Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Out In The Jukebox Saturday Night –Sweet Little Rock and Roller


Chuck Berry – Sweet Little Rock 'n Roller Lyrics

Translation in progress. Please wait...

Yeah, nine years old and sweet as she can be
All dressed up like a downtown Christmas tree
Dancin? And hummin? A rock
oll melody
the daughter of a well-respected man
Who taught her to judge and understand
Since she became a rock
oll music fan

Sweet little rock'n'roller
Sweet little rock'n'roller
Her daddy don
have to scold her
Her partner can
hardly hold her
Her partner can
hardly hold her
She never gets any older
Sweet little rock

Should have seen her eyes when the band began to play
And the famous singer sang and bowed away
When the star performed she screamed and yelled "Hooray!"

Ten thousand eyes were watchin? Him leave the floor
Five thousand tongues were screamin?
ore and More!? Br> And about fifteen hundred people waitin? Outside the door

Sweet little rock'n'roller
Sweet little rock'n'roller
Sweet little rock'n'roller
Sweet little rock'n'roller
Sweet little rock'n'roller
Sweet little rock'n'roller
Sweet little rock'n'roller

Recently Josh Breslin,  my old travelling companion from the great yellow bus down the nirvana highways days out West in the late 1960s (the West is the best, get here and we will do the rest was the Jim Morrison-etched mantra driving us out there) told me, that he had, seemingly endlessly, gone back to his early musical roots, his coming of age in the 1950s golden age of rock (and mine too), now conceded even by him (me, I am agnostic on the question) to correctly carry the designation classic rock. Although Josh had his huff and puff sneaking out of the house at midnight heading via subway to Harvard Square to see if could be washed by the new breeze coming through the land folk music minute in the early 1960s that I can attest to when he later tried to foist the records off on me (you know the Village/Old Town/North Beach faded minute when all those guys and gals like Dylan/Baez/Collins/Odetta/Rush/Clancy Brothers/Van Ronk/Ochs/Paxton, Christ even old guard Pete Seeger and so on who had previously sung their hearts out for the basket in the up and coming coffeehouses and to move, or better if you believe the stories  Dave Van Ronk tells, clear the beat poetry crowds to bring in a new crowd got their chance to front). Had his blues phase, you pick ‘em country or electric, after he saw Howlin’ Wolf practically eating his harmonica on How Many More Years. Had as well an outlaw country cowboy second with Waylon and Willie. And still later did a retro Duke/Count/Charlie/Dizzy retro jazz thing although he has always claimed that he was always a child of his times, a “child of rock ‘n’ roll.” I believe him if that helps.

To show his adherence to that truth Josh had spent some time reviewing various compilations of a commercially produced classic rock series that went under the general title Rock ‘n’ Roll Will Never Die. That task was not as easy as it would seem since those commercial interests have tapped into their demographic pool and have caught our generation, the generation of ’68 in a nostalgic mood, or in a retro- buying mood. Ready to buy fifteen volume sets just to get maybe thirty gems (if they have not caught onto iTunes or YouTube, an iffy proposition for our generation just on the edge of needing to be computer literate). So there are many (although with a fair amount of overlap) compilations out there honing in on the “oldies but goodies” bug that has infiltrated the AARP-worthy set. He has noted that while time and ear have eroded the sparkle of some of the lesser tunes, you know novelty stuff like Purple People-Eaters or goof things like Who Wears Short Shorts, it still seems obvious that those years, say 1955-58, really did form the musical jail break-out for our generation who had just started to tune into music. (We have talked a great deal about the various failures, one hit johnnies and janies, and the “never should haves,” although I hope not endlessly.) 

I had to laugh when Josh explained his take on the scene back then.  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, Josh too maybe since we are working to mine the same memoires lately, have already talked about the pre 7/11 mom and pop corner variety store hangout with the tee-shirted, engineered-booted, cigarette (unfiltered, of course Luckies preferred) hanging from the lips, Coke, big- sized glass Coke bottle at the side, pinball wizard guys thing. And about the pizza parlor jukebox coin devouring, playing some “hot” song for the nth time that night, “hold the onions I might get lucky tonight,” dreamy girl might come in the door thing. Of course, the soda fountain, and…ditto, dreamy girl coming through the door thing, merely to share a sundae, natch. And the same 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.

Needless to say you know more about middle school and high school dance stuff, including hot tip “inside” stuff about manly preparations for those civil wars out in the working- class neighborhood night, than you could ever possibly want to know, and, hell, you were there anyway (or at ones like them). Moreover, I clued you in, and keep this quiet, about sex, or rather I should say “doin’ the do” in case the kids are around, and about the local “custom” (for any anthropologists present) of ocean-waved Atlantic “watching the submarine races.”

