Tuesday, December 31, 2013

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin-Trouble Is Still My Business –Preface     


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler 

I like to think that one Michael Philip Marlin who worked out of Ocean City just south of Los Angeles back in the day now incorporated into the vast city had many of Marlowe’s attributes-and Chandler’s too.
Preface by Peter Paul Markin

If you get one thing right in this wicked old world, or the literary segment of the beast, or better, the crime novel sub-segment  (okay, okay genre) you know that one Michael Philip Marlin’s business was trouble, trouble pure and simple. And sisters and brother while you are getting that right you best put it down that trouble, trouble with a capital T added, was this classic hard-boiled private detective Marlin’s business. We have previous followed old school Marlin through thick and thin in the many short sketches that make up this collection.

Our intrepid private eye, private dick, shamus, gumshoe or whatever you call a guy that, privately, and for too little dough scraped off other people’s dirt, and did it not badly at that, in your neighborhood. And kept his code of honor intact, well mostly intact, as he, for example, tried to spare an old man some anguish, some wild daughters anguish, or tried to find gigantic Moose’s Verna, Verna, sweet Verna who did not want to be found, not by Moose anyway, or find some foolish wayward daughter despite his client’s ill-winded manners. And on it went.

Oh yah, about Frank Jackman, about the guy who wrote this selection of short Marlin sketches. Like I said in another review he, following along in the train of Brother Raymond Chandler and Brother Dashiell Hammett has attempted to turned the dreary gentile drawing-room sleuth by-the-numbers crime fighters and high-tech wizards masquerading as detectives that dominate the reading market these days on its head and gives us tough guy blood and guts detectives we can admire, can get behind, warts and all.

[Hammett, the author of The Thin Man, and creator of The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade, maybe the most famous tough guy detective of them all. Chandler the prodigious creator of the Philip Marlowe series of novels and short stories. Sam and Marlowe, who come to think of it like Marlin, also had judgment problems when it came to women, women wearing that damn perfume that stops a man, even a hard-boiled detective man cold, in Marlowe’s case an assortment of Hollywood women and Sam’s a frill who was looking for the stuff of dreams up north in Frisco town.]

In Jackman’s case he has drawn strength from his startling use of language to describe Marlin’s environment much in the way a detective would use his heightened powers of observation during an investigation, missing nothing. Marlin was able to size up, let’s say, a sizzling blonde, as a statuesque, full-bodied and ravishing dame and then pick her apart as nothing but a low-rent gold-digger. Of course that never stopped him from taking a run at one or two of them himself and then sending them off into the night, or to the clink, to fend for themselves. He also knew how to blow off a small time chiseler, a grifter, as so much flamboyance and hot air not neglecting to notice that said grifter had moisture above his upper lip indicating that he stood in fear of something if only his shadow as he attempted to pull some caper, or tried to pull the wool over Marlin’s eyes. Or noticing a frayed collar or a misshapen dress that indicated that a guy or gal was on cheap street and just maybe not on the level, maybe scratching like crazy for his or her coffee and cakes.

The list of such descriptive language goes on and on -sullen bartenders wiping a random whisky glass, flighty chorus girls arm in arm with wrong gee gangsters, Hollywood starlet wannabes displaying their wares a little too openly, old time geezers, toothless, melting away in some thankless no account job, guys working out of small-time airless no front cheap jack offices in rundown buildings on the wrong side of town doing, well, doing the best they can. And cops, good cops, bad cops, all with that cop air about them of seen it all, done it all blasé, and by the way spill your guts before the billy- club comes down on your fragile head. (That spill your guts thing, by the way a trait that our Marlin seemed organically incapable of doing, except when it suited his purposes. No cop or gangster could force anything out of him, and they tried, believe me they tried. ) He had come from them, from the cops, from the D.A.s office in the old days, had worked with them on plenty of cases but generally he tried to treat them like one might a snake not quite sure whether it is poisonous or not.

At the same time Jackman is a master of setting the barebones detail of the space Marlin had to work in- the high hill mansions and the back alley rooming houses (although usually not the burgeoning ranchero middle class locales since apparently that segment of society has not need of his services and therefore no need of a description of their endless sameness and faux gentility). He had a fix on the museum-like quality of the big houses reflecting old wealth California, mostly in the south where he plied his trade. And he has a razor sharp sense of the arrivisite, the new blood all splash and glitter, all high-ceiling bungalow, swimming pools, and landscaped gardens.

But where Jackman has made his mark is in his descriptions of the gentile seedy places, the mansions of old time Los Angeles Bunker Hill turned to rooming houses with that faint smell of urine, that strong smell of liquor, that loud noise that comes with people living too close together, too close to breath their simple dreams. Or the descriptions of the back alley offices in the rundown buildings that had seen better days populated by the failed dentists, the sly repo- men, the penny- ante insurance brokers, the con artists, the flotsam and jetsam of the losers in the great American West night just trying to hang on from rent payment to rent payment. Those denizens of these quarters usually had a walk on role, or wound up with two slugs to the head, but Jackman knows the type, has the type down solid.

Nor is Jackman above putting a little social commentary in Marlin’s mouth. Reflections on such topics as that very real change after World War II in the kind of swarms that were heading west to populate the American Western shore night. The rise of the corner boys hanging, just hanging, around blasted storefronts, a few breaking off into the cranked up hot rod hell’s highway night. The restless mobsters for broken back east looking to bake out in the southern California sun while taking over the vast crime markets. The wannabe starlets ready to settle for less than stardom for the right price. The old California money (the gold rush, gold coast, golden era money) befuddled by the all new waves coming in. And above all a strong sense of the rootlessness, the living in the moment, the grabbing while the grabbing was good mentality that offended old Marlin’s code of honor.

