Sunday, July 31, 2011

***Frankie Riley Holds Forth- On The Aches And Pains Of Aging -With Jim Cullen, North Adamsville Class Of 1964, And All Other AARP-Worthy Brethren In Mind

"Do not go gentle..

...into that good night." First line of Dylan Thomas' poem of the same name.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Frankie Riley here. Ya, I know its been a while since you have heard from me and I have seen or heard from most of you. Now some of you know, know full well, that back in North Adamsville days I could, well, you know “stretch” the truth. Stretch it pretty far when I was in a fix, or one of my corner boys like my right-hand man Peter Paul Markin up at our old "up the Downs" haunt, Salducci’s Pizza Parlor, needed some outlandish excuse to get right. And fellow women classmates and some other women non-classmates as well know I would outright lie, lie like the devil in church or out, to get, well, “close” to you. Hope you forgive me about the lying, not about the trying to get close to you part. But that is all water of over the dam or under the bridge, take your choose. Today I am a new man, a truth-teller, or trying to be, except of course when I am practicing my profession as a lawyer. Then the truth might just be as elusive as it was when I was making up excuses for my corner boys or, if you were a woman, trying to “feel” you up. But enough of that as I am not here to speak of my repentance or about me at all, as hard as that might be to believe, but of the hard fact of age, ya, that creeping up thing that just kind of snuck up on us. So I am here to say just one thing- “won’t you take my word from me” like the old blues singer used to sing when he had the miseries. Listen up.

I am, once again, on my high horse today like I used to be when I had the bee in my bonnet on some subject in the old days. I have heard enough, in fact more than enough, whining from fellow AARP-worthies that I have been in contact with lately and others of my contemporaries from the "Generation of '68” about the aches and pains of becoming “ a certain age.” If I hear one more story about a knee, hip, heart, or, maybe, brain replacement or other transformative surgery I will go screaming into that good night. The same goes for descriptions of the CVS-worthy litany of the contents of an average graying medicine cabinet. Or the high cost of meds.

If I am not mistaken, and from what that old gossipy Markin has told me, many of you fully imbibed in all the excesses of our generation from crazed-out drug overkill to wacky sexual exploits that need not be mentioned in detail here (although I would not mind hearing of a few exploits strictly in confidence, attorney-client type confidence, of course), and everything else in between. Admit it. So come on now, after a lifetime of booze, dope, and wild times what did you expect? For those of us who have not lived right, lo these many years, the chickens have come home to roost. But I have a cure. Make that THE cure.

No I am not, at this late date, selling the virtues of the Bible, the Torah, the Koran or any of a thousand and one religious cures we are daily bombarded with. You knew, or at least I hope you knew, I wasn't going to go that route. That question, in any case, is each individual's prerogative and I have no need to interfere there. Nor am I going to go on and on about the wonders of liposuction, botox, chin lifts, buttocks tuckers, stomach flatteners and the like. Damn, have we come to that? And I certainly do not want to inflame the air with talk of existentialism or some other secular philosophies that tell you to accept your fate with your head down. You knew that, as well. No, I am here to give the "glad tidings," unadorned. Simply put- two words-graham crackers. No, do not reach for the reading glasses, your eyes do not deceive you- graham crackers is what I said.

Hear me out on this. I am no "snake oil" salesman, nor do I have stock in Nabisco (moreover their products are not "true" graham). So, please do not start jabbering to me about how faddish that diet was- in about 1830. I know that it has been around a while. And please do not start carping about how wasn't this healthful substance "magic elixir," or some such, that Ralph Waldo Emerson and his transcendentalist proteges praised to high heaven back in Brook Farm days. Well, I frankly admit, as with any such movement, some of those guys went over the top, especially that wacky Bronson Alcott. Irresponsible zealots are always with us. Please, please do not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Doctor Graham simply insisted that what our dietary intake consisted of was important and that a generous amount of graham flour in the system was good for us. Moreover, in order to avoid some of the mistakes of the earlier movement, in the age of the Internet we can now Google to find an almost infinite variety of uses and helpful recipes. Admit it, right now your head is swirling thinking about how nice it would be to have a few crackers and a nice cold glass of milk (fat-free or 1%, of course). Admit also; you loved those graham crumb-crusted pies your grandmother used to make. The old chocolate pudding-filled ones were my favorite. Lime was a close second. Enough said.

Here is the closer, as they say. If people have been mistaking you for your father's brother or mother's sister lately then this is your salvation. So scurry down to your local Whole Foods or other natural food store and begin to fight your way back to health. Let me finish with this personal testimonial. I used to regularly be compared in appearance to George Bush, Sr. Now I am being asked whether Brad Pitts is my twin brother. Or is it Robert Redford? .....Oh well, that too is part of the aging process. Like I say-“won’t you take my word from me.” Get to it.
To “jump start” you here is a little recipe I culled from my own Google of the Internet.

Graham Crackers Recipe
November 10, 2004

I'm nostalgic about graham crackers because they remind me of my Grandma Mac. Her full name is Maxine McMurry and she is now 90 years old. She lived just a short drive from our house (when my sister and I were kids) and we would tag along after soccer games when my dad would go by on Saturdays to check up on her, trim hedges, wash cars, or do any handyman work she needed. Heather and I didn't mind at all because she had a huge driveway that was flat as a pancake and smooth as an frozen pond -- perfect for roller skating. This was in striking contrast to our house that was on a steep hill which made skating perilous at best.

Grandma Mac always had snacks and treats for us when we arrived. She had a beautiful cookie jar in the shape of a big red apple which was always filled with oatmeal raisin cookies (I admittedly picked out all the raisins). Around the holidays she would fill old See's candy boxes with with perfect cubes of chocolate fudge, and if we were really lucky she would have a plate full of sweet, graham cracker sandwich cookies in the refrigerator. It was a pretty simple concept, but I've never had it since. She would take cream cheese frosting and slather it between two graham crackers and then let it set up in the fridge. I couldn't get enough.
So I thought of her when I saw this recipe for homemade graham crackers from Nancy Silverton's pastry book. I've cooked a few other winners from Nancy's books in the past; the Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole Grain Mustard, and Spiced Caramel Corn, and have quite a few more tagged for the future.

Most people think graham crackers come from the box. Period. But making homemade versions of traditional store-bought staples is worth the effort if you have some extra time or enthusiasm -- in part because the homemade versions always taste better, but also because people LOVE seeing and tasting homemade versions of foods they have only tasted out of a store-bought bag or box. I've done marshmallows and hamburger buns in the past, as well - both a lot of fun.

As far as Nancy Silverton's take on graham crackers goes - this recipe was flawless. I didn't even have to make a special trip to the store because I had every ingredient in my pantry - flour, brown sugar, honey, butter. The dough was easy to work with, and the best part of the whole thing is that the cookies actually taste exactly like graham crackers. They are delicious. I included a recipe for the cream cheese frosting in case you want to make sandwich cookies out of your homemade crackers.

Graham Cracker Recipe
2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover
5 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
For the topping:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

Yield: 10 large crackers

From Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery (Villard, 2000)

Cream Cheese Frosting1
8-ounce package of cream cheese
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups of powdered sugar, sifted

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy. Mix in the cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla extract and when fully incorporated add the powdered sugar. Mix until smooth and creamy. Place in the refrigerator for an hour before using.

from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery - reprinted with permission

Saturday, July 30, 2011

***Rick’s Flying Saucer Rock Moment- The Rock ‘n’ Rock Era; Weird, Wild & Wacky

CD Review

The Rock ‘n’Roll Era: Weird, Wild & Wacky, various artists, Time-Life Music, 1991

He was glad, glad as hell that angel thing, that guardian angel thing, was over and done with. You know that Sunday school thing they beat you over head with about how your guardian angel was there to keep you on the straight and narrow, or else. Yes, Rick Roberts certainly was glad that was over although now that he thought about it it just kind of passed out of sight as he got older and other things filled his mind. Things like his June ("June Bug" was his pet name for her but he had better not hear you call her that, especially one Freddie Jackson, or else). Yes, Rick was now large, strong enough, and smart enough strong, not to have to worry about some needlepoint guardian angel looking out for him. Although truth to tell he was worried, a little anyway, about this Cold War Russian bear thing coming over here to take his brain away, or maybe put the big heat on him, the A-bomb heat and creating alien things from outer space to haunt his dreams. But only a little.

What was exercising Rick these days was his June (you know her pet name but don’t say it, please) and causing him no end of sleepless nights was that thing about Freddie Jackson, June’s old flame. At least according to his sister, Celia, a reliable source of North Adamsville High gossip, and not afraid to spread it when it pleased her, was that Freddie was taking his peeks at June, and she was peeking back. So, lately, in order to pass those sleepless nights Rick had begun to sit up in his bedroom at night with his transistor radio on, the one that he had forced his parents to buy him, batteries included, for last Christmas, rather than the practical ties they had intended to foist on him. And what Rick listened as the hour turned to midnight was The Crazy Lazy Midnight Madness Show on WMEX, the local be-bop, no stop, all rock radio station the that got the sleepless, the half-awake, the lame and the lazy through the 1950s Cold War night, and into the dawn.

