might wonder why Hughes has written "down on Lenox Avenue" rather than "up on Lenox Avenue." Let's think, then, about the identity of the speaker of the poem. Because Harlem was home mainly to African Americans and the parts of New York City south of Harlem (referred to as "downtown") were populated mainly by whites, if the speaker were to perceive Lenox Avenue as "up" from his place of origin, we might assume that he is white. During the 20s and 30s, writings by African-Americans about black identity and culture proliferated. This exceptionally fruitful period of extensive and brilliant literary production is referred to as a "renaissance." During the Harlem Renaissance, African American artists and musicians also gained recognition and currency in the white community; many wealthy whites, who generally lived downtown, took a strong interest in the cultural activity there, in Harlem nightlife and in its artistic productions. Flocking northward to Harlem, where most African Americans lived, for the entertainment and introduction to new forms of music and art produced by African Americans there, white benefactors of these artists helped them to become known beyond their own community. But some of these patrons also threatened the autonomy and commercial viability of these emerging black artists, sometimes taking advantage of current racial attitudes and the discriminatory laws and social codes to exploit black musicians and artists for their own financial benefit.

So when Hughes's speaker says he was "down on Lenox Avenue" we can assume that he is not white. Why does it matter whether we see this speaker as white or black? Certainly, people of all races have experienced the blues (both the music and the feelings) and musicians of all colors have played blues music. But jazz and blues music must be considered original to African Americans, borne out of "the irrestistible impulse of blacks to create boldly expressive art of a high quality as a primary response to their social conditions, as an affirmation of their dignity and humanity in the face of poverty and racism" (Norton Anthology of African American Literature 929). One can see this important idea in lines 9 and 16: "With his ebony hands on each ivory key" and "Coming from a black man's soul." The image of black hands on white keys suggests the way in which black musicians have taken an instrument of white Western culture and through it produced their own artistic expression. Steven C. Tracy writes the following about this idea:
All the singer seems to have is his moaning blues, the revelation of "a black man's soul," and those blues are what helps keep him alive. Part of that ability to sustain is apparently the way the blues help him keep his identity. Even in singing the blues, he is singing about his life, about the way that he and other blacks have to deal with white society. As his black hands touch the white keys, the accepted Western sound of the piano and the form of Western music are changed. The piano itself comes to life as an extension of the singer, and moans, transformed by the black tradition to a mirror of black sorrow that also reflects the transforming power and beauty of the black tradition. Finally, it is that tradition that helps keep the singer alive and gives him his identity, since when he is done and goes to bed he sleeps like an inanimate or de-animated object, with the blues echoing beyond his playing, beyond the daily cycles, and through both conscious and unconscious states. (Langston Hughes and the Blues. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.)

In this interpretation of blues music as an expression of black sorrow and struggle in the face of oppressive and discriminatory forces of the larger society, we can see a clear connection to the character of Sonny in James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues. Sonny and his family have been worn down by many years of struggle against racism and discrimination; the story of Sonny's uncle's death and Sonny's father's lifelong struggle to come to terms with that death represent this struggle.

The word "down" might also refer to the architecture of Harlem, with its multi-storied apartment buildings looking down on the avenues, where the ground floors of buildings housed businesses and people lived in apartments on the upper floors. "Down" might also refer to the emotional content of the music the speaker will describe. Here we can see another connection to Sonny's Blues. Remember when the narrator, standing at the subway in Harlem, says to Sonny's friend, "You come all the way down here just to tell me about Sonny?" Also, notice the implicit opposition between the sorrows of the singer that bring him down and his desire to quit his "frownin" and "put [his] troubles [up] on the shelf."

Raggy: Hughes uses the word "raggy" in line 13. "Raggy" is not an actual word; perhaps we might interpret it as a combination of word "raggedy" meaning tattered or worn out and the word "ragtime" which refers to a style of jazz music characterized by elaborately syncopated rhythm in the melody and a steadily accented accompaniment. When we thing of something that is "raggedy," we think of rags, poverty and need. But we also think of the idea of patchwork, a fabric constructed out of scraps of cloth -- or rags -- sewn together to make a new whole out of disparate parts, such as a quilt. Music can be patchwork, too, and if you listen to jazz, blues and folk music, you will hear different threads or trends patched together in the music. African American blues music itself is a patching together of different and disparate influences (see above Steven C. Tracy's ideas about the way African Americans made a "white" Western instrument speak of their particular emotions).

Another African American art form, quilting, uses the same principle of patching to produce works of both practical and artistic value. See Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use" to understand the importance of the folk arts and quilting in the African American experience.

Musical fool -- multiple meanings of the word "fool" -- fool as enthusiast, fool as mental defective, fool as entertainer.

Form: irregularly rhyming. Repetition of lines. Note the interruption of the blues lyrics in the narrative of the poem.


Scholarly interpretations of "The Weary Blues" at

"Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance" -- From the Smithsonian Institution


Syncopated: a shift of accent in a musical composition that occurs when a normally weak beat is stressed; when an expected rhythm is modified in an unexpected way. Syncopation in music might be analogous to situational irony in literature when something other than what would be expected or logical happens.

Lenox Avenue: a main street in Harlem, Manhattan.

Monday, December 27, 2010

***“By The Time We Got To Woodstock We Were Half A Million Strong"- "Taking Woodstock"-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the movie trailer for Taking Woodstock.

DVD Review

Taking Woodstock, starring Demetri Martin, Eugene Levy, directed by Ang Lee, 2009

Okay, I confess, and confess so publicly, that while I am a certified proud member of the generation of ’68, the political branch of that generation, I was not even remotely near Woodstock, New York on that fateful August weekend of 1969 when the myth of "youth nation" took on a certain substantive possibility that we might, after all, make a “newer world.” Others may have regrets that they did not attend but I unlike non-attendee Joni Mitchell, whose words from her song Woodstock form part of the headline for this entry, and the others am not. I, actually, was heading elsewhere, heading hard elsewhere on the highway hitchhike road in search of the blue-pink great American West night that was another branch of that same experience. That experience I am very happy that I undertook, and have written about elsewhere.