And of course over a series of sketches Jackman has expanded the Marlowe character, expanded his range of emotions, detailed his growing world-weariness, his growing wariness, his small compromises with that code of honor that he had honed back in the 1930s. Yes, Marlin the loner, the avenging angel , the righter of wrongs, maybe little wrongs but wrongs in this wicked old world. The guy who sometimes had to dig deep in his office desk drawer to grab a shot or six of whiskey to help him think things through. Marlin the guy of a thousand punches, the guy of a hundred knocks on the head, the guy who had taken a more than one slug for the cause, the guy who was every insurance company’s nightmare and a guy who could have used some serious Obamacare health insurance- no questions asked . Yah, Marlin.

***The Roots Is The Toots- The Music That Got Them Through The Great Depression And World War II…


…she, nineteen, never had luck with men until the night of the USO dance down at the Starlight Ballroom in Olde Saco in October, 1943, now glorious October, 1943. The idea of the dance at least from the brochure her sister Lorraine had received from the director of the Portland USO was to bolster the morale of the soldiers, sailors, and marines in the area returning from action overseas, those who were on leave, or those who were getting ready to ship out to some hellhole where the fighting would be heavy and so they, one and all, would have a pleasant memory to take away with them whatever status they were in. Lorraine, having gone to the previous Friday night’s gathering and “hit pay-dirt” as she called it with some jittery-bugging sailor who swept her off her feet and who would be attending this week’s event, coaxed her sister into attending in hopes of getting her out of her funk. Getting her out of her no luck with boys, men, whatever funk.   

So she, now listing herself  among the employed women  who were needed to work outside of the house to fill jobs vacated by draft number- called men, splurged on a new dress, not a fancy dress since all the serious fabric production was needed for the men at the fronts, but serviceable with some accoutrements. And to die for, nylons, nylons harder to get than gas these days. Lorraine, vain Lorraine as everybody at Olde Saco High called her, including Sis, admitted that she looked good, was bound to snatch some young soldier. As they entered the lobby of the Starlight Ballroom, all a-glitter, the sound of Lester Mann and the Band in the background, she was secretly thrilled that she had, for once, given into her sister’s whim. There were more men in uniform than she had ever seen in her life and she blushed as she sensed that every one of those uniformed pairs of eyes were checking her out (and truthfully every young woman who came through that door but she just blushed for herself).

No sooner had they, she, given her wrap to the coat- room girl than it started. The rush, guys coming right up and asking her to dance, the jitter-buggers first and foremost, before she had even caught her breathe, and if not this one then how about the next, or the next. Quite a whirlwind all the way until the band took an intermission. At that intermission, that maybe fateful intermission, while she was at the punch bowl re-hydrating herself after the non-stop action, Dick Sams, Dick from her class when they were in high school, came up to her in civilian clothes. She asked him what he was doing there since this was strictly a military affair. He answered that Lester Mann had asked him to step in front of the microphone during the second set and warble a few tunes, Tangerine, I’ll Never Smile Again, Perfidia, the current rages. She then remembered that Dick had been a top singer at school and had wished to pursue a musical career. She asked whether he had gone on to music school after high school. Dick answered that yes he had for a while but just the week before his number had come up so the following week he was to be inducted into the Army.

After they had talked for a while Dick, Dick Sams the best voice in the high school, maybe in the town, kind of sheepishly blurted out that he had often wondered why he had never spoken to her much at school since he had a little crush on her then. She blushed, blushed some more when he asked her if she would wait for him after the show, and blushed even more when she said yes. But all that blushing was nothing, nothing at all to what happened when Dick got up on the bandstand. He took dead aim at her, dead aim like she was the only one in the room, and sang I’ll Never Smile Again to put old Frank Sinatra in the shade. Sang it so tenderly that she blushed yet again, blushed and wondered if he really would not smile again unless she was his girl …. 


Monday, December 30, 2013

***The Roots Is The Toots- The Music That Got Them Through The Great Depression And World War II…


…he wished he had never been born, never, not after that stunt that he pulled that last leave he had before he shipped out, shipped out East on this damn floating bucket of a troop transport that was heading, heading to who knows where, and who cares, except it has hard fighting, slopping through some muddy roads, and hard death written all over wherever that it was. But what lied ahead was nothing compared to that foolish stunt. He didn’t have to even say that it involved a her, her his sweet Maggie, Maggie O’Leary to be exact because there are a lot of Maggies in the world, although now he knew, knew maybe too late that there was only one for him.

He could not believe that he left her that night, that last gorgeous night telling her that given what was ahead for him he would rather she not wait for him. She cried, cried hard at that. But that was not the stunt, not by a long shot, since those kind of partings with this damn war on were a dime a dozen, maybe cheaper.

What he did after he left her though, figuring he was a free man, was call up Daisy McNamara and spent the night at her place, spent it you know how so nobody has to go into details. And that next morning who sees him catting out of her place but Liam O’Leary, Maggie’s older brother. He tried to call her, no answer, he wrote, wrote about six times, trying to explain what a cad he had been and just this minute he was waiting as he had for the past several days for mail call. Yeah, he wished he had never been born…    
***Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky Meets Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe   

