Monday, August 29, 2016

Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- Frankie Out In The Adventure Car Hop Night



A YouTube film clip of the Dubs performing the classic Could This Be Magic? to set the mood for this piece.


By Josh Breslin


Frankie Riley, the old corner boy leader of the crowd, our crowd of the class of 1964 guys who made it and graduated, not all did, a couple wound up serving time in various state pens but that is not the story I want to tell today except that those fallen brothers also imbibed Frankie’s wisdom (else why would they listen to him for they were tougher if not smarter than he was) about what was what in rock and roll music in the days when we had our feet firmly planted in front of Tonio’s Pizza Parlor in North Adamsville, had almost a sixth sense about what songs would and would not make it in the early 1960s night. Knew like the late Billy Bradley, my corner boy when my family lived on the other side of town back then, did in the 1950s elementary school night what would stir the girls enough to get them “going.” And if you don’t understand what “going” meant or what “going and rock and roll together in the same sentence meant then perhaps you should move along. Why else would we listen to Frankie, including those penal tough guys, if it wasn’t to get into some girl’s pants. Otherwise guys like Johnny Blade (and you don’t need much imagination to know what kind of guy and what kind of weapon that moniker meant) and Hacksaw Jackson would have cut of his “fucking head’ (their exact expression and that is a direct quote so don’t censor me or give me the “what for”).


But that was then and this is now and old, now old genie Frankie had given up the swami business long ago for the allure of the law profession which he is even now as I write starting to turn over to his younger partners who are begging just like he did in his turn to show their stuff, to herald the new breeze that the austere law offices of one Francis Xavier Riley and Associates desperately needs to keep their clients happy. In that long meantime I have been the man who has kept the flame of the classic days of rock and roll burning. Especially over the past few years when I have through the miracles of the Internet been able between Amazon and YouTube to find a ton of the music, classics and one-shot wonders of our collective youths and comment on it from the distance of fifty or so years.


I have presented some reviews of that material, mostly the commercially compiled stuff that some astute record companies or their successors have put together to feed the nostalgia frenzy of the cash rich (relatively especially if they are not reduced to throwing their money at doctors and medicines which is cutting into a lot of what I am able to do), on the Rock and Roll Will Never Die blog that a guy named Wolfman Joe had put together trying to reassemble the “youth nation” of the 1960s who lived and died for the music that was then a fresh breeze compared to the deathtrap World War II-drenched music our parents were trying to foist on us.         


That work, those short sketch commentaries, became the subject for conversation between Frankie and me when he started to let go of the law practice (now he is “of counsel” whatever that means except he get a nice cut of all the action that goes through the office without the frenzied work for the dollars) and we would meet every few weeks over at Jack’s in Cambridge where he now lives since the divorce from his third wife, Minnie. So below are some thoughts from the resurrection, Frankie’s term, for his putting his spin on “what was what” fifty or so years ago when even Johnny Blade and Hacksaw Jackson had sense enough to listen to his words if they wanted to get into some frill’s pants.


“Okay, you know the routine by now, or at least the drift of these classic rock reviews. [This is the sixth in the series that I had originally commented on but which Frankie feels he has to put his imprimatur on just like in the old days- JB] The part that starts out with a “tip of the hat” to the hard fact that each generation, each teenage generation that is makes its own tribal customs, mores and language. Then the part that is befuddled by today’s teenage-hood. And then I go scampering back to my teenage-hood, the teenage coming of age of the generation of ‘68 that came of age in the early 1960s and start on some cultural “nugget” from that seemingly pre-historic period. Well this review is no different, except, today we decipher the drive-in restaurant, although really it is the car hops (waitresses) that drive this one.


See, this series of reviews is driven, almost subconsciously driven, by the Edward Hopper Nighthawk-like illustrations on the The Rock ‘n’ Roll Era CDs of this mammoth set of compilations (fifteen, count them, fifteen like there were fifteen times twenty or so songs on each compilation or over three hundred classic worth listening to today. Hell, even Frankie would balk at that possibility).


In this case it is the drive-in restaurant of blessed teenage memory. For the younger set, or those oldsters who “forgot” that was a restaurant idea driven by car culture, especially the car culture from the golden era of teenage car-dom, the 1950s. Put together cars, cars all flash-painted and fully-chromed, “boss” cars we called them in my working class neighborhood, young restless males, food, and a little off-hand sex, or rather the promise or mist of a promise of it, and you have the real backdrop to the drive-in restaurant. If you really thought about it why else would somebody, anybody who was assumed to be functioning, sit in their cars eating food, and at best ugly food at that, off a tray while seated in their cherry, “boss" 1959 Chevy.


And beside the food, of course, there was the off-hand girl watching (in the other cars with trays hanging off their doors), and the car hop ogling (and propositioning, if you had the nerve, and if your intelligence was good and there was not some 250 pound fullback back-breaker waiting to take her home after work a few cars over with some snarl on his face and daggers in his heart or maybe that poundage pounding you) there was the steady sound of music, rock music, natch, coming from those boomerang speakers in those, need I say it, “boss” automobiles. And that is where all of this gets mixed in.


Of course, just like another time when I was reviewing one of the CDs in this series, and discussing teenage soda fountain life, the mere mention, no, the mere thought of the term “car hop” makes me think of a Frankie story. Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, Frankie from the old hell-fire shipbuilding sunk and gone and it-ain’t-coming-back-again seen better days working class neighborhood where we grew up, or tried to. Frankie who I have already told you I have a thousand stories about, or hope I do. Frankie the most treacherous little bastard that you could ever meet on one day, and the kindest man (better man/child), and not just cheap jack, dime store kindness either, alive the next day. Yeah, that Frankie, my best middle school and high school friend Frankie.


Did I tell you about Joanne, Frankie’s “divine” (his term, without quotation marks) Joanne because she enters, she always in the end enters into these things? Yes, I see that I did back when I was telling you about her little Roy “The Boy” Orbison trick. The one where she kept playing Running Scared endlessly to get Frankie’s dander up. But see while Frankie has really no serious other eyes for the dames except his “divine” Joanne (I insist on putting that divine in quotation marks when telling of Joanne, at least for the first few times I mention her name, even now. Needless to say I questioned, and questioned hard, that designation on more than one occasion to no avail) he is nothing but a high blood-pressured, high-strung shirt-chaser, first class. And the girls liked him, although not for his looks although they were kind of Steve McQueen okay. What they went for him for was his line of patter, first class. Patter, arcane, obscure patter that made me, most of the time, think of fingernails scratching on a blackboard (except when I was hot on his trail trying to imitate him) and his faux “beat” pose (midnight sunglasses, flannel shirt, black chinos, and funky work boots (ditto on the imitation here as well). And not just “beat’ girls liked him, either as you will find out. Certainly Joanne the rose of Tralee was not beat sister (although she was his first wife). 


