This blog has been established to provide space for stories, comments, and reflections on old North Quincy, your thoughts or mine. And for all those who have bled Raider red.
Monday, November 30, 2015
To Be Young Was Very Heaven-Bob Dylan’s Don’t Look Back
Don’t Look Back, starring Bob Dylan and others from the faded 1960s folk minute, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, 1967
Long before Bob Dylan began his seemingly endless touring and the equally endless production of bootleg material now numbering twelve units with the recent latest outpouring he could be seen warts and all on a very good documentary by D.A. Pennebaker, 1967s Don’t Look Back (that “don’t look back” good advice for everybody and advice which Dylan has taken with a vengeance). The specific subject matter here is his famous 1965 tour of England at just that point where he was attempting to finally break out of the acoustic folkie guitar syndrome and become what he probably always wanted to be, a rocker. (And getting booed from at the concert hall by folkie purists who wanted their version of Bob Dylan, the protest guy, but he unfazed just kept bopping that electric guitar.)
The thread that unites old and young Dylan is that brashness and distain for glitter and more importantly that serious distance that he placed between himself, the press and other media (there is great footage of him pulling the hammer down on some austere music critic who wanted to box him in with all kinds of silly questions-to which he promptly gave very silly answers-touche) and his fans and just go about the business of being an entertainer. This is a man who has bid the “voice of his generation” business goodbye by then although not everybody got the message (maybe because he didn’t post it in Variety or some such publication) and between his electric guitar, his motorcycle accident and his seclusion for several years down in Woodstock he went out of the public limelight except through some of the greatest songs of his prolific career.
So this documentary is a very welcome backdrop to the iconic career of Mr. Dylan (although I note that word “iconic” is well-worn out by now by a media blitz usage which has everything more than three minutes old vying for icon status). A film though that leaves one still wondering about the enigmatic Mr. Dylan (“enigmatic” my choice to replace iconic as the flavor of the month), leaves me wondering about where he was heading. We know now because he has said so if for no other reason but also because he has those ten million far-flung concerts in venues from converted bowling alleys to large concert halls that he saw himself as a troubadour, as an entertainer. And while he now seems moodier and less engaged back then you could practically touch the charisma coming off the stage when he was on his game.
Of course the trials and tribulations of Bob Dylan are not the only items on display here. We get to see the look of a performer when he or she is backstage or back at the endless hotel rooms. How Dylan practiced and how he wrote lyrics when they just jumped from the typewriter. Got to see him interact with other performers like the up and coming Donovan and the already established Joan Baez (whom he was barely interacting with at that point as they were drifting in different directions, or rather he was drifting in whatever direction he was drifting in). The most revealing information though was a scene in which he was singing along with Baez and Bob Neuwirth some Hank Williams stuff. Amazing. We now know after over fifty years of songs, original and covers, that Mr. Dylan is deeply immersed in the American songbook from Woody Guthrie to Frank Sinatra but who knew then how much he esteemed all those influences. If you are a baby-boomer see this one now to prove that when we were very young back then we were in very heaven and for those younger to know what it was like when men and women played folk/folk rock/rock music for keeps.
Fades From View-With The Fiftieth Anniversary Of Arlo Guthrie’s Great Alice’s Restaurant Massacre In Mind
From The Pen
Of Sam Lowell
Even if you
didn’t, as Sam Eaton did not, place great store by holidays, especially family-etched
holidays, Sam always believed that the occasion could be salvaged by listening
to a rendition of Arlo Guthrie’s classic hippie-dippie Alice’s Restaurant. More so since this year, 2015, represented the
fiftieth anniversary of the events depicted in the song out in Stockbridge at the
far end of Massachusetts and of the initial writing of the piece although the
record would not be produced and distributed until 1967. Moreover Sam did not
need to go up into his attic in Carver to bring the now tattered album which
contained the amply scratched vinyl record to be played on the ancient record
player that he had kept through thick and thin since the time his parents purchased
it for him when he rebelled against listening to their Great Depression and
World War II etched music on the family record player in the living room.
could along with his wife, his third wife, Frida, as it turned out, who shared
his enthusiasm for the song although she was too young to have been washed by
the hippie wave that occasioned the song, listen to the whole original eighteen
plus minutes of the classic on the U/Mass radio station WUBM which aired the classic
three times a day on Thanksgiving Day, 9 AM, noon, and 3 PM. Thanksgiving the
day on which the fateful Alice events took place. The station had been doing so
for the past thirty years that they have been on the air after replacing WCAS
in Cambridge as the folk music station of record in the Boston area. This year Sam
and Frida could listen while they were driving out on the Massachusetts
Turnpike on their way to celebrate the day with Sam’s old anti-war activist friend,
Ralph Morris, out in Troy, New York (and have the additional nostalgic benefit of
passing Stockbridge, the scene of the crime, at the end of the turnpike).
Sam and Ralph
had met many years ago, back in the late 1960s, at the height of the Vietnam War,
a time when both had had their own personal struggles with their draft boards,
a subject which is parodied in the second half of the song and since both had
retired recently they had taken to alternating Thanksgiving Day visits and
dinners. So, yes, even if the day was not Sam worthy of serious celebration
except as prelude to Black Friday sales madness which he personally avoided
like, well like the Black Plague, they could listen as if back in a time
machine. Check it out here.
