Tuesday, November 22, 2016

*****Present At The Creation-The Penguins’ Earth Angel (1955)

*****Present At The Creation-The Penguins’ Earth Angel (1955)

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Deep in the dark red scare Cold War night, still brewing then even after Uncle Joe fell down in his Red Square drunken stupor spilling potato-etched Vodka all over the Central Committee, the Politburo, or his raggedy-ass cronies who were to pick up the pieces after he breathed his last, one night and never came back, so yeah still brewing after Uncle Joe kissed off in his vast red earth, still brewing as a child remembered in dark back of school dreams about Soviet nightmares, worried about the whether those heathens (later to find out that Miss Todd who first made him and his classmates aware of the scorched red earth menace had been wrong that they were atheists not heathen, a very different thing, but she wanted to make us think they were in need of some high Catholic missionary work and so heathen)under Uncle Joe wondering how the Russkie kids got through it, and still brewing too when Miss Winot in her pristine glory told each and every one of her fourth grade charges, us, that come that Russkie madness, come the Apocalypse, come the big bad ass mega-bombs that each and every one of her charges shall come that thundering god-awful air raid siren call duck, quickly and quietly, under his or her desk and then place his or his hands, also quickly and quietly, one over the other on the top of his or her head, a small breeze was coming to the land (of course being pristine and proper she did not dig down deep to titillate us with such terms as “big bad ass” but let’s face it that is what she meant, and maybe in the teachers' room or some night out in the moonless moors she sued such terms you never know).

Maybe nobody saw it coming although the more I think about the matter somebody, some bodies knew something, not those supposedly in the know about such times, those who are supposed to catch the breezes before they move beyond their power to curtail them, guys in the government who keep an eagle eye on such things, or professors endlessly prattling on about some idea about what the muck of society has turned into due to their not catching that breeze that was coming across their faces like some North wind. 

No those guys, no way they are usually good at the wrap-up. The what it all meant par after the furies were over. Here is what I am talking about when I talk about guys who know what to know, and how to play it to their advantages. Take guys like my older brother Franklin and his friends, Benny, sometimes called "the Knife" and Jimmy, who was called just Jimmy, who were playing some be-bop  stuff up in his room. Ma refused to let Franklin play his songs on the family record player down center stage in the living room or flip the dial on the kitchen radio away from her tunes of the roaring 1940s, her and my father’s coming of age time, so up his room like some mad monk doing who knows what because I was busy worrying about riding bicycles or something. Not girls or dances stuff like that no way. Here’s the real tip-off though he and his boys would go out Friday nights to Jack Slack’s bowling alleys not to bowl, although that was the cover story to questioning mothers, but to hang around Freddie O’Toole’s car complete with turned on amped up radio (station unknown then by me but later identified as WMEX out of Boston and stull in existence the last I heard, including a few hour segment on Saturday replaying the old Arnie "Woo-Woo" Ginsberg shows that drove us wild and drive us to learn about the social customs around drive-in movies and drive-in restaurants when thinking about girls time did come) and dance, dance with girls, get it, to stuff like Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 (a great song tribute to a great automobile which nobody in our neighborhood could come close to affording so hard-working but poorly paid fathers' were reduced to cheapjack Fords and Plymouths, not cool), and guys who even today I don’t know the names of even with YouTube giving everybody with every kind of musical inclination a blast to the past ticket.

