Friday, November 30, 2012

In The Time Of The Be-Bop Baby Boom Jail Break-Out- In The Time Of The “Boss”Car

I had several months ago been on a tear in reviewing individual CDs in an extensive classic rock ‘n’ roll series (now classic, then just our music). A lot of those reviews had been driven by the artwork which graced the covers of each item, both to stir ancient memories and reflect that precise moment in time, the youth time of the now very, very mature (nice sliding over the age issue, right?) baby-boomer generation who lived and died by the music. And who fit in, or did not fit in as the case may, to the themes expressed in those artwork scenes. Here we have the latter, the not fit in part, for this reviewer anyway. The latter is the case here although the cover art was simplicity itself- the rear view of an aerodynamically-contoured rear fin (yes, fin) of a “boss” (yes, boss) 1950s automobile of unknown provenance (but we can guess, right?)

Yes, and that slight description is all that is needed for those of us who came of age in the “golden age of the automobile”in the speed and thrills-craving aftermath of World War II when restless Americans, young and old, more young as it turned out, went into spasms over the latest “boss” (yes, boss) vehicle coming out of Detroit, the motor capital of the world then. Of course the cars kind of sorted themselves out- you wouldn’t, if you were young, dream of driving something that your father drove. So if you got his hand-me-down after he decided that he needed, just absolutely needed, that much more power in his automobile in order to keep up with the Joneses, you would move might and main in order to transform that old clunky dad car into a respectable tool. A rocket-like tool to fit the age, to ride and to ride with some sweet honey at your side, on those hot sticky, sultry summer nights down by the seaside, or at the drive-in, movie or for food, your choice.

Yes, and this is why even a mainly a not fit in no car boy like me, from a mainly no car family, could (and maybe still could) stare his eyes out over some boss of the bosses ’57 Chevy charging down the be-bop night boulevard, or a lanky turbo-driven long-line Lincoln, or a rebuilt Cadillac or a tear-up Thunderbird. Relics from a high cubic volume engine age when your twenty-nine cents a gallon gas took you about three feet per gallon. But still, come on now, they looked, well, boss.

Oh, yes, and of course you needed to amp up that boss wagon car radio, previously set exclusively to some father business news station (jesus), booming out the latest rock and roll hits about cars, especially West Coast car legends and their chicken runs, girls (east coast or west coast, hell, even the Mid-West), girls and boys in trouble, in love, out of love (ditto on that geography thing), chasing that sunset ocean-flecked dream. But mainly, when the dust settled, you had to worry about how and who was going to front that dough to get that new back chrome fender you just needed, absolutely needed, needed like crazy to keep up with the Jones’ son.

But on that boss car radio you were likely, very likely, to be cruising to (even if only riding shotgun in some buddy’s boss car cruising that boulevard looking for, what else, girls who just that moment might be in need of some seaside company, or wanted to go the drive-in, their choice) many of the tunes reviewed in that series. Stick-outs on this fin tail art beauty included: For Your Love, Ed Townsend; Silhouettes, The Diamonds; Somethin’ Else, Eddie Cochran (totally underrated in the classic rock scheme of things after he died in a car accident, naturally, especially his classic Summertime Blues that was a rite of passage each summer vacation); and, as always when you talk 1950s rock, the serious stuff, the serious riffing guitar stuff from the place where rock met the blues, Chuck Berry on Almost Grown, not his number one, A-list material but good in this company.

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin-Juke Box Rock And Roll Night, Circa 1958


CD Review
The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll: Volume 5, Ace Records, 1995

Jake LeFleur (nee Jeanbon) had it bad, had it bad as a man (oops, young man, boy) could have it for a girl (oops, young woman) and still be able to breath, breath normally. And she, Marnie Capet she, the object of one Jake LeFleur’s palsied breath, knew that hard fact, and depended on her ability to keep Jake in that state. But before you say “dames what can you do with them, or without them” like all of Jake’s corner boys whom he hung around with in front of Jimmy Jakes Diner 9said  every time they heard the latest installment of the Marnie leading Jake by the nose saga hear her side. Then, perhaps, you will not worry so much about the how and whys of Jake’s breathing.    

Marnie, for all the world to know, for all the important world to know in 1958 in Olde Saco, Maine, and that meant her friends, her teenage friends, her girls, whom she hung around with in front of, guess, Jimmy Jakes Diner, had been minding her own business when one Jake LeFleur came swooping down on her. And she would swear on a stack of seven, hell, seventy sealed bibles (as all her “corner girls” would  attest to after they had heard the latest installment of the Jake leading Marnie by the nose saga) that she had no intention of finding herself riding in Jake’s ’55 two-toned souped-up Chevy after a few minutes of Jake smooth talk. But she did, although she will also swear, at least for public consumption, that she had a problem breathing when she found herself in that position (or later more intimate positions, as she would slyly allude to when describing her latest date with Jake.)     

But at some point Jake, or maybe Marnie, it was never clear discovered two things, one that Jake was crazier about Marnie that she was about him, and more importantly ,two, Marnie was taking more than a few peeks at a new boy in town, Bernie Albert, who if one can believe this, had neither a car, hot or otherwise, and had not the least inclination to hang around Jimmy Jakes Diner because he was crazy for the sea, and crazy for writing stuff about  the sea once he found the best spots over at Olde Saco Beach (naturally including the exclusive teen hot spot of  Seal Rock). Bernie came in like a breath of fresh air and before long one did not see Marnie Capet riding, front seat riding, in any funny old ’55 Chevy. She was breathing the sea air down at the beach after walking there with Bernie.  

Now the tale turns back to Jake though, Jake of the thousand chicken run victories, Jake of the hard boy corner boy society in front of Jimmie Jakes Diner, spurned Jake. And before you wonder what hell our boy Jake is going to rain down on one Bernie Albert  for “stealing “ his Marnie  you should know this. Not only do you not see Marnie riding in that Chevy, that boss Chevy as anyone in town, anyone that counted would tell you, meaning the habitués of Jimmy Jakes but you do not see Jake riding around. If you can believe this, Jake was still carrying a big torch for Marnie and had taken to his room to write her a letter begging her to come back. And since he was not a scholar like Bernie, and since he wanted to note her upcoming birthday he played the Tune Weavers’ Happy, Happy Birthday Baby to help him through task, and settle his uneasy breathing.  Stay tuned. And while you are waiting check out this volume to see if Bernie has a chance to select something to counter Jake’s move.            

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- In The Time Of The Be-Bop Baby- Boomer Jail Break-Out-1964


I had several months ago been on a tear in reviewing individual CDs in an extensive classic rock ‘n’ roll series (now classic, then just our music). A lot of those reviews had been driven by the artwork which graced the covers of each item, both to stir ancient memories and reflect that precise moment in time, the youth time of the now very, very mature (nice sliding over the age issue, right?) baby-boomer generation who lived and died by the music. And who fit in, or did not fit in as the case may, to the themes expressed in these artwork scenes. Here we have the latter, the not fit in part, for this reviewer anyway.

The1964 art cover piece I want to comment on here had as its subject an illustration of a high school girl (the guy, the heads turned  guy backdrop used let you know, just in case you were clueless, that the rock scene was directed, point blank, at high school students, high school students, especially girls, with discretionary money to buy hot records, or drop coins in the local juke box), or rather since her top part was not shown her high heel sneakers (Chuck Taylor red high tops, for sure, no question, although there is no trademark present no way that they can be some knock-offs in 1964, no way, I say). The important thing, in any case, is the sneakers, and that slightly shorter than school regulation, 1964 school regulation, dress, a dress that presages the mini-skirt craze that was then just on its way from Europe. Naturally said dress and sneakers, sneakers, high- heeled or not, red or not, hell, Chuck Taylors or not, against the mandatory white tennis sneakers on gym days and low-heel pumps on other days, is the herald of some new age.