Okay here is my take on Frank Sinatra by the numbers-two numbers to be exact.
Number one-back in the mid-1950s when I came of age, musical age, I was hardily sick and tired of hearing my parents’ music, the music that got them through the Great Depression with their “wanting habits” still on and World War II in one piece, mostly, mostly those who survived the muds of Europe and the Pacific seas and the torturous wait at home for the other shoe to drop. Hardily sick of Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Vaughn Monroe, the Inkspots, Vera Lynn, Miss Patti Page, Miss Peggy Lee (although I was a little soft on her Benny Goodman days when he played heaven clarinet behind her) and the “max daddy” bobby-sox idol of them all the iconic Frank Sinatra.
I was ready, more than ready to throw the damn radio glued to WJDA and the Bill Marlowe Hour into the bloody Atlantic seas. What I wanted, what I craved was Big Joe Turner be-bopping Shake, Rattle and Roll, bad boy Tina-less Ike Turner be-bopping Rocket 88, Bill Haley and his blessed Comets blowing sexy saxes on Rock Around The Clock, Elvis slam-dunking It’s All Right Mama and billion other tunes and a bunch of others who were present at the creation-present when rock and roll was the fresh breeze across the land.
Number two-recently the iconic Bob Dylan (I have to make sure I get my quota of “iconic” in my pieces these days the flavor word of the month lately reducing every single thing that has happened in the universe under that title) produced a tribute album to the influence of Frank Sinatra on him. Lo these fifty years since the 1960s folk minute had its day and never have I heard uttered from that man’s lips the name Frank Sinatra as his muse, his go to guy. The whole folk world still extant is in mourning over that one.
So as you can tell I have had my rock and roll moments, still do, still can crank up the energy of Ike Turner blowing that piano to dust on Rocket 88 on YouTube. I have had, still do, my long arc 1960s folk minute revival via the never-ending Bob Dylan bootleg series. What I do not have, still do not have a feeling for is old Frankie boy no matter how many motherly and grandmotherly bobby-soxers he drove crazy. But you may have such feelings so checkout this NPR review.
A Stand-Up Guy-With John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle In Mind
From The Pen Of Sam Lowell
“My man Dixie was the straightest stand-up guy I ever had. He had dreams bigger than his pants, dreams about that big score and then easy street and he was going to take me with him, said that at the end so I know it was true. I‘ll never have another like him. I‘m sorry I had to leave him by the side of road like that, dead as a doornail, but kind of peaceful looking like I never saw him before in life when he had that snarly look that “from hunger” guys get when their wanting habits aren’t satisfied, when there is something inside eating at them. I couldn’t get mixed up with the law trying to explain why I was with the guy, why I was with a fugitive from the law, why I didn’t turn over the man I loved when I didn’t have a blessed thingto do with his capers, yeah, not with my record. Besides Dixie knew he was a goner by then, knew the life was fading out of him as he drove into the night like a maniac but he just wanted to get away, couldn’t face another stretch, would have wanted me to flee the scene and go on to have a good life,” Doll, with a couple of tears in her eyes, said to Laura her fellow “hostess” at Diamond Jim’s Dance Hall in the locker room all the hostesses shared after work where they put on their street clothes and washed the grime of the night away after blurry two o’clock in the morning.
The customers, and not a few of the hostesses, calling the place Diamond Gyp’s for the brutal amounts Jim Jameson charged for liquor just so a guy, mostly G.I.s on leave from Fort Dix down in New Jersey and sailors just on shore with a liberty pass from ships docked along the Hudson River looking for a good time in what was probably their first time in New York, could have a dance with the over the edge girls who acted as their escorts for the evening. The place a classic “clip joint” was what Doll, Doll used to working higher up the food chain joints like the place where she met Dixie, yes that was what she was reduced to since that night a couple of years before when Dixie bought the farm leaving her as blue as blue could be this two year anniversary night.
Doll who in her younger days was a doll, all curves and in the right places, wavy hair as was the style then, big brown eyes and make-up applied just right to show off her lips and cheeks, had not aged well after the shock of Dixie’s death and travelling helter-skelter east, always east away from whatever Midwestern memories she was running. Had been called Doll for so long at whatever work she was doing that it stuck, stuck best when Dixie with his smooth Southern drawl would stretch it out to Daawwl.
Doll, who had been a stand-up dame herself when it came to Dixie, forgave him those few romps in the hay with other women, her friends or co-workers usually, as long as he came back to her, felt she had to unburden herself and her sorrows to someone and Laura seemed to be someone who would listen, someone who had seen some sorrow too unlike a lot of the younger girls who were just doing the clip for the money, for the sex, or for kicks, listen to the tale of what happened to her stand-up guy, the guy with the dreams bigger than his pants.
Doll had met Dixie at the Club Fianna, a hotspot in Chi town, maybe not “the” hot spot that would probably have been the Café Nana but the Fianna was right up there and Doll, fresh of the farm and filled with Iowa naiveté before she wised up belonged there since the place was overgrown with farm-fresh very good-looking women, “hostesses” they called them then, like her with those curves in the right places who all the guys back from the wars, or just locals looking for a good time were hung up on back then.So yeah Doll had met Dixie a few years back when the war was on and the place filled up every night with all kinds of characters, good and bad, good and bad as long as they behaved themselves according to Mindy, the “connected” owner of the place.
