Wednesday, July 26, 2017

In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)-Poet's Corner – Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s  “Coney Island Of The Mind”



By Book Critic Zack James

To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe the truth, maybe just kicks, stuff, important stuff has happened or some such happening strictly second-hand. His generation’s search looking for a name, found what he, or someone associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, king of the mean New York streets, mean, very mean indeed in a junkie-hang-out world around Times Square when that place was up to its neck in flea-bit hotels, all night Joe and Nemo’s and the trail of the “fixer” man on every corner, con men coming out your ass too, called the “beat” generation.  Beat, beat of the jazzed up drum line backing some sax player searching for the high white note, what somebody told me, maybe my older brother Alex thy called “blowing to the China seas” out in West Coast jazz and blues circles, dead beat, run out on money, women, life, leaving, and this is important no forwarding address for the desolate repo man to hang onto, dread beat, nine to five, 24/7/365 that you will get caught back up in the spire wind up like your freaking staid, stay at home parents, beaten down, ground down like dust puffed away just for being, hell, let’s just call it being, beatified beat like saintly and all high holy Catholic incense and a story goes with it about a young man caught up in a dream, like there were not ten thousand other religions in the world to feast on- you can take your pick of the meanings, beat time meanings. Hell, join the club they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the mean streets of New York, Chi town, North Beach in Frisco town cadging twenty-five cents a night flea-bag sleeps, half stirred left on corner coffees and cigarette stubs when the Bull Durham ran out).

I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing, to that “beat” thing since I was probably just pulling out of diapers then, maybe a shade bit older but not much. I got my fill, my brim fill later through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book (need I say the book was On The Road) and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well. So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been washed by the beat wave that crashed the continent toward the end of the 1950s on the wings of Allan Ginsburg’s Howl and Jack’s travel book of a different kind. The kind that moves generations, or I like to think the best parts of those cohorts. These were the creation documents the latter which would drive Alex west before he finally settled down to his career life (and to my sorrow and anger never looked back).             

Of course anytime you talk about books and poetry and then add my brother Alex’s name into the mix that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh, and a few others still alive recently had me put together a tribute book for in connection with that Summer of Love, 1967 just mentioned.  Markin was the vanguard guy, the volunteer odd-ball unkempt mad monk seeker who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. To see some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before (and which nobody in the crowd paid attention to, or dismissed out of hand what they called “could give a rat’s ass” about in the local jargon which I also inherited in those cold, hungry bleak 1950s cultural days in America) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet who ran wild on the mean streets among the hustlers, conmen and whores of the major towns of the continent, William Burroughs, the Harvard-trained junkie  and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation as them but of a very different world.

But it was above all Jack’s book, Jack’s book which had caused a big splash in 1957, and had ripple effects into the early 1960s (and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple, fast and hard part). Made the young, some of them anyway have to spend some time thinking through the path of life ahead by hitting the vagrant dusty sweaty road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.    

Like I said above Alex was out two years and other guys, other corner boys for whatever else you wanted to call them that was their niche back in those days and were recognized as such in the town not always to their benefit, from a few months to a few years. Markin started first back in the spring of 1967 but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely end. With maybe this difference from today’s young who are seeking alternative roads away from what is frankly bourgeois society and was when Jack wrote although nobody except commies and pinkos called it that. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly from hunger working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little “from hunger” takes a big toll on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley the “Scribe” from the time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them he was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then. Although nobody in their right minds would have the inept Markin actually execute the plan that was for smooth as silk Frankie to lead. That operational sense was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against him). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduced some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into that genre, still doesn’t, despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out. Hated whinny Dylan above all else) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud from on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called a new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using that term from the times again, have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital. (That is a direct quote from Frankie Riley at the time via my brother Alex’s memory bank.)


Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell, a working class town very much like North Adamsville, and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having one of my high school summertime blues. Read it through without stopping almost like he wrote the final version of the thing on a damn newspaper scroll. So it was through Markin via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.           


Markin comment


When I think of Lowell, Massachusetts, and I do as I have some ancient connections with that old mill town, I think of mad man wordsmith Jack Kerouac and his “beat” buddies, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. And when I think of “drugstore cowboy” William Burroughs I think of his hometown, the gateway to Middle America, St. Louis. And when I think of “Om Man” Allen Ginsberg I think of San Francisco Howl (Yes, I know I should think New Jersey but that doesn’t jibe with my “travelogue” West.) And when I think of San Francisco I think of “poet dream” City Lights Bookstore. And when I think of City Lights Bookstore I think of “keeping the dim light burning” Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And so should you.

