Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hard Times In The Country Down On The Farm-With Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More In Mind

By Bradley Fox

No one in Hazard, Hazard, down in Eastern Kentucky, Appalachia hard patch country which still has sections where the views would take your breath away just like it did those whose sense of wonder first brought them through the passes from the stuffed-up East, ever forgot the hard times in 1931, nobody. Not the coal bosses, actually coal boss since every little black-hearted patch belonged to Mister Peabody and company, who that year shut down the mines rather than accept the union, the “red union,” National Miner-Workers Union ( that “red” no euphemism since the American Communist Party was in its “ultra-left period of only working in its own “red” unions rather than as a faction of larger craft or industrial union) although Mister Peabody, given a choose, would have been under the circumstances happy to work out a sweetheart deal with John L. Lewis and his United Mine Workers. But the Hazard miners were a hard-nosed lot, certainly as hard-nosed as their more well-known cousins over in Harlan County who had songs sung and soft whispered words written about their legendary activities in taking on the coal bosses. (That cousin reference no joke since in hard times, and sometimes in good times you could not get a job in the mines if you were not vouched for.) Certainly no one in the Breslin clan ever forgot the 1931 hard times since they had lost a few wounded, a couple seriously in the skirmishes around the mine shaft openings  keeping the mines closed when the bosses, and not just Mister Peabody on that score, tried to bring in “scab” labor from West Virginia or Eastern Pennsylvania to work the mines.         

Of course the Breslin clans, the various branches gathered over the generations had been in the hills and hollows of Kentucky as far back as anybody could remember. Somebody said, some Breslin “historian,” that the first Breslin had been thrown out of England back in the early part of the 19th century for stealing sheep and told never to return under penalty of death. And so he, Ike, or Icky, nobody even the historian was not sure which was the correct name hightailed it out on the nearest ship and wound up in Baltimore before heading west, ever westward as was the habit of lots of people, the plebes shut out of the big businesses and small craft shops by those whose people had come before, had come not long after the Mayflower, back then when the seacoast fame and fortunes were already locked and there was so much land to the west that it seemed a shame to see it go to another man, or his family.

So that first Breslin headed west and settled in the hills and hollows around Hazard, raised a big family, twelve who survived childhood and over a couple of generations helped populate the area. Here was the funny part, the part that would explain why there were still Breslins in Hazard after the land had petered out, and before coal was discovered as a usable mass energy source. Some of the Breslin clan had the wanderlust like old Ike/Icky and moved on when the land went fallow. Others took after that lazy, sheep stealing stay in one place part of the Breslin gene and refused to move expecting providence, or God, or something to see them through. The coal discovery to keep families from starvation’s door  helped but that didn’t change the sluggish no account ways of those who stayed, mostly.         

No question there was a certain amount of in-breeding which didn’t help the gene pool but was to be expected when you had people living in isolated pockets, more men surviving than women after childbirth. Some of it was a certain “don’t give a damn” attitude-as long as something was on the table for supper, as long as the roof of the shack, and most of the Breslins lived in the ubiquitous shacks seen in photographs of the times by photographers like Weston and Arbus. Places, tiny places, one or two rooms, a living area, a bedroom area, no windows to speak of, not made of glass anyway maybe waxed paper, just holes on the sides to let in air, those sides of the building protected by tar paper, ditto the roof, a porch with some old pappy sitting in a rocker, a parcel of kids, half clothed, and a lifetimes worth of junk scattered around the yard. Maybe a mangy dog, maybe some poultry. Some of the problem was lack of any education, or anybody to teach them the niceties of the right way to do things. Fathers would tell their sons that they didn’t need any education to pick coal out of the ground. And for a couple of generations that worked out, nothing good, nothing but short, brutish, nasty lives but there it was.             

That was the way it was in late 1930 in the Prescott Breslin clan, the great-great grandson of that original Breslin who had gotten himself unceremoniously kicked out of England. Living from hand to mouth with eleven children to raise like weeds. Then cousin Brody Breslin, who lived over in Harlan County, and was a son from the Jerimiah Breslin branch, came to organize for the NMU, for the “reds.” Organized the Breslins, the Johnsons, the Foxes and the Bradys mostly and when Mister Peabody refused to negotiate shut the damn mines down. Closed them tight, the Breslins took casualties to prove that point. And that was a very tough year as the company almost starved everybody out. But the union held, the companies wanted the coal produced and they settled (eventually with a lot of political maneuvering which nobody ever rightly figured out the NMU later joined the Lewis UMW and came under that leadership including NMU local president Brody Breslin).       

So thereafter in the 1930s the Breslins worked the mines, mostly, mostly except when there was “too much” coal and the company stopped production for short periods to drive the price up. Young Prescott Breslin, Prescott’s youngest son (not everybody gave the first born son the father’s name down there and hence junior but the pure truth was that old Prescott and his tired-out wife couldn’t think of another name and so Prescott), in his turn at fourteen dropped out of school and went to picking coal in the mines like his forbears (remember the epitaph-“you don’t need no education to pick coal” mentioned above) in about 1933 and worked there until the war came along, until the bloody Japanese bastards attacked Pearl Harbor. Three days after, December 10, 1941, young Prescott left the mines and headed for Prestonsburg where the nearest Marine recruiting station had been hastily set up.

When his father asked him why he did such a foolish thing since there were still young Breslin mouths including sisters to be feed and since he would have been exempted from military service because there was going to be a tremendous need for coal Prescott kind of shrugged his shoulders and thought for a minute about the question. Then he answered his father this way; between fighting the Nips (Japanese) out in the Pacific and shoveling Mister Peabody’s coal he would take his changes on survival to a ripe old age with the Marines. And he never looked back with the slightest regret for doing that despite the later hardships that would dog his life including more misunderstandings with his kids than you could shake at.            

