Tuesday, February 28, 2017

In Honor Of The 75th Anniversary Of The Film “Casablanca”-Humphrey Bogart’s Action In The North Atlantic

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Action In The North Atlantic, starring Humphrey Bogart, Raymond Massey, screenplay by John Howard Lawson, 1943      

No question sailors, guys who are sworn lovers of the sea even if they born in wheat fields, who find landlubbers and stability tough to take are a different breed, especially the guys who served in the merchant marines the subject of the film under review, Humphrey Bogart’s Action In The North Atlantic. No question these were tough guys especially in the old days when they  had a girl in every port, maybe two if they were adventuresome, drank their hard paid wages off in waterfront saloons mixing it up with other sailors, or girls whatever came first and put the fear into even tough old swabbies, navy guys who were no slouches if it came right down to it. Civilians, smart civilians, stayed away from that waterfront or places like Scollay Square in Boston when the ships were in.         

Well some much for the tough guy stuff because this film, a pretty straight forward pro-Allied forces World War II war propaganda film, also showed two other sides of these tough guys. One was their sticking together when times got tough out in the rough seas Atlantic when a big gale could sent a ship down with the fishes and each man needed to be able to depend on the prowess of the others when Mother Nature turned nasty. Also especially during wartime where in addition to the rough seas the Germans were wolf -packing submarines to pick off isolated merchant ships plying the waters to Europe with supplies. That sticking together included their adherence to the National Maritime Union (NMU) and the union hiring hall which was won in hard fought battles against the shipping bosses. A good example of that hiring hall in action is shown in the film as guys lined up to get work on the next ships coming in. The other aspect shows their serious patriotism for their country and its allies in getting the needed supplies to Europe which is the heart of this film.

The action here is pretty straight forward as you would expect, no frills, with the first part of the film showing how vulnerable isolated basically unarmed merchant ships were in the North Atlantic when the U-boats picked up the scent.  Joe (the first officer of the ship played by a grim and determined Humphrey Bogart) and his ship’s captain (played by a grim and determined Robert Massey in an old puritan way evoking a gentler Captain Ahab) show their metal after they are hit by an enemy torpedo and have to abandon ship only to be rammed in their lifeboat by the U-boat and left on a raft for many days before they are rescued.  

Now most civilians, landlubbers, would consider that enough adventure for a life-time and pass on going out to sea again for the duration but not old tars like Joe, the Captain, and the surviving crew. After a short time on shore they are off again on a new ship, a Liberty ship freshly built which made their old sunken tub seem like a clipper ship or something. (Although the film puts the Liberty ships in their best light their record was very uneven since they were built very quickly, one a day from what I heard later when someone from the Fore River Shipyard near where I grew up, and were unreliable overall many going down as a result of poor workmanship.) But this run was to be different a run in a convoy escorted by naval war ships to, well, Murmansk in the Soviet Union, an ally then facing the brunt of the German land and air assaults and in need of supplies, and hence the title of this review.

Of course captains of German U-boats running in wolf packs were licking their lips over this development since it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Or so they thought. The captain and Joe’s Liberty ship drifted from the convoy and they seemed to be dead in the water against a U-boat that was tracking them for the kill. Needless to say despite being down for the count they made that U-boat sink like a stone after ramming it. And so bedraggled the ship got to Murmansk and the much needed supplies get delivered. A job well done and thanks.

A note: The NMU in the World War II period was filled with Communist Party supporters who volunteered for the dangerous Murmansk run as did supporters of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party both groups acting in practical support of their defense of the Soviet Union positions. The screenwriter of the film, John Howard Lawson, after World War II when the red scare Cold War descended on the world and the previous ally, the Soviet Union, became the new main enemy was part of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted and jailed for their support to the American Communist Party. Such are world politics.       

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Con Is The Con-With Kevin Spacey’s The Usual Suspects In Mind

DVD Review

By Film Reviewer Zack James

The Usual Suspects, starring Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, 1995

In my old neighborhood at least among the corner boys of my own generation that I hung around with at the variety store that was our “headquarters” everybody loved a con man, if, naturally, not being conned. You know we loved guys who could spin up a tale out pure cloth and produce some gold, dinero, moola for their efforts (there may have been female con artists but I don’t recall any since they were spending their time leading us a merry chase in a different way and if that was a con then almost every gal around the town was a con artist). So Kevin Spacey as the beautifully characterized “Verbal” Kint in the film under review, The Usual Suspects, would have been worshipped as a living god back in the day. No false idols need apply as we lighted the candles to one of our own.  

Here’s why. After a horrendous ship’s explosion one of the two survivors of what apparently was a gang war one Verbal Kint was being interrogated by the feds, by a customs agent since there was suspicion that the war had been over drugs or some other contraband. Through a series of flashbacks Verbal leads the agent on a verbal merry chase about what had occurred at the docks. He had been among five “usual” suspects who were in a police line-up in New York who had through a series of adventures, successful adventures in grabbling dough, and had been “hired” by an unknown master criminal to do some work for him after his agent made a very forceful case for why they should do so if they valued their lives, and of anybody even remotely related to them. After initially balking at the deal they took it on when the guy who seemed to be the leader of the group, Dean Keaton, played by Gabriel Byrnes, committed to the caper. They went to L.A. to meet their adversaries and consummate the deal. Then all hell broke loose on the ship and everything and everybody went boom boom.