And, as if to confirm that new breeze, that sniff of a breeze even those who did not fit in could sense, in the background scouring out her properly lonely prudish window, a sullen, prudish (oops, I said that already) old dame, an old dame who probably never was a jitterbug dame, never a raise her skirt dame, when her generation had their day, was looking on in parent/teacher/cop/priest/authorities distaste and dismay. She, the advance guard, obviously, of that parentally-driven reaction to all that the later 1960s stood for to us baby-boomers, as the generations fought out their epic battles about the nature of the world, our world or theirs.

But see that is so much “wave of future” just then because, sullen old prudish dame or not, what Ms. Hi-heel sneakers (and dress, yah, don’t forget that knee-showing dress and those guys dreams about what that meant, meant even for not fit ins) is preening for is those previously mentioned guys who are standing (barely) in front of said apartment entrance and showing their approval, their approval in the endless boy and girl meet game.

And these guys are not just of one kind, they are cool faux “beat” daddy guys, tee-shirted corner boy guys, and well, just average 1964- style average plaid shirt, black chino loafer guys out of some American Graffiti dream guys. Now the reality of Ms. Hi-heel sneakers (and a wig hat on her head) proved to be a minute thing and was practically forgotten in the musical breeze that was starting to come in from Europe (British invasion led by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) but it was that harbinger of change that the old dame (prudish assumed) dreaded and we, teenagers, especially we teenagers of the Class of 1964, were puzzled by. All we knew for sure, at least some of us knew, was that our generation, at least for a moment, was going to chase a few windmills, and gladly. Little did we know, and perhaps it would not have changed our course not it should have, that we would fight, some of us anyway, a forty plus year cultural war based on that slight breeze we sniffed.

That is the front story, the story of the new breeze coming, but the back story is that the kind of songs that were on that CD with that British invasion coming full blast were going to be passé very soon. Moreover, among my crowd, my hang-out crowd, my hang-out guy and girl crowd of guys who looked very much like those guys pictured on the artwork, if not my school crowd (with a slightly different, more nerdy look) also dug the folk scene, the Harvard Square at weekend night, New York City Village every once in a while folk scene, the Dylan, Baez, Van Ronk, Paxton, Ochs, etc. scene which was still in bloom and competitive (although that scene, that folk scene minute, ironically, would soon also be passé).

Thus 1964 was a watershed year for a lot of the genres, really sub-genres, featured on that CD. Like the harmony-rich girl groups (The Supremes, Mary Wells, The Shangri-Las, Martha and the Vandellas, Betty Everett) and the surfer boy, hot-rod guys of blessed neighborhood memory (Ronnie and the Daytonas, The Rivieras, and The Beach Boys, a little). But it was also a watershed year for the guys pictured in the artwork (and out in the neighborhoods, the hard-bitten working-class neighborhoods where I came of age). Some, like a couple of guys down the end of my street now with names chiseled in black marble down in Washington, would soon be fighting in Vietnam, some moving, for a time anyway, to a commune to get away from it all, and others would be raising holy hell about that war, the need for social justice and the way things were being run in this country.

And Ms. Hi-heel sneakers? Maybe, just maybe, she drifted, mini-skirt and moccasins, or jeans and buckskin jacket, headband to hold her hair (and head) on, name changed to Butterfly Swirl, or some such, into that San Francisco for the Summer of Love, 1967 version, night, going barefoot into that good night. And maybe, just maybe she ran into my old merry prankster yellow brick road friend, or his one of his ilk, Peter Paul Markin, and survived to tell the tale. I like to think so anyway.

Watershed year or not, there were some serious non-British invasion stick-outs in that CD. Under The Boardwalk (great harmony), The Drifters; Last Kiss, Frank Wilson and The Cavaliers; Dancing In The Streets (lordy, lordy, yes), Martha and the Vandellas; Leader Of The Pack (what a great novelty song and one that could be the subject of a real story in my growing up neighborhood filled with motorcycle boys looking for kicks, and respect), The Shangri-Las; Hi-Heel Sneakers, Tommy Tucker (thanks for the lead-in, Tommy), and, the boss song of the teen dance club night, worthy of its own sketch or illustration, no question, no challenge, no competition, Louie, Louie by the Kingsmen.




From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- Wasn’t That A Mighty Storm



Tom Rush-Eric Von Schmidt Lyrics from an old traditional song

Wasn't that a mighty storm
Wasn't that a mighty storm in the morning
Say, wasn't that a mighty storm
Blew all the people away

Well, Galveston had a sea wall
Meant to keep the water down
High tide from the ocean
Sent water over Galveston


Yeah, year was 1900
Fifty long years ago
Death came walking on the water that day
Death calls, you gotta go

Now the trumpets, they sounded warning
Said it's time to leave this place
But no one thought about leaving town
Til death stared them in the face

[ Lyrics from: ]
Right then the sea started boiling
A thing that no ship could stand
I thought I heard a captain crying out
Somebody save a drowning man

They had two trains loaded
With people trying to leave town
Tracks gave way to the water now
And all of those people drowned


I said the year was 1900
Fifty long years ago
Death came walking on the water
Death calls, you gotta go

I said Death, your hands are clammy
You got them on my knee
You came and threw a stone at my mother
And now you're coming after me.



Funny he, Adam Evans, thought as he laid in his toss and turn early morning Seals Rock Inn, San Francisco bed, as the rain poured down in buckets, literally buckets, at his unprotected door, the winds were howling against that same door, and the nearby sea was lashing up its fury how many times the sea stormy night, the sea fury tempest day, the, well, the mighty storm anytime, had played a part in his life. He was under no circumstances, as he cleared his mind for a think back, a think back, that was occupying his thoughts more and more of late, trying to work himself into a lather over some metaphorical essence between the storms that life had bestowed on him and the raging night storm. No way, too simple. Rather he was just joy searching for all those sea-driven times, times when a storm, a furious storm like this night or maybe just an average ordinary vanilla storm passing through and complete in an hour made him think of his relationship with his homeland the sea and with its time for reflection. And so on that toss and turn bed he thought.

He thought first and mainly about how early the sea came into his life, almost from birth down at those ragged slopes around Germantown where he lived growing up and was tumbled into the sea early. And learned the power of the sea early when one winter storm night Mother Nature played a trick on her seaward brethren and tried to bring them home to her bosom all in one lashed-up swoop as the water came right up to that hovel (really a cottage, maybe slightly bigger) door and the lot of them only reached higher ground in a split second before a big foam-flecked (aren’t they always when they come in that hard, fast and furious) wave crashed that cottage down. And later, childhood later, a few years later anyway, when he, bravo he, decided, yes, decided that the impeding summer storm he could sense coming would be no deterrent to his taking that log on the beach and using it to swim to China , or some such place, on the current. And losing the log in the churning waters almost drowned, except for the screams of his panic beach-bound brother sounding the alarm for help and some Madonna savior swimmer, beach-bound too, came and swooped him up before he went down for the third time. Don’t tell Ma, jesus, don’t tell Ma.

Or that night, that funny night (funny night in retrospect, then and now retrospect) when he, his buddy Will and his girl, and she, she Terry Wallace,  sat in Will’s father-bought high school car, a ’59 Dodge, “making out” while the sea churned up around them at old Nippo Beach just up from home Germantown and the police, spotting the car and the fix, came and rescued them rescued them while they were in, ah, compromising positions (you figure it out, he just laughed his thought laugh) because in the throes of love they had not realized that they were in a couple of feet of sea water that had splashed over some poor man-made seawall built against Mother’s angers.         

Or that day, that wind- swept day, when his world fell apart, the day when Diana had left him, left him for good, left him for another man, another non-sea driven man, after she called it quits when spending a couple of months  up in that storm-ravaged  Maine cottage where she, quote, was tired as hell of the sea, of the wind, of the stuff that the wind did to her sensitive skin, and, and, tired of him playing out some old man of the seas, some man against nature thing with her in his train.     