Never looked back but as Prescott was leaving to head to boot camp a few days later he thought that it had not all been bad. There were those Saturday night dances down at Fred Brown’s old red barn where anybody with any musical instrument showed up and created a band for the evening playing the old mountain music songs carried over from the old country. (Stuff that a few spirited musicologists starting with Francis Child in the 19th century collected and made more widely known.) Dancing his head off with Sarah Brown, Priscilla Breslin, a distant cousin, and Betty Shaw. As he got older  getting high on Fred’s corn liquor, remembering how sick he got the first time drinking too fast and not remembering the motto-this was Kentucky sipping whiskey, mountain style, so sip. When he came of age getting up his liquor courage to “spark” Sarah, Priscilla and Betty in that order causing real sparks when they found out that he had had his way with each of them by shyly saying they were each the first. When he thought about that predicament he began to think maybe he would be better off taking his chances fighting the Japs on that front too. But he was a man headed out into the great big world beyond the hills and hollows of home. So he left for good never to return except right after he was discharged from the Marines to pack up his few belongings not already passed on to some other siblings.           

This is the way the younger Prescott Breslin told the story to his youngest son Josh in 1966 when they were still on civil speaking terms as he was heading out into his own world leaving in the dust Olde Saco his growing up time up in Maine. (Prescott had been stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Base before being discharged, had met and married Delores LeBlanc from Olde Saco after meeting her at a USO dance in Portland and settled into that town when he returned from that brief sojourn back home.) And this is the way Josh remembered what his father said fifty years later. Yeah, those times in 1931 sure should have been hard. Hard like his father’s fate would be later. Damn, hard times come again no more.    

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- When Girls Doo-Wopped In The Be-Bop 1960s Night, Take Two



I have, of late, been running back over some rock material that formed my coming of age listening music (on that ubiquitous, and very personal, iPod, oops, battery-driven transistor radio that kept those snooping parents out in the dark, clueless, and just fine, agreed), and that of my generation, the generation of ’68. Naturally one had to pay homage to the blues influences from the likes of Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, and Big Joe Turner. And, of course, the rockabilly influences from Elvis, Carl Perkins, Wanda Jackson, and Jerry Lee Lewis on. Additionally, I have spent some time on the male side of the doo wop be-bop Saturday night led by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers on Why Do Fools Fall In Love? (good question, right). I note that I have not done much with the female side of the doo wop night, the great ‘girl groups’ that had their heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s before the British invasion, among other things, changed our tastes in popular music. I make some amends for that omission here.


One problem with the girl groups for a guy, me, a serious rock guy, me, is that the lyrics for many of the girl group songs, frankly, did not “speak to me.” After all how much empathy could a young ragamuffin of boy brought up on the wrong side of the tracks like this writer have for a girl who breaks a guy's heart after leading him on, yes, leading him on, just because her big bruiser of a boyfriend is coming back and she needs some excuse to brush the heartbroken lad off in the Angels' My Boyfriend’s Back. Or some lucky guy, some lucky Sunday guy, who breathlessly catches the eye of the singer in the Shirelles' Met Him On Sunday from a guy who, dateless Saturday night, was hunched over some misbegotten book, some study book, on Sunday feeling all dejected. And how about this, some two, or maybe, three-timing gal who berated her ever-loving boyfriend because she needs a good talking to, or worst, a politically incorrect "beating" in Joanie Sommers’ Johnny Get Angry.


So you get the idea, this stuff could not “speak to me.” Now you understand, right? Except, surprise, surprise foolish, behind the eight- ball, know-nothing youthful guy had it all wrong and should have been listening, and listening like crazy, to these lyrics because, brothers and sisters, they held the key to what was what about what was on girls’ minds back in the day, and maybe now a little too, and if I could have decoded this I would have had, well, the beginning of knowledge, girl knowledge. Damn. But that is one of the virtues, and maybe the only virtue of age. Yah, and also get this- you had better get your do-lang, do-lang, your shoop, shoop, and your best be-bop, be-bop into that good night voice out and sing along to the lyrics here. This, fellow baby-boomers, was our teen angst, teen alienation, teen love youth and now this stuff sounds great.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

When Rockabilly Rocked The Be-Bop 1950s Night- “Rock This Town-Volume 2”- A CD Review



CD Review

Rock This Town, Volume 2, various artists, Rhino Records, 1991


The bulk of this review was used to review Volume 1 as well:


The last time that I discussed rockabilly music in this space was a couple of years ago when I was featuring the work of artists like Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis who got their start at Sam Phillips’ famed Sun Records studio in Memphis. Part of the reason for those reviews was my effort to trace the roots of rock and rock, the music of my coming of age, and that of my generation, the generation of ’68. Clearly rockabilly was, along with country and city blues from the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Ike Turner and rhythm and blues from the likes of Big Joe Turner, a part of that formative process. The question then, and the question once again today, is which strand dominated the push to rock and rock, if one strand in fact did dominate.


I have gone back and forth on that question over the years. That couple of years ago mentioned above I was clearly under the influence of Big Joe Turner and Howlin’ Wolf and so I took every opportunity to stress the bluesy nature of rock. Recently though I have been listening, and listening very intently, to early Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis and I am hearing more of that be-bop rockabilly rhythm flowing into the rock night. Let me give a comparison. A ton of people have done Big Joe Turner’s classic rhythm and bluish Shake, Rattle, and Roll, including Bill Haley, Elvis, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee. When I listen to that song as performed in the more rockabilly style by them those versions seem closer to what evolved into rock. So for today, and today only, yes Big Joe is the big daddy, max daddy father of rock but Elvis, Jerry Lee, and Carl are the very pushy sons.


And that brings us to this treasure trove of rockabilly music presented in two volumes of which this is the second; including material by those who have revived, or kept the rockabilly genre alive over the past couple of decades. I have already done enough writing in praise of the work of Sam Phillips and Sun Records to bring that good old boy rockabilly sound out of the white southern countryside. There I noted that, for the most part, those who succeeded in rockabilly had to move on to rock to stay current and so the rockabilly sound was somewhat transient except for those who consciously decided to stay with it. Here are the examples that I used for volume one and they apply here as well:


“…the best example of that is Red Hot by Bill Riley and his Little Green Men, an extremely hot example by the way. If you listen to his other later material it stays very much in that rockabilly vein. In contrast, take High School Confidential by Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry Lee might have started out in rockabilly but this number (and others) is nothing but the heart and soul of rock (and a song, by the way, we all prayed would be played at our middle school dances to get things moving).” Enough said.

