Saturday, September 28, 2013

***The Road To…., The Corner Boys Of The 1930s-Tom Hanks’ “Road to Perdition”- A Film Review


DVD Review

The Road To Perdition, starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, Dreamworks, 2002


I have spent a lot of time in this space writing about my corner boy experiences growing up in my old Irish and Italian working class neighborhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I have also spent some time talking about the corner boys who just immediately preceded us in the early 1950s. Pretty tame really although if you were on the receiving end of a vicious beating, got your money stolen in some back alley, or had your personal household possessions ransacked or stolen by some midnight shifter your perspective might not be so romantic. The “corner boys,” Irish and Italian mainly, of 1930s Great Depression Chicago though, as portrayed in the film under review, The Road to Perdition, make all that other stuff seem “punk” by comparison.

Of course the motives to join a gang of lumpenproletarians in all cases were the same then, and today. That is “where the money was” to paraphrase the old-time famous bank robber, Willy Sutton. No question all those guys in the 1930s and later were (and are) from hunger. But also looking for the quick dollar and the “no heavy lifting” life not associated with steady working class factory every day values. Equally true is the fact that there are always more “hungry” guys than the market can bear which leads to two things-external “turf wars” between gangs and internal turf wars over who controls what within gangs. And that is the heart of this story.

The problem for Tom Hanks, a trusted, very trusted, enforcer (read: “hit man”) for Irish mob boss Paul Newman (he of many such corner boy roles going back to Cool Hand Luke and before) is that Newman's psychotic son wants his share of the goodies as befits a son and heir apparent. Needless to say that things get dicey, very dicey as they maneuver to the top, including the gangland-style execution of Hanks’ family that was suppose to include a son, the narrator of the film, who is forced to help Hanks’ seek the inevitable revenge required by the situation. In the end though Tom Waits is right in the opening line from Jersey Girl- “Ain’t got no time for the corner boys, down in the streets making all that noise.” A nice cinematically-pleasing 1930s period piece and what turned out to be a great farewell performance by the late Paul Newman.
***The Struggle For The Labor Party In The United States- American Socialist Workers Party Leader James P.Cannon-On Eugene V. Debs And The Idea Of The Party Of The Whole Working Class


Markin comment on this series:

Obviously, for a Marxist, the question of working class political power is central to the possibilities for the main thrust of his or her politics- the quest for that socialist revolution that initiates the socialist reconstruction of society. But working class politics, no less than any other kinds of political expressions has to take an organization form, a disciplined organizational form in the end, but organization nevertheless. In that sense every Marxist worth his or her salt, from individual labor militants to leagues, tendencies, and whatever other formations are out there these days on the left, struggles to built a revolutionary labor party, a Bolshevik-style party.

Glaringly, in the United States there is no such party, nor even a politically independent reformist labor party, as exists in Great Britain. And no, the Democratic Party, imperialist commander-in-chief Obama's Democratic Party is not a labor party. Although plenty of people believe it is an adequate substitute, including some avowed socialists. But they are just flat-out wrong. This series is thus predicated on providing information about, analysis of, and acting as a spur to a close look at the history of the labor party question in America by those who have actually attempted to create one, or at to propagandize for one.

As usual, I will start this series with the work of the International Communist League/Spartacist League/U.S. as I have been mining their archival materials of late. I am most familiar with the history of their work on this question, although on this question the Socialist Workers Party's efforts run a close second, especially in their revolutionary period. Lastly, and most importantly, I am comfortable starting with the ICL/SL efforts on the labor party question since after having reviewed in this space in previous series their G.I. work and youth work (Campus Spartacist and the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus Newsletter inside SDS) I noted that throughout their history they have consistently called for the creation of such a party in the various social arenas in which they have worked. Other organizational and independent efforts, most notably by the Socialist Workers Party and the American Communist Party will follow.
***When Radio Ruled The Air-Waves- "Stardust:Decca Records:Classics and Standards Collection"



A YouTube film clip of the Inkspots performing I’ll Get By.

CD Review

Stardust: The Classic Decca Hits and Standards Collection, various artists, Decca Records, MCA, 1994


I am a first generation child of the television age, although in recent years I have spent more time kicking and screaming about that fact than watching the damn thing. Nevertheless I can appreciate this little compilation of Decca hits and standard tunes from the 1940s and 1950s as a valentine to the radio days of my parents’ youth, parents who came of musical age (and every other kind of age as well) during the Great Depression of the 1930s and who fought, or waited for those out on the front lines fighting, World War II. I am just old enough though, although generation behind them, to remember the strains of songs like the harmonic –heavy Mills Brothers Paper Dolls (a favorite of my mother’s) and The Glow Worm (not a favorite of anybody as far as I know although the harmony is still first-rate) that came wafting, via the local Adamsville radio station WJDA, through our big box living room radio in the early 1950s. It seemed they, or maybe the Andrews Sisters, be-bopping (be-bopping now, not then, you do not want to know what I called it then), on Rum And Coca-Cola or tagging along with Bing Crosby on Don’t Fence Me In were permanent residents of the airs-waves in the Markin household.

I am also a child of Rock 'n' Roll but those above-mentioned tunes were the melodies that my mother and father came of age to and the stuff of their dreams during World War II and its aftermath. The rough and tumble of my parents raising a bunch of kids might have taken the edge off it but the dreams remained. In the end it is this musical backdrop, behind the generation musical fights that roils the Markin household in teen times, that makes this compilation most memorable to me. Just to say names like Dick Haymes (I think my mother had a “crush” on him at some point), Vaughn Monroe, The Inkspots (who, truth, I liked even then, even in my “high, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, Buddy Holly days, especially on If I Didn’t Care and I’ll Get By-wow), and Lois Armstrong. Or songs like Blueberry Hill, You’ll Never Know, A- Tisket- A Tasket, You Always Hurt The One You Love and so gather in a goodly portion of the mid-20th century American Songbook. Other talents like Billie Holiday, The Weavers, and Rosemary Clooney and tunes like Lover Man (and a thousand and one Cole Porter Billie-sung songs), Fever, and As Time Goes By (from Dooley Wilson in Casablanca) came later through very different frames of reference. But the seed, no question, no question now, was planted then.

Let’s be clear as well going back to that first paragraph mention of television - there something very different between the medium of the radio and the medium of the television. The radio allowed for an expansion of the imagination (and of fantasy) that the increasingly harsh realities of what was being portrayed on television did not allow one to get away with. The heart of World War II, and in its immediate aftermath, was time when one needed to be able to dream a little. The realities of the world at that time seemingly only allowed for nightmares. My feeling is that this compilation will touch a lot of sentimental nerves for the World War II generation (that so-called ‘greatest generation’), including my growing-up Irish working class families on the shores of North Adamsville. Nice work.
***On War-For Those Who Come After-Fritz Taylor's View-With Kudos To Bob Dylan's "John Brown"


Fritz, old battle-scarred and battle-weary purple-hearted Fritz Taylor, Vietnam, 1969-1971, Fritz John Taylor RA048433691 to be exact, was still in a reflective mood a few days after he had made his way from home town Adamsville to the downtown Boston waterfront. To the jut of land Christopher Columbus Park for what he was not sure, exactly, was either the third or fourth annual Veterans For Peace counter-Memorial Day commemoration (really counter-traditional observance). And while he was glad, glad as hell, and felt about ten feet tall for a while, that he had done so these observance memory trips triggered many old days Vietnam thoughts, too many sometimes. Although, mercifully, mercifully for his “sweet pea,” his better other, Lillian, not this time(he had named her that for her sunny disposition, and her tough determination to give him a home to feel planted in and, early on, a little anti-war “religion” bump start too).

