This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
*****Searching For The American Songbook - In The Time Of The 1960s Folk Minute-The Joy Street Coffeehouse In Mind
Sketches From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
I recently completed the second leg of this series, sketches from the time of my coming of age classic rock and roll from about the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, a series which is intended to go through different stages of the American songbook as it has evolved since the 19th century, especially music that could be listened to by the general population through radio, record player, television, and more recently the fantastic number of ways to listen to it all from computers to iPods. This series was not intended to be placed in any chronological order so the first leg dealt, and I think naturally so given the way my musical interests got formed, with the music of my parents’ generation, that being the parents of the generation of ’68, those who struggled through the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s.
This third leg is centered on the music of the folk minute that captured a segment of my generation of ’68 as it came of social and political age in the early 1960s. It is easy now to forget in the buzz of the moment that this segment was fairly small to begin with people who stayed with it for a few years and then like the rest of us got back to the new rock and roll that was taking center stage by the time of the summers of love. Today when talking to people, to those who slogged through the 1960s with me, those who will become very animated about Deadhead experiences, Golden Gate Park Airplane going-ons, their merry-prankster-like “on the bus” experiences, even death Altamont when I ask about the influence of folk they will look at me with pained blank expressions or cite ritualistically Bob Dylan confirms how small and where that folk minute was concentrated.
Early on though some of us felt a fresh breeze was coming through the land, were desperately hoping that it was not some ephemeral rising and then back to business as usual, although we certainly being young did not dwell on that ebb tide idea since like with our physical selves we thought our ideas once implanted would last forever. Silly kids. Maybe it was the change in political atmosphere pulling us forward as men (and it was mostly men then) born in the 20th century were beginning to take over from the old fogies (our father/uncle/godfather Ike and his ilk) and we would fall in behind them. Maybe it was the swirl just then being generated questioning lots of old things like the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) red scare investigations, like Mister James Crow in the South andthe ghettos of the North, like why did we need all those nuclear bombs that were going to do nothing but turn us into flames. Maybe it was that last faint echo of the “beats” with their poetry, their be-bop jazz, their nightly escapade trying to hold onto that sullen look of Marlon Brando, that brooding look of James Dean, that cool pitter-patter of Alan Ginsberg against the night-stealers. Heady stuff, no question.
Maybe too since it involved cultural expression (although we would be clueless to put what we felt in those terms, save that for the folk music academics complete with endnotes and footnotes after the fire had burned out) and our cultural expression centered around jukeboxes and transistor radios it was that we had, some of us, tired of the Fabians, the various Bobbys (Vee, Darin, Rydell, etc.), the various incarnations of Sandra Dee, Leslie Gore, Brenda Lee, etc., wanted a new sound, or as it turned out a flowing back to the roots music, to the time and place when people had to make their own music or go without (it gets a little mixed up once the radio widened the horizons of who could hear what and when). So, yes, we wanted to know what on those lonely Saturday nights gave our forebears pause, let them sit back maybe listen to some hot-blooded black man with a primitive guitar playing the blues (a step up from the kids’ stuff nailed one-eyed string hung from the front porch but nowhere near that coveted National Steel beauty they eyed in the pawnshop in town just waiting to rise up singing), some jazz, first old time religion stuff and then the flicker of that last fade be-bop with that solid sexy sax searching for the high white note, mountain music, all fiddles and mandolins, playing against that late night wind coming down the hills and hollows reaching that red barn just in time to finish up that last chance slow moaning waltz. Yes, and Tex-Mex, Western swing, Child ballads and the “new wave” protest sound that connected our new breeze political understandings with our musical interests.
The folk music minute was for me, and not just me, thus something of a branching off for a while from rock and roll in its doldrums since a lot of what we were striving for was to make a small musical break-out from the music that we came of chronological age to unlike the big break-out that rock and roll represented from the music that was wafting through many of our parents’ houses in the early 1950s.
In preparing this part of the series I have been grabbing a lot of anecdotal remarks from some old-time folkies. People I have run into over the past several years in the threadbare coffeehouses and cafes I frequent around New England. You know, and I am being completely unfair here, those guys with the long beards and unkempt balding hair hidden by a knotted ponytail, flannel, clean or unclean, shirt regardless of weather and blue jeans, unclean, red bandana in the back pocket, definitely unclean and harmonica at the ready going on and on about how counter-revolutionary Bob Dylan was to hook up the treasured acoustic guitar to an amp in about 1965 and those gals who are still wearing those shapeless flour bag dresses, letting their hair grow grey or white, wearing the formerly “hip” now mandatory granny glasses carrying some autoharp or other such old-time instrument like they just got out of some hills and hollows of Appalachia (in reality mostly with nice Ivy League seven sisters resumes after their names)arguing about how any folk song created after about 1922 is not really a folk song both sexes obviously having not gotten the word that, ah, times have changed. In short those folkies who are still alive and kicking and still interested in talking about that minute. And continuing to be unfair not much else except cornball archaic references that are supposed to produce “in the know” laughs but which were corny even back then when they held forth in the old Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford of blessed memory where budding songwriters wrote on etched napkins the next great Kumbaya hit, non-songwriters tuned up their Yamaha guitars by ear, by ear, Jesus, to play for the “basket” out in the mean streets after they had their fill of the see-through coffee provided by the place, small-voiced poets echoed Ginsberg eve of destruction sonnets, and new guard writers wore down pencil stubs and erasers catching all the sounds and hubris around them mixed with sotted winos, sterno bums , con men, hustlers, misguided hookers, and junkies to fill the two in the morning air.