Well, the long and short of it was that Frankie, late 1963 Frankie, and the...(oh, forget it) Joanne had had their 207th (really that number, or close, since 8th grade) break-up and Frankie was a "free” man. To celebrate this freedom Frankie, Frankie, who was almost as poor as I was but who has a father with a car that he was not too cheap or crazy about to not let Frankie use on occasion, had wheels. Okay, Studebaker wheels but wheels anyway. And he was going to treat me to a drive-in meal as we went cruising the night, the Saturday night, the Saturday be-bop night looking for some frails (read: girls, Frankie had about seven thousand names for them)


Tired (or bored) from cruising the Saturday be-bop night away (meaning girl-less) we hit the local drive-in hot spot, Arnie’s Adventure Car Hop for one last, desperate attempt at happiness (yeah, things were put, Frank and me put anyway, just that melodramatically for every little thing). What I didn’t know was that Frankie, king hell skirt-chaser had his off-hand eye on one of the car hops, Sandy, and as it turned out she was one of those girls who was enamored of his patter (or so I heard later). So he pulled into her station and started to chat her up as we ordered the haute cuisine, And here was the funny thing, now that I saw her up close I could see that she was nothing but a fox (read: “hot” girl).


The not so funny thing was that she was so enamored of Frankie’s patter that he was going to take her home after work. No problem you say. No way, big problem. I was to be left there to catch a ride home while they set sail into that good night. Thanks, Frankie.

Well, I was pretty burned up about it for a while but as always with “charma” Frankie we hooked up again a few days later. And here is where I get a little sweet revenge (although don’t tell him that).

Frankie sat me down at the old town pizza parlor [Tonio’s Pizza Parlor of blessed memory-JB] and told me the whole story and even now, as I recount it, I can’t believe it.


Sandy was a fox, no question, but a married fox, a very married fox, who said she when he first met her that she was about twenty-two and had a kid. Her husband was in the service and she was “lonely” and succumbed to Frankie’s charms. Fair enough, it is a lonely world at times. But wait a minute, I bet you thought that Frankie’s getting mixed up with a married honey with a probably killer husband was the big deal. No way, no way at all. You know, or you can figure out, old Frankie spent the night with Sandy. Again, it's a lonely world sometimes.


The real problem, the real Frankie problem, was once they started to compare biographies and who they knew around town, and didn’t know, it turned out that Sandy, old fox, old married fox with brute husband, old Arnie’s car hop Sandy was some kind of cousin to Joanne, second cousin maybe. And she was no cradle-robber twenty-two (as if you could rob the cradle according to Frankie) but nineteen, almost twenty and was just embarrassed about having a baby in high school and having to go to her "aunt's" to have the child. Moreover, somewhere along the line she and cousin Joanne had had a parting of the ways, a nasty parting of the ways. So sweet as a honey bun Arnie's car hop Sandy, sweet teen-age mother Sandy, was looking for a way to take revenge and Frankie, old king of the night Frankie, was the meat. She had him sized up pretty well, as he admitted to me. And he was sweating this one out like crazy, and swearing everyone within a hundred miles to secrecy. So I’m telling you this is strictest confidence even now fifty years later and long after his divorce from her. Just don’t tell Joanne. Ever.
Repent, Sinners, Repent- With The Film Adaptation Of Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry In Mind

