Monday, June 30, 2014

***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night – Doris Troy’s Just One Look

You know it’s funny how a kid, a guy kid I will let the gals speak for themselves, picked up the various signals, the various nods and looks relating to being cool back in the day, back in the late 1950s, early 1960s day. Cool with guys and cool with girls for they were two very different things. Probably each generation develops out of necessity, or self-defense, its own set of signals but while I was reviewing an “oldies but goodies” rock and roll compilation from the early 1960s I latched onto Doris Troy’s Just One Look to get me thinking about the ways we rather silently communicated what we were about.

The strange thing about the signals, let’s just call it that but I mean nods and looks, was early on when you were just a wet-behind-the-ears kid, say around elementary school no later, your signals tended to be straight up, you liked this or that, didn’t like this or that, thought he or she was a dope, etc. and that was the end of it. Or maybe not the end of it if in your honesty some bigger kid decided to take umbrage and box your ears to show his or her displeasure in a more visceral way. Then almost by osmosis, or maybe design, I am not sure which, you curbed your tongue a little and began with the silent signals.

The first one I clearly remember from down at the old Adamsville housing projects neighborhood was when my best friend in elementary school, Billy Bradley, stopped telling me I was his best friend but instead when we saw each other in the hallways during school he would just give me a slight nod of his head. At first I thought he was putting the freeze on me or something until I asked him about it after school one day. He said he had learned from his older brother, Prescott I think, that guys did not just keep going around saying they were friends when they got older but gave the nod to acknowledge that fact. And so the nod. Once I picked up on it that was that. All through school until graduation, maybe later, the nod became the way guys, guys who thought other guys were cool, addressed each other. Especially guys you did not know well, maybe just played pick-up ball with, maybe just hung around the soda fountain at the drugstore listening to the juke-box, maybe just saw walking down the street and maybe had nothing to say but giving the nod expressed your appreciation of other guy’s guy-ness.       

Of course guy-girl signals were in another universe. No way you gave a girl, I think any girl whether you liked her or not, whether you cared whether she lived or died or not, the nod. No way, first they would not be privy to what that nod meant probably thinking you had some neck problem but as usual with girls you needed a much more elaborate signal system whether you were trying to score or not. Here too there was a shift around late elementary school, right around the time girls went from being nuisance sticks to, well, interesting. Before that time you would just say something unkind and they would do the same in turn, or they would beat you up depending on their mood. But thereafter to show your interest you had to develop your best furtive glance. There were variations on this but the basic idea was that if you were trying to hone in on some lovely say hanging around that drugstore listening to the jukebox with everybody else you casually shot a slight glance her way, enough for her to see that you had glanced her way but not enough to think that you were so uncool as to stare at her with your tongue open. The trick though was to see if she was also going to take a peek your way. If so then the game was on, if not then if you were called on it, although this rarely happened, you could use that neck problem thing to bail you out. Such were the ways of young love. However the older you got the more signals you developed which one Doris Troy, blessed Doris Troy gave us the ABCs on.  

See here is how it worked out in the trenches. Out in the drive-in movie night once those furtive glances paid off, or promised to pay off. A whole galaxy of options opened up. I remember being struck but the appropriateness of the cover artwork on that CD that I reviewed that “spoke” exactly to this drive-in night. I had been on a tear in reviewing individual CDs in an extensive commercial rock and roll series called Rock ‘n’ Roll Will Never Die. 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 be, to the themes of those artwork scenes. The one for the 1963 CD compilation was a case of the former, of the fitting in. On that cover, a summer scene (always a nice touch since that was the time when we had at least the feel of our generational break-out) we are placed at the drive-in, the drive-in movies for those of the Internet/Netflicks/YouTube generations who have not gotten around to checking out this bit of Americana on Wikipedia, with the obligatory 1950s-early 1960s B-movie monster movie (outer space aliens, creatures from the black lagoon, blobs, DNA-damaged dinosaurs, foreign-bred behemoths a specialty) prominent on the screen.

Oh sure, everyone of a certain age, a certain baby-boomer age, a generation of ’68 age, has plenty of stories to tell of being bundled up as kids, maybe pre-set with full set pajamas on to defend against the late sleepy-eyed night, the sleepy-drowsy late movie night, placed in the car backseats and taken by adventurous parents (or so it seemed) to the local open air drive-in for the double feature. That usually also happened on a friendly summer night when school did not interfere with staying up late (hopefully keeping awake through both films). And to top it all off you got to play in the inevitable jungle jim, see-saw, slide, swing set-laden playground during intermission between the films while waiting, waiting against all hope, for that skewered, shriveled hot dog, rusty, dusty hamburger, or stale, over-the-top buttered popcorn that was the real reason that you “consented” to stay out late with the parents. Yah, we all have variations on that basic theme to tell, although I challenge anyone, seriously challenge anyone, to name five films that you saw at the drive-in that you remembered from then-especially those droopy-eyed second films.

In any case, frankly, I don’t give a damn about that kid stuff family adventure drive-in experience. Come on, that was all, well, just kids' stuff. The “real” drive-in, as pictured on that cover art just mentioned is what I want to address. The time of our time in that awkward teen alienation, teen angst thing that only got abated by things like a teenage night at the drive-in. Yeah, that was not, or at least I hope it was not, you father’s drive-in. That might have been in the next planet over, for all I know. For starters our planet involved girls (girls, ah, women, just reverse the genders here to tell your side of the experience), looking for girls, or want to be looking for girls, preferably a stray car-full to compliment your guy car-full and let god sort it out at intermission.