Stick outs here on Volume 2 include: C’mon Everybody, Eddie Cochran (probably better known for his more bluesy, steamy, end of school rite of passage Summertime Blues, a very much underrated performer whose career was cut short when he was killed in a car accident; Let’s Have A Party, Wanda Jackson (one of the few famous women rockabilly artists in a very much male-dominated genre); Red Hot ( a cover of the famous one by Bill Riley featured in Volume 1), Robert Gordon and Link Wray; Rock This Town (title track from the group that probably is the best known devotee of the rockabilly revival), The Stray Cats.

***Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Night- Girl Meets Our Lord Of The Saint Patrick’s Day Night Boy- For Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, King Of North Adamsville Schoolboy Night - Class of 1964


From The Pen Of Peter Paul Markin  


Yes, I can hear the snickering, cyberspace snickering if that is possible anyway, between them now, just like in the old days, although I did not always know what it meant then but now I do. I do after Frankie’s, Francis Xavier Riley’s, recent desecration of this space to tell his wild and wooly story, Boy Meets Our Lady Of The Saint Patrick’s Day Night Girl, about how he and his ever-loving middle school and high school sweetheart, Joanne, came together as a couple through their adventures at the 1959 Saint Patrick’s Day parade over in Southie, South Boston that is. In case you were not aware, painfully aware by now, Frankie, king of the be-bop late 1950s and early 1960s schoolboy be-bop night in our old, mainly Irish, working class neighborhood in North Adamsville and his “ball and chain,” Joanne, Joanne Marion Murphy, decided as part of their Southie caper that three was “one too many” and that neither would ever cry, cry out loud about it. And the three, or third, was me, Markin, Peter Paul Markin, Frankie’s then (and now, now maybe) faithful retainer during his reign. I decided to go to school instead of “skipping” the day as they did. Thankfully I am resilient and such childish things as snickers by just barely teenage co-conspirators are so much, well, so much.


But that is not the end of it, not the end of it by a long shot, although you and I will wish that I had not taken the genie out of the bottle, at least I will. Now one of the beauties of the high tech age we live in is that long forgotten friends and acquaintances are “findable” in short order, at least those who have left enough traces to be found. The same holds true for the use of cyberspace, as used here, as something of a public diary about the back-in-the-days times of the be-bop high school 1960s night. Now I had not heard from Frankie for many years, maybe forty or so, as our paths went in very different directions at some point. All that is important right this minute is that Frankie, king Frankie, heard that I was writing, writing relentlessly, about the old days, and about his lordship. I will give you the details of the hows and whys of how he got in touch with me some other time, maybe. What you know, if you have been attentive is that Frankie has been spewing forth (sorry there is no other word, other appropriate public word, for it) to one and all about His take on the old days as my guest commentator.


Here is where the genie out of the bottle part comes in. Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, is not the only one who knows how to work the marvels of cyberspace to get his “party line” out. Now, and christ I’ll be damned if I know how she found out (although I suspect my ex-wife, my first ex-wife that is, who was not part of the old North Adamsville scene but knew all about it, knew, as she said, “where all the bodies were buried”) Joanne, Joanne Marion Murphy (I will use her high school name here just to keep things from getting any more confused than they already are), has actually been following this space, especially since Frankie has “come on board.” And what she wants, no, what she insists on, is “equal time,” equal time to tell her side of the story, the 1959 Saint Patrick’s Day Parade story. She said that Frankie left a lot out, a lot that would make him a little less cocky (her word) if the world knew certain things. Also that Frankie had it wrong, half-arsed wrong, no, full-arsed wrong about her Irishness sensibilities and where they fit into her young schoolgirl life.


Can you believe that? What is more she says there are some other “inaccuracies” in Frankie’s other stories, mainly the ones I wrote. Well, those are fighting words in my book, and as Frankie can tell you, would bring some fists out in our old-fashioned values, mainly Irish working class neighborhood. Those were the old days and I was going to, really going to, just let old Joanne, old ever-loving Joanne twist in the wind on this one. But here is where you have be careful about people, well, okay about women because after I sent her an e-mail on my decision, about thirty-six seconds later I got a return e-mail. And that e-mail asked, pretty please asked, acidly-etched pretty please asked, didn’t I want to know about whether it was true or not that she was “smitten” with me back in the days. What? Who? Well that puts a different perspective on it and perhaps I, in the interest of hearing all sides should allow her this one opportunity to “put things straight.” Besides like I used to say in the old days I like to give the other side an opportunity to speak if only to hang themselves.


Joanne, Joanne Marion Murphy, comment:


Yes, one Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley (Christ, Markin has got me saying it now), and one Markin, Peter Paul Markin, were thick as thieves from the time Markin came over to North Adamsville Junior High School (yes, I know just like Frankie and Pee-pee, my pet name for Markin, know it is now called middle school) from the Adamsville projects over the other side of town in the middle of seventh grade. That part is true, and you can take my word for it. And the part about “Joanne was smart, check, pretty, check, had a winning smile, check, and was universally kind out her religiously-derived social sense, check.” Everything else that this pair has written about the old days, well, why don’t we just say “take it with the grain of salt.” Okay. Now I do not know how much old Markin, dear truth-at-any-price Peter Paul, is going to cut out (edit he calls it) so I want to make sure you know about three things: my opinion of Markin in those old days; the real story of Saint Patrick’s Day 1959; and various inaccuracies about what I did, or didn’t know, about Frankie’s girl flings after we had our little disputes (what he called “misunderstandings”). If I don’t get these points all through Markin’s (and maybe Frankie behind it, as well) meat-cutter please contact me at


Frankie thinks he had Markin figured out, and figured out easy. Just throw him a morsel of an idea and he’ll jump through hoops for you. Well, where do you think, and who do you think gave Frankie that idea? Didn’t I have it right, and here I am speaking "truth to power" about it as proof, on how to get Markin to let me write about the old days in his “space.” All I had to do was throw out the words “smitten" and "Joanne” and he was hooked, just like in the old days. And Frankie never would believe this then, and probably will not now but I was, I won’t say smitten but definitely attracted to Markin from the time he came to our school. No, no the looks, Frankie had them, no question. No, not the be-bop pitter-patter (weak stuff anyway as I will discuss later). No, not the clothes or “style” (Christ, Markin always looked about two inches from a hobo-on the good days-sorry). But Markin had something Frankie never did have, and never will have, his love of ideas (or morsels of ideas), and his love of sharing them with all and sundry.


