Monday, August 31, 2015

Once Again The Life Of The Dharma-Jack Kerouac-A Biography By Tom Clark

Book Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Jack Kerouac: A Biography, Tom Clark, Paragon House, 1990


I have been on a Jack Kerouac tear of late (if you do not know who he is at this point either think On The Road, the famous alternate road to life book he wrote putting flesh and blood to the “beat” movement of the 1950s, think of the guy who the media proclaimed as the “king of the beats” after writing that novel which he wore kicking and screaming or if those suggestions fail ask your parents, or ouch, grandparents for they will know, probably headed out on the road themselves if only for a minute after reading the book). I have been reading not so much his works, although I have been doing some of that too but reading biographies, essays, and other sketches to get a better grasp on my fascination about this working class guy from Lowell not so far from where I grew up, about a guy who grew up from hunger as I did, and a guy who for a minute anyway gave the literary set a run for its money with a new way of writing novels. He called it, maybe disingenuously “spontaneous writing” since he was an incredible re-writer and reviser of everything he wrote as well as a meticulously organized keeper of his own archives but probably better is a take from a Norman Mailer title-advertisements for myself. (Allen Ginsberg, the poet, his early friend and road companion, called Jack the great rememberer of their generation and that is probably right.)

That said, I have gained a lot of information not previously known by looking into the life of the man who probably with the exceptions of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway (yeah, Hemingway is always in the mix somewhere when you talk guys, guy writers in the 20th century, in “modern” writing) has influenced me more than all others in a lifetime of reading. This is a little bit ironic since I was a shade bit too young to appreciate as a child of the generation of ’68 (you know those of us who raised hell with the government, with society, hell, with Jack who disowned us when the deal went down although we, I, did not disown him, or his influence in the 1960s).       

Now there are several ways to approach doing a biography about a writer. The two ways that come to mind most readily in the case of Jack Kerouac are, one, to do a close analysis of his writings like his first real biographer, Ann Charters (the one whom almost all those have written something about Jack afterward own a debt to, acknowledged or not), did who had the advantage of actually working with the man on his bibliography before he passed (and the disadvantage of knowing him too well so that on the personal stuff she did a great deal of sliding over as later biographers have felt no need to do). The other is to do like the writer/poet Tom Clark did in the book under review, Jack Kerouac: A Biography, and give us the more nitty-gritty details of Jack’s life, his terrible struggles to get published and his awful time with success when he became the “once and future king of the “beats”         

In a recent review of the Ann Charters biography which I think bears repeating here I noted the following:

“It is probably hard for today’s youthful generation (the so-called millennials) to grasp how important the jail break-out of the 1960s, of breaking free from old time Cold War red scare golden age dream, of creating our own sense of space was to my generation, my generation of ’68 (so-called). That “generation of ’68” designation picked up from the hard fact that that seminal year of 1968, a year when the Tet offensive by the Viet Cong and their allies put in shambles the lie that we (meaning the United States government) was winning that vicious bloodstained honor-less war, to the results in New Hampshire which caused Lyndon Baines Johnson, the sitting President to run for cover down in Texas somewhere after being beaten like a gong by a quirky Irish poet from the Midwest and a band of wayward troubadours from all over, mainly the seething college campuses, to the death of the post-racial society dream as advertised by the slain Doctor Martin Luther King, to the barricade days in Paris where for once and all the limits of what wayward students could do without substantial allies in bringing down a reactionary government, to the death of the search for a “newer world” as advertised by the slain Robert F. Kennedy, to the war-circus of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago which put paid to any notion that any newer world would come without the spilling of rivers of blood, to the election of Richard Milhous Nixon which meant that we had seen the high side go under, that the promise of the flamboyant 1960s was veering toward an ebb tide.

But we did not “invent” the era whole, especially in the cultural, personal ethos part, the part about skipping for a while anyway the nine to five work routine, the white house and picket fence family routine, the hold your breath nose to the grindstone routine and discovering the lure of the road and of discovering ourselves, of our capacity to wonder. No question that elements of the generation before us, the sullen West Coast hot-rodders, the perfect wave surfers, the teen-alienated rebel James Dean and wild one Marlon Brando and above all the “beats” helped push the can down the road, especially the “beats” who wrote to the high heavens about what they did, how they did it and what the hell it was they were running from.

Now the truth of the matter is that most generation of ‘68ers like myself only caught the tail-end of the “beat” scene, the end where mainstream culture and commerce made it into just another “bummer” like they have done with any movement that threatened to get out of hand. So most of us who were affected by the be-bop sound and feel of the “beats” got what we knew from reading about them. And above all, above even Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem, Howl which was a clarion call for rebellion, was Jack Kerouac’s On The Road which thrilled even those who did not go out in the search the great blue-pink American West night.”              

Here the odd thing, as Tom Clark’s biography insightfully brings out better than Ann Charters who perhaps was too close to the scene , Kerouac except for that short burst in the late 1940s was almost the antithesis of what we of the generation of ’68 were striving to accomplish. As is fairly well known, or was by those who lived through the 1960s, he would eventually disown his “step-children.” Be that as it may his role, earned or not, wanted or not, as media-anointed “king of the beats” is worthy of investigation along with his obvious literary merits as a member in good standing of the American literary pantheon.           