Everybody but Verbal who lived to tell the tale. See here is the beauty of a guy like Verbal. He put himself out in public as a small time con, a “crip” nobody (that crippled up part as it turned out he was faking, another beautiful move) in the company of serious desperados like Keaton and the other hombres so nobody caught the mis-directions he was feeding everybody from his comrades to the fuzz. He wove a big-time tall tale to the agent about an evil Mister Big who had been manipulating everything and whom when Verbal “confessed” who it was turned out to the now deceased Keaton. Except, well, except that well-woven tale was all fluff because Mister Big was none other than guess who. Yeah Verbal walked into the sunset with all the dough, with immunity and with all the feds scratching their heads. Hail Verbal.                   
When Elmore James Held Forth In The Slide Guitar Night  

By Lance Lawrence 

I will get to a CD review of Elmore James’ work in a second. Now I want to tell, no retell, the tale that had me and a few of my corner boys who hung out in front of, or in if we had dough for food or more likely for the jukebox, Jimmy Jack’s Diner in Carver where I came of age in the early 1960s going for a while. On one lonesome Friday night, lonesome meaning, no dough, no wheels, no girls, or any combination of the three, with time of our hands Billy Bradley, Jack Dawson and I went round and round about what song by what artist each of us thought was the decisive song that launched rock and roll. Yeah, I know, I know now, that the world then, like now, was going to hell in a hand-basket, what with the Russkies breathing hard on us in the deep freeze Cold War red scare night, with crazy wars going on for no apparent reason, and the struggle for black civil rights down in the police state South (that “police state" picked up later after I got wise to what was happening there) but what else were three corner boys washed clean by the great jail break-out that what is now termed classic rock and roll represented to guys who were from nowhere, had no dough, didn’t have many prospects or expectations in general to do to while away the time.(Since this is a time sanitized version of what we Jimmy Jack’s corner boys did to while away idle nights I will leave it at that although know too that in many a midnight hour when Frankie Riley, the acknowledged leader of the corner boys, was on to something we were entirely capable of doing some drifting, grifting and sifting to make ends meet. Done.) 

Here is the break-down though from one conversation night, or maybe a bunch mixed together since this was a more than one time theme and this is what I have distilled from far remembrances. We knew, knew without anybody telling us that while Elvis gave rock and roll a big lift in his time before he went on to silly movies that debased his talent he was not the “max daddy,” not the guy who rolled the dice for rock and roll but was the front man easily identified. For one thing and this was Billy’s position he only covered Big Joe Turner’s classic R&B classic Shake, Rattle, and Roll and when we heard Joe’s finger-snapping version we flipped out. So Billy had his choice made, no question. Jack had heard on some late Sunday night radio station out in Chicago on his transistor radio a thing called Be-Bop Benny’s Blues Hour where he first heard this guy wailing on the piano a be-bop tune. It turned out to be Ike Turner (without Tina then) blasting Rocket 88. So Jack had his position firm, and a good choice. Me, well I caught this obscure folk music station (obscure then not a few years later though) which played not just folk but what would be later called “roots music.” And the blues is nothing but roots music in America. 

One night I heard Elmore James slide guitar his way through Look On Yonder Wall. That is the song I defended that night. Did any of us change each other’s mind that night. Be serious. I later, several years later, saw the wisdom of Jack’s choice of Rocket 88 that no question had the heady black-etched part of the rock beat down pat and I switched but old Elmore still was a close second. Enough said.       


The History of Elmore James: The Sky Is Crying, Elmore James, Rhino Records, 1993

When one thinks of the classic blues tune “Dust My Broom” one tends to think of the legendary Robert Johnson who along with his “Sweet Home, Chicago” created two of the signature blues songs of the pre-World War II period. However, my first hearing of “Dust My Broom” was on a hot LP vinyl record (the old days, right) version covered and made his own by the artist under review, Elmore James. I have heard many cover versions since then, including from the likes of George Thoroughgood and Chris Smither, and they all reflect on the influence of Elmore’s amazing slide guitar virtuosity to provide the "heat" necessary to do the song justice. Moreover, this is only the tip of the iceberg as such blues masters and aficionados as B.B. King and The Rolling Stones have covered other parts of James’ catalog.

Perhaps because Elmore died relativity young at a time when blues were just being revived in the early 1960’s as part of the general trend toward “discovering” roots music by the likes of this reviewer he has been a less well-known member of the blues pantheon. However, for those who know the value of a good slide guitar to add sexiness and sauciness to a blues number James’ is a hero. Hell, Thoroughgood built a whole career out of Elmore covers (and also, to be sure, of the late legendary Bo Didderly). I never get tired of hearing these great songs. Moreover, it did not hurt to have the famous Broom-dusters backing him up throughout the years. As one would expect of material done in the pre-digital age the sound quality is very dependent on the quality of the studio. But that, to my mind just makes it more authentic.

Well, what did you NEED to listen to here? Obviously,” Dust My Broom". On this CD though you MUST listen to Elmore on "Standing At The Crossroads". Wow, it jumps right out at you. "Look On Yonder Wall" (a song that I used to believe was a key to early rock 'n' rock before I gravitated to Ike Turner's "Rocket 88" as my candidate for that role), "It Hurts Me Too" and the classic "The Sky is Crying" round out the minimum program here. Listen on.