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman  

As is my wont when I get bullish on an author I have been on a Raymond Chandler tear, or rather one of my periodic Chandler tears. Most recently I read and reviewed some of the detective novelist’s late work (1958), Playback, the last in his series of Philip Marlowe stories. In that review I mentioned (as I have in several previous reviews of other books in Chandler’s Marlowe series) a number of positive attributes about Marlowe that I found appealing. And also mentioned in addition that I thought one of my political heroes, 20th century Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, would have felt a similar sentiment. I then went on to list some of those attributes. For starters: Marlowe’s sense of personal honor in a modern world (the 1930s, 40s and 50s) that was increasingly discounting that virtue as the reign of the night-takers, the reign of the long knives cast it shadow over the world, a shadow still with us, and that laughed at such old-fashioned notions; his gritty intrepidness in search of ‘rough’ justice in a messy world, the arduous task of sorting out the good guys from the bad guys (and gals, the femmes fatales in particular that he was always a little ready to give a pass to); his amazing, almost superhuman, ability to take a punch or seven for the good of the cause, a stray bullet or two, nothing fatal in a pinch (yah, yah I know that in the world of pulp fiction, the Black Mask world, that it was de riguer for the lead character to show his metal continuously in that department); and, his at least minimally class- conscious and sometimes barely hidden contempt for the traditional social hierarchy and its corrupt police authority, an insider’s contempt since he had started out as a public cop.
Not a proto-type for the “new socialist man” but not a bad start for the transition period, no bad at all. In response, I received an e-mail from a reader, an ardent young socialist-feminist fellow admirer of Leon Trotsky, who took me to task for my characterizations and argued that I had it all wrong both as to Marlowe’s virtues and to his so-called (her description) anti-authoritarian posture.

In passing, the reader deeply discounted those attributes where I put a plus, placed a sense of honor, really a code of honor, very low on the totem pole of virtues for the 21st century, saw Marlowe’s rough sense of justice, getting the bad guys,  as some kind of vigilantism or just part of his job, went apoplectic that willingness to take punches or bullets for a righteous cause was even worthy of mention (apparently “forgetting” along way that the struggle ahead, our struggle, is apt to be filled with punches, bullets. or worse), took his bleeding two-bit (her term) partisanship for the little guy mainly done over whisky shots at some gin mill (my term) as so much eye-wash, and  deplored the very idea of the possibility that a future socialist society would have room for such attributes as I had mentioned above. And to top it all off that Marlowe’s attitude toward women was ‘primitive’ (her description was rather more graphic call me old-fashioned but this is the public prints).

While one would be hard pressed, very hard-pressed, to include Marlowe, with his very quaint but decidedly macho protective attitude toward women (except those oddball femmes who fired first and asked questions later like Carmen in The Big Sleep or Velma more insidiously in Farewell, My Lovely) reflecting the mores of an earlier age, as a champion of women’s emancipation. And maybe over time, as noted in the 1950s Playback review, his sense of honor, his code, became frayed around the edges, his youthful no-nonsense common sense failed him at times, his ability to take a punch lessened and he had a hard time  laying off the low-shelf booze but the reader missed the point of my critique. Or rather she is much too dogmatic in her sense of “political correctness” as it applies to the literary front. Thus this little commentary is intended not so much to clear the air about the “future socialist person,” or in defense of what is after all a literary invention on Chandler’s part as to posit several ideas for future discussion.

I hate to invoke the name of Leon Trotsky, the intrepid Russian revolutionary, hard-working Soviet official, well-regarded political pamphleteer (George Bernard Shaw called him the “prince of pamphleteers” no small praise coming from those quarters), and astute literary critic into this discussion but in that last role I think he had some useful things to say whether he would, as I believe, have admired Marlowe.

Without a doubt Trotsky could have made his mark solely on the basis of his literary criticism, witness his Marxist masterpieces Literature and Revolution and Literature and Art. What made Trotsky’s literary analysis so compelling was not whether he was right or wrong about the merits of any particular writer. In fact, many times, as in the case of the French writer Celine and some of the Russian poets like Blok, he was, I think, wrong. But rather, that he approached literary criticism from a materialist basis rooted in what history, and that essentially meant capitalist history, gave us when he analyzed literary characters, the plausibility of various plots and the lessons to be drawn about “human nature” put forth by any given writer.

This is no mere genuflection on my part to a revolutionary leader whose work I hold in high regard (and as that e-mail writer indicated she did as well) but a recognition that capitalism has given us some much distorted concepts of what human nature is, or can be, all about. That is the core of the genius of Trotsky’s sharp pen and wit. That is why he is still very readable, for the most part, today. Moreover he made a very useful point in Chapter 8 of Literature and Revolution (available on-line at the Leon Trotsky Internet Archives website) that unless it was question of political import, active counter-revolutionary work for the class enemy, the world of culture should be left to something like a real “let one hundred schools of thought contend” by a healthy socialist society.   

That thought was no mere abstraction on Trotsky’s part but came out a polemic in the struggle inside Russia in the early 1920’s over the preferential establishment of a school of “proletarian culture” supported by the Soviet state that was then being bandied about by likes of fellow Bolsheviks Bukharin and Zinoviev. Trotsky, in any case, did not spend much time diagramming any but the most general outline of the contours of what the future socialist society, its habits, manners and morals would look like. He did, and this is central in this discussion, spend a great deal of time on what capitalism had and would bequeath a socialist state. Including both vices and virtues.

Not to belabor a point this is the link between Leon Trotsky and one fictional Philip Marlowe. Trotsky, a man of his times as well as forward thinker, accepted that personal honor had a place as a societal goal and as a matter of social hygiene. The parameters of that sense of honor naturally would be different under a socialist regime that was based on use value rather than the struggle for profit margins. Certainly Trotsky’s biography, particularly that last period in the 1930’s when he appeared to be steadfastly tilting at windmills, demonstrates that he had a high moral code that drove him to fight what was increasing a dangerous but necessary rearguard action against the Stalinist- driven Soviet variety of the night of the long knives.  

Certainly the word intrepid is not out of place here in describing Trotsky as well. Along with hardworking, hard-driving, a little bit gruff (okay, okay  maybe a lot gruff according to even the friendly memoirists), but in search of some kind of justice for the masses in this wicked old world .Those, my friend are the characteristics  that are the basic virtues of a socialist society as it first evolves out of capitalist society. As well, I might add, as individual initiative, a sense of fairness, and well-placed scorn for established authority and the time-worn clichés about the limits of human nature.

