Friday, August 31, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- The King Of Absurdism- Albert Camus’ Short Stories- “Exile And The Kingdom”

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the French absurdist novelist Albert Camus.

Book Review

Exile and the Kingdom, Albert Camus, Vintage Books, New York, 1957

When I was young and not partially wedded to any defined ideology or specific political perspective I was crazy to read, after Jack Kerouac’s be-bop beat books,* the books, especially the short stories of the existentialists and absurdists like Sartre and Camus. Especially, after a certain time, Camus with his dagger-point little bursts of recognizable absurdity about the situational ethics of living a “normal” life in the modern (now post-modern, maybe) world. The world for me after World War II when one the one hand we faced total extinction on any given day (and still do) and unprecedented opportunities to live ten, no, one hundred times better than previous generations.

That living better, if more dangerously, was at a cost though. The cost of being merged into some vast cauldron of moral indifference, moral vacuity, or worst, as Andre Gide was probe to harp on, immorality by putting on blinkers about the fates of the several billions other humans who inhabit the planet. That is the big picture though. What Camus excelled in with his relatively short novels, and here with the selection of short stories, was the dilemmas of confronting everyday life one person at a time- sometimes winning, sometimes losing and sometimes not being quite sure, that last being a fit category for much of modern existence.

In this little book we have describe for us unhappy wives, adulterous or not, mad men and men made mad under the Algerian desert sun , angry men who are lost in a world not of their making but also one in which they have very little say over, a man who tries to do right but in the end is overwhelmed by movements, historically important movements, who finds himself however on the wrong side of history through no fault of his own, an artist who knows fame and its fifteen minutes and non-fame and its eternity, and even a “happy” ending where a man does right in this wicked old world and does not get beat down for it. Although all of these stories took place and were written over one half century ago on my recent re-reading the dilemmas presented seemed very current, very current indeed. The king of the absurdist writers, Albert Camus, writes with verve all through this set. And you wonder why I was crazy to read his stories back in the day.

(*I was reading Jeanbon’s be-bop beat down, beat around, beatitude stuff partially out of affinity to our common mill town, his Lowell, mine Olde Saco, and French-Canadian heritage, if only to spite my mother, nee LeBlanc, who cursed his name every time she saw me bring one of his books into the family house. And if she had seen Sartre or Camus books she probably would have done the same to them although they were not mill town boys and not F-C.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin –Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”-A Film Review

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin –Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”-A Film Review

DVD Review

Rear Window, starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Raymond Burr, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Paramount Pictures, 1954

Most of us who live in the city, and maybe many who live in the suburbs as well, do so to be somewhat anonymous or to escape from the prying old childhood neighborhoods when everybody knew everybody else’s business, or wanted to know it. Especially when some mother’s Johnnie or Janie did something better than your mother’s Johnnie or Janie. Harmless stuff. City or suburb though most people who want to have their privacy can have it, if they determinedly fight for it. But let’s say one is stuck in one’s urban abode (New York City urban abode, Greenwich Village urban abode to boot), one has a set of binoculars, and a very vivid photo-journalist’s (played by Jimmy Stewart) imagination (or ability to put two and two together occasionally). Then you have the plot line for an Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller like the one under review, Rear Window.

Oh, yes, throw in drop- dead beautiful model for a girlfriend (played by Grace Kelly) to help with the heavy lifting you are unable to do and you are off to the races. Oh yes, as well, throw in a nefarious evil-doer, a wife-murderer (played by Perry Mason, oops, Raymond Burr) seen across the court yard from the rear window of your confined abode and anything can happen, or almost anything. The trick is to use your strong sense of investigative powers, your Dick Tracey taught ability to put clues together and an unforgivable, yes, unforgiveable habit of putting that fetching girlfriend in harms’ way and you have an A-One film. Throw in some wit by a world-wise nurse (played by Thelma Ritter) and a skeptical police officer (played by Wendell Corey) and well that is that.

Note: Forget all that stuff about helpful girlfriends (okay, okay fiancés) being put in harm’s way by photo-op crazed journalists I have a small bone, no, a very large bone to pick with one Jimmy Stewart. Why on this good green earth would anyone in their right mind, much less a hubby-to-be, allow anyone to touch one hair on the head of one Grace Kelly. I was too young to appreciate her beauty when I was kid as I was strictly into women (oops, girls) with stick shapes and winsome toothy smiles but some women in this world are just not built for the rough stuff of city life (or suburban life for that matter). I probably just balled all of this up so let me put it this way as I have on other occasions when dealing with Grace Kelly films. One story had it that her husband, Prince Rainer of Monaco, a man not known to show much public emotion, openly wept at her funeral. Now I know why.

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin –Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder”

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder.

DVD Review

Dial M For Murder, starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly. Robert Cummings, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Warner Brothers, 1954

Hey, we are all adults here, right? So why would one ex-tennis bum, Tony (play be Ray Milland), who in the course of his professional tennis career probably had more love affairs at the courts with an off-hand wealthy matron or two than one can shake a stick at, take umbrage when his wealthy wife, Margot (played by Grace Kelly), had a little dalliance of her own. A dalliance with an off-hand smart crime novel writer a la Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, Mark (played by Robert Cummings), to boot just in order to muddy up the waters.

Well that is the plot line here in the film under review, Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder, as an ill-disposed hubby Tony finds out about the little illicit tryst and plots revenge, revenge big time. Oh no, not like some smart guy, tennis bum or not, would do by raking dear wifey through the 1950s divorce courts with good old boy Mark as correspondent. No he had to go for the big M, Mas in murder. So naturally he needed to over-plan some nefarious plot by bringing a ne’er do well (English version, naturally) in to bungle the damn thing. Bungle it big time as Margot wound up killing said unjust assassin in self-defense.

But that little turn of events became our boy Tony’s opening as he framed said wifey big time, or almost. The line-up of circumstantial he led the peelers to was just too perfect, almost. On the evidence even a half-baked lawyer should have been able to get Margot out of a murder one charge and a hard look at the gallows but it took old Mark and his dime store crime investigative skills to set things right in the end.

Note: Forget all that stuff about evidence, about wifely adulterous affairs, about a cad named Tony, and a house-wreaker named Mark. Why on this good green earth would anyone in their right minds touch one hair on the head of one Grace Kelly. I was too young to appreciate her beauty when I was kid as I was strictly into women (oops, girls) with stick shapes and winsome toothy smiles but some women in this world are just not built to face the cruel executioner’s noose. I probably just balled all of this up so let me put it this way as I have on other occasions when dealing with Grace Kelly films. One story had it that her husband, Prince Rainer of Monaco, a man not known to show much public emotion, openly wept at her funeral. Now I know why.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night-Jody Reynolds' “Endless Sleep”

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Jody Reynolds performing the classic Endless Sleep.

This blog is noted for politics mainly, and mainly the desperate political fight against various social, economic and moral injustices and wrongs in this wicked old world, although the place where politics and cultural expression, especially post-World War II be-bop cultural expression, has drawn some of my interest over the past several years. The most telling example of that interest is in the field of popular music, centrally the blues, city and country, good woman on your mind, hard working under sweating suns or noisy dust-filled factory floors, hard drinking Saturday into Sunday morning just before church blues and folk music, mainly urban, mainly protest to high heaven against the world’s injustices smite the dragon down, folk music. Of late though the old time 1950s kid, primordial, big bang, jail-break rock and roll music that set us off, the generation of ’68 from earlier generations has drawn my attention. Mostly this retro look has been by reviewing oldies CDs but here, and occasionally hereafter under this headline, specifically songs that some future archaeologists might dig up as prime examples of how we primitives lived ,and what we listened to back in the day.
"Endless Sleep"
(Jody Reynolds and Dolores Nance)

The night was black, rain fallin' down
Looked for my baby, she's nowhere around
Traced her footsteps down to the shore
‘fraid she's gone forever more
I looked at the sea and it seemed to say
“I took your baby from you away.
I heard a voice cryin' in the deep
“Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.

Why did we quarrel, why did we fight?
Why did I leave her alone tonight?
That's why her footsteps ran into the sea
That's why my baby has gone from me.
I looked at the sea and it seemed to say
“I took your baby from you away.
I heard a voice cryin' in the deep
“Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.

Ran in the water, heart full of fear
There in the breakers I saw her near
Reached for my darlin', held her to me
Stole her away from the angry sea
I looked at the sea and it seemed to say
“You took your baby from me away.
My heart cried out “she's mine to keep
I saved my baby from an endless sleep.

Endless sleep, endless sleep
I want the iPhone number and e-mail address of the person who wrote this one. Whoever that person is (or they are, as the case may be) should be made to run the gauntlet, or put on a lonely desert isle, or, and this would be real justice in this case, made to follow Socrates, who also corrupted the morals of the youth of his time. Why all the hubbub? Well, read the heart-breaking teen angst lyrics above on Endless Sleep.

Old Linc Davis (let’s call him that, although as in most cases with these 1950s teen lyrics, frustratingly, the parties are not named except things like teen angel, earth angel, johnnie angel, handy man, etc.) and his honey, Laura Pratt (again name made up to give some personality to this sketch, although it could have been Joanne, Dee-Dee, Claudette, Baby Blue, Donna, or a thousand other now quaint names) had a spat, a big one from Laura’s reaction, and then she flipped out and, as teenagers often will in a moment of overreaction to some slight, and had gone down to the seaside to end it all. Linc in desperation, once he heard what she had done, frantically tried to find her out in the deep, dark, wave-splashed night. All the while the “sea” was calling out for him to join her. (Linc, by the way, heard about Laura’s stunt from some unnamed third party according to reliable sources, some corner boy guy who it turned out later tried to take one Laura Pratt away from one Linc Davis by showing up at her door one night in his ’56 cherry Chevy revved up and she went for a ride with him. That is a story for another time though.)

And that last part, the sea-calling part that practically begs for a joint teen suicide pact is where every right thinking person, and not just enraged parents either, should, or should have put his or her foot down and gone after the lyricist’s scalp, to speak nothing of the singer of such woe begotten lines. Yah, I know old Linc saved his honey from the endless sleep but still we cannot have this stuff filling the ears of impressionable teen-agers even now. Right?

Of course, from what I heard third-hand, this quarrel that old Linc spoke of, and that Laura went ballistic over, was about whether they were going to go bowling with Linc’s guy friends (including that unnamed third party “thief” I mentioned earlier) and their girls down the old Bowl-a-drome on Saturday night or to the drive-in theater for the latest Elvis movie.