This time his thoughts dwelt on an old comrade-in-arms from ‘Nam, Johnny Jakes, a buddy who had just recently passed away after a long struggle with about seven known medical complications, and about twelve unknown ones, including the mysterious war-frenzy disease (not carried by him, not quiet, unassuming Johnny Jakes, but caught from others, family others, Richard Nixon and his crowd others, VFW and American Legion others, back in the day, and now too for that matter, although the names of the frenzied have changed, if not the frenzy).

Yes, John Lee Jakes, Johnny Jakes out of nowhere Georgia (actually Dalton Junction but we will call it nowhere, okay), or a nowhere that Fritz, northern boy Fritz, had ever heard of, and from Johnny’s night stories, sometimes night barroom stories along the way, no where he needed to go. And as long as the two had known each other, and as many adventures, dead-ends, wrong roads, and, occasionally, a right road they had traveled together in a forty year friendship, through hot and cold friendship phases, he had never been there. And Johnny never pressed the issue, never pressed it after he told Fritz the rough outline details, the blood-stained, sweat-fermented, star-spangled details. And the story, the thoughtless rush to war, the hoopla three-ring circus, brass band blaring, waving off soldier boys at the station story, was not that unfamiliar then. Fritz had been caught up in a little quieter cousin of that same story. Fritz hoped against hope to high heaven that the story was uncommon now but he felt, felt deep in his war- scarred gut, that that was not true. But right now it is Johnny’s turn in the limelight. Speak, good god, quiet, unassuming Johnny Jakes speak, and maybe it will become an uncommon story:

“Jakes, and for that matter McKays (my mother’s side), have fought out of little nowhere Georgia in all of the American military adventures since back in Civil War times. Naturally that Civil War military adventure was under the auspices of the Confederate version of American military adventures but don’t tell me, my kin, my brethren, or any complete Southern stranger that it was a failed, flawed or any of that other yankee stuff about cloud-puff dreams for bad, or ugly, reasons. Let’s just say, so we stay even now, that we fought, that there was an honored tradition of fighting, and any odd-ball relative, male of course, our women don’t fight but stay at home and worry, who didn’t, well, I never heard about anyone like that so I don’t know what would have happened. We fought, some of us bled, and most of us grabbed a fist-full of medals along the way. And our womenfolk cheered us on, as we left for the world’s fronts at that still working little nowhere Georgia railroad station that took us to some god-forsaken military camp. We mostly came back that same way, mostly okay but not all, and not my father, Jefferson Davis Jakes.

See Jefferson Davis Jakes, before the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, was the king hell-raiser of Forsythe County, was known far and wide as such and was not known to back down from anything, anything any male, or female for that matter, put in his way. But little did anyone know, anyone in the public know, that old Jeff (that’s the name he liked to be called by in latter life, by friend and foe alike, so I will use it here), was smitten by my mother, Doris McKay Jakes, so smitten that he had turned to putty in her hands. Not things that anyone, anyone in public anyway, would notice. All they would see was a king-hell-raiser and maybe a cut or other wound for their efforts; or the wise ones would cut a wide path away from his fury. But Doris had a spell over him, and he craved being with her, craved it more than anything, even being king hell-raiser of Forsythe County. Soft, and he knew it. So when those Jap bombs landed at Pearl and all Georgia thought it was William Tecumseh Sherman returned to burn the land and every red-blooded, hell, every any- blooded male, even black guys, were running to the railroad station to get signed up Jefferson Davis Jakes hesitated, hesitated just that minute, just that Doris McKay back home minute. Until Doris McKay, no squeamish damsel, and maybe with some vision of Scarlett O’Hara, pushed dad out the door- “Go now, and go fast.” And I will quote here, quote because I heard it about six times a year, at least, the first few years of growing up, “Kill every Jap you can get your hands on, and more if you can. And when you come back I will be a Jakes, and proudly.” So naturally she and half the town showed up at that nowhere train station to see the boys, including in the lead my father, off.

And as such scenes go that is the nice, upbeat part. The not so up-beat part was that after almost four years of South Pacific war, relentless, heat-scrabbled, hell-underbrush and hard rock-scrabbled war on more nowhere islands than one would think possible as big as the Pacific is Jefferson Davis Jakes, Jakes fist-full of medals collected, some odd souvenirs of as many Japs as he could collect, and only a few small purple heart wounds he returned home, home to his ever-loving Doris McKay. They married, as Doris had promised, and they had four children, all boys, including number two, me, John Lee Jakes. Just a normal American post World War II scenario.

Hold on; hold on just a minute, please. Jefferson Davis Jakes came home, and to the public eye, he seemed just like the pre-war king hell-raiser of Forsythe County. But on some nights, sometimes late at night, after a few hours of hard, hard drinking he would go up into the attic of the old-time Jakes home where we lived and begin to howl, howl like a wolf at the moon. And everyone around thought that was what it was. We knew better, or got to know better, especially Ma. This went on for a few years, every once in a while, but as time went on more frequently as such things do. And dad got quieter, more home quiet, although out in public he was still Jefferson Davis Jakes whose family had fought in this country’s battles since back in Civil War days. Then one night when I was eight he went up to the attic and we didn’t hear him howl like we expected. A few minutes later we heard a shot, one shot. They buried Jefferson Davis Jakes with full military honors down at our nowhere Georgia cemetery, believing the story we had concocted about his having interrupted an intruder and had accidentally discharged his old M-1. And that was the end of it.”

Fritz thought; well, not quite the end of it. Once nowhere Georgia heard about the commies in Vietnam in the 1960s every red-blooded male, hell, every any-blooded male, even black guys, headed down to the fading railroad station to sign up. Including quiet, unassuming John Lee Jakes, the late Johnny Jakes. But see Johnny had also hesitated, hesitated just that non-Jakes moment, just that Doris McKay Jakes moment. Until Doris McKay, still no squeamish damsel, and maybe still with some vision of Scarlett O’Hara, pushed Johnny out the door- “Go now, and go fast. Kill every gook you can get your hands on, and more if you can.”
*******
John Brown

John Brown went off to war to fight on a foreign shore
His mama sure was proud of him!
He stood straight and tall in his uniform and all
His mama’s face broke out all in a grin

“Oh son, you look so fine, I’m glad you’re a son of mine
You make me proud to know you hold a gun
Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get
And we’ll put them on the wall when you come home”

As that old train pulled out, John’s ma began to shout
Tellin’ ev’ryone in the neighborhood:
“That’s my son that’s about to go, he’s a soldier now, you know”
She made well sure her neighbors understood

She got a letter once in a while and her face broke into a smile
As she showed them to the people from next door
And she bragged about her son with his uniform and gun
And these things you called a good old-fashioned war
Oh! Good old-fashioned war!

Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come
They ceased to come for about ten months or more
Then a letter finally came saying, “Go down and meet the train
Your son’s a-coming home from the war”

She smiled and went right down, she looked everywhere around
But she could not see her soldier son in sight
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
When she did she could hardly believe her eyes

Oh his face was all shot up and his hand was all blown off
And he wore a metal brace around his waist
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know
While she couldn’t even recognize his face!
Oh! Lord! Not even recognize his face

“Oh tell me, my darling son, pray tell me what they done
How is it you come to be this way?”
He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move
And the mother had to turn her face away

“Don’t you remember, Ma, when I went off to war
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home . . . acting proud
You wasn’t there standing in my shoes”

“Oh, and I thought when I was there, God, what am I doing here?
I’m a-tryin’ to kill somebody or die tryin’
But the thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close
And I saw that his face looked just like mine”
Oh! Lord! Just like mine!

“And I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink
That I was just a puppet in a play
And through the roar and smoke, this string is finally broke
And a cannonball blew my eyes away”

As he turned away to walk, his Ma was still in shock
At seein’ the metal brace that helped him stand
But as he turned to go, he called his mother close
And he dropped his medals down into her hand

Copyright © 1963, 1968 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1996 by Special Rider Music
***Where Have The Girls Gone- When Young Women’s Voices Ruled the Airwaves Before The British Rock Invasion, Circa 1964- Early Girls, Volume Five



A YouTube film clip of The Chiffons performing their classic Tonight's The Night.

Early Girls, Volume Five, various singers, Ace Records, 2001

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

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

And reviewing the material in this volume gave me the same flash-back feeling I felt listening to the girl doo wop sounds. I will give similar examples of that teen boy alienation for this volume, and this approach will drive the reviews of all five of these volumes in the series. It Hurts To Be Sixteen by Andrea Carroll, but what about a guy, a sixteen year old guy; Blue Summer by The Royalettes, make mine blue summerwinterfallspring; Sneaky Sue by Patty Lace & Petticoats, give me a call Sue; Richie by Gloria Dennis, an unworthy guy for sure; Poor Little Puppet by Cathy Carroll, self-explanatory; Lonely Sixteen by Janie Black, ditto it hurts to be sixteen; Jimmy Boy by Carol Shaw, it's always jimmy boy, how about marky boy?; Be My Boy by The Paris Sisters, okay, just call; Kookie Little Paradise by Jo Ann Campbell, I'll settle for the beach, blanket or not; and, Tonight's The Night by The Chiffons, this one hurts to the core, the not tonight core. I might add here, as I did with volume four, that as we have with volume five gone well over the one hundred songs mark in this series not only have we worked over, and worked over hard, the “speak to” problem but have now run up against the limits of songs worthy of mention, mention at the time or fifty years later, your choice.

So you get the idea, this stuff could not “speak to me.” Now you understand, right? Except, surprise, surprise foolish, behind the eight- ball, know-nothing youthful guy had it all wrong and should have been listening, and listening like crazy, to these lyrics because, brothers and sisters, they held the key to what was what about what was on girls’ minds back in the day, and maybe now a little too, and if I could have decoded this I would have had, well, the beginning of knowledge, girl knowledge. Damn. But that is one of the virtues, and maybe the only virtue of age. Ya, and also get this- you had better get your do-lang, do-lang, your shoop, shoop, and your best be-bop, be-bop into that good night voice out and sing along to the lyrics here. This, fellow baby-boomers, was our teen angst, teen alienation, teen love youth and now this stuff sounds great.
***Growing Up Absurd In The 1950s- Out In The Teen Dance Night-Penny’s Sweet Sixteen Party


Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of The Dubs performing their 1950s classic, Could This Be Magic?.

CD Review

The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll; Volume 4, various artists, Ace Records, 1994

Scene: Prompted by the cover photograph, the memory cover photograph, which grace each CD in this The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll series. The photo on this CD, as might be expected, shows a girl, a pony-tailed, starch-bloused, woolen-sweatered, wide, flouncy skirt-wearing, Penny Parker, all grown up almost, as the good teen D.J., a.k.a. hostess, that she is, doing her chore of spinning platters, okay, okay, putting records on her portable 45s record player for the guests at her sweet sixteen party, her very first house teen be-bop hop.

We all wish her well, right? And hope she plays a couple of Elvis, Chuck, and Jerry Lee things and not too many slow dances since some of the guys still have not got the hang of that yet. Oh yes, for the clueless, a record player was a machine to put records on in order to hear those guys just mentioned. And records, for the really clueless, were grooved, vinyl plate-like objects that kept the blues away in the 1950s teen night. Just like iPOD, texting, yahoo messaging, etc. keep the blues away from the hip-hop nation teen night.
******

“Don’t come back before one,” Penny Parker, now sweet sixteen party-crowned Penny Parker, as she shouted to her parents leaving out the breezeway door to the garage to take off to places unknown, maybe unknowable, until at least that one o‘clock hour. Peter Parker, Penny proud without showing it, muttered under his breath that he damn well would not be back before one, come hell or high water, while that rock and roll music was infesting, and that was the word that he used, his house. Or at least the downstairs part, rock and roll previously being limited to the Penny upstairs netherworld, and kept away from his ears, well, mainly away form his ears. “Now, Peter,” was all that Delores Parker at first could come up with, and that was usually enough. Tonight however she added, and told him so in no uncertain terms, that her husband was being an old fogy seeing that this was Penny’s sweet sixteen party, she had baby-sat to perdition in order to fund the party (with a little Parker parent help, Delores mainly), had done mostly what they had asked of her, as much as one could expect from a rock-addled post World War II teenager from what she had read in the women’s magazines that she was addicted to reading.

Most importantly tonight was, and here is where woman-girl- female whatever solidarity came in, Penny was going to “coax” Zack Smith into giving her his class ring, the universal teen sign of “going steady,” hands off, and a 180 degree turn in their sometimes stormy relationship since back in about junior high school. If he showed. At least, Delores, thought, she had given that Jimmy Kelly the air, although he was invited, invited tonight for old times sake since Jimmy had been there the night Penny played her first record, Could This Be Magic by the Dubs on her brand new, slave wages-bought record player. But enough of Parker parents, tonight is Penny's night.

Penny night or not, Miss Parker is already starting to fret that Zack will be a no-show. See they had had an argument last week about that “going steady” thing, that eternal love class ring- signifying thing, and Zack for the twenty-third, at least, time stormed off. And Penny for the twenty-second time made peace over the telephone, the midnight blues telephone. But you never knew with Zack. All Penny knew was she wanted him, wanted him bad, and wanted him here tonight to share her sweet sixteen-ness.

So as the couples, maybe a dozen or so of their close friends, started filling up the Parker living room Penny, knowing that she was not the only rock-addled teen in the room, played D.J. And revved up the old Sear& Roebuck recorder player with a stack of platters (records, 45 RPM records okay); Ray Sharpe ‘s Linda Lu; Nappy Brown’s Little by Little; Maybe by the Chantels although she always wondered how they could get their voices that high on that one; a tear-jerker but a slow one by request from Pammy and Sue who had boyfriend troubles of their own, Little Anthony and the Imperials’ Tears On My Pillow which got even hardened corner boys a little weepy as she found out once when Zack and she were “finished” and king corner boy Frankie Riley had asked her out, and she had accepted. Well, she thought that should last this crowd for a while, for a while until Zack gets here, hopefully.