Do I draw the links between the two here too closely? Perhaps. Although Marlowe has his own version of ‘tilling at windmills’ in search of some kind of rough justice and vindication for all those knocks on the head one cannot deny that he does not challenge bourgeois society except in the most oblique way. He will not rail against General Sternwood’s oil derricks. He will not lead a crusade against the old order in his search for the elusive Velma. He is if anything very Victorian in his attitude toward women, good or bad. (Chandler’s Marlowe and Trotsky are both men of another era in their personal attitudes toward women, although Trotsky was light-years ahead on the political front). Nor is Marlowe the prototype for the ‘new socialist man’. But he remains a very appealing fictional character nevertheless. Let, as it should, the discussion continue.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin – Don’t Call It Murder   

As readers know Tyrone Fallon, the son of the late famous Southern California private operative, Michael Philip Marlin (Tyrone used his mother’s maiden name for obvious reasons), and private eye in his own right told my old friend Peter Paul Markin’s friend Joshua Lawrence Breslin some stories that his illustrious father told him. Here’s one such story although not about himself but about an operative for the largest detective agency on the West Coast, John “Stubs” Lane. (Stubs nick-named for a habit picked while sitting alone endlessly in cold cars driving cold coffee and picking out cigarette stubs from the ashtray after the deck ran out). Marlin let Stubs tell it in his own voice and I will do so here.      
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler

Tough hard guys, and once in a while a wayward gal, have been trying to commit the perfect murder since they invented murder with Cain slaying Abel, and maybe before. And some guys, some hard guys, have actually gotten away with it for one reason or another mainly by disposing of the body in some way so the damn thing would never be found and the cops would tire of the case and throw it in the cold files to lie there forever. But the average citizen, and I should know since it is my business, the private snoop business to know, trying to commit the perfect crime leaves too many moving parts and so winds up facing the hangman, facing those high-hung gallows and judgment day. The only way it happens, clean get-away happens and don’t take this as the norm, okay is if the thing is set up that way. Here’s what I mean.

The organization I work for, the International Operations Organization, got a call from a loner private eye, Michael Philip Marlin, down in Los Angeles saying he needed some help on a political case, political in that some reform politician he had known in the old days was murdered and it looked like a professional hit ordered by the in-power city machine.  I was sent down from my station in Frisco since I had worked with Marlin previously on a missing load of rare jade case that had turned south on him. As it turned out this reformer was nothing but a skirt-chaser and his ever-loving wife, tired of his sordid affairs, put a couple of slugs in him to even things up. Nothing unusual in that, happens all the time. What was unusual and put it in the perfect crime category is that before this guy died he set the crime scene up to point away from wifey. And she walked, walked when Marlin and I let her walk away without a murmur.           

But that is not the normal case, take the case of the Lampreys, Jim and Adele, and John Snyder.  Seems that this Snyder saved the Lampreys’ lives down in Mexico around the time of the revolution, you know Pancho Villa, Zapata and those guys. They were being held for ransom by some desperados and he coolly put together an attack that sprung them. That was their story anyway. So they were forever indebted to him and in return helped him on some shady capers back in the old U.S.A. One thing led to another and there was a falling out over what was supposed to have been done and what and who was supposed to get the bigger cut of the dough in a caper that went sour. Happens all the time.

So John Snyder wound up dead, very dead, in some forsaken ravine down around Del Mar near the cliffs. The insurance company that had insured Snyder called us in when they were getting ready to pay out on a big number policy to one Adele Snyder. It didn’t take much to turn that one over since Adele had actually been married to Snyder down in Mexico, had abandoned him for Lamprey and headed north. That was how Snyder got them to do his work in the states not some desperado tale down in Sonora. He was going to squawk to the coppers about bigamy after that failed caper and the pair beat him out of that thought one rainy night. The insurance reward money lured them out and once I got my mitts on them they broke like a cheap piece of china. So learn something will you and leave the murder racket to the professionals and stay away from such doings.             

***The Roots Is The Toots- The Music That Got Them Through The Great Depression And World War II…


…Jesus, what the hell, no, what the high holy hell, was he doing in this damn tent, this tent with eight snoring guys, out in the middle of nowhere New Jersey getting ready to get up and do, do what, make his bunk exactly right, all hospital corners like even his mother did not insist upon, quick cold shower, dress and then fall out, fall in, some chow, if you could call it that, although some of the southern boys, and not just them either, thought they had died and gone to heaven, had shoes too, Jesus. Shoes to march the bejesus all day. Lights out, tired lights out at nine, Jesus, and the outside as dark as a cave not even street lights, street cars and other signs of civilization, his civilization.

No he was not built for this, this country boy stuff. He had tried to have a word with his friends and neighbors down at the Olde Saco Draft Board when his number was called about his importance to the civilian end of the war effort but they would not hear a word, thought he was a malingerer. Sure he didn’t, just like half the guys in town, sign up on the dotted line after Pearl but he was thinking, thinking maybe he was a conscientious objector or something like that. Some kind of pacifist like the few Quakers in town. He after all had taken the Oxford Pledge in college. So had a lot of other guys who once the war drums started beating tore the thing up. But Jesus he could have never held his head up in his strictly patriotic working-class town, never gotten another date, hell, maybe been even run out of town on a rail so, yes, he went when his number came up.

He couldn’t believe the stuff they threw at him here in basic training every time he squawked about the crazy stuff they, the drill sergeants they, made the troops do. Took more than his fair share of KP as a result but he was no lifer, he was a citizen- soldier and had rights, and so he squawked. Squawked until one day a guy, Prescott Lee by name, from down south, down in the hills and hollows country, down in coal country, Kentucky, some place like that and in his light southern drawl told him to stop whining, stop being a nuisance, and learn to be a soldier if he was going to be a soldier. He also told him to stop belly-aching so much since he had already lost two brothers at Guadalcanal and a cousin in Italy.

