Saturday, December 31, 2011

***Out In The 1950s Be-Bop Crime Noir Night- Humphrey Bogart’s “Beat The Devil”-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the anti-film noir Beat The Devil.

DVD Review

Beat The Devil, starring Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Peter Lorre, directed by John Huston, 1953

When Humphrey Bogart was in his prime, say from the time of Petrified Forest in the late 1930s until say 1947’s Dark Passage, he was hands down king of film noir hill. No question. There were prettier faces (Clark Gable), there were better actors (Spencer Tracey), there were actors with more angst per ounce (Montgomery Cliff) but for sheer gritty, grizzled, gnarly (nice, huh) film presence Bogie was the one. Of course even those who have not kept up with their history know that every king (or queen) has his (or her) day. And then-done. Well, not exactly done but since actors, like some generals, only fade away and hang on for just as long as studios think they have “start” quality to put in the bank. In the film under review, Beat The Devil, our man Bogie is in such a quandary. Clearly, on the screen, it is almost painful to see his physical decline from his prime (only slightly hidden by “make-up magic”) if not his ability to throw off a few off-hand devil take the hinter-post lines in this one.

Fortunately this film, directed skillfully to enhance the black and white features, by John Huston, is not desperately in need of “high” Bogie to carry it along. The story line, about a motley crew of “desperados” seeking fame and fortune in post-World War Africa is fairly straight forward and mundane. Unfortunately, for them, they are stuck in an out-of the-way port in Italy. The keys to the kingdom that this crew is trying to corner in the heated up Cold War world- uranium (or some other equally precious commodity, if thinks turn out badly). If in earlier times gold or diamonds stirred men’s (and women’s) greedy thoughts just then in that red scare night it was that particularly important produce. However not for one moment can any of the parties (and those like Ms. Jennifer Jones and her down-at-the-heels British husband who wonder what this crew is doing out in the sticks) take one eye, much less two, off the others. And that, more than the thin plot line, is what carries the day here. The collective day, with likes of Robert Benchley, Peter Lorre and Ms. Jones, playing off against Bogie’s world-wary, world-weary performance. Add into the mix a little off-hand undone infidelity for the good of the cause and that makes a very interesting mix. If you need classic “high” Bogie then go to Casablanca, To Have or Have Not or The Big Sleep. But if you want to see him play against type and in an ensemble performance watch this one.

***Not Ready For Prime Time AARP Songs- The Beatles' "When I'm Sixty-Four"

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Beatles performing When I'm Sixty-Four from the animated movie Yellow Submarine.

Peter Paul Markin, North Adamsville Class Of 1964 and thus already past sixty-four, comment:

Many of my fellows from the Generation of '68 (a. k. a. baby-boomers) will be, if you can believe this, turning sixty-four this year. So be it.

When I'm Sixty-Four - The Beatles

When I get olded, loosing my hair,
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me the Valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine

If I stay out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four.

You'll be older too,
And if you say the word I could stay with you.

I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday morning go for a ride

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four.

Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight,
if it's not too dear
We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck & Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line
Stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form,
Mine for evermore,
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four.

Ancient dreams, dreamed:

To be born under a portentous sign. Ya, sometimes, and maybe more than sometimes, a frail, a frill, a twist, a dame, oh hell, let’s cut out the goofy stuff and just call her a woman and be done with it, will tie a guy’s insides up in knots so bad he doesn’t know what is what. Tie up a guy so bad he will go to the chair kind of smiling, okay, maybe just half-smiling. He had it bad as a man could have from the minute Ms. Cora walked through the door in her white summer blouse, shorts, and then de rigueur bandana, white as well, holding back her hair. She may have been just another blonde, another very blonde frail serving them off the arm in some seaside hash joint but from second one she was nothing but, well nothing but, a femme fatale. Trouble, big trouble. I swear, I swear on seven sealed bibles that I yelled at the movie screen for him to get the hell out of there at that moment. But do you think he would listen, no not our boy. He had to play with fire, and play with it to the end.

Nose flattened cold against the frozen, snow falling front window apartment dwell, small, warm, no hint of madness, or crazes only of sadness, brother sadness, sadness and not understanding of time marching as he, that brother, goes off to foreign places and one is left to ponder his own place in those places.

A cloudless day, hot, hot end of June day laying, face up on freshly mown grass near fellowship carved-out fields, starting to find his own place in the sun but wondering, constantly wondering, what means this, what means, that and why all the changes, slow changes, fast changes, blip changes but changes.

Endless walks, endless sea street walks, rocks strewn every which way, making way for the uptown drug store valentine night bushel, if only she, about five candidates she just then, would give a look his way his endless sea streets, the white-flecked splash would be quiet.

Nighttime fears, red Stalin-named fears, red bomb shelter blast fears against the dark school yard night and avoidance, clean, clear avoidance of old times sailors, tars, AND deaths in lonely seaside graveyards.

Walks, bus stop non stop walks, up crooked cheap, low rent, fifty-year rutted pavement streets pass trees are green, endless trees are green waiting, waiting against infinite time for one look, one look that would elude him, elude him forever. Such is life in lowly spots, lowly, lowly spots.

City square standing, waiting, standing going in, coming out, coming out with a gold nugget jewel, no carat for his efforts such is the way of young crime, no value, no look just grab, grab hard, grab fast, grab get yours before the getting is over, or before the dark night comes, the dark pitched-night when the world no longer is young, and dreamed dreams make no more sense.

A bridge too far. Bicycle boy churning through endless heated streets, names all the parts of ships, names, all the seven seas, names, all the fishes of the seas, names, all the fauna of the sea. Twelve-year old miles to go before sleep, searching for the wombic home, for the old friends, the old grifter, midnight shifters friends hard against the named seas, against those slo-fast changes that kind of hit one sideways all at once.

Lindo, lindos, beautiful, beautifuls, not some spanish exotic though, I don’t think, just some junior league dream fuss, some sweated night pastry crust and I too slip-shot, too, well, just too lonely, too lonesome, too long-toothed before my time to do more than endless walks along endless atlantic streets to summon up the courage to glance, glance right at windows, non-exotic atlantic windows.

Sweated dust bowl nights, not the sweated exotic atlantic nights but something else for something inside for some sense of worth in the this moldy shirt, mildewed shorts, who knows what diseased sneakers, pushing the red-faced Irish winds, harder, harder around the oval ,watch tick in hand, looking, looking I guess for immortality, immortality even then.

Main street walked, main street telephone booth walked, searching for some Diana greek goddess wholesale on the atlantic streets. Or rather courage, nickel and dime courage as it turns out, nickel and dime courage when home provided no sanctuary for snuggle-eared delights, No way, no way, Jack, not my name, and then red-face, red-face even forty years later. Wow.

Multi-colored jacket worn, cigarette hanging from off the lip at some jagged angle, a cup of coffee if coffee was the drink, in hand, a glad hand either way, look right, look left, a gentle nod, a hard stare, a gentle snarl if such a thing is possible beyond the page. Finally, that one minute, no not fifteen, not fifteen at all, and not necessary of fame, local fame, always local fame but fame, and then the abyss on non-fame, non- recognition and no more snarls, gentle or otherwise. A tough life lesson, very tough.

Drunk, whisky drunk in some bayside bar. Name, nameless, no legion. Some staggered midnight vista street, legs weak from lack of work, brain weak, push on, push on, find some fellaheen relieve for that unsatisfied bulge, that gnawing at the brain or really at the root of the thing. A topsy-turvy time, murder, death, the death of death, the death of fame, murder, killing murder, and then resolve, wrong resolve and henceforth the only out, war, war to the finish although who could have known that then.

Shaved-head, close anyway, too close to distinguish that head and ten-thousand, no, one hundred-thousand other heads, all shave-headed. I fall down to the earth, spitting mud-flecked red clay, spitting, dust, spitting, spitting out the stars over Alabama that portent no good, and no earthly good. Except this-if this is not murder, if this is not to slay, then what is? And the die is cast, not truthfully cast, not pure warrior in the night cast but cast. Wild dreams, senseless wild dreams follow, follow in succession.

The great Mandela cries, cries to the high heavens, for revenge against the son’s hurt, now that the son has found his way, a strange way but a way. And a certain swagger comes to his feet in the high heaven black madonna of night. No cigarette hanging off the lip now, no need, and no rest except the rest of waiting, waiting on the days to pass until the next coming, and the next coming after that. Ah, sweet Mandela, turn for me, turn for me and mine just a little.

Bloodless bloodied streets, tears, tear-gas exploding, people running this way and that coming out of a half-induced daze, a crazed half-induced daze that mere good- will, mere righteousness would right the wrongs of this wicked old world. But stop. Out of the bloodless fury, out of the miscalculated night a strange bird, no peace dove and no flame-flecked phoenix but a bird, maybe the owl of Minerva comes a better sense that this new world a-bornin’ will take some doing, some serious doing. More serious that some wispy-bearded, pony-tailed beat, beat down, beat around, beat up young stalwart acting in god’s place can even dream of.

Chill chili nights south of the border, endless Kennebunkports, Bar Harbors, Calais’, Monkton, Peggy’s Coves, Charlottetowns, Montreals, Ann Arbors, Neolas, Denvers by moonlight, Boulders echos, Dinosaurs dies, salted lakes, Winnemuccas flats, golden-gated bridges, malibus, Joshua Trees, pueblos, embarkederos, and flies. Enough to last a life-time, thank you. Enough of Bunsen burners, Coleman stoves, wrapped blankets, second-hand sweated army sleeping bags, and minute pegged pup tents too. And enough too of granolas, oatmeals, desiccated stews, oregano weed, mushroomed delights, peyote seeds, and the shamanic ghosts dancing off against apache (no, not helicopters, real injuns) ancient cavern wall. Enough, okay.