That said, we were, wherever we were, in those times, at least those of us who were fighting for some version of that “newer world” seeking, children of Woodstock. Maybe not that particular experience, after all half a million hardly exhausted the numbers who were “searching” in those days, but some experience be it another of the myriad musical festivals that took place in those years, or a communal living experience, or like me a highway hitchhike break-out in search of the great American West night, or just took a “hit” of dope or popped a pill that in earlier or later times would have been scorned. It is under that sign the renowned director Ang Lee has creatively taken a back story from those times, a back story centered on the locals rather than the rock stars or the “hippie” touristas associated with the name Woodstock, and meshed it with one of the locals' self-discovery in 2009, the 40th anniversary year of that event.

Whatever Woodstock, the place, and its environs were after the festival invasion before that event it was a dying Catskills resort area and farmland. That resort idea is central to the story line here. The Catskills, in the old days, before there was more widespread assimilation and Jews began to be accepted in other locales was always associated with the place where they went for vacation and as a “proving ground” for up and coming Jewish entertainers. By 1969 that idea, and those places, were passé. However, not everybody got the word, especially not an old Jewish couple who were hanging on to their mortgaged to the hilt motel for dear life, despite the best efforts of their assimilated son, the central character, of the film.

They did hold, or rather he held, an important asset: permits to allow the festival to go on. The story, the Woodstock and self-discovery story, take off from that point as we view the trials and tribulations of producing this spectacle, its actual occurrence, and the sometimes funny experiences that mother, father, and son experience, including the mandatory drug experimentation, sex (hetero and homosexual), and rock ‘n’ roll. Is this the definitive study on Woodstock, on the 1960s counterculture, and on the generation of ’68s jail break-out? No, hell no, but it is a very nicely done slice-of-life film around that seminal 1960s event. Nicely done.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- Out In Teen Dance Club Night- A CD Review

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of The Drifters performing the classic Save The Last Dance For Me.

CD Review

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Era: 1960: various artists, Time-Life Music, 1992

Recently I, seemingly, have endlessly gone back to my early musical roots in reviewing various compilations of a Time-Life classic rock series that goes under the general title The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era. And while time and ear have eroded the sparkle of some of the lesser tunes it still seems obvious that those years, say 1955-58, really did form the musical jail break-out for my generation, the generation of ’68, who had just started to tune into music.

And we, we small-time punk (in the old-fashioned sense of that word), we hardly wet behind the ears elementary school kids, and that is all we were for those who are now claiming otherwise, listened our ears off. Those were strange times indeed in that be-bop 1950s night when stuff happened, kid’s stuff, but still stuff like a friend of mine, not my grammar school best friend “wild man” Billie who I will talk about some other time, who claimed, with a straight face to the girls, that he was Elvis’ long lost son. Did the girls do the math on that one? Or, maybe, they like us more brazen boys were hoping, hoping and praying, that it was true despite the numbers, so they too could be washed by that flamed-out night.

Well, this I know, boy and girl alike tuned in on our transistor radios (small battery- operated radios that we could put in our pockets, and hide from snooping parental ears, at will) to listen to music that from about day one, at least in my household was not considered “refined” enough for young, young pious you’ll never get to heaven listening to that devil music and you had better say about eight zillion Hail Marys to get right Catholic, ears. Ya right, Ma, like Patti Page or Bob (not Bing, not the Bing of Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? anyway) Crosby and The Bobcats were supposed to satisfy our jail-break cravings.

And we had our own little world, or as some hip sociologist trying to explain that Zeitgeist today might say, our own sub-group cultural expression. I have already talked about the pre 7/11 mom and pop corner variety store hangout with the tee-shirted, engineered-booted, cigarette (unfiltered) hanging from the lips, Coke, big sized glass Coke bottle at the side, pinball wizard guys thing. And about the pizza parlor juke box coin devouring, hold the onions I might get lucky tonight, dreamy girl might come in the door thing. And, of course, the soda fountain, and…ditto, dreamy girl coming through the door thing, natch. Needless to say you know more about middle school and high school dance stuff, including hot tip “ inside” stuff about manly preparations for those civil wars out in the working class neighborhood night, than you could ever possibly want to know, and, hell, you were there anyway (or at ones like them).

But the crème de la crème to beat alll was the teen night club. Easy concept, and something that could only have been thought up by someone in cahoots with our parents (or maybe it was them alone, although could they have been that smart). Open a “ballroom” (in reality some old VFW, Knight of Columbus, Elks, etc. hall that was either going to waste or was ready for the demolition ball), bring in live music on Friday and Saturday night with some rocking band (but not too rocking, not Elvis swiveling at the hips to the gates of hell rocking, no way), serve the kids drinks…, oops, sodas (Coke Pepsi, Grape and Orange Nehi, Hires Root Beer, etc.), and have them out of there by midnight, unscathed. All supervised, and make no mistake these things were supervised, by something like the equivalent of the elite troops of the 101st Airborne Rangers.

And we bought it, and bought into it hard. And, if you had that set-up where you lived, you bought it too. And why? Come on now, have you been paying attention? Girls, tons of girls (or boys, as the case may be). See, even doubting Thomas-type parents gave their okay on this one because of that elite troops of the 101st Airborne factor. So, some down and the heels, tee-shirted, engineer- booted Jimmy or Johnny Speedo from the wrong side of the tracks, all boozed up and ready to “hot rod” with that ‘boss”’57 Chevy that he just painted to spec, is no going to blow into the joint and carry Mary Lou or Peggy Sue away, never to be seen again. No way. That stuff happened, sure, but that was on the side. This is not what drove that scene for the few years while we were still getting wise to the ways of the world The girls (and guys) were plentiful and friendly in that guarded, backed up by 101st Airborne way (damn it). And we had our …sodas (I won’t list the brands again, okay). But, and know this true, we blasted on the music. The music that is on this compilation, no question. And I will tell you some of the stick outs:

Save The Last Dance For Me, The Drifters (oh, sweet baby, that I have had my eye on all night, please, please, James Brown, please save that last one for me); Only The Lonely, Roy Orbison (for some reason the girls loved covers of this one ); Alley Oop, The Hollywood Argyles (a good goofy song to break up the sexual tension that always filled the air, early and late, at these things as the mating ritual worked its mysterious ways); Handy Man, Jimmy Jones( a personal favorite, as I kept telling every girl, and maybe a few guys as well, that I was that very handy man that the gals had been waiting, waiting up on those lonely week day nights for. Egad!); Stay, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs (nice harmonics and good feeling); New Orleans, Joe Jones (great dance number as the twist and other exotic dances started to break into the early 1960s consciousness); and, Let The Little Girl Dance, Billy Bland (yes, let her dance, hesitant, saying no at first mother, please, please, no I will not invoke James Brown on this one, please).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop Night-In The Time Of The Time Of Classic Rock ‘n’ Roll-A CD Review

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Beatles covering Doctor Feelgood and the Interns classic, Mr. Moonlight.