Here's something outside the neighborhood just to show it was hard-ass Franklin Webber who was hip to all things rock. So how about the times we, the family, would go up to Boston for some Catholic thing filled with incense and high Latin everybody mumbling prayers for forgiveness, when they did nothing to be forgiven for, into the South End at Holy Cross Cathedral and smack across from the church was the later famous Red Hat Club where guys were blasting away at pianos, on guitars and on big ass sexy saxes and it was not the big band sound my folks listened to or cool, cool be-bop jazz either that drove the "beat" night but music from jump street, etched in the back of my brain because remember I’m still fussing over bikes and stuff like that and not worrying about guys hitting the high white note. Or how about every time we went down Massachusetts Avenue in Boston as the sun went down, the “Negro” part before you hit Huntington Avenue at Symphony Hall (an area that Malcolm X knew well a decade before when he was nothing but a cat hustling the midnight creep with some white girls into kicks and larcenies) and we stopped at the ten billion lights on Mass Ave and all you would hear is this bouncing beat coming from taverns, from the old time townhouse apartments and black guys dressed “to the nines,” all flash dancing on the streets with dressed “to the nines” good-looking black girls. Memory bank.           

So some guys knew, gals too don’t forget after all they had to dig the beat, dig the guys who dug the beat, the beat of  out of some Africa breeze mixed with forbidden sweated Southern lusts if the thing was going to work out. And it wasn’t all dead-ass “white negro” hipsters either eulogized by Norman Mailer (or maybe mocked you never knew with him but he sensed something was in the breeze even if he was tied more closely to an earlier sensibility) or break-out “beats” tired of the cool cold jazz that was turning in on itself, getting too technical and losing the search for the high white note or lumpens of all descriptions who whiled away the nights searching their radio dials for something that they while away the nights searching their radio dials for something that they could swing to while reefer high or codeine low.

If you, via hail YouTube, look at the Jacks and Jills dancing up a storm in the 1950s say on American Bandstand they mostly look like very proper well-dressed middle class kids who are trying to break out of the cookie-cutter existence they found themselves in but they still looked  pretty well-fed and well-heeled so yeah, some guys and gals and it wasn’t always who you might suspect like Franklin, white hipsters, black saints, and sexy sax players that got hip, got that back-beat and those piano riffs etched into their brains.

Maybe though the guys in the White House were too busy worrying about what Uncle Joe’s progeny were doing out in the missile silos of Minsk, maybe the professional television talkers on Meet The Press wanted to discuss the latest turn in national and international politics for a candid world to hear and missed what was happening out in the cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and maybe the academic sociologists and professional criminologists were too wrapped up in figuring out why Marlon Brando was sulking in his corner boy kingdom (and wreaking havoc on a fearful small town world when he and the boys broke out), why  Johnny Spain had that “shiv” ready to do murder and mayhem to the next midnight passer-by, and why well-groomed and fed James Dean was brooding in the “golden age” land of plenty but the breeze was coming.

(And you could add in the same brother Franklin who as I was worrying about bikes, not the two pedal kid powered but some bad ass Vincent Black Lightning kind, getting “from hunger” to get a Brando bike, a varoom bike, so this girl, Wendy, from school, would take his bait, a girl that my mother fretted was from the wrong side of town, her way of saying Wendy was a tramp and maybe she was although she was nice to me when Franklin brought her around still she was as smart as hell once I found out about her school and home life a few years later after she, they, Wendy and Franklin, had left town on some big ass Norton but that is after the creation so I will let it go for now.)               
And then it came, came to us in our turn, came like some Kansas whirlwind, came like the ocean churning up the big waves crashing to a defenseless shoreline, came if the truth be known like the “second coming” long predicted and not just by mad man poet Yeats and his Easter, 1916 mind proclaiming a terrible beauty is born, and the brethren, us,  were waiting, waiting like we had been waiting all our short spell lives. Came in a funny form, or rather ironically funny forms, as it turned out.

Came one time, came big as 1954 turned to 1955 and a guy, get this, dressed not in sackcloth or hair-shirt but in a sport’s jacket, a Robert Hall sport’s jacket from the "off the rack" look of it when he and the boys were “from hunger,” playing for coffee and crullers before on the low life circuit, a little on the heavy side with a little boy’s regular curl in his hair and blasted the whole blessed world to smithereens. Blasted every living breathing teenager, boy or girl, out of his or her lethargy, got the blood flowing. The guy Bill Haley, goddam an old lounge lizard band guy who decided to move the beat forward from cool ass be-bop jazz and sweet romance popular music and make everybody, every kid jump, yeah Big Bill Haley and his Comets, the song Rock Around The Clock.         