Frankie just kind of used ideas as a pillow, as something convenient, as something for the moment. Markin would draw circles in the air around them, as if to keep them safe from harm or abuse. See, who do you think was “holding my hand” when old Frankie and I had our problems (sorry Frankie) and we would read poetry or something, or discuss books to make the Frankie-less times a little less hard. So when old Markin says he wouldn’t jump off a bridge for me, don’t you be fooled (or you either Frankie) by his deception. Notice how Pee-pee was talking about “looks”- ask him about intellectual companionship, or discussing books, or reading his inflamed poetry. [Markin interjection: well, yes, of course, which one]. So when Markin (or Frankie, for that matter) goes on and on about Joanne "ball and chain,” or "Joanne didn’t (or couldn’t) do this or that," or even "three’s one too many" that caused plenty of tensions, and caused Markin and I to be sometimes stiffly civil in Frankie presence from seventh grade on just remember what I said here.


Yes, after reading the Frankie screed about how we met in the seventh grade and how he swept me off my feet on Saint Patrick’s Day and after reading as well Peter Paul’s various defenses of his “king” I can confidently say this. The fact that we were all in the seventh grade in 1959, and that we were all in the same school at that time is true. Everything else that this pair has written about me, or about the Frankie-Joanne romance should be handled, well let me put it gently, with a cattle prod. The king and his scribe may have been familiar, in passing, with the idea of the truth, but the truth itself is as Markin was fond of saying in high school a book sealed with seven seals. Let me put you straight, if I can.


Sure I was attracted to Frankie, well, attracted, is probably too strong a word on the first day anyway, let’s call it intrigued. A good-looking (yes, even then twelve years old girls, and maybe, especially twelve year old girls, had their rating systems and Frankie rated pretty high among us girls in that department in those girls’ lav moments when we talked of such things), blondish-brown headed guy with little curled sideburns as was the style then, blue eyes, wiry, medium-built who also came into class wearing brown flannel shirts in September, black chino pants (without cuffs, as they both will endlessly tell you at the drop of a dime, if you just ask them), clunky work boots, workers' work boots, and his midnight sunglasses.


Especially the sunglasses, day and night, night and day. He called them his midnight sunglasses. I do not think that Frankie or Peter Paul mentioned the various battles over those sunglasses in school (and in my house when mother Doris and father James saw him midnight sun-glassed one night). Either selective memory, forget memory or something but what do you think- that a twelve year old kid walking into a working class junior high school in 1958, in the heat of the despised beat movement, was going to go unchallenged on wearing what did not appear to be prescription glasses in school. Well let them, or one of them, tell the whole story, I’ll just say that a compromise (parents, etc. present in principal’s office) was reached and said sunglasses were treated as regular eye wear. Yes, intrigued was just about right, and from the first day. Okay.


Okay, except no way, no way was I going to run with his crowd, especially when I heard, heard from somebody that I remember that I trusted, although I cannot remember her name just now, that Frankie swore, and swore a lot as part of his be-bop pitter patter (as he called it). These guys made fun of me here, and back then even worst, about my being pious, pious at least for public consumption, but I didn’t (and still don’t) like to hear swearing). Not because of some religious scruples but just because my father, and lots of people in the neighborhood, always felt free to swear, swear loudly and whenever they pleased, and it offended my so-called "lace curtain" sensibilities. But we, Frankie and I, were in the same class together and I kind of got used to his pitter-patter and actually, as least as far as I remember, he didn’t swear when I was within earshot. And earshot was the way I kept it for the first few months, maybe closer to the first half of seventh grade. But then I saw that some girls, some girls, some of those girls that Peter Paul called "not so bright" and he was right, that told me they would never go near Frankie and his awful clothes and those weird sunglasses started to hang around his table at lunch, and follow him during class passes. I even saw a couple of girls, a couple who were supposed to be friends of mine and even more pious, really more pious than I was, walking homeward with Frankie. And meantime I was starting to like the look of him. Although something inside still said "stay away."


Then one day, one January day maybe, Frankie cornered me after school, after school and on my way home, and started going on and on about religion, our Roman Catholic religion. I still am not quite sure what he was trying to get at but he went into all kinds of things that I knew were wrong, although the way he said them was nice. Still I thought he had gone off the deep-end rattling on about this and that, including theology that he did not know anything about. I dismissed him out of hand as a nice guy but not for me, not for me unless he showed me a better face.


And then he actually did that. During the February vacation I was working on a project at the old Thomas Crane Public Library on Atlantic Avenue, the one they had as a storefront before they built a better one up at Norfolk Downs across from our Sacred Heart Church. As I was leaving I saw Frankie come up the street. I swear, I swear on the Bible, that I tried to walk pass him as fast as I could and just gave him a friendly nod. But then he started to talk his pitter-patter talk, but this time talking about the Book of Kell, and Ireland, and the old days of struggle against the "bloody English." I found out that he had found out that I was interested in Irish history, and the Irish history of the Church, and stuff like that from my grandmother, Anna, Anna Maude Mulvey, nee O’Brian, who was very close to the people who fought in the struggles against those same "bloody English" in Dublin in 1916. Had relatives over there (some now here) and so on.

So I listened to him, and he sounded better than in January. And that sounding better got him a date, although when he asked me out, asked twelve year old me out, I thought like with other boys it would be, I don’t know, a movie or a dance or something. But, no, Frankie, had to push the Irish card to the fullest. He wanted us to go over to South Boston, along with his new stooge (my term) Peter Paul Markin who was hovering around him like crazy and trying to imitate his "style," unsuccessfully I might add, the stooge was to keep things "on the level," I suppose, for the upcoming Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which was on a Wednesday, I think, a school day in North Adamsville. I said no way, no way because I didn’t want to miss school, and my mother would not have let me miss school for such a thing.