That stopped him cold and eight months later he comported himself not badly, not badly at all, in the Anzio landing …


***Preserving The Roots Anyway We Can- The Saga Of A Desperate Man’s Blues- Roots Music Preservationist Joe Bussard- A CD Review

A YouTube's film clip of the trailer for "Desperate Man's Blues".

CD Review

This CD review complements a DVD review of the same name: Desperate Man's Blues: Discovering The Roots Of American Music, Jose Bussard and a cast of thousands of old 78 speed records, Cubic Media, 2006

Desperate Man’s Blues, various artists from American roots songbook, Dust-to-Digital Records, 2006

In reviewing the DVD of "Desperate Man’s Blues" I mentioned the following which applies here as well:

“Recently I went to great lengths, and rightly so, to tout the “Antone’s: House Of The Blues” DVD that chronicled the trials and tribulations of the late Austin, Texas blues club owner Clifford Antone and his efforts to keep the blues tradition alive by keeping old time Chicago blues legends like Huber Sumelin, Eddie Taylor, Sunnyland Slim and Jimmy Reed gainfully employed. So they could pass the torch to the next generation of aficionados…”

“…Well, apparently running music clubs is not the only way to go in preserving American roots music, as this ‘reality’ film documentary of the saga of a fifty plus years journey by record collector Joe Bussard rather strikingly points out.”

“Joe Bussard‘s trial and tribulations are however of a different order than Clifford Antone’s. Joe has taken on the task of traveling many a mile to find rare old roots music wherever he could find it. In short, he has some of the same obsessive, traits that we saw in the ‘Antone” film. And that is to the good. Plus old Joe has an engaging, if definitely old-fashioned, sense of collecting. Nevertheless when he ‘played the platters’ of Clarence Ashley, Robert Johnson, Son House , Uncle Dave Mason, and a few I really didn’t know I was right there with him…”

And this compilation, sampler compilation really, just proves the point, again. Much of this esoteric material formed the old time American songbook that got passed on to modern blues guys like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, modern country guys like Hank Williams, modern bluegrass guys and gals like the late Doc Watson and the late Hazel Dickens. In short, the definition of what one commentator summed up rather neatly in one line-“the roots are the toots.”

A list of just the most recognizable names puts paid to that sentiment: Robert Johnson, the totally underrated Joe Hill Louis (incredible on When I ‘m Gone), fantastic Lonnie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Clarence Ashley, The foundational Carter Family, and heaven-bound Blind Willie Johnson.

Note on exclusion:

As I also noted in my commentary on the DVD and I will repost here as an aside I did have one problem with the DVD and now with the CD as well but I will get over it with a couple more listens:

“The only problem I have, a big problem I must confess, is old Joe’s dismissal of “rock and roll” music. Part of that is generational, his against my generation of ’68 rock break-out, to be sure. But part is a different understanding of the nature of American roots music. Jerry Lee Lewis when he was in high swamp redneck form, Elvis when young, hungry and tired of driving truck, Carl Perkins, Ike Turner, Chuck Berry and on and on in the rockabilly and rhythm and blues traditions that served as the foundation of the best of rock relied heavily on those very roots. No, I do not agree that rock break-out was all junk, as he put it. For the rest though, Joe I am right with you.”
***“The Roots Is The Toots”-Bruce Springsteen Comes Home- “Live In Dublin”-A CD/DVD Review

Live In Dublin, Bruce Springsteen and the Sessions Band, Bruce Springsteen, 2007
I have been all over the American songbook for the past couple of years. Old –time Appalachia hills and hollows (ya, I know hollas but what is a poor city boy to do) stuff from the Carter Family and Clarence Ashley, country blues stuff from the likes of Son House, Skip James, and Bukka White, bluegrass from Doc Watson and Hazel Dickens, swamp cajun stuff from Clifton Chenier, Tex-Mex stuff, electrified come to the city blues via Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Then to the more “refined” playbook from the hills and hollows of, ah, New York City’s Tin Pan Alley by the likes of Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, and Irvin Berlin. Onward to the “founding” fathers and mothers of rock and roll like Elvis, Chuck, Jerry Lee, Carl, Wanda Jackson and Lavern Baker. Finally, well almost finally, the 1960s folk revival minute around Cambridge and New York that drove my youth with the likes of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter Seeger.

And it is that last name, Pete Seeger, that connects all of the above-mentioned genres with the CD under review, Bruce Springsteen’s epic (okay, okay, just monumental) “Live In Dublin” album, which is nothing (or almost nothing) but big kudos to his roots and to Pete’s efforts over a very long career to preserve some forgotten aspects of that American songbook. Peter is well known as a left-wing political activist and folksinger. Less well known is his role in keeping roots music alive (a task handed down from his musicologist father). So Bruce Springsteen, a rock and roll guy known to connect to his roots and to the people, is right at home here paying homage to the parts of the songbook that Pete has helped preserve.

The CD compilation I am reviewing is a two CD set with DVD of the Dublin performances complete with probably every known great session player available and, perhaps, every known western instrument from sexy sax to wailing kazoo (nice, right). The stick outs here include Jacob’s Ladder, We Shall Overcome, Jesse James, his version of Blind Alfred Reed’s How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live, and My Oklahoma Home. See the American songbook, and a couple of rock classics thrown in. Got it.
***Ancient dreams, dreamed-The Road Forward, Damn - Magical Realism 101

He (and his buddy, Friedrich, but let’s just keep it as he) said struggle. He, when asked by a wooden-headed journalist, “What is?” answered struggle. So struggle it is. He said, from his 19th century lonely graveside a head above his lot, push back, push back hard against, part one, Vietnam, and those who vouched for that war in somebody’s name, not mine or his. He said do not get mixed-message tied up with their politics, that McGovern do-good juggernaut but organize from the base and then strike the match, when it is time for such matters.