CD Review

Rock Classics: The Originals, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era, Time-Life, 1991

As I have noted in reviewing The ‘60s: Last Dance and the 1957 parts of this Time-Life Roll ‘n’ Roll Era series I have spent tons of time and reams of cyberspace “paper” in this space reviewing the teenage culture of the 1950s and early 1960s, especially the inevitable school dance and the also equally inevitable trauma of the last dance. That event, the last dance that is, was the last chance for even shy boys like me to prove that we were not wallflowers, or worst. The last chance to rise (or fall) in the torrid and relentless pecking order of the social scene at school. And moreover to prove to that certain she that you were made of some sort of heroic stuff, the stuff of dreams, of her dreams, thank you very much. Moreover, to make use of that social capital you invested in by learning to dance, or the “shadow” of learning to dance.

Hey, I have already filled this space with enough prattle about the old time school dances, middle school and high school, so I need not repeat that stuff here. Moreover, whatever physical description I could conger up would be just so much eye wash anyway. Those dances could have been held in an airplane hangar and we all could have been wearing paper bags for all we really cared. What mattered, and maybe will always matter, is the hes looking at those certain shes, and vis-a-versa. The endless, small, meaningful looks (if stag, of course, eyes straight forward if dated up, or else bloody hell) except for those wallflowers who are permanently looking down at the ground. And that was the real struggle that went on in those events, for the stags. The struggle against wallflower-dom. The struggle for at least some room in the social standing, even if near the bottom, rather than outcast-dom. That struggle was as fierce as any class struggle old Karl Marx might have projected. The straight, upfront calculation (and not infrequently miscalculation), the maneuvering, the averting of eyes, the not averting of eyes, the reading of silence signals, the uncomphrehended "no", the gratuitous "yes." Need I go on? I don’t think so, except, if you had the energy, or even if you didn’t, then you dragged yourself to that last dance. And hoped, hoped to high heaven that it was a slow one.

Ah, memory. So what is the demographic that this CD compilation is being pitched to, aside from the obvious usual suspects, the AARP crowd. Well that’s simple. Any one who has been wounded in love’s young battles; any one who has longed for that he or she to come through the door, even if late; anyone that has been on a date that did not work out, been stranded on a date that has not worked out; anyone who has had to submit to being pieced off with car hop drive-in food; anyone who has gotten a “Dear John” letter or its equivalent; anyone who has been jilted by that certain he or she; anyone who has been turned down for that last school dance from that certain he or she that you counted on to make your lame evening; anyone who has waited endlessly for the telephone (now iphone, etc., okay for the younger set who may read this) to ring to hear that certain voice; and, especially those hes and she who has shed those midnight tears for youth’s lost love. In short, everybody except those few “most popular “types who the rest of us will not shed one tear over, or the nerds who didn’t count (or care) anyway.

Stick outs on this one that include both 50s and 60s material include: Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby by the underrated Carl Perkins who had all the making to be a big time rockabilly cross-over except Elvis got in the way; You’re No Good by Betty Everett who bopped the bop; I’m Leaving It All Up To You, by the one-hit wonders Don and Dewey, Time Is On My Side by the legendary blues rocker, Irma Thomas (a song, by the way, covered by the Stones; I Can’t Stop Lovin’ You, a country-type cross-over y Don Gibson. Needless to say John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom rates as well but I take that as a blues classic rather than a rock classic. And for that last dance, that one that you hoped for, prayed against all odds for, and sweated blood for, Doctor Feelgood and the Interns on Mr. Moonlight. Natch, a slow one. You’re on your own now for the after dance arrangements.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Out In The Church Hall Dance Night- A CD Review

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Teen Angels performing Eddie, My Love.

CD Review

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Era: 1956: various artists, Time-Life Music, 1987

I, seemingly, have endlessly gone back to my early musical roots in reviewing this Time-Life classic rock series that goes under the general title The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era. And while time and ear have eroded the sparkle of some of the lesser tunes it still seems obvious that those years, say 1955-58, really did form the musical jail break-out for my generation, the generation of ’68, who had just started to tune into music.

And we, we small-time punk in the old-fashioned sense of that word, we hardly wet behind the ears elementary school kids, and that is all we were for those who are now claiming otherwise, listened our ears off. Those were strange times indeed in that be-bop 1950s night when stuff happened, kid’s stuff, but still stuff like a friend of mine, not Billie who I will talk about later, who claimed, with a straight face to the girls, that he was Elvis’ long lost son. Did the girls do the math on that one? Or, maybe, they like us more brazen boys were hoping, hoping and praying, that it was true despite the numbers, so they too could be washed by that flamed-out night.

Well, this I know, boy and girl alike tuned in on our transistor radios (small battery- operated radios that we could put in our pockets, and hide from snooping parental ears, at will) to listen to music that from about day one, at least in my household was not considered “refined” enough for young, young pious you’ll never get to heaven listening to that devil music and you had better say about eight zillion Hail Marys to get right Catholic, ears. Ya right, Ma, like Patti Page or Bob (not Bing, not the Bing of Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? anyway) Crosby and The Bobcats were supposed to satisfy our jail break cravings.