********

Coney Island Of The Mind-Number 20


The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Number 8


It was a face which darkness could kill
in an instant
a face as easily hurt
by laughter or light

'We think differently at night'
she told me once
lying back languidly

And she would quote Cocteau

'I feel there is an angel in me' she'd say
'whom I am constantly shocking'

Then she would smile and look away
light a cigarette for me
sigh and rise

and stretch
her sweet anatomy

let fall a stocking
In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)-Poet's Corner – Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s  “Coney Island Of The Mind”



By Book Critic Zack James

To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe the truth, maybe just kicks, stuff, important stuff has happened or some such happening strictly second-hand. His generation’s search looking for a name, found what he, or someone associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, king of the mean New York streets, mean, very mean indeed in a junkie-hang-out world around Times Square when that place was up to its neck in flea-bit hotels, all night Joe and Nemo’s and the trail of the “fixer” man on every corner, con men coming out your ass too, called the “beat” generation.  Beat, beat of the jazzed up drum line backing some sax player searching for the high white note, what somebody told me, maybe my older brother Alex thy called “blowing to the China seas” out in West Coast jazz and blues circles, dead beat, run out on money, women, life, leaving, and this is important no forwarding address for the desolate repo man to hang onto, dread beat, nine to five, 24/7/365 that you will get caught back up in the spire wind up like your freaking staid, stay at home parents, beaten down, ground down like dust puffed away just for being, hell, let’s just call it being, beatified beat like saintly and all high holy Catholic incense and a story goes with it about a young man caught up in a dream, like there were not ten thousand other religions in the world to feast on- you can take your pick of the meanings, beat time meanings. Hell, join the club they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the mean streets of New York, Chi town, North Beach in Frisco town cadging twenty-five cents a night flea-bag sleeps, half stirred left on corner coffees and cigarette stubs when the Bull Durham ran out).

I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing, to that “beat” thing since I was probably just pulling out of diapers then, maybe a shade bit older but not much. I got my fill, my brim fill later through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book (need I say the book was On The Road) and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well. So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been washed by the beat wave that crashed the continent toward the end of the 1950s on the wings of Allan Ginsburg’s Howl and Jack’s travel book of a different kind. The kind that moves generations, or I like to think the best parts of those cohorts. These were the creation documents the latter which would drive Alex west before he finally settled down to his career life (and to my sorrow and anger never looked back).             

Of course anytime you talk about books and poetry and then add my brother Alex’s name into the mix that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh, and a few others still alive recently had me put together a tribute book for in connection with that Summer of Love, 1967 just mentioned.  Markin was the vanguard guy, the volunteer odd-ball unkempt mad monk seeker who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. To see some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before (and which nobody in the crowd paid attention to, or dismissed out of hand what they called “could give a rat’s ass” about in the local jargon which I also inherited in those cold, hungry bleak 1950s cultural days in America) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet who ran wild on the mean streets among the hustlers, conmen and whores of the major towns of the continent, William Burroughs, the Harvard-trained junkie  and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation as them but of a very different world.

But it was above all Jack’s book, Jack’s book which had caused a big splash in 1957, and had ripple effects into the early 1960s (and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple, fast and hard part). Made the young, some of them anyway have to spend some time thinking through the path of life ahead by hitting the vagrant dusty sweaty road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.    

Like I said above Alex was out two years and other guys, other corner boys for whatever else you wanted to call them that was their niche back in those days and were recognized as such in the town not always to their benefit, from a few months to a few years. Markin started first back in the spring of 1967 but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely end. With maybe this difference from today’s young who are seeking alternative roads away from what is frankly bourgeois society and was when Jack wrote although nobody except commies and pinkos called it that. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly from hunger working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little “from hunger” takes a big toll on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley the “Scribe” from the time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them he was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then. Although nobody in their right minds would have the inept Markin actually execute the plan that was for smooth as silk Frankie to lead. That operational sense was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against him). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduced some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into that genre, still doesn’t, despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out. Hated whinny Dylan above all else) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud from on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called a new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using that term from the times again, have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital. (That is a direct quote from Frankie Riley at the time via my brother Alex’s memory bank.)


Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell, a working class town very much like North Adamsville, and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having one of my high school summertime blues. Read it through without stopping almost like he wrote the final version of the thing on a damn newspaper scroll. So it was through Markin via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.           


Markin comment


When I think of Lowell, Massachusetts, and I do as I have some ancient connections with that old mill town, I think of mad man wordsmith Jack Kerouac and his “beat” buddies, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. And when I think of “drugstore cowboy” William Burroughs I think of his hometown, the gateway to Middle America, St. Louis. And when I think of “Om Man” Allen Ginsberg I think of San Francisco Howl (Yes, I know I should think New Jersey but that doesn’t jibe with my “travelogue” West.) And when I think of San Francisco I think of “poet dream” City Lights Bookstore. And when I think of City Lights Bookstore I think of “keeping the dim light burning” Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And so should you.