On the face of it a poor working-class kid from the textile mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, from a staunch Roman Catholic French-Canadian heritage of those who came south to “see if the streets of America really were paved with gold” would seem an unlikely person to be involved in a movement that in many ways was the opposite of what his generation, the parents of the generation of ’68 to put the matter in perspective, born in the 1920s, coming of age in the Great Depression and slogging through World War II was searching for in the post-World War II “golden age of America.” Add to those factors his being a “jock,” a corner boy (at least that is the feel from a read of Maggie Cassidy), and a guy who liked to goof off and that only adds to the confusion about who and what Jack Kerouac was about. But here is the secret, the secret thread that runs through the Clark biography (and Charters too as well as Jack’s friend and rival John Holmes in his remembrances of Jack), he was a mad man to write, to write and to write about himself and his times. And had enough of an ego to think that his writing would carry out his task of making a legend of his own life. Yeah, a million word guy (probably much more than that and without a word processor to keep count, to make editing easier, despite his theory of spontaneous writing to the contrary, and to easily store his output).

So the value of this biography is the material presented about his rough-hewn upbringing in down and out Lowell, the dramatic effect that the death of his older brother at a young age had on his psyche, his football prowess and disappointments, his coming of age problems with girls, his going off to New York to prep school and college, his eventual decision to “dig” the scene in the Village, his checkered military record during the war, the shock of the death of his father, his inability to deal with women, and marriage, his extreme sense of male bonding, his early and often drinking problems and other personal anecdotes offered by a host of people who knew, loved and hated him do not play second fiddle to this literary strand here.       

Mister Clark does his best work when he goes by the numbers and discusses Kerouac’s various troubles trying to be a published paid serious writer, and to be taken seriously by the literary establishment. The fate of On The Road which after all is about his and Neal Cassady’s various cross-country trips, drug and alcohol highs, partying, women grabbed in the late 1940s and not published until 1957 is indicative of the gap between what Kerouac thought was his due and what the finicky publishing world thought about him. Of course after he became a best-seller, had his “fifteen minutes of fame plus fifty plus years” getting his work published was the least of his problems. While he was to write some more things after he became famous there is a real sense that he ran out of steam. And as Clark’s last chapters summarily detailed beginning with the 1960 events which made up the short novel Big Sur about his increasing alcohol and drug problems and breakdowns highlight those problems and how the problem of fame itself got the better of him. Although no way can you consider Jack Kerouac a one-note literary Johnny. However if he had only written On The Road his niche in the pantheon would be assured.          

At the end of my review of the Charters biography I made a suggestion to the millennials who need to read Kerouac -after you read On The Road - read Charter’s something of an early definitive biography (with lots of good notes at the end about her sources for various opinions and questions of fact) to get a feel for what it was like to be there at the creation of the big jail-break “beat” minute which spawned your parents, or ouch, grandparents “hippie” minute. I can now make another addition. Read this one too. While other later biographies have been produced, especially around the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of On The Road in 2007, this is the one to check out next.   
The Second Day Of The Locust-Kirk Douglas’s The Ace In The Hole

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


The Ace In The Hole, starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, directed by Billy Wilder, 1951

Get this story line right out of today’s mad social media driven desperate cry for recognition in a sullen, indifferent world.  A hard-nosed, hard-hitting newspaper reporter who liked his liquor, liked his women, liked to live close to the edge on a story, hell was willing to go over the top six ways to Sunday in order to sell the boss’s newspapers (and he was not particular about which boss as long as he go that by-line, got that big fat check). Get this too was willing, way more than willing to throw the truth out with bath water in order to keep the story humming for a few extra days, or until the juice was sucked out of the damn thing. Of course guys (gals too but our protagonist is a guy on this one) like our boy, Chuck, Chuck Tatum, maybe you read his by-line when he was riding the big wave, who live for wine, women, song and a big chunk of fame have a habit over going over the edge a little too much for the city editors of most newspapers taste which has caused him to be thrown off half the best newspapers in the country.

As we hone in on the story line Chuck is cooling his heels out in Albuquerque, on some nowhere square dink newspaper where the editor/owner thinks you should tell the truth straight and without the garnish, funny guy right. Finds himself out there where the states are square and the people left to their own resources by their own choice had better treat one another square, and be square or else. So our big city reporter was just looking for that one little story to ride him back to the big time, to easy street, what the heck maybe to that Pulitzer Prize that has eluded him all these years. And lo and behold out in the middle of Podunk on his way to cover yet another hoe-down or picnic in the boondocks Chuck gets his lucky break, a story a real live human interest story, the kind that people stop whatever they are doing to follow, the one that has them on the phone telling one and all their exact opinion of what is happening, with baited breathe. Here is the beauty of this one, a guy, a regular Joe (although his name is Leo but nobody cares about the name as much as the one-on-one human interest about what is happening to some poor sap who is in more trouble than they are, not much more was caught in a cave looking for relics around the mountains which the local Indians, oops Native Americans, you know the native peoples and needs help getting out, help which in the normal scheme of events would take a few hours and done. Except our boy Chuck smelled this for a million dollar story anyway you cut it, a story that every poor sucker who reads the newspapers form Podunk to New Jack City could relate to, if he can keep the thing alive long enough to draw an audience. So the catch is too get the guy out, but not too some. Through some very devious methods and some pure high-handed power-plays Chuck shows his reckless expertise, gets so wrapped up in the thing that he can see the bright lights of the city as fast  as he can write, and finagle things so that he gets exclusives, the almighty exclusives that separate the pros from the amateurs in the newspaper business. The key though was to keep that story going and that is where everything turned to dross in the end. See Chuck ordered the rescue crews to do the rescuing of poor sap Leo the long way round, you know, to keep the story going, has the crowds attracted by his stories coming out to observe the human drama in person on edge, has made the whole thing a  media circus. Key to that was getting Leo tough/hard as nails/sexy snake of a wife to work the ropes with him. And she, Lorraine, like all blonde Lorraines played her part well once our boy Chuck who, frankly, seemed to have been hard on his women, got under her skin (and gave her the franchise in the gathering circus end of the game).       Of course there was a down side to Chuck’s scheming since Leo refused to cooperate by getting a little short of breath waiting for that long way around digging to get to him, yeah the poor guy  folded up under the cave-in pressure and didn’t last long enough to get the big headline. Great big fifteen minutes of fame story if there ever was one.          