Linc, usually a mild-mannered kid, reared up at that thought of going to another bogus Elvis film featuring him, the king, riding around in a big old car, having plenty of dough in his pocket and plenty of luscious young girls ready and waiting to help him spent that dough. Of such disputes however the battle of the sexes abound, and occasionally other battles, war battles as well. However, after hearing that take on the dispute I think old Linc had much the best of it. After all after Jailhouse Rock once you have seen one totally forgettable Elvis film you have seen them all. Around our town, Elvis movies at the drive-in theater on Saturday night were strictly background for “making out” (you can figure out what that is on your own). Also off of that same take on the dispute I am not altogether sure I would have been all that frantic to go down to the seaside looking for dear, sweet Laura. Just kidding.

But that brings something up, something that I am not kidding about. Now I love the sea more than a little. But I also know about the power of the sea, about old Uncle Neptune’s capacity to do some very bad things to anyone or anything that gets in his way. From old double-high storm-tossed seawalls that crumble at the charging sea’s touch to rain-soaked, mast-toppled boats lost down under in the briny deep whose only sin was to stir up the waves. And Laura should have known that too if she lived in beach town, or nearby. So I am really ticked off, yes, ticked off, that Laura should have tempted the fates, and Linc’s fate, by pulling a bone-head water's edge stunt like that.

It reminds me, although in sharp contrast to silly Laura’s conduct, of the time that old flame, old hitchhike road searching for the blue-pink great American West night flame Angelica, old Indiana-bred, Mid-American naïve Angelica, who got so excited the first time she saw the Pacific Ocean, never having seen an ocean before, leaped right in and was almost carried away by a sudden riptide. It took all I had to pull her out. That Angelica error however was out of sheer ignorance. Laura had no excuse. When you look at it that way, and as much as I personally do no care a fig about bowling, would it really have been that bad to go bowl a couple of strings. Such are the ways of teen angst.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin-Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- A Breathe Of Fresh Air Hits The Radio Airwaves – When Elvis Was Young And Hungry And Billie Was A Madman

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Elvis performing Good Rockin’ Tonight.

“I hate Elvis, I love Elvis,” I can still hear the echo of my old “the projects” boy, the Adamsville Housing Authority apartments for those who are sticklers for exact titles but the projects for the less timid and socially realistic, William James Bradley. William James Bradley , also known as Billie, not Billy, by the way, not some common billy-goat name as he made us painfully aware if we didn’t get it right. Not if you did not want to be on the wrong side of an argument if you made the mistake of calling him Billy and after a while no one did. No kid at least. Period.

Yes, Billie from the hills, a mad demon of a kid and my best friend from about second to sixth grade down in that projects elementary school, Adamsville South. We grew apart after a while, and I will tell you why sometime, but for a long time, a long kid time long, Billie, Billie of a hundred dreams, hell maybe a thousand dreams but who kept count after a while. Billie of fifty (at least but still with no exact count) screw-ups made me laugh and made my day on many days when things were tough, like they almost always were, at my beat down broke down family house (ah, apartment). But this is not about me, my family, or that beat down family apartment so I won’t belabor the issue. This is about Billie, and the mad jail break-out craziness that Elvis created just by, well in the end, just by being Elvis.

You know though fifty some odd years later Billie was right. We hated Elvis, especially at that time when all the girls, the young girls got weak-kneed over him and he made the older girls (and women, some mothers even) sweat and throw their underwear at him and left no room, no room at all, for ordinary mortal boys, “the projects boys” most of all, on their “dream” card. And most especially, hard as we tried, for brown-haired or tow-headed, blue-eyed ten, eleven and twelve year old boys, us, who didn’t know how to dance, or sneer. We both got pissed off at my brother, my older brother by a year, James Michael, because, he looked very much like Elvis and although he had no manners, no sneer, and no time for girls, they were all following him. Christ there really is no justice in this wicked old world.

And we loved Elvis for giving us, at least as far as we knew then, our own music, our own "jump' and our own jail-break from the tired old stuff we heard on the parent-controlled radio and television but did not ‘”speak” to us. And for the songs that he left behind. Not the goofy, Tin Pan Alley or somewhere like that, inspired “happy” music that went along with his mostly maligned, and rightly so, films but the stuff from the Sun Records days, the stuff from when he was from hunger. That, as we also from hunger, was like a siren call to break-out from cheap street and then we caught his act on television and that was that. I probably walk “funny,” knees and hips out of whack, today from trying way back then to pour a third-rate imitation of his moves into my misbegotten body to impress the girls. No regrets though.

But enough of Elvis’ place in the pre-teen and teen rock pantheon this is after all about Billie, and Elvis’ twisted spell on the poor boy. Now you already know Billie, or you should, from another story, a story about how he wanted to “channel” Bo Diddley. See he was crazy for that Afro-Carib Bo beat too (much more so than I then) and wanted to, as a change of pace break from the Elvis rut that he claimed every other young boy was into in order to attract girls, create his own “style.” That was Billie, Billie to a tee, a Billie dream and of course a Billie screw-up.

Billie (and not just Billie but me and a lot of guys then) our ears screwed to the radio didn’t know that Bo was black. Hell, we thought, if we thought about it at all, everybody was white on the radio it all sounded like everybody was bouncing to the non-parent approved same beat. (It was only when we madly dashed home after school to watch American Bandstand that we started to become race conscious.) Well, in hard, hard post-World War II Northern white "the projects" filled to the brim with mainly unspoken racial animosity (and not directly observable since there were not blacks there, and maybe not in the whole town) learned the hard way. Poor unknowing Billie one church dance night when he started singing the crazy beat song Who Do You Love? For a crowd of girls got blasted away by one of the older, more knowing boys about wanting to emulate a n----r for his troubles.

That sent Billie, Billie from the hills, back to Elvis pronto. See, Billie was desperate to impress the girls way before I was aware of them, or their charms. Half, on some days, three-quarters of our conversations (I won’t say monologues because I did get a word in edgewise every once in a while when Billie got on one of his rants) revolved around doing this or that, something legal something not, to impress the girls. And that is where the “hate” part mentioned above comes in again. Billie believed, and he may still believe it today wherever he is, that if only he could approximate Elvis’s looks, look, stance, and substance that all the girls would be flocking to him.

Needless to say, such an endeavor required, requires money, dough, kale, cash, moola whatever you want to call it. And what twelve year old project boys (that’s the age time of this story, about late 1957, early 1958) didn’t have, and didn’t have in abundance was any of that do-re-mi. And no way to get it from missing parents, messed up parents, or just flat out poor parents. Billie’s and mine were the later, poor as church mice. No that‘s not right because church mice (in the way that I am using it, and as we used it back then to signify the respectable poor who “touted” their Catholic pious poorness as a badge of honor in this weary old world) would not do, would not think about, would not even breathe the same air of what we were about to embark on. A life of crime, kid stuff crime but I'll leave that to the reader’s judgment.

See, on one of Billie’s rants he got the idea in his head, and, maybe, it got planted there by something that he read about Elvis (Christ, he read more about that guy that he did about anybody else once he became an acolyte), that if he had a bunch of rings on all his fingers the girls would give him a tumble (a tumble in those days being a hard kiss on the lips for about twelve seconds or “copping” a little feel, and if I have to explain that last expression in more detail then you had better just move on).

But also see Billie’s idea was that if he has all those rings, especially for a projects boy then it would make his story that has set to tell easier. And that story was none other than he wrote to Elvis (possible) and spoke man to man about his situation (improbable) and Elvis, Elvis the king, Elvis from nowhere Mississippi like we were from the nowhere projects, Elvis bleeding heart, had sent him these rings to give him a start in life (outrageously impossible.) Christ, I don’t believe old Billie came up with that story even now when I am a million years world-weary.

But first you needed the rings and as the late honorable bank robber, Willie Sutton, said about robbing banks-that’s where the money is-old Billie, blessed, beatified Billie, figured out, and figured out all by himself, that if you wanted to be a ring stealer that you better go to the jewelry store because that is where the rings are. Now the reader, and rightly so, now, might ask where was his best buddy during this time and why was he not offering wise counsel about the pitfalls of crime and the virtues of honesty and incorruptibility. Well, when Billie got off on his rant you just waited to see what played out. The real reason though was, hell, maybe I could get a ring for my ring-less fingers and be on my way to impress the girls too. I think they call it, or could call it, aiding and abetting.

But enough of that superficial moralizing. Let’s get to the jewelry store, the best one in the downtown of the working class town we were appendaged to (literally so because the projects were located on a one road in and out peninsula). We walked a couple of miles to get there, plotting all the way. Bingo the Acme Jewelry Store (or some name like that) jumped up at us. Billie’s was as nervous as a colt and I was not far behind, although on this caper I was just the “stooge”, if that. I was to wait outside to see if John Law comes by. Okay, Billie, good luck. And strangely enough his luck was good that day, and many days after, although those days after were not ring days. That day his haul was five rings. Five shaky rings, shaky hands Billie, as we walked, then started running, away from the down town area.

When we got close to home we stopped near the beach where we lived to see up close what the rings looked like. Billie yelled, “Damn.” And why did he yell that word. Well, apparently in his terror (his word to me) at getting caught he just grabbed what was at hand. And what was at hand were five women’s rings. Now, how are you going to impress girls, ten, eleven or twelve year old girls, even if they were as naïve as us, and maybe more so, that Elvis is you bosom buddy and you are practically his only life-line adviser with five women’s rings? Damn, damn is right.

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin With Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” In Mind

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Bob Dylan performing Like A Rolling Stone.

Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment:

As I mentioned in the first installment of this series in this space, provided courtesy of my old yellow brick road magical mystery tour merry prankster fellow traveler, Peter Paul Markin, who seemed to think I still had a few things to say about this wicked old world, recently, in grabbing an old Bruce Springsteen CD compilation from 1998 to download into my iPod I came across a song that stopped me in my tracks, Brothers Under The Bridge. I had not listened to or thought about that song for a long time but it brought back many memories from the late 1970s when I did a series of articles for the now defunct East Bay Eye (California, naturally) on the fate of some troubled Vietnam veterans who, for one reason or another, could not come to grips with “going back to the real world” and took, like those a Great Depression generation or two before them, to the “jungle”-the hobo, bum, tramp camps located along the abandoned railroad sidings, the ravines and crevices, and under the bridges of California, mainly down in Los Angeles, and created their own “society.”

These sketches have been done on an ad hoc basis, although the format of this story here follows those of the “Brothers Under The Bridge” series previously posted .The editor of the East Bay Eye, Owen Anderson, gave me that long ago assignment after I had done a smaller series for the paper on the treatment, the poor treatment, of Vietnam veterans by the Veterans Administration in San Francisco and in the course of that series had found out about this band of brothers roaming the countryside trying to do the best they could, but mainly trying to keep themselves in one piece. My qualifications for the assignment other than empathy, since I had not been in the military during the Vietnam War period, were based simply on the fact that back East I had been involved, along with several other radicals, in running an anti-war GI coffeehouse near Fort Devens in Massachusetts and down near Fort Dix in New Jersey. During that period I had run into many soldiers of my 1960s generation who had clued me in on the psychic cost of the war so I had a running start.