Or that time later with Sarah when the winter seas once again bore down on them in Marblehead coming up over a double seawall, damn a double sea walls, and almost touching their front steps. And she too calling it quits, although not over another man, or over his man and nature obsession, or over that breeched double sea-wall but just her calling it Sarah quits. And he sorry, more than Diana sorry, when she left.

Or that Maine time a few years back when a sudden winter storm came up the coast of Maine and he was stranded for a couple of days when Mile Road was cut off and he finally knew what it was like to be totally dependent on happenstance, on others, and, in the end on his own devises.

Or tonight, the winds blasting away, rain splashing down, left to his own devises, his own thoughts, and just then he thought, that no, no he was wrong, he really was searching for that metaphor, that metaphor, that mighty storm metaphor. that would sum up his life.           


From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- The Time Of Motorcycle Bill


There was a scourge in the land, in the 1950s American land. No, not the dreaded but fatalistically expected BIG ONE that would send old mother earth back to square one, or worst, coming from the Russkies. Sure that was in the air and every school boy and girl had their giggling tales of having to hide, hide ass up, under some desk or other useless defense in air raid drill preparations for that eventually. Sure, as well, the air stunk of red scare, military build-up cold war “your mommy is a commie turns her in.” But that was not the day to day scare for every self-respecting parent from Portland to the Pacific. That was reserved for the deadly dreaded motorcycle scare that had every father telling his son to beware of falling under the Marlon Brando sway and spiraling down to a life, a low life of crime and debauchery (of course said son not knowing of the word, the meaning of debauchery, until much later just shrugged his innocent shoulders). More importantly every mother, every blessed mother, self-respecting or not (with a gentle nod from Dad) warned off their daughters against this madness and perversity.

Of course that did not stop the sons from mooning over every Harley that rode the ride down Main Street, Olde Saco (really U.S. Route One but everybody called it Main Street and it was) or the daughters from mooning (and maybe more) over the low- riders churning the metal on those bad ass machines. Even prime and proper Lily Dumont, the queen of Saint Brigitte’s Catholic Church rectitude on Sunday and wanna-be “mama” every other waking minute of late. And the object of her desire? One “Motorcycle Bill,” the baddest low- rider in all of Olde Saco.

Now baddest in Olde Saco (that’s up in ocean edge Maine for the heathens and others not in the know) was not exactly baddest in the whole wide world, nowhere as near as bad as say Sonny Barger and his henchmen outlaws- for- real bikers out in Hell’s Angels Oakland as chronicled by Doctor Gonzo (before he was Gonzo), Hunter S. Thompson in his saga of murder and mayhem sociological- literary study Hell’s Angels. But as much is in life one must accept the context. And the context here is that in sleepy  dying mill town Olde Saco mere ownership, hell maybe mere desire for ownership, of a bike was prima facie evidence of badness. So every precious daughter was specifically warned away from Motorcycle Bill and his Vincent Black Lightning 1952 (although no mother, and maybe no daughter either, could probably tell the difference between that sleek English bike and a big pig Harley). But Madame  Dumont felt no need to do so with her sweet sixteen Lily who, maybe, pretty please maybe was going to be one of god’s women, maybe enter the convent over in Cedars Of Lebanon Springs in a couple of years after she graduated from Olde Saco High along with her Class of 1960.            

But that was before, walking home to Olde Saco’s French- Canadian (F-C) quarter, the Acre, on Atlantic Avenue with classmate and best friend Clara Dubois, Lily heard the thunder of Bill’s bike coming up behind them, stopping, Bill giving Lily a bow, and them revving the machine up and doing a couple of circle cuts within a hair’s breathe of the girls. Then just a suddenly he was off, and Lily, well, Lily was hooked, hooked on Motorcycle Bill, although she did not know it, know it for certain until that night in her room when she tossed and turned all night and did not ask god, or any of his associates, to guide her in this matter.   

One thing about living in a sleepy old town, a sleepy old dying mill town, is that everybody knows everybody’s business at least as far as any person wants that information out on the public square. Two things are important before we go on. One is that everybody in town that counted which meant every junior and senior class high schooler in Olde Saco knew that Bill had made a “play” for Lily. And the buzz got its start from none other than Clara Dubois who had her own hankerings after the motorcycle man (her source of wonder though was more, well lets’ call it crass than Lily’s, Clara wanted to know if  Bill was build, build with sexual power like his motorcycle. She had innocently, perhaps, understood the Marlon mystique). The second was that Bill, other than his bike, was not a low life low- rider but just a guy who liked to ride the roads free and easy. See Bill was a freshman over at Bowdoin and he used the bike as much to get back and forth as to do wheelies in front of impressionable teenage girls from the Acre.     

One day, a few days after their Motorcycle Bill “introduction,” when Lily and Clara were over at Seal Rock at the end of Olde Saco Beach (not its real name but given it because it was the local lovers’ lane and many things had been sealed there including a fair share of “doing the do”) Bill came up behind them sans his bike. Now not on his bike, without a helmet, and carrying books, books of all things, he looked like any student except maybe a little bolder and a little less reserved. He started talking to Lily and something in his demeanor attracted her to him. (Clara swore, swore on seven bibles, that Lily was kind of stand-offish at first but Lily says no.)  They talked for a while and then Bill asked Lily if she wanted a ride home. She hemmed and hawed but there was just something about him that spoke of mystery (who knows what Clara thought). She agreed and they walked a couple of blocks to where he was parked. And there Lily saw that Vincent Black Lightning 1952 of her dreams. Without a word, without anything done except to tie her hair back she climbed on the back of the bike at Bill’s beckon. And that is how one Lily Dumont became William Kelly’s motorcycle “mama.”  

In The 1960s Time Of Fear And Loathing- The Movie-Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”

 In The 1960s Time Of Fear And Loathing- The Movie-Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”  


Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, starring Johnny Depp, based on the gonzo journalism of Doctor Hunter S. Thompson.

Make no mistake I have read everything of Hunter Thompson’s that I could get my hands on. I love Johnny Depp as an actor. However, this film does a true disservice to both of their talents. Johnny makes no sense as Hunter, although he was legitimate wild man Hunter’s friend. More importantly, Fear and Loathing, driven by stuff internally spinning in Thompson’s head, does not translate on the screen as anything but a diffused and nonsensical homage to late counter-cultural self-indulgence, drug division. Of the worse sort.

Thompson always claimed that his literary attempt to use the tenets of ‘gonzo’ journalism in the book was a failure. I disagree with that evaluation for the book but certainly not for the film. Let us face it this is classic case of the film being very, very inferior to the book, although the episodes and language hew fairly close to it. Please, please read the book. And please, please read many times that little gem snippet of his about his take on the high (and low) side of the 1960s experience, what it meant to those who got caught up in the excitement and danger, and when he could see the whole thing literally ebbing. Classic. You will also laugh and be entertained by his drug-induced attempt to find the meaning of the American experience in the post-World War II world. As for the film it will give you nothing but fear and loathing.


From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin -From The “Brothers Under The Bridge” Series- Francis Allen Edwards’ War- “To My Mother, Doris Margaret Edwards, nee Ridley, In Lieu Of A Letter”


In the first installment of this series of sketches in this space provided courtesy of my old yellow brick road magical mystery tour merry prankster fellow traveler, Peter Paul Markin, I mentioned, in grabbing an old Bruce Springsteen CD compilation from 1998 to download into my iPod that 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 East Bay, 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.”