She had been sitting at the bar drinking a scotch and soda, sipping really which Mindy and Laura the head hostess encouraged the girls to do so that when a guy came up and have his line ready “how about a refill” or “can I buy you a drink” then the drinks would come blasting away so a guy might spent a hundred bucks and not even noticed it which wasn’t too bad if he got to take her home but a little pricey for rotgut gin or whiskey, when this big rangy jut-jawed guy in a brown suit that hung on him a little off-kilter and a big brimmed soft hat tilled just so which made him look bigger and tougher than he probably was and who looked like he just came off some farm or ranch himself but would be a quick learner of city ways came up to her seat and shyly asked if buy could buy her a drink. His accent sounded like Indiana, maybe Kentucky but she knew at a glance who she was going home with that night.
Thinking about the matter later Doll thought the kicker was his eyes all brown and liquid what had bedroom romps written all over them and Doll could tell by the trembling in her hands that he wouldn’t have to push her to hard that way. In those days, not like now where every drink and plenty of them went down painlessly, she would have a couple and that was it because she was working as a model then during the day at La Rue’s Department store and Mr. La Rue did not want his models looking like they had just fallen out of bed even if they had just done so. She for that unspoken sexual reason said yes and so they talked, he telling her about how he had come to Chi town to make a big score and then head back to wherever he was from, Kentucky it sounded like as she picked up the soft drawl as the evening progressed, and live the easy life of a gentleman farmer. Sometimes later after they were living together, off and on depending on Dixie’s mood or her rages over his sleeping with one of her girlfriends or another, when Dixie was drunk he would get confused and say he would go back to the ranch and become a gentleman rancher but by then Doll was so hung up on the guy it didn’t matter if he was a paper-hanger as long as he gave her some loving. Besides if she pushed every guy away for telling lies she would have wound up an old maid.
Yeah Dixie was always talking about making a big score but until that last caper, that last big score he was strictly from cheap street, strictly and nickels and dimes guy but he was a stand-up guy to her even when he was borrowing money from her to put on some nag at Joliet racetrack who would inevitably finish out of the money and he would be back again looking for room rent (that word room exactly the right one, a room in a down and out rooming house over on Division which she hated to go into since Dixie kept it like a pigsty when he was working his numbers of the horses). So Dixie did a little of this and a little of that mainly using his size to be a strong-arm guy for Louie Larson, the biggest bookie in Chi town and “connected” in all the right places, a guy Dixie was into for a lot of dough so Louie took some of the sting out of the debt in trade when he needed muscle. The rest of the time Dixie who by then was pretty well known to Chicago’s finest had a list of suspected hold-ups of gas stations, diners, liquor stores, small time stuff and a few jack-rolls, yeah, nothing like the big score he kept promising her. Kept promising her while he was tossing the hay with a couple of her friends on the side telling her not to crowd him, that he would get that big score once a couple of Mister Big’s took notice of him.
Well in the world of crime, at least in the old days, the days when a guy who was tough meant something everybody needed a guy who could do the heavy lifting, who could throw his weight around or not depending on cases, and Dixie filled the bill. Filled the bill when the Doctor, who wasn’t any doctor not of medicine anyway,laid his plan on some Mister Big (Johnny Blake, a real Mister Big, as she found out later after the smoke had cleared) and as part of the play he would need a holder, a guy who could clear the way if there was trouble. A guy too who was looking for the big score so that he would move mountains to make sure the deal worked out. And so for once in his small cheap street life Dixie was in on a big score, was going to get the dough he needed to buy that farm he had dreamed about since he was a kid and take Doll along with him, and said he would make an honest woman out her too. She didn’t care about that part, wasn’t worried one way or the other about being an honest woman since she had lost her virginity to an Iowa football player at sixteen she just wanted to be with him.
“Laura, you might have heard about the Bigelow Jewelry caper a couple of years back it was in all the newspapers where the guys got away with a million in jewels (actually more like two million but the insurance company was trying to keep wraps on the thing). [Laura nods her head vaguely.] That’s the caper Dixie was working. The thing worked beautifully this Doctor, even if he wasn’t a real doctor but a con, a grifter, had spent a few years working out the details so smooth and they got away clean, got a briefcase full of high-value stones. Well almost clean since some rum brave night security guard making maybe two dollars and hour decided his life was worthless and tried to stop them when they left the Bigelow Building and in the scuffle Larry the Lizard the best safe cracker in town took a stray bullet. Funny except that they got a way clean and it was only later that everything got fouled up.
“Got fouled up big after they let Larry off at his house to be taken care of by a real doctor that his wife would have to send for. He later died but that was part of the breaks when you go for the big score, that was what Dixie said and I half-believed him when he let me in on the story later. See this Mister Big, this Johnny Blake saw the operators as small potatoes, saw the Doctor, Larry, Dixie and Jimmy the wheelman who I knew as the guy who ran diner where we girls would go after work to have dinner some nights and who was picked up by the coppers as they did their round-up after the burglary since Jimmy was the best wheelman around, as so much wind and if the Doc made the score well why bother splitting up serious dough with small potatoes.