After making connections with some Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) guys down in L.A. who knew where to point me I was on my way. I gathered many stories, published some of them in the Eye, and put the rest in my helter-skelter files. A while back, after having no success in retrieving the old Eye archives, I went up into my attic and rummaged through what was left of those early files. I could find no newsprint articles that I had written but I did find a batch of notes, specifically notes from stories that I didn’t file because the Eye went under before I could round them into shape.

The ground rules of those long ago stories was that I would basically let the guy I was talking to give his spiel, spill what he wanted the world to heard, and I would write it up without too much editing (mainly for foul language). I, like with the others in this series, have reconstructed this story here as best I can although at this far remove it is hard to get the feel of the voice and how things were said.

Not every guy I interviewed, came across, swapped lies with, or just snatched some midnight phrase out of the air from was from hunger. Most were, yes, in one way or another but some, and the one I am recalling in this 1979 sketch had an off-beat story, hell in this case very off-beat, that brought him down to the ravines. But see he, Allan “Red” Bradley (hereafter called Red, the only name he would answer to from friend or foe alike after about age ten he informed me) out of the low red clay back water tobacco road North Carolina night, like Jean LeBlanc whose story I have already related and a lot of other guys I ran into did not want to talk about ‘Nam, about his war- weary troubles in the “real world” or about how he got himself hoboed up a continent away. He, they, seemed to “enjoy” some amnesia net over that ‘Nam period and who was to blame them for what they saw, and did. No Red wanted to talk about the time just after Vietnam, early 1970s time, the time when he was the be-bop daddy (his term) of the Fayetteville (NC), Fort Meade (MD) and Fort Devens (MA) night with the girls (women, my term), a time when if he had made few right moves inside his head or left before all hell broke loose over his head, or something like that things might have been different. I like to finish up these introductions placing these sketches under a particular sign; no question Red Bradley’s sign was that of the rolling stone:

That night, that night a few months after it had all turned utterly bad back in 1975 maybe a little into 1976, I had dreamed of two brunettes, two blondes and a red-head, jesus, cut the dream cord, cut it quick because I am about to be sick, sick from some jumped up snow, snow the current dream cutter. Yah, it all started with that dream, that five girl, three-colored dream but that was just the candy-coated cover, the real story you don’t want to hear, maybe but it, that dream got me to thinking about back in the day rolling stone stuff (and, no, not the band, and, no, not some mad Dylan troubadour riff thing connecting me with my, his, their generation). But the dream reoccurred, reoccurred with that same quintet, and an absurd mystery about a guy in a hungry night, and nowhere to go, and nowhere to deal with five snow dream figures, what was it, yes, two brown, two yellow, one red, hair color not skin. That was the start, that was the reoccurring start, but that was not the story, not by a long shot. Lets’ call it a snow dream, a dope dream it could have been any addiction- affliction but let’s just call it by its right name, a snow dream, and be done with it.

[Kenny Jackson, whose story I have already related previously and who travelled with Red for a few months around the mean streets of L.A. and was close to him at the time of this story because Red was in Kenny’s words a “colorful guy,” clued me in on Red’s way of talking, of making a grand gesture before he got to serious stuff. When I reviewed my notes to try to bring life to Red’s story I at first forgot about that comment and could make neither heads nor tails out of the following lines until I remembered Kenny’s remark. Of course Red, kind of a smart guy in a street way, maybe half- smart, and we will leave it as that had to preface his whole spiel by making the following remarks which, according to my notes, he insisted be included. The remarks moreover were made after Kenny had gotten Red sobered up for a couple of months so he thought he was king of the world. Sober here, by the way, when referenced by the veterans in these sketches is all inclusive-alcohol, drugs, love, hate, cons, etc. –JLB]

If you, as I do even now while I am out here on the wild streets of L.A. trying to make my comeback, even now when my soul is fresh, every once in a while as least from a comfortable distance need to hear about boozers, losers, dopesters, snow dreams, hipsters, fallen sisters, midnight sifters, grifters, drifters, the driftless, small-time grafters, hoboes, bums, tramps, the fallen, those who want to fall, Spanish Johnnies, stale cigarette butts, whiskey-soaked barroom floors, loners, the lonely, sad sacks, the sad and others at the margins of society then this is your stop. Red Bradley is going to give it to you straight, straight as a crooked man knows how. I was one of them, one of the snow birds, and I fell, fell big time.

My words, maybe, are an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring when I gather myself up to storm heaven looking for busted black-hearted angels, for blonde girls with Monroe lips or maybe Joni Mitchell falling hair, for brunettes who had sense to quit while they were ahead with or without falling hair, for demon red-heads with old time neighborhood Irish hearts and poet’s souls, for the desperate out in forsaken woods who need to hold on to something, and for all the misbegotten. Christ almighty for all the misbegotten.

Endless tramp, no, bum and note the difference, walked streets, waiting for the next fix. Waiting really for some god miracle, some murmured pray sacrilege and redemption seeking miracle. Waiting for all the accumulated messes of this world, this made world to seep into the gutter. Waiting for all past history, all past memoir better, all past sorrows, given and received, all pass two roads taken, wrong road chosen, all personal hurts, given and taken, all past vanities to break down in the means streets, and closure. No, not closure, relief. Waiting, yah, waiting but to no avail. And so all roads, chosen and unchosen closed, all forward turned back, all value devalued, all this ….

[After that Red got serious-okay]

Jesus, for a few years after ‘Nam I had it made, had it made in the shade with women. Let me tell you before ‘Nam I had a fistful of girls, total, since the time I started noticing them, noticing their shapes turning along with my own desires. Nice big-hearted red-headed neighborhood Irish girls not afraid to smite god late on Saturday night before showing up chaste, virgin mary chaste, I promise, for early Sunday mass, sometimes with me in tow just to prove their conquests and their sullen virtue. Irish girls too, not big-hearted, brunettes usually maybe with some heathen English blood in them ,with a handful of rosary beads in one hand and blushed unfulfilled lust in their hearts, and minus me in tow. Later a few off-hand blondes with loose morals and big time Monroe dreams and nice Jewish girls off on their first goy adventures looking, looking hard, for some fierce blue-eyed devil, and finding him.

I wasn’t complaining about how few I had then and I am not now but after ‘Nam was the best women time. See after ‘Nam, oh around late 1971 and 1972, I got involved with some anti-war stuff, with Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) stuff because some of the stuff I saw in ‘Nam just freaked me out, and some of the stuff me and my buddies did too. But I don’t want to get into war stories. I want to get into anti-war stories because that is the only way you’ll make sense of what I am saying.

See I would go to G.I. coffeehouses that had been springing up all over the place near military bases around that time and talk to guys still in and all that. I went on speaking tours sometimes and with my southern accent and my anti-war war “cred” guys would listen up to me for a minute. But the real deal was the chicks [read: women] who started hanging around the coffeehouses after getting tired of just marching in the streets every spring and fall and wanted to be around guys who had seen it all and lived to tell about it. Why I still don’t know and I didn’t care as long as they gave me a tumble. I did that speaking and organizing stuff for a couple of years around Fort Bragg down in North Carolina and Fort Meade in Maryland. Then I headed further north to Fort Devens in Massachusetts. [He had been there about two years after I helped start that one. It was weird to meet him in L.A. several years later along an abandoned ravine, right.] That was where things started to fall apart.

See Boston and Cambridge (the nearest big city action to Fort Devens) was filled with women who, like I said before, wanted to be around guys who had seen it all. So it was like taking candy from a baby, sort of. Those were the days when you could be seeing several chicks at one time, unlike back before ‘Nam when unless you were very careful one guy, one girl was strictly the norm out in open anyway. So I loaded up with my standard two blondes, two brunettes, and my always needed one red-head.

The thing though as the American government started to pull everybody out of Indochina the anti-war movement and the dough for anti-war coffeehouses started to dry up. But I wasn’t quick enough on the draw to put two and two together. Hell, I didn’t want to. And here is why. After a couple of soft years and with all the chicks I wanted I began to get a feeling that the world owed me a living, a soft touch living and so I lived off some of those five women in the dream. Sometimes at the same time, sometimes separately.

Then the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or whatever they wanted to call it at the V.A. hospital kicked in. Anyway between the anti-war action dying down and not having much to do otherwise and having my hands full with the chicks I started doing some serious cocaine. Yah, the snow bird, “my girl,” my real girl. I had had a few tastes in ‘Nam but in those days I was strictly a boozer, a whiskey and water chaser guy. I didn’t really like or understand the potheads, opium-eaters and junkies. Not then.

Coke was cheap mainly except you needed about a ton of it to feel alright all the time. And I needed a ton of it because I needed to feel alright all the time after a while. And that is where things really got busted up. I was “borrowing” money like crazy from one chick or another. I had a regular “Ponzi” scheme going at one point. I would borrow a hundred from one, buy my goods, and then borrow another hundred from another chick to pay the first chick back and so on.

I was also running some dope myself through a connection down Sonora way in Mexico “pimping” a couple of so-so girlfriends (not the five) to make ends meet after a while. Christ I was “muling” them and myself a few times just to score some dope. One time I almost wound up face down in a dusty Sonora back alley, like I guy I knew in Cambridge, when I tried to go “independent.” Jesus, that was close and every once in a while I think about that poor bastard who they found face down in that damn alley and think that could have been me. That pimping thing by the way was not some professional thing but just telling the chicks to sleep with some dope-dealers in return for dope. They were serious hopheads too as that was what gravitated toward you, or clung to you, on the way down. Still it was pimping and I am sorry about that part.

At some point the thing got weird, real weird, maybe after a few months as I started losing girlfriends, the real ones, one after the other until one day I finally realized through a snow storm that I had gone from five to zero and the cheap streets of Boston, friendless.

Here is how I remember that descent, or part of it- Five AM, dark turning to a shade lighter, after a hard ground under the Eliot Bridge bed night, cold October cold with all newspapers, Herald, Globe, upscale New York Times used for a pillow and for ground cover yelling about some guy named Jimmy Carter and about how he is saved. [Must have been 1975-76 or there about.] Running for president too. The guy will need more saving that I need I thought. Ironic though, just that minute when I needed to be saved. Lord saved, mercy saved, some humble Marcia (my main squeeze and the one who stuck it out longest, a brunette) saved (although I did not know it, know it for a very long time, too long and too late).

Long walk along the Charles River, supermarket double brown bag (laughed at Mexican luggage we used to call it) for all worldly possessions. A tee shirt, maybe two, underwear, socks, a half rank pair of pants , another shirt to match the one I was wearing, a comb, and a bar of soap, Dial, and done. All worldly possessions reduced almost to grave size.