That is maybe enough memory lane stuff for a lifetime, especially for those with weak hearts. But, no, your intrepid messenger Josh felt the need to go back indoors again and take a little different look at that be-bop jukebox Saturday night scene as it unfolded in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The jukebox scene where we usually heard some sounds for the first time and we either worked out some deal to buy the record at Smitty’s Record Shop up in Adamsville Square or cadged nickels and dimes to endlessly play the tune until it got worn out (or we got worn out hearing it and therefore moved on). Hey, you could have found the old jukebox in lots of places in those days. Bowling alleys, drugstores (drugstores with soda fountains- why else would healthy, young, sex-charged high school students go to such an old-timer-got-to-get medicine-for-the-arthritis place. Why indeed, although there are secrets in such places that I will tell you about some other time when I’m not jazzed up to talk about Josh  be-bop juke-boxing around the town), pizza parlors, drive-in restaurants, and so on. 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.

Josh said 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. I agree with the latter point although the real killing time didn’t come until we hit the Army, and later. Here is where Josh showed me he was not kidding about his devotion to classic rock when one night at a local bar in Cambridge he showed me the cover artwork on one compilation showed dreamy girls waiting around the jukebox for their platters (records, okay) to work their way up the mechanism that took them from the stack and laid them out on the player. That said to me “There is your chance, boys, grab it,” like in the old days. See these were girls just hanging around the machine. Some cashmere-sweatered, beehive-haired (or bobbed, kind of), well-shaped brunette (or blond, but I favored brunettes in those days) chatting idly was worth at least a date if you moved fast 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 after looking at that artwork (worthy of Edward Hooper, for the clear visual message it sent, believe me) I reminded Josh where the real skill came in. That was when you were 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 to her friends as she made those selections. Usually the first couple were easy, some now faded 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 Only You?” 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, before the “I got to get back to my girlfriends, etc., etc.” line came at you. Oh, jukebox you baby. And guess what. On that self-same jukebox you were very, very likely to hear some of the songs on the compilation Josh showed me. Let me mention the stick outs (and a few that worked some of that “magic” mentioned above on tough nights). The other “has beens” you don’t have to waste your time on:

Oh Julie, The Crescendos (a great one if you knew, or thought you knew, or wanted to believe that girl at the jukebox’s name was Julie); Lavender Blue, Sammy Turner (good talk song especially on the word silly dilly billy word play); Sweet Little Rock and Roller, Chuck Berry (discussed above, and worthy of consideration if your tastes ran to those heart-breaking little rock and rollers. I will tell you about the ONE time it came in handy for me sometime); You Were Mine, The Fireflies; Susie Darlin’, Robin Luke (ditto the Julie thing above); Only You, The Platters (keep this one a secret, okay, unless you really are a sensitive guy). So, yeah, Josh is a “child of rock ‘n’ roll” in good standing. How about you? 

[You should know one thing about Josh, and it is as true of him today as it was in Big Sur or down in LaJolla when we were running the yellow brick road out West. Once he gets onto something he will see it through until the end. That is the case with his recent passion to remember his “child of rock ‘n’ roll” youth. I mentioned, I think, that he had just completed a review of the multi-volume Rock ‘n’ Roll Will Never Die series that he had shown me one compilation from, the one with the girls hanging around the jukebox waiting, waiting for something.

Well there are many compilations out there (and as Frank will gladly tell you there is a fair amount of overlap between competing sets) but what Frank is looking at now is the series titled The Golden Age of Rock. When he mentioned that one night when we were sitting on a couple of barstools at Rich’s, the “oldies but goodies” place in downtown Boston, having a drink he also added that he thought that I should assist him in future efforts since I was a member in good standing of that generation as well. It took all my persuasive powers to disabuse him of the notion that I needed to hear about two hundred, maybe three hundred songs, many which I did not like, in order to get that maybe thirty gems that I, we, died for back then. So I turned him down but when I got home I thought if the artwork was as good at jogging the memory as that jukebox scene, well, maybe…]          


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

When The Sea Changed -With Elmore James’ Look On Yonder Wall In Mind  

Elmore James – Look On Yonder Wall Lyrics

Translation in progress. Please wait...Look on yonder wall and hand me down my walkin' cane
Look on yonder wall and hand me down my walkin' cane
I got me another woman, baby, yon' come your man

Look on yonder wall and hand me down my walkin' cane
Look on yonder wall and hand me down my walkin' cane
I got me another woman and, uhh, baby, yon' come your man

Your husband went to the war,
And you know it was tough, uhh
I don't know how many men he done killed,
But, I know he done killed enough.
Look on yonder wall and hand me down my walkin' cane
Look on yonder wall and hand me down my walkin' cane
I got me another woman, now baby, yon' come your man

Oh yeah
I love you baby, but you just can't treat me right,
Spend all my money and walk the streets all night
But, look on yonder wall and hand me down my walkin' cane
I got me another woman, and baby, yon' come your man


Look On Yonder Wall lyrics © GULF COAST MUSIC LLC
…who knows when he first began to notice the difference, notice that the music, his parents’ music, the stuff, as they constantly told him, that got them through the “Depression and the war,” (that Depression being the Great Depression of the 1930s when all hell broke loose and guys and gals were on the ropes, on the road, onto sometime they could never figure out and the war, World War II in which they slogged through or waited anxiously at home) on his ears. Of course they, his parents specifically, no question, and their kindred later designated the “greatest generation” by younger fawning pundits and now considered accepted wisdom as they have begun to die off and no longer play on center stage although this sketch is about his generation, the self-designated generation of ’68, so we will let that issue pass. The parents having gained that distinction for having suffered the pangs of hunger, displacement, the struggle for survival, the train smoke and broken dreams heading west (hell maybe in any direction that was not where they lonesome, separate, at luck’s end were) looking for work, looking for a new start in the 1930s. Then gathering themselves up when the war clouds turned into live ammunition lined up to fight whatever evil had reared its head in this wicked old world in the 1940s, or waited at home fretfully reading the casualty lists as they were posted in home towns across America.