He said struggle. He said push back. He said stay with your people. He said it would not be easy. He said you have lost the strand that bound you to your people. He said you must find that strand. He said that strand will lead you away from you acting in god’s place ways. He said look for a sign. He said the sign would be this-when your enemies part ways and let you through then you will enter the golden age. He said it would not be easy. He said it again and again. He said struggle.

Greyhound bus station men’s wash room stinking to high heaven of seven hundred pees, six hundred laved washings, five hundred wayward unnamed, unnamable smells, mainly rank. Out the door, walk the streets, walk the streets until, until noon, until five, until lights out. Plan, plan, plan, plain paper bag in hand holding, well, holding life, plan for the next minute, no, the next ten seconds until the deadly impulses subside. Then look, look hard, for safe harbors, lonely desolate un-peopled bridges, some newspaper-strewn bench against the clotted hobo night snores. Desolation row, no way home.

A smoky sunless bar, urban style right in the middle of high Harvard civilization, belting out some misty time Hank Williams tune, maybe Cold, Cold Heart from father home times. Order another deadened drink, slightly benny-addled, then in walks a vision. A million time in walks a vision, but in white this time. Signifying? Signifying adventure, dream one-night, lost walks in loaded woods, endless stretch beaches, moonless nights, serious caresses, and maybe, just maybe some cosmic connection to wear away the days, the long days ahead. Ya that seems right, right.

White flags neatly placed in right pocket. Folded aging arms showing the first signs of wear-down, unfolded. One more time, one more dastardly fight against time, against a bigger opponent, and then the joys of retreat and taking out those white flags again and normalcy. The first round begins. He holds his own, a little wobbly. Second round he runs into a series of upper-cuts that drive him to the floor. Out. Awake later, seven minutes, hours, eons later he takes out the white flags now red with his own blood. He clutches them in his weary hands. The other he said struggle, struggle. Ya, easy for you to say.

Desperately clutching his new white flags, exchanged years ago for bloodied red ones, white flags proudly worn for a while now, he wipes his brow of the sweat accumulated from the fear he has been living with for the past few months. Now ancient arms folded, hard-folded against the rainless night, raining, he carefully turns right, left, careful of every move as the crowd comes forward. Not a crowd, no, a horde, a beastly horde, and this is no time to stick out with white flags (or red, for that matter). He jumps out of the way, the horde passes brushing him lightly, not aware, not apparently aware of the white flags. Good. What did that other guy say, oh yes, struggle.

One more battle, one more, please one more. He chains himself, well not really chains, but more like ties himself to the black wrought-iron fence in front of the big white house with his white handkerchief . Another guy does the same, except he uses some plastic stuff. A couple of women just stand there, hard against that ebony fence, can you believe it, just stand there. More, milling around, disorderly in a way, someone starts om-ing, om-ing out of Allen Ginsberg Howl nights, or at least Jack Kerouac Big Sur splashes. The scene is complete, or almost complete. Now, for once he knows, knows for sure, that it wasn’t Ms. Cora whom he needed to worry about, and that his child dream was a different thing altogether. But who, just a child, could have known then.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

***Junior League Jim Crow- “The Help”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the film, The Help.

DVD Review

The Help, starring Emma Stone, based on the novel of the same name, 2011

Every once in a while I get thrown off by a film. No, not the usual disappointment of a hyped movie that goes flat. Or films that come out of nowhere to attract my attention against all reason like the Swedish Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series. Here my dilemma is of a different sort. And, perhaps, I have only myself to blame. See, I saw the film under review, The Help, under “false pretenses.” As a short-cut for not having to read the book, a book about the trials and tribulations of black maids and their junior league jim crow employers having their stories publicized, once someone told me that the film pretty well followed the lines of the book. Of course not reading the book before-hand meant that while I was vaguely familiar with the theme I was not prepared for what was to come.

And this is where taking a short-cut, while not always fatal, played me false this time. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with the film as a piece of feel good, moral uplift, pseudo-post racial society fluff. At that level it did what one reading the novel would have expected (according to my source who had read the book and seen the film). See the time frame of the film, in the cauldron of the black civil rights movement down South in Mississippi burning in 1963 or so is all wrong for the light-hearted treatment. So it is very hard, very, very hard for a man of the “generation of ‘68” to take in a “fluff” film about those very maids, gardeners, janitors, steelworker, laundresses, and seamstresses who, along with the SNCC students, formed the core of the civil rights struggle back then. So maybe, just maybe in another fifty or one hundred years when we are meaningfully closer to that post-racial society that some benighted politicians and academic keep heralding this film might seem appropriate look at a primitive time well past. Until then just enjoy this one as after dinner entertainment.

***A Populist Folk Singer For The Ages- The Dust Bowl Refugee- Woody Guthrie: A Postscript Album- "Note Of Hope"

Click On The Title To Link To A YouTube Film Clip Of Woody Guthrie Performing This Land Is Your Land.


Note of Hope: A Collaboration In Words And Music-Woody Guthrie and Rob Wasserman, 429 Records, 2011

Although this space is mainly dedicated to reviewing political books and commenting on past and current political issues literary output is hardly the only form of political creation. Occasionally in the history of the American and international left musicians, artists and playwrights have given voice or provided visual reminders to the face of political struggle. With that thought in mind, every once in a while I have used this space to review those kinds of political expression.

This review was originally used to describe several of Woody Guthrie’s recordings. This review takes an end around look at some previously unknown, if not hidden, work from the 1940 and 1950s that were not songs, but poems, reflections, and “speak-outs” that came to mind when Woody he had his lucid moments. And best of all, best of all for those, like me, who worry about the future of folk music as the generation of ’68 dwindles these works are recreated here and put to music (including producer Rob Wasserman’s fatalistic bass, yes, bass work) by some younger artists who will carry the torch forward.

My musical tastes were formed, as were many of those of the generation of 1968, by Rock & Roll music exemplified by The Rolling Stones and Beatles and by the blues revival, both Delta and Chicago style. However, those forms as much as they gave pleasure were only marginally political at best. In short, these were entertainers performing material that spoke to us. In the most general sense that is all one should expect of a performer. Thus, for the most part that music need not be reviewed here. Those who thought that a new musical sensibility laid the foundations for a cultural or political revolution have long ago been proven wrong.

That said, in the early 1960’s there nevertheless was another form of musical sensibility that was directly tied to radical political expression- the folk revival. This entailed a search for roots and relevancy in musical expression. While not all forms of folk music lent themselves to radical politics it is hard to see the 1960’s cultural rebellion without giving a nod to such figures as Dave Van Ronk, the early Bob Dylan, Utah Phillips, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and others. Whatever entertainment value these performers provided they also spoke to and prodded our political development. They did have a message and an agenda and we responded as such. That some of these musicians’ respective agendas proved inadequate and/or short-lived does not negate their affect on the times.

As I have noted elsewhere in a review of Dave Van Ronk’s work when I first heard folk music in my youth I felt unsure about whether I liked it or not. As least against my strong feelings about The Rolling Stones and my favorite blues artist such as Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James. Then on some late night radio folk show here in Boston I heard Dave Van Ronk singing Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies and that was it. From that time to the present folk music has been a staple of my musical tastes. From there I expanded my play list of folk artists with a political message.

Although I had probably heard Woody’s This Land is Your Land at some earlier point I actually learned about his music second hand from early Bob Dylan covers of his work. While his influence has had its ebbs and flows since that time each succeeding generation of folk singers still seems to be drawn to his simple, honest tunes about the outlaws, outcasts and the forgotten people that made this country, for good or evil, what it is today. Since Woody did not have a particularly good voice nor was he an exceptional guitar player the message delivered by his songs is his real legacy.

And now we have a second legacy for the ages from the hard-edged American populist. Stick outs here include Lou Reed (yes, that Lou Reed from the Velvet Underground) on The Debt I Owe, Voice by Ani DiFranco, I Heard A Man Talking by the late Studs Terkel and Jackson Browne on You Know The Night. All backed up exquisitely by Brother Wasserman. A tip of the hat to Woody and Rob.

This Land Is Your Land-Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I've roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said "No Trespassing."
But on the other side it didn't say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

***The Postman Always Rings Twice- The Folk Rock Music Of John Prine

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of John Prine performing his classic, "Angel From Montgomery".

CD Review

John Prine: The Singing Mailman Delivers, John Prine, OnBoy Records, 2011

Over the last several years I have done more musically-oriented reviews that I had expected to on this site in order to flesh out the role of some of the 1960's cultural icons on the times. One of the themes that have kept cropping up is that for some folk/blues-oriented musical artists like Bob Dylan my attachment was immediate, long time and on-going. For other artists like John Prine it has been more of a recently acquired taste. In fact, my first acquaintance with the work of John Prine, at least that I was aware of, was several years ago when I was requested to get a couple of his CDs for a friend for a Christmas gift. Upon listening to those albums, that included material also produced here from his early live concerts like Hello In There, we both agreed that the best bet was to return them and get something else. Go figure.

But that is not the end of the story. I had, obviously, heard Bonnie Raitt do Prine's Angel From Montgomery long ago but I never associated his name with that song. Then a couple of years ago I happened to listen to that Hello In There mentioned above again and Sam Stone. Anyone whose has been affected by the Vietnam War experience in any way will gasp after hearing this very personal take of the destructiveness of that war for many of those who fought it, found hard drugs, and found the black hole as a result. If you want to hear a real anti-war song rather than something wistful like Where have All The Flowers Gone? and the like then listen to this one. Yes, this guy Prine had something to say that I wanted to (and on some songs, needed to) hear.