But Frankie was persistent, and every day he would add to his bleeding Ireland pitter-patter and, of course, I liked that he did it but still there was the mother factor, the mother factor, the pious, lace curtain Irish mother who had along with grandmother, so she claimed, had taken great pains, great pains as she said more than once, to get our family away from the heathen, half- heathen anyway, "shanty" Irish that overran South Boston on Saint Patrick’s Day (and every day as she, revealing her real position, also later mentioned more than once). What I did not know then (and didn’t find out about until a few years later was that her shanty Irish applied to Frankie, Peter Paul, and all other North Adamsville shanty Irish who lived on the wrong side of the tracks, and that was literally the wrong side of the tracks not just a figure of speech in that town. More than that she hated, purely hated the idea, the very idea, and fumed over it more than once right in my face about it, that I would go anywhere, anywhere at all with a heathen, or half-heathen, half-breed like Peter Paul who had a Protestant father, can you believe that a Protestant father (although I, and lots of other people, lots of other Roman Catholic to the manor born Irish like Frankie's father, and mine, liked Peter Paul’s father, Prescott, a lot).


And maybe Peter Paul knew this, or knows this now, but at the time when I was rolling the rock up the hill trying to get Doris to give in and let me go with Frankie to the parade when he said he couldn’t go, or wouldn’t go, that actually was when dear mother started to relent. But it was a struggle, no question. Then about two, or three days before that parade, Grandma Anna came over and talked to mother, and talked to her in no uncertain terms about the educational value, the Irish educational value, of going over to see my kindred, and the representative Irish stuff and all of that. And Grandma said she would take Frankie and me over herself. What mother didn't know, old sweet mother Doris, and she was sweet when you didn’t cross her little lace curtain Irish plans to become, I think, just regular Americans, not Irish-Americans like we, meaning my family and others around us call ourselves now, and not carry the baggage from the old days and the old country in our brains every minute, was that I had in desperation called in the “big guns,” Grandma Anna.


That is the term, "big guns," Markin always used whenever some dispute came up with his mother (Arlene, nee McNally) and she called in old Prescott to back her up. I had, in any case, sobbed to Grandma about my plight, about mother not letting me learn about the old country and show Irish pride. “Stop it,” she said. And then blasted out “You just want to be with that boy you’ve been mooning over for the last few months, Frankie, away from home a little and who knows what else, don’t tell me it’s all about Irish history although that doesn’t hurt either.” “But that will be our story, anyway,” she added. I admitted to her, and it is no telling tales out of school here, that I got a little faint when Frankie was around me, and looked my way. She didn’t say anything to that, she didn’t have to say anything to that but just gave her knowing little chuckle. And so grandma law prevailed and Frankie and I were on our way.


Later, a couple of weeks later, after she had taken us over to the parade in her car and them left us to ourselves when she told us she had some “business” to attend to (thanks, grandma,) she said, and I wish maybe I had listened a little more closely, watch out for blarney men, and watch out with both eyes. (Thanks, grandma again although then it was too late). I think Frankie already told you about the parade, and if he didn’t I can’t help much in describing those things because my head and heart were so full of Frankie that day, and about how he really had to be sweet when he went to all the trouble to learn about the troubles, the Irish troubles, just for me and about how I hoped that he would kiss me and that I would be his girl and not one of those other “less bright” girls that were still hanging around his table at lunch and were all moony over him. I know Frankie told you that he did kiss me, and kissed me more than once, and giving me Irish history kisses that I was thrilled to get, even if we both were giving and taking awkward twelve almost thirteen year old kisses. Yes, so if anybody is bothering to keep count, including old Peter Paul whose posed the question, yes I too proudly have a big A (for absence) on my North Adamsville Junior High School attendance sheet for March 17, 1959. A big Irish-kissed A. And what of it.


P.S. I wanted to make sure that Markin didn’t “delete” my telling of the story of Frankie and my first date so I didn’t put anything in about the errors in Frankie’s and Peter Paul’s other stories. This probably won’t make it through the Markin censor machine but if it does then here is the real scoop on old lover boy Frankie’s “love affairs” when we had our later “misunderstandings.” Okay? When Markin told the story of how Frankie went and tried to be the king of the teen age dance club and Frankie fell all over himself over what Markin called that Grace Kelly look-a-like girl whom I was friendly with and had a class with in school and who wouldn’t give him the time of day on the dance floor that night these two, showing definite male vanity, cooked up that part where old Grace Kelly said she was smitten with Frankie but that she wouldn’t mess with him because she was my serious boyfriend. Old Grace didn’t care one bit for Frankie, thought he was a silly old beatnik past his prime and thought it was juvenile in the nth degree to wear sunglasses in school in the hope that it would attract attention, her attention anyway. She said Frankie was “square,” very square and what she said about Frankie's scribe (self-described, Peter Paul self-described), cannot be repeated here (she knew how to swear which I didn’t like, as you know). Also she was not related to me in any way, although she was more than happy to snub old Frankie for me while I was away on summer vacation with my family. E-mail me if you want her full description of Frankie’s “approach” to her that night, it is a riot. We laughed about it for weeks.


More serious though, and this one really has to be straightened out was Markin’s story about another “misunderstanding” time with Frankie and me when Frankie and he were down at the Adventure Car Hop and Frankie picked up my cousin (yes, that part was true, second cousin) Sandy, a car hop there. Yes, Frankie did take her home at his insistence, and yes, he stayed the night. On the sofa. By himself. Sandy was lonely okay, her husband was in the service and wanted more company than a screaming baby to while away the night. And Frankie seemed cool to her that night, and was friendly as well. But when the deal went down she was “true blue” to Rick (her husband) who would also, no question, kill her, maybe literally, if he ever found out and he would. You and I know that too, it’s not that big a town. According to Sandy, Frankie didn’t press the issue, although I do find that part hard to believe but needed to stay at least until dawn to cover his story. A couple of days later Sandy, after finding out that I was Frankie’s honey, called me up with the straight story so I know it’s true. Yes, Frankie, Peter Paul, and I met and hung out together in seventh grade in 1959 and after but beyond that fact if you believe anything this pair has to say, then or now, do so at your peril.


[Markin interjection: Old Joanne, old Professor Murphy, has gone off the deep-end. I would not dream of cutting one word of this little Joanne “take” on our old times. I like to give everybody their say, give everybody enough rope to hang themselves, and she has.]


Friday, January 29, 2016

When Girls Doo-Wopped In The Be-Bop 1960s Night




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.


Markin had 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.