Long walk to safe downtown Greyhound bus station men’s wash room stinking to high heaven of seven hundred pees, six hundred laved washings, and five hundred wayward unnamed, unnamable smells, mainly rank. My street bathroom, a splash (unlike those ocean wave splashes on ancient dream North Carolina cape wind nights now faded) of water on the face, some precious soap, paper towel for a wash cloth, haphazard combing (hell, I was not entering a beauty contest, jesus, no), some soap under the tee shirt for underarms and done. Worldly beauty done.

Out the door, walk the streets, walk the streets until, until noon, until five, until lights out under some other Eliot Street Bridge bungalow (switched nightly to avoid cop riffs and fellow tramp rip-offs). Walk, stopping for an occasional library break , for a quick nod out, really, and quick read, not some political book though, those days, Genet, Celine, Burroughs, Kerouac (not On The Road magic but Big Sur traumas), and such self-help books. (Ironic.)

And minute plan, plan, plan, plain mex paper bag in hand holding, well, holding life, plan for the next minute, no, the next ten seconds until the deadly impulses subside. Then look, look hard, for safe harbors, lonely desolate un-peopled bridges, some gerald ford-bored newspaper-strewn bench against the clotted hobo night snores. Waiting for the next fix. Desolation row, no way home.

And then, half sneaking out of town, half desperate to get away and start fresh I walked to the entrance of the Massachusetts Turnpike near the Coca-Cola warehouse in Cambridge put my thumb out and started heading west, west anywhere west. With genetic memories of two brunettes, two blondes and a red head permanently etched in my brain to disturb my sleep.

[When I last heard from Kenny Jackson in late 1979 he had not heard from Red in several months. The only conclusion he, or I, could draw was that Red had gone back to his snow dreams. That was the way things were out in the ravine world. After than I lost contact with Kenny (who was putting his life in order) as well so there is on ending one way or the other to this story.]

Monday, August 27, 2012

Out In The Be-Bop Night-Scenes From Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night-Neola Blues

Christ, this is something out of a Woody Guthrie ballad, maybe Pastures Of Plenty where he talks about all the crops that migrant farm laborers pull out of the earth’s soil as they proceed through the harvest season cycle, I thought to myself as I helped Angelica bring her things down from the farm-fresh cab of that farm-fresh truck that I just jumped down from, as we started heading to our new "home." In this case a small, simple, solidly built and well-maintained white-painted cabin on a huge corn stalk-waved, yellow-sunned Neola, Iowa farm where I was to sweat it out for a few days (and maybe more) doing farm labor until I could get enough money for us to move on. Hell, we were down to our last pennies, pennies that we thought would last us until Denver where I had some friends who we could stay with and who had jobs for us but that dream petered away well before Neola, Iowa.

Now we are at the mercy of Farmer Brown. I swear that was his name and that was how he wanted to be addressed by me out in the fields, probably some old Protestant remnant Mennonite, Hutterite heretic custom that got carried along because nobody thought to change it with the change of centuries. When he picked us up many miles back he must have had some ESP sense that we needed dough, and that he had some "wetback", Okie-Arkie-like-we-were-back-in-the-Great-Depression-1930s help at hand if he played his cards right.

On top of that to say things were strained, strained in comparison to idyllic Steubenville cottage nights, Prestonsburg mad mountain hi-jinx and Lexington great American night thrills, between Angelica and I since we had our Moline meltdown would be an understatement. If you don’t know that story, that Moline story, you had really better go back and read that one, if you want to understand how the road, even the voluntarily taken good night hitchhike road can twist things around. This strain between us was not, as you might think, the way that I have presented things, mainly because I had not been a good "hubby" provider. Rather because now that we were hard into September, had been on the road a couple of months, and all around us school and life were starting back up in their usual annual build-up season Angelica, I believe, sensed that the road, the real road, was not for her, at least not until she had gotten a better grasp of what her dreams were all about. Frankly, most of this had been unspoken on both our parts, more glances and sighs as things got tougher, but I couldn’t help but think that I had spooked her a little bit with that Captain Cob story in Moline, the so-called "real" story of the quest for the blue-pink great American West night. That’s another good reason to read that scene.

Let's get it straight though. Straight as the Iowa corn rows which are now stretched out to infinity before me as I look over at the fields directly across from our new cabin home. As I have told this on-going tale you could see the build-up of some tension between Angelica and me as we drove on, especially since we left Lexington, Kentucky. And that seemed the right way to tell you about it. I haven't spent much time filling you in until now about the things that round out the story and bring us to the current seeming impasse. Or about things that were going on in Big Earth time, like the Woodstock breakout gathering of youth nation back East, guys, guys from NASA nation, walking on the moon in the great Earth breakout, guys and gals in the great Stonewall gay breakout in New York City or the Days of Rage white lumpen breakout in Chicago while we were hell bend west and earth-bound. That Big Earth stuff you know, or can look up. Let me tell about the personal stuff though and then you can see why I used that word impasse.

Let me tell you, for example, about the tearful telephone calls home (collect calls, okay) that Angelica had periodically made back to Muncie and her parents. Tearful not because she was on the road against her will but tearful because her parents were raising holy hell that she was out on the road; that she was out of the road with no car; that she was out on the road with a "hippie", Bolshevik, dragon, beast, you can fill in the rest; and, that she was out on the road with a guy who, unquestionably, was up to some kind of nefarious scheme to corrupt their daughter's virtue. Angelica was good though, she defended her "gentleman hippie." But, of late, I had noticed that when she finished on the phone (usually a pay phone out on some desolation highway or in some noisy Main Street store) when she gave me an instant replay on the conversation she seemed to defense her "old man" of the road less and less fervently as she has gotten more road-weary.

Of course I had been running my own "battles" with the phone as I had, occasionally, been calling back to Boston to check in with my friends, and once or twice with the, in my new mind's eye view of things increasingly delightful, Joyell. Hey, I'd told Angelica about Joyell in the beginning (what hadn't we talked about, at least superficially, since we had spent so many hours on the road) and about my runaways so she knew the score (as I did on a special guy that she mentioned from back in Muncie). See, like I said before when I didn't tell Angelica about the blue-pink great American West quest until my back was to the wall in Moline, it was never clear where we were heading except we liked each other, liked each other’s company and wanted to be together for a time. The problem right that minute was that I wanted to be on the road and I had this sneaking feeling that Angelica had some little white house and picket fence ideas, or what passed for those ideas out of 1960s Muncie.

And, of course, I haven't told you about the various running battles we had over this and that on the road because frankly this is a story about a quest and not about the kind of stuff that happens in everyday life to everybody and their brother (or sister). Not sexy enough, okay? You know what I mean though little stuff like having her thumb to get quick rides when she was feeling blue, or stopping or not stopping soon enough so she didn’t get too tired. Or real life stuff like having to get to a motel, cheapjack motel or not, so she could wash her hair the right way, etc. and feel human for a few minutes. Sound familiar, sure it does. But the big thing was that the road was a lot harder than she expected, a lot harder than she wanted, and a lot harder than she was willing to put up with. Especially when, like just before we hit dear old Neola, we had no dough, and no prospects to anchor us. Still Angelica was an old pioneer trouper when the deal went down, a Midwest pioneer trouper and that ain’t no lie. I had had no better road companion before or since. She just didn’t want to do it endlessly. But never forget, because I surely don’t, that it was only those times, those mad breakout times, that allowed us to even hook up at all.

I guess I should tell you about the money deal now because that tells a lot about why we were at odds with each other, although like I said before it was more a feeling than anything she had said, at least said since the Moline meltdown. After Moline our luck went from bad to worse as the weather just plain got balky after a few days of clear skies. That meant more cheapjack motels, and more unexpected cash outlay to take us off course, and then our rides started to dry up. About half way through Iowa we were hitching on this state Route 44 that takes you across to Route 191 and then to Neola (and Omaha, Nebraska further on). This farm-fresh guy (Farmer Brown) offered us a ride in his big old hay truck (okay I won't use farm-fresh anymore you get the drift but I swear I had never seen so much flat, cultivated, green and yellow scenery before. I thought I died and went to Grant Wood heaven.). Right away, like I said, he sized us up as from hunger and offered us jobs (or at least me) working to bring in the now ready crop. A ride west, a job of sorts, a place to stay, and a place to rest up and sort things out just hit both of us at the same time as right. We said sure thing. And that is why we were then unloading Angelica's backpack on the ground in front of this tiny lean-to of a cabin on old Farmer Brown's farm.

But here is the kicker, for now. No sooner had we got settled into our new "home" (which actually turned out to be cozy in a primitive way) old Farmer Brown called us out and asked Angelica whether she wanted to work at Aunt Betty's diner in town. Be still my heart. Of course, old hand at serving them off the arm Angelica (about six weeks’ worth) to do her part in jump-starting our future said sure. So off we went in Farmer Brown's Cadillac (that should tell you something) to downtown Neola. In those days (and maybe now too for all I know) this Neola was nothing but a huge grain storage place for all the wheat and corn farmers in western Iowa, a couple of stores and, of course, Aunt Betty's, which seemed to be the hub of the universe here, at least until they rolled up the streets at dusk.

Aunt Betty's, and Aunt Betty herself, however, were something else again.
Think about your grandmother, think about your grandmother's cooking, think about your grandmother's wisdom, think about your grandmother not being your hardball mother that was Aunt Betty, and Aunt Betty's. See that was why these old time farmers hung around there. Hell that was why I hung around there for the time we were there. This was no highway truck stop feed the buggers whatever calories you want because they are moving on anyway and they are so benny-high that they will not notice but some kind of slice of Norman Rockwell America. This was a place of stews, of chicken pot pies, of pot roasts, of Indian puddings, a place to get corn-fed mid-American-sized not emaciated Eastern-dieted. You could practically smell the old-fashioned values in the place, you could feel as you sat in the hand-woven cushioned chairs and tucked in your monogrammed linen, yes, your monogrammed linen napkin, that you were in some other time, a place worthy of the blue-pink night if only it was further west, like California west, but if it was there then it would not be a real Aunt Betty's.

But enough of nostalgia. The main thing is that Aunt Betty immediately took to Angelica, a fellow Midwestern pioneer woman, even if from different generations. I think, or I like to think, that what Aunt Betty kind of instinctively saw in Angelica was what I saw that first night in Steubenville -what you see is what you get. And what you saw and got was just fine. Toward me she granted a certain scornful tolerance because of Angelica, and her "silly" whim for an eastern hippie boy. Yah, Aunt Betty was, maybe, the last of that breed of Iowa women that filled a man’s stomach but also took no guff from friend or foe, alike. At least the last time I spent any time in Iowa a few years ago I didn’t see any Aunt Bettys, all huge corporate farms and peon stoop labor now and no time for slow simmering stews and homemade pot pies.