This compilation represents a very wide selection of his best work, arguably the best representation of that early work in one location that you could get. Mr. Prine is a good guitar player, a very, very good wordsmith who has produced some poetic turns of phrases here that will have you thinking for a while. Moreover on, for example, “Illegal Smile” he can show his “silly”, nonsensical side. He also frankly, has the wry sense of humor (in the classical Greek sense of that word) of a man who has been pushed around by life, has pushed back; has taken his beatings, dusted himself off and gotten back up again. You know, just the kind of guy that I, and I am sure other guys and gals of a certain age, very definitely can relate to, and in some cases like that Hello In There need to relate to. If you have just one John Prine album to get this is the one. Then start saving your dough to get the others.

In addition to the songs mentioned above listen to his cover of Hank Williams’Jambalaya and Prine'sParadise. Also Quiet Man, Souvenirs, and A Good Time.

***Out In The Be-Bop Crime Noir 1940s Night- “Dark Passage”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the film Dark Passage.

DVD Review

Dark Passage, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Warner Brothers, 1947

No question that grizzled beaten-up Humphrey Bogart and a young coyly beautiful Lauren Bacall heated up the 1940s screen, heated it up as much as two people could and keep their clothes on, in their first film pairing, William Faulkner’s screenplay adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have Or Have Not (only loosely based on that short novel by the way). They also played together in the Raymond Chandler Phillip Marlowe detective noir classic, The Big Sleep and in Key Largo. In this Dark Passage pairing though, while still in thrall with each other off-screen, the steam is fading, fading fast. But not, perhaps, because of their familiarity to movie-goers as much as the plot line they had to perform under.

Let me explain a little. Vincent Parry (played by Bogart) is in stir up at Quentin for the foul murder of his wife. But, see, like they all say, he didn’t do it so he lams out of Q on his own to see if he can get out from under the life sentence he has received. So naturally when the cops are on his trail up shows come hither Irene Jansen (played by Bacall) to help him out. Seems that, for reasons of her own, she followed Vincent’s trial closely and is convinced that he might be innocent. So she hid him out at her place for a while until things got too hot. But getting out from under this life sentence is going to be harder than you would think. So while riding in a cab to another hide-out he is picked up by a friendly, very friendly cabbie who just happens to know a back alley plastic surgeon who will change Vincent’s face enough so that he can work without notoriety. Simple right.

Well the long and short of it is that while the facelift might have seemed like the answer to his problems everybody and their brother is on to him in the end. And as to finding the real murderer. Well she inconveniently falls out the window of her high rise apartment. While Vincent is there trying to talk sense into her. So, knowing he can’t win, new face and all, he lams it for parts south, way south.

You can see what I mean by the awkwardness of the main plot line. And what makes said plot lines even worst is that Irene has a big crush on Vincent, under either old or new face. Except, and here is the real crime, we do not see either face until fairly late in the film and by then any sense of the magic of To Have Or Have Not or The Big Sleep has dissolved into the be-bop 1940s crime noir night. Too bad.

***Out In The 1960s Be-Bop Night- Wait Until Dark- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Wait Until Dark.

DVD Review

Wait Until Dark, starring Audrey Hepburn, Efram Zimbalist, Junior, Alan Arkin, Warner Brothers, 1967

If anybody touches a hair on the head of Audrey Hepburn they have to answer to me. Okay? Except in this little psychological thriller of a film, Wait Until Dark, from the late 1960s Ms. Hepburn seems to be doing just fine, just fine in her newly sightless world and therefore I will only need to provide back-up. And I am ready, more than ready, to provide such service if that main villain here, played by Alan Arkin, comes anyway near the neighborhood again. He may not be pure evil in the Faustian literary sense but on the streets of New York (or name the city) he is as close as one needs to get. And live.

Needless to say given the times, then or now, criminals, especially low-life master criminals like Arkin looking to move up the drug cartel food chain are a blight on society. And a terror to those without sight who stand in the way of, in the case, a drug-filled doll from foreign parts unknown brought in by a “mule” who decided to turn pro and run her own operation who passes off her ill-gotten bounty to Hepburn’s unsuspecting husband (played by Zimbalist) when the heat is on (and Arkin is hip to her plans). But here is where the dramatic tension comes in. The life and death duel between Arkin (and his confederates) balanced against the blind Ms. Hepburn’s fear-driven efforts to foil the bad guys which is a great sign for our side. But it still goes. Keep your mitts off Ms. H. Get it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

***Out In The Be-bop 1950s Night- A Good Old Boy Tries To Keep It Together- For Prescott Breslin Wherever He Is

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of June Carter Cash performing Will The Circle Be Unbroken to set the mood for this piece.

Keep On The Sunny Side: June Carter Cash-Her Life In Song, June Carter Cash and others, Two CD Set, Sony Records, 1999

Scene: Brought to mind by the song Will The Circle Be Unbroken performed by June Carter Cash on the compilation, Keep On The Sunny Side: June Carter Cash-Her Life In Song.

“Jesus, it’s been three months since the mill closed on the first day of our lord, January 1954, as the huge black and red sign in front of the dead-ass silent mill keeps screaming at us (and also to not trespass under penalty of arrest, christ,) and I still haven’t been able to get steady work, steady work anywhere, what with every other guy looking for work too, and I don’t even have a high school diploma to do anything but some logging work up North when they need extra crews,” Prescott Breslin half-muttered to Jack Amber, a fellow out-of-worker sitting on the counter-stool next to his from the same MacAdams Mill that had been in Olde Saco since, well, since forever. This conversation and ones like it in previous weeks between the two, and by many previous parties on those self-same stools, took place, of course, at Millie’s Diner right across the street from the closed, dead-ass mill the place where every guy (and an occasion wife, or girlfriend waiting to pick up her guy) who worked there went for his coffee and, and whatever else got him through another mill week.

Just then Prescott (no Pres, or PB, or any such thing, not if you don’t want an argument on one of his few vanities) fell silent, a silence that had been recurring more frequently lately as he thought of the reality of dead-end Maine prospects and rekindled a thought that came creeping through his brain when Jack MacAdams, the owner’s son, first told him the plant was shutting down and moving south to North Carolina not far, not far at all, from his eastern Kentucky roots. Then it was just a second of self-doubt but now the thoughts started ringing incessantly in his brain.

Why the hell had he fallen for, and married, a Northern mill-town girl (the sweet, reliable Delores, nee LeBlanc, met at the Starlight Ballroom over in Old Orchard Beach when he had been Marine Corps short-time stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Base down in New Hampshire just before heading back to the Pacific Japan death battles), stayed up North after the war when he knew the mills were only a shade bit better that the mines that he had worked in his youth, faced every kind of insult for being southern from the insular Mainiacs (they actually call themselves that with pride, the hicks, and it wasn’t really because he was from the south although that made him an easy target but because he was not born in Maine and could never be a Mainiac even if he lived there one hundred years), and had had three growing, incredibly fast growing, boys with Delores. Then he was able to shrug it off but not now.

The only thing that could break the cursed thoughts was some old home music that Millie, good mother Millie, the diner’s owner (and a third generation Millie and Mainiac) made sure the jukebox man inserted for “her” country boys while they had their coffee and. He reached, suddenly, into his pocket, found a stray nickel, put it in the counter-side jukebox, and playedWill The Circle Be Unbroken, a song that his late, long-gone mother sang to him on her knee when he was just a tow-headed young boy. That got him to thinking about home, the Harlan hell home of worked-out mines, of labor struggles that were just this side of fighting the Japanese in their intensity and possibilities of getting killed, or worst grievously injured and a burden on some woe-begotten family, of barren land eroded by the deforested hills and hollows that looked, in places, like the face of the moon on a bad night. And of not enough to eat when eight kids, a mostly absence father and a fading, fading mother needed vast quantities of food that were not on table and turnips and watery broth had to do, of not enough heat when cruel winter ran down the ravines and struck at your very bones, and of not enough dough, never enough dough to have anything but hand-me-down, and then again hand-me-downs clothes, sometimes sister girls stuff just to keep from being bare-assed.

Then he thought about the Saturday night barn dances where he cut quite a figure with the girls when he was in his teens and had gleefully graduated to only having to wear hand-me-downs. He was particularly lively (and amorous) after swilling (there is no other way to put it) some of Uncle Eddie’s just-brewed “white lightening.” And he heard, just like now on the jukebox, the long, lonesome fiddle playing behind some fresh-faced country girl in her best dress swaying through Will The Circle Be Unbroken that closed most Saturday barn dances. As Millie asked him for the third time, “More coffee” he came out of his trance. After saying no to Millie, he said no to himself with that same kind of December resolve. A peep-break Saturday night dance didn’t mean squat against that other stuff. And once again he let out his breathe and said to himself one more time- Yes, times are tough, times will still be tough, jesus, but Delores, the three boys, and he would eke it out somehow. There was no going back, no way.

Just then through the door Jack Amber yelled, “Hey, Prescott, the Great Northern Lumber Company just called and they want to know if you want two months work clearing some land up North for them. I’m going, that’s for sure.” And, hell, he was going too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

***Out in the Be-Bop Night- Bo Diddley- Who Put The Rock In Rock 'n’ Roll?

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Bo Diddley performing his rock classic Bo Diddley.

CD Review

Bo Diddley: Two On One, Bo Diddley, Chess Records, 1986

Well, there is no need to pussy foot around on this one. The question before the house is who put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll. And here in this Chess Records double CD, Bo Diddley unabashedly stakes his claim that was featured in a song by the same name, except, except it starts out with the answer. Yes, Bo Diddley put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll. And off his performance here as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the tidal wave of rock that swept through the post-World War II teenage population in 1955 he has some “street cred” for that proposition.