And so 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.)


Markin stuck 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 then).           


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 going).


Somehow down 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.


The second 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.


Every once 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 1960s.


This story 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 sentences he  had had stored in his fallen head.     


Here is what he had to say:                        


When Girls Doo-Wopped In The Be-Bop 1960s Night


By the late Peter Paul Markin



Jess Barker, Jess Barker, Junior to separate out the generations correctly, very correctly when talking about musical tastes, a subject over which more wars that international ones have been fought, mostly bloodless, but sometimes that was a close thing, especially if usually distant in the cold war family battles too busy working to get up close and personal when the declarations started flying father intervened, sometimes with not cool today belt strap in hand, mainly around that classic battle between sober, sane, and profound parent music and wild, pagan, decadent children music. Back in the 1920s more RCA radios, the small bedroom model which could survive on a bed-stand not the family pride center of the living room one used for Saturday night family around the fire listening, ditto 1950s with transistors radios although no worry needed about where to place the thing since its beauty was its placement near the ear keeping prying parents or a stray snitching sibling away, in order to quell the uprisings of the young than you could shake a stick at.


So I will leave you to name your generational conflict, but the present one is centered on the staid 1950s Perry Como, Patti Page, Frank Sinatra, and their gang versus sexy, silky, make the women wet Elvis, riffing Chuck Berry, manic Jerry Lee Lewis, and their progeny, specifically those doo wop singers who filled the gap after Elvis died, or might as well have fleeing in the night to the U.S. Army, Chuck got caught with one of Mister’s woman, also in the night, and Jerry Lee got caught playing kissing cousin games, maybe day and night. Jess had of late, after dusting off some attic boxes filled with 45 RPM records and LPs and his old teenage days record player in preparation for readying his father’s house, his late father’s house, for sale, been running back over some material that formed his coming of age listening music (on that ubiquitous, and very personal battery-driven transistor radio that kept those snooping parents out in the dark, clueless, and just fine, all agreed), and that of his generation, the generation of ’68.


Naturally back in those days, especially on the days, nights, late Sunday nights really, when Jesse was able through some inexplicable airwave magic to receive Mr. Lee’s Midnight Blues Show from the wilds of Chicago, one had to pay homage to the blues influences on rock and roll from the likes of Muddy Waters (think Mannish Child), Big Mama Thornton(think the original fired-up Hound Dog not Elvis’ misspent version), and Big Joe Turner (think, accept no imitation by Elvis, Jerry Lee, Bill Haley Shake, Rattle and Roll) And, of course, also the rockabilly influences on rock from Elvis (think Good Rock’ Tonight), Carl Perkins (think Blue Suede Shoes), Wanda Jackson (think Let’s Have A Party), Jerry Lee Lewis (think Breathless along with about twelve other classics of the genre), and perhaps the most influential of all, of Warren Smith’s Rock and Roll Ruby with its fast track beat and lyrics to die for. Lyrics about some lovely who was in thrall to rock and roll, day and night, had her well-worn dancing slippers at the ready at some Doc’s drugstore, some Tonio’s Pizza Parlor, some Jack Slack’s bowling alleys (Jack had to put in a small dance floor for the kids waiting for lanes to open after he had installed  that very profitable jukebox or they would have had had his lanes going to hell in a handbasket with their gyrations), or some Saturday Lions Club hall turned teen dance club night and no sweet daddy, no sweet daddy no matter how sweet was going to  rein her in when she had her wanting habits on. Christ danced on the tables at Tonio’s one night.     


He had as well spent some time on the male side of the doo wop be-bop Saturday night led by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers on Why Do Fools Fall In Love? (a good question, he chuckled to himself as he fell into memory working through the lyrics of that one-caveat he never really figured that one out, never would) backed up by The Falcons’ You’re So Fine. After taking stock of his old time tastes he noted that he had not done much with the female side of the doo wop night, the great girl doo wop groups that had their heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s before the British invasion, among other things, changed his generation’s tastes in popular music. He had meant to make some amends for that omission but found a certain stumbling block in the way, the “speak to” issue, then and now.


One problem with the doo wop girl groups for a guy, as Jess thought to himself on that question, a serious rock guy was that the lyrics for many of the girl group songs, frankly, did not “speak” to him.  After all how much empathy could a young ragamuffin of a boy brought up on the wrong side of the tracks (in the very small too cramped for five people faded house that held that treasure trove of memories) like Jess for a girl who broke up with her boyfriend, a motorcycle guy, a sensitive motorcycle guy, on her parents’ demand because of his lower class upbringing as the lyrics in the Shangri-Las’ Leader of the Pack attest to. He remembered that he blushed every time it was played on the jukebox over at Doc’s Drugstore, the local hang-out for after school be-boppers, or those like him who wanted to be-bop. Except, see, she should have stuck with her guy through thick and thin, and maybe, just maybe, he would not have skidded off that rainy road and gone to Harley heaven so young. And, maybe, just maybe, they could be in that little white house with the picket fence, Harley out in the garage needing little work, a little washing too,  hosting  angelic grandkids today.


Try this one, as added ammunition for Jess’s plea, the lyrics about some guy, some sensitive, shy, good-looking guy, a guy with wavy hair who all the girls were going crazy over but who the singer was going make her very own in the boy and girl love battle in the Cliffons’ He’s So Fine when Jess was nothing but a girl reject, mainly. He blushed again as he remembered back to the time when he asked Laura, school fox Laura, out on a date based on some common discussion of the lyrics at Doc’s and in a moment of bravado blurted out his request. She just smirked, and said her boyfriend, her football- playing boyfriend, would frown on that request. He immediately backed off and returned to his wanna-be be-bop shell once he heard that bad news. 


Or how about this one, the one where the love bugs were going to be married and really get that white house picket fence thing in the Dixie Cups’ Chapel Of Love for a guy who, more often than not, didn’t even have a steady girlfriend. Jess, a kiss-less youth, would never even get into, would not even make the cut, on the part of the anatomy that Betty Everett harped on in Its In His Kiss. Or, finally, how could Jess possibly relate to the teen girl angst problem, the very real “what if I get pregnant if I do it” in the barely “the pill” knowledge night posed in the Shirelles’ Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? Yah, how would Jess know if it was the real thing, or just a moment’s pleasure, and what that dreaded tomorrow they sing about would bring.