Now this Crazy Lazy Show fare was strictly for night owls, stuff that would not appeal to daytime rockers, you know, those listening to guys like Elvis, Carl, Bo, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee, or just stuff that appealed to Lazy’s off-center, off-beat funny bone. One night, one really restless night, as Rick was revving up the transistor around midnight
he heard Buchanan and Goodman’s silly The Flying Saucer, parts one and two back to back no less, so you see Crazy was serious about presenting goofy stuff. That was followed by Sheb Wooley’s devouring the Purple People Eater, and then, for a change of pace The Royal Teens be-bop Short, Shorts and that got his to thinking about how good June looked in them, and then back to zaniness when Bobby Picketts flattened Monster Mash and, as he got a little drowsy, The Detergents waved over Leader of the Laundromat.

That last one got to him, got to him good, because, believe it or not the song had sentimental value to him. See he met June at the North Adamsville All-Wash Laundromat one day. His mother’s washing machine had broken down and she needed to bring the Roberts laundry to the All-Wash and Rick drove her over. During that time June had passed by, he had said hi, they had talked and then more seriously talked, and that was that. Freddie Jackson was after that dust, a memory, nothing to June.

All this thinking really got Rick tired this night and as the last chords of Laundromat echoed in his head he fell into a deep sleep. Around four o’clock in the morning though he was awoken with a start, with the high pitched whining sound coming from some where outside his window. Next thing he knew a huge disc-like object was hovering over most of Adamsville, and stayed there for maybe a minute before departing just as quickly as it appeared. Rick took this for a sign, a sign that he and June would hang together. And a sign that Freddie Jackson probably should have taken a trip on that flying saucer while he could, or else.

Friday, July 29, 2011

***Out In The 2000s Crime Noir Night-“Sin City”-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Sin City.

DVD Review

Sin City, starring Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, based on Frank Miller's graphic novels, co-directed by Frank Miller, 2005

No question I am a film noir, especially a crime film noir, aficionado. Recently I have been on a tear reviewing various crime noir efforts and drawing comparisons between the ones that “speak” to me and those that, perhaps, should have been better left on the cutting room floor. The classics are easy and need no additional comment from me as their plot lines stand on their own merits. Others, because they have a fetching, or wicked, for that matter, femme fatale to muddy the waters also get a pass. Of course when I think of noir it is 1940s-50s noir, black and white in film and in the good guys-bad guys constellation with a little murder and mayhem mixed in to keep one’s eyes open just in case there is no femme fatale to muddy the waters. Neo-noir, such as the film under review, Sin City, is another matter, perhaps. Here’s the why of the perhaps.

Central to the old time crime noir was the notion that crime did not pay and as stated above the bad guy(s) learned that lesson the hard way after a little mussing up or a date with a bullet. Kids’ stuff really when compared to the over-the-top action of this three vignettes series on modern day good guys versus bad guys. Three separate male characters, all tough guys and guys you would want to have at your back if real trouble headed your way, are trying, trying within the parameters of common sense or believability, to clean up slices of Sin City. Sin City as the rather obvious name implies, is in the grips of corruption from the top down, including in virtually every civic institution. Our avengers are trying to cut a wedge into that bad karma by individually, one, tracking down a bizarre, politically connected heir whose thing was slice and dice of very young girls, two, avenge the death of a high class call girl who was kind to one tough guy, and, three, keep the pimps and cops at bay in the red light district where the working girls have set up their own Hookers’ Commune.

All of this doing good is, of necessity in today’s movie world, linked up with, frankly, over the top use of violence of all sorts from cannibalism to barbaric death sentences, well beyond what tame old time noir warranted. Apparently the succeeding crime waves since the 1940s have upped the ante and something like total war is required to exterminate the villains. That and some very up-to-date use of cinematography to give a gritty black and white feel to the adventures. And also a not small dose of magical realism, suspension of disbelief, and sparseness of language to go along with the plot and visual action.

But here is the funny thing, funny for an old-time crime noir aficionado, I really liked this film. Why? Well go back to the old time crime noir premise. Good guys (and then it was mostly guys- here some very wicked “dames” join in and I know I would not want to cross them, no way) pushed their weight around or tilted at windmills for cheap dough or maybe a little kiss. They got mussed, up, trussed up, busted up in the cause of some individual justice drive that drove the “better angels of their natures.” Guess what, sixty years later, a thousand years advanced cinematically, a million years advanced socially (maybe) and these guys are still chasing windmills. Nice, right.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

***Out In The 1940s Crime Noir Night-“The Naked City”-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for The Naked City.

DVD Review

The Naked City, starring Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Universal International, 1946

No question I am a film noir, especially a crime film noir, aficionado. Recently I have been on a tear reviewing various crime noir efforts and drawing comparisons between the ones that “speak” to me and those that, perhaps, should have been better left on the cutting room floor. The classics are easy and need no additional comment from me as their plot lines stand on their own merits. Others, because they have a fetching, or wicked, for that matter, femme fatale to muddy the waters also get a pass. Some, such as the film under review from 1946, The Naked City, offer neither although the stark New York City cinematography and the voice-over narration place it firmly in the genre. This film is that old noir stand-by from the period, the police procedural with its never-ending cautionary tale about how “crime does not pay.”

A little plot summary is in order. Yes, New York City, well the New York City of the 1940s and 1950s had eight million stories, although maybe really just two, rich and poor, or maybe better getting richer or sliding down poorer, but that is the subject for another day. Of course telling eight million stories, other than as a few seconds relief slice-of-life scenes, would make me very sleepy, very sleepy indeed. So the plot line reduces the sleepiness to a minimum by telling one story, or rather one murder story that wraps quite a few people in its tentacles, including one major city homicide squad. A squad led by perennial Irish actor Barry Fitzgerald as the foot-sore but worldly-wise detective in charge. The grift (profit motive) that drives the story line is stealing jewelry from those self-same getting richer New York City swells, including an inside society swell finger man. But things turn awry when one drop-dead beautiful model (maybe I should not have used just that phrase, but I will let it stand) winds up being murdered by her some of her thieving confederates.

The twists and turns, such as they are, revolve around a mystery man lover, suitor, whatever it was never really clear, except he was daffy over that drop-dead beautiful model, and finding him as the logical guy to have done, or ordered the murder. In New Jack City and elsewhere that is hard to do, one and one half hours hard to do. But in the end Barry and his homicide squad cohorts get their man, a strangely agile bad man for noir who are usually just straight thugs. And the city moves on to the next…murder, mayhem or whatever. Not exactly my cup of tea in noir but if I recall this film was the model for a television series of the same name so somebody must have though well of it beyond the slice-of-New York life scenes interspersed in the story and the great black and white cinematography of the Big Apple just after the end of World War II.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

***The Real Scoop Behind “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?”

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Tom Waits performing the classic Great Depression song, Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?.

“Hey, brother (or sister), can you spare a dime?,” followed by “Got an extra cigarette, pal (or gal)?” Ya, Billy Bailey, used-to-be brash corner boy William James Bailey, certainly had the panhandler lingo down, down pat, after only a few days on the bum. Worst though on the bum in his own home town, his ever-loving’ roots, Boston. On the bum this time, this time a real fall and not just some short money, pick up some spare change, free campsite, Volkswagen bus pick-up sharing stews, brews and dope hitchhike road looking for the great blue-pink American West night with some honey, some Angelica honey, bum like a few years back.

Those days he practically made a religion, ya a religion out of living “free,” living out of the knapsack, living under bridge, no sweat, if need be. But those “golden days” dried up a few years back and now here in 1976 he was facing a real skid row choice. How it happened he will get to along the way but first let’s set the parameters of what 1976 panhandling, to put an eloquent name on it for “bumming”, shiftless bumming , looked like and how to survive in the new age of everybody me-ing themselves, even with people who were not on the bum. Christ, lord the times were hard, hard times in old Babylon, no question.

See, a guy, a guy who called himself “Shorty” McGee for obviously physical reasons but who knows what his real name was, maybe he didn’t remember either after all the rum-dum sterno heat years and the endless backsides of skid row haunts, that he had hitched up with for a minute, an overnight minute at the Salvation Harbor Lights Center over in the South End kind of hipped him to the obvious tricks of the new down-at the-heels road. Like putting the two requests together when you were panhandling. See, Shorty said it was all a matter of psychology, of working the crowd, the downtown crowd, the bustling Park Street Station crowd, and the Copley Square sunning themselves crowd just right to get you out of their sights and back to whatever sweet thing they were doing. So you endlessly put the two requests together, time after time after time, and always. And what happened was that when they turned you down for the dough, or maybe took you literally and pieced you off with just a dime, Christ a dime that wouldn’t even buy a cup of joe, could feel good about themselves, if they smoked, smoked cigarettes anyway, by passing you a butt. Billy thought, nice, this Shorty really does have it worked out just about right. Of course dimes and drags were not going to get him out from under, not this time.