Certainly there is no question that black music, in the early 1950s at least, previously confined to mainly black audiences down on the southern farms and small segregated towns and in the northern urban ghettos along with a ragtag coterie of “hip” whites is central to the mix that became classic 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. That is not to deny the other important thread commonly called rockabilly (although if you had scratched a rockabilly artist and asked him or her for a list of influences black gospel and rhythm and blues would be right at the top of their list, including Elvis’). But here let’s just go with the black influences. No question Ike Turner’s Rocket 88, Joe Turner’s Shake , Rattle and Roll and, I would add, Elmore James’ Look Yonder Wall are nothing but examples of R&B starting to break to a faster, more nuanced rock beat.

Enter one Bo Diddley. No only does he have the old country blues songbook down, and the post- World War II urbanization and electrification of those blues down, but he reaches back to the oldest traditions of black music, back before the American slavery plantations days, back to the Carib influences and even further back to earth mother African shores. In short, that “jungle music,” that “devil’s music” that every white mother and father (and not a few black ones as well), north and south was worried, no, frantically worried, would carry away their kids. Well, it did and we are none the worst for it.

Here is a little story from back in the 1950s days though that places old Bo’s claim in perspective and addresses the impact (and parental horror) that Bo and rock had on teenage (and late pre-teenage) kids, even all white “projects” kids like me and my boys. In years like 1955, ’56, ’57 every self-respecting teenage boy (or almost teenage boy), under the influence of television, tried, one way or another, to imitate Elvis. From dress, to sideburns, to swiveling hips, to sneer. Hell, I even bought a doo-wop comb to wear my hair like his. I should qualify that statement a little and say every self-respecting boy who was aware of girls. And, additionally, aware that if you wanted to get any place with them, any place at all, you had better be something like the second coming of Elvis.

Enter now, one eleven year old William James Bradley, “Billie”, my bosom buddy in old elementary school days. Billie was wild for girls way before I acknowledged their existence, or at least their charms. Billie decided, and rightly so I think, to try a different tack. Instead of forming the end of the line in the Elvis imitation department he decided to imitate Bo Diddley. At this time we are playing the song Bo Diddley and, I think, Who Do You Love? like crazy. Elvis bopped, no question. But Bo’s beat spoke to something more primordial, something connected, unconsciously to our way back ancestry. Even an old clumsy white boy like me could sway to the beat.

Of course that last sentence is nothing but a now time explanation for what drove us to the music. Then we didn’t know the roots of rock, or probably care, except our parents didn’t like it, and were sometimes willing to put the stop to our listening. Praise be for transistor radios (younger readers look that up on Wikipedia) to get around their madness.

But see, Billie also, at that time, did not know what Bo looked like. Nor did I. So his idea of imitating Bo was to set himself up as a sort of Buddy Holly look alike, complete with glasses and that single curled hair strand.

Billie, naturally, like I say, was nothing but a top-dog dancer, and wired into girl-dom like crazy. And they were starting to like him too. One night he showed up at a local church catholic, chaste, virginal priest-chaperoned dance with this faux Buddy Holly look. Some older guy meaning maybe sixteen or seventeen, wise to the rock scene well beyond our experiences, asked Billy what he was trying to do. Billie said, innocently, that he was something like the seventh son of the seventh son of Bo Diddley. This older guy laughed, laughed a big laugh and drew everyone’s attention to himself and Billie. Then he yelled out, yelled out for all the girls to hear “Billie boy here wants to be Bo Diddley, he wants to be nothing but a jungle bunny music N----r boy”. All goes quiet. Billie runs out, and I run after, out the back door. I couldn’t find him that night.

See, Billie and I were clueless about Bo’s race. We just thought it was all rock (read: white music) then and didn’t know much about the black part of it, or the south part, or the segregated part either. We did know though what the n----r part meant in our all-white housing project and here was the kicker. Next day Billie strutted into school looking like the seventh son of the seventh son of Elvis. But as he got to the end of that line I could see, and can see very clearly even now, that the steam has gone out of him. So when somebody asks you who put the rock in rock ‘n’ roll know that old Bo’s claim was right on track, and he had to clear some very high racial and social hurdles to make that claim. Just ask Billie.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night-When “Stewball” Stu Ruled The Highways

Click on to the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Danny and The Juniors performing Rock And Roll Is Here To Stay to set the mood for this sketch.

The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll; The Follow-Up Hits, various artists, Ace Records, 1991

Scene: Brought to mind by the be-bop cover photograph of a “boss” two-toned 1950s Oldsmobile sitting in front of a car dealership just waiting to be driven off in the “golden age of the automobile” night.

“Stewball” Stu loved cars, loved 1950s classic “boss” cars, period. And on the very top of that heap was his cherry red ’57 Chevy. The flamed-out king hell dragon of the Mainiac highways, especially those back roads around his, our, hometown, Olde Saco, close by the sea. Not for him the new stuff, the new “boss” Mustang, Mustang Sally ride I am crazy for, or would be crazy for if, (1) I was older than my current no-driver, no legal driver fifteen, and (2) I had any kind of dough except the few bucks I grab doing this and that, mainly that.

And how do I know about Stewball’s preferences, prejudices if you want to put it that way? Well I, Joshua Lawrence Breslin, have been riding “shot-gun” to Stewball’s driver for the past several months, ever since I proved my metal, my Stu-worthy metal, when I “scrammed” a while back when Stu moved in on me and a hot date I had with a local Lolita and three was a crowd.

Ya, Stu and me are tight, tight as a nineteen year guy who is the king of the roads around here can be with a fifteen year old guy with no dough, no drivers’ license, no sister for him to drool over, and zero, maybe minus zero, mechanical skills to back him up. So you see me flaking out on that Lolita thing meant a lot to Stewball, although he is not a guy that you can figure something on, not easy figuring anyhow. [Hey, by the way, by the very big way, that Stewball moniker is strictly between you and me. Some of the guys that hung around his garage (really his bent out of shape trailer home rigged up with all kinds of automobile-fixing stuff all over the place) started to call him Stewball among ourselves after we observed, observed for the sixty-fifth time, Stu loaded before noon on some rotgut Southern Comfort that he swore kept him sober, unlike whiskey. Like I say don’t spread that around because Stu in one tough hombre. I once saw him chain-whip a guy just for kind of eyeing a Lolita (not the one I butted out on) that was sitting next to him in that cherry red Chevy at Jimmy Joe’s Diner, the one down on Route One, not the one over on Atlantic Avenue. Enough said, okay.]

Let me tell you about one time a few months back when Stu proved, for the umpteenth time (although my first time, first really seeing him in action glory time), why no one can come close to him as king of these roads around here, and maybe any. It was a Friday night, an October Friday night, just starting to get to be defroster or car heater time so it had to be then. Stu, who lives over on Tobacco Road (I won’t tell you his real address because, like he says, what people don’t know is just fine with him and the girls all know where he is anyway. Ya, that’s a real Stu-ism) picked me up at my house on Albemarle Street (got that girls, Albemarle) like he always does, sometime between seven and eight, also as usual.

We then make the loop. First down Atlantic passed the Colonial Donut Shoppe (they serve other stuff there too) to see if there was a stray clover (A Stu-ism for a girl, origin unknown) or two looking to erase the gloomy, lonely night coming on. (I hoped two, two girls that is, because while I am glad, glad as hell, that I did right by Stu with that "hot" Lolita (and she was hot, maybe too hot for me then, not now) I don’t want to make a habit of it, being Stu’s “shot-gun,” or not. No dice. So off to Lanny’s Bowl-World over on Sea Street. Guess it is kind of early because no dice there either. Well, it’s off to “headquarters,” Jimmy Joe’s Diner on Main Street (really Route One but everybody local calls it Main).

Now Jimmy Joe’s has been Stu’s headquarters for so long that he has a “reserved” spot there. Yes, right in front just to the left on the entrance so that he can “scope” (Stu-ism) the scene (read: girls, Josh-ism). Jimmy Joe, the owner, felt that Stu was so good for business, Friday night hot teenage girls crowding the place looking for fast-driving guys and fast, or slow, driving guys, ready to, well you know I don’t have to draw you a diagram, business so he had no problem with the arrangement. Except this Friday night, this October Friday night, Stu’s reserved spot is occupied, occupied by a two-toned, low-riding 1956 Oldsmobile that even I can see had been worked on, worked hard on to create maximum horse-power in the minimum time. And inside that Oldsmobile sat one Duke McKay, a guy some of us had heard of, from down in Kittery near the New Hampshire border. So maybe Duke, not knowing the local rules, parked in that spot by accident. Ya that seems like the right answer.

No way though. Why? Because sitting right next old Duke, actually almost on top of him is that Lolita that I made way for to help Stu. Said Lolita (not her real name because she was, and is, as I write, uh, not “of age” so Lolita is a good enough moniker) looking very fine, very fine indeed, as Stu goes over to the Oldsmobile to give Duke the what for. I can almost hear the chains coming out.

But Stu must have had some kind of jinx on him, or Lolita put one on him, because all he did was make Duke a proposition. Beat Stu in a “chicken run” and the parking spot, Lolita, and the unofficial king of the road title were his. Lose, and he was gone (without chain-whipping I hoped) from Olde Saco, permanently, minus Lolita. Now I can see where this Lolita is worth getting a little steamed up about. But take it from me Stu, until just this minute, was strictly a love them or leave them guy (leave them to me, please). Duke, with eight million pounds of bravado, answered quickly like any true road-warrior does when challenged and just uttered, “On.” And we are off, although not before Lolita gives Stu some madness femme fatale look. A look, a pout really, which you couldn’t tell if she was in Stu’s corner or wanted to see him in hell. Girls, damn.