So you get the idea of Jess’ problem, this stuff, this girl chatter in the Monday morning before school girls’ “lav” what did, and did not happen on Friday and Saturday with Jimmy down at the seashore, over at the back seat drive-in theater, or the back seat fogged windows listening to WMEX over the moans payback after a big splurge at Mel’s Drive-In restaurant could not “speak” to him.  Now you understand, right? Yah, but also get, and get this is straight,  straight from Jess  Barker, Junior, you had better get your do-lang, do-lang, your shoop, shoop, shoop and your best be-bop bopped into that good night voice out and listen to, and sing along with, the lyrics to those great girl doo wop girl groups. This, fellow baby-boomers, was about our teen angst, our teen alienation, our teen love youth traumas and now, a growing distant now, this stuff sounds great.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

*****Mimi’s Glance - With Richard Thompson’s  Vincent Black Lightning, 1952 In Mind
Mimi’s Glance, Circa 1963

Mimi Murphy knew two things, she needed to keep moving, and she was tired, tired as hell of moving, of the need, of the self-impose need, to keep moving ever since that incident five years before, back in 1958, with her seems like an eternity ago sweet long gone motorcycle boy, her “walking daddy,” Pretty James Preston, although he as long as she had known him never walked a step when his “baby,” his bike was within arm’s length. I knew this information, knew this information practically first hand because the usually polite but loner Mimi Murphy had told me her thoughts and the story that went with it one night after she had finished a tough on the feet night working as a cashier at concession stand the Olde Saco Drive-In Theater out on Route One in Olde Saco, Maine.

That night, early morning really, she had passed me going up to her room with a bottle of high-end Scotch, Haig& Haig, showing its label from a brown bag in her hand while I was going down the stairs in the rooming house we lived in on Water Street in Ocean City, a few miles from Olde Saco. A number of people, including Mimi and me, were camped out there in temporary room quarters after the last of the summer touristas had decamped and headed back to New York, or wherever they came from. The cheap off-season rent and the short stay-until-the-next-summer-crowd-showed-up requiring no lease drew us there. Most residents, mostly young and seemingly unattached to any family or work life kept to themselves, private drinkers or druggies (probably not grass since I never smelled the stuff which I had a nose for from youthful smoke-filled dreams while I was there so coke, opium, speed, maybe horse although I saw no obvious needle marks on arms or cold turkey screams either), a couple of low profile good looking young hustling girls, probably just graduating from amateur status and still not jaded “tarts” as my father used to call them, who didn’t bring their work home, guys maybe just out of the service, or between jobs, and so on. I had seen a couple of guys, young guys with horny looks in their eyes, maybe an idea of making a play, making passes at Mimi but thought nothing of it since they also targeted the hustling girls too.


Since I had never bothered Mimi, meaning made a pass at her, she must have sensed that being contemporaries, she was twenty-one then and I twenty-two, that maybe she could unburden her travails on a fellow wayward traveler. That no making a pass business by the way due to the fact that slender, no, skinny and flat-chested Irish red-heads with faraway looks like Mimi with no, no apparent, warm bed desires, that year and in those days not being my type after tumbledown broken-hearted youthful years of trying to coax their Irish Catholic rosary bead novena favors to no avail over in the old Little Dublin neighborhood around the Acre in Olde Saco.


Whatever she sensed and she was pretty closed-mouth about it when I asked her later she was right about my ability to hear the woes of another wanderer without hassles, and she did as she invited me up into her room with no come hither look (unlike those pretty hustling girls who made a profession of the “come hither look” and gave me a try-out which after proving futile turned into small courtesy smiles when we passed each other). But she showed no fear, no apparent fear, anyway.

After a couple of drinks, maybe three, of that dreamboat scotch that died easy going down  she loosened up, taking her shoes off before sitting down on the couch across from me. For the interested I had been down on my uppers for a while and was drinking strictly rotgut low-shelf liquor store wines and barroom half empty glass left-overs so that stuff was manna from heaven I can still taste now but that is my story and not Mimi’s so I will move on. Here is the gist of what she had to say as I remember it that night:

She started out giving her facts of life facts like that she had grown up around this Podunk town outside of Boston, Adamsville Junction, and had come from a pretty pious Roman Catholic Irish family that had hopes that she (or one of her three younger sisters, but mainly she) might “have the vocation,” meaning be willing, for the Lord, to prison cloister herself up in some nunnery to ease the family’s way into heaven, or some such idea. And she had bought into the idea from about age seven to about fourteen by being the best student, boy or girl, in catechism class on Sunday, queen of the novenas, and pure stuff like that in church and the smartest girl in, successively, Adamsville South Elementary School, Adamsville Central Junior High, and the sophomore class at Adamsville Junction High School.

As she unwound this part of her story I could see where that part was not all that different from what I had encountered in my French-Canadian (mother, nee LeBlanc) Roman Catholic neighborhood over in the Acre in Olde Saco. I could also see, as she loosened up further with an additional drink, that, although she wasn’t beautiful, certain kinds of guys would find her very attractive and would want to get close to her, if she let them. Just the kind of gal I used to go for before I took the pledge against Irish girls with far-away looks, and maybe red hair too.


About age fourteen thought after she had gotten her “friend” (her period for those who may be befuddled by this old time term) and started thinking, thinking hard about boys, or rather seeing that they, some of them, were thinking about her and not novenas and textbooks her either she started to get “the itch.” That itch that is the right of passage for every guy on his way to manhood. And girl on her way to womanhood as it turned out but which in the Irish Roman Catholic Adamsville Junction Murphy family neighborhood was kept as a big, dark secret from boys and girls alike.

Around that time, to the consternation of her nun blessed family, she starting dating Jimmy Clancy, a son of the neighborhood and a guy who was attracted to her because she was, well, pure and smart. She never said whether Jimmy had the itch, or if he did how bad, because what she made a point out of was that being Jimmy’s girl while nice, especially when they would go over Adamsville Beach and do a little off-hand petting and watching the ocean, did not cure her itch, not even close. This went on for a couple of years until she was sixteen and really frustrated, not by Jimmy so much as by the taboos and restrictions that had been placed on her life in her straight-jacket household, school and town. (Welcome to the club, sister, your story is legion) No question she was ready to break out, she just didn’t know how.