Of course like every generation since they invented that term “generation” and put some special onus on each one going back to Adam and Eve, maybe before, they had their own tribal music to get them through the tough spots, to dance to or just to find some secluded spot and listen to. And that would have been fine with him that secluded spot idea (although at the first grating on the ears time he was too young to be aware of what that secluded spot stuff portended but he picked the idea up easily later when he came of age, girl noticing came of age) except he had to face that big old family RCA console radio plucked right down in the living room every day blaring away while his mother did her housework, his father listened after work, and  they both got all dreamy together over WJDA every Saturday night when for five hours, five hours count them, the station endlessly played “the songs that got them through the Depression and the war.”  Jesus.            

Still although it was a daily plague on his ears he was not sure when he noticed that he had had enough of silky-voiced Nat King Cole all smooth and mellow and ready to put him to sleep (or worse), the Inkpots spouting off  and gumming things up by talking the lyrics for half the song on If I Didn’t Care or his mother’s favorite I’ll Get By (the song she said that got her through the war what with her working as a clerk down at the Naval Depot in Hullsville at the time his father was Marine island-hopping in the Pacific and while she fretted over those casualty list postings in front of the Daily Gazette office), Bing Crosby (not the 1930s Bing of Yip Harburg’s Brother, Can You Spare A Dime but the later pretty-boy mellow White Christmas stuff) and the like. He had moreover become tired unto death of the cutesy Andrews Sisters and their antic bugle boy, rum and Coca-Cola, under the apple tree music, tired of Frank (later called the “chairman of the boards” but still way too placid for him although he remembered his mother showing him a photograph of perfectly sane looking girls in bobby-sox swooning all over the place to get next to him at some theater in New York City ), Frankie (Lane okay) and Dean (before Jerry), tired of Tony fly me to the moon, Benny and his very tired clarinet Buddha swing, the whole Harry James/Jimmy Dorsey/Tommy Dorsey/Duke/Count/Earl/King and whatever other royalty they could latch onto big band sound and even blessed Charley/Dizzy/Miles be-bop, be-bop jazz (stuff that he would later, way later, crave when he went “beat” joined, joined late that big beat fellahin world Jack Kerouac was always going on and on about). Yes, yeah, tired unto death craving some sound that moved him, some sound that he could sway his rigid locked-up boyish man hips to. A break-out for sure.

Maybe it had been because he was showing serious signs of growing pains, of just being a pain like his parents had taken to calling him more and more often lately, and just wanted to be by himself up in his room (as the oldest boy he got the single room once the family moved to the new three bedroom house from that cramped apartment over on Elmer Street where all three boys had to sleep in one room and there were more fights over that fact mercifully done now) and let the world pass by until his growing pains passed by. It started one day in 1956 as far as he could remember the first time that he asked his parents to turn off the radio, or turn off WJDA, or turn on this new station that one of the kids at school was talking about coming out of Boston, WMEX the call letters he thought. This kid, Richie, a good kid who knew a lot about music swore that one of the commercials on the show was about Max’s Drive-In over on the other side of North Adamsville and a place where his parents had taken him and his brothers for burgers and fries which if you could believe this was the new “hot” spot because Max had installed speakers in each stall so that every hip guy and swaying gal could listen to WMEX while munching on a burger or swallowing a French fry. Listen to stuff that was Frank-Benny-Duke-Bing-less. Something was in the wind.    

Something may have been in the wind but he was still filled with all kinds of teen angst and alienation (no, he did not use those terms to describe his condition and only learned the terms much later after much turmoil, a few beefs with the parents, and after reading a Time magazine article about kids today going to hell in hand basket what with hanging around corners in white tee-shirts and snarls, doing crazy stuff to pass the time of day and listening although he was foggy on the music they described but it sounded interesting which is why he picked up the article from his father’s chair in the first place). Mainly though what was on his mind had been about his growing so fast, fast and awkward, too fast and awkward to figure out what this new found interest in girls was all about. Last year, last year before his parents’ music grated on his ears, they were nothing but giggly girls and a bother but now he could see, well, he could see that they might be interesting to talk to if he could find something to say. Could maybe ease his way in with some music talk like that good guy Richie did. All he knew was that life was tough and made tougher by his parents always saying no, no in principle like there was no other possible answer.    