A chicken race, for the squares, is nothing but a race between two cars (usually two), two fast teenager-driven cars, done late at night or early in the morning out on some desolate road, sometimes straight, sometimes not. The idea is to get a fast start and keep the accelerator on the floor as long as possible before some flame-out. For Olde Saco runs they use the beach down at the Squaw Rock end since it is long, flat, and wide even at high tide, and the loser either winds up in the dunes or the ocean, usually the latter, ruining a perfectly good car but that is the way it is. Most importantly it is out of sight of the cops until too late.

So about two in the morning one could see a ’57 cherry red Chevy lining up, with me as a “second,” against a ’56 Oldsmobile, with Lolita as Duke’s “second.” Jimmy Joe’s son, Billy, acted as starter as usual. And they are off. Duke got an extremely fast start and was maybe thirty yards ahead of us and it looked like we done for when Stu opened up from somewhere and flat out “smoked” the side of Duke Olds sending his vehicle off into the ocean, soon to sputter in the roaring waves, and oblivion. Stu stopped the Chevy, backed up the several hundred yards to the vicinity of the distressed Oldsmobile, opened up the passenger side door and escorted Lolita, as nice as you please, to his king hell Chevy. And she was smiling, smiling very, well let’s put it this way, Stu’s got a big treat coming. And Josh? Well, Stu yells over “Hey, Josh, hope you find a ride home tonight.” But do you see what I mean about Stewball Stu being the king of the roads around here. What a guy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

***A Very Different Look at May Day On A Non-May Day- A Personal View

Click on the headline to link to a May Day website that links to the various May Day traditions in history.

Peter Paul Markin, North Adamsville Class Of 1964, comment:

For those of a certain age, who came of age during the now ancient history Cold War, the images of May Day evokes pictures of the latest display of Soviet weaponry and of elite Red Army military units marching in step in Red Square in Moscow before some glowering delegation from the Communist Party Politburo and other invited dignities. Such pictures gave the usually information-starved and speculation-crazy Western Sovietologists plenty of ammunition for figuring out who was “in” and who was “out” in the internal party regime. At least until the next public display on the November 7th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution when the search for the elusive “musical chairs” would start all over again.

For others, more historically-oriented, perhaps, May Day evokes the struggle for the eight hour work day, the class struggle, and the heroic Chicago Haymarket martyrs. Those with a more recent interest in the day may evoke the continuing struggle for the recognition of immigrant rights, for full citizenship rights for those who have made it here, here more recently. Now all of these are worthy, if highly political, views of May Day and I certainly have no quarrel with those evocations. However, just for the few minutes that it takes to write this entry I wish to evoke another, more ancient, more pagan, vision of May Day that, strangely, may dovetail with the motives behind those more political expressions put forth on this day.

I, of course, refer to the ancient roots of the holiday or rather the pre-Christian religious significance of the day as a day of renewal and of homage to the virtues of spring. Especially for those hoary masses whose heritage stems from the British Isles. Under normal circumstances I would not necessarily be in a mood to reflect on this aspect of the day but a couple of things have set me to thinking about it. The first, as a result of having recently read a number of 19th century American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Puritan-etched short stories, including “The May Pole Of Merry Mount,” got me thinking about that May Day pagan scenario and also about how deeply, even now, the formal Puritan ethic that frowned on such celebrations is embedded in our common cultural experiences. The second had to do with childhood reflections of our kid's version of May basket, May Day.

As to the first, whatever the “official” line is on Puritan history here in America and in England as laid down by the likes of Professors Perry Miller and Hugh Trevor-Roper, to name a couple that come mind, I am privy to a “secret” history of the doings of the old Puritan stock. While Hawthorne’s Puritans, as he sternly portrayed them, are no friends to the fun-loving that is rather more his hang up and his way to make a quick dollar on that saga from punishment fetishists who hide his works in some back bureau drawer and only take out on special occasions. The real “skinny” on the Puritans here and back in the old country is that they were not adverse to a little “good times,” just not in excess.

How is one to otherwise make sense of that little ménage of Pricilla and John Alden and Myles Standish down at Plymouth Plantation in the old days? Or the real story about Tommy Wollaston’s wood fetish over at the rolling hills of Merrymount. Or how about Governor’ Winthrop’s private dope stash that he tried to pass off as tobacco (and which he claimed, like some future bourgeois leaders who will remained unmentioned, he in any case did not inhale). And to complete the story on the other side of the ocean, in old Mother England, how about arch-Puritan poet and revolutionary John Milton’s open endorsement of concubinage, including, and I “reveal” this here for the first time, his own bevy of "ladies." “A Paradise within Thee, Happier Far,” indeed. For a long time the poem "Paradise Lost" was a book with seven seals. Now it all fits. And I should not fail to mention the other well-known arch-Puritan Oliver Cromwell whose well-hidden drinking problem (he called it his "tea," high tea, wink-wink) goes a long way to explaining those rash outbursts when Parliament was in session. Rump, indeed.

Okay, I am sure that the reader has had enough of my 'insight' into the rough stuff of the seamy edges of history. I will reprieve you with a final few thoughts about my own childhood relationship to this other May Day. Of course, I am something of a “homer” on this one, at least on the pre and post-Puritan English traditions since I grew up frequently passing the site of the Merry Mount May Pole (now on land used as a cemetery) at Mount Wollaston, which is a part of Adamsville, the town where I grew up. I knew this story as part of Adamsville town history from very early on. I am not sure whether it was through a teacher or by the local city historian, Edward Rowe Snow, but I knew all about old Tommy Wollaston and his crowd of "wild boys and girls". Sounded like fun, and it was.

On kid time May Day, as I recall, we were given little May crepe paper-lined baskets with a chocolate treat in it from one or another source, and in at least one year we danced around the Puritan-forbidden May Pole. I guess, even then, I had a secret desire that old Tommy should have won. Call me a pagan but that is the truth. But also note this, to kind of put this little “fluff” piece in perspective. Isn’t, in the final analysis, either the old pagan ritual or the newer May Pole festivity emblematic of the kind of thing that those of us who are trying to create “a newer world” aiming for. To make the world and its pleasures in common, for everyone. I think that I am on to something here. May Day greetings in advance from this space.

***In The Be-Bop 1940s Crime Noir Night- Yeah, Crime Doesn’t Pay-So What- James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the early film adaptation of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.

DVD Review

The Postman Always Rings Twice, starring John Garfield and Lana Turner, MGM, 1946

Yeah, sometimes, and maybe more than sometimes, a frail, a frill, a twist, a dame, oh hell, let’s cut out the goofy stuff and just call her a woman and be done with it, will tie a guy’s insides up in knots so bad he doesn’t know what is what. Tie up a guy so bad he goes to the chair kind of smiling, okay maybe just half-smiling. Yes, our boy, our never let your feet stand still for a minute on the road boy Frank (played by John Garfield) in the 1940s film adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic masterpiece crime noir, The Postman Always Rings Twice, had it bad, bad as a man could have it. Bad a man could have from the minute Ms. Cora (played by a very, very blonde Lana Turner) walked through the Twin Oaks café door in her white summer blouse, shorts, and then de rigueur bandana holding back her hair. She may have been just another blonde, very blonde frail serving them off the arm in some seaside hash joint but from second one she is nothing but, well nothing but, a femme fatale. I swear, I swear on seven sealed bibles that I yelled at the screen for Frank to get the hell out of there at that moment. But do you think he would listen, no not our boy Frank. He had to play with fire, and play with it to the end.

See not only was Ms. Cora a Ms. but a real live 1940s Mrs. married to Nick, the owner of Twin Oaks. And Nick was nothing but an old guy, an old penny-pinching guy with small dreams getting smaller, whom Cora married on the rebound from, well, from something, something bad from the look of Nick. Yes, Nick was definitely nothing but a third party “has been” once the chemistry starts between Frank and Cora, starts to really get going as will often happen once you take those midnight swims in the white-flecked, our homeland the sea, pacific, Pacific Ocean just above slumming Los Angeles before the criss-cross roads took away many of the scenes. If Nick was smart he would watch his back very carefully because I smell murder in the air, hellish highway murder, once our sweet go-getter Cora coos to Frank that it is, and I quote, “the only way.” The only way to that white picket fence heaven old Nick is too cheap to buy her.

Needless to say, if you have read any of James M. Cain’s crime novels or short stories, there have to be a few twists and turns in the plot before the inevitable, and I mean inevitable in its fullest sense, road to perdition narrows and there is no escape from the grim fate that those who play with the fate sisters usually have to suffer. Here the inflamed lovers botch the first attempted murder of Nick but arouse so much suspicion from a very conveniently located neighboring District Attorney that they will not just get to go about their merry ways.

Moreover, have you been paying attention? Cora’s got her hooks in Frank so bad that you know there will be another attempt. And there was, and it was “successful.” And they got away with it after some nifty legal maneuvering that would do any modern defense attorney proud. Except you know as well as I do, and if you have ever read any previous crime noir review of mine, you damn well know that it can’t just be left like that. Crime, brothers and sisters, does not pay even for the mere legally not guilty. And that is where Frank’s smile, or half-smile, comes in. Because in the end he faces the chair not for Nick’s death, but for her’s. And all he cared about by then was whether she would in death forgive him. Yeah, our boy Frank had it bad, real bad and that is what makes this a classic crime noir, no question. But Frank don’t feel bad there are about three billion guys who have gone through those same hoops for a dame, including this writer, although I personally tend to sultry brunettes not blondes.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

***Out In The Be-Bop Rock 1950s Schoolboy Night- School’s Out, Man-"Blackboard Jungle"- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Bill Halley and The Comets performing Rock Around The Clock, a song feature in the film under review, Blackboard Jungle, and the first time that be-bop rock served as the soundtrack for a film. Whee!