Well, rather than leaving the reader out in the dark, Billy Bailey this fair 1976 spring was not just on the bum, but on the lam as well, keeping his head very far down just in case there were some guys who were looking for him, or worst, the cops, in case some irate victim of one of his scams took a notion to “fry his ass.” Of course he was counting on them, those victims, being mainly friends and acquaintances, of not putting “the heat” on him since he had already promised through the grapevine that he would make restitution. But we are getting a little ahead of the story, let’s step back.

The early 1970s were not kind to “free spirits” the previous name for what on this day were “free-loaders” and Billy, well, got behind in his expenses, and his bills, his ever expanding bills. But see the transition from free “s” to free “l” caught him off-guard, moreover he was just then in the throes of a fit of “the world owes me a living,” a serious fit. Why? Well see, he as a pauper son of the desperate working poor, “felt” that since he missed out on the golden age benefits of his youth that he was to make up the difference by putting the “touch” on the richer (not really rich but richer, no question) friends that he had acquired through his doing this and that, mainly high-end drug connections.

The long and short it was that he would “borrow” money off Friend A under some scam pretext of putting it to good use (yes, his good use, including several long airplane fight trips to California and other points west-no more hitchhike roads for this moving up the food chain lad) and then borrow dough off Friend B to cover some of his debt to Friend A. Something like an unconscious classic Ponzi scheme, as it turned out. And then when he got to Friend X or somewhere around there things got way too complicated and he started “kiting” checks, and on and on as far deep into his white collar crime mind a he could think. That could only go on a for a short while and he calculated that "short while" almost to the day when he would have to go “underground” and that day had sprung up a couple of weeks ago.

So it took no accountant or smart-ass attorney to know that dimes and drags were not going to get him back on his feet. Nor many of the schemes that Shorty had outlined over at Harbor Lights as ways to grab quick cash were. These were chicken feed for his needs, even his immediate needs, although some of the scams would fill the bill for a rum-dum or life-long skid row bum. But here is the secret, the deep secret that Billy Bailey held in his heart, after a few nights on bus station benches, cold spring night park benches, a night bout under the Andersen Bridge over by old haunt Harvard Square, and a few nights that he would rather not discuss just in case, he finally figured out, figured out kicking and screaming, that the world did not owe him a living and that if he wanted to survive past thirty he had better get the stardust and grit out of his eyes. But just this minute, just this undercover spring 1976 minute, he needed to work the Commons. “Hey, brother, hey sister, can you spare a dime?” “Pal, have you got an extra cigarette?”

Postscript: Not all wisdom ends happily, and not all good intentions grow to fruition. Yes, Billy paid off his debts to his friends, mostly. However, Billy Bailey was killed while “muling” in a drug war shoot-out in Juarez, Mexico in late 1979.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

***Out In The 1940s Crime Noir Night, Kind Of-“Undercurrent”-A Film Review


Click on the headline to link ot a Wikipedia entry for the film Undercurrent.

DVD Review

Undercurrent, starring Katherine Hepburn, Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum, directed by Vincent Minnelli, 1947

No question I am a film noir, especially a crime film noir, aficionado. Recently I have been on a tear reviewing various crime noir efforts and drawing comparisons between the ones that “speak” to me and those that, perhaps, should have been better left on the cutting room floor. The classics are easy and need no additional comment from me as their plot lines stand on their own merits. Others, because they have a fetching, or wicked, for that matter, femme fatale to muddy the waters also get a pass. Some, such as the film under review from 1946, Undercurrent, frankly baffles me. A pyscho-drama, no question, a famous director, no question, but also a very non-femme fatale in Kate Hepburn, and a very non-tough guy (street or detective) role for classic 1940s tough guy and a good guy to have at your back, Robert Mitchum.

A little plot look will help explain my bafflement. Robert Taylor, a ruthless, driven high-tech capitalist who made big dough during World War II is also a little mad, well, a lot mad. However he is able to cover that little problem up while courting, well not beautiful, but let’s call her handsome, Kate Hepburn. Seems he needs a trophy wife and Kate fills the bill. And that is where the problems begin because Brother Taylor has a brother whom he is insanely jealous of for the usual Freudian, or pseudo-Freudian, reasons that drive the plot lines of these pycho-dramas. Kate, however, loves the big lug Taylor until he starts going over the edge about his brother (and some other things like a little murder of an employee that goes a long way to allowing him to be that ruthless high-tech capitalist). Of course, as in all such dramas old Robert will get his comeuppance, have no fear.

But where is the noir in this noir? No femme fatale, no tough guy throwing his weight around or tilting at windmills to right the world’s wrongs, no problem that requires quick thinking to right those wrongs. Well when you go on a tear on a subject as I am on crime noir not everything will come up Out Of The Past or The Big Sleep. Not this one anyway.

Monday, July 25, 2011

***Brother (Or Sister), Can You Spare A Dime?- For C.M., North Adamsville Class Of 1964

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Tom Waits performing the classic Great Depression song, Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?.

Banks are failing left and right, being bought up by bigger banks up the food chain enhancing the “too big to fail” syndrome that got us into this economic mess in the first place. Unemployment is way up, and staying steadily up as jobs, working people jobs, have been replaced by computer-generated productivity and factory workers have gone the way of the town crier, the hand-loom weaver, and the lamplighter. Housing values are down on the floor, heading to the basement, with no upswing in sight what with overstocked, unfinished housing and foreclosures glutting the market. A retirement account, the savings for the “golden years,” are subject to the daily twists and turns of the financial markets sensitive to global economic pressures.

And that is the grim news on an average day. Other days ratchet up the doom and gloom from there. And other days just turn off the television, radio, computer, horoscope, tarot cards or however you learn the news of the day. The whys and wherefores of that news, however, is not what this writer wants to comment on though. One of the very few virtues of growing up "dirt poor," 1950s dirt poor in the “golden age” of the post-World War II American economic boom, first in an old jerry-built housing project in old tired working class Adamsville and then across town in an old shack of a house on the wrong side of the tracks on Maple Street near the North Adamsville High School is that even now I am personally inured to the vicissitudes of the economy. Hell, when I was young hard times were the only times. I did not, except by rumor, know there were any other kinds. That came later.

All of the above is by way of making this point. I have been broke more times than I could shake a stick at, both by choice and by the fickleness of fate. The fickleness of fate (and my own stupidity or angst) having a slight edge. I have been flat broke, dead broke, broke six ways to Sunday, and every kind of broke you can think of. At one time I almost make a religion of it, dressing it up in an eloquent moral and philosophical covering. I have been in the clover a few times too, but those have always been very near things.

Let me put it this way. I have leisurely strolled across the Golden Gate Bridge, taking in the sea salt breezes and the spectacular views. I have slept huddled, with a tattered newspaper for a pillow, under the Golden Gate Bridge. I have eaten at restaurants where one does not ask the price, or need to. I have eaten free-for-all stews and watered-down coffee, gladly, from Salvation Army soup lines. I have sat idly on hopeless park benches in nameless forsaken towns, too many nameless forsaken towns. I have sat idly, ice-cubed drink in hand, in a beach chair on some deck watching the surf rise and fall on the rocks at Bar Harbor. I could go on but you get the idea. Here is my accumulated wisdom though-it is much better to have the dough. But just in case the times get even worst than they are now I am keeping in shape. Brother (Or Sister), Can You Spare A Dime?

"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,

When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.

They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,

Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.

Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;

Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,

Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,

Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,

And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.

Why don't you remember, I'm your pal?

Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,

Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,

Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,

And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.

Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal?

Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

***The Road Less Traveled- With A Tip Of The Hat To Poet Robert Frost

Markin comment:

I am not a big fan of Robert Frost's poetry (although his public readings were very interesting) but this one every once in a while "speaks" to me when there are two (or more) choices to make in life.

Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

1. The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 5

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 10

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 15

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 20
Sergeant John Prescott, “Johnny P.” to his pals gathered around a small table, drinking sodas and coffee, in the next room was a quiet, unassuming guy, a guy with just that barebones patriotism that animated many working class kids to “do their duty” and join up when America was in danger, no questions asked. Not quite “my country, right or wrong” but pretty close when all was said and done. And as the early 1960s, the time of high school fun and frolic and for ace football star Johnny P, fun and frolic with one fetching Chrissie O’Shea and their flaming romance that was the talk of the Class of 1964 at old North Adamsville High, turned to mid-1960s and clarion calls that the country was in danger in some place called red-infested Vietnam Johnny, and not just Johnny, answered the call. And here, gathered around a small table, in early May 1968 his old corner boys from in front of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor “up the downs” were chatting away like mad.

Suddenly, Frank Riley, fabled Frankie, the king of the be-bop Salducci’s night in those fresher days, yelled to no one in particular but they all knew what he meant, “Remember that night after graduation when Tonio threw us that party at the pizza parlor.” And all the other five gathered at the table became silence with their own memories of that night. See, Tonio was the king hell owner and zen master pizza maker at Salducci’s and a guy who treated Frankie (and therefore most of Frankie’s friends) like a son. So Tonio put out a big deal party right on the premises, closed to all but Frankie, his friends and hangers-on (and girls of course). Tonio, at least this is what he said at the time, appreciated that Frankie brought so much business his way what with his corner boys, their corner boys, and the, ah, girls that gathered round them and who endlessly fed the juke box that he had to show his appreciation in such a way. And everybody had a great time that night, with the closed door wine, Tonio-provided wine, flowing like crazy and nobody, no authorities or parents the wiser for it.