********

Coney Island Of The Mind-Number 20


The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Number 8


It was a face which darkness could kill
in an instant
a face as easily hurt
by laughter or light

'We think differently at night'
she told me once
lying back languidly

And she would quote Cocteau

'I feel there is an angel in me' she'd say
'whom I am constantly shocking'

Then she would smile and look away
light a cigarette for me
sigh and rise

and stretch
her sweet anatomy

let fall a stocking
In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)-Poet's Corner – Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s  “Coney Island Of The Mind”



By Book Critic Zack James

To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe the truth, maybe just kicks, stuff, important stuff has happened or some such happening strictly second-hand. His generation’s search looking for a name, found what he, or someone associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, king of the mean New York streets, mean, very mean indeed in a junkie-hang-out world around Times Square when that place was up to its neck in flea-bit hotels, all night Joe and Nemo’s and the trail of the “fixer” man on every corner, con men coming out your ass too, called the “beat” generation.  Beat, beat of the jazzed up drum line backing some sax player searching for the high white note, what somebody told me, maybe my older brother Alex thy called “blowing to the China seas” out in West Coast jazz and blues circles, dead beat, run out on money, women, life, leaving, and this is important no forwarding address for the desolate repo man to hang onto, dread beat, nine to five, 24/7/365 that you will get caught back up in the spire wind up like your freaking staid, stay at home parents, beaten down, ground down like dust puffed away just for being, hell, let’s just call it being, beatified beat like saintly and all high holy Catholic incense and a story goes with it about a young man caught up in a dream, like there were not ten thousand other religions in the world to feast on- you can take your pick of the meanings, beat time meanings. Hell, join the club they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the mean streets of New York, Chi town, North Beach in Frisco town cadging twenty-five cents a night flea-bag sleeps, half stirred left on corner coffees and cigarette stubs when the Bull Durham ran out).

I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing, to that “beat” thing since I was probably just pulling out of diapers then, maybe a shade bit older but not much. I got my fill, my brim fill later through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book (need I say the book was On The Road) and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well. So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been washed by the beat wave that crashed the continent toward the end of the 1950s on the wings of Allan Ginsburg’s Howl and Jack’s travel book of a different kind. The kind that moves generations, or I like to think the best parts of those cohorts. These were the creation documents the latter which would drive Alex west before he finally settled down to his career life (and to my sorrow and anger never looked back).             

Of course anytime you talk about books and poetry and then add my brother Alex’s name into the mix that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh, and a few others still alive recently had me put together a tribute book for in connection with that Summer of Love, 1967 just mentioned.  Markin was the vanguard guy, the volunteer odd-ball unkempt mad monk seeker who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. To see some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before (and which nobody in the crowd paid attention to, or dismissed out of hand what they called “could give a rat’s ass” about in the local jargon which I also inherited in those cold, hungry bleak 1950s cultural days in America) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet who ran wild on the mean streets among the hustlers, conmen and whores of the major towns of the continent, William Burroughs, the Harvard-trained junkie  and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation as them but of a very different world.

But it was above all Jack’s book, Jack’s book which had caused a big splash in 1957, and had ripple effects into the early 1960s (and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple, fast and hard part). Made the young, some of them anyway have to spend some time thinking through the path of life ahead by hitting the vagrant dusty sweaty road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.    

Like I said above Alex was out two years and other guys, other corner boys for whatever else you wanted to call them that was their niche back in those days and were recognized as such in the town not always to their benefit, from a few months to a few years. Markin started first back in the spring of 1967 but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely end. With maybe this difference from today’s young who are seeking alternative roads away from what is frankly bourgeois society and was when Jack wrote although nobody except commies and pinkos called it that. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly from hunger working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little “from hunger” takes a big toll on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley the “Scribe” from the time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them he was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then. Although nobody in their right minds would have the inept Markin actually execute the plan that was for smooth as silk Frankie to lead. That operational sense was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against him). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduced some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into that genre, still doesn’t, despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out. Hated whinny Dylan above all else) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud from on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called a new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using that term from the times again, have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital. (That is a direct quote from Frankie Riley at the time via my brother Alex’s memory bank.)


Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell, a working class town very much like North Adamsville, and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having one of my high school summertime blues. Read it through without stopping almost like he wrote the final version of the thing on a damn newspaper scroll. So it was through Markin via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.           


Markin comment


When I think of Lowell, Massachusetts, and I do as I have some ancient connections with that old mill town, I think of mad man wordsmith Jack Kerouac and his “beat” buddies, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. And when I think of “drugstore cowboy” William Burroughs I think of his hometown, the gateway to Middle America, St. Louis. And when I think of “Om Man” Allen Ginsberg I think of San Francisco Howl (Yes, I know I should think New Jersey but that doesn’t jibe with my “travelogue” West.) And when I think of San Francisco I think of “poet dream” City Lights Bookstore. And when I think of City Lights Bookstore I think of “keeping the dim light burning” Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And so should you.