Came as things turned to a little more hep cat too, came all duck walk and sex moves, feet moving faster than Bill could ever do, came out of Saint Loo, came out with a crazy beat. Came out in suit and tie all swagger. Came out with a big baby girl guitar that twisted up the chords something fierce and declared to the candid world, us, that Maybelline was his woman. But get this, because what did we know of “color” back then when we lived in an all-white Irish Catholic neighborhoods and since we heard what we heard of rock and roll mostly on the radio we were shocked when we found out the first time that he was a “Negro” to use the polite parlance of the times not always used in the house, the neighborhood, the town, a black man making us go to “jump street.” And we bought into it, bought into the beat, and joined him in saying to Mister Beethoven that you and your brethren best move over because there is a new sheriff in town.   

Came sometimes in slo-mo, hey remember this rock and roll idea was as an ice-breaker with a beat you didn’t  have to dance close to with your partner and get all tied up in knots forgetting when to twirl, when to whirl, when to do a split but kind of free form for the guys (or gals, but mainly guys) with two left feet like me could survive, maybe not survive the big one if the Russkies decided to go over the top with the bomb, but that school dance and for your free-form efforts maybe that she your eyeballs were getting sore over would consent to the last chance  last dance that you waited around for in case she was so impressed she might want to go with you some place later. But before that “some place later” you had to negotiate and the only way to do was to bust up a slow one, a dreamy one to get her in the mood and hence people have been singing songs from time immemorial to get people in the mood, this time Earth Angel would do the trick. Do the trick as long as you navigated those toes of hers, left her with two feet and standing. Dance slow, very slow brother.   

Here is the funny thing, funny since we were present at the creation, present in spite of every command uttered by Miss Winot against it, declaring the music worse than that Russkie threat if you believed her (a few kids, girls mainly, did whether to suck up to her since she would take their entreaties and suck ups seriously although boys were strictly “no go” and I know having spent many a missed sunny afternoon doing some silly “punishment” for her since she was impervious to my sly charms).We were just too young to deeply imbibe the full measure of what we were hearing. See this music, music we started calling rock and roll once somebody gave it a name (super DJ impresario Alan Freed as we found out later after we had already become “children of rock and roll”) was meant, was blessedly meant to be danced to which meant in that boy-girl age we who didn’t even like the opposite sex as things stood then were just hanging by our thumbs.

Yeah, was meant to be danced to at “petting parties” in dank family room basements by barely teenage boys and girls. Was meant to be danced to at teenage dance clubs where everybody was getting caught up on learning the newest dance moves and the latest “cool” outfits to go along with that new freedom. Was meant to serve as a backdrop at Doc’s Drugstore’s soda fountain where Doc had installed a jukebox complete with all the latest tunes as boys and girls shared a Coke sipping slowly with two straws hanging out in one frosted glass. Was meant to be listened to by corner boys at Jack Slack’s bowling alley where Jack eventually had set up a small dance floor so kids could dance while waiting for lanes to open (otherwise everybody would be still dancing out in front of O’Toole’s “boss” car complete with amped-up radio not to Jack’s profit). Was meant to be listened to as the sun went down in the west at the local drive-in restaurant while the hamburgers and fries were cooking and everybody was waiting for darkness to fall so the real night could begin, the night of dancing in dark corners and exploring the mysteries of the universe, or at least the mysteries of Miss Sarah Brown.  Was even meant to be listened to on fugitive transistor radios in the that secluded off-limits to adults and little kids (us) where teens, boys and girls, mixed and matched in the drive-in movie night (and would stutter some nonsense to questioning parents who wanted to know the plot of the movies- what movies, Ma).              

Yeah, we were just a little too young even if we can legitimately claim to have been present at the creation. But we will catch up, catch up with a vengeance.

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