Part of that great time, the part the guys around the 1968 table were remembering just then, the part of that great gun-ho 1964 time occurred late that night when, plenty of wine under their belts, Frankie and the corner boys, talked “heroic” talk. Talked about their military service obligations that was coming up right on them. And this was no abstract talk, no this night, for not only was this a party put on by Tonio to show his gratitude but a kind of going away party for ace football player and part-time corner boy (the other part, the more and more part, with one fetching Chrissie O’Shea), Johnny Prescott, who signed up right after graduation and was getting ready to leave for “boot camp” at Fort Dix, New Jersey in a few days. So everybody was piling on the bravery talk to Johnny about “killing commies” somewhere, maybe Vietnam, maybe Germany, hell, maybe Russia or China. And Johnny, not any rum-brave kind Johnny, not any blah blah-ing about bravery, football or war, Johnny just kind of sat there and let the noise go by him. His thoughts then were of Chrissie and doing everything he could to get back to her in one piece.

Of course heaping up pile after pile on the bravery formula was one Frankie Riley, ever the politician and well as keenly acknowledgement corner boy king, who had so just happened to have landed, through a very curious connection with the Kennedy clan, a coveted slot in a National Guard unit. So, Frankie, ever Frankie, could be formally brave that night in the knowledge that he would be far away from any real fighting. His rejoinder was that his unit “might” be called up. The others kidded him about it, about his “week-end warrior status, but just a little because after all he would be serving one way or another. Also kind of silent that night was Fritz Taylor just then ready to “do his duty” after having had a heavy-duty fight with his mother about his future, or lack of a future, and her “hadn’t he better go in the service and learn a trade” talk.

Most vociferous that night was Timmy Kiley. Yes, Timmy, the younger brother of the legendary North Adamsville and later State U. football player “Thunder Tommy” Kiley. He was ready to catch every red under every bed and do what, when and where to any he caught. Timmy later joined the Navy to “see the world” and saw much of some dreary scow in some dry-dock down in Charleston, South Carolina. Even Peter Paul Markin, Frankie’s right-hand man, self-described scribe, and publicly kind of the pacifist of the group, who usually got mercilessly “fag”-baited for his pale peace comments was up in arms about the need to keep the “free world” free. But that was just the way he talked, kind of a studied hysterical two-thousand facts diatribe. Markin, student deferred, at that 1968 table had just gotten notice from his friendly neighbors at the North Adamsville Draft Board that upon graduation he was to be drafted. And he was ready, kicking and screaming about some graduate school project that the world really needed to know about, to go. That was the way it was in the neighborhood. Go or be out. Frank Ricco, the so-called token Eye-talian, of the Irish-laden Salducci’s corner boy night (and a kid that Tonio actually hated, some kind of Mafioso, omerta thing with his father) also displayed super-human brave talk that night but he was credited , not so many months later of not only going in the Marines but of seeing some heavy-duty action in jungle-infested Kontum, and some other exotic and mainly unpronounceable place farther south in the water-logged rice paddles of the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

Quiet, quieter than Johnny Prescott thinking of Chrissie, or Fritz, sullenly furious at his mother or at his hard-scrabble fate, or both, was Johnny Callahan. Johnny no stranger to corner boy controversy, no stranger to patriotic sentiments, at least publicly to keep in step with his boys, secretly hated war, the idea of this war coming up and was seriously hung up on the Catholic “just war” theory that had been around since at least Saint Augustine, maybe earlier. See Johnny had a grandmother (and also a mother, but less so) who was an ardent Catholic Worker reader and adherent to their social philosophy. You know, Dorothy Day and that crowd of rebel Catholics wanting to go back to the old, old days, the Roman persecution days, of the social gospel and the like. And grandmother had the “just war” theory down pat. She was the greatest knitter of socks for “the boys” during World War II that the world may have ever known. But on Vietnam she was strictly “no-go, no-go, no way” and she was drilling that in Johnny’s head every chance she got (which was a lot since Johnny, having, well let’s call it “friction” with his mother sought refuge over at grandma’s). Now grandma was pressing Johnny to apply for conscientious objector status (CO) but Johnny knew that as a Catholic, a lapsing Catholic but still a Catholic, the formal “just war” theory of that church would not qualify him for CO status. He wanted to, expected to, just refuse induction. So that rounded out that party that night. Hell, maybe in retrospect it wasn’t such a great party, although blame the times not Tonio for that.

Just then, as each member at the table, thought his thoughts started by Frankie’s remembrance someone from the other room called out, “pall-bearers, get ready.”

Postscript: Sergeant, E-5, John Phillip Prescott made the national news that 1968 year, that 1968 year of Tet, made the Life magazine photo montage of those killed in service in Vietnam on any given week. Johnny P.’s week was heavy with casualties so there were many photos, many looks of mainly working class enlisted youth that kind of blurred together despite the efforts to recognize each individually. And, of course, Johnny P.’s name is etched in black marble down in Washington, D.C. John Patrick Callahan served his two year “tour of duty” as federal prisoner 122204, at the Federal Correctional Institution, Allentown, Pennsylvania. The road less traveled, indeed.

***A Voice From The 1960s Folk Minute Is Down- Singer-Songwriter Jesse Winchester Is Ill- Be Well “Yankee Lady” Writer.

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester performing his classic Yankee Lady. Ya, we all had our yankee ladies (or men) then.

From The Jesse Winchester Studio website-

I'm sorry to announce that I'm canceling my shows for July and August. I have been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, and will have to undergo treatment for the next couple of months. I'm very sorry if any plans have been disrupted; I do hope to see you again soon, and we'll pick up where we left off.

Markin comment:

One of the damn things about growing older is that those iconic figures, in this case one of those iconic music figures, that got us through our youth, continue to pass from the scene. News has just arrived via his website that the singer-songwriter Jesse Winchester is ill. Jesse had a very promising career cut somewhat short by a little thing called the Vietnam War. He felt, as others did at the time, that it was better to be a war resister and go into Canadian political exile, than be part of the American imperial military machine. While I would disagree, in retrospect, with that decision I still personally respect those who made a very hard choice. Harder, much harder, than most kids today have to face, thankfully.

But it was the music that he made, the songs that he wrote, that made many of our days backs then. A song like Glory To The Day set just the right tempo. Better still, Yankee Lady, better because we all had our yankee ladies (or men) back then, or wished for them, whether they came from Vermont or Texas, for that matter. Ya, the “old lady,” rain pouring off some woe-begotten roof, a little booze, a little dope, and a lot of music wafting through the room as we tried to take our places in the sun. Tried to make sense out of a world that we did not create, and did not like. Be well, Brother Winchester, be well.
Yankee Lady
I lived with the decent folks
In the hills of old Vermont
Where what you do all day
Depends on what you want
And I took up with a woman there
Though I was still a kid
And I smile like the sun
To think of the loving that we did

She rose each morning and went to work
And she kept me with her pay
I was making love all night
And playing guitar all day
And I got apple cider and homemade bread
To make a man say grace
And clean linens on my bed
And a warm feet fire place

Yankee lady so good to me,
Yankee lady just a memory
Yankee lady so good to me,
Your memory that's enough for me

An autumn walk on a country road
And a million flaming trees
I was feeling uneasy
Cause there was winter in the breeze
And she said, "Oh Jesse, look over there,
The birds are southward bound
Oh Jesse, I'm so afraid
To lose the love that we've found."

Yankee lady so good to me,
Yankee lady just a memory
Yankee lady so good to me,
Your memory that's enough for me

I don't know what called to me
But I know that I had to go
I left that Vermont town
With a lift to Mexico
And now when I see myself
As a stranger by my birth
The Yankee lady's memory
Reminds me of my worth

Yankee lady so good to me,
Yankee lady just a memory
Yankee lady so good to me,
Your memory that's enough for me

©1970 Jesse Winchester
From the LP "Jesse Winchester"

Friday, July 22, 2011

***In The Time Of Your Parents'(Ouch, Maybe Grandparents') Folk Moment, Circa 1955-“Hard To Find 45s On CD: Volume Three”

CD Review

Hard To Find 45s On CD: Volume Three, various artists, Eric Records, 1999

Yes, Freddy had heard it wafting through the house, through the Jackson household as background music back in the early 1950s. He knew he had heard folk music before when June ("June Bug" when they were younger back in Clintondale Elementary days but that term no longer held sway now that they were high school juniors, and she had not been his June Bug for a while, now being Rick Roberts’ june bug) asked him whether he had heard much folk music before Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind had hit town and had bowled all the hip kids, or those who wanted to be hip (or beat, depending on your crowd) over.