He said stay with your people, the wretched of the earth, who you have abandoned (hell, he didn’t know it was really run away from, run hard away from with Jack Kennedy/Bobby Kennedy, hell, Hubert dreams of forty years, a pension, a gold watch and whatever could be stolen along the way in the “service” of the people). He said it would not be easy. Hell, he didn’t know the half of it. He said you have lost the strand that bound you to your people, with those gold-flecked dreams of yours. He said you must find that strand. He said that strand will lead you away from you acting in god’s place ways. Damn he was right.

He said look for a sign. He said, although he did not put it this way exactly but you will get the idea, the sign would be this-when your enemies part ways and let you through then you will enter the golden age. He said it would not be easy, again. He said it again and again and would not let it, or me, rest. He said what is struggle. He said it in 1848, he said it in 1871, he said it in 1917, and he was ghost dream saying it in 1972. Whee, what a cranky, crazy old guy to disturb my sleep, huh.
Struggle. But where to start as I sat, book in hand, Leon Trotsky’s History Of The Russian Revolution, down at a yogurt-devoured bench on the Charles River. Having devoured the Communist Manifesto, Class Struggle In France, Critique Of The Gotha Programme, What Is To Be Done?, and a few off-hand commentaries on them I was pushing for some sense of how to beat the monster. Straight up. For just that Charles River bench seat minute I knew that I had to get beyond books but books and struggle would be the combination to the golden age. Damn that old guy and his progeny too. Damn them.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

***From The Big Muddy-Out In The Delta Saturday Night (And Sunday Morning) Night With Mississippi Fred McDowell

A YouTube film clip of legendary twelve- string country blues singer Mississippi Fred McDowell performing his classic “You Gotta Move.”

 Mississippi Delta Blues, Fred McDowell, Arhoolie Records, 1989

Recently I explained (and went mea culpa on and on about it) in a review of Elvis 56 (no need for last names, right), his and our, my generation of '68's, break-out red scare cold war 1950s be-bop doo wop rock and roll creation time, that I listened to (and preferred) black -centered blues at that young age time. Reason: I was able via “magic” midnight airways to get a blues program, The Big Bopper Show, out of Chicago late at night, late weekend nights, on my transistor radio. (As I pointed out in that previously cited review for those too young, or those who have forgotten, look up that ancient communications transistor radio reference on Wikipedia. Basically though it was a small compact battery-driven unit that had the virtue, the very big virtue, it could be taken up into one’s bedroom, placed close to young ears and one’s parents would be blissfully unaware of the “subversion” until, well, until the big break-out came in 1956 and then they were caught flat-footed. At least at first.)

Now The Big Bopper Show (no relationship, as far as I know, to the rock performer who crashed out in a famous rock history plane crash with Buddy Holly, et. al), was mainly about rhythm and blues with the likes of Big Joe Turner and Ike Turner (pre-Tina) holding forth and about that post-World War II emerging big city, big Midwestern city, up river, up Mississippi River, black migrations to jobs and freedom, well, a little freedom anyway out of the Jim Crow South. Those electrified blues, taking country urban, were wailed by the likes of Muddy Waters (and his various famous band combinations) and Howlin’ Wolf (ditto on the bands).

However, intermingled with those genres was roots, black roots, Africa roots, Mother Earth primordial roots music, country blues, mainly from homeland Delta slave farms (pre-and post -slavery abolition) with some ‘Bama, Carolina Piedmont, Cajun swamp music mixed in. And that is where the performer under review here, Mississippi Fred McDowell, comes in, comes in almost accidentally. See the Big Bopper would play something like
Kokomo Blues or 61 Highway, serious classic blues, by various artists, electric and country, and more likely than not when twelve -string time came it was Brother McDowell whose recording was being used.

But here is the real revelation about black roots music, our Mother Africa transposed, disposed, reposed roots. In the early 1960s, after a bout with serious rock and roll (now called the classic age of rock, ouch!) with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, that genre turned to dust (for a while) with the vanilla-ization (nice, huh) of rock. You know Fabian, Ricky Nelson, Booby (oops) Bobby Darren, Vee, all the Bobbys, okay. I turned away from rock and headed back to roots, or what I thought was roots, with the folk revival minute of the early 1960s (Baez-Dylan-Von Ronk-Paxton-Ochs, et. al time). Who do you think, among others, got “discovered” (really re-discovered) in that minute? Yes, Brother McDowell. And later in an effort to put paid to those discoveries when rock “discovered” it blues roots who do you think got his famous classic song “You Gotta Move” covered? Yes. By whom? The Rolling Stones. Like somebody said the roots, the roots is the toots. Let another generation “discover” that fact.
***Just One Year With You That Is All I Am Praying For- Elvis’ Break-Out 1956

Elvis 56, Elvis Presley (who else), RCA Records, 1956

I have beaten myself over the head, eaten humble pie, been flash-flayed, said ten acts of contrition, in short, confessed, confessed publicly, that when I was a know nothing pre-teenager in the 1950s be-bop, doo wop, red scare cold war rock and roll at the creation night I did not like Elvis. (Do I really need to say Presley among this crowd? Come on now there is only one Elvis when it comes right down to it). Now a lot of this was due to pure jealousy, pre-teen style, around the question of, ah, girls. Or maybe not so much girls as male vanity. No actually it was girls and my budding interest in them. And their very focused interest on Mr. Presley.

See I did not look, unlike my best friend Billy Bradley, remotely, like Elvis. I would have been very, very hard pressed, to imitate his side-burn driven hair style with my growing up blondish hair (moreover worn for saving household money sake buzz short). I would have been even more hard-pressed in my Podunk working poor neighborhood, alright, my projects neighborhood, to wear clothes even remotely as cool as Elvis’. Christ I was lucky to get cheapjack denim brothers hand-me-downs from the bargain center and off-color, off-cool color shirts. Worst, much worst when the deal came down in that first blush of school dance church dance last dance time held every once in a while to “keep us off the streets.” I was unable to swivel my hips like the “king.” And worst, although in that case not much worst, was my voice sounded like a frog from the local pond that graced one corner of our projects home.