Later, around ten, ten-thirty, just as she was about to give up the thought of Zack’s coming that night, and had resigned herself to playing D.J. putting Buddy Knox’s Party Doll on(although she wasn’t feeling like any party doll then) for this rock-addled crowd Zack came in kind of sneakily through the side door. And instead of coming over to say thanks to Penny for inviting him or any other kind of social graces recognition he began to get into an animated conversation with Jimmy Kelly. Nothing serious but as Penny found out later Zack was miffed at Jimmy, one of his best friends now that the Zack-Jimmy girl wars, or rather Penny wars were over in Zack’s favor, because Jimmy had not told Penny that he was going to be a little late. But that miffed-ness turned into nothing once Zack told the reason for his lateness. See, Penny performing, as it turned out, her last D.J duty for the evening putting on that much requested previously mentioned Could This Be Magic was finally called over by Zack and as the strains of the song echoed through the house he presented her with his class ring, just a while ago engraved with To P.P. Always 10/7/59. Magic.

A YouTube film clip of The Dubs performing their 1950s classic, Could This Be Magic?.

CD Review

The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll; Volume 4, various artists, Ace Records, 1994

Scene: Prompted by the cover photograph, the memory cover photograph, which grace each CD in this The Golden Age Of American Rock ‘n’ Roll series. The photo on this CD, as might be expected, shows a girl, a pony-tailed, starch-bloused, woolen-sweatered, wide, flouncy skirt-wearing, Penny Parker, all grown up almost, as the good teen D.J., a.k.a. hostess, that she is, doing her chore of spinning platters, okay, okay, putting records on her portable 45s record player for the guests at her sweet sixteen party, her very first house teen be-bop hop.

We all wish her well, right? And hope she plays a couple of Elvis, Chuck, and Jerry Lee things and not too many slow dances since some of the guys still have not got the hang of that yet. Oh yes, for the clueless, a record player was a machine to put records on in order to hear those guys just mentioned. And records, for the really clueless, were grooved, vinyl plate-like objects that kept the blues away in the 1950s teen night. Just like iPOD, texting, yahoo messaging, etc. keep the blues away from the hip-hop nation teen night.
******

“Don’t come back before one,” Penny Parker, now sweet sixteen party-crowned Penny Parker, as she shouted to her parents leaving out the breezeway door to the garage to take off to places unknown, maybe unknowable, until at least that one o‘clock hour. Peter Parker, Penny proud without showing it, muttered under his breath that he damn well would not be back before one, come hell or high water, while that rock and roll music was infesting, and that was the word that he used, his house. Or at least the downstairs part, rock and roll previously being limited to the Penny upstairs netherworld, and kept away from his ears, well, mainly away form his ears. “Now, Peter,” was all that Delores Parker at first could come up with, and that was usually enough. Tonight however she added, and told him so in no uncertain terms, that her husband was being an old fogy seeing that this was Penny’s sweet sixteen party, she had baby-sat to perdition in order to fund the party (with a little Parker parent help, Delores mainly), had done mostly what they had asked of her, as much as one could expect from a rock-addled post World War II teenager from what she had read in the women’s magazines that she was addicted to reading.

Most importantly tonight was, and here is where woman-girl- female whatever solidarity came in, Penny was going to “coax” Zack Smith into giving her his class ring, the universal teen sign of “going steady,” hands off, and a 180 degree turn in their sometimes stormy relationship since back in about junior high school. If he showed. At least, Delores, thought, she had given that Jimmy Kelly the air, although he was invited, invited tonight for old times sake since Jimmy had been there the night Penny played her first record, Could This Be Magic by the Dubs on her brand new, slave wages-bought record player. But enough of Parker parents, tonight is Penny's night.

Penny night or not, Miss Parker is already starting to fret that Zack will be a no-show. See they had had an argument last week about that “going steady” thing, that eternal love class ring- signifying thing, and Zack for the twenty-third, at least, time stormed off. And Penny for the twenty-second time made peace over the telephone, the midnight blues telephone. But you never knew with Zack. All Penny knew was she wanted him, wanted him bad, and wanted him here tonight to share her sweet sixteen-ness.

So as the couples, maybe a dozen or so of their close friends, started filling up the Parker living room Penny, knowing that she was not the only rock-addled teen in the room, played D.J. And revved up the old Sear& Roebuck recorder player with a stack of platters (records, 45 RPM records okay); Ray Sharpe ‘s Linda Lu; Nappy Brown’s Little by Little; Maybe by the Chantels although she always wondered how they could get their voices that high on that one; a tear-jerker but a slow one by request from Pammy and Sue who had boyfriend troubles of their own, Little Anthony and the Imperials’ Tears On My Pillow which got even hardened corner boys a little weepy as she found out once when Zack and she were “finished” and king corner boy Frankie Riley had asked her out, and she had accepted. Well, she thought that should last this crowd for a while, for a while until Zack gets here, hopefully.

Later, around ten, ten-thirty, just as she was about to give up the thought of Zack’s coming that night, and had resigned herself to playing D.J. putting Buddy Knox’s Party Doll on(although she wasn’t feeling like any party doll then) for this rock-addled crowd Zack came in kind of sneakily through the side door. And instead of coming over to say thanks to Penny for inviting him or any other kind of social graces recognition he began to get into an animated conversation with Jimmy Kelly. Nothing serious but as Penny found out later Zack was miffed at Jimmy, one of his best friends now that the Zack-Jimmy girl wars, or rather Penny wars were over in Zack’s favor, because Jimmy had not told Penny that he was going to be a little late. But that miffed-ness turned into nothing once Zack told the reason for his lateness. See, Penny performing, as it turned out, her last D.J duty for the evening putting on that much requested previously mentioned Could This Be Magic was finally called over by Zack and as the strains of the song echoed through the house he presented her with his class ring, just a while ago engraved with To P.P. Always 10/7/59. Magic.
***On “Now” Photos For The AARP Generation- For Robert Flatley, North Adamsville Class Of 1964



YouTube film clip of Iris Dement performing  After You're Gone.

Peter Paul Markin, North Adamsville Class Of 1964, comment:

“’Cause I’ve memorized each line in your face, and not even death can ever erase the story they tell to me”-a line from the folksinger/songwriter Iris DeMent’s hauntingly beautiful song, After You’re Gone. (You can Google for the rest of the lyrics. Some of her music is on YouTube but I could not find this one.)

Well, of course, those hard-wire lyrics only apply to our male classmates. After all Iris is singing about her gone man. He long gone but not forgotten man. I do not, this age of sexual equality notwithstanding, want to extend their application to our sister classmates because I do not need to have every cyber-stone in the universe thrown at me. But those same lyrics do bring me to the purpose for today’s comment. As part of getting a 'feel' for writing about our days at old North Adamsville High I have perused some of the class profiles this infernal 1964 class committee that keeps badgering me for ever more information has provided me. Apparently once you answer a couple of off-hand questions about your doings (or not-doings) over the past half century you are fair game for every possible form of interrogation. Interrogations that would shame even the most hardened CIA or NSA bureaucrat. I don’t know about you but I am thinking of hiring a lawyer and putting a stop to this maddening harassment, and possible constitutional violation. But that is a subject for another day. For now, forward.