Yes, now that thought of it, he remembered having more than one fight, well not really a fight, but an argument with either Frank Jackson, dad, or Maria Jackson (nee Riley), ma, whenever they turned over the local (and only local) radio station, WJDA, to listen to their latest, greatest hits of World War II, World War II, squareville cubed, even then when he was nothing but a music-hungry kid. You know that old time Frank Sinatra Stormy Weather, Harry James orchestra I’ll Be Home, Andrews Sisters doing some cutesy bugle boy thing, or the Ink Spots harmonizing on I’ll Get By (which was at least passable). Yes, squaresville, cubed, no doubt. And all Freddie, and every other kid, even non-hip, non-beat kids, in Clintondale was crazy for was a jail-break once in a while-Elvis, Chuck, Bo, Little Richard, Jerry Lee anybody under the age of a million who knew how to rock the house, how to be-bop, and if not that at least to bop-bop. He lost that fight, well, lost part of it. In the end, after hassling Frank and Maria endlessly for dough to go buy 45s, they finally, finally bought him a transistor radio with a year’s (they thought) supply of batteries down at the local (and only) Radio Shack.

But he had lost in the big event because if they weren’t listening to that old time pirate music they were swinging and swaying to stuff like Lonnie Donegan trebling on Rock Island Line making a fool of what Lead Belly was trying to do with that song, Vince Martin and friends, harmonizing on Cindy, Oh Cindy in the martini cocktail hour breezes, The Tarriers try to be-bop the Banana Boat Song at the ball, Terry Gilkyson and friends making a pitch, a no-hit pitch, to Marianne, and Russ Hamilton blasting the girlfriend world to the first floor rafters with Rainbow. Squaresville, cubed. And you wonder why when rusty-throated Bob Dylan came like a hurricane onto the scene with Blowin’ In The Wind and The Times They Are A Changin’, angel-voiced Joan Baez covering his With God On Our Side, or even gravelly-throated Dave Van Ronk covering House Of The Rising Sun or Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies we finally go that pardon we were fighting for all along. Enough of folk musak.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

***The Hills And Hollas Of Home- In Honor Of The Late Hazel Dickens

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the late Hazel Dickens performing Hills Of Home.

CD Review

It’s Hard To Tell The Singer From The Song, Hazel Dickens, Rounder Records, 1987

Kenny Jackman heard the late Hazel Dickens (d. 2011) for the very first time on her CD album It’s Hard To Tell The Singer From The Song some years back when he was in thrall to mountain music after being hit hard by Reese Witherspoon’s role as June Carter in the film Walk The Line. At that time he was into all things Carter Family unto the nth generation. A friend, a Vermont mountain boy friend, hipped him to Hazel during his frenzy and he picked up the CD second-hand in Harvard Square. Hazel’s You’ll Get No More Of Me, A Few Old Memories and the classic Hills of Home knocked him out. The latter, moreover, seemed kind of familiar and later, a couple of months later, he finally figured out why. He had really first heard Hazel back in 1970 when he was down in the those very hills and hollows that are a constant theme in her work, and that of the mountain mist winds music coming down the crevices. What is going on though? Is it 2005 when he first heard Hazel or that 1970 time? Let me go back and tell that 1970 story.

Kenny Jackman like many of his generation of ’68 was feeling foot loose and fancy free, especially after he had been mercifully declared 4-F by his friendly neighbors local draft board in old hometown North Adamsville. So Kenny, every now and again, took to the hitchhike road, not like his mad man friend Peter Paul Markin with some heavy message purpose a la Jack Kerouac and his beat brothers (and a few sisters) but just to see the country while he, and it, were still in one piece. On one of these trips he found himself kind of stranded just outside Norfolk, Virginia at a road-side campsite. Feeling kind of hungry one afternoon, and tired, tired unto death of camp-side gruel and stews he stopped at a diner, Billy Bob McGee’s, an old-time truck stop diner a few hundred yards up the road from his camp for some real food, maybe meatloaf or some pot roast like grandma used to make or that was how it was advertised.

When he entered the mid-afternoon half-empty diner he sat down at one of the single stool counter seats that always accompany the vinyl-covered side booths in such place. But all of this was so much descriptive noise that could describe a million, maybe more, such eateries. What really caught his attention though was a waitress serving them “off the arm” that he knew immediately he had to “hit” on (although that is not the word used in those days but “hit on” conveys what he was up to in the universal boy meets girl world). As it turned out she, sweetly named Fiona Fay, and, well let’s just call her fetching, Kenny weary-eyed fetching, was young, footloose and fancy free herself and had drawn a bead on him as he entered the place, and, …well this story is about Hazel, so let us just leave it as one thing let to another and let it go at that.

Well, not quite let’s let it go at that because when Kenny left Norfolk a few days later one ex-waitress Fiona Fay was standing by his side on the road south. And the road south was leading nowhere, no where at all except to Podunk, really Prestonsburg, Kentucky, and really, really a dink town named Pottsville, just down the road from big town Prestonsburg, down in the hills and hollows of Appalachia, wind swept green, green, mountain mist, time forgotten . And the reason two footloose and fancy free young people were heading to Podunk is that a close cousin of Fiona’s lived there with her husband and child and wanted Fiona to come visit (visit “for a spell” is how she put it but I will spare the reader the localisms). So they were on that hell-bend road but Kenny, Kenny was dreading this trip and only doing it because, well because Fiona was the kind of young woman, footloose and fancy free or not, that you followed, at least you followed if you were Kenny Jackson and hoped things would work out okay.

What Kenny dreaded that day was that he was afraid to confront his past. And that past just then entailed having to go to his father’s home territory just up the road in Hazard. See Kenny saw himself as strictly a yankee, a hard “we fought to free the slaves and incidentally save the union” yankee for one and all to see back in old North Adamsville. And denied, denied to the high heavens, that he had any connection with the south, especially the hillbilly south that everybody was making a fuse about trying to bring into the 20th century around that time. And here he was with a father with Hazard, Kentucky, the poorest of the poor hillbillies, right on his birth certificate although Kenny had never been there before. Ya, Fiona had better be worth it.

Kenny had to admit, as they picked up one lonely truck driver ride after another (it did not hurt in those days to have a comely lass standing on the road with you in the back road South, or anywhere else, especially with longish hair and a wisp of a beard), that the country was beautiful. As they entered coal country though and the shacks got crummier and crummier he got caught up in that 1960s Michael Harrington Other America no running water, outhouse, open door, one window and a million kids and dogs running around half-naked, the kids that is vision. But they got to Pottsville okay and Fiona’s cousin and husband (Laura and Stu) turned out to be good hosts. So good that they made sure that Kenny and Fiona stayed in town long enough to attend the weekly dance at the old town barn (red of course, run down of course) that had seen such dances going back to the 1920s when the Carter Family had actually come through Pottsville on their way back to Clinch Mountain.

Kenny buckled at the thought, the mere thought, of going to some Podunk Saturday night “hoe-down” and tried to convince Fiona that they should leave before Saturday. Fiona would have none of it and so Kenny was stuck. Actually the dance started out pretty well, helped tremendously by some local “white lightning” that Stu provided and which he failed to mention should be sipped, sipped sparingly. Not only that but the several fiddles, mandolins, guitars, washboards and whatnot made pretty good music. Music like Anchored in Love and Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies, stuff that he had heard in the folk clubs in Harvard Square when he used to hang out there in the early 1960s. And music that even Kenny, old two left-feet Kenny, could dance to with Fiona.

So Kenny was sipping, well more than sipping, and dancing and all until maybe about midnight when this woman, this local woman came out of nowhere and begins to sing, sing like some quick, rushing wind sound coming down from the hills and hollas (hollows for yankees, okay). Kenny begins to toss and turn a little, not from the liquor but from some strange feeling, some strange womb-like feeling that this woman’s voice was a call from up on top of these deep green hills, now mist-filled awaiting day. And then she started into a long, mournful version of Hills of Home, and he sensed, sensed strongly if not anything he could articulate that he was home. Yes, Kenny Jackson, yankee, city boy, corner boy-bred was “home,” hillbilly home. So Kenny did really hear Hazel Dickens for first time in 1970, see.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

***The Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind- “The Best Of The Chicago Blues”

CD Review

The Best Of The Chicago Blues, various artists, Vanguard Records, 1987

Johnny Prescott daydreamed his way through the music that he was listening to just then on the little transistor that Ma Prescott, Martha to adults, had given him for Christmas after he has taken a fit when she quite reasonable suggested that a new set of ties to go with his white long-sleeved shirts might be a better gift, a better Christmas gift and more practical too, for a sixteen year old boy. No, he screamed he wanted a radio, a transistor radio, batteries included, of his own so that he could listen to whatever he liked up in his room, or wherever he was, and didn’t have, understand, didn’t have to listen to some Vaughn Monroe or Harry James 1940s war drum thing on the huge immobile radio downstairs in the Prescott living room. Strictly squaresville, cubed.