Moreover I did not like Elvis because I did not like his songs, for the most part. See I was hung up on what I would now call that primordial Bo Diddley sound, that sound from some ancient mist dance around the fireplace to keep the wolves away and rock, rock to perdition time of our distant forbears. (I did know how to sway, hell, anybody could sway.) Even more moreover I was hung up on those black rhythm and blues guys like Big Joe Turner and Ike Turner. That was due to the fact that I was able to catch a midnight radio station, The Big Bopper Show, out of Chicago on the weekends on my transistor radio by some miracle and heard all kinds of stuff that drove me crazy. (For those too young, or those who have forgotten, look up that ancient communications transistor radio reference on Wikipedia. Basically though it was a small compact battery-driven unit that had the virtue, the very big virtue that it could be taken up into one’s bedroom, placed close to young ears and one’s parents would be blissfully unaware of the “subversion” until, well, until the big break-out came in 1956 and then they were caught flat-footed. At least at first.).

The best way to explain that musical taste difference is on the song “Shake, Rattle And Roll, Big Joe’s signature song covered by everybody, including Elvis here (and everybody since from Jerry Lee Lewis on). Elvis is just okay on that one even to fifty years later ears. Big Joe ruled and always will on that one. But here is where the “confession” part comes in and I grant Elvis his pardon. Several years ago I, by happenstance, watched Elvis in the break-out rock film (although the story line is so-so and predictable) “Jailhouse Rock.” I was mesmerized. By the gyrations, but more importantly, by the voice. Naturally, as is my wont, when I “get religion” I went out and gathered up every (early) Elvis compilation I could find, including this RCA break-out album. Big Joe might have been the max daddy of rhythm and blues but when Elvis swiveled for that little pre-military induction period in the mid-1950s, the time of my time, he was the king. Sorry for the delay, Mr. King.
***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin – They Shoot Blackmailers, Partner  

As readers know Tyrone Fallon, the son of the late famous Southern California private operative, Michael Philip Marlin (Tyrone used his mother’s maiden name for obvious reasons), and private eye in his own right told my old friend Peter Paul Markin’s friend Joshua Lawrence Breslin some stories that his illustrious father told him. Here’s one such story although not about himself but about an operative for the largest detective agency on the West Coast, John “Stubs” Lane. (Stubs nick-named for a habit picked while sitting alone endlessly in cold cars driving cold coffee and picking out cigarette stubs from the ashtray after the deck ran out).

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler

A lot of times guys, hard guys with fast-trigger fingers, or an itch for the high life fall off the edge, fall into places where they never should have fallen. Take our slumming streets of Los Angeles private eye Stubs Lane’s client, let's call him Lance Landry, in this short story about blackmailers (although I would not bet money, bet six-two and even money, that pressed, hard-pressed blackmailers would not be above putting a pair of slugs in anybody who got in their way if necessary). Lance, a hard guy, a former hard guy anyway from back East who went West for the sun, easy pickings, and golden pay- dirt, had an old flame thing, and maybe not so old flame, for Rita Farr. Yes, Rita Farr the exotic and erotic latest 1940s screen siren who made all the boys flutter and the girls shutter (that the boys are fluttering of course, and not over them) was working on another picture to enrich Paine Productions. Paine Productions which had a great deal at stake in the reputation of one Rita Farr.

That is where the maybe not so old flame with Lance came in. See the studio put the big nix sign on Rita and Lance being together. It seemed then (and maybe now too) that movie stars, high profile sex goddess movie stars and rough -edged gangsters were a lethal audience mix. So Lance was out. Except somebody, okay, a blackmailer, had the photos and letters that showed for all the world to see that Lance was still carrying the torch, had still seen Rita after the studio nix.

Enter our man Stubs whom Lance had hired to keep an eye on Rita, keep the riffraff and grifter of the world away from her. Stubs, not always able to be choosy about whom he worked for, and in any case was friends, or at least on speaking terms with more than one outlaw as part of his chosen work, including Lance, took the job, took it seriously too.


The problem was that no sooner had Philip been employed than Rita was kidnapped by her driver, kidnapped at the behest of a party (or parties) unknown. As we all know that falling down on the job would make a tough gumshoe like Stubs see red, seek to right thing up quickly, in short, to deliver the ransom and create hell for the kidnappers. And so he did, taking guff from the studio boss, from Lance, from the party unknown, including a few fists flying and bullets whistling by along the way.

But some rough justice wins out in the end. It seems that one of Lance's old partners in crime, as will happen in any enterprise, did not like being shut out of the golden pay- dirt and was seeking revenge for that slight. In the end he went down, the actual kidnapper went down, and even Lance went down in order to save Rita when things got dicey at exchange time. And Rita? Well Rita after taking a run for the satin sheets at Stubs in gratitude (so he said) who was not buying, possibly fearing an affair with Rita might come with a bullet not far behind, went off to marry the studio boss. Jesus.