Lyrics To "Dust My Broom"

I'm gonna get up in the mornin',

I believe I'll dust my broom (2x)

Girlfriend, the black man you been lovin',

girlfriend, can get my room

I'm gon' write a letter,

Telephone every town I know (2x)

If I can't find her in West Helena,

She must be in East Monroe, I know

I don't want no woman,

Wants every downtown man she meet (2x)

She's a no good doney,

They shouldn't 'low her on the street

I believe, I believe I'll go back home (2x)

You can mistreat me here, babe,

But you can't when I go home

And I'm gettin' up in the morning,

I believe I'll dust my broom (2x)

Girlfriend, the black man that you been lovin',

Girlfriend, can get my room

I'm gon' call up Chiney,

She is my good girl over there (2x)

If I can't find her on Philippine's Island,

She must be in Ethiopia somewhere

Robert Johnson
 She is my good girl over there (2x)
If I can't find her on Philippine's Island,
She must be in Ethiopia somewhere
Robert Johnson

The Risen People?-May Day 1971-Build The Resistance-2017

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin- From The "Ancient Dreams, Dreamed" Sketches-

Endless, dusty, truck heavy, asphalt steaming hitchhike roads travelled, Route 6, 66, maybe 666 and perdition for all we knew, every back road, every Connecticut highway avoiding back road from Massachusetts south to the capital for one last winner-take-all, no prisoners taken show-down to end all show-downs. And maybe, just maybe, finally some peace and a new world a-borning, a world we had been talking about for at least a decade (clueless, as all youth nations are clueless, that that road was well-travelled, very well- travelled, before us). No Jack Kerouac dharma bum easy road (although there were dharma bums, or at least faux dharma bums, aplenty on those 1971 roads south, and west too) let her rip cosmic brakeman Neal Cassady at the wheel flying through some wheat field night fantasy this trip.

No this trip was not about securing some cultural enclave in post-war (World War II so as not to confuse the reader) break-out factory town Lowell or cold water tenement Greenwich Village/Soho New Jack City or Shangri-La West out in the Bay area, east or west, but about mucking up the works, the whole freaking governmental/societal/economic/cultural/personal/godhead world (that last one, the godhead one, not thrown in just for show, no way) and maybe, just maybe sneaking away with the prize. But a total absolute, absolutist, big karma sky fight out, no question. And we are, he is, ready. On that dusty road ready.

More. See all roads head south as we and they, his girlfriend of the day, maybe more, maybe more than a day, Joyell, but along this time more for ease of travelling for those blessed truck driver eye rides, than lust or dream wish and his sainted wise-guy amigo (and shades of Gregory Corso, sainted, okay), Matty, who had more than a passing love or dream wish in her and if you had seen her you would not have wondered why. Not have wondered why if your “type” was Botticelli painted and thoughts of butterfly swirls just then or were all-type sleepy-eyed benny-addled teamster half-visioned out of some forlorn rear view mirror.

Yah, head south, in ones, twos, and threes (no more, too menacing even for hefty ex-crack back truckers to stop for) travelling down to D.C. for what many of them figured would be the last, finally, push back against the war, the Vietnam War, for those who have forgotten, or stopped watching television and the news, but THEY, and we knew (know) who they were, had their antennae out too, they KNEW those who were coming, even high-ball fixed (or whiskey neat she had the face for them) looking out from lonely balconies Martha Mitchell knew that much. They were, especially in mad max robot-cop Connecticut, out to pick off the stray or seven who got into their mitts as a contribution to law and order, law and order one Richard Milhous Nixon-style (and in front of him, leading some off-key, off-human key chorus some banshee guy from Maryland, another watch out hitchhike trail spot, although not as bad as Ct., nothing except Arizona was). And thus those dusty, steamy, truck heavy (remind me to tell you about hitchhiking stuff, and the good guy truckers you wanted, desperately wanted, to ride with in those days, if I ever get a chance sometime).

The idea behind this hitchhiked road, or maybe, better, the why. Simple, too simple when you, I, they thought about it later in lonely celled night but those were hard trying times, desperate times really, and just free, free from another set of steel-barred rooms these jailbirds-in-waiting- were ready to bring down heaven, hell, hell if it came down to it to stop that furious war (Vietnam, for the later reader) and start creating something recognizable for humans to live in. So youth nation, then somewhat long in the tooth, and long on bad karma-driven bloody defeats too, decided to risk all with the throw of the dice and bring a massive presence to D.C. on May Day 1971.

And not just any massed presence like the then familiar seasonal peace crawl that nobody paid attention then to anymore except the organizers, although the May Day action was wrapped around that year’s spring peace crawl, (wrapped up, cozily wrapped up, in their utopian reformist dream that more and more passive masses, more and more suburban housewives from New Jersey, okay, okay not just Jersey, more and more high school freshman, more and more barbers, more and more truck driver stop waitresses, for that matter, would bring the b-o-u-r-g-e-o-i-s-i-e (just in case there are sensitive souls in the room) to their knees. No, we were going to stop the government, flat. Big scheme, big scheme no question and if anybody, any “real” youth nation refugee, excepting, of course, always infernal always, those cozy peace crawl organizers, tried to interject that perhaps there were wiser courses nobody mentioned them out loud in our presence and we were at every meeting, high or low. Moreover we had our ears closed, flapped shut closed, to any lesser argument. We, rightly or wrongly, silly us thought “cop.” 

So onward anti-war soldiers from late night too little sleep Sunday night before Monday May Day dawn in some vagrant student apartment around DuPont Circle (He, we, thought, but it may have been further up off 14th Street, Christ after eight million marches for seven million causes who can remember that much. No question though on the student ghetto apartment locale; bed helter-skelter on the floor, telephone wire spool for a table, orange crates for book shelves, unmistakably, and the clincher, seventeen posters, mainly Che, Mao, Ho, Malcolm etc., the first name only necessary for identification pantheon just then, a smattering of Lenin and Trotsky but they were old guys from old revolutions and so, well, discounted) to early rise (or early stay up cigarette chain-smoking and coffee-slurping to keep the juices flowing).