 Sounds like any other news story of today 24/7/367 media frenzy of the moment though, right. Wrong this is the skinny, the real skinny this one came in 1951. This one is famed director Billy Wilder’s (he the super-max daddy director of the close up sordid underbelly look at old time Hollywood in Sunset Boulevard) Ace In The Hole as he takes a big swing at the newspaper business in the days when that medium ruled the roost of mass communication and when like today with the expansive social media mega-reach the notion of “all the news that fit to print” hinged on how many paper it would sell. Kirk Douglas as the cranky, over-the-top news hound Chuck gives a very good performance here as does Jan Sterling as Lorraine, that hustling wife of poor old Leo. Hey, I didn’t tell you the ending, the real ending not poor schmuck Leo’s running out of air but Chuck’s. In the end Chuck got “religion” (helped by a friendly mortal wound from Lorraine when he decided one more time to play rough with her), see before he too passed from the scene he realized that he had gone over the edge, had set something in motive better left to the fates. Yeah, that’s the real cautionary tale sixty some years later.      

Cold War II-The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer,  2015

No question the world political situation, more particularly the strained relations between the United States and Russia today, remind those of us who came of age in the early days of the Cold War of the times when those difficult relationships put both sides very close to the brink of war. And naturally culture, popular culture as pressed through the childhood television, where it could reflected acted to address those tensions and themes. So the popular T.V. spy thriller series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. now reduced to a couple of hour movie (although the ending left plenty of possibilities for sequels, endless sequels) has gotten a new lease on life although the original tensions that made that series successful and reflected our capacity to wonder, wonder beyond the bomb, the nuclear bomb, and its aftermath, about how to stop its proliferation and use have been effectively much reduced if not eliminated.  

Now as the opening sequence to this film amply demonstrates at the field level anyway the business of spy craft and the type A personalities who would engage in such activities creates a small cadre of equals, a small fraternity. And that is how Napoleon Solo (played by Henry Cavill), a rogue operative recruited by the Americans, and Illya some Russian last name which I never could pronounce (played by Armie Hammer) team up in the hard early 1960s Cold War night and get joined together at the hip to solve the pressing problem before them. What? Working together-CIA types, KGB types (with British MI6 thrown in for good measure) in the high Cold War red scare night. Well, yes, (at least 2015 yes)because there is another danger that both parties are aware of-some neo-Nazis are out to bring back the next version of the Third Reich if they can only get their hands on a few nuclear bombs to take their proper place in the world political order (possession of such instruments of destruction as we have too frequently witnessed of late with “rogue states” the only way to stop the big boys of the world order from coming and blowing your civilization back to the Stone Age or finding yourself a place at the world power table).     

Of course all that is happening is that the United States, Russia (and Great Britain) are just reviving the old World War II alliance that helped defeat the Nazis and their hangers-on the first time. So once you get through the attempts to rescue a nuclear scientist with a fetching daughter (used as a lure to get to him) from the ugly crypto-Nazis ready to take on the world, once the boys are able to trust each other enough to gain a certain respect for each other, once through daring do the boys are able to stop the madness of the emergence of another nuclear armed power to muddle the 1960s world order you get the same result as the old time war alliance ( being commemorated in its70th anniversary observance this year). The only question now is what the new boys on the block will do in the next episode. Although my main wonder is when cuckoo Illya is actually going to kiss that fetching young woman who helped him out of a couple of jams.   

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On The 40th Anniversary Of Bruce Springsteen’s First Album Born To Run- And More

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

 I got my “religion” on Bruce Springsteen ass-backward (something unkind souls of my acquaintance would say was a more generalized condition), meaning, my meaning anyway, was that I was not an E Street Irregular back in the day, the day we are commemorating with this post, the day when Bruce Springsteen sprung his Jersey boy of a different kind magic on the rock and roll scene with the issuance of the album Born To Run to a candid world. You see I was in a monastery then, or might as well have been, and did not get the news of the new dispensation, that there was a new “max daddy” rock and roll star out in the firmament and so I let that past.

Here comes that ass-backward part though. See I really was “unavailable” in that 1975 year since I was one among some guys, some Vietnam veterans who were living under bridges, along the riverbanks, along the railroad tracks of the East Coast from about Boston in summer (and the area which I could from) to D.C. maybe a little further south as the weather got colder trying to cope as best we could with the “real” world. The post ‘Nam “real” world that just couldn’t seem to be the same as before we left whatever we left of ourselves in burning, shooting, napalming, molesting a whole race of very busy people with whom we had not quarrel, no quarrel at all. So not doing a very good job of it mostly not succeeding against the drugs (my personal problem from cocaine to meth and back depending on when you ran into me, if you dared), the liquors (my boy Sean whom I couldn’t save one night when the DTs got to him so bad he went down the Hudson River from the nearest bridge he was so lost), the petty robberies (Jesus, holding up White Hen convenient stores with hands so shaky I could barely keep the gun from jumping out of them ), and the fight to stay away from the labor market (work the curse of the lost boys, the boys who wanted no connection  with Social Security numbers, VA forms, forwarding,  addresses, hell even General Post Office boxes just in case some dunning repo man, or some angry wife was looking for support, support none of us could give for crying out loud why do you think we worked the stinking rivers, the smoke streams trains, faced the rats under the bridges).