But as he listened to this the Shangra-la by The Four Coins that just finished up a few seconds ago and as this Banana Boat song by The Tarriers was starting its dreary trip he was not sure that those ties wouldn’t have been a better deal, and more practical too. Ya, this so-called rock station, WAPX, had sold out to, well, sold out to somebody, because except for late at night, midnight late at night, one could not hear the likes of Jerry Lee, Carl, Little Richard, Fats, and the new, now that Elvis was gone, killer rocker, Chuck Berry who proclaimed loud and clear that Mr. Beethoven had better move alone, and said Mr. Beethoven best tell one and all of his confederates, including Mr. Tchaikovsky that rock ‘n’ roll was the new sheriff in town. As he turned the volume down a little lower (that tells the tale right there, friends) as Rainbow (where the hell do they get these creepy songs from) by Russ Hamilton he was ready to throw in the towel though .

Desperate he fingered the dial looking for some other station when he heard this crazy piano riff starting to breeze through the night air, the heated night air, and all of a sudden Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 blasted the airwaves. But funny it didn’t sound like the whinny Ike’s voice so he listened for a little longer, and as he later found out from the DJ it was actually a James Cotton Blues Band cover. After that performance was finished fish-tailing right after that one was a huge harmonica intro and what could only be mad-hatter Junior Wells doing When My Baby Left Me splashed through. No need to turn the dial further now because what Johnny Prescott had found in the crazy night air, radio beams bouncing every which way, was direct from Chicago, and maybe right off those hard-hearted Maxwell streets was Be-Bop Benny’s Chicago Blues Radio Hour. Be-Bop Benny who started Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Fats Domino on their careers, or helped.

Now Johnny, like every young high-schooler, every "with it" high schooler in the USA, had heard of this show, because even though everybody was crazy for rock and roll, just now the airwaves sounded like, well, sounded like music your parents would dance to, no, sit to at a dance, some kids still craved high rock. So this show was known mainly through the teenage grapevine but Johnny had never heard it because, no way, no way in hell was his punk little Radio Shack transistor radio with two dinky batteries going to have even strength to pick Be-Bop Benny’s live show out in Chicago. So Johnny, and maybe rightly so, took this turn of events for a sign. And so when he heard that distinctive tinkle of the Otis Spann piano warming up to Spann’s Stomp and up with his Someday added in he was hooked. And you know he started to see what Billie, Billie Bradley from over in Adamsville, meant when at a school dance where he had been performing with his band, Billie and the Jets, he mentioned that if you want to get rock and roll back you had better listen to blues, and if you want to listen to blues, blues that rock then you had very definitely had better get in touch with the Chicago blues as they came north from Mississippi and places like that.

And Johnny thought, Johnny who have never been too much south of Gloversville, or west of Albany, and didn’t know too many people who had, couldn’t understand why that beat, that da,da, da, Chicago beat sounded like something out of the womb in his head. But when he heard Big Walter Horton wailing on that harmonica on Rockin’ My Boogie he knew it had to be in his genes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

***Sweet Dreams, Baby- With Thanks to Mister Roy Orbison- The Heart Of Rock ‘n’ Roll: 1962


CD Review

The Heart Of Rock ‘n’ Roll: 1962, various artists, Time-Life Music, 1995

Sixteen and sex. No, not the in some backseat coupe down by the seashore, up some hilled lovers’ lane, or in some midnight minute motel kind, at least not yet. Just get to know her, easy know her, and let things take their course from there. No more of this frenzied, heated, beating some other guy’s time (or trying to) like he had just got finished doing with Lucy. No more Lucys, and as an amendment, make it a constitutional amendment if you want, no more dog-eat-dog fighting over girls, women, you know, frails.

That is exactly what Johnny Prescott had on his mind as noticed this cool looking frill (girl) across the field heading his way. The field being, for those not from Clintondale, unofficially known as “the meadows,” a family outing place not well-used now that they had the big Gloversville Amusement Park going full blast but just the place to go and think through, well think through, sixteen and sex, boy sixteen and sex. So he knew, knew as sure as he knew he own think through habits that this frill (girl) was also here to do some thinking. Maybe some getting over a boy think like he was getting over Lucy. Or maybe thinking that the way the boy meets girl rules were set up were just flat-out screwy. He hoped so.

And as she, this girl okay, approached he recognized her from school, from Clintondale High. At least he thought so because although the high school was fairly big it was small enough so that he should have recognized her, even if only from the “caf.” As she came very close in view he noticed that it was none other than Timmy Riley’s younger sister, Betty Ann, a sophomore a year behind him. At first he was going to pass because now that he thought about it, although it was clear that she was pretty in a second look way, and maybe a third look way too, she was known as one of those bookish-types that, well, you know were too bookish to think about sixteen year old boys and sex, or maybe boys of any age. And, well Timmy, Timmy Riley, was the star fullback on the Red Raiders football team, and who knew how he felt about his bookish sister and sexed-up sixteen year old boys.

But Johnny felt lucky, or maybe just desperate, and started to speak. But before he could get word one out Betty Ann said, “It’s a nice day for walking the meadows with nobody around. I come here when I want to think about stuff, about my future and what I want to do in the world. How about you?” Bingo, thought Johnny. I am going to talk to Betty Ann, and I’ll take my chances with Timmy- the hell with him (unless he reads this then it’s strictly only in my head, okay Timmy). And they talked and talked until almost dark. Talk-weary but still no wanting to move more than three yards from each other Johnny pulled out his transistor radio and they listened to WMEX, the be-bop, non-stop rock ‘n’ roll station that was mandatory listening for those under eighteen, those who counted.

And while listening to Roy Orbison trill out Dream Baby; Brenda Lee heart-breakingly warble All Alone Am I: Patty Cline ditto heartbreak She’s Got You; Don and Juan telegraph Johnny’s pitch line What’s Your Name; The Angels silky be-bop ‘Til; and Frank Ifield croon I Remember You Johnny and Betty Ann began what became one of the great Clintonville High romances of 1962.

Monday, July 18, 2011

***His Father’s Uniform- “The Songs That Got Us Through World War II”

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Ink Spots performing I'll Get By.

CD Review

The Songs That Got Us Through World War II, various artists, Rhino Records, 1990

Rick Roberts was curious. Not curious about everything in the world just this minute, although more than one teacher had noted on his early childhood reports cards that little characteristic, but curious about his father’s military uniform, his faded, drab, slightly moth-eaten army dress uniform, World War II version, of course. That curiousness came not from, like the usual, some daydream curiosity but the result, the this minute result, of having come across the suit in an attic closet as he was preparing to store his own not used, not much used, or merely out-of-fashion, excess clothing against time. And that time was, or rather is the time of his imminent departure for State University and his first extended time away from home.

Funny Rick knew that his father had been in World War II, had gotten some medals for his service as was apparent from the fruit salad on the uniform, and had spent a little time, he was not exactly sure on the time but his mother had told him 1950 when he asked, in the Veterans Hospital for an undisclosed aliment. But he had not heard anything beyond those bare facts from his father. Never. And his mother had insistently shh-ed him away when ever he tried to bring it up.

Oh sure Rick had been sick unto death back in the 1950s when the kitchen radio, tuned into WNAC exclusively to old-time World War II Roberts’ parent music. To the exclusion of any serious rock music like Elvis, Chuck, Little Richard and Jerry Lee, but that was parents just being parents and kicking up old torches. Especially when Frank Sinatra sang I’ll Be Seeing You, or his mother would laugh whimsically when The Andrew Sisters performed Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy or The Mills Brothers would croon Till Then. But they, Rick’s parents, never were overheard discussing that war, nor was it discussed when his father’s cronies, and fellow veterans, came over to play their weekly card games until dawn. What happened back then, what went wrong?

After having spied the uniform Rick decided it was time to ask those questions, those curiosity questions. Later it would be too late, he would be too busy raising a family of his own, or he would be doing his own military service, although he hoped not on that count. It just didn’t figure into his plans, and that was that. So with a deep breathe one evening, one Friday evening after dinner, when his father would not be distracted by thoughts of next day work, or Saturday night card games, his asked the big question. And his father’s answer- “I did what a lot of guys did, not more not less, I did it the best way I could, I saw some things, some tough things, I survived and that’s all that there is to say.” And Rick’s father said it in such a way that there was no torture too severe, no hole too deep, and no hell too hot to get more than that out of him.

Later that evening, still shell-shocked at his father’s response, as he prepared to go out with his boys for one last North Adamsville fling before heading to State, he could hear his mother softy sobbing while the pair listened on the living room phonograph to Martha Tilton warble I’ll Walk Alone, The Ink Spots heavenly harmonize on I’ll Get By, Doris Day songbird Sentimental Journey, Vaughn Monroe sentimentally stir When The Lights Go on Again, and Harry James orchestrate through It’s Been A Long, Long Time. Then Rick understood, understood as well as an eighteen year old boy could understand such things, that it was those songs that had gotten them through the war, and its aftermath. And that was all he had to know.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

***On The 75th Anniversary Of The Start Of The Spanish Civil War- All Honor to Those Who Fought On The Republican Side- In Honor Of The Working Class Militants In The Spanish Civil War- An Anniversary, Of Sorts

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). This reference is only an opening shot starting point for your investigation of this historic event.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

In Honor Of The Working Class Militants In The Spanish Civil War- An Anniversary, Of Sorts

I have noted in other posts that some of our working class anniversaries like the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik Russian Revolution of 1917, and the establishment of the Communist International are worthy of yearly commemoration. So, let us say, the 94th anniversary of the Russian revolution while awkward as a milestone is nevertheless, because of its world-historic importance (both in its establishment and its demise), an appropriate yearly commemoration. Others, like the Russian Revolution of 1905 are worthy of the more traditional five, ten and multiples observations. I have also noted previously my dismay (although that may be too strong a word) at the rise of odd-ball year anniversaries (30th, for example) and rise in the number of mundane occasions for such celebrations although I am not immune to that fever myself. Here, as the headline notes, I am observing a traditional milestone. However, the event itself, that I am observing has far less historic importance (actually far, far less importance) than as an occasion to make some point about the Spanish Civil War. The 50th anniversary designation is to commemorate the first time that I seriously studied the “lessons” of the Spanish Civil War. And the form that that study took was as the subject my very first high school term paper in 9th grade Civics class. I can hear the air being let out of the tires now. But hear me out on this one.