But can you blame me, or us, for our jail-break visions and our clandestine subterranean life-transistor radio dreams of lots of girls (or boys as the case may be), lots of cars, and lots of money if we could just get out from under that parental noise. Now this Time-Life series has many compilations but as if to prove my point beyond discussion the year 1956 has two, do you hear me, two CDs to deal with that proposition that I mentioned above. And neither includes Elvis, Jerry Lee, Bo Diddley or some other stuff that I might have included. I already reviewed the other 1956 compilation previously but here are the stick outs from this selection:

Blue Suede Shoes, Carl Perkins (Elvis covered it and made millions but old Carl had a better old rockabilly back beat on his version); In The Still Of The Night, The Five Satins (a doo wop classic that I am humming right this minute, sha dot do be doo, sha dot do be doo or something like that spelling, okay); Eddie, My Love, The Teen Queens (incredible harmony, doo wop back-up, and, and “oh Eddie, please don’t make me wait too long” as part of the lyrics, Whoa!); Roll Over Beethoven, Chuck Berry ( a deservedly early break-out rock anthem. Hell I thought it was big deal just to trash Patti Page old Chuck went after the big boys.); Be-Bop-a-Lula, Gene Vincent (the guy was kind of a one hit wonder but Christ what a one hit, "ya, she’s my baby now"); Blueberry Hill, Fats Domino (that old smooth piano riffing away); Rip It Up, Little Richard (he/she wild man Richard rips it up; Young Love, Sonny James ( dreamy stuff that those giggling girls at school loved, and so you "loved" too); Why Do Fools Fall In Love?, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers (for a minute the king be-bop, doo wop teenage angel boy. Everybody wanted to be the doo wop king or queen); See You Later, Alligator, Bill Haley and The Comets (ya, these “old guys” could rock, especially that sax man. Think about it people still use the expression “see you later alligator”); and Since I Met You Baby, Ivory Joe Hunter (every dance pray, every last dance pray, oh my god, let them play Ivory Joe at the end so I can dance close with that certain she I have been eyeing all night).

Note: I have mentioned previously the excellent album cover art that accompanies each Time-Life classic rock series compilation. Not only does it almost automatically evoke long ago memories of red hot youth, and those dreams, those steamy dance night dreams too, but has supplied this writer with more than one idea for a commentary. This 1956 compilation album cover is in that same vein. The cover shows what looks like a local cover band from the 1950s getting ready to perform at the local high school dance. Although the guys, especially the lead vocalist, look a little skittish they know they have to make a good showing because this is their small time chance at the big time. Besides there are about six thousand other guys hanging around in their fathers’ garages ready and willing to step up if the Danny and the Bluenotes fall flat.

This live band idea is actually something of a treat because, from what I recall, many times these school dance things survived on loud record playing dee-jay chatter, thus the term “record hop.” From the look of it the school auditorium is the locale (although ours were inevitably held in the school gym), complete with the obligatory crepe, other temporary school-spirit related ornaments and a mesmerized girl band groupie to give the joint a festive appearance.

More importantly, as I said before, at least for the band, as they are to be warming up for the night’s work, is that they have to make their mark here (and at other such venues) and start to get a following if they want to avoid another dreaded fate of rock life. Yes, the dreaded fate of most bands that don’t break out of the old neighborhood, the fate of having to some years down the road play at some of the students they are performing for today children’s birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings and the like. That thought should be enough to keep these guys working until late in the night, jamming the night away, disturbing some old fogy Frank Sinatra fans in the neighborhood, perfecting those covers of Roll Over Beethoven, Rip It Up, Rock Around The Clock and Jailhouse Rock. Go to it boy, you bet.

Monday, December 20, 2010

***Who Is That Fred Astaire Is Dancing With?-“You’ll Never Get Rich”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of a scene with Fred Astaire dancing in You’ll Never Get Rich.

DVD Review

You’ll Never Get Rich, Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, 1941

Okay, let me bring you up to speed on the obscure meaning of the headline. See, a while back I was smitten by a film star, an old time black and white film star from the 1940s, Rita Hayworth. The film that sent me into a tailspin: the black and white noir classic Gilda where she played a “good” femme fatale who got in a jam with a no good monomaniacal crook. But that part is not important femme fatales, good or bad, get mixed up with wrong gees all the time. It’s an occupational hazard. What is important though is that I got all swoony over lovely, alluring Rita. And as happens when I get my periodic “bugs” I had to go out and see what else she performed in. Of course Lady From Shang-hai came next. There she plays a “bad” blondish femme fatale (against a smitten Orson Welles). And now this film under review, You’ll Never Get Rich. We are caught up.

Now the plot line here, the never-ending boy meets girl plot line that Hollywood mass-produced (and mass-produces) is pretty simple, except that it takes place in getting ready for World War II America and so military preparedness is part of the backdrop (although obvious this is before Pearl Harbor, after that event such shenanigans would seem unpatriotic). Broadway show dance man Fred Astaire is smitten, very smitten (join the line, Fred) by chorine dancer Rita who also has a sting of other men eating out of her hand, the important one being Fred’s devilish Broadway boss, a married, a very married, shirt-chaser. And from there the hi-jinks begin leading to Fred’s departure for the army as a refuse, and eventually, as those Hollywood boy meet girl things often did to the altar (in an unusual way here though, I‘d say).

But forget the story line here. This thing, and righteously so, is strictly about Fred’s dancing, dancing alone, dancing with a partner, dancing up a wall (oops that was another film) but dancing with so much style it is impossible to keep your eyes off him (saying how did he do that all the while). For style, grace, and physical moves every one of those guys you see on shows like Dancing With The Stars, well, just tell them to move on over, and watch a real pro. Hey, wait a minute, what about Rita? Ya, what about her. Here she is just along for the ride. She almost looks “clumsy” compared to him. She, however, has other charms, okay.

Who Is That Rita Hayworth Is Dancing With?-“You Were Never Lovelier”- A Film Review

DVD Review

You Were Never Lovelier, Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Xavier Cugat, Adophe Menjou, music by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, 1943

The first paragraph below is taken from other reviews about Rita Hayworth although the male stars are different here, except they all have a similar feature; they all are smitten, very smitten, by Ms. Hayworth’s charms. Join the line, boys:

“Okay, let me bring you up to speed on the obscure meaning of the headline. See, a while back I was smitten by a film star, an old time black and white film star from the 1940s, Rita Hayworth. The film that sent me into a tailspin: the black and white noir classic Gilda where she played a “good” femme fatale who got in a jam with a no good monomaniacal crook. But that part is not important femme fatales, good or bad, get mixed up with wrong gees all the time. It’s an occupational hazard. What is important though is that I got all swoony over lovely, alluring Rita. And as happens when I get my periodic “bugs” I had to go out and see what else she performed in. Of course Lady From Shang-hai came next. There she plays a “bad” blondish femme fatale (against a smitten Orson Welles)."

And now this film under review, You Were Never Lovelier. We are caught up.