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 hear, 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 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 sketch from that time fits this description, had no real desire to advertise their own hunger but just wanted to get something off their chest about some lost buddy, or some event they had witnessed. I have presented enough of these sketches both back in the day and here to not make a generalization about what a guy might be hiding in the deep recesses of his mind. Some wanted to give a blow by blow description of every firefight (and every hut torched) they were involved in, others wanted to blank out ‘Nam completely and talk of before or after times, as is the case here with the Francis Allen Edwards, who wanted to talk about home and family, the home and family he never fit in with, and the anguish that drove him to enlist in the Army to get as he said “his head screwed on right.” Unfortunately that decision solved nothing and he never did fit in. So all he wanted to do was have me print a piece from him, as he said, in lieu of a letter, after he heard that his mother had passed away to try to even things out.  I like to finish up these introductions by placing these sketches under a particular sign; no question Francis Allen Edwards’ sign was that of “in lieu of a letter.”
To My Mother, Doris Margaret Edwards, nee Ridley, In Lieu Of A Letter

I have been estranged from my family for over fifteen years and therefore any memories, good or bad, are colored by that fact. I did not attend my father Paul Edwards’ funeral as I was out in a no address, no forwarding address ravine in Southern California. I also missed my younger brother Kenneth’s funeral [he had died young of cancer and had a history of mental problems] for the same reason and, along the way, those of others in the family as well. Now I have missed my mother’s funeral. This says more about me than anything I might offer as an excuse for past circumstances. The time for that is now well past.

Last May [1979] when I finally did get off my high horse and try to connect with the family again, or at least find out what had happened to it and attempt to make my peace Ann-Charlotte (Uncle Harold’s daughter) suggested that I write letters to my family members (not to be delivered, of course) as the way to make my peace. I took her up on that idea and wrote the letters.

My father I believe, as all who knew him knew was his way, forgave me.  After all I was one of his boys.  Good or bad that was all he cared about.  All my life I did a great wrong to that poor, hardworking man that I will always have to carry with me. Although it is far too late let me say something here publicly that I never told him but should have shouted from the rooftops. Dad, I am proud that you were my father.   My poor brother Kenneth, I fear, was much less forgiving. He said he could have used my help during his life long struggle against his demons within. I have to live with that knowledge as well. So be it.

I did not write a letter then to my mother because I believed that I still had a possibility of making things right. To my regret I never got the chance. Once again, as has happened more than a few times in my life, my timing was off and I was too late. I have now written her a private letter that, along with those to my father and brother, is consigned to oblivion. Like in my father’s case I have done my mother a great wrong all my life. This too I will have to live with. My old memories however, such as they are, can now be looked at with a greater fondness and understanding of what they did for me. 

If in my life I have reacted to situations too absurdly or dishonestly rather than in an emotionally balanced way don’t blame my mother. In her understated, and probably partially unconscious, way she taught me to simply be truthful and to fight for what I believed in. I have honored that wisdom more in the breech than in the observance. However, I have gotten better at it. From the mist of memories I remember two things that she always remarked on about me in a positive way- I was always looking for that next mythical mountain to climb and that I was a survivor. Well, she was right on both counts. And I am still at it. Thanks, Ma.

If all of this does not reflect adequately the way I feel today- know this. Doris Margaret Edwards, nee Ridley was my mother. I was her son. In the end, not without some terrible struggle, I recognized that she was my mother.  That too should have long ago been shouted from the rooftops. I hope that in the end she recognized that I was her son. 

Now she has gone to be reunited with her beloved husband Paul, after years without his comfort, and also with her son Kenneth. May they all rest in peace.

Francis Allen Edwards



Thursday, November 29, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Chuck’s First Car

I have almost endlessly gone on about the 1950s as being something like the golden age of the American automobile. Not, by the way, just to note that many times in those years the poor, dirt poor, Breslin family was without a car, golden age or not. That was our hard luck and no special mercy need be shown on that account. But also to note that the car craze extended right down to junior, a he junior in those days, having maybe for the first in recorded history, recorded teen history, the only history that counted among the corner boys, and wanna-be corner boys of Olde Saco (that is up in ocean side Maine for the interested), the chance to have his own “wheels” to rocket out in the ocean air night.

Usually that first car was a Dad hand-me-down once he, Dad that is, got tired of the old heap (old heap being in those cheap car days maybe four years old) and instead of trading the heap in for the latest step-up like a shiny two-toned Buick he gave the keys to junior. This ritual, and make no mistake that it was a ritual, became a virtual rite of passage as the1950s flew into the1960s as a sign that some families had arrived into that good American middle class night. So you would see guys, ordinary guys, really, maybe football players or playing some sport, maybe just social guys, tooling around Main Street (really U.S.1 but everybody called it Main Street, and in truth for teenagers it was Main Street and the only street that mattered) on Friday and Saturday nights with sharp Buicks, Chevys, a lonely Pontiac or two, maybe some Ford thing (no, not the damn Edsel), or an off-hand exotic import like a British-made MG. Of course even ordinary guys did not want to drive some father-mobile and so once those keys ritualistically passed hands the old heap was converted, disposable income- converted into  a “boss” car.                 

And a “boss” car if you were to have any chance, or expected to have any chance with the twists (local Olde Saco teen corner boy expression for, what else, girls), was what you needed to stay in that breezed out cool night. Otherwise stay home, watch television with the family, and save the gas money for some record you just had to have. Just don’t bother to sit by the phone waiting, midnight phone waiting, for Julie or Molly or Debbie to call because brother they are out riding with real guys with real souped- up cars. And real souped –up meant a few things in that fin-tail age. It meant much fender chrome, it meant serious hubcaps, it meant serious hood ornaments, it meant exotic silky seat-covers, it meant a be-bop sound system that could be heard from about six blocks away to let every girl in the area know “the killer” was on the prowl, and beyond that it meant you had  some serious horsepower under that hood that when you cranked it up to one hundred miles per hour (100 MPH for the disbelievers)  in sixty seconds on some dark country road that you would blow that dude in that prissy father-mobile  Cadillac away, far away. And take his girl as the prize.      

So, no way, no way in hell, were you going to let Dad’s old trusty mechanic, some Mr. Bill who ran the Esso station and did oil changes while you waited and had a Coke. A guy who cautioned you every time you went in to "fill ‘er up" and said what a wonderful vehicle it was and warn you against going more than fifty-five miles per hour (55 MPH for disbelievers) because you might ruin the engine. And muttering under your breathe that maybe he should go work on one of Mr. Ford’s Model T, or something. No, any teenage guy, even ordinary guys with preppy sweater and bobby-soxer girlfriends  let nobody, nobody on this good green earth get under that hood except Chassis Chuck, yes, Chuck Miller.        

And from here on in this is Chuck’s story. Chuck and his magic greased-up fingers. See Chuck didn’t go to some car company auto mechanics school, or even taken up the trade in high school. But he was the A-One mechanic that every teenage guy in town went to just the same. I know the real story of how he developed his mechanical prowess because Chuck lived down the street from where my family lived, down in the Acre, down on those wrong side of the tracks, and I used to hang out at his “garage” when I was a kid and had nothing else to do. One night he told me the story of his life, of his car-fixing life. It is short so listen up.

Chuck Miller was kind of a “foundling,” at least that was what his mother (not his real mother) called him because she said he arrived at her humble door one day and she just took him in. Now the Acre for those who don’t know, or can’t guess, was in the old days before they put in “the projects” filled with old ratty seen better days trailers of every description, mainly dilapidated. This is where Chuck spent his youth and came to young manhood.  So you know, know without me telling, that Chuck was not one of those juniors who had that neat key ceremony when dear old Dad passed the torch to car-hood. Still Chuck was crazy, crazy for cars from about twelve on when some mother’s friend took him to the Bethel Speedway. He was hooked, hooked more than a guy could get hooked over a woman (that’s what he said that night he told me his story anyway). So he started going to junkyards and hanging around older guys with hotrods and learned stuff, learned tons of stuff. Basically learned how to build a car from scratch.      

Now Chuck had trophy cars along the way but he only had eyes really for that first one. He described every inch but I only remember the highlights. The engine from an old Chevy, the gearbox from a Studebaker, the chassis from some major wreak on U.S. Route One up in Camden, chrome fenders from some Buick, a real hodge-podge but his for about fifty bucks and ten thousand years of mankind trying to ride faster and get from point A to point B without undue duress. And all done before he was sixteen and could actually legally get a driver’s license. Although, keep this under your hat, he was driving the back roads, the plentiful back roads from about age thirteen.