Yeah, tough times, tough times indeed, and a lot of guys had a close call, including me, and a lot of guys like now with our brethren Afghan and Iraq soldier brothers and sisters didn’t make it, guys like Sean who if you looked at him you could not believe how gone he really was with that baby-face of his I still see now) didn’t make it but are not on the walls in black marble down in D.C.-although maybe they should be. Of course Brother Springsteen immortalized the Brothers Under The Bridge living out in Southern California along the arroyos, riverbanks, and railroad tracks of the West in a song which I heard some guys playing one night when I was at a VA hospital trying to get well for about the fifteenth time (meth again, damn I can still feel the rushes when I say the word) and that was that. The next step was easy because ever since I was kid once I grabbed onto something that moved me some song, some novel, some film I checked out everything by the songwriter, author, director I could get my hands on.          

Once I did grab a serious chunk of Springsteen’s work, grabbed some things from the local library since my ready cash supply was low I admit I got embarrassed. Admitted to myself that I sure was a long gone daddy back in 1975 and few years thereafter. How could I not have gravitated earlier to a guy who was singing the high hymnal songs of the holy goof corner boys who I grew up with, the guys out in the streets making all that noise (and where are they now, Frankie, Markin, Jack, Jimmy, Tiny, Dread, and a few other who faded in and out over the high school years). Singing about getting out on that Jack Keroauc-drenched hitchhike highway that I dreamed of from my youth, of hitting the open road and searching for the great American West blue-pink night that before ‘Nam every one of my corner boys dreamed of and Sam, Sam Lowell even did, of hitting the thunder road in some crash out Chevy looking for Mary or whatever that dish’s name was, looking for that desperate girl beside him when he took that big shift down in the midnight “chicken run,” in taking that girl down to the Jersey shore everything is alright going hard into the sweated carnival night. Later getting all retro-folkie, paying his Woody and Pete dues looking for the wide Missouri, looking for the heart of Saturday night with some Rosalita too (and me with three busted marriages to show for those dreams), and looking, I swear that he must have known my story for my own ghost of Tom Joad coming home bleeding, bleeding a little banged up, out of the John Steinbeck Okie night, coming home from Thunder Road maybe dancing in the streets if the mood took him to that place that you could see in his eyes when he got going, coming home from down in Jungle-land the place of crashed dreams out along the Southern Pacific road around Gallup, New Mexico  dreaming of his own Phoebe Snow. Yeah, thanks Bruce, thanks from a brother under the bridge.          

Saturday, August 29, 2015

In The Time Of The Hard Motorcycle Boys- With Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One” In Mind


From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin:


Okay here is the book of genesis, the motorcycle book of genesis, or at least my motorcycle book of genesis. Let’s connect the dots first though. A couple of years ago, and maybe more, as part of a trip down memory lane, old working- class town high school memory lane the details of which do not need detain us here, I did a series of articles on various world-shaking, earth-shattering subjects like high school romances (those that lasted five minutes, those that still last, and those that were wistful dreams never consummated I did not discriminate, except maybe put a little more emphasis on those virginal dream ones), high school odd- ball hi-jinx (all the way from down low spray painting or gluing something or someone this or that up to ritual Monday morning boys and girls “lav” talk about who did or did not do what to whom on that Friday or Saturday night date), high school dances (and endless twaddle about wall-flowers and desperate last dance chances), high school Saturday nights, and most importantly of all, high school how to impress the girls( or boys, for girls, or whatever sexual combinations fit these days, but you can speak for yourselves, I am standing on this ground). In short, high school sub-culture, American-style, early 1960s branch, although the emphasis there, as it will be here, was on that social phenomena as filtered through the lenses of a working- class town, a seen better days town at that, my growing up wild-like-the-weeds town.


One of the subjects worked over in that series was the search, the eternal search I might add, for the great working class love song. Not the Teen Angel, Earth Angel, Johnny Angel generic mush that could play in Levittown, Shaker Heights or La Jolla as well as North Adamsville, Youngstown or Moline. No, a song that, without blushing, one could call one’s own, our working- class own, one that the middle and upper classes might like but would not put on their dance cards. As my offering to this high-brow debate I offered a song written by Englishman Richard Thompson (who folkies, and folk rockers, might know from his Fairport Convention days, very good days, by the way), Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.  Without belaboring the point the gist of this song was the biker romance, British version, between outlaw biker James and black-leathered, red-headed Molly looking for bike kicks, or just kicks, and rightly so out in the dark British hinterlands. That jail break-out we were all thirsting for then, and maybe still are. Needless to say such a tenuous lumpen existence as James led, with an off-hand robbery or two into keep himself in coffee and cakes, and the old beauty bike sharp, in order  to keep himself “biked" cuts short any long term “little white house with picket fence” ending for the pair. And we do not need such a boring finish. For James, after losing the inevitable running battle with the police, on his death bed bequeathed his bike, his precious “Vincent Black Lightning”, to said Molly. His BIKE, man. His BIKE. Is there any greater love story, working class love story, around?  No, this makes West Side Story lyrics and a whole bunch of other such songs seem like so much cornball nonsense. His BIKE, man. Wow! Kudos, Brother Thompson.