DVD Review

Blackboard Jungle, starring Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Vince Morrow, Sidney Portier, 1955

Film noir as a genre came in all shapes and sizes, mainly the best being the crime noir saga. Occasionally though other subjects received royal treatment, as here on the troubling rise of juvenile delinquency in the cities (and maybe elsewhere too) of America in the film under review, Blackboard Jungle. Although a re-viewing of this classic noir reveals some pretty ham-handed notions about the subject of JD's and about schools it still has some “socially redeeming qualities." For one, as the vehicle that connected film with the emerging be-bop rock sound being heard on the AM radio in the early 1950s, at least as heard in some places, through the use of Billy Halley and the Comets’ smash hit of 1955, Rock Around The Clock. Beyond that some of the performances, especially that of Sidney Portier, as a young alienated, “talented tenth” black student who could go either way, fame or crime also sticks out.

The plot of this thing though even for its red scare- moral uplift-we-had better-get-a-handle-on-these-troubled-youth-or-the-Russkies-will-beat us time seems well, corny. Corny because the characters from Glenn Ford’s worldly-wise but idealistic and frustrated young teacher to the white (represented by Vince Morrow), black (Portier), Spanish and other city ethnic group students are wooden when I compare them to my own similar working-poor neighborhood (minus the blacks) of the time. In short, youth here are merely misunderstood and with the right formula (some version of tough love and a peek at Ozzie and Harriet) they will, except those few rotten apples who we will put in stir for good, change their ways.

A little plot summary will give you an idea of what I mean. Ford, hires on in a deeply troubled urban (New York but could have been a lot of places, including on a smaller scale my hometown, North Adamsville) school beset by racial, ethnic, class and social tensions. He is just idealistic enough, like many before and after him, to try to make a difference despite the heavy odds against him. Of course the first rule of teaching, thugs or princes, is who rules the classroom. For much of the film that is an open question as he seeks allies among the motley crew of students, especially Portier. Of course not everybody makes it, student or teacher alike. The be-bop jazz-loving nerdish math teacher (played by Richard Kiley) and the Irish gang leader thug (played by Vince Morrow)to name two. But in the end the key figures have an epiphany and the uphill education struggle goes on.

Moral uplift and due regard for the efforts of generations of teacher to make a different aside you can see where the holes in the plot shine through. The hard reality is that, like at my school, the thugs were weeded out long before high school, or they ran the show, mostly the former. This brings to mind a character from my working class streets, "Stewball" Stu (we never called him that to his face because we would have been shivved but that is what we called him among our younger set because the guy was a heavy, heavy whiskey drinker, day and night, walking or driving). Stu dropped out, or rather was kicked out of school, in the ninth grade, I think. But he had a “boss” ’57 Chevy when they were the rage, about ten million girls around him (and no “dogs” either) and all kind of criminal enterprises running. The reason that he got kicked out of school? Oh ya, he threw a teacher, and not a small one out the window, fortunately it was only from the first floor. And they never did squat about it. So see that moral uplift stuff is good for the 1950s movies but just yawn stuff in the real world. Oh ya, Stu's luck ran out later, like sometimes happens but in the 1950s he was the be-bop max daddy king of the jungle. And no blackboard jungle either. Later, fortunately, more realistic troubled youth films were made, like the film adaptations of S.E. Hinton’s works, and made without the heavy-handed cautionary tale.

Monday, December 19, 2011

***The “Shame” Culture Of Poverty- Down In The Base Of Society Life Ain’t Pretty

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the late Irish-American writer and my muse on this post, Frank McCourt.

Peter Paul Markin comment:

A few years ago in reviewing Frank McCourt’s memoir of his childhood in Ireland, Angela’s Ashes, I noted that McCourt’s story was my story. I went on to explain that although time, geography, family composition and other factors were different, in some ways very different, the story that he told of the impoverished circumstances of his growing up “shanty” in Limerick, Ireland, taking all proportions into consideration, was amazingly similar to those I faced growing up “shanty” in a Boston, Massachusetts suburb, North Adamsville, a generation later. A recent re-reading of that work only confirms my previous appraisal. The common thread? Down at the base of modern industrial society, down at that place where the working poor meets what Karl Marx called the lumpenproletariat, the sheer fact of scarcity drives life very close to the bone. Poverty hurts, and hurts in more ways than are apparent to the eye. No Dorothea Lange Arkie/Okie Dust Bowl hollow-boned despair, hardship windowless, hell, door-less, hovel, no end in sight, no good end in sight photograph can find that place.

I also mentioned in that McCourt review that the dreams that came out of his Limerick childhood neighborhood, such as they were, were small dreams, very small steps up the mobility ladder from generation to generation. If that much, of step up that is. I immediately picked up on his references to what constituted “respectability” in that milieu- getting off the the soul-starving “dole” and getting a “soft” low-level governmental civil service job that after thirty some years would turn into a state pension in order to comfort oneself and one’s love ones in old age.

That, my friends, is a small dream by anybody’s standard but I am sure that any reader who grew up in a working poor home in America in the last couple of generations knows from where I speak. I can hear my mother’s voice urging me on to such a course as I have just described. The carping, “Why don’t you take the civil service exam?,” so on and so on. Escaping that white-walled nine-to-five, three-week vacation and a crooked back cubicle fate was a near thing though. The crushing out of big dreams for the working poor may not be the final indictment of what the capitalist system does to the denizens down at the base but it certainly will do for starters.

In the recent past one of the unintended consequences of trying to recount my roots through contacting members of my high school class, North Adamsville High School Class of 1964, has been the release of a flood of memories from those bleak days of childhood that I had placed (or thought I had placed) way, way on the back burner of my brain. A couple of year ago I did a series of stories, Tales From The ‘Hood', on some of those earlier recalled incidents. Frank McCourt’s recounting of some of the incidents of his bedraggled ragamuffin upbringing brought other incidents back to me. In Angela’s Ashes he mentioned how he had to wear the same shirt through thick and thin. As nightwear, school wear, every wear. I remember my own scanty wardrobe and recounted in one of those stories in the series, A Coming Of Age Story, about ripping up the bottoms of a pair of precious pants, denims of course, one of about three pair that I rotated until they turned to shreds in the course of time, for a square dance demonstration for our parents in order to ‘impress’ a girl that I was smitten with at Adamsville South Elementary School. I caught holy hell, serious holy hell for weeks afterwards, for that (and missed, due to my mother’s public rage in front of everybody, my big chance with the youthful stick girl “femme fatale” as well-oh memory).

I have related elsewhere in discussing my high school experiences as also noted in that series mentioned above that one of the hardships of high school was (and is) the need , recognized or not, to be “in.” One of the ways to be “in,” at least for a guy in my post-World War II generation, the “Generation of ’68,” and the first generation to have some disposable income in hand was to have cool clothes, a cool car, and a cool girlfriend. “Cool,” you get it, right? Therefore the way to be the dreaded “out” was to be ….well, you know that answer. One way not to be cool was to wear hand-me-downs from an older brother, an older brother who was build larger than you and you had to kind of tuck in that and roll up that. Or to wear, mother–produced from some recessive poverty gene Bargain Center midnight fire discount sale, oddly colored (like purple or vermillion) or designed (pin-striped then not in style or curly-cues never in style) clothes. This is where not having enough of life’s goods hurts. Being doled out a couple of new sets of duds a year was not enough to break my social isolation from the “cool guys.” I remember the routine even now-new clothes for the start of the school year and then at Easter. Cheap stuff too, from some Wal-Mart-type store, like the Bargain Center mentioned above, of the day.

All of this may be silly, in fact is silly in the great scale of things. But those drummed-in small dreams, that non-existent access to those always scarce “cool” items, those missed opportunities by not being ‘right,’ meaning respectable, added up. All of this created a “world” where crime, petty and large, seemed respectable as an alternative (a course that my own brothers followed, followed unsuccessfully for life, and that I did for a minute), where the closeness of neighbors was suffocating and where the vaunted “neighborhood community” was more like something out of “the night of the long knives.” If, as Thomas Hobbes postulated in his political works, especially "Levithan," in the 17th century, life is “nasty, short and brutish” then those factors are magnified many times over down at the base.

Contrary to Hobbes, however, the way forward is through more social solidarity, not more guards at the doors of the rich. All of this by way of saying that in the 21st century we need that social solidarity not less but more than ever. As I stated once in a commentary that I titled, Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?, one of the only virtues of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks among the working poor is that I am personally inured to the vicissitudes of the gyrations of the world capitalist economy. Hard times growing up were the only times. But many of my brothers and sisters are not so inured. For them I fight for the social solidarity of the future. In that future we may not be able to eliminate shame as an emotion but we can put a very big dent in the class-driven aspect of it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

***Out In The 1940s Be-Bop Crime Noir Night, Sort Of-“The Woman In The Window”-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the crime noir The Woman In The Window.

DVD Review

The Woman In The Window, starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea, directed by Fritz Lang, 1944

Okay, okay I know this one is a crime noir by Fritz Lang and I will bow down, bow down profusely, over his use of interesting cinematic techniques, his photography, and his attention to detail that were his hallmark traits. That done though what is there to yell about in this noir? Sure there is a femme fatale, sort of, played here by Joan Bennett who whatever her ruby red-lipped, bedazzled charms for 1940s male audiences, or female audiences for that matter, does not compare, compare at all, to such femmes as Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth, or Jane Greer.