So Angelica, who was the talk of the diner for days as the old geezers finally had something nice to look at while they were downing their pot roast and, despite all high Protestant caution, lazily lingering over that refilled cup of coffee (coffee pot brewed, naturally). And the nice tips to accompany those looks didn’t hurt either. What I didn’t know though, is that through all of this time Aunt Betty was killing my time (meaning putting the bug in Angelica’s ear about getting off the road). Then I was kind of mad about it, especially when as we overstayed the time when we thought we would have to leave (to avoid the October Denver-bound squalls) old Aunt Betty mentioned it in my presence. Now I can see that it was nothing against me but just an old grandma watching out for her granddaughter. Fair enough, wise Aunt Betty wherever you are.

And how was my work going back on Maggie’s, I mean, Farmer Brown’s farm. Well, I have done all kinds of odd jobs, and worked a fair number of excessive hours but life on a farm, a big prosperous farm, come harvest time was really beyond me, although old Brown never complained about my work and getting to know him a little better he surely would have if he had cause for complain. But after about ten days I was ready to move on, and get the cow shavings and corn shucks out of my system.

Needless to say, at night, each night it seemed the longer we stayed, Angelica and me, tried to put the best face on it but I have not built up this story in just this way to now avoid a parting of the ways. Between road-weariness, Aunt Betty urgings, parental moanings, a few road bumps and bruises, her own highly developed Midwestern practical sense, and her own worthy dreams Angelica put it straight one night when I was getting antsy about making tracks before bad weather set in the rockymountainwest. She was going home, going back to school to see how that worked out and she would meet me out in Los Angeles in January during school break to see where we stood. Fair enough, although that is just a little too easy way to put it. I saw the sense of it though, and was thrilled that she would come west later. That night we started to pack up after I told Farmer Brown we were moving on.

Next day old Aunt Betty showed up at the cabin in her vintage 1930s pickup truck, something out of The Grapes of Wrath except this beauty was well-kept up. She already knew about Angelica’s decision and came to offer us a ride to Omaha where Angelica could catch a bus back to Muncie and I could pick up Interstate 80 West. We drove to the bus station in Omaha in some silence, only speaking about various addresses where we could be reached at in Denver, Los Angeles and Muncie and other trivia. Finally we got to the Greyhound station; Aunt Betty let us off, and went off to wait to give me a ride to Interstate 80. With mixed emotions Angelica and I made our farewells. I felt strange, and maybe Angelica did too, to part in a bus station.

Bus stations to me always meant paper-strewn bench sleeps, tepid coffees and starched foods, noisy, smelly, sweat-filled men’s rooms that spoke to infrequent cleanings and paper bag luggage poverties. But there we were. I put her on the bus, waited for it to pull out, and then headed to Aunt Betty’s pickup truck. As she drove the short distance to the entrance to Interstate 80 Aunt Betty said in her Aunt Betty way that she thought I was probably the best thing that ever happened to Angelica, and Angelica thought so too. We came to the highway entrance too soon for me to pick up on that idea. All I had was the blue-pink west road and that thought to keep me warm as I got out of the truck.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin-Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Out In The Adventure Car Hop Night

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Dubs performing the classic Could This Be Magic? to set the mood for this piece.

Now 1957 was a good year for rock, for "boss" cars, and for car hops if you could keep them, the car hops that is, at least that was what some of the older guys told me later. Of course all such details about “hot” car hops as were related should have been taken with the grain of salt, although they were not always by me anyway. To heard some of the talk, and here I am thinking of my old time high school corner boy king, Frankie Riley, these hard-pressed and abused young women could hardly keep their hands off these guys rather than worry about getting the orders right, did you have a Coke with that burger or Pepsi?, that kind of stuff which was probably more like it. But the pressure, the male peer pressure to come up with spicy (and improbable) tales at before school Monday boys’ “lav” bull sessions dictated such fables. Rightly so, as well, if you wanted to be “cool,” including some tall tales told by this writer.

In 1957 though my drive-in restaurant experiences were limited to, when we had a car, a working car in our family which was an iffy proposition at best, sitting in the back seat of some beat up sedan, maybe a Hudson or Studebaker strictly from hunger, waiting during the daytime (the night belonged to the teens and no self-respecting or smart parent would bring tender children to such a devils’ den place at night) for some cold plastic hamburger with fries. Coke or Pepsi (although I graduated to Robb’s Root Beer, a local elixir, at some point because that is all I would drink for soda (then called tonic in New England). Jesus.

But the music was on fire that year as the breakout of the previous couple of years hit the pre-teen (me and my boys) audience that was just as starved for its own not good housekeeping-parent-seal-of-approval music as the older kids. Swiveling Elvis, duck-walking Chuck Berry, Mad man piano buster Little Richard, Bo Diddley (who made a very early and strong claim with that Afro-Carib beat and that incredible drum line to be the guy, the mad monk, who put the rock in rock and roll), Jerry Lee also busting up the black and whites, and a ton of other talent was hitting the airwaves so that if you tired of hearing one song after the one thousandth consecutive playing on your record player you could move right on.

Some years in those days, I believe reflecting banner years, had a ton of good stuff to listen to and in line with that premise one would today find multiple CDs (with about twenty plus songs on each one remember the songs then were about two and one half minutes or so) dedicated to the greatest hits for that year. For 1957, which had at least a magic two CDs worth we were in very heaven because one could hardly do the trick with just one CD. No way. Stick outs then included Chuck Berry’s Rock & Roll Music (Christ, he had about ten hits in those years and most of them still crank up the teen-memory dark night air with their electricity); The Platters’ classic last dance, school dance I’m Sorry (oh, please, please save that last dance for me certain she that I have eyed until my eyes got sore all night, and she, certain she, peeked at me too); Little Richard’s Jenny, Jenny (another guy who had a ton of hit in a short period, although they haven't worn as well as Chuck's); and Fats Domino’s Blue Monday (yah, back to school days Monday blahs, except for Monday morning boys' "lav" bragging rights if that certain she I just mentioned really did mean to look my way for that last dance, otherwise why have a Monday anyway). Those are just the icing on the cake to make you (me) wish, wish to high heaven that I was older, and had a boss ’57 Chevy so I too could take a run at those car hops and complain, also to high heaven, about those plastic hamburgers and fries to someone that mattered.

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin- Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night-Mark Dinning's "Teen Angel"

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Mark Dinning performing Teen Angel.

This American Left History blog is noted for politics mainly, and mainly the desperate political fight against various social, economic and moral injustices and wrongs in this wicked old world, although the place where politics and cultural expression, especially post-World War II be-bop cultural expression, has drawn some of my interest over the past several years. The most telling example of that interest is in the field of popular music, centrally the blues, city and country, good woman on your mind, hard working under sweating suns or noisy dust-filled factory floors, hard drinking Saturday into Sunday morning just before church blues and folk music, mainly urban, mainly protest to high heaven against the world’s injustices smite the dragon down, folk music. Of late though the old time 1950s kid, primordial, big bang, jail-break rock and roll music that set us off, the generation of ’68 from earlier generations has drawn my attention. Mostly this retro look has been by reviewing oldies CDs but here, and occasionally hereafter under this headline, specifically songs that some future archaeologists might dig up as prime examples of how we primitives lived ,and what we listened to back in the day.
"Teen Angel"
(Jean Surrey & Red Surrey)
Teen angel, teen angel, teen angel, ooh, ooh
That fateful night the car was stalled
upon the railroad track
I pulled you out and we were safe
but you went running back
Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love
What was it you were looking for
that took your life that night
They said they found my high school ring
clutched in your fingers tight
Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love
Just sweet sixteen, and now you're gone
They've taken you away.
I'll never kiss your lips again
They buried you today
Teen angel, can you hear me
Teen angel, can you see me
Are you somewhere up above
And I am still your own true love
Teen angel, teen angel, answer me, please
First off when you are in the heart of 1950s rock and roll music get used to hearing ad finitum about angels, earth-bound, heaven-sent, hell-sent, angelic, yes, angelic, heart-broken, heart-breaking angels, and how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, Enough angels to make old revolutionary Puritan poet John Milton's angel fights in Paradise Lost seem, well, punk by comparison. That is if you really want to know about 1950s rock subject matter, all of the above, naturally being teen angels (as if there were any other kind), maybe even Milton's, and that brings us to the heart of this Mark Dinning teen angst classic, Teen Angel.

Frankly, I am bewildered by the bizarre lyrics and story line here, although it rates high, very high on my newly constructed teen song angst-o-meter. Peggy and Billy, okay I know they are not named, or maybe nameable, in the universal teen night but let’s call them that to give name to the kinds of fools we are dealing with, were stranded out on railroad tracks in old Billy’s apparently dead-ender car, probably his father’s hand-me-down. That should have been the first tip-off to Peggy. There were a million guys in town with “boss” cars, including Linc with his ’57 cherry red Chevy by the look on his face every time you passed by, who would have been more than happy to give you a tumble.

Or maybe Billy just didn’t have gas dough and the clunker ran out, unfortunately, ran out on that old dreaded isolated track with all those signs saying don’t stop, please don’t stop, on the tracks because even if trains were going out of style in the big 1950s freeway car exodus they still ran every now and again. No dough Billy, christ I knew seven guys (although not Linc) who had plenty of dough, or could get it, to show you a good time, including Frankie (and Frankie, supposedly only had eyes for his ever lovin’ sweetie, Joanne).

Okay, the ways of love are strange, no question, so Billy it was. But, jesus, he pulled you out, you were safe and then you went ballistic over some f-----g, cheapjack ring, some cheapjack fake gold (like about four carat gold filigree, maybe) with fako diamond and barely legible stuff written on it class ring. And you knew, since you had been out with Billy for a while by then that it was cheapo. Come on you couldn’t have been that naïve. Now you have left Billy all choked up over his teen angel lost, and I know for a fact that he stayed that way, for a while. But just recently he seems to be on the mend because didn’t Tommy T. see him and Linda Lou, ya, sweet “hot stuff’ Linda Lou, walking hand and hand into Kay’s jewelry store that handles the North Adamsville High School class ring account. Maybe it was nothing but I wonder what they were looking for?

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin-The Merry Widow Murderer- Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow Of A Doubt”

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow Off A Doubt.