But here is the funny part his parents, like he found out later when he figured out how parents worked, parents always do and had worked it out as a science, switched up on kids. See one day to placate him (or, heaven forbid, to keep him out of sight and therefore out of mind) they, his usually clueless parents, had gone to the local Radio Shack store and bought him a transistor radio so that he would be able listen to music up in his room rather than lie around the living room all night after his parents had gone to bed changing the dials, their dial settings, looking for some other stations, looking for WMEX to see if Richie was right about Max’s Drive-In, on that damn old family RCA radio which had formed the center piece of the room before the television had displaced it. This transistor radio was a new gizmo, small and battery-powered, which allowed the average teenager to put the thing up to his or her ear and listen to whatever he or she wanted to listen to away from prying eyes. Hail, hail.

And that little technological feat saved his life, or at least help save it. The saving part was his finding out of the blue on one late Saturday night Buster Brim’s Blues Bonanza out of WRKO in Chicago. Apparently, although he was ignorant of the scientific aspects of the procedure, the late night air combined with the closing down of certain dawn to dusk radio stations left the airwaves clear at times to let him receive that long distance infusion. Buster was a mad man monk talking in a drawl like maybe he was from down south, talking jive, talking a line of patter with sing-song words, words that he would later recognize as from the be-bop vocabulary pushed into the orbit of this rock and roll thing some DJ invented (DJs the guys who spun the platters-played the records for the squares who don’t know) for the new sound that was putting a big crimp in vanilla popular music. He immediately sensed that the music emanating from that show had a totally different beat from his parents’ music, a beat he would later find came out of some old-time primordial place when we all were born, out of some Africa cradle of civilization. Then though all he knew was that the beat spoke to his angst, spoke to his alienation from about twelve different things, spoke to that growing pains thing. Made him, well, happy, when he snapped his fingers to some such beat. What he was unsure of, and what he also did not found out about until later, was whether this would last or was just a passing fancy like those Andrews Sisters his parents were always yakking about.

What he didn’t know really was that though that little gizmo he had been present at the birth of rock and roll. Was right at the place where that be-bopping sound was turning into a sway by white guys from the farms down in Tennessee, getting refined by some black guys from the Delta, being turned out by some urban hep-cats from New Jack City and anybody else who could get his hips moving to the new time beat. Geez, and all he thought he was doing was snapping his fingers until they were sore to Elmore James’ Look On Yonder Wall                 

[Sam Lowell, the “he” of the sketch to give him a name, although after looking the story over it really could have been an almost universal teen story in the 1950s from all accounts including that quota of angst and alienation and the vast number of transistor radios sold to clueless parents to placate their unruly tribe, later in life, the way I heard the story, actually became enthralled with the music of his parents’ generation for a while. Kind of saw that they needed that “no ripples” “sentimental journey” waiting by the mailbox, I’ll get by, if I didn’t care” music to get through their tough spots. Of course he also had had his early 1960s folk minute affair, his later 1970s outlaw country cowboy minute and his 1990s be-bop jazz revival so it is hard to tell how deep or how sincerely he imbibed that parents’ music moment. He told a friend of mine, a friend who told me the original story, that whatever else he was still a “child of rock and roll” when the deal went down. Oh, except now via iPods rather than transistor radios.]  

Monday, December 29, 2014

***Grifter’s Farewell-Paul Newman And Robert Redford’s The Sting I   

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

The Sting, starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, 1973

Every half-baked corner boy and wanna-be grifter knows this wisdom. Con artists, guys who played the suckers from down in the streets three-card Monte, hell, maybe even down to the primitive “clip” up to and including the big time crime bosses pulling in dough from dope to guns to prostitution are more susceptible to the “con” that any rube “mark.” Are more than willing to suspend disbelieve in the interest of raking in the filthy lucre. Without any heavy lifting. And that premise is what drives the movie under review, the grifter’s delight Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s The Sting.

Of course it is one thing to rob the rubes at some third-rate carnival out in the sticks, rubes waiting all year to be fleeced, and another to step up to the biggest grift of all-kick ass on a crime boss, an evil crime boss, and get away with it. And takes time as well to set the trap, set it up with ribbons and bows all around. And during this two hour plus film everything from the first street grift by Johnny (played by Robert Redford) which eventually goes asunder in which a bagman is conned out of the money he is to deliver to the swells (remember that wisdom in the first sentence here) to the “big con,” doing in a seriously vicious crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (played by Robert Shaw) leads right to that “sting” which is the hallmark of the successful con. (By the way if you don’t think our man Doyle was vicious he ordered both the murder of the guy who Johnny worked the street con with and hence the “goes asunder” and the “hit” of his bagman who was foolish enough to be conned by a wet-behind-the- ears cheapjack grifter. Case closed.)      