Out into the streets, out into the small collectives coming out of other vagrant apartments streets (filled with other posters of Huey Newton , George Jackson, Frantz Fanon, etc. from the two names needed pantheon) joining up to make a cohorted mass (nice way to put it, right?). And then dawn darkness surrounded, coffee spilled out, cigarette bogarted, AND out of nowhere, or everywhere, bang, bang, bang of governmental steel, of baton, of chemical dust, of whatever latest technology they had come up with they came at us (pre-tested in Vietnam, naturally, as I found out later). Jesus, bedlam, mad house, insane asylum, beat, beat like gongs, defeated.

Through bloodless bloodied streets (this, after all, was not Chicago, hog butcher to the world), may day tear down the government days, tears, tear-gas exploding, people running this way and that coming out of a half-induced daze, a crazed half-induced daze that mere good- will, mere righteousness would right the wrongs of this wicked old world. One arrested, two, three, many, endless thousands as if there was an endless capacity to arrest, and be arrested, arrest the world, and put it all in one great big ironic (past ironic) Robert F. Kennedy stadium home to autumn gladiators on Sunday and sacrificial lambs this spring maypole may day basket druid day.

And, as we were being led away by one of D.C.s finest, we turned around and saw that some early Sunday morning voice, some “cop” voice who advised caution and went on and on about getting some workers out to join us before we perished in an isolated blast of arrests and bad hubris also being led away all trussed up, metal hand-cuffs seemingly entwined around her whole slight body. She said she would stick with us even though she disagreed with the strategy that day and we had scoffed, less than twenty-four hours before, that she made it sound like she had to protect her erring children from themselves. And she, maybe, the only hero of the day. Righteous anonymous sister, forgive us. (Not so anonymous actually since we saw her many times later in Boston, and Peter Paul almost would have traded in lust for her but he was still painted Botticelli-bewitched and so I, he, let the moment pass, and worked on about six million marches for about five millions causes with her but that was later. We saw no more of her in D.C. that week.)

Stop. Brain start. Out of the bloodless fury, out of the miscalculated night a strange bird, no peace dove, these were not such times even with all our unforced errors, and no flame-flecked phoenix raising but a bird, maybe the owl of Minerva came a better sense that this new world a-bornin’ would take some doing, some serious doing. More serious that some wispy-bearded, pony-tailed beat, beat down, beat around, beat up young stalwart road tramps acting in god’s place could even dream of. But that was later. Just then, just that screwed-up martyr moment, we were longing for the hot, dusty, truck driver stop meat loaf special, dishwater coffee on the side, road back home even ready to chance Connecticut highway dragnets to get there.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

In Honor Of The 75th Anniversary Of The Film “Casablanca”- Out In The Film Noir Night- Ernest Hemingway’s To Have And To Not

Out In The Film Noir Night- Ernest Hemingway’s To Have And To Not

Films In Brief

To Have Or To Have Not, based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan

A story based, very loosely based I might add, on Ernest Hemingway’s short novel. A screenplay written in part by William Faulkner. The lead roles played by the charismatic Humphrey Bogart and the dishy Lauren Bacall with able assists by Walter Brennan and the legendary songwriter Hoagie Carmichael. Some classic Hollywood lines. What is not to like about this 1940’s black white film that still plays well after over fifty years. Only if you naively expected faithfulness to the author’s novelistic intent by those who bought the film rights would you complain. But, don’t be silly it happens all the time. If you want Hemingway’s gritty tale of a down and out sea captain scratching out a living for his family anyway he can go read the book. Here we are talking about the film adaptation. And on those terms what a seamless piece of cinematic art.

As is the case in most of the early movies the story line is simple. Jaded boy meets slightly world-weary girl in the throes of Vichy-administered Martinique during World War II. Naturally, given the times, the local variant of the French Resistance is in need of help and a skittish, but in the end courageous, Captain Morgan (the Bogart role) is dragged into the middle of it. Some of this is an echo of the story line in Casablanca but this time Bogart, thankfully, does not let the dame go. All the politics and heroics aside this film is all about the romance. For a 1940’s film the sexual tension and resolution between Morgan and Slim (Bacall’s role) is as steamy as it gets with two people who still have their clothes on. It probably does not hurt the romantic buildup that Bogart and Bacall were an item off-screen, as well. If you want classic Bogart and Bacall this is for you.
The Search For The Great Blue-Pink American West Night-Part 32-With Western Artist Ed Ruscha In Mind

By Art Critic Si Landon

Just then Bart Webber was in a California state of mind, was ready to chuck everything and go back on the road, the road to perdition to hear his wife, of thirty plus years, Betty Salmon, tell it when he went off on his tirade about the old days, and worse, the old guys, guys like Markin who had dragged him out West kicking and screaming. Now to hear him tell it Bart was the guy who propelled the sluggish Markin westward. We will get to the why of Bart’s new found interest in retracing his youthful fling in the bramble-filled West, out there where the states are square and you had better be as well on the way to the edge of the continent and the dreaded Japans sea for failure but first the what.

It seemed that Bart had jumped the gun somewhat because he found himself out in San Francisco, the place where he met up with Markin and some of the other North Adamsville corner boys in that fateful year of 1968 when he rode for a few months with the guys on Captain Crunch’s yellow brick road converted school bus come travelling caravan home, at a printing and media conference, what would be his final conference since he was putting his printing business in the capable hands of his youngest son who truth be told had been handling the day to day operations of the shop anyway and was itchy to run the operation himself. While riding on the BART into the city he noticed on a billboard that the deYoung Museum in Golden Gate Park was featuring a retrospective by the Western artist Ed Ruschua, an artist that Bart had always admire ever since he had seen his series on gas stations and their role in the great post-World War II golden age of the American automobile, the wide open highways and cheap gas.             