Needless to say that exploration was not the end, but rather the beginning of thinking through the great American night bike experience. And, of course, for this writer that means going to the books, the films and the memory bank to find every seemingly relevant “biker” experience. Thus, readers were treated to reviews of such classic motorcycle sagas as “gonzo” journalist, Doctor Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels and his other, later Rolling Stone magazine printed “biker” stories and Tom Wolfe’ Hell Angel’s-sketched Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (and other articles about California subset youth culture that drove Wolfe’s work in the old days). And to the hellish Rolling Stones (band) Hell’s Angels “policed” Altamont concert in 1969. And, as fate would have it, with the passing of actor/director Dennis Hooper at that time, the 1960s classic biker/freedom/ seeking the great American night film, Easy Rider. And from Easy Rider to the “max daddy” of them all, tight-jeaned, thick leather-belted, tee-shirted, engineer-booted, leather-jacketed, taxi-driver-capped (hey, that’s what it reminds me of), side-burned, chain-link wielding, hard-living, alienated, but in the end really just merely  misunderstood, Johnny, aka, Marlon Brando, in The Wild One.


Okay, we will cut to the chase on the plot here. Old Johnny and his fellow “outlaw” motorcycle club members were out for some weekend “kicks” after a hard week’s non-work (as far as we can figure out, work, nine to five work,  was marginal for many reasons, as Hunter Thompson in Hell’s Angels noted, to biker existence, the pursue of jack-rolling, armed robbery or grand theft auto careers probably running a little ahead) out in the sunny California small town hinterlands.(The bikers are still heading out there today, the last time I noticed, at least in the Southern California high desert, places like Twenty-Nine Palms and Joshua Tree.)


And naturally, when the boys (and they were all boys here, except for couple of “mamas”, one spurned by Johnny, in a break-away club led by jack-in-the-box jokester, Lee Marvin as Chino) hit one small town they, after sizing up the local law, headed  for the local café (and bar). And once one mentions cafes in small towns in California (or Larry McMurtry’s West Texas, for that matter), then hard-working (yes, and hard-working, it’s tough dealing them off the arm in these kind of joints, or elsewhere), trying to make it through the shift, got to get out of this small town and see the world, dreamy-eyed, naïve (yes, naive) sheriff-daughtered young waitress, Kathy, nothing but a Johnny trap though when the deal when down came into play. Okay, now you know, even alienated, misunderstood, misanthropic, cop-hating (an additional obstacle given said waitress’s kinships) boy Johnny needs, needs cinematically at least, to meet a girl who understands him.


The development of that young hope, although hopeless, boy meets girl romance relationship, hither and yon, drives the plot. Oh, and along the way the boys, after a few thousand beers, as boys, especially girl-starved biker boys, will, at the drop of a hat start to systematically tear down the town, for fun. Needless to say, staid local burghers (aka “squares”) seeing what amounts to them is their worst 1950s “communist” invasion nightmare, complete with murder, mayhem and rapine, (although that “C” word was not used in the film, nor should it have been) are determined to “take back” their little town. A few fights, forages, casualties, fatalities, and forgivenesses later though, still smitten but unquenched and chaste Johnny (and his rowdy crowd) and said waitress part, wistfully. The lesson here, for the kids in the theater audience, is that biker love outside biker-dom is doomed. For the adults, the real audience, the lesson: nip the “terrorists” in the bud (call in the state cops, the national guard, the militia, the 82nd Airborne, The Strategic Air Command, NATO, hell, even the hey, weren't we buddies in the war Red Army) , but nip it, fast when they come roaming through Amityville, Archer City, or your small town).


After that summary you can see what we are up against. This is pure fantasy Hollywood cautionary tale on a very real 1950s phenomena, “outlaw” biker clubs, mainly in California, but elsewhere as well. Hunter Thompson did yeoman’s work in his Hell’s Angels to “discover” who these guys were and what drove them, beyond drugs, sex, rock and roll (and, yah, murder and mayhem, the California prison system was a “home away from home”). In a sense the “bikers” were the obverse of the boys (again, mainly) whom Tom Wolfe, in many of his 1960s essays, was writing about and who were (a) forming the core of the surfers on the beaches from Malibu to La Jolla and, (b) driving the custom car/hot rod/drive-in centered (later mall-centered) cool, teenage girl–impressing, car craze night in the immediate post-World War II great American Western sunny skies and pleasant dream drift (physically and culturally). Except those Wolfe guys were the “winners”. The “bikers” were Nelson Algren’s “losers,” the dead-enders who didn’t hit the gold rush, the Dove Linkhorns (aka the Arkies and Okies who in the 1930s populated John Steinbeck’s Joad saga, The Grapes Of Wrath). Not cool, iconic Marlin-Johnny but hell-bend then-Hell Angels leader, Sonny Barger.