“The idea after the heist was that the Doctor and Dixie would go to Johnny’s headquarters and exchange the jewelry for the dough (half a million in cash of which Dixie was to get a hundred thousand, so yeah a big score). So they showed up at Johnny’s and surprise, surprise Johnny had one of his torpedoes Jimmy the Fixer there with both guns at the ready as they enter the door.
“This is where my Dixie was a stand-up guy, where he proved the Doctor was right in picking him as the holder, where he knew somehow that Dixie damn well needed that score and would move mountains to make sure the deal went down cleanly. Dixie started blasting away like a madman nicked Johnny and killed Jimmy the Fixer. Dixie got nicked too but waved it off when the Doctor said he should see a doctor and they beat it out of the place each in one piece.
“Problem though was that they had no dough and nothing but hot rocks with nobody to fence the merchandise for them fast so they headed over to my apartment, came knocking at my door. Doc figured they had better split up and gave Dixie what he thought was his proper share of the loot. The idea was to meet up in Cleveland in a couple of weeks and see what was what. (The Doctor would later be picked up at a juke joint outside of Chi town when he stopped for a drink and a meal since his photograph had been plastered all over the newspapers after Johnny Blake squealed his brains out.)
“The Doctor left and I could see for the first time that Dixie was hurt, needed some medical attention. But a strange calm came over him. Said he had to get back south and so I took my last few dollars and bought us a car, nothing much but unidentified as a crime car. We drove all night but I could see he was fading, begged him to stop and see a doctor. No. Let me drive. No. A man on a mission. On a mission until just outside some dink town in Indiana he pulled over the side of the road, shut off the ignition and slumped over. Gone, my Dixie gone. I left him there with his big score, the wanting habits thing that was eating at him all behind him. Yeah, Dixie was the straightest stand-up guy I ever had, never will have another man like him.
Oldies But Goodies…Out In The Be-Bop ‘60s Song Night- The Tune Weavers’ “Happy,
Happy Birthday Baby”
Happy Birthday Baby"
Happy, happy birthday, baby Although you're with somebody new Thought I'd drop a line to say That I wish this happy day Would find me beside you
Happy, happy birthday, baby No I can't call you my baby Seems like years ago we met On a day I can't forget 'Cause that's when we fell in
Do you remember the names we had
for each other I was your pretty, you were my
baby How could we say goodbye
Hope I didn't spoil your birthday I'm not acting like a lady So I'll close this note to you With good luck and wishes too Happy, happy birthday, baby ********** From The Pen
Of The Late Peter Paul Markin
With A 2015
Introduction By Sam Lowell
If you did
not know what happened to the late Peter Paul Markin who used to write for some
of the alternative newspaper and magazine publications that proliferated in the
wake of the 1960s circus-war/bloodbath/all world together festival/new age
aborning cloud puff dream, won a few awards too and was short-listed for the
Globe Prize this is what is what. What is what before the ebb tide kind of
knocked the wind out of everybody’s sails, everybody who was what I called
“seeking a newer world,” a line I stole from some English poet (Robert Kennedy,
Jack’s brother, or his writer “cribbed” the line too for some pre-1968 vision
book before he ran for President in 1968 so I am in good company.) I will tell
you in a minute what expression “the Scribe,” a named coined by our leader,
Frankie Riley, which is what we always called Markin around the corner we hung
out in together in front of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor in our hometown of North
Adamsville, used to describe that change he had sensed coming in the early
1960s. Saw coming long before any of the rest of us did, or gave a rat’s ass
about in our serious pressing concerns of the moment, worries about girls (all
of the existential problems angst including about bedding them, or rather
getting them in back seats of cars mainly), dough (ditto the girl existential
thing to keep them interested in you and not run off with the next guy who had
ten bucks to spend freely on them to your deuce, Jesus) and cars (double ditto
since that whole “bedding” thing usually hinged on having a car, or having a
corner boy with some non-family car to as we used to say, again courtesy of the
Scribe via scat bluesman Howlin’ Wolf, “doing the do.” The Scribe though wanted
to give it, give what we were felling, you know our existential angst moment
although we did not call it that until later when the Scribe went off to
college and tried to impress us with his new found facts, his two thousand new
found facts about guys like Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Like I said we could give
a rat’s ass about all that.
All I know
is that ebb tide that caught Markin kind of flat-footed, kind of made him
gravitate back toward his baser instincts honed by every breathe he took as a
kid down in the projects where he learned the facts of life, the facts of
fellaheen life which is what one of our junior high school teachers called us,
called us peasants, called it right too although we were the urban versions of
the downtrodden shanty peasants but they were kindred no doubt, is still with
us. So maybe being, having been a “prophet, ” being a guy who worried about
that social stuff while we were hung up on girls,dough and cars (him too in his more sober
moments especially around one Rosemond Goode), wasn’t so good after all. Maybe
the late Markin was that kind of Catholic “martyr saint” that we all had
drilled into us in those nasty nun run Sunday catechism classes, maybe he
really was some doomed “n----r” to use a phrase he grabbed from some Black
Panther guys he used to run around with when he (and Josh Breslin) lived in
Oakland and the “shit was hitting the fan” from every law enforcement agency
that could put two bullets in some greasy chamber to mow down anybody even
remotely associated with the brothers and the ten point program (who am I
kidding anybody who favored armed self-defense for black men and women that’s
the part that had the coppers screaming for blood, and bullets).