Taking an afternoon off he went over to Golden Gate and viewed the exhibit, a show that had well over one hundred paintings, photographs, prints and petro-maps. One set of photographs taken on one of Ruscha’s trips from his native Oklahoma to Los Angeles via the southern desert-etched route drove Bart to distraction as there he saw gas stations in places like Needles, on the California-Arizona border, Kingman, Flagstaff, Gallup, and a few other places he had passed through on one of his hitchhike or car-sharing trips to California. Saw too coyotes, Native American reservations, buffalos roam. Saw a series of prints and paintings of the famous Hollywood sign that told him the first time that he had seen the sign up in the hills that he had arrived in the land of sun and fantasy. Saw a darkly troubling painting all done in dark somber colors of the death of the Joshua trees in the high desert, a place where he had performed under the influence of serious dope inhalation the “ghost” dance with Markin, Jack Callahan, Josh Breslin and Frankie Riley. Saw plenty of photographs and paintings detailing the degradation of that part of California Ruscha had travelled through on those golden age trips. He was, well-known as a man not to show much public emotion, shaken almost to tears at the vistas that he witnessed. Could not get the thoughts of his old “hippie” minute out of his mind. (That “minute” then signifying that he finally came to a realization after a few months that unlike Markin, Josh, or Sam Lowell another late arrival in California from the corner boys who stayed on the road for a few years that he was a stationary person, missed old North Adamsville and missed old ball and chain Betty Salmon.)             

Here’s how the whole thing played out back then and maybe, just maybe you will begin to understand why Bart was shaken almost to tears for visions of his long lost youth. Despite the urban legend Bart tried to create lately around his role in sending Markin westward Markin, and only Markin was the guy who led the charge west. Had been the guy of all the guys on the corner who predicted, predicted almost weekly from about 1962 on that a big sea-change was coming and they had better be ready to ride the wave. They all, Bart included blew Markin’s predictions off out of hand because frankly if the subject around Tonio’s Pizza Parlor come Friday night wasn’t about girls, cars, money, getting drunk or any combination of those subjects they didn’t give a rat’s ass as Frankie Riley would say about some seaweed change.        

Things pretty much stayed that way all through high school although that didn’t stop Markin from his predictions especially when the blacks down south got all uppity (signifying that the corner boys except Markin didn’t give a rat’s ass about that subject either and maybe worse-around use of the common “n” word) and folk music, the urban folk revival minute as Markin called it, took off. All that meant and this was stretching it was cheap dates with girls who might “put out.” Bart was even less interested in the latter since Betty was still stuck in some Bobby Rydell crush and did not like folk music (and still didn’t so Bart only played it when she was out of the house). Stayed that way for a couple of years after high school as they went their separate ways except the Friday night reunions at Tonio’s to, well, kill time. Then the Vietnam War came on strong which they did give a rat’s ass about, wanted to see the commies bite the dust although except for Sal Russo and Jimmy Jenkins who laid down his head over there and whose name now is on black granite down in Washington and in granite in North Adamsville, they did not volunteer. (Those who were called eventually all went including Markin who lost a lot over there, had serious troubles with the “real” world coming back and in the end couldn’t shake whatever it was that took the life out of him.)

Then in the spring of 1967 Markin did two things, one, the fateful decision to drop out of Boston University after his sophomore year to go “find himself,” a characteristic of the times, of the generation, of the best part of the generation and the other, the less fateful but still fraught with danger decision to head west, to hitchhike west to California after he had read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road about six times and declared that now was the moment that he had been talking about all those Friday nights in front of Tonio’s. So he headed west with no compulsion, wound up hooking up with a caravan out there. The Captain Crunch yellow brick road caravan that would eventually be composed of at least a half dozen North Adamsville corner boys turned “hippies” for varying lengths of time. Bart was pretty late on that “train” didn’t go out until the summer of 1968 after he found out that due to a childhood injury that left him with a pronounced limp despite a couple of surgeries was declared 4-F, unfit for military service by the friends and neighbors at his local draft board. That pretty late also meant that Markin who shortly after he got out to San Francisco received his own draft notice and was an additional reason why Bart left the road early since he knew the ropes.  

Bart, despite whatever happened later, was happy to be heading out and once he decided to go he also decided that he would hitchhike out like all the other guys except Sam Lowell who to placate anxious parents, really an anxious mother went out by bus. Even Sam after five plus days on a stinking Greyhound bus with the usual screaming kids left to wander the aisles and the inevitable overweight seatmate who snored and despite a couple of pleasant days from New York to Chicago with a chick who caught his eye and whom he flirted like crazy with said later that he would have rather hitched than go through that again (and all his later trips would be done that way). Bart figured that although the road might be slow with the many false starts and being left in some strange places where grabbing a ride was not easy that it would be interesting once he got past the stifling East and Great Plains to see what was what in the West (that stifling Ruscha could attest to since he was nothing but a child of the Great Plains, hell, an Okie so he knew he had to head west in that big old Chevy Bart had heard he went out to L.A. in that fateful 1956 year when he entered art school out there).

Bart thinking about the experience, that first road out, that always served as a hallmark for every guy’s trip out remembered more or less vividly all those dusty side roads he got left on after his own trip through Oklahoma. Although the big Eisenhower-driven national security Interstate highway system made it easier in the mid-1960s to travel the hitchhike road than all the back roads and Route 66 that Bart had read about in Jack Kerouac’s travel the open road book On The Road that Markin made everybody read when they all were in high school even though he wasn’t much of a reader, didn’t think as much of the be-bop beats as Markin did who thought they were the max daddies he was waiting for even though by their time the “beat” thing was passe was old news, ancient history it was actually easier to get rides on the smaller roads where people could see you from down or up the road. In any case you were sure to be left off on more than one back road since that was just the way it was, nobody who was say going to Denver was going to let you off in the middle of Interstate 80 when you saw the sign for Cheyenne just ahead.  