Now the plot line here, the never-ending boy meets girl plot line that Hollywood mass-produced (and mass-produces) is pretty simple, except that it takes place in Buenos Aires (although the twelve dollars spent on fake stage scene-settings made me think of little white houses with picket fences in Indiana, or some place like that). When all is said and done, despite the machinations of Maria’s (Rita Hayworth) father (Adophe Menjou), Broadway show dance man Fred Astaire is smitten, very smitten (join the aforementioned line, the now long line, Fred) by her “Spanish” charms and her sweet coquettishness. And from there the hi-jinks really begin as all parties, wives, aunts, sisters, Christ, even grandma, and a much put upon father’s business assistant try to get this pair matched up. And as these Hollywood boy meet girl things often turn out, we will hear wedding bells before the end.

But forget the story line. This thing, like almost all Fred Astaire vehicles, and righteously so, is strictly about Fred’s dancing, dancing alone, dancing with a partner, dancing up a wall (oops that was another film) but dancing with so much style it is impossible to keep your eyes off him (saying how did he do that all the while). For style, grace, and physical moves every one of those guys you see on shows like Dancing With The Stars, well, just tell them to move on over, and watch a real pro. Hey, wait a minute, what about Rita? Ya, what about her. Here she is just along for the ride, although less so than in the previously reviewed You’ll Never Get Rich. She is more in synch here with Fred’s moves but it is still Fred's dancing which draws the eye. As I noted before, Rita, however, has other charms, okay.

Note: The music of Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer need no further comment, nor does the work of band leader Xavier Cugat. These are all pros from the old Tin Pan Alley music days of the American songbook. Enough said

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop Night-Scenes From The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- The Siren Call Of The Mountain Wind Song

Markin comment:

The scene below stands (or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline .

Scene Five: The Siren Call Of The Mountain Wind Song In The Search For The Blue- Pink Great American West Night

Hey, not every aspect of the 1960s blue-pink night was a search for some kind of transcendence. Mostly it was that, and its glow has kept a few of us warm through many a desperate dark, cold night since. But sometimes it was running away from the past, from roots, or maybe better, from rooted-ness. Or just plain old running away from what lurked ahead, and ahead did not seem as good as the road, the road with all its troubles. For those who have read the previous scene, the scene where I got stuck down in a Steubenville, Ohio 1969 truck stop diner and got “lucky” finding a woman friend to share the road with, you know at the end of that episode we were heading out, or trying to head out West. For those who have not read that scene let me introduce my new lady friend, Angelica. Angelica, who, as fate would have it, was working in that diner truck stop where I got stuck and happened to think I was “nice” and after a little of this and that decided that her search for meaning in her young life entailed accompanying me on the road west. Whoa! In any case there she was walking beside me as we tried to hitch a ride from one of the rigs idling at the stop. If you want to know the details of the “how come” of our walking together just now go read that last scene, otherwise I will try to fill you in as we go along.

In the process of getting you filled in, let’s get one thing clear. When you were on the road, on the 1960s hitchhike road, and trying to get across the country the rules, the rules of the road, were a little different than the rules in workaday life. Your take on life and your, usually, transient relationships with passing strangers, male or female, got a little twisted. Not necessarily in a bad way, but twisted. I was pleased, pleased beyond belief, as least privately, to have winsome, fetching Angelica along. As I mentioned before in those hitchhike days it was always easier to get rides when you had a female companion, and one with good legs and a good shape, a shape that drivers could notice as they sped by was a plus. Maybe, thinking it was a mirage anyway, not every benny high, moony, overstretched transcontinental truck driver, running overweight anyway, would put on the airbrakes for her on the Interstate at eighty miles an hour. But those young, slower lane sedan drivers would slam on the brakes, and gladly. Ya, I know now it is not cool, nor should it be, to be using a woman as a “decoy” in that way but that was the way it was then “on the road.”

Now, if you don’t know, meaning you haven’t read the previous scenes, I, by this time, had been periodically crossing the country for some time in search of …... well, in search of something because just now, some forty years later, I am getting just a little weary of calling it the blue-pink night but this was Angelica’s whimsical maiden voyage. Angelica, was, moreover, pretty naïve about life and clueless about the road having just a few weeks earlier left home and hearth in cozy mid-country Muncie, Indiana. (Don’t tell me all about the famous Lynd sociological study of squaretown, oops, I mean, Middletown, that used that town as its sample back in the 1920s I already mentioned that before.) Therefore she was crushed beyond my comprehension, as we walked closer to the idling trucks on the other side of the diner, when I mentioned to her that the small suitcase (neatly packed) she was carrying was not a good road item compared to a nice fungible knapsack for when we had to do some walking between rides. I do not know, and I never found out, whether the look, not the nice sly, coquettish look that she greeted me with early in our “courtship” at the diner and that hooked me, but some volcanic devilish look when I mentioned that to her the fact that she was going to have to abandon that suitcase or that the “road”, the real hitchhike road meant some walking. Later, and not much later at that, she saw my point about the suitcase, but that does not erase that look from memory’s eye.

Nor was that little episode the end of out little road “adjustments.” In the few weeks that Angelica had been working long hours at the diner she served many of the truckers whose rigs were idling in the truck stop rest area we were cruising for rides. So, naturally, she tried to find out where some of those that she knew were heading. This day, they are heading mainly east, or anyway not west. Finally, she ran into one burly teamster, Eddie, who was heading down Route 7 along the Ohio River to catch Interstate 64 further down river and then across through to Lexington, Kentucky. Angelica was thrilled because, as it turned out, she had kin (her term, okay), a cousin or something, down in Prestonsburg, Kentucky whom she hadn’t seen in a while and where we could stay for a few days and take in the mountain air (her idea of rest, mine then and now, was strictly ocean breezes, thank you). I tried, tried desperately, without being obnoxious about it, to tell her that heading south was not going to get us to the West very easily. She would have none of it, and she rightly said, that we were in no rush anyway and what was wrong with a little side trip to Kentucky anyway. Well, I suppose in the college human nature course, Spat-ology 101, if there was such a course then, and they taught it, I should have had enough sense to throw in the towel. After all this was Angelica’s first, now seriously, whimsical venture out on the road. And I did, in the end, throw in the towel, except not for the reason that you think.