DVD Review
By Sam Lowell
Elmer Gantry, starring Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, Shirley Jones, Arthur Kennedy, directed by Richard Brooks, based loosely on the novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis, 1960   
No question maybe since the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s in America when the new republic was first “burned over” by revival fever campground, big tent fundamentalist Christian religion has had a serious place in the day to day workings of society. Now a lot of this started and stayed out in the heartland, that stretch from upstate New York (which was the spawning ground Second Awakening) to the Rockies, especially out there in the flatlands. It spoke, for good or evil, to the periodic personal drought many isolated farmlands folk felt about their lives drifting away from them, their alienation from the big city ways that were increasing cutting into and mocking their homespun values. And that my friends, religious or not, sinners or saved, is what makes the film under review, Elmer Gantry, a remarkable look at a slice of life about the religious revivals of the 1920s as chronicled by Sinclair Lewis in his novel of the same name. Those who do not today understand the call of the evangelicals from the 1980s revival, understand the draw of the big tent revival gatherings will get a feel for the sweep, for the burned over districts when the revival came through   after viewing this film.    
Lewis’ book and the film as well takes a serious stab at the notion of the big tent revival as just another shucking, another hustle for dough for some very personal reasons along with its promoters and hangers-on and that is an important take-away from the film as well. But beyond the snake oil salesmanship aspect of the religious revival tent the experience spoke to people who had lost their moorings, had lost faith in their nominal church experiences, had failed to partake of the big city vices and virtues of the modern world. It is easy to dismiss the rubes ready to be saved by some passing stranger as ready to be taken in by religious hustlers as the grifter, the con man and the roper at the state fair come post- harvest time. And left to hang out dry just the same way. But you would miss out how important the need to be saved experience is. One of the most interesting short scenes in the film is when Elmer asked the janitor cleaning up the tent after the fervor of the revival was over for the evening about what drew him to the tent. The man confessed to be being a sinner, a man of the whiskey bottle. Confessed too to having been fallen off the wagon four times and saved five times. Said he needed both experiences. True, brother, true.
Okay now that I have made my pitch, now that sinner and saved has been dealt with let’s cut to the chase. Elmer Gantry, failed theological student and self-confessed sinner, played by Burt Lancaster who won a deserved Oscar for his performance, hell, who else would you have offered the part to in 1960 to play a wised-up con man with a pot of gold trailing him ready to move to the big tent, in out in the heartland hustling appliances when he ran smack dab into a revival in some small hick town. Except here the revivalist was no hustler, was a true believer, was working for the Lord to bring in the sinners and wash them clean. Yes right until the end Sister Sharon Falconer, played by fresh dewy faced Jean Simmons, played it straight, played the Lord’s agent whether he wanted her to or not. Elmer seeing his play, sees the bright lights of the city right out there in rural America saw his scheming con man’s paradise just ahead. That tension between the true believer and the con man is what drives the theme in the film, drives the religion as business aspect which Lewis and director Richard Brooks wanted to expose to the light of day.              
Naturally a professed con man like Elmer was able to work his way into the not so naïve Sister’s operation (she was ready to take on any who were ready to do the Lord’s work even if she had to hold both hands onto the dough). Began to preach his word as warm up to hers, a front man. As Elmer gathered in the flock, and as the crowds got bigger in the big tent he tried to get the good Sister to bring her act to the big city. Zenith in the film and book, big city by heartland standards, where George Babbitt and associates had to be won to allow the revival in town. Of course Babbitt was nothing but a relatively small-time capitalist looking, constantly looking for the main chance, and whose name from another Lewis book was in common usage among the 1920s intelligentsia as the epitome of the boob bourgeois. He was sold on the revival idea, saw some dough in bringing in the sheep, by good old boy Elmer.    
Of course getting to the big city meant having to deal with plenty of cynicism and gaffs about religion, about tent religion and that point of view was left to the person of Jim, played by Arthur Kennedy, the agnostic newspaper reporter for the Zenith Time who had been following the growth of Sister Falconer’s movement out in the small towns. He stirred up enough of a controversy with his views and articles that no one would doubt that he was the antithesis of what was going on under the tent.
Elmer eventually had good Jim on the ropes though, had a sense that out in heartland Zenith Jim’s views would not wash, especially a disbelieve that Jesus was the son of God. But you know that old sinner turned saint Elmer’s past would catch up to him even if had reformed under the good graces of Sister whom he was sincerely smitten with even if a little too lustily for revival tents. And that wicked past did catch up in the person of Lulu, played by Shirley Jones who also won an Oscar for her performance, whom Elmer had seduced and who had turned up in Zenith town in some Madame’s whorehouse. Turned up as a fallen prostitute who held Elmer’s fate in her hands. She by her own sleigh-of-hand con trapped and exposed Elmer’s past for the news prints. Had Sister’s operation on the ropes, had it effectively shut down by an irate and angry mob until she backed off, confessed she had duped Elmer into a false sex scene and the revival was back on top, again.               
In Lewis’ book and apparently in the film-maker’s mind letting Sister’s operation go on without something untoward happening was too much of a letdown in a situation where both were trying to expose the hold of religious hustlers on the crowd. Sister’s dream was to get off the road, get away from the hassles of big tent revivalism and have a regular church of her own right there in big city Zenith. Quite a step up for a gilr out of Shantytown. That idea was what drove her, what she was using her donations for (after the big expenses of a travelling show were deducted). She was finally, after getting back on her feet after Lulu’s expose and truth-telling, able to open the new church, the tabernacle. Except on service day one just as it looked like she was on easy street somebody flicked a butt into some inflammatory liquids and a destructive fire burned the place to the ground, taking the good Sister down with it. Elmer walked away a seemingly chastened man. Yes, watch this one even if you have read the book because the film takes a different tack, has different scenes not in the book. And yes repent, sinners, repent. But you knew that was coming.           

Sunday, August 28, 2016

An Encore Presentation-The Big Sur Café- With The “King Of The Beats” Jean-bon Kerouac In Mind  

From The Pen Of Zack James

Josh Breslin, as he drove in the pitch black night up California Highway 156 to connect with U.S. 101 and the San Francisco Airport back to Boston was thinking furious thought, fugitive thoughts about what had happened on this his umpteenth trip to California. Thoughts that would carry him to the  airport road and car rental return on arrival there and then after the swift airbus to his terminal the flight home to Logan and then up to his old hometown of Olde Saco to which he had recently returned. Returned after long years of what he called “shaking the dust of the old town” off his shoes like many a guy before him, and after too. But now along the road to the airport he had thought that it had been a long time since he had gotten up this early to head, well, to head anywhere.

He had in an excess of caution decided to leave at three o’clock in the morning from the hotel he had been staying at in downtown Monterrey near famous Cannery Row (romantically and literarily famous as a scene in some of John Steinbeck’s novels from the 1920s and 1930s, as a site of some of the stop-off 1950s “beat” stuff if for no other reason than the bus stopped there before you took a taxi to Big Sur or thumbed depending on your finances and as famed 1960s Pops musical locale where the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin rose to the cream on top although now just another tourist magnet complete with Steinbeck this and that for sullen shoppers and diners who found their way east of Eden) and head up to the airport in order to avoid the traffic jams that he had inevitably encountered on previous trips around farm country Gilroy (the garlic or onion capital of the world, maybe both, but you got that strong smell in any case), and high tech Silicon Valley where the workers are as wedded to their automobiles as any other place in America which he too would pass on the way up.

This excess of caution not a mere expression of an old man who is mired in a whole cycle of cautions from doctors to lawyers to ex-wives to current flame (Lana Malloy by name) since his flight was not to leave to fly Boston until about noon and even giving the most unusual hold-ups and delays in processings at the airport he would not need to arrive there to return his rented car until about ten. So getting up some seven hours plus early on a trip of about one hundred miles or so and normally without traffic snarls about a two hour drive did seem an excess of caution.

But something else was going on in Josh’s mind that pitch black night (complete with a period of dense fog about thirty miles up as he hit a seashore belt and the fog just rolled in without warnings) for he had had the opportunity to have avoided both getting up early and getting snarled in hideous California highway traffic by the expedient of heading to the airport the previous day and taken refuge in a motel that was within a short distance of the airport, maybe five miles when he checked on his loyalty program hotel site. Josh though had gone down to Monterey after a writers’ conference in San Francisco which had ended a couple of days before in order travel to Big Sur and some ancient memories there had stirred something in him that he did not want to leave the area until the last possible moment so he had decided to stay in Monterrey and leave early in the morning for the airport.