Here is a
quick run-down about the fate of our boy corner boy bastard saint and about why
stuff that he wrote forty or fifty years ago now is seeing the light of day. I
won’t bore you with the beginnings, the projects stuff because frankly I too
came out of the projects, not the same one as he did but just as hopeless down
in Carver where I grew up before heading to North Adamsville and Josh who was
as close as anybody to Markin toward the end was raised in the Olde Saco
projects up in Maine and we are both still here to tell the tale. The real
start as far as what happened to unravel the Scribe happened after he, Markin,
got out of the Army in late 1970 when he did two things that are important
here. First, he continued, “re-connected” to use the word he used, on that
journey that he had started before he was inducted in the Army in 1968 in
search of what he called the Great Blue-Pink American West Night (he put the
search in capitals when he wrote about the experiences so I will do so here),
the search really for the promise that the “fresh breeze” he was always carping
about was going to bring. That breeze which was going to get him out from under
his baser instincts developed (in self-defense against the punks that were
always bothering him something I too knew about and in self- defense against
his mother who was truly a dinosaur tyrant unlike my mother who tended to roll
with the punches and maybe that helped break my own fall from heading straight
down that Markin fate ladder) in his grinding poverty childhood, get out from
under the constant preoccupation with satisfying his “wanting habits” which
would eventually do him in.
made a foolish decision when he decided to drop out of college (Boston
University) after his sophomore year in 1967 in order to pursue his big cloud
puff dream, a dream which by that time had him carrying us along with him on
the hitchhike road west in the summer of love, 1967, and beyond. Foolish in
retrospect although he when I and others asked about whether he would have done
things differently if he had known what the hell-hole of Vietnam was all about
was ambivalent about the matter. Of course 1967, 1968, 1969 and other years as
well were the “hot” years of the war in Vietnam and all Uncle Sam and his local
draft boards wanted, including in North Adamsville, was warm bodies to kill
commies, kill them for good. As he would say to us after he had been inducted
and had served his tour in ‘Nam as he called it (he and the other military
personnel who fought the war could use the short-hand expression but the term
was off-bounds for civilians in shortened form)and came back to the “real” world he did what he did, wished he had not
done so, wished that he had not gone, and most of all wished that the American
government which made nothing but animals out of him and his war buddies would
come tumbling down for what it had done to its sons for no good reasons.
Markin continued his search, maybe a little wiser, continued as well to drag
some of his old corner boys like me on that hitchhike road dream of his before
the wheels fell off. I stayed with him longest I think before even I could see
we had been defeated by the night-takers and I left the road to go to law
school and “normalcy.” (The signposts: Malcolm X’s, Robert Kennedy’s and Martin
Luther King’s assassinations, hell maybe JFK’s set the who thing on a bad
spiral which kind of took the political winds out of any idea that there would
not be blow-back for messing with the guys in power at the time, the real guys
not their front-men, the politicians; the rising tide of “drop out, drug out,
live fast and die young” which took a lot of the best of our generation off
giving up without a fight; the endless death spiral of Vietnam; the plotted
killings of Black Panthers and any other radical or revolutionary of any color
or sex who “bothered” them; and, the election of one master criminal, Richard
Milhous Nixon, to be President of the United States which was not only a cruel
joke but put paid to the notion that that great unwashed mass of Americans were
on our side.)
it out longer until at some point in 1974, 1975 a while after I had lost touch
with him when even he could see the dreams of the 1960s had turned to dust,
turned to ashes in his mouth and he took a wrong turn, or maybe not a wrong
turn the way the wheel of his life had been set up but a back to his baser
instincts turn which had been held in check when we were in the high tide of
1960s possibilities. (Josh Breslin, another corner boy, although from Olde
Saco, Maine who had met Markin out in San Francisco in the summer of love in
1967 and who had also left the road earlier just before me was in contact until
pretty near the end, pretty close to the last time in early 1975 anybody heard
from Markin this side of the border, this side of paradise as it turned out
since Josh who lived out in California where Markin was living at the time
confirmed that Markin was in pretty ragged mental and physical condition by
Markin had a
lot invested emotionally and psychological in the success of the 1960s “fresh
breeze coming across the land” as he called it early on. Maybe it was that ebb
tide, maybe it was the damage that military service in hell-hole Vietnam did to
his psyche, maybe it was a whole bunch of bad karma things from his awful early
childhood that he held in check when there were still sunnier days ahead but by
the mid-1970s he had snapped. Got involved in using and dealing cocaine just
starting to be a big time profitable drug of choice among rich gringos (and
junkies ready to steal anything, anytime, anywhere in order to keep the habit
in Mexico, Sonora, we don’t know all the details to this day a big deal Markin
brokered (kilos from what we heard so big then before the cartels organized
everything and before the demand got so great they were shipping freighters
full of cold cousin cocaine for the hipsters and the tricksters and big for
Markin who had worked his way up the drug trade food chain probably the way he
worked his way into everything by some “learned” dissertation about how his
input could increase revenue, something along those lines) went awry, his old
time term for something that went horribly wrong, and he wound up face down in
a dusty back road with two slugs to the head and now resides in the town’s
potter’s field in an unmarked grave. But know this; the bastard is still moaned
over, moaned to high heaven.