What Angelica didn’t know until later, and you didn’t know until now, was that I was deathly afraid of going to Kentucky. See, I had set myself up to the world as, and was in fact in my head, a Yankee, an Oceanside Yankee, if you like. I was born in Massachusetts and have the papers to prove it, but on those papers there is an important fact included. My father’s place of birth was Hazard, Kentucky probably not more than fifty to one hundred miles away from Prestonsburg. He was born down in the hills and hollows of mining country, coal mining country, made famous in song and legend. And also made infamous (to me) by Michael Harrington’s Other America which described in detail the plight of Appalachian whites, my father’s people. And also, as a result of the publicity about the situation down there, the subject in my early 1960s high school of a clothing drive to help them out. My father left the mines when World War II started, enlisted in the Marines, saw his fair share of battles in the Pacific, got stationed before discharge at a Naval Depot in Massachusetts and never looked back. And see I never wanted him to look back. That’s the way it was back then, make of it what you will. Sure, now, among other things, I can thank winsome, head-strong Angelica for making that move, but then, well, like I said I threw in the towel, but I was not happy about it. Not happy at all.

Actually the ride down Route 7 was pretty uneventful and, for somebody who did not feel comfortable looking at trees and mountains, some of the scenery was pretty breath-taking. That is until we started getting maybe twenty miles from Prestonsburg and the air changed, the scenery changed, and the feel of the social milieu changed. See we were getting in the edges of coal country, not the serious “Bloody Harlan” stuff of legend but the older, scrap heap part that had been worked over, and “worked out” long along. The coal bosses had taken the earth’s assets and left the remnants behind to foul the air and foul the place.

But, mostly, and here is where I finally understood why my father took his chances in World War II and also why he never looked back, shacks. Nothing but haphazardly placed, unpainted shacks, hard-scrabble patched roofs just barely covering them. With out-houses, out-houses can you believe that in America in the 1960s. And plenty of kids hanging out in the decidedly non-manicured front yards waiting… well, just waiting. Look, I came up in my early youth in a public housing project that had all the pathologies one has come to associate with that form of social organization. Later, in my coming of age days we lived in a tiny, very tiny, single family house but I was not prepared for this. All that I can say about my feelings at the time was that I would be more than willing to crawl on all fours to get back to my crummy old growing up homestead rather than fight the dread of this place.

Fortunately Angelica’s kin (second cousin), Annadeene, husband and two kids all at about age twenty, lived further down the road, out of town, in a trailer camp which the husband, Fred, had expanded so that it had the feel of a small country house. Most importantly it had indoor plumbing and a spare room where Angelica and I could sleep and put our stuff. Fred, as I recall, was something of a skilled mechanic (coal equipment mechanic) who worked for a firm that was indirectly connected to the Eastern Kentucky coal mines.

This Prestonsburg, as you can imagine, in the 1960s was nothing but one of a thousand such towns that I had (and have) passed through. A main street with a few essential stores, some boarded up retail space and then you are out of town. Then hardly worth, and maybe now too, putting a strip mall into. Moreover, Route 7 as it turned into Route 23 heading into Prestonsburg and then further down turned into nothing but an old country, pass at your own risk, country road about where Angelica’s cousin lived. What I am trying to get at though is that although these people were in the 20th century they were somewhat behind the curve. This is, as it probably was in my father’s time, patriotic country, country where you did your military service came home, worked, if you could find it, got married and raised a family. Just in tougher circumstances than elsewhere.

I understood that part. What I did not understand then, and am still somewhat confused about, is the insularity of the place. The wariness, serious wariness, of strangers even of strangers brought to the hills and hollows by kin. I was not well received at least first, and I still am not quite sure if I ever was, by Angelica’s kin and I suppose if I thought about it while they had heard of “hippies” (every male with beard, long hair, and jeans was suspected of belonging to that category) Prestonsburg was more like something from Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee lyrics than Haight-Ashbury. Angelica kept saying that I would grow on them (like I did on her) but I knew, knew down deep that we had best get out of there. I kept pressing the issue but she refused to listen to any thoughts of our leaving until after Saturday night’s barn dance. After all Fred and Annadeene had specially invited us to go with them. We could leave Sunday morning but not before. Christ, a hillbilly hoe-down.

Probably about twenty years ago I would have felt no compulsion to go into anything but superficial detail about this barn dance. Today though I do. Otherwise this scene lacks completeness. I will say that I have, twenty years ago or now, a very clear picture of Angelica being fetching for this dance. All her feminine wiles got a workout that night. What I can’t remember is what she wore or how she wore her hair (up, I think) but the effect on me (and the other guys) was calculated to make me glad, glad as hell, that we stayed for this thing. What I can remember vividly though is that this barn dance actually took place in a barn, just a plain old ordinary barn that had been used in this area for years (according to the oldsters since back in the 1920s) for the periodic dances that filled up the year and broke the monotony of the mountain existence. The old faded red-painted barn, sturdily build to withstand the mountain winds and containing a stage for such occasions was something out of a movie, some movie that you have seen, so you have some idea of what it was like even if you have never been within a hundred miles of a barn.

Moreover the locals had gone to some effort to decorate the place, provide plenty of refreshments and use some lighting to good effect. What was missing was any booze. This was a “dry” county then (and maybe still is) but not to worry wink, wink there was plenty of “white lightning” around out in the makeshift dirt parking lot where clusters of good old boys hovered around certain cars whose owners had all you needed. Just bring your own fixings. After we had checked out the arrangements in the barn and Annadeene had introduced us to her neighbors Fred tapped me on the shoulder and “hipped” me to the liquor scene. We went outside. Fred talked quietly to one of the busy car owners and then produced a small jar for my inspection. “Hey, wait,” he said “you have to cut that stuff a little with some water if you are not used to it.” I took my jar, added some water, and took a swig. Jesus Christ, I almost fell down the stuff was so powerful. Look, I used to drink whiskey straight up in those days, or I thought I drank whiskey straight up but after one swig, one swig, my friends, I confess I was a mere teetotaler. Several minutes later we went back inside and I nursed, literally nursed, that jar for the rest of the night. But you know I got “high” off it and was in good spirits. So good that I started dancing with Angelica once the coterie of banjo players, fiddlers, guitarists and mandolin players got finished warming up. I am not much of a dancer under the best of circumstances but, according to her, I did okay that night.