 Of course to pull a big con off on a big-time crime boss in the 1930s (or anytime for that matter) you need more than a desire for revenge and more than some small-time street grifter like Johnny who didn’t have sense enough to keep his dough and wound up blowing it on some floosy. What you need is a big-time grifter, a guy like Harry (played by Paul Newman) with a big time if discarded plan. A plan involving setting up a big time off-track betting parlor (a bookie joint, okay) with plenty of grifters to fill out the scenario to slowly lure our man Doyle in by feeding him nibbles until his is hooked, until he really believes that Johnny has the “fix” on at the track and he can “invest” four hundred thou and reap profits just like money found on the ground. Or just like taking candy from a baby. Yeah, that is what happened they took Doyle’s money like taking candy from a baby. Beautiful. And in the process Newman and Redford created an aura, a buddy film aura to match their efforts together in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.          

You know this one had me thinking about refurbishing my corner boy skills but when I thought about the serious crime bosses around today, mainly drug warlords, I didn’t like the idea of living in the Yukon someplace forever. Still a nice sting, a very nice sting on film, boys.  


Sunday, December 28, 2014

They Shoot CD Players (Or iPODs) Don’t They- With Elvis’ Version Of Harbor Lights In Mind


Harbor Lights Lyrics
(words & music by H. Williams - J. Kennedy)

I saw the harbor lights

They only told me we were parting

Those same old harbor lights

That once brought you to me.

I watched the harbor lights

How could I help it?

Tears were starting.

Good-bye to golden nights

Beside the silvery seas.

I long to hold you dear,

And kiss you just once more.

But you were on the ship,

And I was on the shore.

Now I know lonely nights

For all the while my heart keeps praying

That someday harbor lights

Will bring you back to me.

Some people have asked, although I am not one of them, if there was music before 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, before what is now called the classic age of the genre. Usually such people are young, or were before what is now called the classic age of rock and roll became the classic age and so now they, the young, ask was there music before hip-hop nation beat down the doors, or if any other genre struck their interest like techno-rock that might have formed the basis for their question. But rock, rock as I know it, I, Frank Jackman, who lived for the latest 45 RPM record to hit the stores along with my corner boys was the basis for the question back then. Back in the 1950s when the world was young and America, young America, still had that capacity to wonder before the lamp went out, wonder just like Scott Fitzgerald pointed out about those who found places like New York City, the Mecca for a lot of things, including the production of those 45 RPM records I mentioned, people like those Dutch sailors with the Van names must have felt when they saw that “fresh green breast of the new world.” And rightly so since what we heard before, heard to perdition was some vanilla stuff that our parents liked but I will get to that later. In other words time, new millennium time, has left classic rock for the aficionados or for, well, old fogies, you know the AARP-worthy denizens whose demographics form the basis for rock musical compilations and “oldies but goodies” revivals with now ancient heartthrobs from back in the day who have lost a step or three coming out on some massive stage and lip-synch, yes, lip-synch their greatest hits (or hit in the case of those important musical one-hit johnnie and janies). But there, believe it or not, but take my word from me like old Rabbit Brown used to say his song James Alley Blues, were other types of music, music that helped formed rock and roll that I found out about later after I had my fill of 45 RPM records and corner boys and wanted to dig into the history of the American songbook, see what drove earlier generations of the young to seek their own jailbreak out.     

So of course there was music before rock, I had better say classic rock so nobody gets confused and I have taken some pains to establish the roots of rock back to Mississippi country blues around the turn of the century, the 20th century, when all those freed slaves who thought they were economically free and not just manacle-free wound up working for Mister in his twenty-eight thousand acres of the best bottomland in Mississippi for a pittance. Kept in line, and here is where the bitch of the thing is by a guy, well, not really a guy but a way of life named after a guy maybe, one Mister James Crow, and so those freed blacks who slaved on Mister’s land had to blow off steam and that was the basic of the blues, and I don’t mean blues like when a guy has a good girl who done him wrong on his mind. Hell that problem was easy to solve. I mean when Mister, or his Captain, pushed the pace all week (half a day Saturday included) and every worthy buck and every good-looking gal, big thighed or not, hit Jimmie Jack’s juke joint to listen to some itinerant brother with a broken down guitar wail away about that damn Captain, his, the singer’s, unfaithful women and about how “the devil’s gonna get him” for nickels and dimes in the pot (and some of Jimmie Jack’s homemade brew) and got the crowd swaying and clapping their hands to the beat on See See Rider or Mississippi Highwater Rising. Yeah, that’s the start. Okay.

Too far back for you? Okay let’s travel up the river, the Big Muddy, maybe stop off at Memphis for a drink, and to nurse the act, before hitting the bitch city, Chicago, hog butcher, steel-maker and every other kind of tool and appliance-maker to the new industrial world just ask Carl Sandburg. But also maker by proxy of the urban blues, those old hokey plantation Son House/Charley Patton/ Blind Blake (and a million other guys with Blind in front of their names) juke joint Saturday night full of homemade blues turned electric with the city and turned guys like plain boy Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf (you would laugh at their real names although you would not do that in their presence, especially the Wolf because he would cut you bad, real bad) into the kings of  Maxwell Street and all the streets around with back-up and all putting just the right twist on Look Yonder Wall, Rocket 88, Hoochie Goochie Man and Little Red Rooster (with kudos to Willie Dixon too). So, yeah, electric blues as they traveled north to the heartland industrial cities