I make no pretense that I can zero in on when I first became interested in the subject of the Spanish Civil War but I was driven by two things in that direction- the general hatred of fascism as transmitted by family and others, the other, and this one is less precise as to origin, was a devotion to the fighters in the American-led Abraham Lincoln battalion of the 15th Brigade of the International Brigades. I believe it may have been hearing Pete Seeger doing a version of Viva La Quince Brigada but I am just not sure. In any case by the spring of 1961 I was knee-deep in studying the subject, including time after school up at the North Adamsville branch of the town’s Thomas Crane Public Library. My first stop, I remember, was looking through the Encyclopedia Americana for the entry on the Spanish Civil War for sources and then turning to the card catalogue. For those not familiar with those ancient forms of research the Encyclopedia was like the online Wikipedia today (except no collective editing, for good or evil, at a touch) and the card catalogue was just a paper version on, well, 3X5 cards, of the computerized systems in most libraries today. But enough of this history of research back in the Dark Ages because what this entry is about is the lessons of that event.

I have noted before, although here too I cannot remember all the details of the genesis of the notion, that on the subject of the Spanish Civil War I have been “haunted” (and still am) by the fact of the lost by the Republican side when in July and August of 1936 (and for about a year later as well) victory against Franco’s brutal counter-revolutionary forces seemed assured. In a sense Spain, and the various stages of my interpretation of events there, represents kind of a foundation stone for my political perspectives as I gained more understanding of the possibilities. I have, more recently, characterized 1930s Spain as the last serious chance to create a companion to the original Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia and so we had best look at its lesson closely, very closely.

Of course as a 9th grade political neophyte I was not even close to making that kind of observation just mentioned. I distinctly recall, and it was reflected in my liberal politics at that time, that the center of my argument on that term paper was the perfidy of the Western democracies in not coming to the aid of the Spanish republicans and further in not allowing the republicans to get arms from them or other sources, other than the Soviet Union. Mainly I was incensed that the British and French did not do more except cave in to Hitler when he called a tune. Now that was pretty raw stuff, pretty raw analysis, although probably not bad coming from that perspective. But depending on outside forces to save your bacon (or revolution) is always tricky and so as I moved leftward in my own political perspective I spent more time looking at the internal political dynamics driving the revolution. For an extremely long time I was under the spell (the proto-Stalinist derived spell) as articulated by the majority of the pro-republican organizations.- it was first necessary to win the war against Franco and then the revolution, presumably socialist, would be pursued under which all manner of good things like workers control of production, land to the tiller, some justice on the various national questions (Catalonia, Basque country) could take place, co-operative and collective government established, etc.

As I moved further leftward, leftward not just politically but also organizationally away from left-liberal and social democratic operations, and began to study more closely radical and revolutionary movements for social change I began to chaff under that war-revolution dichotomy and look more closely as the policies of the various organization within the republican camp. That was rather more eye-opening than not. The gist of it was that all the major organizations were working at cross purposes but most importantly they were putting brakes on the continuation of a revolutionary thrust in Spain. An so in the final analysis, although this was hardest to finally see in the cases of the CGT-FAI and POUM organizations and some individual militants, it was the failure to seek revolutionary solutions that would have galvanized the masses (or could have, rather than after 1937 left them indifferent, mainly, to the republican cause).

What was lacking? Obviously since even opponents agree there was a revolutionary situation in that period a party willing to go right to the end to achieve its goals, a Bolshevik-style party. Such things, as we are now painfully aware of, make all the different. And it is that little pearl of wisdom that makes this anniversary entry worth thinking about for the future.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

***Blowing In The Wind - With Bob Dylan In Mind

Blowing In The Wind - With Bob Dylan In Mind

Scene: Girls’ Lounge, North Clintondale High School, Monday morning before school, late September, 1962. Additional information for those who know not of girls lounges, for whatever reason. The North Clintondale High School girls’ lounge was reserved strictly for junior and senior girls, no sophomore girls and, most decidedly, no freshmen girls need come within twenty feet of the place for any reason, particularly by accident, under penalty of tumult. It was placed there for the “elect” to use before school, during lunch, after school, and during the day if the need arise for bathroom breaks, but that last was well down on the prerogatives list since any girl can use any other “lav” in the school. No queen, no lioness ever guarded her territory as fiercely as the junior and senior girls of any year, not just 1962, guarded the aura of their lounge. Needless to say the place was strictly off-limits to boys, although there had been talk, if talk it was, about some girls thinking, or maybe better, wishing, that boys could enter, after school enter. That possibility was in any case much more likely than entry by those sophomore and freshman girls, lost or not.

Now the reasoning behind this special girls’ lounge, at least according to Clintondale public school authority wisdom established so far back no one remembered who started it, although a good guess was sometime in the Jazz Age, the time of the “lost generation,” was that junior and senior girls needed some space to attend to their toilet and to adjust to the other rigors of the girl school day and, apparently, that fact was not true for the younger girls. So for that “as far back as can be remembered” junior and senior girls have been using the lounge for their physical, spiritual, demonic, and other intrigue needs.

Now the physical set- up of the place, by 1962 anyway, was that of a rather run-down throne-ante room. Remember as well this was situated in a public school so erase any thoughts of some elegant woman’s lounge in some fancy downtown Clintondale hotel, some Ritz-ish place. Within that huge multi-windowed space there were several well-used, sagging, faded couches, a few ratty single chairs, some mirrors in need of some repair and a good cleaning and a few wastepaper baskets of various sizes. Attached to this room was a smaller room, the bathroom itself with stalls, sinks, mirrors, etc the same as found in any rest room in any public building in the country. The “charm” of the place was thus in its exclusivity not its appearance.

Come Monday morning, any school day Monday morning, the ones that count, and the place was sure to be jam-packed with every girl with a story to tell, re-tell, or discount as the case may be. Also needless to say, and it took no modern sociologist, no sociologist of youth culture, post-World War II youth culture, to figure it out in even such a elitist democratic lounge there was certain pecking order, or more aptly cliques. The most vocal one, although the smallest, was composed of the “bad” girls, mainly working class, or lower, mostly Irish and Italian, cigarette-smoking, blowing the smoke out the window this September day as the weather was still good enough to have open windows. As if the nervous, quick-puff stale smells of the cigarettes were not permanently etched on the stained walls already, taking no bloodhound to figure out the No Smoking rule was being violated, violated daily. Oh yes, and those “bad” girls just then were chewing gum, chewing Wrigley’s double-mint gum, although that ubiquitous habit was not confined to bad girls, as if that act would take the smell of the cigarette away from their breathes. One girl, Anna, a usually dour pretty girl, was animatedly talking, without a seeming hint of embarrassment or concern that others would hear about how her new boyfriend, a biker from Adamsville who to hear her tell it was an A- Number One stud, and she “did it” on the Adamsville beach (she put it more graphically, much more graphically, but the reader can figure that out). And her listeners, previously somewhat sullen, perked up as she went into the details, and they started, Monday morning or not, to get a certain glean in their eyes thinking about the response when they told their own boyfriends about this one.

Less vocal, but certainly not more careful in their weekend doings talk, were the, for lack of a better term, the pom-pom girls, the school social leaders, the ones who planned the school dances and such, and put the events together in order to, no, not show their superior organizing skills, but to lure boys, the jock and social boys, into their own Adamsville beach traps. And not, like Anna and her biker, on any smelly, sandy, clamshell-filled, stone-wretched beach, blanket-less for christ sakes. Leave that for the “bad” girls. They, to a girl, were comfortably snuggled up, according to their whispered stories, in the back seat of a boss ’57 Chevy or other prestige car, with their honeys and putting it more gingerly than Anna (and less graphically) “doing it.”

And, lastly, was the group around Peggy Kelley, not that she was the leader of this group for it had no leader, or any particular organized form either, but because when we get out of the smoke-filled, sex talk-filled, hot-air Monday morning before school North Clintondale junior and senior girls’ lounge we will be following her around. This group, almost all Irish girls, Irish Catholic girls if that additional description is needed, of varying respectabilities, was actually there to attend to their toilet and prepare for the rigors of the girl school day. Oh yes, after all what is the point of being in this exclusive, if democratic, lounge anyway, they too were talking in very, very, very quiet tones discussing their weekend doings, their mainly sexless weekend doings, although at least one, Dora, was speaking just a bit too cryptically, and with just a little too much of a glean in her eyes to pass churchly muster.