Hey, you’d expect that the music was something out of the Grand Ole Opry, some Hee-Haw hoe-down stuff, some Arkansas Jamboree hokum, right? Forget that. See back in the mountains, at least in the 1960s mountains, they did not have access to much television or sheet music or other such refinements. What they played they learned from mama and papa, or some uncle who got it from god knows where. It’s all passed down from something like time immemorial and then traced back to the old county, the British Isles mainly. Oh sure there was a “square” hoe-down thing or two but what I heard that night was something out of the mountain night high-powered eerie winds as they rolled down the hills and hollows (hollers, if you are from there). Something that spoke of hard traveling first from the old country when luck ran out there, then from the east coast of America when that got too crowded and just sat down when it hit those grey-blue mountains, or maybe, although I never asked (and under the circumstances would not have dared to ask) formed their version of the blue-pink great American West night, and this is as far as they got, or cared to go.

Some of this music I knew from my folk experiences in Boston and Cambridge earlier in the 1960s when everybody, including me, was looking for the roots of folk music. Certainly I knew Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies when the band played it instrumentally. That was one of the first songs, done by gravelly-voiced Dave Van Ronk, I heard on the folk radio station that I listened to. But, see, back in those early days that stuff, for the most part, was too, well you know, too my father’s music for me to take seriously. Bob Dylan was easier to listen to for a message that “spoke” to me. But this night I thrilled to hear real pros going one-on-one to out-fiddle, out-banjo, out-mandolin, out, out-any instrument each other in some mad dash to appease the mountain nymphs, or whatever or whoever was being evoked to keep civilization away from the purity of the music. That night was as close as I got to my roots, and feeling good about those roots, and also as close as I got to Angelica. I could go on and give examples that you could go check out on YouTube and listen to but this is one of those moments you had to be there, okay.

About 12:30 or one o’clock the dance broke up, although as we headed down the rutted, jagged street we could still hear banjos and fiddles flailing away to see who really was “king of the hill.” Angelica said she was glad that we stayed, and I agreed. She also said that, yes, I was right; it was time to head west. She said it in such a way that I felt that she could have been some old time pioneer woman who once she recognized that the land was exhausted knew that the family had to pull up stakes and push on. It was just a matter of putting the bundles together and saying goodbye to the neighbors left behind. Needless to say old resource road companion Angelica, sweet, fetching Angelica put that fetchiness to good use and had us lined up for a ride from another Eddie truck driver who, if he was sober enough, was heading out with a load at 6:00 AM to Winchester just outside Lexington from where we could make better connections west. 6:00 AM, are you kidding? I am still wearing about eight pound of that white lightning, or whatever it was. Angelica merely pointed out in her winsome, fetching way that nobody forced me to drink that rotgut (her word) liquor when softer refreshments had been available inside. Touché, 6:00 AM it is.

Dog tired, smelling of a distillery, or some old time hardware store (where the white lightning ingredients probably came from) Angelica and I laid our heads down to get a few hours sleep. Gently she nuzzled up to my side (how she did it through the alcoholic haze I do not know) and gave every indication that she wanted to make love. Now we are right next door to the two unnamed sleeping children, sleeping the sleep of the just, and as she gets more aggressive we have to be, or we think we have to be, more quiet. No making the earth under the Steubenville truck stop motel cabin shake this night. And, as we talked about it on the road later, that was not what was in her mind. She just wanted to show, in a very simple way, that she appreciated that I had stayed, that I had been wise enough to figure out how long we should stay, and that, drunk or sober, I would take her feelings into account. Not a bad night’s work. And so amid some low giggles we did our exploration. Oh, here is the part that will tell you more than a little about Angelica. She also wanted to please me this night because she did not know, given the vagaries of the road, when we would be able to do it again. Practical girl.

In the groggy, misty, dark before dawn, half awake, no quarter awake night Angelica tapped me to get up. We quickly packed, she ate a little food (I could barely stand never mind do something as complicated as eat food), and we made our goodbyes, genuine this morning by all parties. As we went out the front trailer door and headed up the road to the place where Eddie had said to meet him I swear, I swear on all the dreams of whatever color that I have ever had, that the background mountains that were starting to take form out of the dark started to play, and to play like that music I heard last night from those demon fiddlers and banjo players. I asked, when we met Eddie, who was only a few minutes late, and who looked and felt (as he told me) worst that I did (except that he proudly stated that he was used to it, okay Eddie) if those musicians were still at it over at that old devil of a red barn. “No,” he said. “Where is that music coming from then?” I said. Old Eddie (backed by Angelica) said “What music?” That angel music I said. Eddie just looked bemused as he revved that old truck engine up and we hit the road west.

Several years ago I was half-listening to some music, some background eerily haunting mountain music coming from a folk radio station when I had the strangest feeling that I had heard the tune before. I puzzled over it sporadically for a few days and then went to the local library to see if they had some mountain music CDs. They did and I began on that date a feverish reaquaintance with this form of music that I have occasionally reviewed here, especially the various Carter Family combinations. I, however, never did find out the name of that song.

And in a sense it has not name. It was the music from that old mountain wind as it trailed down the hills and hollows that I heard that last night in Prestonsburg. See here is what you didn’t know as you read all this stuff, and I only half knew it back then. I had been in Kentucky before that trip down from Steubenville, Ohio with sweet Angelica. No, not the way you think. My parents, shortly after they were married and after my father got out of the service, took a trip back to his home in Hazard so his family could meet his bride, or maybe just so he could show her off. They stayed for some period of time, I am not sure exactly how long, but the long and short of it is, that I was conceived and was fussing around in my mother’s womb while they were there. So see, it was that old mountain wind calling me home, calling me to my father’s roots, calling me to my roots as I was aimlessly searching for that blue-pink great American West night. Double thanks, Angelica.

Friday, December 10, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop Night- After The Last Dance- "Midnight Cryin’ Time" –A CD Review

CD Review

Midnight Cryin’ Time: Teen Angst Classics From The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era, various artists, 3-CD set, Sanctuary records Group, 2003

Come on now, do you really expect me to pass up the opportunity to review a CD set with that title after all the ink I have spilled over the past few years in this space going on and on about various aspects of teenage life, teenage alienation and teenage angst in the 1950s and early 1960s, the time of my own coming of age. Of course not, this thing is like manna from heaven and came my way via a book sale at the local library. I had to pick it up at any cost, if only to be able to use the above lead-in.