********

Coney Island Of The Mind-Number 20


The pennycandystore beyond the El
is where I first
fell in love
with unreality
Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
of that september afternoon
A cat upon the counter moved among
the licorice sticks
and tootsie rolls
and Oh Boy Gum

Outside the leaves were falling as they died

A wind had blown away the sun

A girl ran in
Her hair was rainy
Her breasts were breathless in the little room

Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Number 8


It was a face which darkness could kill
in an instant
a face as easily hurt
by laughter or light

'We think differently at night'
she told me once
lying back languidly

And she would quote Cocteau

'I feel there is an angel in me' she'd say
'whom I am constantly shocking'

Then she would smile and look away
light a cigarette for me
sigh and rise

and stretch
her sweet anatomy

let fall a stocking

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Yeah, No Question War Is Hell-With Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli” In Mind 




By Film Critic Emeritus Sam Lowell

As the readers of this site [this review initially posted on the American Left History blog and the on-line at American Literary Gazette site] may know I recently have retired, maybe semi-retired is a better way to put it, from the day to day, week to week grind of reviewing film old and young as I just hit my sixty-fifth year on this whacky old planet. That stepping aside to let Sandy Salmon, my friend and competitor from the Gazette, take his paces on a regular basis did not mean that I would be going completely silent as I intended, and told the site administrator Pete Markin as much, to do an occasional film review and general commentary. This is one of those general commentary times.

What has me exercised is Sandy’s recent review of Australian director Peter Weir’s World War I classic Gallipoli starring Mark Lee and Mel Gibson. I take no issue with Sandy since he did a fine job. What caught my attention was Sandy’s comment about Archie’s, the role played by Mark Lee, fervent desire to join his fellow Aussies on Gallipoli peninsula as a patriotic duty and a manly adventure. When I did my own review of the film back in 1981 when it first came out I make a number of comments about my own military experiences and those of some of the guys I hung around with in high school who had to make some decisions about what to do about the war of our generation, the Vietnam War of the decade of the 1960s. 

While the action of the Australian young men itching to get into the “action” of World War I (which by the way we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the third year of this year) preceded us by fifty years a lot of the same ideas were hanging around our old-time working class neighborhood in Vietnam War times. More than a few guys like Jim Leary and Freddie Lewis were like Archie ready, willing and able to go fight the “red menace,” tip the dominoes our way, do their patriotic duty take your pick of reasons. Maybe in Freddie’s case to get out of the hostile household that he grew up in and maybe Jim like Archie a little for the adventure, to prove something about the questions he had about his manhood. I did not pick those two names out accidently for those names now are permanently etched on that hallowed black granite wall down in Washington that brings tears to my eyes old as I am every time I go there.       

Then there were guys like me and Jack Callahan, Pete Markin who didn’t want to go into the military, didn’t want to enlist like Jim and Freddie but who having no real reason not to go when our local draft boards sent “the letter” requesting our services did go and survived. The main reason that we did not want to go, at least at the time, not later when we got a serious idea of what war was about, was it kind of cramped our style, would put a crimp in our drinking, doping, and grabbing every girl who was not nailed down style. Later Pete and I got religion on the issues of war and peace and being on the right side of the angels on the question, realized that the other options like draft refusal which might have meant jail or fleeing to Canada were probably better options. But we were like Archie and Frank in Gallipoli working class kids even though we had all been college students as well. When in our past was there even a notion of not going when the military called, of abandoning the old life in America for who knows what in Canada. We did what we did with what made sense to us at the time even if we were dead-ass wrong.         

And then of course there is a story from our town like Frank Jackman’s who grew up in a neighborhood even down lower on the social scale than ours, grew up in “the projects,” the notorious projects which our parents would threaten us with if we didn’t stop being a serious drain the family’s resources. Frank somehow was a college guy too and like us “accepted” induction although he had more qualms about what the heck was going on in Vietnam and about being a soldier. But like us he also accepted induction because he could see no other road out. This is where the story changes up though. Frank almost immediately upon getting to basic training down at Fort Dix knew that he had made a mistake-had no business in a uniform. And by hook or by crook he did something about it, especially once he got orders for Vietnam. The “hook” part was that through a serious of actions which I don’t need to detail here he wound up doing a little over a year in an Army stockade for refusing to go to Vietnam. Brave man.  The “crook” part was also through a series of actions which need not detain us now, mostly through the civilian courts, he was discharged, discharged from the stockade, honorably discharged as a conscientious objector.            

Archie, Frank and their Aussie comrades only started to get an idea, a real idea about the horrors of war when they were in the trenches in front of the Turks also entrenched on Gallipoli peninsula and being mowed down like some many blades of grass. Archie and most of the crew that joined up with him were among those blades of grass. It was at the point where Archie was steeling himself to go over the top of the trenches after two previous waves had been mowed down and then being cut down by the Turkish machine-gun firing that I realized how brave Frank Jackman’s actions were in retrospect.