And that is why in the end, as beautifully sullen and misunderstood the alienated Johnny was, and as wholesomely rowdy as his gang was before demon rum took over, this was not the real “biker: scene, West or East. Now I lived, as a teenager in a working class, really marginally working poor, neighborhood in North Adamsville that I have previously mentioned was the leavings of those who were moving up in post-war society. That neighborhood was no more than a mile from the central headquarters of Boston's local Hell’s Angels (although they were not called that, I think it was Death-heads, or something like that). I got to see these guys up close as they rallied at various spots on our local beach or “ran” in tandem through our neighborhood on their way to some crazed action. The leader of the pack had all of the charisma of Marlon Brando’s thick leather belt. His face, as did most of the faces, spoke of small-minded cruelties (and old prison pallors) not of misunderstood youth. And their collective prison records (as Hunter Thompson also noted about the Angels) spoke of “high” lumpenism. And that takes us back to the beginning about who, and what, forms one of the core cohorts for a fascist movement in this country, the sons of Sonny Barger. Then we will need to rely on our instinct for survival against the raging hordes, and other such weapons.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

In Defense Of Curmudgeons-Bill Murray’s St. Vincent



DVD Review


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


St. Vincent, starring Bill Murray, 2014


Not everybody from what some sociologist I read one time has called the “generation of ’68, those who came of political age in the 1960s and who went off to war, or didn’t, smoked dope, or didn’t, had a good professional career, or didn’t, raised a family, or didn’t, and so on, is of the “generation of ‘68” (those who tried to “storm heaven” to create the “newer world” that one way or another was driving them forward until the ebbtide came and washed a lot of it away). A few, no, a lot of people, guys and gals alike, went about their lives in the 1960s very much like they had expected to (and their parents expected them to except “do a little better”) as if the whole SDS/anti-war/merry prankster/on the road/yellow brick road school bus/drug/acid rock/commune and whatever you wish to add slashes to was from another planet. And that place, more or less, is where the titular head of the movie under review, Saint Vincent, played by the curmudgeony (if there is such a word) Bill Murray who has made a career out of playing the holy goof curmudgeon to a tee (and still wears that mantle well) landed when the ebb tide of the 1960s hit.       


Yeah old Vincent is a curmudgeon, no question, of unknown resources, a gambler, drinker, doper, crank crackpot but see this plotline is strictly under the “feel good” cinematic experience category so something has to give. And of course it does. See the big built-up of the cranky old guy who hates and/or complains about everything (although in a “shrug your shoulders” kind of way also a Murray trade-mark) gradually gets broken down by, well, a kid, a kid who moves in next door, the son of a single mom who has to work like seven dervishes to make enough dough to keep them afloat. And so Vincent transforms from that old curmudgeon to the saint baby-sitter of the title-kind of-while the kid learns a few things about life. But mainly about how to break down an old guy and make him a good guy. Not an easy task in this wicked old world. If you are looking for a big message story forget it but if you are happy with an hour and half or so of Bill Murray doing his Bill Murray thing then-take the ticket, take the ride.

I Am The Resurrection And The Life-Susan Sarandon’s The Calling



DVD Review


From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


The Calling, starring Susan Sarandon, Donald Sutherland, 2014


From the vast number of crime novels and films like the film under review, The Calling, centered on serial killers you would think that (1) this wicked old world is a much more misogynous place that it really is and, (2) that it would be hard to come up with a new plotline to provide a rationale for the killer’s motives and for the inevitable hand of law enforcement (after some scares of course) to bring the miscreant to justice (or at least out of harm’s way, ours). So what the makers of this film have done is to go back that old tried and true plot producer, the Bible, to grab odd-ball motivation.


Here’s how it plays out. A Podunk town pill-popping, too many pill-poppings if anybody is asking, chief police officer (played by Susan Sarandon), this time said Podunk town being in Canada just to show that serial killers know no borders when they get their blood lusts up, or whatever drives them to homicidal impulses, finds a body of a town resident gruesomely and apparently randomly murdered. Random until other murders showing some of the same kinds of patterns keep popping up in the area and beyond. After much investigation the pattern becomes clear-the killings are related and the killer whether, as the psychological profiles for serial killers go, is looking to be caught or not, has a message that he (or she) wants an indifferent world to hear about. Wants the world to feel his (or her) pain. As it turns out from the clues this killer has some religious motivation, big time religious motivation taking on the concept of the Christian version of resurrection.


Of course if you are in Canada trying to solve what looks like some archaic ritual religious murders (or anywhere else for that matter) then checking into some clerical expertise makes sense. So the good chief checks in with a bible scholar (played by Donald Sutherland) who spins a tale about lost off-the-wall ancient sects who believed that a series of signs could bring the dead back, or rather one dead person back-replicating the Christian experience-a version of the second coming. Like I said the good priest spins a nice tale because he is into the whole scheme up to his eyeballs. Seems that one of his old-time orphanage charges is out to avenge his brother’s suicide committed in adulthood after having been farmed out as a child to some sexual pervert and is using the biblical playbook provide by the good priest to bring him back.


Not going to happen right, no way but as the plot thickened things looked very dicey. The serial killer does come very close but no the dear chief will survive to grab a fistful of pills and some well-deserved kudos another day. Like I say times are tough finding new plotlines for fictional serial killers. This one only worked so-so.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Let's Have A Party- The Year 1957


From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin: 


With an introduction by Sam Lowell


I first met Josh Breslin several months after my old corner boy high school friend, the late Peter Paul Markin, brought him around our hang-out, Jack Slack’s bowling alley, in the winter after the summer of love, 1967 (or is it Summer of Love, 1967 I have seen it both ways) out in San Francisco when Josh had gone up on to Russian Hill searching for dope, marijuana at the time the drug of choice among the newly liberated from uptight-ness about the evils of such pleasures, and ran into Markin asking him if he had a joint. Markin, freshly dropped out of college (Boston University) in order to “find himself” had been travelling on one of the ubiquitous psychedelically-painted converted yellow brick road school buses with Captain Crunch (road moniker which we would all take once we hit the road as some form of liberation from tired out old parent-imposed names, the variety and reasons for which could fill an entire book on the “hippie” genealogy of the time) for a few months and had been staying in the park on the hill waiting, waiting for anything at all to happen told Josh “here light this one up, but ‘don’t bogart that joint’ when you are done because we save every twig to build up enough for the pipe.” And with that a 1960s-type friendship started, one that would have them travelling together over the next several years (minus Markin’s two years in the Army in Vietnam but that is a story for another time) until Josh lost touch with him in late 1974 him shortly before he took that last fatal trip to Mexico where he was murdered by parties unknown after a busted drug deal and is now resting in an unmarked grave in potter’s field in Sonora and moaned over to this day by his old friends, including Josh and me.