***The Roots Is The Toots- The Music That Got Them Through The Great Depression And World War II…


 … he had to laugh, laugh out loud although the deathly rattling of the freight car that he was just then riding, riding as a non-paying customer, would drown that laughter from any ears, if there were any ears open among his fellow “passengers” strewn about the bare wooded floor of their “room.” The reason for his witless fit of laughter was the knowledge that last year, the year of our Lord 1933, he had had money, plenty of money, for a Pullman sleeper to ride west in. And had done just exactly that on one business trip (and spent plenty, treating rounds too at the dining car bar).
Now here he was a little more than a year later, all credit used up, all checks bounced, all flophouses fled without room -rent payment, all Sally soup-lines unwelcomed to him. All job opportunities lost to him since the world was filled, no, over-filled, with ex-stockbrokers, take a number, brother, all sweethearts moved on to the next still employed stockbroker and he heading west, ever west on the floor of this damn freight train. As he rolled up a vagrant newspaper to serve as a make-shift pillow for his tired head he held to a glimmer of hope that his luck would change once he hit the Pacific, or whatever west he was destined for. Held too to that notion that maybe next year he could join the Mayfair swells, the businessmen, and just plain tourists on one of those comfortable Pullman sleepers…           

Friday, December 27, 2013

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin – Gringo Blood  

As readers know Tyrone Fallon, the son of the late famous Southern California private operative, Michael Philip Marlin (Tyrone used his mother’s maiden name for obvious reasons), and private eye in his own right told my old friend Peter Paul Markin’s friend Joshua Lawrence Breslin some stories that his illustrious father told him. Here’s one such story although not about himself but about an operative for the largest detective agency on the West Coast, John “Stubs” Lane. (Stubs nick-named for a habit picked while sitting alone endlessly in cold cars driving cold coffee and picking out cigarette stubs from the ashtray after the deck ran out).

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler

One never really associates our tough guy private detective, Stubs Lane, our primo gumshoe, out in the slumming streets of Los Angeles when that port of call was just a dusty burg out in the desert's edge (and the ocean's edge too) with women, women to get involved with romantically and not just some twist who is good for a night or two under the downy billows. Oh sure, Stubs liked women, maybe even had loved one or two in his time, and he was certainly not that way, you know, what did they use to call it, oh yeah, “light on his feet,” no way, not like some Hollywood houseboy or something like that but women are kind of used merely as flowery backdrop. Yeah like in some of those Chandler novels and short stories as damsels in distress or low-down femmes fatales, nothing to get excited over except in that dogged pursuit of some kind of rough justice in this wicked old world. Certainly Stubs was not some closet feminist waiting to proclaim some rough equality of sexes by his very actions. No that was not part of his code.

However every once in a while, and the story ahead is one of them, a past love, a past forlorn or at least unattainable love interest shows up to give us a glimpse of what our man was up to before he got so dogged about that rough justice kick. Naturally, that love interest, Bess, was unattainable back in the day, although a flicker, maybe more than a flicker, remained as the two were reunited under trying circumstances after some time has elapsed. The reason that Bess was unattainable by the way was very easily understood, if not by Stubs then by the reader. She was in love with another man, let's call him Spanish Johnny just to keep things easy, a man who also happened to be our man's best friend back in the day. A guy, a professional politician with some money, who could give Bess things, lots of things. Coming from nowhere with nothing that is what she wanted. So let's just say that Bess played the percentages in the struggle for plenty of life's goods and it came out Johnny. Stubs to the rear.

That long ago romance would have stayed there, stayed down in the embers, except Johnny got himself killed, got murdered, got murdered at close range in his office and everything pointed, on the surface anyway, to a professional hit. A professional hit ordered by the governmental machinery in power in town who wanted to eliminate Johnny because he wanted to end the endemic corruption our 1930s city of angels. To upset their gravy train. But appearances are deceiving, some things just don't add with the evidence at hand. And Stubs has an uneasy feeling that there was something amiss with the political hit theory.

The percentages were against that idea, although the city's political machine was ready to move might and main, including a standard roughing up of Stubs, a serious third degree as it came out later, to keep the lid on things just in case. Or maybe just because they could do it. Here is where things went awry though, awry after a few false leads and a few bodies piled up, Stubs finally coped to what happened on that murderous day when Spanish Johnny took his hit. Seems Johnny was playing footsie with the help, having affair (and previous affairs) and Bess, tried and true Bess, couldn't take that hard fact anymore and so she put two slugs in him to show her displeasure. Johnny lived long enough to mess up the evidence to keep Bess in the clear so Bess must have had, in the end, as big hold over Johnny as she had over Stubs. Stubs let her walk, walk free out of some sense of friendship for the wishes of a fallen brother. And Bess? Well Bess tried to rekindle that old flame thing with Stubs, that old flame thing that had suddenly flickered out cold back when there were choices to be made. Jesus.
***The Roots Is The Toots- The Music That Got Them Through The Great Depression And World War II…

… he nothing but a kid, nothing but a bog Irish kid fretting away his time, his after school time, was hungry. No, not food hungry although that happened often enough when his father was out of work like a million other fathers in the reared-back Depression night, but hungry for some new sounds, new musical sound that he kept hearing every time he passed Riley’s Market, Riley’s who to draw a crowd had placed a jukebox in the place to lure and lull the patrons. But since he had no money, no nickels to play such an entertainment, he would just linger for a moment and then pass on.

And that hunger was not abated until one day he went over to his grandparents’ house and mentioned something to grandmother who was alone in the house at the time about those sounds he heard at Riley’s. His grandmother summoned him to go to her china closet and bring out the radio, a beautiful old Emerson in perfect working order as far as he could tell, hidden there behind a stack of dishes.

See his grandfather an old Puritan, if as bog Irish as he and the whole blessed family, refused to have what he called the devil’s music, that n----r music in the house. After he brought the radio to his grandmother she told him to turn it on and what he heard that afternoon, and many afternoons after that when his grandfather was not present, was out of heaven, some music all sultry and bluesy (although he would not have known then to call it that, call what ailed him the blues either), especially one voice, one voice that spoke of all the anguish and sorrow of the world, spoke through the subtle pauses between the notes of her own personal sorrows, and sang his blues away for a time. He did not learn until much later that she was a Negro, and that the distance between her negritude and his own bog-Irishness, was very short, very short indeed...