A number of you have placed your current photos on the profile pages thoughtfully provided by said committee, although a number of people, including myself, are apparently camera-shy. I admit to not being particularly camera-shy but rather to being something of a technological luddite (look that word up on Wikipedia if you do not know it) in that I do not own the digital camera required to upload a snappy photo, have no immediate intention of owning one, and would, moreover be helpless to do such a tortuous task as uploading a photo. Truth. Some, however, like the Chase brothers are not. Not camera shy or apparently luddites that is. (By the way, Jim and John, and others as well, what is up with wearing hats these days? We are Kennedy-era boys and hats most definitely were not part of our uniform.) Or like born again "muscle man" (read: huge) Bill Bailey, the star cross country runner and track man our class, whom I have has previously written about in this space as slender-strided and gracefully-gaited. That photo-readiness on the part of some classmates forms the basis for my comment. Those who are photo-less can breathe a sigh of relief-for now.

I have to admit that I have been startled by some of the photos. Many of them seem to have been taken by your grandchildren just before their naps. Or maybe by you just before your naps, or some combinations of the two especially for those who are performing grandparental (is their such a word?) duty as “babysitters” in a world where both parents are forced by hard-time circumstances to work to make ends meet these days. Isn’t the digital age supposed to have made the camera instantly user-friendly? Why all the out-of-focus, soft-focus, looking through a fish tank or a looking- glass kind of shots. And why does everyone seem to be have been photographed down the far end of some dark corridor or by someone about six miles away? Nobody expects Bachrach-quality photos but something is amiss here [ Bachrach’s was the photograph studio that took our individual class pictures for those who don’t remember or didn’t otherwise know-Markin]

In contrast, a new arrival on this class committee profile page interrogation wall (sorry), Robert Flatley, has found just the right approach. Initially, Robert placed a recent shot of himself on his profile page. Frankly, the old codger looked like he was wanted in about six states for “kiting” checks, or maybe had done a little “time” in some far-off county farm or state prison for armed robbery. More recently, however, his page has been graced with a stock photo provided by the site, a tastefully-shot, resplendent wide old oak tree. Automatically I now associate Robert with the tree of life, with oneness with the universe, with solidity, with the root of matter in him, and with bending but not breaking. Wise choice, Brother Flatley. Now, moreover, I do not have to suppress a need to dial 911, but rather can think of Robert as one who walks with kings, as a sage for the ages. And nothing can ever erase the story that tells to me.

Artist: Dement Iris
Song: After You're Gone
Album: Infamous Angel Iris Dement Sheet Music


There'll be laughter even after you're gone.
I'll find reasons to face that empty dawn.
'Cause I've memorised each line in your face,
And not even death can ever erase the story they tell to me.

I'll miss you.
Oh, how I'll miss you.
I'll dream of you,
And I'll cry a million tears.
But the sorrow will pass.
And the one thing that will last,
Is the love that you've given to me.

There'll be laughter even after you're gone.
I'll find reasons and I'll face that empty dawn.
'Cause I've memorized each line in your face,
And not even death could ever erase the story they tell to me.
************
***Out In The Be-Bop Be-Bop 1960s Night- The Heart Of Rock ‘n’ Rock: 1960-61, Take Two- In The Time Of Donna Blanchard’s Time- With Elvis Presley In Mind


CD Review

The Heart Of Rock ‘n’ Roll: 1960-61-Take Two, various artists, Time-Life Music, 1997


Scene: Brought to mind by one of the snapshot photos that grace each CD in this series.

Doc’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain(not shown), located in the heart of the North Adamsville shopping streets, and most importantly, just a few minutes walk from North Adamsville High School. The soda fountain counter area is complete with a dozen single stools, a speckled faux-marble formica countertop with assorted pastry trays, candy boxes, pie cabinets and various condiment combinations for Doc’s ‘greasy spoon” hamburgers and hot dogs. Said single stools are strictly for losers, girl friend-less guys (or once in a great while a girl just trying catch a quick soda on the way home) or old people waiting for Doc to fill their ancient medicines prescriptions. They are no factor, no factor at all in this teen-worthy world. No, less than no factor. Every once in a while, however, one of Fritz Cullen’s corner boys takes his foot off the wall in front of Doc’s and enters to get a take out Cherry Coke, the de riguer drink of Fritz’s boyos.

But the fountain is strictly for food and drink, food and drink that is also strictly secondary to why Doc’s is a teen-worthy heaven. The real draw is the quiet booths that line both corner walls and are only for after school boy-girl couples, four-some girls looking for guys to dance with, and at night, mainly school year weekend and summer every nights, Fritz’s Cullen’s corner boys when they tire of holding up Doc’s wall out front (or more realistically when the hour is late and the girl prospects have dimmed). But the booths mean nothing by themselves except as “resting” areas after some fast dance coming from Doc’s super-charged juke box, complete with the very latest records straight from Pete’ Platters Record Shop so you know the are hot.

Right now, just this very teen ear minute, one can hear the sassy sound of The Drifters This Magic Moment in the background as we fix on a boy and girl taking a break from deep conversation (deep conversation related in teen world to either sex, setting up dates, analyzing the state of their eternal relationship, or some combination of all three) and taking a straw sip from their shared Cherry Coke. The Cherry Coke automatically means that rank and file Doc’s corner boy Harry “Red” Radley is present on one of the straws. On the other Donna Blanchard, one of the hottest sixteen year old sophomore girls at North Adamsville High, with a nice shape, a sweet smile, and a “come hither” look that has had more than one boy moony-eyed for her affections. But no dice, no dice at all. In this autumn of the year of our lord nineteen hundred and sixty Miss Donna Blanchard only has eyes, and whatever else she has to give, for one Red Radley. Let’s listen in as the eminently forgettable Booby Vee is droning on in the background about some lost love (and rightfully so, if the truth be known) on Take Good Care Of My Baby.
*********

“What the matter, honey, don’t you want me like that, “ murmered Donna Blanchard after being told for the fifth or sixth time by our corner boy Red Radley that, if you can believe this, no he was not ready for heavy sex (meaning of course, in the language of the young, some variety of “going all the way”). It seems that last Saturday night down at Adamsville Beach, the local “parking” heaven where one and all went to see the ”submarine races” in the local teen code parlance Donna, making no bones that she was ready, more than ready, to go all the way with Red got turned down. Turned down flat. Fortunately for Red Donna, embarrassed by such a fool for a boy friend, had “neglected” to mention this hard fact of life when the obligatory Monday morning Girls’ “Lav” talk got around to the subject of the weekend scorecard. In short, who did, and didn’t do it. Right now Red and Donna are trying to sort things out as a strangely ironic song by Cathy Jean and the Roommates, Please Love Me Forever, spins on the juke box.

What? A member in good standing of Fritz Cullen’s corner boys, corner boys who have, publicly anyway, notched up (went all they way with) more North Adamsville girls than maybe there were girls in North Adamsville turned down a chance at paradise. And turned down a certified fox like Donna Blanchard. No way. Moreover, Red, displaying he not uncommon teen male bravado had lied to his fellow corner boys and said that he had had already “gone all the way” with Donna. Jesus. Did our Red have a medical problem? No. Did he have some religious scruples about pre-martial sex? Hell, no. Our Red, as it turns out was a virgin and was terrified when Donna, a virgin herself but ready for the time of her time, came on so strong. Especially when she went wild on Saturday night when the local 24/7 rock and roll station, WMEX, played a medley of Elvis tunes including his latest, Surrender.