Funny all the strange signs he saw out on the open back roads like  the mere fact of putting a sign up would draw people to your Podunk town , or your Podunk store. He had had to laugh when he saw Ruscha’s photograph of a town out in nowhere which probably had a population of less than one thousand but which had a sign documenting all the about ten church denominations that kept the good people of the town on their feet. He had seen more Jesus Save signs and the like than you could shake a stick at the further west he went until they stopped, stopped  dead the closer you got to coastal California. Saw more signs for cigarettes, beer, whiskey, dry goods (quaint), no trespassing, no loitering, no anything than he ever noticed back home. He wondered if people travelling through North Adamsville had that same feeling about his own Podunk town. He knew for sure that there were not top-heavy signs about all the religious denominations of the town at least not in the Acre where all you saw was a fistful of Catholic churches, Roman Catholic for the unknowing about differences.               

Had seen above all the signs that directed you to the nearest gas stations, almost a ritualistic sign that you were still in the golden age of the automobile, of the superhighway and of cheap gas. Hell even in North Adamsville right across from the high school he remembered the service station owners who had business right next to each other would have “gas wars,” would have signs out with prices like 30 cents per gallon versus say 29 cents. Yeah, cheap gas, and plenty of service too. Lots of guys, guys who needed to support their “boss” car habits worked as gas jockeys filling up tanks, checking oil and tires and wiping off windshields. Saw every kind of gas station from the one franchised out by Esso and Texaco to little fly-by-night operations with no name gas, a rundown coke machine that barely worked and bathrooms with stained sinks and broken plumbing and had not been cleaned since Hector was a pup. You had to use your own handkerchief to wipe your hands. Even some of the diners, diners like Jimmy Jack’s back home where all the guys hung out after leaving off their dates if they didn’t get lucky and wind up down at the far end of Squaw Road on Adamsville Beach fogging up some “boss” car into the wee hours of the morning had gas stations or at least pumps out on those long stretch deserted roads so nobody would get stranded on in the hot sun (and the owners probably figured that while stopping for gas the little family might as well have something to eat at the high carbohydrate steamed everything counters and booths).

Saw plenty of weird natural formations along the way getting twenty mile rides here from ranchers or farmers going up the road, fifty miles there from high-rollers taking the high side to Vegas, a few miles from high school kids joy-riding to while away the afternoon to avoid the dreaded chores that awaited them at home. Saw every kind dusty dried out tree seeking nourishment from the waterless ground. Saw rock formations hounded by the winds and sheered to perfection. Saw every color of brown, of beige, of grey. Saw too in Joshua Tree of a thousand tears, tears for the creeping civilization that was choking them away and tears one high doped up night when Markin and a few others channeled the shamans of the past in a ghost dance off the flickering canyon walls, hah, walls of brown, of beige, of grey. Bart never got over that experience, never saw what the white man, what his people had done so clearly even if he wasn’t about to do anything about it except load up on peyote buttons and ancient dreams of mock revenge.  
Saw above all as he grabbed that last one hundred, maybe one hundred and fifty mile stretch to Frisco town the refuge of the high speed road, the broken glass, the road kill, the busted fences where some fool had gone off the highway drunk or doped up so he didn’t feel a thing, saw stripped off bare truck tires blocking easy passage on the road ahead. Saw the bramble, the flotsam and jetsam of modern day life. Saw too though as he got closer to Frisco, as he could almost smell the ocean, the land’s end, the Japan seas or back home that the West was very different, that those who had make the trek, maybe were forced to make the trek were very different from the East that he knew. But maybe too they would have to run from a thing which they had built.

Later. after he arrived in San Francisco, met Markin, Josh and Frankie on Russian Hill and then joined them on the journey south for a few months (with a couple of trips back home in between) he would see Ruscha’s L.A. would see those luscious Hollywood signs, and would like any tourist from Podunk image that he had the wherewithal to make it as a star, or something like that name in lights. Got to know L.A. too well, couldn’t handle the freeway craziness, couldn’t handle the sameness of the endless strip malls, the endless rows of tickey-tack houses, couldn’t handle the sprawl that was turning a small town into a mega-town. Yeah he knew exactly what Ruscha was driving at, was trying to chronicle. Bot still he missed the opportunity to see if he did have what it took to survive in California, to have drunk in the scenes.     

And you wonder why Bart just then as he approached retirement as he approached his seventh decade was in a frenzy to repeat his past.    
In Honor Of The 75th Anniversary Of The Film “Casablanca”-Humphrey Bogart’s “The Maltese Falcon”-A Film Review

DVD Review

The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorrie, based on the crime novel by Dashiell Hammett, directed by John Huston, Warner Brothers, 1941

No question I am a film noir, especially a crime film noir, aficionado. Recently I have been on a tear reviewing various crime noir efforts and drawing comparisons between the ones that “speak” to me and those that, perhaps, should have been better left on the cutting room floor. The classics are easy and need no additional comment from me their plot lines stand on their own merits, although I will make some comment here. Others, because they have a fetching, or wicked, for that matter, femme fatale to muddy the waters also get a pass. Some, such as the film under review from the early 1940s, The Maltese Falcon, offer parts of both.

Generously offer parts of both here as an exemplar of the genre with one of the classic detectives of the age, Sam Spade. The plot line works because it is a prima facie, hard-boiled example of the lengths that humankind will go in pursuit of “the stuff of dreams.” As for femme fatale energy, although my personal 1940s favorite is Rita Hayworth, it is provide by the fetchingly wicked Mary Astor. Yes, I can see where old Sam Spade will jump through a few hoops, hell, many hoops, to get next to that one once she starts making her moves. Watch out Sam.