Jazz too maybe a little Duke and Benny swing as it got be-bopped and for the beat, for the drum action, for the “it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing” that took over after a while. But Dizzy, Charlie Thelonius too with that cool, detachment mood that spoke to the beat down, the beaten down, the big blast beaten fellahin world. Certainly throw in rhythm and blues, north and south, throw in big time one Mister Big Joe Turner toot-tooting his sweet mama to Shake, Rattle and Roll that had all those alienated, angst-ridden white guys (whether they knew it or not ) lined up to cover the damn thing. Yeah guys like Elvis (when he was hunger), Bill Haley when he needed to kick his act up a notch, and Jerry Lee when he needed to put fire into that piano.

Then came alone a strange mix and match, rockabilly as it came out of the white small town South, Tupelo, Biloxi, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Jesus, the smaller the town it seemed the more the guys wanted to breakout, wanted to push the envelope of the music, wanted to get away from that “from hunger” look, wanted that big bad Caddy they saw in the magazines. Came out with those same boys lining up to sing Joe Turner, hungry Elvis, Carl, Johnny, Jerry Lee, to sing black along with that good old boy Saturday night moonshine tucked in the back seat of that bad ass Chevy looking, looking for danger, and looking for women to sing to who were looking for danger. Country boys, yeah, but not hokey George Jones country boys these guys wanted to breakout of  Smiley’s Tavern over on Highway One, wanted girls to dance on the tables, wanted guys to get up and dance with those Rubys and red-headed girls. Yeah, they mixed it and matched like big time walking daddies (and I hear had fun doing it, hell, it beat eking out a living clerking at Mister Smith’ feed store.  

What rock and roll owed little to, or at least I hope that it owes little to, is that Tin Pan Alley/ Broadway show tune axis part of the American songbook. You know Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Oklahoma, Singing in the Rain, Over The Rainbow stuff. That part of the songbook seems to me to be a different trend away from that jailbreak song that drove us wild and one that was reflected in a CD compilation review I did one time (for the young, maybe the very young, CDs were discs loaded with a bunch of songs, some you liked, maybe three, and the  rest you had to buy as well because you desperately wanted those three not like today when you just hopped on some site to grab something and download it, presto), The 1950s: 16 Most Requested Songs, which really was about the 16 most requested song before the rock jailbreak of the mid-1950s. Yeah, not exactly stuff your parents liked but stuff that maybe was good if you a “hot” date that did not turn out well and you listened to it endlessly on your defeated way home. Yeah, let’s be clear about that, that stuff your older brothers and sisters already halfway to that place where your parents lived swooned over, not you.

I have along the way, in championing classic rock as the key musical form that drove the tastes of my generation, the generation of ’68, contrasted that guitar-driven, drum/bass line driven sound to that of my parents’ generation, the ones who survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and fought World War II, and listened to swing, jitter-buggery things and swooned (they really did check YouTube if you don’t want to take my word from me) over big bands, brass and wind swings bands, Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters and The Mills Brothers, among others. In other words the music that, we of the generation of ’68, heard as background music around the house as we were growing up. Buddha Swings, Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree, Rum and Coca-Cola, Paper Dolls, Tangerine, and the like. Stuff that today sounds pretty good, if still not quite something that “speaks” to me. That is not the music that got us moving to break out and seek a newer world, to try to scratch out an existence in a world that we had not say in creating and dream, dream do you hear me, about turning the world upside down and keeping it that way for once. I remember writing in that review that the music in that compilation drove me up a wall and I was ready to shoot my CD player, the instrument that I heard it on, once I heard it (younger reader just put “shoot your iPOD” and we will be on the same page.

No, this was the music that reflected, okay, let’s join the cultural critics’ chorus here, the attempted vanilla-zation (if such a word exists) of the Cold War Eisenhower (“I Like Ike”) period when people were just trying to figure out whether the Earth would survive from one day to the next. Not a time to be rocking the boat, for sure. Once things stabilized a bit though then the mad geniuses of rock could hold sway, and while parents and authorities crabbed to high heaven about it, they found out that you could let that rock breakout occur and not have everything wind up going to hell in a hand basket. Mostly. But this music, these 16 most requested songs were what we were stuck with before then. Sure, I listened to them then like everyone else, everyone connected to a radio, but this stuff, little as I knew then, did not “speak” to me. And unlike some of that 1940s stuff still does not “speak” to me.