That scheduled departure plan set Josh then got an idea in his head, an idea that had driven him many times before when he had first gone out to California in the summer of love, 1967 version, that he would dash to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun came up and then head to the airport. He had to laugh, as he threw an aspirin down his throat and then some water to wash the tablet down in order to ward off a coming migraine headache that the trip, that this little trip to Big Sur that he had finished the day before, the first time in maybe forty years he had been there had him acting like a young wild kid again.        

Funny as well that only a few days before he had been tired, very tired a condition that came on him more often of late as one of the six billion “growing old sucks” symptoms of that process, after the conference. Now he was blazing trails again, at least in his mind. The conference on the fate of post-modern writing in the age of the Internet with the usual crowd of literary critics and other hangers-on in tow to drink the free liquor and eat the free food had been sponsored by a major publishing company, The Globe Group. He had written articles for The Blazing Sun when the original operation had started out as a shoestring alternative magazine in the Village in about 1968, had started out as an alternative to Time, Life, Newsweek, Look, an alternative to all the safe subscription magazines delivered to leafy suburban homes and available at urban newsstands for the nine to fivers of the old world for those who, by choice, had no home, leafy or otherwise, and no serious work history.

Or rather the audience pitched to had no fixed abode, since the brethren were living some vicarious existences out of a knapsack just like Josh and his friends whom he collected along the way had been doing when he joined Captain Crunch’s merry pranksters (small case to distinguish them from the more famous Ken Kesey mad monk Merry Pranksters written about in their time by Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson) the first time he came out and found himself on Russian Hill in Frisco town looking for dope and finding this giant old time yellow brick road converted school bus parked in a small park there and made himself at home, after they made him welcome (including providing some sweet baby James dope that he had been searching for since the minute he hit town).

Still the iterant, the travelling nation hippie itinerants of the time to draw a big distinction from the winos, drunks, hoboes, bums and tramps who populated the “jungle” camps along railroad tracks, arroyos, river beds and under bridges who had no use for magazines or newspapers except as pillows against a hard night’s sleep along a river or on those unfriendly chairs at the Greyhound bus station needed, wanted to know what was going on in other parts of “youth nation,” wanted to know what new madness was up, wanted to know where to get decent dope, and who was performing and where in the acid-rock etched night (groups like the Dead, the Doors, the Airplane leading the pack then).

That magazine had long ago turned the corner back to Time/Life/Look/Newsweek land but the publisher Mac McDowell who still sported mutton chop whiskers as he had in the old days although these days he has them trimmed by his stylist, Marcus, at a very steep price at his mansion up in Marin County always invited him out, and paid his expenses, whenever there was a conference about some facet of the 1960s that the younger “post-modernist”  writers in his stable (guys like Kenny Johnson the author of the best-seller Thrill  were asking about as material for future books about the heady times they had been too young, in some cases way to young to know about personally or even second-hand). So Mac would bring out wiry, wily old veterans like Josh to spice up what after all would be just another academic conference and to make Mac look like some kind of hipster rather than the balding “sell-out" that he had become (which Josh had mentioned in his conference presentation but which Mac just laughed at, laughed at just as long as he can keep that Marin mansion. Still Josh felt he provided some useful background stuff now that you can find lots of information about that 1960s “golden age” (Mac’s term not his) to whet your appetite on Wikipedia or more fruitfully by going on YouTube where almost all the music of the time and other ephemera can be watched with some benefit.

Despite Josh’s tiredness, and a bit of crankiness as well when the young kid writers wanted to neglect the political side, the Vietnam War side, the rebellion against parents side of what the 1960s had been about for the lowdown on the rock festival, summer of love, Golden Gate Park at sunset loaded with dope and lack of hubris side, he decided to take a few days to go down to see Big Sur once again. He figured who knew when he would get another chance and at the age of seventy-two the actuarial tables were calling his number, or wanted to. He would have preferred to have taken the trip down with Lana, a hometown woman, whom he had finally settled in with up in Olde Saco after three, count them, failed marriages, a parcel of kids most of whom turned out okay, plenty of college tuitions and child support after living in Watertown just outside of Boston for many years.

Lana a bit younger than he and not having been “washed clean” as Josh liked to express the matter in the hectic 1960s and not wanting to wait around a hotel room reading a book or walking around Frisco alone while he attended the conference had begged off on the trip, probably wisely although once he determined to go to Big Sur and told her where he was heading she got sort of wistful. She had just recently read with extreme interest about Big Sur through her reading of Jack Kerouac’s 1960s book of the same name and had asked Josh several times before that if they went to California on a vacation other than San Diego they would go there. The long and short of that conversation was a promise by Josh to take her the next time, if there was a next time (although he did not put the proposition in exactly those terms).            

Immediately after the conference Josh headed south along U.S. 101 toward Monterrey where he would stay and which would be his final destination that day since he would by then be tired and it would be nighttime coming early as the November days got shorter. He did not want to traverse the Pacific Coast Highway (California 1 for the natives) at night since he had forgotten his distance glasses, another one of those six billion reasons why getting old sucks. Had moreover not liked to do that trip along those hairpin turns which the section heading toward Big Sur entailed riding the guardrails even back in his youth since one time having been completely stoned on some high-grade Panama Red he had almost sent a Volkswagen bus over the top when he missed a second hairpin turn after traversing the first one successfully. So he would head to Monterrey and make the obligatory walk to Cannery Row for dinner and in order to channel John Steinbeck and the later “beats” who would stop there before heading to fallout Big Sur.

The next morning Josh left on the early side not being very hungry after an excellent fish dinner at Morley’s a place that had been nothing but a hash house diner in the old days where you could get serviceable food cheap because the place catered to the shore workers and sardine factory workers who made Cannery Row famous, or infamous, when it was a working Row. He had first gone there after reading about the place in something Jack Kerouac wrote and was surprised that the place actually existed, had liked the food and the prices and so had gone there a number of times when his merry pranksters and other road companions were making the obligatory Frisco-L.A. runs up and down the coast. These days Morley’s still had excellent food but perhaps you should bring a credit card with you to insure you can handle the payment and avoid “diving for pearls” as a dish-washer to pay off your debts.      