Although every serious crime noir aficionado should know the plot to this one by heart I will give a short summary for those three people in the classic crime noir world who have not seen (or read) this one-yet. It is, frankly, about a bird, and not just any bird but a historically significant gem –ladened statue of a one, and one moreover that will bring a good price on the black market where such things are traded as a matter of course. That is where the “stuff of dreams” gets everyone evolved in trouble. Who has it (or doesn’t have it), for how long, and what they will do in order to get it (and keep it) provides the driving force of this film as it did with classic noir detective writer Dashiell Hammett when he wrote it. The film is fairly true to the spirit of the novel, including much of the dialogue. Of course, along the way certain alliances are made (and unmade) as Sam Spade tries to maneuver among the parties interested in the object, including the aforementioned Mary Astor, a band of high- end brigands led by Sidney Greenstreet, and maybe others who have fallen by the wayside in pursuit.

Dashiell Hammett was known, correctly known, along with Raymond Chandler, for taking the crime detective out of the police procedural/ society amateur detective milieu and permitting their detectives to take a few punches, give a few punches, flirt with the femme fatales, and use the sparse language of the streets to bring some rough justice to this sorry old world. Sam Spade here takes more than his fair share of hits in order to make sense out of the mess that Ms. Astor brings to his door (and initially his partner, the late Miles Archer). And that is the rub. The various characters here are willing, more than willing, to murder and maim to get the damn bird and so Sam has to, on more occasions that he probably wished, weigh what to do about it. See that is where the femme fatale to muddy the waters part comes in, that damn perfume and that dangerous sassy manner that will drive a man, even a rough justice seeking man a little too close to the edge. But in the end the code of honor, or just an idea of it, drives Sam away from the perfume and back on the straight and narrow. Later when he thinks about that perfume he still will be wondering if he did the thing the right way. Ya, dames will do that to you, tough detectives or just regular joes. I know I was ready to throw my lot in with her, share of the bird or not.

Note: This will not be the last time that Humphrey Bogart played the classic noir detective. Or work with Lorrie and Greenstreet. He got his shots at playing Phillip Marlow in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. In a sense Bogart as an actor, a strange sense since he was not “beautiful,” defined that kind of detective- the “tilting at windmills” guy not too fragile to take a punch, give a dame the once over, and bring a little of that “rough justice” to the world, especially a world where the stuff of dreams went awry more often than not.

In Honor Of The 75th Anniversary Of The Film “Casablanca”- Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino’s “High Sierra”- A Film Review

DVD Review

High Sierra, starring Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, directed by Raoul Walsh, Warner Brothers, 1941

Okay, okay one more time- and this is for you, Roy “Mad Dog” Earle the “hero” of the film under review, High Sierra, crime does not pay. Some guys, some guys like brother Earle wind up learning that “hard knocks” lesson the hard way- lying face down at the bottom of some foreboding sierra canyon and no one , well, not no one, but hardly anyone to weep over their bones. And that, my friends, is the rough sketch lesson behind this classic Bogie gangster portrayal (and classic down-at-the heels dime-a-dance portrayal as faithful Marie, played by, well, an amazingly fetching Ida Lupino).

A little plot line is in order to show why, why, naw, skip that, we already have had our noses rubbed since childhood in the whys and why nots of crime doesn’t pay but why Brother Earle in the end took a bullet rather than be captured alive (even with his doll moll, Marie, ready to visit him every Sunday at some off the road prison locale).

See Earle is a three-time loser (or at least more than once) having been sprung from a full-book (okay, okay life) prison sentence (via an Indiana pardon) by an old-time gangster boss on his last legs. Apparently the talent pool of hard boys has dried up and an old pro that is not afraid to take heat and give some (without losing his head) is required for the caper the old don has in mind. A big jewelry heist in the Sierras (that’s in non-seaside California for the geography-challenged) at a watering hole for the well off. Easy stuff for Earle, as long as he keeps his head and the hired help don’t panic.

Now strictly as filler Roy, having had enough of the inside, and is planning to retire after he gets his cut from the heist. And for a while the film moves along with a little off-hand, oddball romance (no not Ida, not Ida yet). He befriends, on his road west, an old has-been farmer down on his uppers with a pretty crippled (oops, disabled) young granddaughter who he has ideas of marrying. Ya, I know, old Roy had been away for a while so maybe he is secretly skirt crazy, but this combination is strictly no go, no go on about seven counts, including that said granddaughter has enough sense to brush Roy the Boy off. Although not before Roy had sprung for a leg fixing operation. Roy, believe me, it never would have worked out. She would have run off with some Hollywood soda jerk or fast-talking garage mechanic and then where would you have been?

What works, and works like magic, is drop dead foxy, been around the block, been knocked around but is still taking the eight count, Marie. She had blew into town with a couple of what passed for hard boys in the hills of California night ( as boss man Big Mac said the talent ain’t like it used to be) and while they waste their time fighting over her favors she lights on our boy Roy. And after the granddaughter flame-out and some soft-soap sparring Marie wins the prize.