As you might expect this first Chuck-mobile looked funny, looked kind of contorted so, naturally, the juniors around town razzed him about it, razzed him bad. Razzed him so bad that he challenged the “boss” car leader, Sam Murray and his souped-up ’57 two-toned Chevy, to a “chicken run.” Now Sam was strictly a mild-mannered jock but he had this twist (remember who that designated), this Cathy Bleu, whom he was trying to impress and to keep as his “trophy” girlfriend. So she egged Sam on, egged him hard about what should happen to Acre guys, even Acre young guys. So the “run” was on, on for an October Saturday night.              

Oh, for the clueless, or for those not addicted to 1950s teen angst films like James Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause a chicken run back then was just two guys (with or without their honeys in the front seat) going down some back road as fast as they could-winner take all. Winner take all meaning the prerogatives of the “boss” car king of the night. On the face of it Chuck was foolish to challenge Sam and Sam was foolish to put his “rep” on the line against some Acre has-been before he was. But twists (damn, now I ‘m saying it) will lead guys, seemingly normal guys, to do strange things.    

Naturally Chuck had to relate every detail of the race, from the flash start to the blazing finish, taking far longer to detail the vent that it took to run it. Naturally as well Chuck won, won in a breeze or else he wouldn’t have bothered to tell the story if you think about it. So after that, for a long time after that, Chuck Miller was the king of the “chicken run” night around southern Maine. And every guy, every guy who did not want to sit around waiting for the midnight phone not to ring, including a chastised Sam, headed to Chuck’s garage (really just that run down trailer and a tool shed) when they made their key exchange rites of passage. Oh yah, and after that first chicken run victory, and for several years after, sitting in the front seat of the Chuck-mobile on most Friday and Saturday nights was one Cathy Bleu. Naturally.     

Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night- The Falcons' "You're So Fine"



Joshua Lawrence Breslin comment:

This is another tongue-in-cheek commentary, the back story if you like, in the occasional entries under this headline going back to the primordial youth time of the 1950s with its bags full of classic rock songs for the ages. Now many music and social critics have done yeomen’s service giving us the meaning of various folk songs, folk protest songs in particular, from around this period. You know they have essentially beaten us over the head with stuff like the meaning of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind as a clarion call for now aging baby-boomers back then and a warning (not heeded) that a new world was a-bornin’, or trying to be. Or better, The Times They Are A-Changin’with plaintive plea for those in charge to get hip, or stand aside. (They did neither.) And we have been fighting about a forty year rearguard action to this very day trying to live down those experiences, and trying to get new generations to blow their own wind, change their own times, and sing their own plainsong in a similar way.

Like I said the critics have had a field day (and long and prosperous academic and journalistic careers as well) with that kind of stuff, fluff stuff really. The hard stuff, the really hard stuff that fell below their collective radars, was the non-folk, non-protest, non-deep meaning (so they thought) stuff, the daily fare of popular radio back in the day. A song like today’s selection, You’re So Fine. A song that had every red-blooded American (and who knows maybe world teen) wondering their own wondering about the fate of the song’s narrator. About what happened that night (and the next morning) that caused him to pose the comment in that particular way. Yes, that is the hard stuff of social commentary, the stuff of popular dreams, and the stuff that is being tackled head on in this series- Those Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘50s Song Night. Read on.
She stood there, just stood there grinning to herself at the bathroom door going in to freshen up from the night ‘s pillow exertions, and, a little sore, good sore, to do other womanly after sex things. Grinning that womanly grin (although she was barely out of her teens, having turned twenty just the month before that grin moment) that connoted that she had caught herself a man, a good man from the looks of him this first morning, and a man whom she knew, knew deep in her womanly soul, that believed, and perhaps, would believe to infinity, or something like that, that he had bedded her with his line, his oh so fine line the night before at the Carousel Club, the one in Old Town for the college set and the young who were full of energy and looking, frankly, looking  for sex, not the one over on Main Street that was reserved, strictly reserved for touritas mainly interested in the next drink, where he, so he thought, had picked her up.         

What he did not know, and would not know to infinity or something like that, was at just that 1959 moment, just that turned twenty moment, she had dumped her no good, two-timing (she later found out five-timing so the no good stands two and one half more no good ) boyfriend from State U, the local hush-hush  dope dealer on campus (selling to ancient tea heads, not so ancient beats, the curious, and an occasional girl, prodded on by some anxious boyfriend, who needed to loosen herself up before her first bout with the sex pillows), and all-around heel. So she had been on the rebound last night, had purposefully dolled herself up, all tight cashmere sweater to reveal her perky bosom, all skin- tight black shirt to show her curvaceous hips and slender and graceful legs, all ruby red lips stick to highlight her lips and a dab of come hinter, come hither perfume to highlight, to highlight her prowl needs.               

Then he came into the club, known, vaguely known from around campus as something of a beat, something of a hipster (although she did not recall him around boyfriend tea times), something of an egghead, and something of a loner, all kind of vaguely known but known. And not known, intelligence gathered in the Ladies’ Room where she cornered Clara White who knew of such things, such campus things, not known to be hard on women, or at least his women. So when he came by her stool seat at the bar, her very friendly seat at the bar, and asked her in a very friendly but civilized manner whether the seat next to her was empty, she was ready, ready to be swept of her feet if that was where things were headed.  

And then he started with that you’re so fine line, like from the big hit song, The Falcons’ song, everybody at school was playing and everybody knew the words to. And every guy had as his opening line that month. But it wasn’t what he said but the way he said it, like he was thankful that she, and she alone, was sitting alone at the bar just that minute. That he was thankful too that she let him sit next her. And that she had dolled herself up to look, well, to look so fine. So with that opening, after the troubles of the past few months, and his casual, his non-threatening offer to buy her a drink, she knew Clara’s intelligence was right, and she knew too that she was not going to sleep alone that night in her apartment. And as the evening progressed, without a lot of boring this and that to foul things up, he too knew where he was spending the night.       

Just then he awoke, and she asked him, asked him like they would be together for a time whether he wanted some coffee, and what he wanted in it. And he answered like he didn’t want to put her to any bother and just like he too expected they would be together for a time.   

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- When The Corner Boys Grow Up

I have spilled much ink talking about the corner boy society that I grew up in 1950s Olde Saco (that’s up in Maine, seacoast Maine, not the great forest, farmland, ski mountain Maine  but real honest lobsterman, shipbuilder, yawl Maine, all Mainiac Maine though and you cannot buy that entre for those interested) where some hard-ass (and soft-ass too) corner boys ripped up the imaginations of wanna-bes like me and my corner boys  who hung around, soft-ass hung around, Mama’s Pizza Parlor over on Atlantic Avenue not far from the beach in case of any luck, girl luck, and car back seat Seal Rock sealed dreams, waiting, well, waiting for some  breathe of fresh air, maybe coming in from the nearby ocean to wash over us and take us out of that red scare cold war night. In the meantime we hung out, Jimmy LaCroix, Phil Dubois, Jack (not French-Canadian mother and grandmere Jeanbon but good old American vanilla Jack like Jack Kennedy, our co-religionist) Bleu, his brother Deni, and me (me of the Kentuck Baptist father but F-C mother, nee LeBlanc, and of a long story of that union’s coming about  that I will tell you about sometime when I am not corner boy-addled) doing a little of this and a little of that, some stuff legal other stuff well, let’s just leave it as other stuff. And leading us, unquestionably leading us once things got sorted out at about age fifteen, was Big Red Dubonnet, the king hell king of the Mama’s Pizza Parlor corner boys.      