As Josh started up the engine of his rented Acura, starting up on some of the newer cars these days being a matter of stepping on the brake and then pushing a button where the key used to go in this keyless age, keyless maybe a metaphor of the age as well, he had had to ask the attendant at the airport how to start the thing since his own car was a keyed-up Toyota of ancient age, he began to think back to the old days when he would make this upcoming run almost blind-folded. That term maybe a metaphor for that age. He headed south to catch the Pacific Coast Highway north of Carmel and thought he would stop at Point Lobos, the place he had first encountered the serious beauty of the Pacific Coast rocks and ocean wave splash reminding him of back East in Olde Saco, although more spectacular. Also the place when he had first met Moonbeam Sadie.

He had had to laugh when he thought about that name and that woman since a lot of what the old days, the 1960s had been about were tied up with his relationship to that woman, the first absolutely chemically pure version of a “hippie chick” that he had encountered. At that time Josh had been on the Captain Crunch merry prankster yellow brick road bus for a month or so and a couple of days before they had started heading south from Frisco to Los Angeles to meet up with a couple of other yellow brick road buses where Captain Crunch knew some kindred. As they meandered down the Pacific Coast Highway they would stop at various places to take in the beauty of the ocean since several of the “passengers” had never seen the ocean or like Josh had never seen the Pacific in all its splendor.

In those days, unlike now when the park closes at dusk as Josh found out, you could park your vehicle overnight and take in the sunset and endlessly listen to the surf splashing up to rocky shorelines until you fell asleep. So when their bus pulled into the lot reserved for larger vehicles there were a couple of other clearly “freak” buses already there. One of them had Moonbeam as a “passenger” whom he would meet later that evening when all of “youth nation” in the park decided to have a dope- strewn party. Half of the reason for joining up on bus was for a way to travel, for a place to hang your hat but it was also the easiest way to get on the dope trail since somebody, usually more than one somebody was “holding.” And so that night they partied, partied hard. 

About ten o’clock Josh high as a kite from some primo hash saw a young woman, tall, sort of skinny (he would find out later she had not been so slim previously except the vagaries of the road food and a steady diet of “speed” had taken their toll), long, long brown hair, a straw hat on her head, a long “granny” dress and barefooted the very picture of what Time/Life/Look would have used as their female “hippie” poster child to titillate their middle-class audiences coming out of one of the buses. She had apparently just awoken, although that seemed impossible given the noise level from the collective sound systems and the surf, and was looking for some dope to level her off and headed straight to Josh.

Josh had at that time long hair tied in a ponytail, at least that night, a full beard, wearing a cowboy hat on his head, a leather jacket against the night’s cold, denim blue jeans and a pair of moccasins not far from what Time/Life/Look would have used as their male “hippie” poster child to titillate their middle-class audiences so Moonbeam’s heading Josh’s way was not so strange. Moreover Josh was holding a nice stash of hashish. Without saying a word Josh passed the hash pipe to Moonbeam and by that mere action started a “hippie” romance that would last for the next several months until Moonbeam decided she was not cut out for the road, couldn’t take the life, and headed back to Lima, Ohio to sort out her life.

But while they were on their “fling” Moonbeam taught “Cowboy Jim,” her new name for him, many things. Josh thought it was funny thinking back how wedded to the idea of changing their lives they were back then including taking new names, monikers, as if doing so would create the new world by osmosis or something. He would have several other monikers like the “Prince of Love,” the Be-Bop Kid (for his love of jazz and blues), and Sidewalk Slim (for always writing something in chalk wherever he had sidewalk space to do so) before he left the road a few years later and stayed steady with his journalism after that high, wide, wild life lost it allure as the high tide of the 1960s ebbed and people drifted back to their old ways. But Cowboy Jim was what she called Josh and he never minded her saying that.

See Moonbeam really was trying to seek the newer age, trying to find herself as they all were more or less, but also let her better nature come forth. And she did in almost every way from her serious study of Buddhism, her yoga (well before that was fashionable among the young), and her poetry writing. But most of all in the kind, gentle almost Quaker way that she dealt with people, on or off drugs, the way she treated her Cowboy. Josh had never had such a gentle lover, never had such a woman who not only tried to understand herself but to understand him. More than once after she left the bus (she had joined the Captain Crunch when the bus left Point Lobos a few days later now that she was Cowboy’s sweetheart) he had thought about heading to Lima and try to work something out but he was still seeking something out on the Coast that held him back until her memory faded a bit and he lost the thread of her).          

Yeah, Point Lobos held some ancient memories and that day the surf was up and Mother Nature was showing one and all who cared to watch just how relentless she could be against the defenseless rocks and shoreline. If he was to get to Big Sur though he could not dally since he did not want to be taking that hairpin stretch at night. So off he went. Nothing untoward happened on the road to Big Sur, naturally he had to stop at the Bixby Bridge to marvel at the vista but also at the man-made marvel of traversing that canyon below with this bridge in 1932. Josh though later that it was not exactly correct that nothing untoward happened on the road to Big Sur but that was not exactly true for he was white-knuckled driving for that several mile stretch where the road goes up mostly and there are many hairpin turns with no guardrail and the ocean is a long way down. He thought he really was becoming an old man in his driving so cautiously that he had veer off to the side of the road to let faster cars pass by. In the old days he would drive the freaking big ass yellow brick road school bus along that same path and think nothing of it except for a time after that Volkswagen almost mishap. Maybe he was dope-brave then but it was disconcerting to think how timid he had become.

Finally in Big Sur territory though nothing really untoward happen as he traversed those hairpin roads until they finally began to straighten out near Molera State Park and thereafter Pfeiffer Beach. Funny in the old days there had been no creek to ford at Molera but the river had done its work over forty years through drought and downpour so in order to get to the ocean about a mile’s walk away Josh had to take off his running shoes and socks to get across the thirty or forty feet of rocks and pebbles to the other side (and of course the same coming back a pain in the ass which he would have taken in stride back then when he shoe of the day was the sandal easily slipped off and on) but well worth the effort even if annoying since the majestic beauty of that rock-strewn beach was breath-taking a much used word and mostly inappropriate but not this day. Maybe global warming or maybe just the relentless crush of the seas on a timid waiting shoreline but most of the beach was un-walkable across the mountain of stones piled up and so he took the cliff trail part of the way before heading back the mile to his car in the parking lot to get to Pfeiffer Beach before too much longer. 