And sure there is a murder, sort of, committed by a learned New York professor of psychology, no less, played by, well played by, Edward G. Robinson, better known for his great 1930s gangsta movies. And there is a blackmailer, sort of, to complicate the plot, played by Dan Duryea. And there is a circling around the wagons to find the murderer by law enforcement, headed by clever, sneaky clever Raymond Massey. That is natural for this genre. But didn’t I already, sort of, review this film before under the name Scarlet Street with this same cast of characters. Fritz Lang directed that one as well and provided us with his hallmark traits. And the crimes were real there, if not rightly solved.

Maybe I had better give a little plot to show what I mean. The good professor, the good middle-aged professor, (Edward G. Robinson) is having something like a mid-life crisis as his wife and kids leave town, New York town, to get away from the bustle of the city. On the way to his Mayfair swell club (on a 1940s professor’s salary?) he is entranced by a portrait of a beautiful woman in an art gallery window (hence the title of the film). Well one thing leads to another and while he is a little drunk after dinner he has what turns out to be an adventure, a theoretical adventure, which will have him facing the gallows before dawn. Seems our lady of the window (Ms. Bennett) appears in “real” life, is in distress due to some caddish lover, and is in need of our professor’s services as her gallant knight. In short, he kills, kills in self-defense really, the cad.

Of course, under the circumstances, they have try to commit the perfect crime by covering up, covering up as it turns out in such a poor way that any school boy could sent them to the electric chair on day one of the investigation and have time for lunch. To add to their cover-up distress woes, a blackmailer (Brother Duryea), a worldly-wise (at least in comparison to their amateurish antics) wants dough for his silence. Ya, I know, the suspension of disbelief part associated with any movie just doesn’t quite make it. And it doesn’t have to because at the end the good professor merely had just too much to drink. So back to the drawing board on this one, except now we get our noses rubbed into the theme song of this genre. Crime doesn’t pay, awake or asleep. Sorry Fritz, but you will always have Metropolis as your immortal work.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

***Out In The Be-Bop Night- The Great Blue-Pink American West Night Calls

Okay, here is the genesis of this little commentary. Rather a “tempest in a teapot”, I think, in the grand scheme of things and in the same category as that White House press flak, whatever his name was, and his equally inane blathering about “professional leftists” and their alleged carping on the short-comings of his boss, Barack Obama. But at least it gives me a lead for today’s commentary. Unfortunately it will come at the expense of a comrade, someone I care about and whose opinion I value, unlike what's his name (or his boss, for that matter). Here are the details.

I have recently been taken to task by this fellow member of the local anti-imperialist, anti-war ad hoc committee that I belonged to the past several years (and that I have written about previously in this space) who is miffed (I am being polite) for my constant use of the term, or variations of the term, “the great American night”, especially when dealing with the 1950s “beat” generation writers (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and the usual suspects). Now this is one of the comrades, a younger one, that I go back to the days of ancient memory Bush post-9/11 Afghan October war, bombing-them-back-them-to-the-stone-age, with, and who helped us, in all manner of ways, to get through those tough days when opposition to that war on the streets of Boston, and elsewhere in America, was an extremely dicey thing. So under normal circumstances I would be all ears when he had some comment or criticism. But here he is just “cannon fodder” for my commentary.

As readers may know this ad hoc committee was made up of various political types and was, most importantly, not bound by Leninist democratic centralist principles (nor could it be, as a rolling, if steady, propaganda bloc composed of , well, I’ll be nice, characters ) and therefore I am not telling “tales out of school” by replying publicly here. Moreover, although Leninist organizations adhere to a single political line, publicly, and expect their members to maintain discipline on general questions those questions that fall outside of politics, like the subject of one’s attitude toward the “beats,” the use, or overuse of the term, “great American night,” or your favorite forms of music are matters of personal preference, as a rule. So I am firing away.

But there is more gnawing at me than making a public point at his expense. Go back to that young comrade’s point. We all come to leftist politics, young or old, in our own ways, and in our own good time. I have always been somewhat amazed at the variety of such experiences that, by now, almost defy categorization. We also come to out personal predilections in much the same way. Jazz, be-bop, bop-bop, techno-hop, hip-hop, poetry slam, folk jam, and so on. For a fact though he knows not, and I have drilled him on this, of ancient dreams of blue-pink dreaming old men, passed down from older men (mostly). Know or not know though, here is his answer.
There is no question that over the past year or so I have been deep in remembrances of the influences, great and small, of the 1950s “beats” on my own sorry teen-aged alienation and teen-aged angst (sometimes they were separate anguishes, sometimes tied together like inseparable twins, mostly the latter) and the struggle to find my place in the sun, to write in bright lights my own beat plainsong. Of course, that influence was blown over me second-hand as I was just a little too young, or too wide-world unconscious, to be there at the creation, on those first roads west, those first fitfully car-driven, gas-fuelled, thumb hanging-out, sore-footed, free exploration west, in body and mind. That first great rush of the adrenal in trying to discover, eternally discover as it has turned out, the search for the meaning of the great blue-pink American West night. Ah, pioneer-boys, thanks.

I just got a whiff, a passing whiff of that electric-charged air, the sweet “be-bop," bop-bop, real gone daddy, cooled-out, pipe-filled with whatever, jazz-sexed, high white-note blown, howling in the wind plainsong afterglow. Moreover, somewhat tarnished, a little sullen and withdrawn, and media-used up by my time. More than one faux black chino-wearing, black beret’d, stringy-bearded, nightshade sun-glassed, pseudo-poetic-pounding, television-derived fakir crossed my path in Harvard Square in those high stakes early 1960s high school days. And a few real ones, as well. (A couple, whom I still pass occasionally, giving a quick nod to, have never given up the ghost and still haunt the old square looking for the long-gone, storied Hayes-Bickford, a place where the serious and the fakirs gathered in the late night before dawn hour to pour out their souls, via mouth or on paper. More to the point, I came too late to be able to settle comfortably into that anti-political world that the “beats” thrived in. Great political and social events were unfolding and I wanted in, feverishly wanted in, with both hands.

You know some of the beat leaders, the real ones, don’t you? Remembered, seemingly profusely remembered now, by every passing acquaintance with some specimen to present. Now merely photo-plastered, book wrote, college english department deconstruction’d , academic journal-debated, but then in full glory plaid shirt, white shirt, tee shirt, dungarees, chinos, sturdy foot-sore cosmic traveler shoes, visuals of heaven’s own angel bums, if there was a heaven and there were angels, and if that locale needed bums.

Jack, million hungry word man-child sanctified, Lowell mills-etched and trapped and mother-fed, Jack Kerouac. Allen, om-om-om, bop, bop, mantra-man, mad Paterson-trapped, modern plainsong-poet-in-chief, Allen Ginsberg. William, sweet opium dream (or, maybe, not so sweet when the supply ran out), needle-driven, sardonic, ironic, chronic, Tangiers-trapped, Harvard man (finally, a useful one, oops, sorry), Williams S. Burroughs. Neal, wild word, wild gesture, out of ashcan all-America dream man, tire-kicking, oil-checking, gas-filling, zen master wheelman gluing the enterprise together, Neal Cassady. And a whirling crowd of others, including mad, street-wise, saint-gunsel, Gregory Corso. I am a little fuzzy these days on the genesis of my relationship to this crowd (although a reading of Ginsberg’s “Howl” was probably first in those frantic, high school, Harvard Square, poetry-pounding, guitar-strummed, existential word space, coffee, no sugar, I’ll have a refill, please, fugitive dream’d, coffeehouse-anchored days). This I know. I qualified, in triplicate, teen angst, teen alienation, teen luddite as a card-carrying member in those days.

More recently that old time angst, that old time alienation and a smidgeon of that old time luddite has casted its spell on me. I have been held hostage to, been hypnotized by, been ocean-sized swept away by, been word ping-pong bounced off of and collided into by, head over heels language-loved by, word-curled around and caressed by the ancient black night into the drowsy dawn 1950s child view vision Kerouac/Ginsberg/Burroughs/Corso-led “beats” homage to the great American West night. (Beat: life beat-up, fellaheen beat-down, beat around, be-bop jazz beat, beatified church beat, howl poem beat, beat okay, anyway you can get a handle on it, beat.). The great American West “beat” breakout from the day weary, boxed-in, shoulder to the wheel, eyes forward, hands to the keyboard, work-a-day-world, dream-fleshed-out night. Of leaving behind the slow-fast, two-lane, no passing, broken-lined old Route 6, or 66, or 666, or whatever route, whatever dream route, whatever dream hitchhike gas station/diner highway beyond the Eastern shores night, of the get away from the machine, the machine making machines, the “little boxes” machine night, and also of the reckless breakout of mannered, cramped, parlor-fit language night. Whoa!

This Kerouacian wordplay on-the-road’d, dharma-bummed, big sur’d, desolation angel’d night, this Ginsberg-ite trumpet howl, cry-out to the high heavens against the death machine night, this Burroughs-ish languid, sweet opium-dreamed, laid-back night, this Neal Cassady-driven, foot-clutched, brake-pedaled, wagon-master of the to and fro of the post-World War II American West night, was not my night but close enough so that I could touch it, and have it touch me even half a century later. So blame Jack and the gang, okay and I will give you his current Lowell, Massachusetts home address upon request so that you can direct your inquiries there.