Monday, July 24, 2017

When Lady Day Chased The Blues Away, Again And Again-“Billie Holiday: Embraceable You”-A CD Review 




CD Review

By Music Critic Seth Garth

Billie Holiday: Embraceable You, Billie Holiday, 2 CD set, Polygram    

Everybody, at least the everybodies who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, had at least heard the sad life story and junkie death of the legendary blue singer Billie Holiday. Knew that information either from having read her biography, the liner notes on her records (vinyl for those younger readers who have not become hip to the beauties of that old-fashion way to produce recordings in the current retro revival of that method), newspaper obituaries, or from the 1970s film starring Diana Ross (lead singer of Motown’s The Supremes). So everybody knew that Lady Day had come up the hard way, had had a hard time with men in her life and had plenty of trouble with junk, with heroin. Had turned her into some hustling gal with dark lights out of a Nelson Algren story about her daddy making her blues go away, had the “fixer” man making the pain going away for a moment. (I believe that the Prez, the great saxophonist Lester Young who himself blew many a high white note out to the China seas as the phrase went on the West Coast when he was “on” gave her that name. Put lady and day together and it stuck. He backed her up on many recordings, including here, and in many a venue, including New York café society before they pulled her ticket. The name fit her as did that eternal flower arrangement, sweet gardenia speaking of sexual adventures and promise, in her hair)     

Yeah, that is the sad part, the life and times part. But if you listen to this CD under review like the other ones in this series and other compilations that I am reviewing at this time while I am in a “from hunger” wanting habits mood about Lady Day’s work like I get into every once in a while about music that moved, moves, me, spoke, speaks, to me. If you listen through this double CD you will also know why in the first part of the 21st century guys like me are still reviewing her work, still haunted by that voice, by that meaningful pause between notes that carried you to a different place, by that slight hush as she envelopes a song which kept your own blues at bay. I repeat kept your blues away whatever she suffered to bring that sentiment forward.

That last statement, those last two sentences are really what I want to hone in on here as I have previously since Billie Holiday is an acquired taste, and a taste which grows on you as you settle in to listen to whole albums rather than a single selection spending half the night turning over vinyl, flipping tapes, changing CDs if you don’t have multiple CD recorder, or grabbing the dial on an MP3 player. Here is my god’s honest truth though. Many a blue night when I was young, hell, now too, I would play Billie for hours, tune that vinyl over in my case, and my own silly blues would kind of evaporate. Nice right.

Here is the not nice part, maybe better the not respectful part for a sanctified woman’s voice and spirit.  Once a few years ago I was talking to some young people about Billie and, maybe under the influence of the Diana Ross film or from their disapproving parents, kind of wrote her off as just another junkie gone to seed. I shocked them, I think, when I said if I had had the opportunity I would have given Billie all the dope she wanted just for taking my own blues   away. That is why we still listen to that sultry, slinky, sexy voice today. 

Is everything in this CD or in her overall work the cat’s meow. No, toward the end in the 1950s you can tell her voice was hanging by a thread under the strain of all her troubles, legal and medical. But in the 1930sand 1940s, the time of her time, covering Cole Porter, Gershwin and Jerome Kern songs with a little Johnny Mercer thrown in, the time of Tin Pan Alley songs which seem to have almost been written just for her she had that certain “it” which cannot be defined but only accepted, accepted gratefully. 

Some of the songs here may be a little more uneven that her later work when she teamed up with serious jazz and blues players like the aforementioned Lester Young blowing out high white notes to the China seas while she basked in the glow of the lyrics. But just check out Our Love Is Here To Stay, One For My Baby, the title track Embraceable You and Day In Day Out and you will get an idea of what I am talking about. And maybe get your own blues chased away    


The Boy With Two Left Feet-With Fred Astaire And Ginger Roger’s 1935 Film Roberta In Mind






By Film Critic Emeritus Sam Lowell


Remember the expression made famous, or infamous depending on your perspective, about old soldiers never dying but just fading away. Well it appears that yours truly, Sam Lowell, now supposedly placed “out to pasture” is still taking every opportunity to sneak a comment or quasi-film review as he fades into the sunset. Today’s comment concerns a film review that new film critic Sandy Salmon did a few days ago on the 1935 film Roberta starring the prolific dance team of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire with Paris and high fashion as the backdrop. Whatever the backdrop, whatever, as Sandy pointed out, the scriptwriter put down for plot the whole exercise was strictly as a vehicle for Rogers and Astaire bursting into song and/or dancing to the high heavens. Take that for what it is worth but what interests me is a comment Sandy made about his own youthful, well, two left feet, which made his social life, meaning his high school date life rather tenuous. Today I join the club, the club of two left feet dreamers dreaming that they were sweeping some damsel off her feet, or at least keeping off her feet, Fred Astaires.        

Naturally a story goes with it. See in high school I was sweet, okay, okay I had a “crush” on this girl from my sophomore English class, Theresa Wallace, based on the great conversations we had about literature mostly I think then on the work of Thomas Hardy and various other English authors that I, and she, were crazy for. I think she liked me too although I was a little shy and backward about picking up any feminine hints and furthermore had heard nothing on the high speed grapevine which would convey that information with such candor that it would be the envy of any professional intelligence organization like the CIA or NSA today . The big thing that I was interested in was whether she was taken, “going steady” in the terms of the day. That question got answered in the negative fortunately for in our neighborhood, among the corner boys in the know, if a girl was taken then that signaled “hands-off” as a question of honor although I later, too late, found out that tradition was honored more in the breech than the observance. The big thing here was that Theresa was “single.”         