Pfeiffer Beach is another one of those natural beauties that you have to do some work to get, almost as much work as getting to Todo El Mundo further up the road when he and his corner boys from Olde Saco had stayed for a month after they had come out to join him on the bus once he informed them that they needed to get to the West fast because all the world was changing out there. This work entailed not walking to the beach but by navigating a big car down the narrow one lane rutted dirt road two miles to the bottom of the canyon and the parking lot since now the place had been turned into a park site as well. The road was a white-knuckles experience although not as bad as the hairpins on the Pacific Coast Highway but as with Molera worth the effort, maybe more so since Josh could walk that wind-swept beach although some of the cross-currents were fierce when the ocean tide slammed the defenseless beach and rock formation. A couple of the rocks had been ground down so by the relentless oceans that donut holes had been carved in them.                          

Here Josh put down a blanket on a rock so that he could think back to the days when he had stayed here, really at Todo el Mundo but there was no beach there just some ancient eroded cliff dwellings where they had camped out and not be bothered  so everybody would climb on the bus which they would park by the side of the road on Big Sur Highway and walk down to Pfeiffer Beach those easy then two miles bringing the day’s rations of food, alcohol and drugs (not necessarily in that order) in rucksacks and think thing nothing of the walk and if they were too “wasted” (meaning drunk or high) they would find a cave and sleep there. That was the way the times were, nothing unusual then although the sign at the park entrance like at Point Lobos (and Molera) said overnight parking and camping were prohibited. But that is the way these times are.

Josh had his full share of ancient dreams come back to him that afternoon. The life on the bus, the parties, the literary lights who came by who had known Jack Kerouac , Allan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the remnant of beats who had put the place on the map as a cool stopping point close enough to Frisco to get to in a day but ten thousand miles from city cares and woes, the women whom he had loved and who maybe loved him back although he/they never stayed together long enough to form any close relationship except for Butterfly Swirl and that was a strange scene. Strange because Butterfly was a surfer girl who was “slumming” on the hippie scene for a while and they had connected on the bus except she finally decided that the road was not for her just like Moonbeam, as almost everybody including Josh figured out in the end, and went back to her perfect wave surfer boy down in La Jolla after a few months.

After an afternoon of such memories Josh was ready to head back having done what he had set out to which was to come and dream about the old days when he thought about the reasons for why he had gone to Big Sur later that evening back at the hotel. He was feeling a little hungry and after again traversing that narrow rutted dirt road going back up the canyon he decided if he didn’t stop here the nearest place would be around Carmel about twenty-five miles away. So he stopped at Henry’s Café. The café next to the Chevron gas station and the Big Sur library heading back toward Carmel (he had to laugh given all the literary figures who had passed through this town that the library was no bigger than the one he would read at on hot summer days in elementary school with maybe fewer books in stock). Of course the place no longer was named Henry’s since he had died long ago but except for a few coats of paint on the walls and a few paintings of the cabins out back that were still being rented out the place was the same. Henry’s had prided itself on the best hamburgers in Big Sur and that was still true as Josh found out.

But good hamburgers (and excellent potato soup not too watery) are not what Josh would remember about the café or about Big Sur that day. It would be the person, the young woman about thirty who was serving them off the arm, was the wait person at the joint. As he entered she was talking on a mile a minute in a slang he recognized, the language of his 1960s, you know, “right on,” “cool,” “no hassle,” “wasted,” the language of the laid-back hippie life. When she came to take his order he was curious, what was her name and how did she pick up that lingo which outside of Big Sur and except among the, well, now elderly, in places like Soho, Frisco, Harvard Square, is like a dead language, like Latin or Greek.

She replied with a wicked smile that her name was Morning Blossom, didn’t he like that name. [Yes.] She had been born and raised in Big Sur and planned to stay there because she couldn’t stand the hassles (her term) of the cities, places like San Francisco where she had gone to school for a while at San Francisco State. Josh thought to himself that he knew what was coming next although he let Morning Blossom have her say. Her parents had moved to Big Sur in 1969 and had started home-steading up in the hills. They have been part of a commune before she was born but that was all over with by the time she was born and so her parents struggled on the land alone. They never left, and never wanted to leave. Seldom left Big Sur and still did not.

Josh said to himself, after saying wow, he had finally found one of the lost tribes that wandered out into the wilderness back in the 1960s and were never heard from again. And here they were still plugging away at whatever dream drove them back then. He and others who had chronicled in some way the 1960s had finally found a clue to what had happened to the brethren. But as he got up from the counter, paid his bill, and left a hefty tip, he though he still had that trip out here next time with Lana to get through. He was looking forward to that adventure now though.               
An Encore-Remembrances Of Things Past-With Jeff Higgins’ Class Of 1964 In Mind
From The Pen Of Bart Webber

There was always something, some damn thing to remind Jeff Higgins, Class of 1964, a fateful year in his life and not just because that was the year that he graduated from North Quincy High School down in outer edge of the Southeastern corner of Massachusetts. He had recently, well, let's call it 2014 because who knows when some iterant reader might read this and because that as will be pointed in a second has significant for why Jeff Higgins thought that it was "one damn thing after another" when dealing with that class issue. If you did the math quickly in your head while I was pointing to the significance you would know that year represented the fiftieth anniversary of the his graduation from high school, then as now if less so a milestone on the way to serious-minded adulthood, and furthermore had  gone through something of a serious traumatic experience which left him numb every time something came up about that year, some remembrance.

If you knew Jeff in 1964, and even if did not you knew somebody like Jeff since every high school class had  a Jeff case and moreover his experience was not that uncommon, then you know form whence I speak. Hey, let's say you didn't know him back then in 1964 but only in  2014 that would tell you the same tale, with his three messy divorces and several affairs from flings to some more serious relationships along with scads of children and grandchildren now from the marriages not the affairs. Guess what you would know that it was about a woman, always about a woman, he eternally afflicted as old as he was from coming of age time to coming to the end-times.

So about a woman this time, this eternally afflicted time, named Elizabeth Drury whom  he had had a brief puff of air affair with in that same 2014 but which had seemingly vanished in his dust of memory until he went up in the attic to clean up some stuff. (By the way Elizabeth not Liz, which would show a certain informality, a certain good sport and not standing on ceremony or Betty, a nickname which conveyed continued childhood in those days as old as a woman might be, so no way she was not anything but a proper Elizabeth-type, who held maybe Queen Elizabeth I, you know the so-called Virgin Queen, the one who ruled England for a long time and had more lovers than you could shake a stick at but all we knew then was that she was the Virgin Queen, as her model, even in high school.) 