DVD Review

Shadow Of A Doubt, starring Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, written by Thornton Wilder, Universal Pictures, 1943

Sometimes landing on your head or some other traumatic incident when young can have serious consequences later in life. Or at least this is the stated premise, or half premise, behind this Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Shadow Of A Doubt. The mental state angle may be a bit awry and a bit too pat as the draw to pull us in and suspend our disbelief that good old Uncle Charley (played by Joseph Cotton) is the villain of the piece and is the serial killer of rich widows but there are some interesting psychological moments as we see how this villainous man meets his inevitable just desserts. Of course the max daddy of all Hitchcock thrillers, Psycho, set the standard by scaring every pre-teen, teen, and maybe a few adults half to death by NOT showing us what happened when that serial killer was about his mad man work. This one doesn’t really come close by as I say it has a few interesting points.

Needless to say any screen play written by Thornton Wilder (Our Town) means that small town Americana with everybody normal going about their everyday normal business is sure to be in play. Certainly the town is not suspecting that a mad man has just descended on them an event that should have caused every widow in town to check her insurance coverage. And it, late 1930s Santa Rosa (California) is here as the backdrop for Uncle Charlie’s timely visit (timely for him as he as just lammed it out of the East just in front of the law) to rekindle the old family relationships. But see dear Charlie is not the boy of old small town ambitions but of master race certitudes and scorn of the small town rubes. And to cap that scorn he is not above offing a rich widow or two in the process. And that quirky tendency is what drives the film, drives the law men in pursuit and drives one devoted niece, Charlie (nee Charlotte played by Teresa Wright) half-crazy with suspicion and disbelief before she tumbles to the facts of dastardly Uncle Charlie ‘s life. Almost too late.

Friday, August 24, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- Handsome Johnnie’s Revenge –Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion”

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion.

DVD Review

Suspicion, starring Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, RKO Radio Pictures, 1941

Everybody knows, well, knows since Dorothy Parker uttered the words, that gentlemen don’t make passes at girls that wear glasses. Period. Well, period, except hard up ne’er-do- well besotted, benighted, be-, well, bedeviled and be done with it, handsome Johnnies gents who are slightly arrears on their rent or I.O.U. obligation to their bookmakers. They glasses, four-eyes, six-eyes, hell, threes eyes are in play then especially if they are well brought up love-starved country gentry daughters with a little dowry, or hopes of one. And especially when that certain girl, woman, when she takes off said glasses is well, by the ugly duckling turning camera magic, fetching. And that in a nutshell is the lead-up to this early Alfred Hitchcock classic under review, Suspicion.

A few details will help to tell why there is suspense in Suspicion (although not as much as in say the later Psycho, etc. when Hitchcock went over the edge and started to scare the bejesus out of every brave pre-teen and teen boy and girl on the earth by NOT showing us what evil lurked in the hearts of men). Johnnie, well-mannered but broke Johnnie (played by Cary Grant, who else would fit as the downwardly mobile British gent), “courts” one plain jane (don’t be deceived like I was at first by the glasses) country house gentry (meaning in those days running after foxes, et. al) daughter Lina (played by Academy Award-winning Joan Fontaine), wins her over and they are married. He has no illusions in what he is doing (mainly male gold-digging in order to maintain a studious avoidance of anything that smacks of work and anything that doesn’t smack of making a sure thing bet on race day) she, intelligent enough although not really world-wary has more than a few.

Up until that point, and somewhat beyond that point, this film is basically a comedy of manners in the old fashion sense. But eventually Johnnie’s gambling debts and thefts start to crowd in on him, and her. And a whole series of events occur that make Lina, well, suspicious that dear old bean Johnnie boy might just get under from under his obligations by putting her under, under the ground. Murder, murder and nothing else is surly in the air. The problem, or really two problems, though are no way, no way in hell can one make playboy Johnnie out as a murder one guy, and problem number two no way, no way in hell, once you take the glasses off, is fetching Lina slated for an early visit to the morgue. Like the title says suspicion, nothing to it but suspicion as the lovers reconcile.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin -The Songs Of The Pre-Rock Fifties-They Shoot Record Players, Don’t They? -

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Dinah Washington performing What A Difference A Day Makes.

I am a child of rock ‘n’ roll, no question. And I have filled up many sketches in my notebooks with plenty of material about my likes and dislikes from the classic period of that genre, the mid-1950s, when we first heard that different jail-break beat, a beat our parents could not “hear,” as we of the generation of ’68 earned our spurs and started that long teenage angst and alienation process of going our own way. Still, as much as we were determined to have our own music on our own terms, wafting through every household, every household that had a radio in the background, and more importantly, had the emerging sounds from television in it was our parents’ music- the music, mainly of the surviving the Great Depression (the 1930s one not the one we are in now in 2012) and fighting (or frantically waiting at home for news) World War II period. And that is what Lena Horne’s Stormy Weather evokes in these ears as I write this sketch. Or click above in contrast and listen to Dinah Washington (apologies, okay Ms. D.) vanilla kitten croon (nice, huh) What A Difference A Day Makes.

In an earlier piece noted that some the World War II era music “spoke” to me, or at least it did not offend my ear (especially a classic like Lena Horne on Stormy Weather). Some later stuff, however, as it intersected my generation’s jail-breakout rock beat, or should I say interfered with that breakout, is something else again. This material was nothing but a rearguard action, for the most part, to keep everything quiet, to be nice and, to hope, hope to high heaven that they (and you know, if you are of a certain age, who the “they” were) didn’t drop the bomb and ruin a Saturday chaste date. The cover art featured on one such compilation had a boy and girl sitting dreamily in a car (maybe dad’s, maybe in discretionary dollars new teen America, his own, but his, one way or another) looking out at the expanse says it all. This ain’t some reckless little rock ‘n’ roll scene, not even sweet, beatified be-bop. This is the music of older, "square" brothers and sisters caught in between “jump” forties and “rock” mid-fifties.

It is almost impossible to do anything with certain songs except draw and quarter them and make apologies to someone like Tony Bennett who actually did some better stuff later but here is all I can even come close to advising anyone under the age of one hundred (today) to hear:

Memories Are Made Of This, Dean Martin (martini, or whatever, in hand, Dino ain’t rocking, he’ll leave that for his son); Just In Time, Tony Bennett (already noted above); What A Difference A Day Makes, Dinah Washington (Jesus, what is a serious, be-bop jazz singer, “torch” too, and with great phrasing doing in this thing-except to prove my overall point as the exception).

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin- From The Boyos- The Songs Of The Dubliners

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Dubliners performing Raglan Road.

Since my youth I have had an ear for roots music, whether I was conscious of that fact or not. The original of that interest first centered on the blues, then early rock and roll and later, with the folk revival of the early 1960’s, folk music. I have often wondered about the source of this interest. I am, and have always been a city boy, and an Eastern city boy at that. Nevertheless, over time I have come to appreciate many more forms of roots music than in my youth. The subject of the following review, The Dubliners, is an example.

In a sense it would seem that the source of my interest in the Dubliners would be apparent. My mother’s people came over from Ireland to America on the famine ships in the 1840’s. Not so, in my youth the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Machem were all that I would listen to for Irish, and particularly Irish political, songs. The Dubliners were a later acquired taste as I delved more into Irish history several years ago. I believe that the Dubliners were a little better musically than the Clancys (and Tommy too) and certainly Luke Kelly added much with his deep whiskey-sodden voice to any song he leads.

Politically (and culturally), both groups cover many of the same songs- from traditional Croppy Boy, Boys of Wexford types to the songs of the Easter Uprising in 1916. The Dubliners, probably because they were based in and stayed in Ireland, have a bigger selection of songs reflecting the more current struggles for liberation up in the north. In short, the Dubliners measure up to my youthful standards for Irish political music. If you just want good old Irish sentimental material or party/bar music they have plenty of that too. Check out their A Pub With No Beer or Finnegan’s Wake.

From the Pen Of Peter Paul Markin- Will The Circle Be Unbroken- The Songs Of The Carter Family

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Carter Family performing the old-time Under The Weeping Willow Tree.

In my jaded youth I developed an ear for roots music, whether I was conscious of that fact or not. The origin of that interest first centered on the blues, country and city with the likes of Son House , Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James. Then early rock and roll, you know the rockabillies and R&B crowd, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, Roy, Big Joe and Ike, and later, with the folk revival of the early 1960’s, folk music, especially the protest to high heaven sort, Bob Dylan, Dave Von Ronk, Joan Baez, etc.

I have often wondered about the source of this interest. I am, and have always been a city boy, and an Eastern city boy at that. Meaning rootless or not meaningfully rooted in any of the niches mentioned above, or others. Nevertheless, over time I have come to appreciate many more forms of roots music than in my youth. Cajun, Tex-Mex, old time dust bowl ballads a la Woody Guthrie, cowboy stuff with the likes of Bob Wills and Milton Brown, Carter Family-etched mountain music and so on. The subject of the following review, The Carter Family, and their influence on mountain music is an example.

With the relatively recent spate of mountain music films, George Clooney’s Brother, Where Art Thou, The Song-catcher and the Johnny Cash movie biography Walk The Line the Carter Family has again come into greater public prominence. And rightly so. The original trio (A.P., Ruth, May belle) performed simple country (or better rural) music mainly composed by A.P. Carter that evoked, if not a simpler time, then in any case, a simpler type of music. While I cannot listen endlessly to such music at one sitting about one-half a CD at a time works. Why not the whole CD? There is a very similar melody and guitar line to their work in most songs. The value of each song sometimes gets lost in the basic repetition.

A note on subject matter- The bulk of the songs concern home, hearth lovesickness, the vagaries of nature (god’s nature) and religion as might be expected from mountain people (and not just mountain people come to think of it). And that is okay. This reviewer, although not a religious man, can appreciate the simple, fundamentalist but very personal religion evoked here. The god evoked against hard times, hard struggle and righteousness against a seemingly intractable land and forward, ever forward. Not to romanticize the simple rural folk of the past but I do not believe that the religious sentiments expressed in old time mountain music are the same as those of religious fundamentalists today who want to ram a theocracy down our throats in the United States today. Those were people awestruck by the tasks before them and did not need to be “born again” (or see every last citizen in that condition) to appreciate that burden.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin- Looking For The Heart Of Saturday Night, Christ Any Night- The Songs of Tom Waits

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Tom Waits performing Yap Harburg’s Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

If, as I do, every once in a while as least from a comfortable from a distance you need to hear about boozers, losers, dopesters, hipsters, fallen sisters, midnight sifters, grifters, drifters, the driftless, small-time grafters, hoboes, bums, tramps, the fallen, those who want to fall, Spanish Johnnies, stale cigarette butts, whiskey-soaked barroom floors, loners, the lonely, sad sacks, the sad and others at the margins of society then this is your stop. Tom Waits is an acquired taste, but one well worth acquiring as he storms heaven looking for busted black-hearted angels, for girls with Monroe hips, for the desperate out in forsaken woods who need to hold to something, and for all the misbegotten.