Naturally, yawn, the heist goes awry when some well-heeled dame screams and the bullets start to fly. And as the cops bear down through of series of narrower and narrower possibilities Roy is headed to that high sierra canyon, and death. No, Marie had it right. Like she had a lot of things right. He crashed out and was free, free as a three-time loser was ever going be.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Down And Dirty In The Delta-With Bluesman Skip James In Mind 

CD Review

By Music Critic Zack James

Skip James Unchained, Skip James Around Records, 1985 

“Hey, Josh, Sally Ann and I are headed to Newport this weekend for the folk festival, do you want to go?” asked Seth Garth plaintively knowing that Josh would give his right arm to be there that weekend, the weekend when the great old time country blues singers “discovered” by the young urban folk archivists and aficionados were going to “duel” it out for the “king of the hill” title. Of course Josh, stuck in a job as a research assistant in order to pay his way through college could not go since Professor Levin had some paper he was going to present to a conference out in California, out at Berkeley, that needed last minute upgrading and footnoting, a fact of life in the profession, and so would be drudging around at least until Tuesday. Even if he had been able to sneak away for several hours to run down there some seventy miles away he knew that Seth and Sally Ann would be heading down courtesy of the Greyhound bus and so that was strictly out.
Seth, knowing of Josh’s plight thought that it had really been something for a couple of guys from the working poor Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville were deeply into blues by guys from down in places like the Delta in Mississippi and the swamps of Alabama, places like that. City boys really and to the core, corner boys by inclination and so previously heavily attuned to nothing but bad boy rock and roll, you know, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee, country boys too but guys who had hooked into some primal beat that moved them, spoke to them, hell, spoke for them, in a way that no sociologist could ever figure out in a hundred years.

Strangely it had almost been an accidental occurrence since one night Seth had taken Annie Dubois from Olde Saco up in Maine to a blues concert in Cambridge where an old blues man from rural Texas, Mance Lipscomb was playing at the CafĂ© Algiers. He had been “found” by Alan Battles down in some Podunk town in Texas and came North via bus in tow with Alan. His Ella Speed and a couple of other tunes wowed him and he began studying up on Harry Smith’s anthology, Charles Seeger’s playlist and that of the Lomaxes, father and son. Watched too when unnamed aficionados were combing the South for country blues guys they had heard on old RCA records from the 1920s when that company sent out scouts to find talent for their “race records section.” Surprising some the guys, some of the best ones too, were still alive working in farm jobs or in small trades maybe playing the juke joints for drinks and pocket change.

Then in golden age 1963 (that golden age a true retrospective since many of the great bluesmen like Mississippi John Hurt, ditto Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sam Sloan, Bubba Ball, Bukka White would pass away within a few years of discovery so yes golden age) news came from Newport as they were announcing the festival program that Allan Battles had found Son House and Skip James to go with John Hurt. Now there was no publicity like today that would make the thing some kind of a shoot-out among the three for the title but Seth had a sneaking suspicion that that would happen. Would happen on the assumption that if you put three big gun bluesmen (or any three big guns in any musical genre) you were bound to have a shoot-out. That is what had animated all the conversations between Seth and Josh all spring on the assumption that Josh would be going along.  

In the event Seth had been right, at least in the end right. Each of the three men had their individual sets in a tent area set aside for them which actually was too small by the time serious folkies heard what was afoot. Seth and Sally Ann had gotten seat pretty close to the front because Seth although murder on any instrument he might play had a sense about who could play the guitar and who, beside him, could not. They all did a pretty good job, took a break and then came back together supposedly for one final collective song, John Hurt’s Beulah Land. Son House jumped out first but Seth detected that tell-tale glint he knew from his own drinking experiences that he had been at the bottle. John Hurt did well as would be expected on one of his signature covers. But then Skip James, not as good as a guitarist as the other two pulled down the hammer, came soaring out with that big falsetto voice and kept the field for himself.

And if you don’t believe Seth then check out this CD and then weep for your error.            
Songs For Our Times-Build The Resistance-Woody Guthrie's' "Deportee"  

During, let’s say the Obama administration or, hell, even the Bush era, for example  we could be gentle angry people over this or that notorious war policy and a few others matters and songs like Give Peace A Chance, We Shall Overcome, or hell, even that Kumbaya which offended the politically insensitive. From Day One of the Trump administration though the gloves have come off-we are in deep trouble. So we too need to take off our gloves-and fast as the cold civil war that has started in the American dark night heads to some place we don’t want to be. And the above song from another tumultuous time, makes more sense to be marching to. Build the resistance!

(aka. "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos")
Words by Woody Guthrie, Music by Martin Hoffman
The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again
Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"
My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.
Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.
We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.
The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"
Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?


Friday, February 24, 2017

Songs For Our Times-Build The Resistance-Barry McGuire's "Eve Of  Destruction"    

During, let’s say the Obama administration or, hell, even the Bush era, for example  we could be gentle angry people over this or that notorious war policy and a few others matters and songs like Give Peace A Chance, We Shall Overcome, or hell, even that Kumbaya which offended the politically insensitive. From Day One of the Trump administration though the gloves have come off-we are in deep trouble. So we too need to take off our gloves-and fast as the cold civil war that has started in the American dark night heads to some place we don’t want to be. And the above song from the 1960s, another tumultuous time, makes more sense to be marching to. Build the resistance!      


Play "Eve Of Destruction"
on Amazon Music
"Eve Of Destruction"

The eastern world it is exploding
Violence flarin', bullets loadin'
You're old enough to kill but not for votin'
You don't believe in war but whats that gun you're totin'?
And even the Jordan River has bodies floatin'

But you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction

Don't you understand what I'm tryin' to say
Can't you feel the fears I'm feelin' today?
If the button is pushed, there's no runnin' away
There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you boy, it's bound to scare you boy

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction

Yeah my blood's so mad feels like coagulating
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth it knows no regulation
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

And you tell me
Over and over and over again my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama
You may leave here for four days in space
But when you return it's the same old place
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace
You can bury your dead but don't leave a trace
Hate your next door neighbor but don't forget to say grace

And tell me
Over and over and over and over again my friend
You don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction
Mmm, no, no, you don't believe
We're on the eve of destruction