We were having a conversation during lunch break one day, don’t ask me what the gist of the conversation was, when out of the blue Theresa mentioned that he parents were really strict, were hard-shell 12th Street Baptists which I guess then was pretty serious stuff although I had my own problems with my Roman Catholic religion so I wasn’t in a position to evaluate the seriousness of her family’s religious bent. What she then said which gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach was that they would not allow her to go out on dates, not with boys, not on double dates, nothing except church sponsored socials heavily chaperoned. The next thing she said though sent me to heaven or something like that, happy anyway. She, after something like a civil war with her parents when she described the situation to me, had persuaded them to let her go to the Spring Frolic, the big sophomore class dance. She had to go alone or with her girlfriends but no boys were coming to the door and no boys were to take her home. I guess from the restrictions it was a close thing whether they would let her dance with boys at the dance.

The important thing was that she was wondering whether I was going or not. Now usually I avoided school dances (church ones too) like the plague after what happened in seventh grade at the Christmas dance which I will describe a little shortly. My idea for Theresa before she told me about her parents strictures was maybe ask her to the movies or to go to Doc’s Drugstore to listen to the jukebox but not to a dance, no way. But Theresa gave me such a smile while she was asking if I was going or not it put me in a quandary. Then she said although I couldn’t pick her up she would meet me at the dance and we could have a few dances together if I liked. If I liked. You know I was going to the dance after that invitation come hell or high water.                
      
That brings up the why of my serious avoidance of dances. Back in seventh grade I was something of a good guy for girls to talk too without being fresh, showing some respect. For that I caught the eye of Betsy Binstock, the prettiest girl in seventh grade, who came up to me one day around Thanksgiving and asked me if I would take her to the Christmas dance. You know what I said so we don’t even have to go into that. I was thrilled but I also knew that I knew nothing about dancing except some silly stuff I had seen on American Bandstand where the kids were really cool in their dance steps. So I, after my first full-press getting ready for a date (mouthwash, deodorant, hair oil, etc.) picked up Betsy and we walked the half mile or so to the junior high school we attended. The dance, as always, was held in the gym festooned to try to hide the fact that it was a gym and not a dance hall. Unsuccessfully. I was excited just to be seen with Betsy and I noticed guys, guys I hung around with too, checking me out on my good luck. Once the dance began there were several songs played on the cranky record player which because we are talking about the pristine age of roll and roll which did not require dancing close together I was able to get through.

Then the other shoe fell, fell on Betsy. The junior DJ who was working the record player played a slow one, played Save The Last Dance For Me (of course I would remember the name of the song that would do me in). So we started to dance which Betsy was very good at. Needless to say I was not and accidently tripped over her feet causing her to fall. That fall was the bitter end. For the rest of the evening-the very long evening- Betsy made a point of limping every chance she got. Worse, worse in the seventh grade social universe, she let Lenny Balfour take home. Done for.

With that sad ass backdrop story in mind I decided that in the few weeks remaining until the Spring Frolic I would take some dance lessons from a friend of mine’s older sister. I swore him to secrecy and he held up his end of the bargain. His sister did the best she could and although I had improved somewhat every step I took was cause for a nervous breakdown on my part, maybe hers too. So the big night came. I was dressed to look good (what the hell you do learn some social graces for if not for being around girls, women) and Theresa came in a little later with a girlfriend looking I swear like a delicate bud, like some Botticelli Venus. We both blushed a bit when she spotted me. Once again, pretty much the norm in rock and roll times at dances, the first few were fast ones where you could just gyrate on your own and cause no pain. Just before intermission the paid profession DJ played a slow one to end the first half of the dance. Played Moon River I think. Things did not go well so I will confess to a little forgetfulness on the song played. But here is why things did not go well. Theresa stepped all over my feet. At intermission both of us flustered Theresa said maybe we should go down to the nearby beach instead of staying at the dance since she said she had something to explain to me.             


As we walked down to the beach Theresa, half in tears, told me because of her family’s religious views she had never really learned how to do any close dancing. She had asked her girlfriend, and had sworn her to secrecy, to teach her some steps, but she just could not get the hang of it and had been worried that I might find fault with her since I was such a good dancer. (She didn’t know only because of her being all over my feet I didn’t get a chance at hers.) She was sorry that she had two-left feet. I mentioned, no, I confessed to her, my own fragile efforts. We laughed. Then I suggested maybe we should start a club for people with two-left feet. She replied “with only two members.” Oh, yes, yes indeed. That remark got us through high school together-even through the senior prom.            
A Grunt’s Saga –James Hogan’s “Nam ‘68: A Novel”-A Book Review