thing Markin did, after he decided that going back to school after the
shell-shock of Vietnam was out of the question, was to begin to write for many
alternative publications (and I think if Josh is correct a couple of what he,
Markin, called “bourgeois” publications for the dough). Wrote two kinds of
stories, no three, first about his corner boy days with us at Salducci’s (and
also some coming of age stories from his younger days growing up in the Adamsville
Housing Authority “projects” with his best friend, Billie Bradley before he met
us in junior high school). Second about that search for the Great Blue-Pink
American Night which won him some prizes since he had a fair-sized audience who
were either committed to the same vision, or who timidly wished they could have
had that commitment (like a couple of our corner boys who could not make the
leap to “drugs, sex, rock and roll, and raising bloody hell on the streets
fighting the ‘monster’ government” and did the normal get a job, get married,
get kids, get a house which made the world go round then). And thirdly, an
award-winning series of stories under the by-line Going To The Jungle for the East
Bay Other (published out of the other side of the bay San Francisco though)
about his fellow Vietnam veterans who could not deal with the “real” world
coming back and found themselves forming up in the arroyos, along the rivers,
along the railroad tracks and under the bridges of Southern California around
Los Angeles. Guys who needed their stories told and needed a voice to give life
to those stories. Markin was their conduit.
in a while somebody, in this case Bart Webber, from the old corner boy crowd of
our youthful times, will see or hear something that will bring him thoughts
about our long lost comrade who kept us going in high school times with his
dreams and chatter (although Frankie Riley was our leader since he was an
organizer-type whereas Markin could hardly organize his shoes, if that). Now
with the speed and convenient of the Internet we can e-mail each other and get
together at some convenient bar to talk over old times. And almost inevitably
at some point in the evening the name of the Scribe will come up. Recently we
decided, based on Bart’s idea, that we would, if only for ourselves, publish a
collection of whatever we could find of old-time photographs and whatever
stories Markin had written that were still sitting around somewhere to
commemorate our old friend. We have done so with much help from Bart’s son Jeff
who now runs the printing shop that Bart, now retired, started back in the
is from that first category, the back in the day North Adamsville corner boy
story, although this one is painted with a broader brush since it combines with
his other great love to write about books, film and music. This one about
music, about doo wop, women’s side which always both intrigued him and
befuddled him since the distaff side lyrics (nice combination term that Markin
would have appreciated especially that distaff thing for women who also as this
piece will speak to, befuddled him, befuddled him straight up). It had been
found in draft form up in Josh Breslin’s attic in Olde Saco, Maine where he had
lived before meeting Markin in the great summer of love night in 1967 and where
he had later off the road stored his loose hitchhike road stuff and his
writerly notebooks and journals at his parents’ house which he had subsequently
inherited on their passings. We have decided whatever we had to publish would
be published as is, either published story or in draft form. Otherwise, moaning
over our brother or not, Markin is liable to come after us from that forlorn
unmarked grave in that Sonora potter’s field and give us hell for touching a
single word of the eight billion facts in his fallen head.
Here is what he had to say:
Damn he never should have sent
that note, that short, silly, puffed-up cry baby note trying to worm his way
back into Lucy’s arms with memory thoughts about this kiss, or that embrace.
And bringing up old seawall sugar shack beach nights holding hands against the
splashed tides, against full moons, against tomorrow coming too soon; double
date drive-in movies, speakers on low, deep-breathing car fog-ups on cold
October nights, embarrassed, way embarrassed, when they surfaced for
intermission's stale popcorn or reheated hot dogs; and, that last dance school
dance holding tight, tight as hell, to each other as the DJ, pretending to be radio
jockey Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsberg, played Could This Be Magic?
on that creaky record player used at North Adamsville high school dances since
his mother’s time, ancient Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday times.
Damn, a scratchy, scribbly note,
a note written on serious stationary and with a real fountain pen to show his
sincerity, and not the usual half- lined sheet, pulled out a three-ring subject
notebook, and passed to Lucy during their common study class. Notes the passing
of which sometimes got them severe looks from the study monitor, Miss Green,
and giggles and taunts, usually some lewd or luscious remarks fraught with
sexual innuendo from their fellow students, boys and girls alike, about
fogged-up cars and trash talk like that who also tried to intercept those
precious notes without success. Yah, “the note heard round the world” that
would expose him to all kinds of ridicule, endless be-bop jive patter, and
snide questions about his manhood from guys, and probably girls too, around the
school, hell, all around North Adamsville and maybe already had if Lucy decided
to cut his heart out and tell one and all what a square he, Luke Jackson, was
when all was said and done.