Some times things end right in the teen universe, sometimes they don’t. This time they didn’t. Well, at least for Red. After their little conversation at Doc’s Red and Donna agreed, but mostly Donna agreed, that they should see other people. That’s teen code, and maybe universal code, for “breaking up.” So now one sees the fetching Donna Blanchard riding around in Jimmy Jakes '59 cherry Chevy, and sitting very close indeed. Moreover she has that look, that certain look like she now knows a thing or two about ways of the world. Well, after all it was the time of her time, wasn’t it? As for Red, well, Red is seen more and more occupying one of those single stools at Doc’s counter sipping a Cherry Coke and endlessly throwing nickels, dimes and quarters in the juke box playing Elvis’ It’s Now or Never. Enough said.
***Labor’s Untold Story- A Personal View Of The Class Wars In The Kentucky Hills And Hollows-"Hard Times In Babylon"

Hard Times In Babylon- Growing Up Absurd in the 1950's

Markin comment:

For regular readers of this space the following first few paragraphs will constitute something of a broken record. For those who are not familiar this commentary constitutes an introduction to the politics of class struggle as it gets practiced down as the base of society-away from the headlines of the day. As I have mentioned elsewhere, and also in the purpose section of this space, I am trying to impart some lessons about how to push the struggle for working class solidarity forward so that, to put it briefly, those who labor rule.

My political grounding as I have evolved as a communist over the years speaks for itself in my commentaries. The prospective that had been lacking, and which has probably plagued my efforts over the years, since I long ago first started out on my political journey is a somewhat too strong attachment to the theoretical side of the need for socialist solutions. Oddly, perhaps, although I now proclaim proudly that I am a son of the working-class I came to an understanding of the need for the working-class to take power without taking my being part of the class into consideration. One of the tasks that I have tried to undertake in this space over the past year, as a corrective, is to make some commentary about various events in my life that reflect my evolving understanding of class society and the class struggle. I am actually well qualified to undertake that chore.

The impetus for undertaking this task, as may also now be well known to readers, was an unplanned trip back to the old working-class neighborhood of my teenage years. That led to a series of stories about the trials and tribulations of a neighborhood family and can be found in this space under the title History and Class Consciousness- A Working Class Saga (Yes, I know, that is a rather bulky title for a prosaic story but, dear reader, that is the price for my being a ‘political junkie’. If I were a literary type I would probably have entitled it Sense and Sensibility or something like that, oops, that one is taken- but you get the point.).

I have also started another series here, one that indirectly came to life through that trip back to the old neighborhood, entitled Tales From The ‘Hood" going back to my early childhood days as a product of a housing project. However, in that effort I consider myself merely the medium, as the narrator is really a woman named Sherry whom I consider the "the projects" historian. This present series will center on my personal experiences both about the things that formed and malformed me and that contributed to my development as a conscious political activist. The closest I have ever come to articulating that idea through examination of my personal experiences was a commentary written in this space several years ago entitled Hard Times in Babylon (and hence the genesis for the current series title). Even at that, this was more an effort to understand the problems of my parents’ generation, the generation that came of age in the Great Depression and World War II. That, my friends, nevertheless, is probably a good place to take off from here.

The gist of the commentary in Hard Times in Babylon centered on the intersection of two events. One was the above-mentioned trip back to the old neighborhood and the other was a then recent re-reading of famed journalist David Halberstam’s book The Fifties, which covered that same period. His take on the trends of the period, in contrast to the reality of my own childhood experiences as a child of the working poor that missed most of the benefits of that ‘golden age’, rekindled some memories. It is no exaggeration to say that those were hard times in Babylon for the Markin family. My parents reacted to those events one way, one of their sons, this writer another. The whys of that are what I am attempting to bring before the radical public. I think the last lines from Babylon state the proposition as clearly as I can put it. “And the task for me today? To insure that future young workers, unlike my parents in the 1950’s, will have their day of justice.”

There are many myths about the 1950’s, to be sure. One was that the rising tide of the pre-eminent capitalist economy in the world here in America would cause all boats to rise with it. Despite the public myth not everyone benefited from the ‘rising tide’. The experience of my parents is proof of that. I will not go through all the details of my parents’ childhoods, courtship, and marriage for such biographic details of the Depression and World War II are plentiful and theirs fits the pattern. One detail is, however, important and that is that my father grew up in the hills of eastern Kentucky, Hazard, near famed "bloody" Harlan County to be exact, coal mining country made famous in song and by Michael Harrington in his 1960’s book The Other America. This was, and is, hardscrabble country by any definition. Among whites these "hillbillies" were the poorest of the poor. There can be little wonder that when World War II began my father left to join the Marines, did his fair share of fighting in the Pacific, settled in the Boston area and never looked back.

I have related in Tales From The ‘Hood’ some details that my "the projects" historian, Sherry, told me about her relationships with some of the girls from the wealthier part of town with whom we went to elementary school. She spend her whole time there being snubbed, insulted and, apparently, on more than one occasion physically threatened by the prissy girls from the other peninsula for her poor clothing, her poor manners, and for being from the "projects". I will spare you the details here. Moreover, she faced this barrage all the way through to high school graduation. It was painful for her to retell her story, and not without a few tears.

Moreover, it was hard for me to hear because, although I did not face that barrage then, I faced it later when my family moved to the other side of town and kids knew I was from the "projects." I faced that same kind of humiliation on a near daily basis from the boys, mainly. I will, again, spare the details. I can, however, distinctly remember being turned down for a date by an upscale girl in class because, as she made clear to all within shouting distance, although she thought I was personally okay (such nobility) my clothes were "raggedy" and, besides, I did not have a car. That is the face of the class struggle, junior varsity division.

The early years of the Kennedy Administration were filled with hopes and expectations, none more so than by me. As I have noted elsewhere in this space I came of political age with the presidential elections of 1960. This, moreover, was a time where serious social issues such as how to eradicate poverty in America were seriously being discussed by mainstream politicians. I mentioned above the widespread popularity of Michael Harrington’s The Other America and its mention of quintessential other America, including Hazard, Kentucky. But, here is the personal side. One of the most mortifying experiences of my life was when the headmaster of my high school, North Adamsville High, came over the loudspeaker to announce that our high school was going to begin a fundraising drive in earnest to help those less fortunate in Other America. And that other America in this case had a specific name-Hazard, Kentucky. I froze in my seat. Then came the taunts from a couple of guys who knew my father was from there. That is the face of the class struggle, varsity edition

As I finished up my remarks in A Tale of Two Peninsulas trying to sum up the meaning of the events that Sherry had related about her brushes with the class struggle in her youth I asked a couple of rhetorical question. After what I have described here I ask those same questions. Were the snubs and other acts of class hatred due to our personalities? Maybe. Are these mere examples of childhood’s gratuitous cruelty? Perhaps. But the next time someone tells you that there are no classes in this society remember Sherry’s story. And mine. Then remember Sherry’s tears and my red-faced shame. Damn.