Book Review

By Fritz Taylor

Nam ’68: A Novel, James Hogan, Hellgate Press, 2015


If you want to get a birds’ eye view of the existential nature of warfare at close quarters then perhaps you should check out Norman Mailer’s World War II classic standard in The Naked And The Dead. If you are looking for a slice of Army life in the calm just before the storm of the Pacific War then check out James Jones’ classic From Here To Eternity. If you want to get an overview of the Vietnam War in novelistic form at the larger unit level then check out Tim O’Brien or Phillip Caputo. But if you want a ringside view of what it was like for the average infantryman, the “grunt” of hoary legend down at the squad level, down at the base then check out James Hogan’s novelistic treatment of that latter war in his Nam ’68 saga.
Although it is in novelistic form for obvious reasons the book’s story-line centered on main characters High Pockets and Brownie are based on the adventures, misadventures, screw-ups, weird actions and camaraderie is based on the author’s experiences as a grunt in the 7th Cavalry mostly up in the Central Highland in that critical year of 1968 when all hell was brewing in Vietnam-and in America. When the guys out in the boondocks taking a line from the famous Country Joe and the Fish song asked “what are we fighting for” while trying to survive-and help their buddies survive too. As it said on the blurb on the back of the book the story rings true to any Vietnam veteran, heck, any veteran on some of the stuff from the well-known rough barracks language to the seemingly irrational details that brass were forever dreaming up.        

Of course when one thinks of 1968 in terms of the Vietnam War, at least as those from my, from Hogan’s generation experienced it was the Tet offensive by the North Vietnamese/South Vietnamese Liberation Army which in many ways exposed the futility of going along the road to further American escalation of the troop levels. And while that feeling is reflected in the story line even among the grunts here down at the fighting squad level something more like having “your buddy’s back” and survival were closer to day to day reality and not what was happening with the politicians in Washington or Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).   

The two key characters honed in on in this squad’s eye view of the war are High Pockets who is mostly a private (the author a very tall man and hence the moniker) and Brownie who is mostly a sergeant in both cases depending on what craziness they got themselves into. Craziness determined in the Army, in the military by how far away from regulation you have drifted in whatever you were up to. The scene is filled out by a shifting array of other rank and file squad members like Dudley, Big Mike and Eli and anchored by NCO Top (top sergeant) who let this squad go through its paces without much supervision he trusted the guys that much. A high compliment from a career Army man. (That “shifting array” determined by when a squad member’s tour was up either by time, grievous wounds or death). More distance were a revolving array of officers mostly lieutenants most famously one named Pineapple, a respected captain and a sporadically seen colonel. But the main action and hijinks are were among those rank and file soldiers holding ground, or trying to.  

The scene of most of the action in the book is in various firebases in the Central Highlands (with a shorter stay in the Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border later on toward the end of the High Pocket’s tour). And mostly the action is about the fate of various patrols the squad goes out on into the bush looking for enemy soldiers-and finding them (or they finding the squad). High Pockets usually walked the “point”-figured out where the landmines and other traps the enemy had laid down and got the squad to its objective and back (that latter part very important). As the story develops it becomes apparent that for a city boy this High Pockets is an exceptional soldier, exceptional in the ability to stay alive and keep others alive as well. Brownie a little less impulsive than High Pockets is also an excellent soldier. If you were knee-deep in a fire fight then High Pockets was your man due to his personal bravery and what the hell manner. If you needed to figure out the best use of personal, a leader making quick on-the-spot decisions then Brownie was your man. The two anchored the day to day operations of the unit from those fire fights to guard duty to digging fortifications.       


I really couldn’t do justice to all of the actions that this squad carried out in this short review. Let’s leave it that in the Central Highlands there was plenty of action, plenty of experience, inexperienced soldiers and officers and plenty of mistakes. Enough to keep the story moving at a steady pace. And plenty of description of the “down” time, the time in base camps when the favorite activity of the squad was to get high on drugs and “chill” out (rampart drug usage to keep your head on the great “secret” of that war and a whole separate issue of what happened to those guys when they got back to the real world). Check this novel out if you want the skinny on the real face of war down on the ground where the bloody action takes place. 




      

Sunday, July 23, 2017

“Oh What Tangled Web We Weave”-With The Film Adaptation Of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter” In Mind





By Josh Breslin 

“I swear I wish sometimes I could be a woman. NO I am not talking about turning from male to female or anything like that [revealing true sexual identity which some people are now in 2017 correctly asserting their right to do -JB]. Society in the year of our lord 1936 would not put up with it, would not put up with such an idea even though anybody who is anybody who has read any amount of history, the history of sexual experiences anyway knows, that cross-dressing, cross-sexing I guess you could call it has been going on since Eve came out of Adam’s rib, maybe before,” Roger Saint John mentioned in passing to his dear friend Bernard Baron.