So on any given night, mostly weekends but in the summer seemingly every night, from about junior high school on you could find us in those environs, usually sitting on the stoop in front of Mama’s or holding up the brick wall on the parking lot side, one foot on the wall the other firmly on terra firma as was our style when corner boy posing, including white tee-shirt, black chinos and midnight sunglasses. Or playing pinball on Mama’s back room machine, the Madame LaRue busty ladies pictured on the scoreboard begging you to play for their favors, play fiercely although empty-handedly (except those seventeen free games you racked up in your, ah, frenzy to please Madame). Or when rock and roll threw its fresh breathe over us we tossed many quarters in Mama’s jukebox to hear the latest songs like the Chiffon’s He’s So Fine about twelve times straight and hoped that certain shes came in to listen and maybe help make us those selections. Or, on some dark moonless night, heading toward sixteen, seventeen maybe, maybe a little drunk, maybe a little dough hunger, or needing dough girl hungry, we might just be found doing our midnight creep around the neighborhood in order to make ends meet, that little of this and that stuff mentioned early.           

As high school turned to work world, or maybe college world as things opened up even for working- class kids in those blessed 1960s times, the old corner boy society, or our generation’s chapter of it, went in several difference directions, some good some not so good, including those like our leader, the by then legendary Big Red Dubonnet who had graduated to armed robberies of gas stations, liquor stores, warehouses and Shawshank. Yah, Big Red was tough (I once saw him chain-whip, mercilessly chain-whip, a guy, an Irish guy from over in the Irishtown section of the Acre, and a guy who was known far and wide as tough as nails, for the simple error of being on the wrong corner, Red’s (and our), while breathing), was pretty smart, in a street smart way, knew a couple of things about the world and, and, be still my heart, let me have some free Madame LaRue games after he had racked up a ton and needed to take care of some ever present girl business. And I too was the beneficiary of Big Red’s (not Red, Big Red, don’t ever make that mistake, remember what I said about that chain-whipping) largess on many occasions because Big Red attracted girls, and not just slutty girls around the Acre like you’d expect, but girls who had their Saint Brigitte’s Church (Roman Catholic in that French-Canadian heavy old mill town) novena book recitals in one part of their brains and lust, bad boy lust, in the other, on more occasions that you would think. And knew more tricks, more please a boy tricks, than some old seacoast sailor’s whore.      

And that is where memories of Big Red and the characters, hard-ass grown up corner boys who I ran into, or heard about,  stone-killer Irish  guys from Southie  and Charlestown in Boston who filled up the state pen at Walpole (now called Cedar Junction at the behest of the local citizenry tired of hard-ass grown corner boy reputations ), blackjack armed robbery guys from South Point over in Springfield,  general murder and mayhem motorcycle guys from Oakland and up and down the West Coast, and street tough guys hard-bitten by war, mainly Vietnam, from the wharves of Seattle, intersect in my mind. See Big Red, the late Big Red Dubonnet now, never could find anything better in this whole wide world than to be the  king hell king of the corner boy night. But that, just like any kingship, takes dough, and so you either work the work-a-day world with the squares or go where the dough is- for Big Red in Podunk gas stations and liquors stores, maybe an off-hand truck or warehouse heist. They were, Big Red and the others, all driven by that same first glance, last chance, imperative though, and by the same need to hone their respective skills on a regular basis before a hostile and unforgiving world.   

No question the life held me in thrall, as it now holds me in the thought that for a minute back in the 1950s, hell, more than a minute, I could have been lured to the life, no sweat, no looking back. Jesus I was the “holder” (innocent kid who looked like he could barely tie his shoes, and that task badly, let alone engage in criminal endeavors when cop time came) on more than one occasion when the great (locally Olde Saco and Portland great) “clip artist” Ronny Bleu (older brother of Jack and Deni) had the local merchants in a frenzy anytime he was in the down town area, or maybe even thought about being there.  And later in gratitude to Big Red for his favors (no, jesus, no not that lame free pinball game stuff, but when he “gave” me one of his “reject” girls, a college girl he said he couldn’t understand and thought I might be able to) I did a couple of favors for him in return.  Just look out  stuff on a couple of heists but Big Red always appreciated it and everybody around town knew enough to not hassle me for any reason, any reason at all.  I’ll never forget the thrill the first time we saw Big Red pull out his gun, some old .32 automatic I think, or when we heard that the Esso gas station over on Gorham Road in Scarborough was hit one dark night by a guy aiming a .32 at the gas jockey attendant. He got away clean, clean as a whistle, especially when that gas jockey blanked out when thought about that gun later when the cops put Big Red in front of him for identification. The stuff of legends, no question. So you can see the pull was strong, real strong.      

Oh yah, sure the life had its downside, the time up at Shawshank, or some two bit county pokey. Stuff like that. But being connected, well, being able to walk around free as a bird because you were connected, that was something, wasn’t it?  But get this too. I don’t know how true the code of omerta (silence) still is in Charlestown (or Southie, or about seventeen other places where corner boys, some corner boys anyway, go on to the life) but I am willing to believe that it is honored more in the breech than the observance. At least it was in Podunk.  How do you think they (and you know who the they is, the cops from the locals to the feds), got the lead that got Big Red after he knocked over the biggest fur warehouse in Portland that last time before they clipped his wings, clipped them bad?  I hope that bastard rots in hell.  Big Red- RIP.                 