Oh, you want proof. Here is one example. On that compilation Harbor Lights was done by Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra. This was cause number one for wanting to get a pistol out and start aiming. Not for the song but for the presentation. Why? Well, early in his career Elvis, when he was young and hungry while he was doing his thing for Sam Phillips’ Memphis Sun Records operation, covered this song. There are a myriad Elvis recordings during the Sun period, including compilations with outtakes and alternative recordings of this song. The worst, the absolute worst of these covers by Elvis has more life, more jump, dare I say it, more sex than the Kaye recording could ever have. NO young women would get all wet, would get all sweaty and ready to throw their underwear at the drop of a hat for Sammy’s version. Case closed. And the compilation only got worse from there with incipient things like Frankie Lane’s I Believe, Johnny Mathis’ It’s Not For Me To Say, and Marty Robbins’ (who did some better stuff later) on A White Sports Coat (And A Pink Carnation). And you wonder why I ask whether they shoot CD players. Enough said.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Misstep- With Elvis’s That’s When Your Heartache Begins In Mind


That's When Your Heartaches Begin" was written by Fisher, Fred / Raskin, William / Hill, William.

If you find your sweetheart in the arms of a friend
That's when your heartaches begin
When dreams of a lifetime must come to an end
That's when your heartaches begin

Love is a thing you'd never can share
When you bring a friend into your love affair
That's the end of your sweetheart
That's the end of your friend
That's when your heartaches begin

If you find your sweetheart
In the arms of your best friend, your brother
That's, that's when your heartaches begin

And you know, when all your dreams
When all your dreams of a lifetime
Must, must all come to an end
Yeah that's, that's when your heartaches begin

Oh, you see love is a thing that
That you never can share
And you know, when you bring a friend
Into your love affair

That's the end of your sweetheart
That's the end of your friend
Well, that's when your heartaches begin


…Laura Simpson and Fiona Sims were inseparable friends from that first day in ninth grade at North Adamsville High School in 1960 when due to the vagaries of the alphabet and homeroom class row seating rules they sat one in front of the other in Miss Williams’ home room class. Maybe it meant nothing in the great mandela of things but neither Laura , named after the title of the 1940s film noir thriller Laura starring Gene Tierney which her mother had seen three times  nor Fiona, named after great stonewall cottage Irish Fionas going back a few generations, liked their first names and that had been their first substantial conversation once they left Miss Williams’ convent-like homeroom and got a chance to talk in the second-floor girls’  “lav” that had been beyond memory set aside as the freshmen girls’ lav (others might enter as needed depending on urgency and no one would have crabbed if they had used other lavatories in the building but that was acknowledged freshman girls’ headquarters. Oh, wait a minute, they and sophomore girls as well, were not permitted under penalty of death in the fourth floor junior and senior girls’ lounge, not if they wanted to live to tell the tale since those girls guarded their prerogative as fiercely as anyone).       


[This Miss Williams as both Laura and Fiona would be the first to tell you once they had completed four years of her home room craziness had been a Miss for a reason, not so much because she was one of the plainest women in America and wore no make-up to wash away some of that plainness but because she demanded, demanded do you hear, that everybody be absolutely quiet in homeroom, homeroom for chrissake. It was not until years later when the winds changed in a more confessional age that these young women found out that as a result of her own youthful indiscretion Miss Williams had secretly befriended many girls, some known to them, who had gotten in “trouble,” gotten “in the family way” and she had helped them out. Sometime somebody from North Adamsville should write that story, write it in big letters too.] 


So Laura and Fiona sat next to each other and sensed in each other that subtle fear of the unknown that every, or almost every, freshman has felt since, well, since Socrates’ time, maybe before. So they sought shelter from the storms together, and later with a small coterie of other adrift teen girls who gathered round them when those other girls sensed that they were not alone in their angst and ignorance and that Laura and Fiona seemed to have a better grip on what ailed them collectively. Why they also had that subtle fear but this story is about Fiona and Laura so we will let that latter settle in the background. And of course since they were teenage girls they all were bothered by the same set of anxiety associations that have bothered teenage girls since about sixteen hundred or whenever teen-age hood was developed. You know about boys, about their fearsome sexual appetites and cunning ways to get nice girls in compromising situations, about expectations in being girls getting ready to be wives, mothers, helpmates and every other menial task that his lordship “delegated” to them, about getting recognized for serious achievement in a male-dominated world, especially the professional world where there were few role models but where they wanted to head, about sex, not the boy part, that they had down as well as could be expected, but what to do about those raging hormones that were causing them sleepless nights without “getting in the family way,” having to go to Aunt Ella’s for the duration.


We moreover are concerned not so much with Laura and Fiona’s high school days except to note that is where their huddled friendship started and to note some of the highlights that strengthened their friendship, not always in good ways but who knows maybe in not so bad ways. You know getting through that first few months of freshman year in one piece in an anonymous big high school environment after the incubator closeness of junior high school, preparing for that first school dance, that first high school dance where they got all dressed up, bought new shoes and all, and doubled-dated two older guys from the school, two seniors who were known around school as nothing but skirt-chasers but who had a car and both girls decided to fling caution to the wind if it came to that (it did and they did although keep that to yourself since they both had reputations in freshman year of being “unapproachable,” meaning in the language of the times virginal), latter getting caught up with each other’s single date sexual escapades what with little trysts down at the secluded end of old Adamsville Beach (the Squaw Rock end where only teenagers trended, no nosey cops, no ill-disposed families with children to spoil the mood), then senior year after both got accepted to the state university the few wild parties they attended before graduation where when drunk they got carried away with some unusual behavior, for them, which maybe foretold what might happen in the future. That last set of escapades included an exchange of boyfriends, not those long gone seniors from freshman year but fellow seniors, for the night on a lark (those boyfriend who were more than willing to go along, did not have to be coaxed into doing that task).