Wait a minute. I am getting ahead of myself in this story. First you needed that car, because no walkers or bus riders need apply for the drive-in movies like this was some kind of lame, low-rent, downtown matinee last picture show adventure. For this writer that was a problem, a personal problem, as I had no car and my family had cars only sporadically. Fortunately we early baby-boomers lived in the golden age of the automobile and could depend on a friend to either have a car (praise be teenage disposable income/allowances) or could use the family car. Once the car issue was clarified then it was simply a matter of getting a car-full of guys (or sometimes guys and gals) in for the price of two (maybe three) admissions.

What? Okay, I think that I can safely tell the story now because the statute of limitations must have surely passed. See, what you did was put a couple (or three guys) in the trunk of that old car (or in a pinch one guy on the backseat floor) as you entered the drive-thru admissions booth. The driver paid for the two (or three tickets) and took off to your parking spot (complete with ramp speaker just in case you wanted to actually listen to the film shown on that big wide white screen). Neat trick, right?

Now, of course, the purpose of all of this, as mentioned above, was to get that convoy of guys, trunk guys, backseat guys, backseat floor guys, whatever, to mix and moon with that elusive car-full of girls who did the very same thing (except easier because they were smaller) at the intermission stand or maybe just hanging around the unofficially designated teen hang-out area. No family sedans with those pajama-clad kids need apply (nor would any sane, responsible parent get within fifty paces of said teens). And occasionally, very occasionally as it turned out, some “boss” car would show up complete with one guy (the driver) and one honey (girl, ah, woman) closely seated beside him for what one and all knew was going to be a very window-fogged night. And that was, secretly thought or not, the guy drive-in dream. As for the movies. Did they show movies there? Enough said. And enough too of furtive glances…for now.  


Sunday, June 29, 2014

***Yet Again On The Never-Ending Tour Review -Bob Dylan: The Other Side Of The Mirror

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Bob Dylan: The Other Side Of The Mirror-Live At Newport 1963-1965, starring Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and all the other usual folk minute suspects, 2007

At one time, maybe ten years ago, no, more like fifteen, I picked up on the idea of Bob Dylan and his never-ending tour (life tour) as a kind of inside joke. Little did I suspect then that rather than heralding the downside of his career then that period was something like an epiphany for him to never stop playing on the road-somewhere. But that endless concert run was not all that period began as a Dylanmania of bootleg albums (up to ten or eleven at last count), boxed sets, complete set, and, as here with the film under review, Bob Dylan: The Other Side Of The Mirror-Live At Newport 1963-1965, in the video end plenty of documentaries capturing his performances for early in his career had added to material to be commented on. Little did I know as well then that I would be doing a never-ending job of reviewing his released materials. So be it.

I, and others ad infinitum, have noted that Mister Dylan, and to a lesser extent his paramour at the time, Joan Baez, quickly became, whether anybody else liked it or not, the cutting edge of the 1960s folk minute once he headed to New York, established himself in the Village and crowned that kingdom with his early, and somewhat controversial performances at the Newport Folk Festival from 1963 to 1965 (after that year he would not return to Newport for various reasons, both his and the festival’s, until 2002 thirty-seven years later).              

 While there were other smaller summer folk-oriented musical festivals Newport in those years was the premier spot and to be a headliner there meant you had arrived. That is the process we witness in this documentary from the almost country bumpkin (small town Minnesota –born) shy, awkward, earnest Dylan in 1963 who could in effect have been like any number of male folk singers the, Dave Van Ronk, Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Tom Paxton, and Phil Ochs come quickly to mind to the 1965 king hell king of the troubadours leading a new wave of folk music into the electric age. That route also details his movement from social protest message songs like With God On Our Side and Blowing In The Wind which made him in some quarters the voice of a generation for a minute to Maggie’s Farm and Like A Rolling Stone which sent him off in a slightly different direction as he amped up. The director/editor of this one and one half hour documentary wisely let that musical progression drive the film and let us draw our own conclusions. Watch the transformation for yourself. 

Note: There is nothing in this documentary about the famous controversy (or better dust-up) around Dylan’s playing electric guitar with a back-up band in 1965 and traditional folk-singer Pete Seeger’s alleged “pulling the plug” in disgust over the transgression. While this controversy was no urban legend I think at least a mention would have been worthwhile to explain why a part of the crowd was audibly booing their hero. I was at that 1965 concert and was glad, glad as hell, to hear him move toward rock. Why? Well as much as I loved those earnest earlier social protest songs Dylan’s earnest nasal twang presentation of the material was beginning to get on my nerves (other covers of his work worked better). I think if he had stayed in the 1963 folk minute I would not now be endlessly writing about the man. Thanks Bob.     

Friday, June 27, 2014

***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night -When Be-Bop Bopped In The Doo Wop Night-The Classics Til Then

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Sure I have plenty to say about early rock ‘n’ roll, now called the classic rock period in the musicology hall of fame. Yeah, I know I have already talked some ears off, maybe yours, about how hard-pressed Mississippi plantation workers (semi-slaves the way the pay-out came down at the  end of the year) gathered around on some sweaty Saturday night to hear Big Bill, Big Jack, Big Little, or Big somebody belt the blues out of some whiskey bottle in some broken down juke joint, and left enough of an impression that that dark boy in the corner, kind of shy but very inquisitive about that beat took it north-ward and put it in an electric outlet and you could see the audience, the woman audience part, swaying that sway that meant they got it, got that rif (and maybe thanks that shy young brother in their own way). I know too that I have left some ears kind of staggered after mouthing off about who Jesse Lee and Billy Bob, a couple of plain ordinary good old boys maybe heard a far off echo of that electrified music and started riff-ing on their own in places like Memphis and Mobile waiting to be discovered as the next be-bop daddy musical white negro (Norman Mailer’s term, hipster term, not mine but it fits) all young and hungry, ready to play for free, or nickels just to get out of the small town Saturday night and jump.  