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- The Blues Is…, Take One

The blues is, praise be… He had just barely gotten done with his work for the day, his sun up to sun down work helping Brother Barnes shoe the plow horses, a job he had held since his older brother, Ben, had gotten back from the war, the Great War, the war to end all wars, the war for so-called democracy, World War I, if anybody was asking and upon returning had decided to move on to Clarksville and later Memphis, on Mister’s cotton boll massive ten thousand acre delta plantation, than his father took him aside and asked him , really ordered, to wash up and get ready to go over to Lancer Lane. The words Lancer Lane made him jump for joy inside, for this night, this very  Saturday night he would finally, finally, get to play his new guitar, well not really new for that instrument had been passed down to his father from who knows when, maybe back to pharaoh times when those old pyramid slaves needed something to take their minds off their back-breaking work on their relax minute, in front of a real crowd at the Lancer Lane juke joint and not just before his father, his siblings, and a few stray cats at Mister’s company store over in Lancersville.
No, he was stepping up in the world, the world that mattered, the world of those rough-hewed, hard drinking walking daddies (and their clinking dressed to the nines, dressed to the soft kitten pillow tumble nines, walked- around women, praise be) that populated the Lancer Lane juke joint on Saturday night (and paid penance, serious penance, at nearby Lancer Lane Lord’s Work Baptist on Sunday morning, many times sliding directly from one site to the other, smoothly if stinking a little of sweat, hard, hard Sonny Boy’s golden liquor, and mussed up pillow tumble sex ), who would decide whether he had the stuff his father thought he had. And decide it in the only way such things were decided, by throwing dollars, real dollars, at him if he was good and broken whisky bottles (or, if tight for dough, as was often the case with tough times as just then, and so bought their whisky by the jar, jars) if he panned. He had asked his father repeatedly since he had turned sixteen to let him accompany him on his journeys to Lancer Lane (the latter as performer and as a, ah, imbiber), but his father maybe knowing the wisdom of sheltering the boy from those whisky bottles and jars if things didn’t work out just like his father, bless him, before him had held off until he was sure, or fairly sure of the night’s outcome.
What sonny boy did not know was that father had relented as much because he was in need of an extra pair of hands in case Big Nig Fingers showed up that night as that he was ready to have dollars thrown at his son. The nature of the dispute between Big Nig Fingers and his father was simply enough explained, a woman, a dressed to the nines pillow tumble woman, Sonny Boy’s woman, Lucille, and her roving eyes, roving eyes that landed, allegedly landed, on his father. Alleged by Sonny Boy although denied, vehemently denied by his father, who had secretly a couple of years back had had an affair with Lucille when Big Nig was trying to take over, well take over something, booze, dope, women, numbers, something in Memphis. So yes, yes indeed, his small-framed father most assuredly and vehemently denied those roving eyes.                        
A couple of hours later, washed up, dressed up in a clean work shirt and pants he and his father having walked the two dusty miles from their Mister’s plantation-provide quarters, arrived at the juke house, really nothing but a cabin, a log cabin, belonging to Sonny Boy Jackson who used the place as a front for his golden liquor sales as well. (Yes, that Sonny Boy in the days before he went to Clarksville and began the road to some local fame as the best harmonica in 1920s delta Mississippi, even getting a record contract from Bee Records when he was “discovered” by one of the agents that they had sent out scouring the country for talent for their race record division after Mame Smith set the world, the black world and a few hip whites on recorded blues fire.) Now, like most cabins in those parts then, maybe now too, who knows, there was no electricity, hell, nobody practically except Mister (and the Captain, that deduction crazy Captain, docking everybody for his version of not a full bale, for sassing back, for breaking tools, hell, one time for some asthmatic picker just breathing ) had electricity, or a reason to use it just a few chairs, tables, a counter to belly up to for whiskey jar orders (bottles were sold out back away from prying eyes, moneyless prying eyes looking for some cadges swigs), and for the occasion Sonny Boy had a small stage jerry-rigged in the back so the entertainment would not get pushed around too much when things got rowdy, as they always did, later in the evening.       
That night he had a surprise coming, or rather two. His father, taking no chances, had arranged to have a few members of the Andersonville Sheiks from up the road, who would later in the decade, some of them anyway, go on to form the Huntsville Sheiks and also get that coveted record contract from Bee Records when sheiks replaced harmonica players and barrelhouse mamas as blues fire among blacks and those few hip whites, to back his son up. So he was going to have a real ensemble, a jug player, a harp player (harmonica, okay) and a washboard man, his father to play banjo (if he was sober enough, and while that was in question most of the night he held up, held up well enough to slide over to Lord’s Work Baptist for the eight o’clock service even if stinking of sweat and liquor).  Papa had done right by him, Big Nig Fingers and his Lucille (to his father’s dismay) had decided to take a night off so he would need no cut knife help, and he blasted the place with his strange riffs, riffs going back to some homeland Africa time. Proof: twenty- seven dollars as his share of the house.  And no whisky bottles (or jars).        
Oh, the second surprise. Miss Lucy, Miss Lucy Barnes, Miss Lucy Barnes, a sweet sixteen going on thirty, and no one needed to explain what that meant when a girl, hell, woman had her wanting habits on, a dark- skinned beauty, all cuddles and curves, the daughter of his” boss,” the plantation blacksmith, had taken notice of him and kept sending small jars of Sonny Boy’s golden liquor his way which just made him play more madly, hell, let’s call it by its right name, he played the devil’s music like he was the devil himself. By the end of the night she was sitting, table sitting, just in front of him, waiting for that last encore. Suddenly she jumped up and started to dance, dance to his encore riff blasted version of Mean, Mistreatin’ Mama shaking her head back and forth furiously indicating that one Miss Lucy Barnes’ was not in that category, at least for that night. They too were seen sneaking into that eight o’clock service at Lord’s Work’s Baptist a little sweaty and stinking of liquor, having spent the previous few hours in the back room of Sonny’s  joint, just in case you wanted to know.        
The blues ain’t nothing, nothing at all but a good woman on your mind, all curves and cuddles, all be my daddy, daddy, be my walking daddy, build for comfort not for speed just like your daddy, your real daddy, not your long gone daddy (met as you came up river from Lancersville via Memphis and he, he returned from another war to end all wars, this time World War II) just now serving a stretch, a nickel’s worth for armed robbery up in Joliet for some Southside (Southside Chicago, natch)heist that went sour, hell, you told long gone daddy that guns didn’t make the play any better but long gone was just a little too long gone on that twinkle dust and so when Danville Slim called the shots, long gone was long gone, told you about when you were knee high and needing instruction about who, and who not, to mess with when you got your wanting habits on.
Hence, stay away from big women, big-legged, big bosomed, big- lusted, hell, just big everything, like the song, the blue blue blue song says, don’t forget, they will wear you out, wear you out for other women, ditto, long thin gals, hungry girls who have learned man trap tricks in lieu of big appetites , with wanderlust eyes, and twinkle dust noses, itching, checking out every daddy, every daddy that came by her eyes, flashing five dollars bills and another twinkle line,  ditto, god’s girls, Sunday morning moaners, smelling of gin, washtub gin, and carrying juke joint slashes, some mean mama cut her up when she wrong- eyed mean mama’s daddy, now Sunday looking for, can you believe it, forgiveness, and trick, getting it, stick with curves and cuddles, an easy rider, a low love easy rider, she’ll treat you right and no heavy overhead, and no damn where have you been daddy questions.
She, Miss Lucy she, all cuddles and curves she, an easy rider, yah, a sweet and low easy rider, to make a man, well, to make a man get his own wanting habits on, so far away, so far from uptown downtown  Chi town, far down in sweaty delta Mississippi, maybe still in Clarksville like he left her that night, that moonless 1942 night, when he had to break-out from delta sweats, from working sunup to blasted sundown for no pay, for chits, Christ what are you supposed to do with company chits when you had your Miss Lucy wanting habits on, needed, no craved, some of Sonny Boy’s honey liquor, from the Mister on his ten thousand acre cotton boll plantation (selling every last boll too, good or bad, to the U.S. Army, for, for what else, uniforms), and those damn deductions from the Captain, for, for sassing, and grab that bus, that underground bus, out on Highway 61, and head, yah, head north following the north star, following the migrant trail up-river. A quick stop at Memphis to see if any of the guys, B.B. (no, not the one you are thinking of), Harmonica Slim, Delta Dark, Bobby Be-Bop, Big Joe, Muddy (yes, that Muddy slumming down river and on the low from some Chi town wench whose man was looking, knife looking, for the guy who messed with his baby and left her blue, real blue. True Muddy story.) needed a guitar max daddy player. 
Then straight to Chi town and work, work in the hog butcher to the world, work in the Casey steel driving hammering foundry to the world , work in the grain elevator to the world, work in the farm machinery equipment factory to the world , good, steady, sweaty work, five day work and done, five day work, maybe overtime, glad-handed overtime on Saturday,  and done, no Captain’s noise , except maybe some rough Irish cop night stick but, mainly, just hell work, and then off to bumbling squalid three- decker hovel, overcrowded, over-priced, under heated, damn, nothing but a cold water flat with about six different nationalities chattering on the fetid Maxwell- connected streets.