Then in late 1957 Pretty James Preston came roaring into town. Pretty James, who despite the name, was a tough motorcycle wild boy, man really about twenty-one, who had all, okay most all, of the girls, good girls and bad, wishing and dreaming, maybe having more than a few restless sweaty nights, about riding on back of that strange motorcycle he rode (a Vincent Black Lightning, a bike made in England which would put any Harley hog to shame from rev number one when I looked for information about the beast later, stolen, not by Pretty James but by third parties, from some English with dough guy and transported to America where he got it somehow, the details were very vague about where he got it, not from her, him) and being Pretty James’ girl. One day, as he passed by on his chopper going full-throttle up Hancock Street, Mimi too got the Pretty James itch.

But see it was not like you could just and throw yourself at Pretty James that was not the way he worked, no way. One girl, one girl from a good family who had her sent away after the episode, tried that and was left about thirty miles away, half-naked, after she thought she had made the right moves and was laughed at by Pretty James as he took off with her expensive blouse and skirt flying off his handle-bars as he left her there unmolested but unhinged. That episode went like wildfire through the town, through the Monday morning before school girls’ lav what happened, or didn’t happen, over the weekend talkfest first of all.

No Pretty James’ way was to take, take what he saw, once he saw something worth taking and that was that. Mimi figured she was no dice. Then one night when she and Jimmy Clancy were sitting by the seawall down at the Seal Rock end of the beach starting to do their little “light petting” routine Pretty James came roaring up on his hellish machine and just sat there in front of the pair, saying nothing. But saying everything. Mimi didn’t say a word to Jimmy but just started walking over to the cycle, straddled her legs over back seat saddle and off they went into the night. Later that night her itch was cured, or rather cured for the first time.

Pouring another drink Mimi sighed poor Pretty James and his needs, no his obsessions with that silly motorcycle, that English devil’s machine, that Vincent Black Lightning that caused him more anguish than she did. And she had given him plenty to think about as well before the end. How she tried to get him to settle down a little, just a little, but what was a sixteen-year old girl, pretty new to the love game, totally new, new but not complaining to the sex game, and his well-worn little tricks to get her in the mood, and make her forget the settle down thing. Until the next time she thought about it and brought it up.

Maybe, if you were from around Adamsville way, or maybe just Boston, you had heard about Pretty James, Pretty James Preston and his daring exploits back in about 1957 and 1958. Those got a lot of play in the newspapers for months before the end. Before that bank job, the one where as Mimi said Pretty James used to say all the time, he “cashed his check.” Yes, the big Granite City National Bank branch in Braintree heist that he tried to pull all by himself, with Mimi as stooge look-out. She had set him up for that heist, or so she thought. No, she didn’t ask him to do it but she got him thinking, thinking about settling down just a little and if that was to happen he needed a big score, not the penny ante gas station and mom and pop variety store robberies that kept them in, as he also used to say, “coffee and cakes” but a big payday and then off to Mexico, maybe down Sonora way, and a buy into the respectable and growing drug trade.

And he almost, almost, got away clean that fatal day, that day when she stood across the street, an extra forty-five in her purse just in case he needed it for a final getaway. She never having handled a gun mush less fired one was scared stiff it might go off in that purse although she Pretty James had her in such a state that she would have emptied the damn thing if it would have done any good. But he never made it out the bank door. Some rum brave security guard tried to uphold the honor of his profession and started shooting nicking Pretty James in the shoulder. Pretty James responded with a few quick blasts and felled the copper. That action though slowed down the escape enough for the real coppers to respond and blow Pretty James away. Dead, DOA, done. Her, with a tear, sweet boy Pretty James.

According to the newspapers a tall, slender red-headed girl about sixteen had been seen across the street from the bank just waiting, waiting according to the witness, nervously. The witness had turned her head when she heard the shots from the bank and when she looked back the red-headed girl was gone. And Mimi was gone, maybe an accessory to felony murder or worst charge hanging over her young head, and long gone before the day was out. She grabbed the first bus out of Braintree headed to Boston where eventually she wound up holed up in a high-end whorehouse doing tricks to make some moving on dough. (She mentioned some funny things about that stay, which was not so bad at the time when she needed dough bad, and about strange things guys, young and old, wanted her to do but I will leave that stuff out here.)

And she had been moving ever since, moving and eternally hate moving. Now, for the past few months, she had been working nights as a cashier in the refreshment stand at Olde Saco Drive-In to get another stake to keep moving. She had been tempted, a couple of times, to do a little moon-lighting in a Portland whorehouse that a woman she had worked with at her last job, Fenner’s Department Store, where she modeled clothes for the rich ladies, had told her about to get a quick stake but she was almost as eternally tired at that prospect as in moving once again.

And so Mimi Murphy, a few drinks of high-shelf scotch to fortify her told her story, told it true I think, mostly. A couple of days later I saw her through my room’s window with a suitcase in hand looking for all the world like someone getting ready to move on, move on to be a loner again after maybe an indiscrete airing of her linen in public. Thinking back on it now I wish, I truly wish, that I had been more into slender, no skinny, red-headed Irish girls with faraway looks that season and maybe she would not have had to keep moving, eternally moving.
ARTIST: Richard Thompson

TITLE: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

Said Red Molly to James that's a fine motorbike

A girl could feel special on any such like

Said James to Red Molly, well my hat's off to you

It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952

And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems

Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme

And he pulled her on behind

And down to Box Hill they did ride

/ A - - - D - / - - - - A - / : / E - D A /

/ E - D A - / Bm - D - / - - - - A - - - /

Said James to Red Molly, here's a ring for your right hand

But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man

I've fought with the law since I was seventeen

I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine

Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22

And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you

And if fate should break my stride

Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride

Come down, come down, Red Molly, called Sergeant McRae

For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery

Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside

Oh, come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside

When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left

He was running out of road, he was running out of breath

But he smiled to see her cry

And said I'll give you my Vincent to ride

Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world

Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl

Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do

They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52

He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys

He said I've got no further use for these

I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome

Swooping down from heaven to carry me home

And he gave her one last kiss and died