He could hear it now, and could
hear the words ringing in his ears. What a soft guy Luke Jackson really was, a
guy known to be a love ‘em and leave ‘em guy before Lucy. A guy, a used to be
sharp guy who shrugged off more things that you could shake a stick at and came
back swinging but who was getting all misty-eyed and cry baby just because some
dame, a good looking dame in all the right places, yes, a dame all the guys
were ready to pursue once he was out of the picture, but still a dame, a young
high school dame, when all was said and done, got under his skin, like they
were married or something. Hell, he thought, thought now too late, to himself,
that he would have been better off, much better off, leaving it at calling Lucy
on the telephone every few hours and either hanging up before she answered or
when she did answer freezing up. But that was costing money, serious add up
money, since he had to use a public pay telephone up the street from his house
because the telephone service had been turned off for non-payment as his family
could not afford to pay the bill the past few months.
Besides it was getting kind of
creepy going in and out of the house at all hours, midnight by the telephone
waiting like some lonely, awkward girl, walking up the street like a zombie,
half mope, half dope, then hesitating before deciding to make the call, making
it, or not, and then scurrying like a rat from the public glare of the booth.
Christ, one time the cops looked at him funny, real funny, when he was calling
at about midnight. And he had to admit that he might have called the police
station a few times too after he looked at himself in the mirror upon returning
That note, sent the day before
and probably in Lucy’s plotting hands right now, was a minute, a quick minute,
brain-storm that he had thought up when he was just plain miserable, just plain
midnight telephone tired too, and anyone could make such a rash decision under
love’s duress, teenage love’s duress. Right then though all he could think of
was all the notes, the cutesy, lined-sheet paper school-boyish notes, that he
had sent her when love was in full blossom, full blossom before Jamie Lee
Johnson came on the scene, came on the scene with his big old ’59 Chevy Impala,
his money in his pocket, and his line of patter and stole his “sweet pea” Lucy
away from her “sugar plum” Luke. And that picture sent him back to thoughts of
when he and Lucy first met, when their eyes first met.
“Let’s see,” Luke said to himself
it was probably at Chrissie McNamara’s sweet sixteen birthday party that he
first laid eyes on her. Hell, who was he kidding, he knew that it was exactly
at 8:32PM on the night of April 25, 1962 that he first laid eyes on her, big
almost star-struck staring eyes. Or maybe it was a few seconds before because,
to break the ice, he had gone up to her and asked her for the time, asked in
his then bolder manner if she had time for him, asked her to dance, she said
yes, and that was that. Oh, yah, there was more to it than that but both of
them knew at that moment, knew somewhere deep down in their teenage hearts,
they were going to be an “item,” for a while. And they were indeed sweet pea
and sugar plum, for a while. Although Luke would get mad sometimes, fighting
mad, fighting break-up mad, when Lucy teased, no, more than teased, him about
his not having a car so that they could go “parking” by themselves and not
always be on some clowny double-date down at the seashore on Saturday night (or
any night in the summer). And Luke would reply that he was saving money for
college, and besides sitting on the seawall (and sometimes in love’s heat down
beneath its height), their usual habit, was okay, wasn’t it.
That simmer, that somehow unarticulated
simmer, went on for a while, a long while. But Luke had noticed a few months
back, or rather Lucy had made her sugar plum notice, that now that they were
high school seniors sitting on the seawall was nothing but nowhere kids’ stuff
and why did he want to go to college anyway, and wasn’t going to work down at
the shipyard where he could earn some real dough and get a car a better idea.
The real clincher though, the one that telegraphed to him that the heavens were
frowning on him, was the night she, no bones, stated that she had no plans for
college and was going right to work after graduation, and maybe, just maybe,
she wouldn’t be able to wait for him. And that’s where things started to really
break down between them.
Enter one Jamie Lee Johnson, a
friend of Lucy’s older brother Kenny, already graduated from North Adamsville
two years before and working, working steady with advancement possibilities
according to the talk, as a junior welder down at the shipyard making good
dough. Making drive-in movies and even drive-n restaurant good time dough, and
driving that souped-up, retro-fitted, dual-carbed, ’59 Chevy, jet black and
hung to the gills with chrome to make a girl breathless. And before Luke knew
it Lucy’s mother was answering the phone calls for Lucy from Luke saying that
she wasn’t in, wasn’t expected in, and that she, Lucy’s mother, would tell Lucy
that he had called. The runaround, the classic runaround since boy meets girl
time began, except not always done over the telephone. And while Lucy never
said word one about breaking it off between them, not even a “so long we had
fun,” Luke, although not smart enough to not write that sappy note, knew she
was gone, and gone for good. But see she had gotten under his skin, way under,
and well, and that was that.
Just as Luke was thinking about
that last thought, that heart-tearing thought, he decided, wait a minute, maybe
she didn’t get the note, maybe he had forgotten to put a stamp on it and as a
result of those maybes he fished around his pocket to see if he had some coins,
some telephone coins, and started out of the house prison to make that late
night pilgrimage creep, that midnight waiting by the telephone creep. Walking
up the street, walking up the now familiar night street-lighted against the
deathless shadows Hancock Street he noticed a jet black ’59 Impala coming his
way, coming his way with Jamie Lee and Lucy sitting so close together that they
could not be pried apart with a crowbar. Luke thought about that scene for a
minute, steeled himself with new-found resolve against the love hurts like in
the old love 'em and leave ‘em days, threw the coins on the ground without
anger but rather with relief, turned back to his house wondering, seriously
wondering like the fate of the world depended on it, what pet names they Jimmy
and Lucy had for each other.