Tom Waits gives voice in song, a big task, to the characters that peopled Nelson Algren’s novels (The Last Carousel, Neon Wilderness, Walk on the Wild Side, and The Man with the Golden Arm). In short, these are the people who do not make revolutions, far from it, but they surely desperately could use one. If, additionally, you need a primordial voice and occasional dissonant instrumentation to round out the picture go no further. Finally, if you need someone who “feels your pain” for his characters you are home. And that, my friends, is definitely a political statement. Keep looking for the heart of Saturday, Brother.

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin-Did You See Starlight On The Rails- The Songs Of Utah Phillips

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for folksinger-storyteller-labor organizer Utah Phillips.

Utah Phllips Songbook, 4 CD set, Utah Phillips, 2005

My youthful leftward drift in political consciousness (by no means left-wing, merely liberal or a touch social-democratic) coincided with an expansion of my musical tastes under the influence of the great blues and folk revivals of the 1960’s. First came the blues ‘discoveries,’ the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt. Unfortunately my exposure to the blues greats was mainly on records as many of them had been forgotten, retired or were dead. Not so with the folk revival which was created mainly by those who were close contemporaries. The likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dave Von Ronk, Eric Von Schmidt, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton. Alas, they too are now mainly forgotten, retired or dead. It therefore was with special pleasure that I first heard the 4 Cd set Utah Phillips Songbook while he is very much alive in 2005. Although he has since passed away the comments I made then still apply.

Many of the folksingers of the 1960s attempted to use their music to become troubadours for social change. The most famous example, the early Bob Dylan, can be fairly described as the voice of his generation at that time. However, he fairly quickly moved on to other concepts of himself and his music. Bob Dylan’s work became more informed by the influences of Rimbaud and Verlaine and the French Symbolists of the late 1800’s and thus moved away to a more urban, sophisticated vision. On the other hand from the start and consistently throughout his long career Utah Phillips acted as a medium giving voice to the troubles of ordinary people and the simpler ethos of a more rural, Western-oriented gone by day in the American experience. He evoked in song the spirit of the people Walt Whitman paid homage to in poetic form and John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck gave in prose. He sat conformably in very fast company. Therefore, Utah Phillips could justly claim the title of a people’s troubadour.

A word about politics, or rather about political differences and disagreements. Generally, one rates music and musical influences without reference to politics unless there is something starkly unusual about a song or performer that begs the question to be addressed. However Utah Phillips introduced the political element and made it a subject for comment by the way he structured the Songbook. Each song is introduced by him as to its significance heavily weighted to his political experiences, observations and vision. Thus, political comment is fairly in play here.

Utah Phillips was a long time anarchist and unrepentant supporter of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World, hereafter IWW). Every working class militant cherishes the memory of the class battles led by the IWW like the famous Lawrence strike of 1912 (the “bread and roses” strike now observing it centennial) and honors the heroes of those battles like Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Jim Cannon, Frank Little and Vincent St. John and the militants they recruited to the cause of the working class in the first part of the 20th century. They paved the way for the later successful union organization drives of the 1930s.

Nevertheless, while Utah and I would both most definitely agree that some old-fashioned class struggle by working people in today’s one-sided class war would be a very good thing we as definitely differed on the way to insure a permanent victory for working people in order to create a decent society. In short, Utah’s prescriptions of good moral character, increased self-knowledge, and the creation of small intentional communities are not enough. Under modern conditions it is necessary to take and safeguard political power against those who would quite consciously deny that victory. History has been cruel in some of the bitter lessons working people have had to endure for not dealing with the question of taking state power to protect their interests. But, enough said. I am more than willing to forgive the old curmudgeon his anarchist sins when I hear him sing I Remember Loving You, Starlight On The Rails, Walking Through Your Snow, Phoebe Snow and a dozen other tramp, hobo, bum, railroad siding jungle camp songs and politically pungent barb songs like Enola Gay.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- When Doctor Gonzo Was “Riding With The King”- Hunter S. Thompson’s The Gonzo Letters. Volume Two, 1968-1976

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the late gonzo journalist Hunter S, Thompson

Book Review

Fear And Loathing In America; The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, The Gonzo Letters, Volume Two, 1968-1976, Hunter S. Thompson, Simon &Schuster, New York, 2006

I have written a number of reviews about the book s of the late outlaw gonzo journalist “Doctor Gonzo” Hunter S. Thompson. Those reviews have centered on the impact of his journalistic work in the pantheon of American political and social criticism and the jail break way that he presented his material that was like a breath of fresh air coming from out in the jet stream somewhere after all the lame gibberish of most reportage in the1960s and 1970s (extending unfortunately to this day). His seemingly one man revolt (okay, okay Tom Wolfe and others too but he was the king hell king, alright) against paid by the word minute stuff of hack journalism told us the “skinny,” and told that straight, warts and all. The book under review however is more for aficionados like this writer who are interested in the minutiae about how this man created what he created, and the trials and tribulations, sometime bizarre, he went through to get the damn stuff published. And while one can rightly pass on the pre-Gonzo first volume of Thompson’s letters this one is worth reading for it provides the back drop to Doctor Gonzo’s most creative period, that period from about the publication of Hell’s Angels until his “discovery” of one Jimmy Carter. The period when Hunter S. Thompson was “riding with the king.”

In those earlier reviews (especially Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing On Campaign 1972, and Songs of The Doomed) I began with some generic comments applicable to all his work and they apply here as well so I will recycle them and intersperse additional comments about this book as well.

“Generally the most the trenchant social criticism, commentary and analysis complete with a prescriptive social program ripe for implementation has been done by thinkers and writers who work outside the realm of bourgeois society, notably socialists and other progressive thinkers. Bourgeois society rarely allows itself, in self-defense or hidebound fear, to be skewered by trenchant criticism from within. This is particularly true when it comes from a known dope fiend, gun freak and all-around lifestyle addict like the late, lamented Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Nevertheless, although he was far from any thought of a socialist solution to what ails society, particularly American society, and would reject such a political designation we of the extra-parliamentary could travel part of the way with him. We saw him as a kindred spirit. He was not one of us- but he was one of us. All honor to him for pushing the envelope of journalism in new directions and for his pinpricks at the hypocrisy of bourgeois society. Such men are dangerous.

I am not sure whether at the end of the day Hunter Thompson saw himself or wanted to been seen as a voice, or the voice, of his generation but he would not be an unworthy candidate. In any case, his was not the voice of the generation of 1968 being just enough older than us to have been formed by an earlier, less forgiving milieu. The hellhole, red scare, cold war night in all its infamy that even singed my generation. His earliest writings show that shadow night blanket, the National Observer stuff, well-written but mainly “objective” stuff that a thousand other guys were writing (and were getting better paid for). Nevertheless, only a few, and with time it seems fewer in each generation, allow themselves to search for some kind of truth even if they cannot go the whole distance. This compilation under review is a hodgepodge of letters over the best part of Thompson’s career, 1968-76.

As with all journalists, as indeed with all writers especially those who are writing under the gun and for mass circulation media, these letters reveal the tremendous time pressures put on writers under contractual publishing deadlines, the ridiculous amount of time spent trying to “hustle” one’s work around the industry even by a fairly well-known writer , the creative processes behind specific works (particularly the Fear and Loathing books) as outlined in several letters, including some amusing “cut and paste” efforts to use one article to serve about six purposes , and horror of horrors, damn writer’s block (or ennui). Some of these letters are minor works of art; others seem to have been thrown in as filler. However the total effect is to show the back story of a guy who blasted old bourgeois society almost to its foundations. Others will have to push on further.

“Gonzo” journalism as it emerges in the crucible of these letters, by the way, is quite compatible, with historical materialism. That is, the writer is not precluded from interpreting the events described within himself/herself as an actor in the story. The worst swindle in journalism, fostered by the formal journalism schools, as well as in other disciplines like history and political science is that somehow one must be ‘objective.’ Reality is better served if the writer puts his/her analysis correctly and then gets out of the way. In his best work that was Hunter’s way. And that premise shines through some of these letters.

As a member of the generation of 1968 I would note that this was a period of particular importance which won Hunter his spurs as a journalist. Hunter, like many of us, cut his political teeth on raging deep into the night against one Richard Milhous Nixon, at one time President of the United States, common criminal (unindicted, of course), and all- around political chameleon. Thompson went way out of his way, and with pleasure, skewering that man when Nixon was riding high. He was moreover just as happy to kick Nixon when he was down, just for good measure. Nixon represented the “dark side” of the American spirit- the side that appeared then, and today, as the bully boy of the world and as craven brute. If for nothing else Brother Thompson deserves a place in the pantheon of journalistic heroes for this exercise in elementary hygiene. Anyone who wants to rehabilitate THAT man before history please consult Thompson’s work first. Hunter, I hope you find the Brown Buffalo wherever you are. Read this book. Read all his books to know what it was like when men and women plied the journalist trade for keeps.

Monday, August 20, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- Jim Morrison and The Doors- WE WANT THE WORLD AND WE WANT IT NOW!

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Jim Morrison and the Doors performing their classic The End.



In my jaded youth I developed an ear for roots music, whether I was conscious of that fact or not. The origin of that interest first centered on the blues, country and city with the likes of Son House , Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James, then early rock and roll, you know the rockabillies and R&B crowd, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, Roy, Big Joe and Ike, and later, with the folk revival of the early 1960’s, folk music, especially the protest to high heaven sort, Bob Dylan, Dave Von Ronk, Joan Baez, etc. I have often wondered about the source of this interest. I am, and have always been a city boy, and an Eastern city boy at that. Meaning rootless or not meaningfully rooted in any of the niches mentioned above. Nevertheless, over time I have come to appreciate many more forms of roots music than in my youth. Cajun, Tex-Mex, old time dust bowl ballads a la Woody Guthrie, cowboy stuff with the likes of Bob Wills and Milton Brown, Carter Family-etched mountain music and so on. The subject of the following review, Jim Morrison and the Doors, is an example.

The Doors are roots music? Well, yes, in the sense that one of the branches of rock and roll derives from early rhythm and blues and in the special case of Jim Morrison, leader of the Doors, the attempt to musically explore the shamanic elements in the Western American Native American culture that drove the beat of many of his trance-like songs like The End. Some of that influence is apparent here in this essentially greatest hits album.

More than one rock critic has argued that on their good nights when the dope and booze were flowing, Morrison was in high trance, and they were fired up the Doors were the best rock and roll band ever created. Those critics will get no argument here. What a reviewer with that opinion has to do is determine whether any particular CD captures the Doors at their best. This reviewer advises that if you want to buy only one Doors CD that would be The Best of the Doors. If you want to trace their evolution more broadly, or chronologically, other CDs do an adequate job but they are helter-skelter. This CD edition has, with maybe one or two exceptions, all the stuff rock critics in one hundred years will be dusting off when they want to examine what it was like when men (and women, think Bonnie Raitt, Wanda Jackson, et. al) played rock and roll for keeps.