Markin often said, and it proved to be true, that despite a couple of years difference in age and despite the fact that Josh had grown up in Olde Saco in Maine, an old-time textile mill town, his life story, the things that drove him in his younger days were remarkably similar to ours down in North Adamsville, an old industrial town about twenty miles south of Boston. That was why they got along on the road out West and why we who took to the road with Markin later once we got the bug to move along got along with Josh as well. Josh is today an honorary North Adamsville corner boy when we, the remnants still living anyway, get together to speak of those times. (And always wind up with some mention of some madcap, maniacal thing Markin did which only gets us mistier about the bastard these days.)


Recently a bunch of us, Frankie Riley, the old corner boy leader now a big-time lawyer in Boston (“of counsel” these days whatever that means other than big dough for saying even word one on the lawyer-o-meter to a client), Jimmy Jenkins, Jack Callahan, Bart Webber, Lefty Malone, Josh and me got together at Jack’s Grille in Cambridge to have a few drinks and swap a few lies. Bart who still lives in growing up town North Adamsville mentioned that while looking up in his attic for something (something old one presumes since that is what attics act as the catch basins for) he spotted his old dusty copy of our yearbook, the Magnet. Naturally that triggered many stories about what did or did happen not back in the day Josh, who is a writer of sorts, a music reviewer mostly these days from what he says, decided after viewing the contents of that fabled item with a little prompting, a little “inside dope” from us, and the memory of what the late Markin told him about the fate of his yearbook to write up something for us to chuckle over. Decided too to tempt the fates by putting the narration in Markin’s “voice.” This one is about a favorite topic of Markin’s, stuff that he would regale us with on misty girl-less, dough-less, car-less corner boy Friday and Saturday night, music, musical trends, and the “deep” meaning of any lyrics that popped into his unwieldy head once he heard something on the radio or fresh from the jukebox at Salducci’s Pizza Parlor where were hung out on those miserable nights (and later, after the pizza parlor changed hands and the new “family-friendly” owners did not want unseemly corner boys hanging their feet off their walls then to Jack Slack’s  bowling alleys where Jack’s son was a classmate of ours). I hope Josh did okay otherwise, moaning over our brother or not, Markin is liable to come after us from that forlorn unmarked grave and give us hell for touching a single word of the eight billion facts he had in his fallen head. 


Here is what he had to say which is pretty insightful for a “foreigner”:         

Let's Have A Party- The Year 1957


At one time I spilled much ink memory covering, extensively covering, many records compilations from a Rock ‘N’ Rock Era series [that would be, ouch, a classic age of rock and roll series Markin would be talking about now, damn-JB]. A highlight of that series, and the one thing that clearly peaked my interest beyond the songs, or some of the songs, the ones that were able to defy age, and are lyric remembrance etched in my brain, had been the cover artwork that had evoked, and evoked strongly, the themes that dominated our lives, our hubristic teenage lives, in the golden age of rock, say from about the mid-1950s to about the mid-1960s as we watched it unfold (after that things went all over the place, the music and the times both). Things like last dance school dances (and dreams of that she I had been getting sore eyes over all night taking me up on my request for that key dance to make the night worthwhile and dreads of not getting that she for that last one, but in any case god it had better be a slow one in order to make my pitch), lovers’ lanes (down by the seaside sifting sand, against the cold ocean night, against the Seal Rock night, in the back seat of Jimmy’s car, and, well let’s leave it at that, okay since Jimmy Jenkins  might sue me for false advertising, although with fat chance of winning given what I have on that guy and the low-rent girls he hungered after now that he just married Lorraine Parsons, she of the Sunday church novena book and rosary beads crowd, and they “starting a family” as the old saying goes),  drive-in movies (alternative spot for that “and let’s leave it at that” mentioned above), drive-in restaurants (a night cap of burgers and fries after that “and, let’s leave it at that ” hopefully) , summer beach life (watching, intensely watching,  those long-legged college girls home for the summer and restless, freshman year behind them restless, after having dusted the dust from the old town and gotten a little wild at those Frosh mixers everybody who was going to college had heard about and paid serious attention to as a “babe’ magnet trying to look sophisticated but we a few years younger and looking to catch a sly glance just watching high school odd-ball watching between the two yacht clubs where they were preening themselves) and on and on.