Yeah finally getting rid of most of stuff which had been gathering dust, maybe mold for years, in anticipation of selling his house and moving to a more manageable condo, down-sizing they call it in the real estate trade, and found a faded tattered copy of his class’ remembrance card. You know those time vault cards that card companies like Hallmark, the source of this one, put out so that people, or this case the whole class by some tabulations, can put down favorite films, people, records, who was President, and other momentous events from some important year like a high school graduation to be looked at in later years and ahhed over.
That yellowed sheet brought back not just memories of that faded long ago year but of Elizabeth in the not so faded past. So, yes, it was always some damn thing, always some damn woman thing.      

Maybe we had better take you back to the beginning though, back to how the year 1964 and the woman Elizabeth Drury had been giving one Jeffery Higgins late of North Quincy nothing but pains. Jeff had been for many, many years agnostic about attending class reunions, had early on after graduation decided that he needed to show his back to the whole high school experience which was a flat-out zero once he thought about every indignity and hurt he had suffered for one reason or another, and to show that same back to the town, a small hick town anyway which needed to be fled to see the big old world.

A lot of that teenage angst having to do with his humble beginnings as a son of a “chiseler,” not meant as a nice term, a father who worked in the then depleting and now depleted granite quarries when there was work for which the town was then famous and which represented the low-end of North Quincy society. The low-end which others in the town including his fellow classmates in high school who were as socially class conscious as any Mayfair swells made him feel like a nobody and a nothing for no known reason except that he was the son of a chiseler which after all he could not help. Of course those social exclusions played themselves out under the veil of his not dressing cool, living off the leavings of his older brothers, living off of Bargain Center rejected materials not even cool when purchased, you know, white shirts with stripes when that was not cool, black chinos with cuffs like some farmer, ditto, dinky Thom McAn shoes with buckles for Chrissake, just as his younger brothers lived off his in that tight budget world of the desperate working poor, of his not having money for dates even with fellow bogger’s daughters, and hanging corner dough-less, girl-less corners with fellow odd-ball bogger outcasts. So Jeff had no trouble drifting away from that milieu, had no trouble putting dust on his shoes to get out and head west when the doings out west were drawing every wayward youth to the flame, to the summers of love.

And there things stood in Jeff’s North Quincy consciousness for many years until maybe 2012, 2013 when very conscious that a hallmark 50th class reunion would be in the works and with more time on his hands as he had cut back on the day to day operation of his small law practice in Cambridge he decided that he would check out the preparations, and perhaps offer his help to organize the event. He had received notification of his class’ fortieth reunion in 2004 (which he had dismissed out of hand only wondering how the reunion committee had gotten his address for while he was not hiding from anything or anyone he was also not out there publicly since he did not have clients other than other lawyers whom he wrote motions, briefs, appeals and the like for, until he realized that as a member of the Massachusetts bar he would have that kind of information on his very publicly-accessible bar profile page) so via the marvels of modern day technology through the Internet he was able to get hold of Donna Marlowe (married name Rossi) who had set up a Facebook page to advertise the event.

That connection led to Jeff drafting himself onto the reunion committee and lead directly to the big bang of pain that he would subsequently feel. Naturally in a world filled with social media and networking those from the class who either knew Donna or the other members of the committee or were Internet savvy joined the class’ Facebook page and then were directed to a class website (as he found out later his generation unlike later ones was on the borderline of entering the “information superhighway” and so not all classmates, those still alive anyway, were savvy that way). On that website set up by tech savvy Donna (she had worked in the computer industry at IBM during her working career) each classmate who joined the site had the ability to put up a personal profile next to their class photograph like he had done on many other such sites and that is where Jeff had seen Elizabeth Drury’s profile and a flood of memories and blushes.            

In high school Jeff had been smitten by Elizabeth, daughter of a couple of school teachers who worked in the upscale Marshfield school system  and therefore were stationed well above the chiselers of the town. But in things of the heart things like class distinctions, especially in democratically-etched America, are forgotten, maybe not rightly or fully forgotten when the deal goes down but there is enough of façade to throw one off if one gets feeling a certain way, gets the love bug, and sometime in the  genes makes one foolhardy. That had almost happened to Jeff in Elizabeth's case, except his corner boy Jack Callahan had put him wise, had kept him from one more teenage angst hurt.

Jeff and Elizabeth had had several classes together senior year and sat across from each other in English class and since both loved literature and were school-recognized as such they had certain interests in common. So they talked, talked in what Jeff thought was very friendly and somewhat flirty manner (or as he thought later after the youthful lame had burned out and he drifted west maybe he just hoped that was the case) and he had "formed an intention" (that is the way he said it the night he related the story to me so forgive the legal claptrap way he said it) to ask her out even if only to Doc’s Drugstore for an after school soda and a listen to the latest platters on Doc’s jukebox which had all the good stuff that kids were dancing to in those days. He figured from there he could work up to a real date. But sometimes the bumps and bruises of the chiseler life left one with a little sense and so before making attempts at such a conquest Jeff consulted with Jack Callahan to see if Elizabeth was “spoken for” (Jeff’s term if you can believe that like this was some 17th century Pilgrim forebears time).

See Jack, a star football player even if he was also a chiseler's son got something of an exemption from the rigid routine of the social structure of the senior class just by being able to run through defensive lines on any given granite grey autumn afternoon and so had excellent “intelligence” on the whole school system’s social network, in other words who was, or was not, spoken for. (By the way that “grapevine” any high school grapevine, maybe middle school too would put the poor technicians at the CIA and the spooks at NSA to shame with the accuracy of the information. It had to be that resourceful and accurate otherwise fists would fly.) The word on Elizabeth, forget it, off-limits, an “ice queen.” So Jeff saved himself plenty of anguish and he moved on with his small little high school life.

Seeing Elizabeth's name and profile though that many years later made him curious, made him wonder what had happened to her and since he was now again “single” he decided he would write a private e-mail to her profile page something which the website was set up to perform and which the reunion committee was recommending the still standing alumnus to do. That “single” a condition that he now considered the best course after three shifts of alimony, child support and college tuitions made him realize that it was infinitely cheaper to just live with a woman and be done with it.