So yeah I have talked some, some about the big broad trends coming out of the mid-century muck (mid-20th century just so you know) and within that say I have spent a little time, not enough, considering its effect on us on the doo-wop branch of the genre. Part of the reason for the “not enough,” once I thought about it was that obviously back in those mid-1950s jail-breakout days I did not (and I do not believe that any other eleven and twelve-year olds did either), distinguish between let’s say rockabilly-back-beat-drive rock, black-based rock centered on a heavy rhythm and blues backdrop, and the almost instrument-less (or maybe a soft piano or guitar backdrop) group harmonics that drove doo-wop. Even now that stuff is better left to the aficionados and musical intelligentsia, the guys who make dough putting the stuff in some boxed-in historical perspective. 

All I knew, all any of us knew when our knees started to tremble, maybe wobble is better, to the new beat that came out of some Mother Africa from whence we came, was that it was not my parents’ mannered Tin Pan Alley by-the-numbers music, not close. Get this too as a selling point it did not hurt that they got nervous, very nervous, anytime it was played out loud in their presence. Forever “turn it down” (or father “turn the damn thing down”) raced along with each song. Fortunately, some sainted, sanctified, techno-guru developed the iPod of that primitive era; the battery-driven transistor radio. No big deal, technology-wise by today’s standards, but get this you could place it near your ear and have your own private out loud without parental scuffling in the background. Yes, sainted, sanctified techno-guru. No question.

What doo-wop did though down in our old-time working-class housing projects neighborhood, and again it was not so much by revelation as by trial and error, is allow us to be in tune with the music of our generation without having to spend a lot of money on instruments or a studio or anything like that. Strictly built for po’ boys like us. First of all where the hell would we have gotten the dough, when we were stretched grabbing nickels and dimes from Ma’s pocketbook just to keep the juke-box at Sandy’s Diner going, for such things when papas were out of work, or were one step away, and there was “max daddy” trouble just keeping the wolves from the door. Bills and repo men the bane of every family’s existence. (Worse, worse though when papas could not take it anymore and just split, long-gone daddy split with or without some barroom frill or got nasty drunk with the paycheck and left Ma with empty envelopes to stave off the collectors.)

Sure, some kids, some kids like my corner boy elementary school boyhood friend Billy, William James Bradley, were crazy to put together cover bands with electric guitars (rented occasionally), and dreams. Or maybe go wild with a school piano a la Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, or Fats Domino but those were maniac aficionados. I remember one time Billy was so hopped up on the fame game that in the height of the Elvis craze when all us other boys were busy growing side-burns and perfecting our sneers (sneers meant for some young thing, in our neighborhood and in that time meaning stick girls who had not gotten their forms yet, to wipe off into the sunset) he tried to hop on the Bo Diddley bandwagon, Hop on that bandwagon until one cruel school talent show night he learned the hard facts of the racial divide in a northern white housing project by one of the old boy rednecks and returned to Elvis-land with the rest of us. Billy, never say die Billy, also trying to break out with a Bill Haley and the Comets routine which worked okay around the neighborhood where all the girls went nuts but got him nowhere when a regional new talent show came through town and he was all geared up to win except the suit jacket his mother had jerry-rigged for the occasion fell apart about half way through his performance. Yeah, Billy had it bad.

Even Billy though, when the deal went down, especially after hearing Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers was mad to do the doo-wop and make his fame and fortune on the cheap. (No need for instruments, cheapjack jackets or racial taunts.) The cover art on a doo wop compilation I once reviewed in an old time rock and roll series made that poor boy and girl point beautifully. No not some Karl Marx brotherhood of man thing or Adams Smith all ships rising if one guy rises. Nothing that heavy, please. The cover showed a group of young black kids, black guys, young guys who looked from hunger like us who looked like they were doing their doo wop on some big city street corner (maybe Brooklyn, maybe the old days Bronx, maybe uptown Harlem Saturday night). And that made sense reflecting the New York City-derived birth of doo-wop and that the majority of doo-wop groups that we heard on the AM transistor sister radio were black. But the city, the poor sections of the city, white or black, was not the only place where moneyless guys and gals were harmonizing, hoping, hoping maybe beyond hope, to be discovered and make more than just a 1950s musical jail-breakout of their lives. Moreover, this cover art I speak of also showed, and showed vividly, what a lot of us guys were trying to do-impress girls, impress them on the cheap with some harmonies and moonlight and maybe a little side chatter too (and maybe visa-a-versa for girl doo-woppers but they can tell their own stories).

Yes, truth to tell, it was about impressing girls that drove many of us, Billy included, Christ maybe Billy most of all, to mix and match harmonies. And you know you did too (except remember girls just switch around what I just said). Yah, four or five guys just hanging around the back door of the old South Adamsville Elementary School on hot summer nights, nothing better to do, no dough to do things, maybe a little feisty because of that, and started up a few tunes. Junior corner boys with no corner because, well, because true corner-dom required a drugstore, a mom and pop variety store, or maybe if you were lucky a pizza parlor to be real corner boys and we did not have such institutions within five miles of our isolated peninsula projects. Billy, who actually did have some vocal musical talent (he did a very servable Bo Diddley although no way did he have that Afro-Carib beat down being as I later tried to figure out just a tad too white to have immersed his soul in that milieu and also did, if not a son of Bill Haley act if you don’t count the clothes flying off, then close very good job), usually sang lead, and the rest of us, well, doo-wopped. (Sha-sha-do-be-doo, okay just in case you thought I was kidding.) We knew nothing of keys and pauses, of time, notes, or reading music we just improvised. Worked on stuff kind of by osmosis or something and over the course of a summer we started to jell a little (And to keep in that jell mood I kept my changing to a teen-ager, slightly off-key voice on the low, on the very low.)