One part of the series, the one I am thinking of here, driven as it is by year dates, at least as observed through the cover work, seemed to be less concerned with strong old time evocations by flashy artwork but rather used old time photos (Kodak, of ancient memory now that Polaroids and Nikons are in style, of course). Nevertheless sometimes just a simple photograph as appears on the 1957 cover evokes those memories in a more subtle way. Now 1957 was year fraught (nice word, right) with all kinds of perils what with Soviets in that hard-boiled, coiled, foiled red scare “turn in your mommy, if she is a commie (or just for kicks if she denied you something, anything for any reason in that “child-centered” time) Cold War night having blasted American ingenuity and know-how and sent the first satellite up into space and who knew what the hell else they were up to destroy our parents “golden age” dreams. Us, well, we were in thrall to our teen angst, our teen identity crisis, our teen what the hell is this sex business about hormone crazed time of our time and short of some world-wide nuclear explosion where such personal matters would have gone by the boards anyway we could have given a rat’s ass (an old term coined locally by Billie Bradley the king of “the projects” corner boys where I grew up) about that world, when all we knew, all we wanted to know, was whether Betty Bleu or Linda Lou or Peggy Sue was going to show up at some “petting party” and what were we going to do about it. (At the first one nothing since when Betty Bleu did show interest I ran like hell from the “family room” where the party was being held, although that was the last time for a long time I did that when a girl/woman expressed the least interest in me. And later dear Betty and I had plenty of hot kisses and “copped feels” so I did get the hang of it, yes, indeed) So that is the 1957 that I want to talk about, the 1957 of the album cover and of the prospects that Mother Earth would not go to hell in hand-basket before those earth-shattering questions got resolved.  


And what does that album cover photograph picture (is that the right way to say it, well you get what I mean-what does it show). Well, Johnny (we’ll just call him that for our purposes here, okay, although it could have been Frankie, Jack, Jimmy, Butch, Billy, Ronny, Peter or six thousand other conventional names that when the new age did come in the 1960s we were more than happy to shed and begin again with monikers like Prince of Love, Josh Breslin’s moniker, the Be-Bop Kid, mine, Far-Out Phil, Captains America, Midnight and Crunch and other lesser mock military rankings as almost a joke on the serious action going on in red-infested Vietnam), hair slicked back as was the Elvis-want-to-be style (although no sign of the sneer, that patented Elvis sneer that had many a girl, and not just girls as the wet panties thrown on his stages attested to, thinking midnight dreams about personally taking off his face), no facial hair, jesus, no facial hair, we are not dealing with those low-life reefer mad beat down hipsters, beat beasts bopping around sneering at the squares and I don’t care if big daddy leader Jack Kerouac really meant “beatitude,” mean spiritual beauty when he coined the big beat phrases which drove the edges of youth society in  those years they were persona non grata in the  Amityville night, so no way, that is music for the future, square suited up in sports coat, white shirt, and tie (pants not observed although they had to be black chinos, uncool cuffed or cool uncuffed, and shoes, well, loafers for sure, no silly pennies inserted that was strictly for nerds, thank you, serious nerds). So any one of six zillion guys you would see around town, around school, around America oozing square if for no other reason that that was that, and thinking otherwise didn’t get you anywhere in that good night.  


And then there was Susie (ditto Johnny on the name thing although her monikers in the 1960s would reflect royalty rather than military prowess with names like Snow White, Princess Alice, the Czarina, Queen Jane, Countess Clara or frilliness like Mad Alice, Mustang Sally, Olive Oyl, and the like), pulled back pony-tail, blonde, real blonde before that became an issue in boys’ locker rooms, to keep that long hair out of her eyes while fast-dancing with Eddy, Billy and Teddy before lemming on to Johnny , dressed up in her best frilly party dress, long, and not black, not black as night anything for the same reason, the same non-beat in Amityville reason Johnny has not facial hair, (no bobby socks or nylons showing so I cannot discuss that issue here nor will I venture into the girl shoe night any more than I would today into the woman’s shoe night).


And they, well, the glue that holds them together is that they are comparing notes on the latest 45s. Nice wholesome kids, white kids just so you know who the record companies were appealing too although most of the best music was black, black and beautiful as the darkest night [like the songs from YouTube that accompanies this sketch-JB]. No mad dog hopheads, or dipsos and no nerds either. Let them go use the library or something.


For those not long in the tooth who may have wandered into this review and are not sure why that 45RPM was the size record we played on our old time record players (no, not stereos and, no, not wind-up Victrolas, wise guys) when we wanted to drown out ma, pa, and sibling noises about homework, chores, or just the stuff of everyday life. Each record had a one song A side (the hit) and a one song B side (maybe a hit but usually something to fill the B side grooves), each side a little over two minutes long (Jim Morrison on The End or Bob Dylan on Desolation Row would have gone apoplectic if they had to face those limits although they too grew up on 45s). That idea didn’t last too long before responding to the crush of the market they started making LPs, records with several songs on each side. I have given enough time to the subject of record size in any case.


And in the year 1957 what musical chooses might the pair be comparing on this night, this house party night from a look at the décor, maybe some Jenny’s birthday party (or Chrissie’s, Chrissie who gave me my first kiss, not real, not real as far as I know, since it was more like a peck on the lips and she shortly thereafter became our corner boy king Frankie Riley’s girl), or maybe on other nights, school dance nights. As usual another round in the “battle of the sexes” will be played out just like from teen time immemorial, or whenever that guy who invented teen-hood invented it a while back. At least records and record player time immemorial. While Buddy Holly, Patsy Kline, Rickey Nelson, and the Everly Brothers have some spin in the early going the real fight, the real important fight, school dance or house party, is what song will be played for the last dance. Yes, the key last dance to see whether the evening continues when they hold each other tight after a night of apart self-expression fast rock and roll dancing. So the battle really boils down to Could This Be Magic? by The Dubs or Happy Happy Birthday Baby by the Tune Weavers and if Johnny does not want to be lonely tonight he better make the right choice. Good luck, Brother Johnny, good luck. [Listen below and see who wins the “battle”-JB]