Both later said nothing had happened with the other’s boyfriend, noting sexual anyway, and maybe nothing did, but a very slight wariness set in between them after that night, especially on Laura’s part who was somewhat possessive of her men. (Later Ben one of the boyfriends, Laura’s, bragged about how he could hardly keep up with Fiona’s urges  once he got her into bed but that was in the Monday morning jock locker room talkfest and could be discounted as so much bravado, and has been since Socrates’ time, maybe before.) But that was a mere bump in the road for both were excited about finally graduating and heading away from home and on their own (this getting away from home was epidemic among the early 1960s young including the writer so he knows how important learning to fly on their own was to Fiona and Laura). Moreover having both grown up on the “wrong side of the tracks” (although in different sections of that wrong side) with tough family lives including drunken fathers they were more than ready to move on.      


Duly noting those high school experiences, for good or evil, we are rather more concerned with their young adulthood, the time when in 1964 and later they came of age, came to able to carry on their own affairs after leaving home for college, the state university at Amherst with all its possibilities and with all its anonymousness. One thing that both Fiona and Laura had agreed on after graduation from high school was that they would start college unattached. And they did so shedding their boyfriends, their lukewarm boyfriends by August when they went up to freshman orientation and dorm selection (they had already signed up as roommates). (Those boyfriends, Ben and Alex,  by the way who maybe were or maybe were not sorry for the break-ups but one wonders whether they were left unhappy about that future of no prospects of being exchanged on a lark. We will never know since we are following Laura and Fiona and the boys’ whereabouts were unknown when this story unfolded.) When the big day came they were both excited, excited to be on their own, excited that that subtle fear that both felt, felt as every, well almost every, freshman, has felt since, well, since about Socrates’ time, if not before would find them with a known kindred spirit when the hugeness and anonymousness of the place got to them.


This tale however is not about surviving in an alien environment with a cluster of friends or some sociological study about the mores of 1960s youth and their reactions to the jailbreak wave that was cresting over them with newfound liberties and freedoms (for a while anyway) that earlier generations could not dream of but rather about how a firm female friendship got blown to the four winds when one of the friends got her wanting habits on. As one might figure with young women away from home (or men, for that matter), consciously unattached, and with broods of males everywhere one looked that two good-looking, smart, adventuresome young women would have no trouble finding male company. They didn’t lack for company or invitations to frat parties and other bashes. Didn’t suffer that lack from that first Freshman Mixer when they again like some high school deja vu double-dated two fellow freshman from one of their classes (College Math) whom they met after class in the dorm cafeteria where the guys worked behind the counter and they “hit” on the two most beautiful girls in any of their classes they said through to a couple of serious affairs, one by Fiona with a married man, until the time of this part of the story junior year.


Fiona tended to be flirty and, well, not monogamous. Laura somewhat the opposite, although that usually depended on whether she had a steady boyfriend or not. At the time we are talking about, junior year, Laura did have a steady boyfriend, Lance Taylor, a senior at Williams, located some miles up the road, who planned to go to graduate school, and who had plans, sketchy plans, that involved marriage to Laura at some future point. Laura having met Lance at the Art Museum out in Williamstown while doing a project for her graphic arts design class, assumed that same thing, except hungrier for security, her plans were far from sketchy as she practically had them in that proverbial white house with picket fence, three kids, and two dogs. And so she dreamed. Now this Lance, naturally, as with all guys named Lance or so it seemed was good-looking, smart, came from some money (important to working-class town Laura) and was a go-getter. Just the things that Fiona found appealing as well. So anytime Lance showed up at their dorm room and she was around she would get very flirty with old Lance. Laura had to warn her off a couple of times but Fiona dismissed her concerns as nonsense that she was just having fun with her new “brother-in-law.”


Things settled down for a while until toward the end of junior year Laura took a trip to Boston in order to interview for a senior year internship with an advertising company to spice up her graphic arts resume. She had expected (and Fiona had too) to take three days for the trip but the firm after the first interview decided to take her on as an intern and she headed back early. (People who know knew she was an exceptional up-and-coming graphic artist and that proved true later before she gave it up for marriage and kids.)


Well, you already know the rest, and if you don’t you really haven’t been paying attention, Laura caught Lance and Fiona in flagrante in their dorm room. You also know that was the end of the long friendship between Fiona Sims and Laura Simpson. What you don’t know is this-ten years, ten long years later at their high school class reunion, Laura Taylor, Lance in tow (the details of their after dorm reconciliation need not concern us here except that somehow Lance convinced Laura that Fiona had “made” him do it which for her own white picket fence reasons Laura was willing to accept)not even drunk but cold stone sober, tossed a drink, a whiskey sour, down the length of Fiona Sims shiny shimmy dress and then walked out of the hall. Jesus.