Whether we did it well or poorly, guess what, as the hot sun day turned into humid night, and the old sun went down just over the hills, first a couple of girls, then a couple more, and then a whole bevy (nice word, right?) of them came and got kind of swoony and moony. And swoony and moony was just fine. And we all innocent, innocent dream, innocent when we dreamed, make our virginal moves. But, mainly, we doo-wopped in the be-bop mid-1950s night. And a few of the songs previously mentioned in that reviewed CD compilation could be heard in that airless night. The stick outs: Deserie, The Charts; Baby Blue, The Echoes; Till Then, The Classics; Tonight (Could Be The Night), The Velvets. And of course Why Do Fools Fall In Love although Billy did not make any mistake this time since he had seen Frankie and his boys on American Bandstand  and so did no imitation.

As for the girls as summer turned to school times on certain humid hot late August nights you could hear a mix and match of young male and female voices like they too had imbibed Billy’s dream, had seen that fame and fortune coming their way and they wanted in on it, if for no other reason than to get out of the projects. Or maybe I dwell too much, after the fact project too much, and they just wanted to bathe in the jail-break night we all knew was coming with the new rock dispensation.

Yah, I know everybody wants to know what happened to Billy since the name does not instantly come to mind when one thinks of the legends of classic rock, or doo wop bop. Well, Billy was wired for that success that always eluded him and after a while, after a few too many failures, bad moves or poor judgment he lost interest in being the president of rock and roll and turned to a life of small-time crime (even there he could not breakthrough since that life was just as “rigged” as everything else if you were not connected), got caught a few times and then I lost contact where he was and what he was doing. Whatever it was he still made many a project kid, including this kid, feel good for a couple of summers crooning out the tunes and bringing the girls around. Thanks Billy, thanks a lot.      



Yah, bop the doo wop


Thursday, June 26, 2014

***A 1950s Atlantic Fourth Of July –With That Girl With The Brown Faraway Eyes In Mind 

A YouTube film clip of Jimi Hendrix performing the Stars-Spangled Banner at Woodstock, circa 1969. Yeah, I know that is way after the time of this sketch and of our graduation but is there any better evocation of the national anthem for our generation than sweet boy Jimi’s?  

Probably like in your growing up neighborhoods during the 1950s some group put together a Fourth of July event for kids and adults alike in order to rightly celebrate American independence in a festive form. That was true in the old Atlantic neighborhood in the 1950s where my junior high school friend Frankie Riley held forth. Also where I held forth, although indirectly. I did not know Frankie then since my family lived down in the Germantown projects for most of that decade but we would come up to Atlantic where my grandparents lived on Young Street on the Fourth from a very early age. So, once again, this is mainly a Frankie Riley story but it definitely could have been mine as well.  I should note Frankie did not remember a lot of specific information about those days and so he went on to a North Quincy-related site asking for information which he received and has been placed here as part of the sketch. Frankie did not ask permission to use names so I have fictionalized them here. If you have anything else to add please feel free to comment.     


Frankie, Frankie Riley, couldn’t quite remember exactly when he heard his first Fourth of July fire-cracker, or seen and heard his first fireworks for that matter. He got it all mixed and confused together with his recollections of two-bit carnival times, which also included, at least sometimes, setting off fire-crackers or fireworks displays. But it must have been early, very early, in his life at a time when he, and his mother and father and two brothers, two brothers just then, would visit his grandparents’ house on the Fourth coming down from Walker Street. And the beauty of where those grandparents lived was that it was a bee-line directly across the street from Welcome Young Field on Sagamore Street. Sagamore Street of now blessed memory.

One thing Frankie was sure of though as he thought about Sagamore Street days was that he was going to need help in relating the details of what happened because, frankly, he was confused and mixed up about more than just when he first saw and heard fire-crackers and fireworks displays. But for just that moment he was going to fly on his own. And while depending on his own memories, such as they were, he also knew, knew, flat-out what he wasn’t going to be talking about. Nix, to the tattoo of marching drums, some yankee doodle threesome all bed-sheet patched up from wounds suffered at the hands of the bloody British but still carrying, carrying proudly, the brand new American flag all aflutter, and tattooing that beat up drum and playing the fife to kingdom come. That was standard fare at these Fourth celebrations but that battered patriot thing was not his Fourth, although he had to admit it might have been somebody’s.

No also to an overblown description of some Hatch Shell Fourth, streams of humanity stretched out as far as the eye could see along the Charles River, sweating in the July suns, searching for cool, for water, for shade against the madness and waiting, patiently or impatiently as the case may have been, for the night cools, and the big boom symphony Overture of 1812 finale. Again, frankly, that was not his thing, although he knew just by the numbers that it was certainly somebody else’s. And while he was at it he would not go on and on about the too quickly over fireworks displays the directly succeeded that big boom overture. All of that, collectively, was too much noise, sweat, heat, swelter, and just plain crowdedness for what he wanted to remember about the Fourth. Instead he wanted to lower the temperature a little, lower the noise more, and lessen the logistics, the picnic basket, cooler, blankets, umbrellas, child’s toys logistics, and return to those Sagamore streets of his 1950s youth when Welcome Young Field in North Quincy’s  Atlantic section (why it was called that particular name he never really did get except Sagamore Street Grandma Riley always called it one-horse Atlantic so it had to mean something) was the center of the universe, and if not, it should have been.