A note on Jim Morrison as an icon of the 1960’s. He was part of the trinity – Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix who lived fast, lived way too fast, and died young. The slogan of the day (or hour)- Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. And we liked that idea however you wanted to mix it up. Then. Their deaths were part of the price we felt we had to pay if we were going to be free. And be creative. Even the most political among us, including this writer, felt those cultural winds blowing across the continent and counted those who espoused this alternative vision as part of the chosen. The righteous headed to the “promise land.” Unfortunately those who believed that we could have a far-reaching positive cultural change via music or “dropping out” without a huge societal political change proved to be wrong long ago. But, these were still our people.

Know this as well. Whatever excesses were committed by the generation of ’68, and there were many, were mainly made out of ignorance and foolishness. Our opponents, exemplified by one Richard Milhous Nixon, President of the United States and common criminal, spent every day of their lives as a matter of conscious, deliberate policy raining hell down on the peoples of the world, the minorities in this country, and anyone else who got in their way. Forty years of “cultural wars” in revenge by his protégés, hangers-on and their descendants has been a heavy price to pay for our youthful errors. Enough.

From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin- Joshua Lawrence Breslin’s Father’s Day

Peter Paul Markin comment:

My old friend from the merry prankster yellow brick road 1960s day Josh Breslin, Olde Saco High School Class of 1967, having a few years ago transcribed some stories that his late father told him and his sister Lissette on April 16th 1983 while he recovering from a heart attack, had as a result some things, some Father’s Day things that he wanted to get off his chest. (See Prescott Breslin’s Stardust Memories War. Josh was, frankly having a hard time doing the task (as had I several years before) so he asked me to help him write this belated tribute to his late father, Prescott Lee Breslin. The words may have been jointly written and edited but, believe me, the sentiments and emotions expressed are strictly those of Joshua Lawrence Breslin. I do know that it took a lot of work, sweat and tears for him to transfer them into written form.
In honor of Prescott Lee Breslin, 1917-1985, Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps, World War II, Pacific Theater , and perhaps, other Olde Saco fathers too.

Josh turned red, turned bluster, fluster, embarrassed, internal red, red with shame, red as he always did this time of the year, this Father’s Day time of the year, when he thought about his own father, the late Prescott Lee Breslin. And through those shades of red he thought, sometimes hard, sometimes just a flicker thought passing, too close, too red close to continue on, he thought about the things that he never said to his father, about what never could be said to him, and above all, because when it came right down to it because they might have been on different planets, what could not be comprehended said. But although death now separated them by over twenty years he still turned red, more internal red these days, when he thought about the slivers of talk that could have been said, usefully said. And he would go to his own grave having that hang over his own Father’s Day thoughts.

But just that minute, just that pre-Father’s Day minute, Joshua Lawrence Breslin, Joshua Lawrence, for those Olde Saco brethren who insisted on calling him Joshua Lawrence when he preferred plain old Josh in those old-time 1960s high school days, wanted to call a truce to his red-faced shame, internal or otherwise, and pay public tribute, pay belated public tribute to Prescott Breslin, and maybe it would rub off on others too. And just maybe cut the pain of the thought of having those unsaid things hang over him until the grave.

See, here’s the funny part, the funny part now, about speaking, publicly or privately, about his father, at least when Josh thought about the millions of children around who were, warm-heartedly, preparing to put some little gift together for the “greatest dad in the world.” And of other millions, who were preparing, or better, fortifying themselves in preparation for that same task for dear old dad, although with their teeth grinding. Josh could not remember, or refused to remember, a time for eons when he, warm-heartedly or grinding his teeth, prepared anything for his father’s Father’s Day, except occasional grief that might have coincided with that day’s celebration. No preparation was necessary for that. That was all in a Josh’s day’s work, his hellish corner boy day’s work or, rather, night’s work, the sneak thief in the night work, later turned into more serious criminal enterprises. But the really funny part, ironic maybe, is grief-giving, hellish corner boy sneak thief, or not, one Prescott Breslin , deserved honor, no, required honor that day because by some mysterious process, by some mysterious transference Josh, in the end, was deeply formed, formed for the better by that man.

And you see, and it will perhaps come as no surprise that Josh, hell everybody called him Joshua Lawrence in the old days so just so nobody will be confused we will use that name here, was estranged from his family for many years, many teenage to adult years and so that his father’s influence, the “better angel of his nature,” influence had to have come very early on. Joshua Lawrence , even now, maybe especially now, since he had climbed a few mountains of pain, of hard-wall time served, and addictions to get here, did not want to go into the details of that fact, just call them ugly, as this memorial was not about his trials and tribulations in the world, but Prescott’s.

Here is what needs to be told though because something in that mix, that Breslin gene mix, is where the earth’s salts mingled to spine Joshua Lawrence against his own follies when things turned ugly later in his life. Prescott Lee Breslin, that middle name almost declaring that here was a southern man, as Joshua Lawrence name was a declaration that he was a son of a southern man, came out of the foothills of Kentucky, Appalachian Kentucky. The hills and hollows of Hazard, Kentucky to be exact, in the next county over from famed, bloody coal wars, class struggle, which-side-are-you-on Harlan County, but all still hard-scrabble coal-mining country famous in story and song- the poorest of the poor of white Appalachia-the “hillbillies.”

And the poorest of the poor there, or very close to it, was Prescott Breslin’s family, his seven brothers and four sisters, his elderly father and his too young step-mother. Needless to say, but needing to be said anyway, Prescott went to the mines early, after a couple of break-out years as a singer, had little formal schooling and was slated, like generations of Breslins before him, to live a short, brutish, and nasty life, scrabbling hard, hard for the coal, hard for the table food, hard for the roof over his head, hard to keep the black lung away, and harder still to keep the company wolves away from his shack door. And then the Great Depression came full force and thing got harder still, harder than younger ears could understand today, or need to hear just now.

At the start of World War II Prescott jumped, jumped with both feet running once he landed, at the opportunity to join the Marines in the wake of Pearl Harbor, fought his fair share of battles in the Pacific Theater, including Guadalcanal, although he, like many men of his generation, was extremely reticent to talk about his war experiences. By the vagaries of fate in those up-ending times Prescott eventually was stationed at the huge Portsmouth Naval Depot before being discharged, a busy base about thirty miles from Olde Saco.

[Joshua Lawrence , interrupted his train of thought as chuckled to himself when he thought about his father’s military service, thought about one of the few times when he and Prescott had had a laugh together. Prescott often recounted that things were so tough in Hazard, in the mines of Hazard, in the slag heap existence of Hazard, that in a “choice” between continuing in the mines and daily facing death at Japanese hands he picked the latter, gladly, and never looked back. Part of that never looking back, of course, was the attraction of Delores LeBlanc (Olde Saco High School Class of 1937), Joshua Lawrence’s mother whom Prescott met while stationed at Portsmouth where she worked in the civilian section of the base of an insurance company based in Olde Saco. They married shortly thereafter, had three sons, his late oldest brother, Larry , killed many years ago while engaged in an attempted armed robbery, Danny who just kind of wandered off one day and had not been heard from since, and Joshua Lawrence, ex-sneak thief, ex-merry prankster, ex-dope-dealer, ex-addict, ex-, well, enough of ex’s, and a younger sister, Lissette, now in a private mental health facility after years of alcohol and drug abuse, and the rest is history. Well, not quite, whatever Prescott might have later thought about his decision to leave the hellhole of the Appalachian hills. He was also a man, as that just mentioned family resume hints at, who never drew a break, not at work, not through his sons and daughter (although it was the sons that counted, mainly), not in anything.]

Joshua Lawrence , not quite sure how to put it in words that were anything but spilled ashes since it would be put differently, much differently in 2011 than in, let’s say, 1971, or 1961 thought of it this way:

“My father was a good man, he was a hard- working man when he had work, and he was a devoted family man. But go back to that paragraph about where he was from. He was also an uneducated man with no skills for the changing Olde Saco labor market. There was no call for a coal miner's skills in Olde Saco after World War II so he was reduced to unskilled, last hired, first fired jobs. This was, and is, not a pretty fate for a man with hungry mouths to feed. And stuck in the damn Olde Saco Housing Authority apartments, come on now let’s call a thing by its real name, real recognizable name, “the projects,” the place for the poorest of the poor, Olde Saco version, to boot.

To get out from under a little and to share in the dream, the high heaven dream, working poor post-World War II dream, of a little house, no matter how little, of one’s own if only to keep the neighbor’s loud business from one’s door Delores, proud, stiffly French-Canadian 1930s Depression stable working class proud Delores, worked. Delores worked mother’s night shifts at one of the Jimmy Jack’s Homemade Diners filling up coffee cups and fixings for hungry travelers and tourists in order to scrap a few pennies together to buy an old, small, rundown house, on the wrong side of the tracks, on Maple Street for those from Olde Saco who remember that locale, literally right next to the old Bay Lines railroad tracks. So the circle turned and the Breslin family returned back to the Atlantic section of town of Maude’s youth.”

Joshua Lawrence grew pensive when he thought, or rather re-thought, about the toll that the inability to be the sole breadwinner (no big deal now with an almost mandatory two working-parents existence- but important for a man of his generation) took on the man's pride. A wife filling damn coffee cups, jesus.

He continued:

“And it never really got better for Prescott from there as his three boys grew to manhood (Lissette’s troubles began much later, much later), got into more trouble, got involved with more shady deals, acquired more addictions, and showered more shame on the Prescott Breslin name than needs to be detailed here. Let’s just say it had to have caused him more than his fair share of heartache. He never said much about it though, in the days when Joshua Lawrence and he were still in touch. Never much about why three boys who had more food, more shelter, more education, more prospects, more everything that a Hazard po’ boy couldn’t see straight if their lives depended on it, who led the corner boy life for all it was worth and in the end had nothing but ashes, and a father’s broken heart to show for it. No, he never said much, and Joshua Lawrence hadn’t heard from other sources that he ever said much (Delores was a different story, but this is Prescott’s story so enough of that). Why? Damn, they were his boys and although they broke his heart they were his boys. That is all that mattered to him and so that, in the end, is how Joshua Lawrence, whatever he would carry to his own grave, that Prescott must have forgiven him.”

Joshua Lawrence, getting internal red again, decided that it was time to close this tribute. To go on in this vein would be rather maudlin. The old man was a Marine, and he was closer to the old Marine Corps slogan than Joshua Lawrence could ever understand - Semper Fi- "always faithful." Yes, Joshua Lawrence thought, as if some historic justice had finally been done, that is a good way to end this. Except to say something that should have been shouted from the Olde Saco rooftops long ago- “Thanks Dad, you did the best you could.”