Hell Hounds On His Heels- The Legendary Robert Johnson’s Story
Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl?: The Life And Music of Robert Johnson, Robert Johnson and various artists, narrated by Danny Glover, 1997
I have recently spent some little effort making comparisons between old time country blues singers. My winners have been Skip James and Son House. Apparently, if the story behind the Robert Johnson story presented here is right, I am in a minority compared to the like of guitarists Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. So be it. After viewing this very informative bio, complete with the inevitable “talking heads" that populate these kinds of film efforts I still have that same opinion, except I would hold Johnson’s version of his “Sweet Home, Chicago” in higher regard after listening to it here. Previously many other covers of the song, including the trendy Blues Brothers version seemed better, a lot better.
The producers of this film have spent some time and thought on presentation. The choice of Danny Glover as expressive and thoughtful narrator was a welcome sign. Having Johnson road companion and fellow blues artist, Johnny Shines, give insights into Johnson’s work habits, traveling ways, womanizing, whisky drinking, and off-center personality make this a very strong film. Add in footage of Son House (an early Johnson influence) and various other Delta artists who met or were met by Johnson along the way and one gets the feeling that this is more a labor of love than anything else. For a man who lived fast, died young and left a relatively small body of work (some 20 odd songs) this is a very good take on Robert Johnson. I might add that if Johnson is your number one blues man this film gives you plenty of ammunition for your position.
Note: As is almost universally true with such film endeavors we only get snippets of the music. I would have liked to hear a full “Preacher’s Blues,” “Sweet Home, Chicago,” "Terraplane Blues,” and “Hell Hounds On My Heels” but for that one will have to look elsewhere. Hail YouTube.
I have spent a ton of cyber-ink detailing the effect that rock and roll, now called classic rock and roll, the rock at the creation in the early to mid-1950s when I, and a whole lot of post-World War II baby boomers, now greying, came of musical age. Came of musical age to the likes of Elvis, Ike Turner, Howling Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and a ton of others who you can now see on YouTube in case you missed their performances, or were too young.
And in the center, well maybe not the exact center but close, of all the jail-breakout music the man present at the creation was one Sam Phillips of Sun Records (and many other recording sites during his long life). Sam believed that if he could get that sound that he was recording early in his career, that black-etched rhythm and blues sound of guys like Junior Parker, Ike Turner (whose Rocket 88 is my choice for the beginning of rock and roll but everybody has some choice of where it went from Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and company to from hunger black and white guys who wanted to jump up the music, make the whole world dance in the red scare Cold War night), Big Joe Turner, out to a broader audience in Mister James Crow times, North and South as far as music went, they would go crazy over it, make it their own. And they, we did.
So it is no surprise that somebody, in this case previous Sam Phillips biographer and mad monk rock and roll history man Peter Guralnick would lay down the case for one of the guys present at the creation. Giving plenty of hard-core information about the background to variousclassic rock hits and the personalities involved. Also no surprise that the book comes with a CD selection of great and not so great, well-known and not so well-known songs from that time to make his case. If you are interested in a time when men and women played rock and roll for keeps check this out.
No question these days with the craze for food shows and the creation of a whole cable channel devoted to just about every aspect of culinary preparation that you cannot go wrong if you are a filmmaker in producing a film centered on the struggle to make a name for yourself in the business. Make it slightly exotic, make it slightly multi-cultural, make it slightly intergenerational, make it in polyglot New York City, Brooklyn better these days than Manhattan for the diversity look add in the immigrant quest back story into the mix and you have an enjoyable film labelled appropriately enough Today’s Special (which also is a recurring motif within the film)
Here’s how the foodie craze plays out in this one. Samir a son of an Indian immigrant has been working his ass off just like everybody else in mostly low pay, long hours, little thanks restaurant industry in a high end noveau cuisine as a sou chef expecting to move onward and upward due to his hard work and diligence. No soap, no soap when the king hell chef gives the upward mobile job to some kid and to add insult to injury says Samir doesn’t have the magic hand to be a great chef. In a fit of hubris Samir quits with the idea, a very good idea at that, of going to Paris and making a name for himself there. No soap, no soap again because Samir’s father, an owner of a failing Indian cuisine restaurant has a heart attack when Samir tells him his plans. So naturally all plans on hold Samir just has to take care of his father’s business, something he had been running away from all his life.
Since the push on this one is a rags to riches story, the failing endeavor to successful endeavor variant which Hollywood and Bollywood loves Samir turns this restaurant around. First by getting a max daddy chef posing as a cabdriver to end all chefs to come and work for him. Everything is on the upswing from there, the business starts getting better, the max daddy chef teaches Samir a few things and Samir’s love life takes an upswing when a foxy-looking young Anglo woman who used to work at Samir’s old place gives him some play. End of story. Well not quite the end since Samir has to go through a process to become that magical chef that was hidden within him. Worse though is that Samir’s father tries to undercut him by trying to sell the place. But as in all things culinary the tensions get worked out and all the intergenerational, multi-cultural, and striving immigrant have a happy ending. Yes definitely a feel good movie.