Frankie knew that, probably like in your neighborhood in the old days, every year in late June the local older guys, mainly guys from the Red Feather and some scattered fathers, including Joseph Riley, Senior, Frankie's father and denizen of the Red Feather, would put together a kitty, collecting contributions and seeking donations from local merchants to put together a little “time” for the kids on the 4th of July. Now this Dublin Grille was the favored watering hole (and maybe the only one close enough to be able to “drop in for glass” and also be able to walk home afterwards when that glass turned into glasses) for all the working-class fathers in the neighborhood. And nothing but a regular hang-out for all the legions of single Irish guys who were still living at home with dear, sweet mother. Said mother who fed (and fed on time), clothed, darned socks, holy socks worn out from hard living on the Welcome Young softball field, and whatnot for her son (or, more rarely, sons) who was too afraid of woman, or a woman’s scorn at late night Dublin Grille antics, to move out into the great big world. But come late June they, the fathers and occasional older brothers, were kings among men as they strong-armed neighbors and merchants alike for dough and goods.

What Frankie was not clear on (and he was looking for help here) was the details of the organization of this extravaganza, how the money was gathered, what merchant provided what goods, where did the lads get the various Fourth fixings. However he could surely speak to the results. As these things go it was pretty straight forward, you know; foot races of varying lengths for various age groups, baby contests, beauty contests, some sort of parade, pony rides and so forth. But that is only the frame. Here is the real story of the day. Here is what any self-respecting kid lived and died for that day:

Tonic (you know, soda, pop) and ice cream. And not just one tonic or one ice cream but as much as you could hoard. Twice during the day (Frankie thought maybe about 10:00AM and 1:00PM) there would be what one can only describe as a free-for-all as everybody scrambled to get as many bottles of tonic (you know, soda) and cups of ice cream as they could handle. Here is the secret to the success that Frankie’s older brothers, Joseph and Tommy, and he had in grabbing much more than their fair share of the bounty. Go back to that part about where Grandma and Grandpa lived. Yah, right on the corner of Welcome Young Field on Sagamore Street. So, the trio would sprint with one load of goods over to their house and then go back for more until they had filled up the back-door refrigerator.

Just thinking about it now Frankie thought, “Boy that was work, as we panted away, bottles clanking in our pockets, ice cream cups clutched in every hand.” But then, work completed, they could savor their one tonic (read: soda) and one ice cream cup that they showed for public consumption just like the nice boys and girls. There were other sounds of the day too like the cheering for your friends in the foot races, or other contests, the panting and the hee-haws of the ponies. As the sun went down it went down to the strains of some local pick-up band of the era in the tennis court as the dancing started. But that was adult time. Our time was to think about our day's work, our hoard and the next day's tonic and ice cream. Ah....

Frankie’s call for remembrance help was heeded. Below is the traffic, mostly unedited, giving other information about those Atlantic Fourth of July celebrations.

Richard Mackey:

Frankie it was, like you said, organized by the guys at the Dublin Grille, guys like my father and yours, and my older brother, Jimmy, in his thirties at the time, who, as you also said, was afraid to go out in the world and lived at home forever with dear, sweet mother (and she was sweet, too sweet). He never married, never missed a softball game, never had a dirty, unsown sock, or missed a free glass of beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon, if you remember that brand). Jimmy and his buddies, his softball buddies, did a lot of the leg work when he was younger and then they kind of took over the show as the older guys, like my father and yours, had too much to do or something and handed it over to them.

They had a truck, maybe rented or maybe from one of the grocery stores, with a loud speaker that would go up and down the streets and had some of the older kid (15 or 16 years old ) going door to door for donations. I don’t know about the strong-arming part, but maybe. Probably not the neighborhood families so much as the merchants. Remember those were hard-nosed corner boys days and Jimmy was a serious corner boy when things got tight. I know Jimmy used to “set up” his buddies at the bar a lot during that collecting time and he never worked all that much.

The day [Fourth of July] started at around 8:00 am and ended with the talent show in the tennis court. I think Mr. Burke won every year that I can remember for his "crazy legs dancing.” Joe Gilliam, who worked at Estrella’s Market on Newbury Ave, was part of the group that set the whole celebration up. He was a friend of Jimmy’s as well so maybe that is where they got the tonic and ice cream from. The last one I remember was around 1975, because I had my oldest son there.

Frankie Riley:

That Joe Gilliam  Richard Mackey mentioned lived, with his dear sweet Irish-brogued mother, forever, never married, never missed a softball game, never had a dirty, unsown sock, and never missed a free beer (Knickerbocker, if you remember that brand) directly across the street from my grandparents, Daniel and Anna Riley, on Sagamore Street. That house is the place where we stashed our loot (the tonic and ice cream). Joe, when he worked for Estrella's, would also take my grandfather, disabled from a stroke and a retired North Adamsville fireman, riding around with him when he delivered orders. My grandfather was a, to be kind, difficult man to deal with so Joe must have had some charm.

Sticky Fingers McGee:

The earliest recollection I have of the July 4th festivities at Young Field was when I returned to Atlantic in July 1945, when I was six, after being away for a couple years. I seem to remember that they had foot races and other activities. I remember running one of the races which was close between me and another kid, Spider Jones. They declared Spider the winner, but I threw a fit. Nothing big, just a little shoving, no fists or anything like that. It was just a race, okay. I still think that I won that race and if they had had proper equipment like a camera for photo finishes at the finish line I could have proved that I won. After writing that last thing I guess I still haven’t yet learned to take a loss gracefully but like I said the camera would not have lied.

Later, in the 50's maybe, I remember hearing a girl who sang like Theresa "Tessie" Brewer at the Young Field tennis courts. I think somebody said she was the sister of one Joseph “Babe” Baldwin (Class of 1958) who later became one of North's best all-round athletes. That's all I remember of the Atlantic 4th celebrations, and I'm not totally sure of the accuracy of those memories. The years continue to cloud some memories.