And what of Peggy? Well Peggy had her story to tell, if she decided to tell it which she had no intention of doing that day. She was bothered, with an unfocused bother, but no question a bother about other aspects of her life, about what she was going to, about her place in the world to than to speak of sex. It was not that Peggy didn’t like sex, or rather more truthfully, the idea of sex, or maybe better put on her less confused days, the idea of the idea of sex. Just this past weekend, Saturday night, although it was a book sealed with seven seals that she was determined not to speak of, girls’ lounge or not, she had let Pete Rizzo “feel her up,” put his hands on her breast. No, not skin on skin, jesus no, but through her buttoned-up blouse. And she liked it. And moreover, she thought that night, that tossing and turning night, “when she was ready” she was would be no prude about it. When she was ready, and that is why she insisted that the idea of the idea of sex was something that would fall into place. When she was ready.

But as she listened to the other Irish girls and their half-lies about their weekends, or drifted off into her own thoughts sex, good idea or not, was not high on her list of activities just now. Certainly not with Pete. Pete was a boy that she had met when she was walking at “the meadows,” For those not familiar with the Clintondale meadows this was a well-manicured and preserved former pasture area that the town fathers had designated as park, replete with picnic tables, outdoor barbecue pits, a small playground area and a small restroom. The idea was to preserve a little of old-time farm country Clintondale in the face of all the building going on in town. But for Peggy the best part was that on any given day no one was using the space, preferring the more gaudy, raucous and, well, fun-filled Gloversville Amusement Park, a couple of towns over. And
so she could roam there freely, and that seemed be Pete’s idea, as well one day. And that meeting really set up what was bothering Peggy these days.

Pete was a freshman at the small local Gloversville College. Although it was small and had been, according to Pete, one of those colleges founded by religious dissidents, Protestant religious dissidents from the mainstream Protestantism of their day, it was well-regarded academically (also courtesy of Pete). And that was Pete’s attraction, his ideas and how he expressed them. They fit right in with what Peggy had been bothered by for a while. Things that could not be spoken of in girls’ lounge, or maybe even thought of there. Things like what to do about the black civil rights struggle that was burning up the television every night. (Pete was “heading south” next summer he said.) Things like were we going to last until next week if the Russians came at us, or we went after the Russians.

Also things like why was she worried every day about her appearance and why she, like an addiction, always, always, made her way to the girls’ lounge to “make her face” as part of the rigors of the girl school day. And that whole sex thing that was coming, and she was glad of it, just not with Pete, Pete who after all was just too serious, too much like those commissars over in Russia, although she liked the way he placed his hands on her. And she was still thinking hard on these subjects as she excused herself from the group as she put the final touches of lipstick on. Just then the bell rang for first period, and she was off into the girl day.

Scene: Boys’ “Lav,” Second Floor, Clintondale High School, Monday morning before school, September, 1962. (Not necessarily the same Monday morning as the scene above but some Monday after the first Monday, Labor Day, in September. In any case even if it was the same Monday as the one above that coincidence does not drive this story, other more ethereal factors do.) Additional information for those who know not of boys’ lavs, for whatever reason. The Clintondale High School boys’ rest rooms, unlike the girls’ lounge mentioned above at North, or where a similar rule applied to the girls’ lounge at Clintondale, was open to any boy in need of its facilities, even lowly, pimply freshmen as long as they could take the gaffe. Apparently Clintondale high school boys, unlike the upperclassmen girls needed no special consideration for their grooming needs in order to face the schoolboy day.

Well, strictly speaking that statement about a truly democratic boys’ lav universe was not true. The first floor boys’ lav down by the woodworking shop was most strictly off limits, and had been as far back as anyone could remember, maybe Neanderthal times, to any but biker boys, badass corner boys, guys with big chips on their shoulders and the wherewithal to keep them there , and assorted other toughs. No geeks, dweebs, nerds, guys in plaid shirts and loafers with or without pennies inserted in them, or wannabe toughs, wannabe toughs who did not have that wherewithal to maintain that chip status need apply. And none did, none at least since legendary corner boy king (Benny’s Variety version), “Slash” Larkin, threw some misdirected freshman through a work-working shop window for his mistake. Ever since every boy in the school, every non-biker, non-corner boy, or non-tough had not gone within fifty yards of that lav, even if they took shop classes in the area. And a “comic” aspect of every year’s freshman orientation was a guided finger to point out which lav not to use, and that window where that freshman learned the error of his ways. No king, no lion ever guarded his territory as fiercely as the “bad” boys did. Except, maybe, those junior and senior Clintondale girls of any year, and not just 1962, as they guarded their lounge lair.

That left the boys’ rooms on the second floor, the third floor, the one as you entered the gymnasium, and the one outside of the cafeteria for every other boy’s use. A description, a short description, of these lavs is in order. One description fits all will suffice; a small room, with stalls, sinks, mirrors, etc the same as found in any rest room in any public building in the country. Additionally, naturally, several somewhat grimy, stained (from the “misses”) urinals. What draws our attention to the second floor boys’ room this day are two facts. First, this rest room is in the back of the floor away from snooping teachers’ eyes, ears and noses and has been known, again for an indeterminate time, as the place where guys could cadge a smoke, a few quick puffs anyway, on a cigarette and blow the smoke out the back window, rain or shine, cold or hot weather. So any guy of any class who needed his fix found his way there. And secondly, today, as he had done almost every Monday before school since freshman year John Prescott and friends have held forth there to speak solemnly of the weekend’s doing, or not doings. To speak of sex, non-sex, and more often than seemed possible, of the girl who got away, damn it.

Of course, egalitarian democratic or not, even such drab places as schoolboy rest rooms have their pecking orders, and the second floor back tended to eliminate non-smoking underclassmen, non-smokers in general, serious intellectual types, non-jocks, non-social butterflies, and non-plaid shirt and loafer boys. And Johnny Prescott, if nothing else was the epitome of the plaid shirt and loafer crowd. And just like at that up-scale North Clintondale girls’ lounge come Monday morning, any school day Monday morning, the ones that count, and the place was sure to be jam-packed with every plaid-shirted, penny-loafered boy with a story to tell, re-tell, or discount as the case may be. Also needless to say, and it took no modern sociologist, no sociologist of youth culture, post-World War II youth culture, to figure it out in even such a smoky democratic setting there was a certain standardized routine-ness to these Monday mornings. And that routine-ness, the very fact of it, is why on John Prescott draws our attention this day.

And if Johnny was the king of his clique for no other reason than he was smart, but not too smart, not intellectual smart, or showing it any way, that he was first to wear plaid and loafers and not be laughed at, and he had no trouble dating girls, many notched girls, which was the real sign of distinction in second floor lav, he was a troubled plaid-ist.
No, not big troubled, but, no question, troubled. Troubled about this sex thing, and about having to have the notches to prove it, whether, to keep up appearances, you had to lie about it or not when you struck out as happened to Johnny more times than he let on (and as he found out later happened to more guys more often than not). Troubled about political stuff like what was going on down in the South with those black kids taking an awful beating every day as he saw on television every freaking night. And right next store in Adamsville where some kids, admittedly some intellectual goof kids, were picketing Woolworth’s every Saturday to let black people, not in Adamsville because there were no blacks in Adamsville, or Clintondale for that matter, but down in Georgia, eat a cheese sandwich in peace at a lunch counter and he thought he should do something about that too, except those intellectual goofs might goof on him.

And big, big issues like whether we were going to live out our lives as anything but mutants on this planet what with the Russian threatening us everywhere with big bombs, and big communist one-size-fits- all ideas. Worst, though were the dizzying thoughts of his place in the sun and how big it would be. Worst, right now worst though was to finish this third morning cigarette and tell his girl, his third new girl in two months, Julie James, that he needed some time this weekend to just go off by himself, “the meadows” maybe, and think about the stuff he had on his mind.
Scene: Clintondale Meadows, late September 1962. The features of the place already described above, including its underutilization. Enter Johnny Prescott from the north, plaid shirt, brow loafers, no pennies on this pair, black un-cuffed chinos, and against the winds of late September this year his Clintondale High white and blue sports jacket won for his athletic prowess in sophomore year. Theodore White’s The Making Of A President-1960 in hand. Enter from the south Peggy Kelly radiant in her cashmere sweater, her just so full skirt, and her black patent leather shoes with her additional against the chill winds red and black North Clintondale varsity club supporter sweater. James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain in hand. Johnny spied Peggy first, makes an initial approach as he did to most every girl every chance he got, but notices, notices at a time when such things were important in Clintondale teen high school live the telltale red and black sweater, and immediately backs off. Peggy noticing Johnny’s reaction puts her head down. A chance encounter goes for not.
That is not the end of the story though. Johnny and Peggy will “meet” again, by chance, in the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City in 1964 as they, along with other recent high school graduates, “head south.”