Blame Jack for busting out beyond the factory lakes, corn-fed plains, get the hell out of Kansas flats, on up into the rockiesmountainhigh (or is it just high) and then straight, no time for dinosaur lament Ogden or tumbleweed Winnemucca, to the coast, come hell or high water. Ya, busting out and free. Kid dream great American West night, car-driven (hell, old pick-up truck-driven, English racer bicycle-driven, hitchhiked thumb, flat-bed train-ridden, sore-footed, shoe-beaten walked, if need be), two dollar tank-filled, oil-checked, tires kicked, money pocket’d, surf’s up, surf’s crashing up against the high shoulder ancient seawalls, cruising down the coast highway, the endlessly twisting jalopy-driven pin-turned coast highway, down by the shore, sand swirling, bingo, bango, bongo with your baby everything’s alright, go some place after, some great American West drive-in place.Can you blame me?

So as for that comrade, that well-respected young comrade, what would he know, really, of the great blue- pink Western American night that I, and not I alone, was searching for back in those halcyon days of my youth in the early 1960s.

What would he know, for example, except in story book or oral tradition from parents or, oh no, maybe, grandparents, of the old-time parched, dusty, shoe-leather-beating, foot-sore, sore-shouldered, backpacked, bed-rolled, going-my-way?, watch out for the cops over there (especially in Connecticut and Arizona), hitchhike white-lined road. The thirsty, blistered, backpacked, bed-rolled, thumb-stuck-out, eternally thumb-stuck-out, waiting for some great savior kindred-laden Volkswagen home/collective/ magical mystery tour bus or the commandeered rainbow-marked, life-marked, soul-marked yellow school bus, yellow brick road school bus. Hell, even of old farmer-going-to-market, fruit and vegetable-laden Ford truck, benny-popping, eyes-wide, metal-to-the-petal, transcontinental teamster-driving goods to some westward market or kid Saturday love nest, buddy-racing cool jalopy road. Ya, what would he know of that.

Of the road out, out anywhere, anywhere west, from the stuffy confines of worn-out, hard-scrabble, uptight, ocean-at-you-back, close-quartered, neighbor on top of neighbor, keep your private business private, used-up New England granite-grey death-chanting night. Of the struggle, really, for color, to change the contour of the natural palette to other colors brighter than the New England leafy greens and browns of the trees and the blues, or better blue-greens, or even better yet of white-flecked, white-foamed, blue-greens of the Eastern oceans. (Ya, I know, I know, before you even start on me about it, all about the million tree flaming yellow-red-orange autumn leaf minute and the thousand icicle-dropped, road strewn dead tree branch, white winter snow drift eternity, on land or ocean but those don’t count, at least here, and not now)

Or of the infinite oil-stained, gas-fumed, rag-wiped, overall’d, gas-jockeyed, Esso, Texaco, Mobil, Shell stations named, the rest lost too lost in time to name, two dollar fill-up-check-the-oil, please, the-water-as-well, inflate the tires, hit the murky, fetid, lava soap-smelled bathrooms, maybe grab a Coke, hey, no Hires Root Beer on this road. This Route 66, or Route 50 or Route you-name-the route, route west, exit east dream route, rolling red barn-dotted (needs paint to this jaded eye), rocky field-plowed (crooked plowed to boot), occasionally cow-mooed, same for horses, sheep, some scrawny chickens, and children as well, scrawny too. The leavings of the westward trek, when the westward trek meant eternal fields, golden fields, and to hell with damned rocks, and silts, and worn-out soils absent-mindedly left behind for those who would have to, have to I tell you, stay put in the cabined hollows and lazily watered-creeks. On the endlessly sullen blues-greens, the sullen smoky grey-black of black, mist-foamed rolling hills that echo the slight sound of the mountain wind tunnel, of the creakily-fiddled wind-song Appalachian night.

Or of diner stops, little narrow-aisled, pop-up-stool’d, formica counter-topped, red (mostly) leather booth, smoked-filled cabooses of diners. Of now anchored, abandoned train porter-serviced, off-silver, off-green, off-red, off any faded color “greasy spoon” diners. Of daily house special meat loaf, gravy-slurp, steam-soggy carrots, and buttered mashed potato-fill up to perdition, Saturday night pot roast special, turkey club sandwich potato chips on the side, breakfast all day, coffee-fill-up, free refill, please, diners. Granddaddies to today’s more spacious back road highway locales, styled family-friendly but that still reek of meat loaf-steamed carrots- creamed mashed tater-fill. Spots then that spoke of rarely employed, hungry men, of shifty-eyed, expense account-weary traveling men, of high-benny, eyes- wide teamsters hauling American product to and fro and of men not at ease in more eloquent, table-mannered, women-touched places. Those landscape old state and county side of the highway diners, complete with authentic surly, know-it all-been-through-it-all, pencil-earred, steam-sweated uniformed, maybe, cigarette-hanging from tired ruby red lips, heavily made-up waitress along the endless slag-heap, rusting railroad bed, sulphur-aired, grey-black smoke-belching , fiery furnace-blasting, headache metal-pounding, steel-eyed, coal dust-breathe, hog-butcher to the world, sinewy-muscled green-grey, moonless, Great Lakes night.

Or of two-bit road intersection stops, some rutted, pot-holed country road intersecting some mud-spattered, creviced backwater farm road, practically dirt roads barely removed from old time prairie pioneer day times, west-crazy pioneer times, ghost-crazy-pioneeer days. Of fields, vast slightly rolling, actually very slightly rolling, endless yellow, yellow –glazed, yellow-tinged, yellow until you get sick of the sight of yellow, sick of the word yellow even, acres under cultivation to feed hungry cities, as if corn, or soy, or wheat, or manna itself could fill that empty-bellied feeling that is ablaze in the land. But we will deal with one hunger at a time. And dotted every so often with silos and barns and grain elevators for all to know the crops are in and ready to serve that physical hunger. Of half- sleep, half hungry-eye, city boy hungry eyes, unused to the dark, dangerous, sullen, unknown shadows, bed roll-unrolled, knapsack pillowed, sleep by the side of the wheat, soy, corn road ravine, and every once in a blue moon midnight car passings, snaggly blanket-covered, knap-sack head rested, cold-frozed, out in the great day corn yellow field but blue black, beyond city sky black, starless Iowa night.

Or of the hard-hilled climb, and climb and climb, breathe taken away magic climb, crevice-etched, rock-interface, sore-footed magic mountain that no Thomas Mann can capture. Half-walked-half-driven, bouncing back seat, back seat of over-filled truck-driven, still rising up, no passing on the left, facing sheer-cliff’d, famous free-fall spots, still rising, rising colder, rising frozen colder, fearful of the sudden summer squalls, white out summer squalls. Shocking, I confess, beyond shocking to New England-hardened winter boy, then sudden sunshine floral bursts and jacket against the cold comes tumbling off, against the majestic, did I say majestic and beats old Atlantic ocean swells at dawn crashing against harmless seawalls, old pioneer-trekked, old pioneer-feared, old rutted wheeled two-hearted remembrances, two-hearted but no returning back (it would be too painful to do again) remembrances as you slide out of Denver into the icy-white black rockymountainhigh night.

Of foot-swollen pleasures in some arid back canyon arroyo, etched in time told by reading its face, layer after layer, red, red-mucked, beige, beige-mucked, copper, copper-mucked, like some Georgia OKeefe’d dream painting out in the red, beige, copper black-devouring desert night. And just night canyon flame-shadowed canteen stews simmering and smokey from the jet blue, orange flickering campfire. And then... .

Let me put it this way- the great Western shore, surf’s up, white, white wave-flecked, lapis-lazuli blue-flecked ocean, rust golden-gated, no return, no boat out, lands end, this is it coast highway, heading down or up now, heading up or down gas stationed, named and unnamed, side road diners, still caboose’d, ravine-edged sleep and beach sleeped, blue pink Western American night.

Ya, but there is more. No child vision but now of full blossom American West night, the San Francisco great American West night, of the be-bop, bop-bop, narrow-stepped, downstairs overflowed music cellar, shared in my time, the time of my time, by “beat” jazz, “hippie’d folk”, and howled poem, but at this minute jazz, high white note-blown, sexed sax-playing godman, unnamed, but like Lester Young’s own child jazz. Smoke-filled, blended meshed smokes of ganja and tobacco (and, maybe, of meshed pipe smokes of hashish and tobacco), ordered whisky-straight up, soon be-sotted, cheap, face-reddened wines, clanking coffee cups that speak of not tonight promise. High sexual intensity under wraps, tightly under wraps, swirls inside it own mad desire, black-dressed she (black dress, black sweater, black stockings, black shoes, black bag, black beret, black sunglasses, ah, sweet color scheme against white Madonna, white, secular Madonna alabaster skin. What do you want to bet black undergarments too, ah, but I am the soul of discretion, your imagination will have to do), promising shades of heat-glanced night. And later, later than night just before the darkest hour dawn, of poems poet’d, of freedom songs free-verse’d, of that sax-charged high white-note following out the door, out into the street, out the eternity lights of the great golden-gated night. I say, can you blame me?

Of later roads, the north Oregon hitchhike roads, the Redwood-strewn road not a trace of black-dressed she, she now of blue serge denim pants, of brown plaid flannel long-sleeved shirt, of some golfer’s dream floppy-brimmed hat, and of sturdy, thick-heeled work boots (undergarments again left to your imagination) against the hazards of summer snow squall Crater Lake. And now of slightly sun-burned face against the ravages of the road, against the parched sun-devil road that no ointments can relieve.

And beyond later to goose-down bundled, hunter-hatted, thick work glove-clad, snowshoe-shod against the tremors of the great big eternal bump of the great Alaska highway. Can she blame me? Guess.

Yes, what would that young comrade know of that.