Frank Riley:

Sticky, glad to see you haven’t mellowed with age, at least according to fellow class-mate Jimmy Callahan. Jimmy says hello and to tell you that Spider Jones had you by a mile in that race. He was right at the finish line when you exploded. (He says you did punch Spider, by the way). As for the forget memories part we all know that well-traveled path. Although your memory for some flea-bitten thirty-yard dash for some crumb-bum dollar prize gives me pause on that one.

Irene Devlin:


Back in the 50's the first 9 1/2 years of my life was on the top floor of a three-decker on Sagamore St., and Welcome Young was where we spent every day. We all waited for the Fourth. Richard [Mackey] is right about the truck. My grandfather, George Kelley, and my uncles would ride on the back of the flatbed truck going up and down the streets playing their musical instruments while others collected donations. We would throw change to the people collecting. On the big day we would line up early in the morning with our costumes on. Buddy Dunne and Elliot Thompson had a lot to do with getting everything together along with a lot of the guys from the Dublin Grille. On our way down Sagamore Street from Newbury Ave heading to Welcome Young everyone would get a shiny quarter for marching. I do remember going to Harry’s Variety Store (later owned by my Uncle Harry Kelley) for free ice cream and "tonic."

The rest of the day would be filled with games and shows, and yes the tennis court would be converted to a stage for the day and night activities.

***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Out In Jukebox Night-Ben E. King's Spanish Harlem 


Sometimes it is hard to figure out why a certain memory draws certain other memories out although today, musically, which is what I want to talk about, just flipping to YouTube and its cross-references makes that statement more explicable since one is almost automatically bombarded with about seven million songs with some memory meaning. Meaning maybe a memory of that first record hop at school, elementary school in the 1950s, just by the reference. Or that first time you noticed that girls were, well, kind of interesting or at least approachable at some basement family room “petting” party. (That basement family room also serving as fall-out shelter, fully-stocked, if the Russkies decided to blow one by us.) Better just a little time later, although time seemed then to drag infinitely by and you tried to hurry it up then, when you started dreaming about that brunette on television (you can fill in your own color preference) swaying back and forth provocatively, provocatively in your mind anyway, just for you after rushing home to watch American Bandstand. Or later when the hormones really kicked in that first night time junior high school dance with her, the her whose bubble soap (or maybe some “stolen” scent from mother’s dresser) drove you crazy. Yeah, I like the latter better since she was provocatively trying to drive you crazy with her amateur womanly wiles. Moving on to that first double-date night down by the seashore watching the “submarine races” and you copped a “feel” (for those who did not have a seashore to go down to, sorry, but okay a drive-in movie, or that spot out by the dam known strictly as a lovers’ lane). Then before you know it you have graduated high school and the memories got fonder but faded with time until you got to the 2000s night and you woke up in a sweat thinking about that girl with the faraway eyes and that damn soap smell that filled your nostrils (and wondering, wondering did she really have the cunning to steal that mother’s scent off her dresser). 

Recently I have, seemingly endlessly, gone back to my early musical roots, my memory roots, in reviewing various commercial compilations of classic rock series that goes under the general title Rock ‘n’ Roll Will Never Die. That classic rock designation signifying the “golden age of rock,” the time of some Les Paul guitar zip rocket 88 Ike Turner, zap finger-snapping the big man flapping shake, rattle and roll Big Joe Turner, from long side-burned, sexy eyed (yeah guys can say that now about guys without blushing), sneering one night of sin hunger Elvis, from sweet little sixteen Mister’s girl hunger telling Beethoven his time had passed Chuck, from the back of a flatbed truck  double girl hunger high school confidential Jerry Lee, the time of the original jail break-out and not smoother later patched-up stuff-ouch!. While time and ear have eroded the sparkle of some of the lesser tunes (and lesser singers like blueberry hill Fats and he/she good golly Little Richard) it still seems obvious that those years, say 1955-62, really did form the musical jail break-out for my generation, the generation of ’68, who had just started to tune into music.

We had our own little world, or as some hip sociologist trying to explain that Zeitgeist today might say, our own sub-group cultural expression. I have already talked about such notable phenomena as the pre-chained convenience store mom and pop corner variety store corner boy hangout with the tee-shirted, engineered-booted, cigarette (naturally unfiltered, not some “faggy” (yeah, that’s what we said then and what did we know about such things anyway) Kents, Winstons or Marboros but real coffin nails Luckies, Camels, or Pall Malls) hanging from the sullen lips, Coke, big sized glass Coke bottle at the side, pinball wizard guys thing. Complete with foxy tight cashmere-sweaterd girls hanging off every bump and grind of that twisted machine. And, of course, about the pizza parlor, you name it House of Pizza, Marios’s, Mama Mia’s,  juke-box coin-devouring, playing some “hot” song for the nth time that night, hold the onions I might get lucky tonight, dreamy girl coming in the door thing. Another of course, the soda fountain, and…ditto, dreamy girl coming through the door thing, merely to share a sundae, please. Ditto for the teen dance club, keep the kids off the streets even if we parents hate their damn rock music, the now eternal hope dreamy girl coming in the door, save the last dance for me thing (and where Mister Ben E. King at some point was “walking with the king” to get us close on his la la la’s in Spanish Harlem.

Whee! That’s maybe enough memory lane stuff for a lifetime, especially for those with weak hearts. But, no, your intrepid messenger feels the need to go back again and take a little different look at that be-bop jukebox Saturday night scene as it unfolded in the early 1960s. Hey, you could have found the old jukebox in lots of places in those days. Bowling alleys, drugstores, pizza parlors, drive-in restaurants, and as shown in the cover art on one of that rock and roll series CDs I reviewed at the daytime beach. While boy or girl watching. Basically any place where kids were hot for some special song and wanted to play it until the cows came home. And had the coins to satisfy their hunger.