***Where Have The Girls Gone- When Young Women’s Voices Ruled the Airwaves Before The British Rock Invasion, Circa 1964- Early Girls, Volume Four




YouTube film clip of The Cookies performing Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby.

Early Girls, Volume Four, various singers, Ace Records , 2005

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

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

And reviewing the material in this volume gave me the same flash-back feeling I felt listening to the girl doo wop sounds. I will give similar examples of that teen boy alienation for this volume, and this approach will drive the reviews of all five of these volumes in the series. Dum Dum leaves me with no choice but to be dumb dumb;Sincerely by the McGuire Sisters,hell I would have taken insincerely but just call; Sad Movies (Make Me Cry), alone in the dark, dungeon balcony; It Hurts To Be In Love, say that again; and The Cookies Don't Say Nothin' Bad (About My Baby), I wish I could have had that choice. I might add here that as we have, with volume four, gone over one hundred songs in this series not only have we worked over, and worked over hard, the “speak to” problem but have now run up against the limits of songs worthy of mention, mention at the time or fifty years later, your choice.

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


An entry for the D-Day Campaign, a campaign Fritz’s father participated in, during World War II.

One of my old North Adamsville classmates, Fritz John Taylor, Class of 1961, had some things, some father’s day things that he wanted to get off his chest so he asked me to help him write this belated tribute to his late father, Earl Jubal Taylor. The words may have been jointly written but, believe me, the sentiments and emotions expressed are strictly those of Fritz John Taylor. I do know that it took a lot of work for him to transfer them into written form.
******
In honor of Earl Taylor, 1920-1990, Sergeant, United States Army, World War II, European Theater and, perhaps, other North Adamsville fathers.

Fritz turned red, turned bluster, fluster, embarrassed, internal red, red with shame, red as he always did this time of the year, this father’s day time of the year, when he thought about his own father, the late Earl Jubal Taylor. And through those shades of red he thought, sometimes hard, sometimes just a flicker thought passing, too close, too red close to continue on, he thought about the things that he never said to Earl, about what never could be said to him, and above all, because when it came right down to it they might have been on different planets, what could not be comprehended said. But although death now separated them by twenty years he still turned red, more internal red these days, when he thought about the slivers of talk that could have been said, usefully said. And he, Fritz John Taylor, would go to his own grave having that hang over his father’s day thoughts.

But just this minute, just this pre-father’s day minute, Fritz Taylor, Fritz John, for those North Adamsville brethren who insisted on calling him Fritz John when he preferred plain old Fritz in those old-time 1960s high school days, wanted to call a truce to his red-faced shame, internal or otherwise, and pay public tribute, pay belated public tribute to Earl Taylor, and maybe it would rub off on others too. And just maybe cut the pain of the thought of having those unsaid things hang over him until the grave.

See, here’s the funny part, the funny part now, about speaking, publicly or privately, about his father, at least when Fritz thought about the millions of children around who were, warm-heartedly, preparing to put some little gift together for the “greatest dad in the world.” And of other millions, who were preparing, or better, fortifying themselves in preparation for that same task for dear old dad, although with their teeth grinding. Fritz could not remember, or refused to remember, a time for eons when he, warm-heartedly or grinding his teeth, prepared anything for his father’s father’s day, except occasional grief that might have coincided with that day’s celebration. No preparation was necessary for that. That was all in a Fritz’s day’s work, his hellish corner boy day’s work or, rather, night’s work, the sneak thief in the night work, later turned into more serious criminal enterprises. But the really funny part, ironic maybe, is grief-giving, hellish corner boy sneak thief, or not, one Earl Taylor, deserves honor, no, requires honor today because by some mysterious process, by some mysterious transference Fritz John, in the end, was deeply formed, formed for the better by that man.

And you see, and it will perhaps come as no surprise that Fritz John, hell everybody called him Fritz John in the old days so just so nobody will be confused we will use that name here, was estranged from his family for many years, many teenage to adult years and so that his father’s influence, the “better angel of his nature,” influence had to have come very early on. Fritz, even now, maybe especially now, since he had climbed a few mountains of pain, of hard-wall time served, and addictions to get here, did not want to go into the details of that fact, just call them ugly, as this memorial is not about Fritz John’s trials and tribulations in the world, but Earl’s.

Here is what needs to be told though because something in that mix, that Earl gene mix, is where the earth’s salts mingled to spine Fritz against his own follies when things turned ugly later in his life. Earl Jubal Taylor, that middle name almost declaring that here was a southern man, as Fritz John’s name was a declaration that he was a son of a southern man, came out of the foothills of Kentucky, Appalachian Kentucky. The hills and hollows of Hazard, Kentucky to be exact, in the next county over from famed, bloody coal wars, class struggle, which-side-are-you-on Harlan County, but all still hard-scrabble coal-mining country famous in story and song- the poorest of the poor of white Appalachia-the “hillbillies.” And the poorest of the poor there, or very close to it, was Earl Taylor’s family, his seven brothers and four sisters, his elderly father and his too young step-mother. Needless to say, but needing to be said anyway, Earl went to the mines early, had little formal schooling and was slated, like generations of Taylors before him, to live a short, brutish, and nasty life, scrabbling hard, hard for the coal, hard for the table food, hard for the roof over his head, hard to keep the black lung away, and harder still to keep the company wolves away from his shack door. And then the Great Depression came and thing got harder still, harder than younger ears could understand today, or need to hear just now.

At the start of World War II Earl jumped, jumped with both feet running once he landed, at the opportunity to join the Army in the wake of Pearl Harbor, fought his fair share of battles in the European Theater, including D-Day, although he, like many men of his generation, was extremely reticent to talk about his war experiences. By the vagaries of fate in those up-ending times Earl eventually was stationed at the huge Clintondale Depot before being discharged, a make-shift transport army base about twenty miles from Adamsville.

Fritz John, interrupted his train of thought as chuckled to himself when he thought about his father’s military service, thought about one of the few times when he and Earl had had a laugh together. Earl often recounted that things were so tough in Hazard, in the mines of Hazard, in the slag heap existence of Hazard, that in a “choice” between continuing in the mines and daily facing death at Hitler’s hands he picked the latter, gladly, and never looked back. Part of that never looking back, of course, was the attraction of Maude Callahan (North Adamsville Class of 1941), Fritz’s mother whom Earl met while stationed at Clintondale where she worked in the civilian section. They married shortly thereafter, had three sons, Fritz’s late brother, Jubal, killed many years ago while engaged in an attempted armed robbery, Fritz John, ex-sneak thief, ex-dope-dealer, ex-addict, ex-Vietnam wounded Marine, ex-, well, enough of ex’s, and a younger brother, Prescott, now serving time at one of the Massachusetts state correctional institutions as a repeat offender, and the rest is history. Well, not quite, whatever Earl might have later thought about his decision to leave the hellhole of the Appalachian hills. He was also a man, as that just mentioned family resume hints at, who never drew a break, not at work, not through his sons, not in anything.