Jeff wrote a short message asking whether she remembered him and she replied that she very well did remember him and their “great” (her term) conversations about Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway and Edith Wharton. That short message and reply “sparked” something and they began a flurry of e-mails giving outlines of their subsequent history, including the still important one to Jeff whether she was “spoken for.” She was not having had two divorces although no kids in her career as a professor at the State University.

Somehow these messages led Jeff to tell her about his talk with Jack Callahan. And she laughed not at the “intelligence” which was correct but not for the reasons that Jack gave (her father was an abusive “asshole,” her term for her standoffishness and reputation as an “ice queen”). She laughed because despite her being flirty when they talked in English class, at least that was what she thought she was attempting to do because she certainly was interested when they would talk Jeff had never asked her out and then one day just stopped talking to her for no known reason. Damn.                    

They say, or at least Thomas Wolfe did in the title of one of his novels-you can’t go home again but neither Jeff nor Elizabeth after that last exchange of e-mails about the fateful missing chance back in senior year would heed the message. They decided to meet in Cambridge one night to see if that unspoken truth had any substance. They did meet, got along great, had many stories to exchange and it turned out many of the same interests (except golf a sport which relaxed Jeff when he was all wound up but which Elizabeth’s second husband had tried to teach her to no avail). And so their little affair started, started with great big bursts of flames but wound up after a few months smoldering out and being blown away like so much dust in the wind once Elizabeth started talking about marriage. Jeff was willing to listen to living together but his own strange marital orbit had made him very strongly again any more marriages. So this pair could not go home again, not at all, and after some acrimonious moments they parted.           

Jeff knew that was the best course, knew he had to break it off but it still hurt enough that any reference to 1964 made him sad. As he took a look at the sentiments expressed in that tattered yellowed document he had a moment reprieve as he ahh-ed over the information presented. Had he really forgotten that there was no Vice President then since there was no Vice-Presidential succession when Lyndon Johnson became President after the assassination of home state Irish Jack Kennedy. That My Fair Lady was a  popular Broadway show then as now. That the Beatles had appeared on Ed Sullivan’s Show and done a film, that Chapel of Love had been a hit that year as well. That 1964 was the year the Mustang that he would have died for came out into a candid  world. That gas was only about thirty cent a gallon, and that another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Taylor, married one Richard Burton for the first time (although not the last). And on that sour note he put the yellowed tattered document he had accidently come across in the trash pile with other tattered documents. He would remember things past in his own way. 

Four Score And Seven Years Ago Time-With Frank Capra’s Mister Smith Goes To Washington (1939) In Mind


DVD Review


By Sam Lowell  


Mister Smith Goes To Washington, starring Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, directed by Frank Capra, 1939 

Recently I wrote a short review of a Cary Grant and Jean Arthur film, Talk of the Town, where I argued that while the film could certainly be held without any ado as a good example of a romantic comedy from the golden age of such films. I argued though that the film had more merit as a social drama since while there were plenty of light-hearted moments the theme of the virtue of the rule of law trumped the obvious romantic interest between the two stars (and add in a third player Ronald Colman as well). I am in a similar quandary on the film under review, Frank Capra’s Mister Smith Goes To Washington. In that previous review I noted that Frank Capra along with Preston Sturgis and George Stevens   (I left the question of Howard Hawks to the reader’s choice) was one of the great directors of romantic comedy during the golden age of the genre in the later 1930s and early 1940s when anybody who had any sense knew the general population needed a little escapist humor with the onslaught of the Great Depression and the World War grinding them down. But I also argued that the subject matter-the threat to the rule of law which underscored the plot line made that film a vehicle for social drama as well.    

I want to argue for a similar conclusion on this on. Here’s the play. A U.S. Senator, in an unnamed state but presumed to be out in the heartland where people overall were not as jaded as elsewhere and still believed in some of the old truths even in the late 1930s when America was going to hell in a handbasket, had died. The “bosses” who ran the state and ran the governor couldn’t decide on a suitable candidate and so one so-called apolitical do-gooder, one Jefferson Smith (already we can get the flags out with that name), played by Jimmy Stewart, got the nod. The assumption was that he would do the bidding of the organization while it was stealing everything that was not nailed down, specifically a big boondoggle dam project where everybody who was in on the deal would get well, including the senior Senator, Joe Paine, from the state, played by Claude Rains last seen in this space walking arm and arm with Humphrey Bogart in the fog after giving the Germans the “what for” in the classic film, Casablanca. 

Of course old Jeff was the classic believer in good government, believed in the whole nine yards, probably believed that George Washington actually did chop down that cherry tree just like Parsons Weems said. Naïve, a babe in the woods, he got to Washington and was ready to serve with pride. Except he had this idea, this national boys’ camp idea that he planned to run through Congress as a way to instill true democratic values in future generations. (Girls, I guess, were just supposed to sit around and look pretty.) Problem, big problem in the end; the boys’ camp idea ran smack against the big dam boondoggle. The fight was on.

I mentioned that this film could be a romantic comedy at some level. That idea would come into play when Jefferson brought his wised-up to the ways of Washington super- secretary Clarissa, played by heartland wised up Jean Arthur, into his orbit, got her on his side in the fight for the boys’ camp despite her cynicism after having been around the town a little too long. But get this, or rather get two things. This Jeff was not built to be a good old boy, to carry some boss’s water, he had fighting for lost causes in his bones, grabbed a few such genes from his father, a newspaperman shot when he got too close to the dark side of politics and couldn’t be bought. The other thing is that while Jeff had more illusions than anybody should be allowed to have and still be allowed within fifty miles of the Washington zip codes he was not a quitter. Stood up to the bosses and their stooges, including that Joe Paine who had been a friend of his father’s but who was being held up in this film as the consummate sell-out to the big interests.

Here is the really funny part. The way old Jeff won his battle was through an old-fashioned filibuster, you know he took and kept the floor until exhaustion set in to prove his point. Now since the time of the film, 1939, the filibuster has been used for less worthy fights like against civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s and now to basically try to close down the government. So a filibuster seems an odd way now to make his point but there you have it. That pluck and Clarissa pulling for him from the sidelines. I mentioned in that The Talk of the Town review that that film was more of a social drama than a romantic comedy now that I have given you the “skinny” on this one I think this one follows that same path. You decide, okay.