A lot of it was to kill time waiting for this or that, although the basic reason was these were all places where you could show off your stuff, and maybe, strike up a conversation with someone who attracted your attention as they came in the door. The cover artwork on that daytime beach scene, for example, showed a dreamy girl waiting for her platters (records, okay) to work their way up the mechanism that took them from the stack and laid them out on the player. And tee-shirted sullen guy (could have been you, right?) just hanging around the machine waiting for just such a well-shaped brunette (or blond, but I favored brunettes in those days), maybe chatting idly was worth at least a date or, more often, a telephone number to call. Not after nine at night though or before eight because that was when she was talking to her boyfriend. Lucky guy, maybe.

But here is where the real skill came in, and where that white-tee-shirted guy on the cover seemed to be clueless. Just hanging casually around the old box, especially on a no, or low, dough day waiting on a twist (slang for girl in our old working-class neighborhood) to come by and put her quarter in (giving three or five selections depending what kind of place the jukebox was located in) talking, usually to girlfriends, as she made those selections. Usually the first couple were easy, some old boyfriend memory, or some wistful tryst remembrance, but then she got contemplative, or fidgety, over what to pick next.

Then you made your move-“Have you heard Spanish Harlem. NO! Well, you just have to hear that thing and it will cheer you right up. Or some such line. Of course, you wanted to hear the damn thing. But see, a song like that (as opposed to Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Rock and Roller, let’s say) showed you were a sensitive guy, and maybe worth talking to... for just a minute, I got to get back to my girlfriends, etc., etc. Oh, jukebox you baby. And guess what. On that self-same jukebox you were very, very likely to hear some of the following songs. Here’s the list and there are some stick-outs (and a few that worked some of that “magic” just mentioned above on tough nights):

1)  My Boyfriend's Back (it seemed that every good-looking girl had some hidden boyfriend stashed away for just that occasion when you got too close and she sprung the hurting news on you without grace)- The Angels; 2)Nadine (Is It You?)(anything by Chuck by definition then, or by the various hot licks he laid down on his guitar spoke of sex, back seat of the car sex which was just fine then when you were young and agile)- Chuck Berry; 3)Spanish Harlem(I have already pointed out the central importance of this song come late night school dance night when you want that she you were eyeing all evening to slow dance with you on that last chance to dance, thanks Brother King) - Ben E. King; 4)Come& Get These Memories(Well, it is not dancing in the streets but Martha and the girls had that Motown sound down)   - Martha & the Vandellas 5 )Little Latin Lupe Lu (every guy, at least every guy I knew, wondered about that Latin girl thing from these guys like maybe we missed something)- The Righteous Brothers; 6)It's Gonna Work Out Fine(Yeah, I know Ike was not nature’s noble man but they rocked on this one with that drop dead guitar work of Ike’s) - Ike & Tina Turner; 7)When We Get Married (after a bunch of busted marriages, a few off-hand affairs that didn’t work out and a few things that did that kid’s rush to the aisle seems kind of wishful thinking now)- The Dreamlovers; 8)Dear Lady Twist – (Brother Bonds saved more two-left feet guys in this universe than you could shake a stick with his twist mania where you could look pretty good all tangled up)-Gary "U.S." Bonds; 9)If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody( the national anthem for guys who did not get to dance that last chance dance, damn, after eying her all evening until your eyeballs got sore)- James Ray; and  10) I Count the Tears (a great backup just in case Spanish Harlem was already played or the record was worn out from play or the guy running the record-player had absolutely no sense of what a high energy, high hormonal count teenage crowd wanted to hear late at night)- The Drifters.


***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Jody Reynolds' “Endless Sleep” –Take Three  


"Endless Sleep"

(Jody Reynolds and Dolores Nance)

The night was black, rain fallin' down

Looked for my baby, she's nowhere around

Traced her footsteps down to the shore

‘fraid she's gone forever more

I looked at the sea and it seemed to say

“I took your baby from you away.

I heard a voice cryin' in the deep

“Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.

Why did we quarrel, why did we fight?

Why did I leave her alone tonight?

That's why her footsteps ran into the sea

That's why my baby has gone from me.

I looked at the sea and it seemed to say

“I took your baby from you away.

I heard a voice cryin' in the deep

“Come join me, baby, in my endless sleep.

Ran in the water, heart full of fear

There in the breakers I saw her near

Reached for my darlin', held her to me

Stole her away from the angry sea

I looked at the sea and it seemed to say

“You took your baby from me away.

My heart cried out “she's mine to keep

I saved my baby from an endless sleep.


Endless sleep, endless sleep


I want the iPhone number and e-mail address of the person who wrote this one, wrote these death-dealing lyrics. Of course I would not touch a hair on the head of well-side-burned pretty boy Jody Reynolds since I may need to use his song sometime myself so I will reserve my fury for Delores Nance for leading Jody astray on this one. As far as getting her iPhone number and e-mail, well, okay since this song goes back a way I will give some choices just to show I am not a guy hung on being very, very up-to-date with the latest communications technology and don’t realize that not everybody has made their mark on the information superhighway. Hell I won’t be particular and will be old-fashioned enough to just request the landline number and street address of Ms. Nance. She, in any case should be made to run the gauntlet, or put on a lonely desert isle, or, and this would be real justice in this case made to follow Socrates, who also corrupted the morals of the youth of his time. Yeah, the more I think about the matter before us that latter choice seems most fitting.