Home, home long enough to turn overalls, sweated blue overalls, into Saturday be-bop blues master, all silk shirt, about five colors, blue blue, green green sun yellow, deep magenta, some violent purple, all fancy dance pants, all slick city boy now shoes (against that po’ boy Lancersville no shoe night to make daddy, real daddy cry, and mama too), topped by a feathered soft felt hat, de riguer for Saturday prances. For a while singing and playing, he, mainly playing that on fire(electric)  guitar first learned from daddy, real daddy, down the delta when he was from hunger and he and daddy Saturday juked for whiskey drinks (for daddy) and sodas and ribs for him, for nickels and dimes with his long gone daddy (gone daddy previously mentioned tired of nickels and thus plugging an ironic nickel’s worth) out behind Maxwell Street, only the prime guys, the guys Chess, or Ace, or Decca, or, some race label were interested in, for a while, got to play the big street, the big attention, the big sweep, everybody else behind for nickels and maybe an off-hand stray piece, a joy girl they called them,  hell he called them when he had his wanting habits on, not all black or mixed either, a few white joys looking for negro kicks, looking for kicks before Forest Lawn stockbrokers, or futures traders made their claims, looking over the new boys in order to say that they had that, had that before they headed out to Maxwell Street glare or sweet home, yah, sweet home Joliet. And Miss Lucy waited, waited down in some lonesome Clarksville crossroad, dust rolling in, sun beginning to rest, watching the daily underground bus heading north, north to her Johnny Blaze, Johnny quick on that amped up guitar and the stuff of dreams.                  
The blues ain’t nothing, nothing at all but a bad woman on your mind, a woman walking in your place of work, your stage, your Carousel Club, you just trying to get that damn guitar weapon, baby, mama, sugar, main squeeze, in tune, the one just off of Maxwell Street, mecca, with her walking daddy, eyeing you that first minute, big blond blue eyes, and even walking daddy can feel the heat coming off her, animal heat mixed up with some Fifth Avenue perfume bought by the ounce , feel that he was going to spend the night on a knife’s edge. The Carousel Club got a mix, got a mix on Friday nights when the be-bop crazy white girls, not all big blond blue eyes but also mixed, decided that be-bop jazz, their natural stomping grounds, over at places like the Kit Kat Club was just too tame for their flaming 1950s appetites and so they went slumming, slumming with a walking daddy, a black as night walking daddy, make no mistake, in tow just in case, in case knives came into play. 
She had her fix on him, her and that damn perfume that he could smell across the room, that and that animal thing that some woman have, have too damn much of like his daddy, his real daddy, told him to watch out for back when he was knee-high and working the jukes for cakes and candies (and daddy for Sonny Boy’s honey liquor). Just what he needed, needed now that he had worked his way up from cheap street playing for nickels and dimes (and, okay, an off-hand piece once the joy girls, some of them white like this girl, looking for negro kicks, badass negro kicks and then back to wherever white town, heard him roar up to heaven on that fret board) to backing up Big Slim, yah, that Big Slim who just signed with Chess and was getting ready to bring the blues back to its proper place now that  it looked like that damn rock and roll, that damn Elvis who took all the air  out of any other kind of music  had run its course. Then it started, she sent a drink his way, a compliment to his superb playing on Look Yonder Wall according to Millie the waitress who played the messenger, then another, ditto on The Sky Is Crying and a Millie watch out remark. Walking daddy was not pleased and she looked like she was getting just drunk enough to make her move (hell, he had seen that enough, and not just with these easy white girls). No sale tonight girlie that bad ass negro really does look bad ass, bad ass like long gone daddy whom he started on these mean streets with and was still finishing up another nickel at Joliet. She made her way to the stage as the first set ended. Pleasant, hell they are all pleasant, in that polite way they have been brought up in for about four or five generations, but still with that come hither perfume and that damn hungry look. No sale, no sale girlie, not with bad ass looking daggers in his eyes. And that night there wasn’t. Next Friday night she came in alone, came in and sat right in front of him. Didn’t say a word at intermission, just sent over a drink for a superb rendition of  Mean Mistreatin’Mama , and left it at that.               
After work she was waiting for him out in back, he nodded at her, and she pointed at her car, a late model, and they were off. They didn’t surface again for a week.
The blues ain’t nothing but… He, Daddy Fingers (strictly a stage front name, with a no will power Clarence Mark Smith real name needing, desperately needing, cover just like a million other guys trying to reach for the big lights, trying to reach heyday early 1950s Maxwell Street, hell, maybe  trying get a record contract, a valued Chess contract, and that first sweet easy credit, no down payment, low monthly payments Cadillac, pink or yellow, with all the trimming and some sweet mama sitting high tit proud in front), had to laugh, laugh out loud sometimes when these white hipsters asked him what the blues were.
He, well behind the white bread fad times, having spent the last twenty years mostly hidden down South, the chittlin’ circuit down South, from Biloxi to Beaumont, working bowling alleys, barbecue joints (the best places where even if the money was short you had your ribs and beer, a few whisky shots maybe, some young brown skin with lonely eyes woman lookin’ for a high-flying brown skin man in need of a woman’s cooking , or at least a friendly bed for a few nights), an odd juke house now electrified, some back road road-side diner converted for an evening into a house of entertainment, hell even a church basement when the good lord wasn’t looking or was out on an off Saturday night had not noticed that these kids asking that august question were not his old Chi town, New Jack City, ‘Frisco Bay hipsters  but mostly fresh-faced kids in guy plaid short shirts and chinos and girl cashmere sweaters and floppy skirts were not hip, not black-hearted, black dressed devil’s music hip. For one thing no hipster, and hell certainly no wanna-be hipster, would even pose the question but just dig on the beat, dig on the phantom guitar work as he worked the fret board raw, dig on being one with the note progression. Being, well, beat.).
Plaid and cashmere sweater crowding around some makeshift juke stage, some old corner barroom flop spot or like tonight here on this elegant stage with all the glitter lights at Smokin’ Joe’s Place, Cambridge’s now the home of the blues, the 1970s reincarnation of  homeland Africa, sweated pharaoh   slave plantations, Mister and Captain’s jim crow plantations, juke joints, sweet home Chicago, for all who were interested in the genealogy of such things came around looking, searching for some explanation like it was some lost code recently discovered like that Rosetta Stone  they found a while back to figure out what old pharaoh and his kind said (hell, he could  have deciphered that easy enough for those interested- work the black bastards to death and if they slack up, whip them, whip them bad, whip them white, and ain’t it always been so).
So he told them, plaid guy and cashmere bump sweater girl, told them straight lie, or straight amusing thing, that like his daddy, his real daddy who had passed down the blues to him, and who got it from his daddy, and so on back, hell, maybe back to pharaoh times when those slave needed something to keep them working at a steady death-defying pace, that the blues wasn’t nothing but a good woman on your mind. And if some un-cool, or maybe dope addled wanna-be Chi town hipster, or some white bread all glimmering girl from Forest Hills out for negro kicks, had been naïve enough to ask the question that would have been enough but plaid and cashmere wanted more.
Wanted to know why the three chord progression thing was done this way instead of that, or whether the whole blues thing came from the Georgia Sea Islands (by way of ancient homeland Africa) like they had never heard of Mister’s Mississippi cotton boll plantation, Captain’s lashes, broiling suns, their great grandfathers marching through broken down Vicksburg, about Brother Jim Crow, or about trying to scratch two dollars out of one dollar land. Wanted to know if in Daddy Finger’s exalted opinion Mister Charley Patton was the sweet daddy daddy of the blues, wanted to know if Mister Robert Johnson did in fact sell his soul to the devil out on Highway 61, 51, 49 take a number that 1930 take a number night, wanted to know if Mister Mississippi John Hurt was a sweet daddy of an old man (also “discovered” of late) like he seemed to be down in Newport, wanted to know if black-hearted Mister Muddy really was a man-child with man-child young girl appetites, wanted to know if Mister Howlin’ Wolf ever swallowed that harmonica when he did that heated version they had heard about of How Many More Years (not knowing that Wolf was drunk as a skunk, high- shelf whisky not some Sonny Boy’s home brew, when he did that one  or that, he Daddy Fingers,  had backed Wolf up many a night when Mister Hubert Sumlin was in his cups or was on the outs with the big man). Wanted to know, laugh, if Mister Woody Guthrie spoke a better talking blues that Mister Lead Belly, or Mister Pete Seeger was truer to the blues tradition that Mister Bob Dylan (like he, Daddy Fingers, spent his time thinking about such things rather than trying to keep body and soul together from one back of the bus Mister James Crow bus station to the next in order to get to some godforsaken hidden juke joint to make a couple of bucks, have some of Sonny Boy’s son’s golden liquor, and maybe catch a stray lonesome Saturday woman without a man, or if with a man, a man without the look of a guy who settled his disputes, his woman disputes,  at the sharp end of a knife, wanted to know, wanted to know, wanted to know more than the cold hard fact that, truth or lie, the blues wasn’t nothing but a good girl on your mind. Nothing but having your wanting habits on. But that never was good enough for them, and thus the fool questions. And always, tonight included, the fool Hey Daddy Fingers what are the blues. Okay, baby boy, baby girl, the blues is …