That said, what I want to discuss is the aftermath of the school dance, or those lonely nights when there were no schools dances. After all how many dances can you have in a school year. How many times can you ask, ask pretty please like, certain younger teachers on the faculty to, wink, wink, chaperon these things before they go ballistic on you. And how about those other teen social situations between dances then (and now, maybe, except the communications technology is different). For example; being stood up for a date; or when that certain he or she did not call; or that certain he or she had another date; or that certain "unto death" friend of yours took that certain he or she away from you; or when that certain he or she said no, no for any number of things but you know the real “no”, right?; or, finally, the subject of this CD that midnight cryin’ time when something he or she, did or did not do, or did or did not say, or that he or she forgot to remember, and so on that seems to be the umbrella that these three discs focus on.

So what is the demographic that this CD compilation is being pitched to, aside from the obvious usual suspects, the AARP crowd. Well that's simple. Any one who has been wounded in love’s young battles; any one who has longed for that he or she to come through the door, late or not; anyone that has been on a date that did not work out, or been stranded on a date that has not worked out; anyone who has had to submit to being pieced off with car hop drive-in food; anyone who has gotten a “Dear John” letter, or its equivalent; anyone who has been jilted by that certain he or she; anyone who has been turned down for that last school dance from that certain he or she that you counted on to make your up until then lame evening; anyone who has waited endlessly for the telephone (now iphone, etc.,okay, for the younger set who may read this) to ring to hear that certain voice; and, especially those hes and she who has shed those midnight tears for youth's lost love. In short, everybody except those few “most popular “ types who the rest of us will not shed one tear over, or the nerds who didn’t count (or care) anyway.

Okay, that is the big build-up and usually at the end of these things, these oldies review things, I give my choices for the tunes that stick out. Well, aside from providing a little fodder for this entry there is not one damn song on this messed-up thing that I can, or would, recommend. It seems impossible that a 3-CD set of old time rock and roll music would provide nothing more than a….headache after I spent my short, sweet life listening to it one afternoon. Hoping, hoping against hope that there would be one song I could listen to that I didn’t want upon hearing get up and throw the whole thing out the window. May, just maybe, that is why some perverted AARPer “donated” this beauty to the book sale. I want that person’s e-mail address pronto as someone has some midnight crying of his or her own to do.

Note: Before anyone hollers at me that Marcie Blane, Eddie Cochran (whose work  I am going to write a review on soon), and a few other well-known rockers are on this compilation I know that. The material of theirs that is presented here though is the B (or C or D ) side of their better known work. I rest my case.

Monday, December 6, 2010

***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- In The Time Before The Rock ‘n’ Roll Jailbreak –They Shoot CD Players Don’t They-A CD Review

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra performing Harbor Lights

CD Review

The 1950s: 16 Most Requested Songs, Volume II, various artists, CBS Records, 1986

Some people ask; although I am not one of them, if there was music before 1950s classic rock ‘n’ roll. Of course there was and I have taken some pains to establish the roots of rock back to Mississippi country blues, electric blues as they traveled north to the heartland industrial cities, jazz as it got be-bopped and took to swing, certainly rhythm and blues, north and south and rockabilly as it came out of the white small town South. What it owes little to, or at least I hope that it owes little to is that Tin Pan Alley/ Broadway show tune axis part of the American songbook. That seems to me a different trend and one that is reflected in this CD under review, The 1950s: 16 Most Requested Songs, which is really about the 16 most requested song before the rock jailbreak of the mid-1950s. Let’s be clear about that.

I have along the way, in championing classic rock as the key musical form that drove the tastes of my generation, the generation of ’68, contrasted that guitar-driven, drum/bass line driven sound to that of my parents’ generation, the ones who survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and fought World War II, and listened to swing, jitterbuggery things and swooned over big bands, swings bands, Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters and The Mills Brothers, among others. In other words the music that, we of the generation of ’68, heard as background music around the house as we were growing up. Buddha Swings, Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree, Rum and Coca-Cola, Paper Dolls, Tangerine, and the like. Stuff that today sounds pretty good, if still not quite something that “speaks” to me. That is not the music that is reflected in this compilation and which, I think rightly, I was ready to shoot my CD player over once I heard it as I announced in the headline.

No, this is music that reflects, okay, let’s join the cultural critics’ chorus here, the attempted vanilla-zation (if such a word can exist) of the Cold War Eisenhower (“I Like Ike”) period when people were just trying to figure out whether the Earth would survive from one day to the next. Not a time to be rocking the boat, for sure. Once things stabilized a bit though then the mad geniuses of rock could hold sway, and while parents and authorities crabbed to high heaven about it, let that rock breakout occur and not have everything wind up going to hell in a hand basket. But this music, these 16 most requested songs were what we were stuck with before then. Sure, I listened like everyone else, everyone connected to a radio, but this stuff, little as I knew then, did not “speak” to me. And unlike some of that 1940s stuff still does not “speak” to me.

Oh, you want proof. Here is one example. On this compilation Harbor Lights is done by Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra. This was cause one for wanting to get a pistol out and start aiming. Not for the song but for the presentation. Why? Well, early in his career Elvis, while he was doing his thing for Sam Phillips’ Memphis Sun Records operation, covered this song. There are a myriad of Elvis recordings during the Sun period, including compilations with outtakes and alternative recordings of this song. The worst, the absolute worst of these covers by Elvis has more life, more jump, dare I say it, more sex than the Kaye recording could ever have. And it only gets worst from there with incipient things like Frankie Lane’s I Believe, Johnny Mathis’ It’s Not For Me To Say, and Marty Robbins’ (who did some better stuff later) on A White Sports Coat (And A Pink Carnation). And you wonder why I ask whether they shoot CD players. Enough said.
Harbor Lights Lyrics
(words & music by H. Williams - J. Kennedy)

I saw the harbor lights
They only told me we were parting
Those same old harbor lights
That once brought you to me.

I watched the harbor lights
How could I help it?
Tears were starting.
Good-bye to golden nights
Beside the silvery seas.

I long to hold you dear,
And kiss you just once more.
But you were on the ship,
And I was on the shore.

Now I know lonely nights
For all the while my heart keeps praying
That someday harbor lights
Will bring you back to me.