Why all the hubbub? Why am I insisting on deep Socratic measures for some poor Tin Pan Alley denizen? Well read the heart-breaking teen angst lyrics printed above for your perusal on Endless Sleep. Old Jesse Lee, let’s call him that, although as in most cases with these 1950s teen lyrics, frustratingly, the parties are not named except things like Johnny Angel, teen angel, earth angel, be-bopper, him, her, she, he, they, etc. like giving names to angry anguished teens in the red scare cold war night was akin to aiding and abetting the Russkies or was some grave matter of kinky national security concerns, and his honey have had a spat, of unnamed origin so we never get to figure out who had justice on his or her side. Okay, so maybe it was a bigger one than usual but in the whole wide-world historic meaning of things still just a spat. Laura, high-strung Laura, again name made up although not the angst to give some personality to this sketch since we revealed Lee’s name and nothing much has happened to him as a result, judging from her reaction thought whatever irked her was a world-historic dispute, and she just flat-out flipped out. Nothing new to that as teenagers have been flipping out since they invented teenagers about a century maybe more ago although they have not always called what said teenagers did “flipping out.” And, as teenagers often will do in a moment of overreaction to some slight, Laura had gone down to the seaside to end it all. Throw her young body, whether it was shapely or not we never find out either but figure with a name like Laura she is, well, “hot,” high school hot or Jesse Lee and his big ass ’57 Chevy would have no truck with her to begin with, into the sea. Lee in desperation, once he heard from some inevitably unnamed third party apparently although maybe it was some more reliable source like Susie Darling, Laura’s best friend since elementary school, what she has done, frantically tried to find her out in the deep, dark, wave-splashed night. All the while the “sea” is calling out for him to join her. Jesus what a scene.

And that last part, the part where the sea, or Laura now acting as the ocean’s agent, practically begs for a joint teen suicide pact is where every right thinking person, and not just enraged parents either, should, or should have, put his or her foot down and gone after the lyricist’s scalp, to speak nothing of the singer of such woe begotten lines (although like I say not me, not me just in case that she I am eying right now might have a crush on Jody, or actually like such deathly lyrics). Yeah, I know old Jesse Lee saved his honey from the endless sleep but still we cannot have this stuff filling the ears of impressionable teen-agers. Right?

Of course, from what I heard third-hand from a friend of a friend who claims to have scoped out what really happened, this quarrel that old Lee speaks of, and that Laura went ballistic over, was about whether they were going to go bowling with Lee’s guy friends and their girls down the old Bowl-a-Drome on to roll a few strings Saturday or to the drive-in theater for the latest Elvis movie. Jesse Lee, usually a mild-mannered kid despite his corner boy reputation and some things said about his style around town, reared up at that thought of going to another bogus Elvis film featuring him, the king. The king riding around in a big old car, some pink Caddy, dressed in gaudy Hawaiian shirt and white beach pants attire, singing some lamo syrupy songs that in his Sun Records days when he was young and hungry and talking about one night of sin and jailbreak-out stuff he would have thrown out the studio door, having plenty of dough in his pocket and plenty of luscious young girls ready and waiting to help him spent that dough. Of such disputes the battle of the sexes abound, and occasionally other battles, war battles as well. However, after hearing that take on the dispute, which sounds reasonable to me, I think old Jesse Lee had much the best of it. And, also off of that same take I am not altogether sure I would have been all that frantic to go down to the seaside looking for dear, sweet Laura. Just kidding.

Okay, okay I know what everybody is going to say, or at least think now. What has this guy not at least given Laura her say, her day in court to explain he dramatic behavior. This information was harder to glean because I had to get it from a friend of Laura’s friend Susie Darling. Susie sworn on a stack of seven bibles or something that she would not reveal to anyone Laura’s motivation under penalty of death. Of course in the ethos of the times and age that swearing unto death business just meant telling only one other person, a girl person in this case, come Monday morning before school girls’ “lav” talkfest. So according to this hearsay what Laura was miffed about was that Jesse Lee had not been paying enough attention to her of late, had been almost every night out with his corner boys doing wheelers with his car or whatever guys do when their honeys are not on board. So the drive-in movie idea was to get Jesse Lee to pay more serious attention to her was not about the movie, not about Elvis although Laura, like every other girl in America had her dreams about how she could tame Elvis in a flash if she could just get close to him, but about “doing the do.” See Laura a few weeks before had let Jesse Lee have his way with her but since then-no go. And she wanted to do it. But here is the kicker the place where Laura went into the sea is exactly the place where they had first made love. Jesus.                

But now that we know what drove Laura off the edge that brings something up, something that I am not kidding about. Now I love the sea more than a little having grown up so near it that I could roll down a hill and take a splash. Love the sea and its tranquility, of the effect that those waves, splashing waves too, have on my temperament. But I also know about the power of the sea, about old Uncle Neptune’s capacity to do some very bad things to anyone, anything, any object  that gets in his way. From old double-high storm-tossed seawalls that crumble at the charging sea’s touch to rain-soaked, mast-toppled boats lost down under in the briny deep whose only sin was to stir up the waves. And Laura should have too, should have known on that dark rainy night the power of the sea. So I am really ticked off, yes, ticked off, that Laura should tempt the fates, and Lee’s fate, by pulling a bone-head water's edge stunt like that.

The whole scenario once I thought about it reminded me, although I offer this observation in contrast, of the time that old flame, old hitchhike road searching for the blue-pink great American West night flame Angelica, old Indiana-bred, Mid-American naïve Angelica, who got so excited the first time she saw the Pacific Ocean, out there near Point Magoo in California never having seen the ocean before, leaped right in and was almost carried away by a sudden riptide. It took all I had, all I knew or remembered about how to ride out a riptide ne to pull her out. To save her from the briny deep. And that Angelica error was out of sheer ignorance. Laura had no excuse. When you look at it that way, and as much as I personally do no care a fig about bowling, would it really have been that bad to go bowl a couple of strings. Such are the ways of teen angst.