The causes for Mister Saint John’s comment were two-fold. He had just read his close friend Somerset’s latest novel, The Letter, after having avoided the pleasure as long as possible since he did not like the subject matter as a rule of whatever concoction Somerset had cooked up to titillate the literate reading public here adultery and murder, murder most foul. Moreover this same Bernard Baron had insisted that they go see the opening of the film adaptation of Somerset’s novel starring Bette Davis and he had had quite enough of the whole thing. However Roger was intrigued by the craziness, his term, that the woman would go through to hold a man, a man who was no longer interested in being with her.

This Clara, Bette Davis’ role in the film, starts off directly in scene one doing her version of rooty-toot toot on her paramour who went south on her, Steven something. Yes, dear Clara was in a tizzy over hard fact than this Steven cad was smitten by another woman. Maybe it was that Steven had gone “native” on her, had taken up with a beautiful Polynesian woman whom he swore he was pledged to eternal devotion. For that transgression he paid with about two fistfuls of bullets and plenty of splattered blood (to speak nothing of the defamation of his character as this Clara came up with the usual tart story that this Steven had made improper advantages toward her and she had to defend her honor, her womanhood in the only way that woman can-with a handy revolver.]

But Saint John once he started to get up a head of steam decided that perhaps it would be better for the reader to have a little background as to why he was at pains to try to figure out what made the female sex tick. The ploy was pretty simple. Clara, married, unhappily married to Donald Smythe, the famous geological engineer for the East Coast Oil Company, was stuck unto death in dreary Indonesia where Donald was often called away on business for his company out in the boondocks. Clara none too strong on Donald anyway except as a meal ticket out of the West End of London from whence she came got easily bored and started hanging around the Leeward Inn where she met this guy Steven   who would wind up with many holes in him before Clara was through with him. They became hard and fast lovers for over a year and Clara, at least had dreams of getting out from under her Donald burden and leave the goddam archipelago and then Steven lowered the boom on her. Told her that he was in love with his native woman, Sisil. End of story. No, end of Steven. Clara was going to have her man or else she was going to take care of business her own way.

Here’s where things got dicey, where Saint John was at a lost to figure out what was running behind a woman’s mind when she has been unceremoniously dumped. She developed this whole elaborate plot about how her lover, now dead, and unable to contradict her had really been public nuisance number one, had thrust himself upon her. This weak sister of  an alibi which anybody who ever spent ten minutes at the Leeward Inn would know was false since Clara and Steven had their little corner love nest spot in the bar got her easily past her gullible and witless cuckolded husband, no problem. More importantly got her past the friendly constabulary which was friendly with Donald and wanted to be friendly toward whatever wishes East Coast Oil had. She was ready to walk after a perfunctory trial which was necessary given the death in the case,

Then the fucking letter came to light, the letter where Clara expressed her undying devotion to Steven and gave the back of her hand to the foolish Donald. She moved might and main to get that fucking letter back from whoever had found it. Of course it was Sisil who figured to cash in on Clara’s school girl indiscretion, cash in for ten thou in cold hard cash. So the suppression of the letter got her off the murder rap. Didn’t get her off the rub out list which Sisil who was as crazy about Steven as she had been compiled just for her. Go figure.             


Dancing Cheek To Cheek, Oops-Ginger Rogers And Fred Astaire’s “Roberta” (1935)-A Film Review 





DVD Review

By Sandy Salmon

Roberta, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Irene Dunne, music by Jerome Kern, 1935

I can’t dance, can’t dance a lick. Like a lot of guys, maybe gals too but I will just concentrate on guys here, I have two left feet. Nevertheless I have always been intrigued by people who can dance and do it well. Have been fascinated by the likes of James Brown and Michael Jackson growing up. As a kid though I, unlike most of the guys around my way, I was weaned on the musicals, the song and dance routines where the couples kicked out the jams. Top of the list in those efforts were the dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers whose dancing mesmerized a two left feet kid just at a time when I was coming of age, coming of school dance and checking out girls age and once in a while in the privacy of my lonely room I would try to work out a couple of steps seen by me on the big screen. No success. Although I had never viewed the Rogers-Astaire film under review back then I got a distinct rush of déjà vu watching this film, Roberta.          

Déjà vu is right since although I had not viewed the film on one of those dark Saturday afternoon matinee double-features when they were running a retrospective at the local theater I already knew what was going to happen. I had seen say Top Hat then and if the truth be known the formula did not vary that much in the whole series of song and dance films they did together. It was not about story line although it probably helped the director to have a working script so he could figure out where to have somebody burst out in song, or trip over a table and begin an extended dance routine.


That said the “cover” story here is Fred leading a band of upstart Americans into gay Paree (in the old fashioned-happy way not as a designation for sexual orientation) expecting to have a gig which went south on them. Fred meets Ginger working as Polish countess down on her uppers who is into high fashion which I expect everyone knows old Paris is famous for. That’s allows those bursts into song and dance to go forth without too much interference from the story-line. In short do as I did as a kid and now too just watch Ginger and Fred go through their paces. That’s worth the price of admission.  That and tunes like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes via the magical and under-rated composer Jerome Kern