Fritz John, not quite sure how to put it in words that were anything but spilled ashes since it would be put differently, much differently in 2011 than in, let’s say, 1971, or 1961 thought of it this way:

“My father was a good man, he was a hard working man when he had work, and he was a devoted family man. But go back to that paragraph about where he was from. He was also an uneducated man with no skills for the Boston labor market. There was no call for a coal miner's skills in Boston after World War II so he was reduced to unskilled, last hired, first fired jobs. This was, and is, not a pretty fate for a man with hungry mouths to feed. And stuck in the old Adamsville Housing Authority apartments, come on now let’s call a thing by its real name, real recognizable name, “the projects,” the place for the poorest of the poor, Adamsville version, to boot. To get out from under a little and to share in the dream, the high heaven dream, working poor post-World War II dream, of a little house, no matter how little, of one’s own if only to keep the neighbor’s loud business from one’s door Maude, proud, stiffly Irish 1930s Depression stable working class proud Maude, worked. Maude worked mother’s night shifts at one of the first Adamsville Dunkin’ Donuts filling jelly donuts for hungry travelers in order to scrap a few pennies together to buy an old, small, rundown house, on the wrong side of the tracks, on Maple Street for those who remember that locale, literally right next to the old Bay Lines railroad tracks. So the circle turned and the Taylor family returned back to the North Adamsville of Maude’s youth.”

Fritz John grew pensive when he thought, or rather re-thought, about the toll that the inability to be the sole breadwinner (no big deal now with an almost mandatory two working-parents existence- but important for a man of his generation) took on the man's pride. A wife filling damn jelly donuts, jesus.

He continued:

“And it never really got better for Earl from there as his three boys grew to manhood, got into more trouble, got involved with more shady deals, acquired more addictions, and showered more shame on the Earl Taylor name than needs to be detailed here. Let’s just say it had to have caused him more than his fair share of heartache. He never said much about it though, in the days when Fritz John and he were still in touch. Never much about why three boys who had more food, more shelter, more education, more prospects, more everything that a Hazard po’ boy couldn’t see straight if their lives depended on it, who led the corner boy life for all it was worth and in the end had nothing but ashes, and a father’s broken heart to show for it. No, he never said much, and Fritz John hadn’t heard from other sources that he ever said much (Maude was a different story, but this is Earl’s story so enough of that). Why? Damn, they were his boys and although they broke his heart they were his boys. That is all that mattered to him and so that, in the end, is how Fritz John knew, whatever he would carry to his own grave, that Earl must have forgiven him.”

Fritz John, getting internal red again, decided that it was time to close this tribute. To go on in this vein would be rather maudlin. Although the old man was unlike Fritz John, never a Marine, he was closer to the old Marine Corps slogan than Fritz John, despite his fistful of medals, ever could be- Semper Fi- "always faithful." Yes, Fritz John thought, as if some historic justice had finally been done, that is a good way to end this. Except to say something that should have been shouted from the North Adamsville rooftops long ago- “Thanks Dad, you did the best you could.”
 
That High White Note

 
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler
Every guy, maybe every gal too, who has ever picked up some raw-boned trumpet, some hammered sax, or some runaway trombone, some brass thing, dreams in his deepest dreams, the ones that count, about blowing that high white note. The one that says that guy is one with the instrument. Some guys, some guys like hard-nosed private eye Philip Marlowe, maybe picked up the blow as a kid but could never quite get the hang of it, could never dream about that high white note. And so Marlowe wound up picking up brass of a different sort, empty slug shells from a wayward gun out in the sullen steamy Los Angeles night after some maddened episode that he had no control over either. Still Philip Marlowe, tone deaf to the music grift always loved to listen to The Bill Baxter Be-Bop Hour featuring artists live, guys who would come in on an off-night or after a gig out of WJDA in the high desert night around Riverside midnight until dawn. Loved to listen to see if some guy just for a minute could hit that damn high white note.    
John “King” Leonard hit that high white note, hit it a number of times like maybe he owned it or something. Marlowe heard it one night and knew exactly what it meant then when heaven beckoned. Marlowe also heard that the King was to be playing at Jack Reed’s Club Lola over near the Santa Monica Pier for the next several weeks and knew he would make time to catch the King live and in person. Strangely Marlowe got to meet the King in person well before that club date opening although it had nothing to do with high white notes but rather too much noise.
Times, like for everybody else, were hard in the 1937 private eye market and so Marlowe the never work nine- to- five- for- another- guy king had to lower his standards and work the graveyard shift as the house peeper for John Reed’s low rent hotel (a no tell hotel), the Taft (which hadn’t been fixed up since about that fat man’s presidential administration). Since everybody was trying to save dough in 1937 Reed had the King stay in his hotel rather than five-star digs like he expected providing him with plenty of female company. That kind of trade-off appealed to the King because if he craved anything besides seeking that high white note it was diving under those silky sheets with women, lots of women.
The King with his angel- blown horn as a lure had no want for female companionship, lots of it, and no want either of one- night stands and then off to some other twist in some other town. You know the routine. In any case one night, or rather one morning about three o’clock, some of the hotel guests were squawking that the King and his entourage were raising holy hell, loud holy hell and please somebody stop it.  And newly-minted graveyard shift house peeper Marlowe was the stopper no questions asked and no quarter given. He unceremoniously booted the King out the door.          
Of course a big ego guy like the King squawked to Jake Reed and Marlowe in turn was out on his ear. But that was not the end of Marlowe’s relationship with one King Leonard. See the King had an opening act, a honey his for the asking or so he thought opening act, a torch singer, good too, named Delia Day, who it turned out would not give him the time of day. Nada, nothing. But the King was a hard guy to say no to or to take no for an answer and so he headed to Delia’s digs one night to wait for her to come home after a gig over at the hot spot CafĂ©  Florian. When Delia got home and went into her bedroom to change there was the King laid out in his splendor on her bed. Laid out and very dead with a couple of slugs through the heart, if he had a heart. Through the heart with her gun that she kept in her night stand for protection. And the King was positioned in such a way that it looked, well, like some lovers’ quarrel, a domestic dispute. Naturally nobody believed that Delia juts walked in and found the King in his very dead condition and so they threw her in the jailhouse to make her sweat out a confession.
Marlowe who had also followed Delia’s career sensed that things did not add up, that somebody or somebodies had the frame fit right around her. So windmill-chasing Marlowe came to the rescue. It didn’t take long for him to figure the whole scheme out though since it had to be the work of amateurs, amateurs with some special grievance up their sleeves. And they did in the persons of two guys who worked at Jack Reed’s hotel. The King liked his women, no question, liked to love them and leave them after he had used them up. The two guys at the hotel happened to be the brothers of one of the King’s used ups, a young woman from the sticks who took what the King said as pure gold and when he dumped her committed suicide according to their story.
These brothers, something out of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, got everything wrong. They assumed that Delia was the one who took the King away from their sister when she in fact hated the King. So they set the frame for her by killing the King in her bedroom. They assumed that the King had abandoned their sister on her word when it was she who walked out on him and was looking to fix him for her own reasons.  Her suicide was related to the fact that she was pregnant be another man later who actually had abandoned her. The only thing they got right was their getaway. Marlowe was able to follow them as far as Portland and then lost their trail. They were never found. The King though, the King lived on in his records played over that radio on WJDA .  Every once in a while they would play the King on his signature song, Banana Blues, and Marlowe would ponder over the fact that even a rat like the King should go to heaven to blow that high white note that he owned.