For those not in the know, or who have not seen the previously described denizens of the folk night in your travels, folk music is still alive and well (for the moment, the demographic trends are more frightening as the dying embers flicker) in little enclaves throughout the country mainly in New England but in other outposts as well. Those enclaves and outposts are places where some old “hippies,” “folkies,” communalists, went after the big splash 1960s counter-cultural explosion ebbed in about 1971 (that is my signpost for the ebb, the time when we tried to “turn the world upside down” in Washington over the Vietnam war by attempting to shut the government down if they refused to shut down the war and got nothing but teargas, police sticks and thousands of arrests for out troubles, others have earlier and later dates and events which seemed decisive but all that I have spoken to, or have an opinion on, agree by the mid-1970s that wave had tepidly limped to shore). Places like Saratoga, New York, Big Sur and Joshua Tree out in California, Taos, Eugene, Boise, Butte, Boulder, as well as the traditional Village, Harvard Square, North Beach/Berkeley haunts of memory. They survive, almost all of them, through the support of a dwindling number of aficionados and a few younger kids, kids who if not the biological off-spring of the folk minute then very much like those youthful by-gone figures and who somehow got into their parents’ stash of folk albums and liked what they heard against the current trends in music, in once a month socially-conscious Universalist-Unitarian church basement coffeehouses, school activity rooms booked for the occasional night, small local restaurants and bars sponsoring “open mics” on off-nights to draw a little bigger dinner crowd, and probably plenty of other small ad hoc venues where there are enough people with guitars, mandos, harmonicas, and what have you to while away an evening.
There seems to be a consensus among my anecdotal sourcesthat their first encounter with folk music back then, other than when they were in the junior high school music class where one would get a quick checkerboard of various types of music and maybe hear This Land Is Your Land in passing, was through the radio. That junior high school unconscious introduction of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land had been my own introduction in Mr. Dasher’s seventh grade Music Appreciation class where he inundated us with all kinds of songs from everywhere like the Red River Valley and the Mexican Hat Dance. For his efforts he was innocently nicknamed by us “Dasher The Flasher,” a moniker that would not serve him well in these child-worried times by some nervous parents.
A few folkies that I had run into back then, fewer now, including a couple of girlfriends back then as I entered college picked up, like some of those few vagrant younger aficionados hanging around the clubs, the music via their parents’ record collections although that was rare and back then and usually meant that the parents had been some kind of progressives back in the 1930s and 1940s when Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Pete Seeger and others lit up the leftist firmament in places like wide-open New York City. Today the parents, my generation parents would have been in the civil rights movement, SDS or maybe the anti-war movement although the latter was drifting more by then to acid rock as the foundational music.
That radio by the way would be the transistor radio usually purchased at now faded Radio Shack by frustrated parents, frustrated that we were playing that loud unwholesome rock and roll music on the family record player causing them to miss their slumbers, and was attached to all our youthful ears placed there away from prying parents and somehow if you were near an urban area you might once you tired of the “bubble gum” music on the local rock station flip the dial and get lucky some late night, usually Sunday and find an errant station playing such fare.
That actually had been my experience one night, one Sunday night in the winter of 1962 (month and date lost in the fog of memory) when I was just flipping the dial and came upon the voice of a guy, an old pappy guy I assumed, singing a strange song in a gravelly voice which intrigued me because that was neither a rock song nor a rock voice. The format of the show as I soon figured out as I continued to listen that night was that the DJ would, unlike the rock stations which played one song and then interrupted the flow with at least one commercial for records, drive-in movies, drive-in theaters, maybe suntan lotion, you know stuff kids with disposable income would take a run at, played several songs so I did not find out who the singer was until a few songs later. The song was identified by the DJ as the old classic mountain tune “discovered” by Cecil Sharpe in the hills and hollows of Appalachian Kentucky in 1916 Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies, the singer the late Dave Von Ronk who, as I found out later doubled up as a very informative folk historian and who now has a spot, a street last I heard, in the Village in New York where he hailed from named after him, the station WBZ in Boston not a station that under ordinary circumstances youth would have tuned into then since it was mainly a news and talk show station, the DJ Dick Summer a very central figure in spreading the folk gospel and very influential in promoting local folk artists like Tom Rush on the way up as noted in a recent documentary, No Regrets, about Rush’s fifty plus years in folk music. I was hooked.
That program also played country blues stuff, stuff that folk aficionados had discovered down south as part of our generation took seriously the search for roots, music, cultural, family, and which would lead to the “re-discovery” of the likes of Son House (and that flailing National Steel guitar that you can see him flail like crazy on Death Letter Blues on YouTube these days), Bukka White (all sweaty, all feisty, playing the hell out of his National face up with tunes like Aberdeen, Mississippi Woman and Panama, Limited) Skip James (all cool hand Luke singing that serious falsetto on I’d Rather Be The Devil Than Be That Woman’s Man which got me in trouble more than one time with women including recently), and Mississippi John Hurt (strumming seemingly casually his moaning Creole Belle and his slyly salacious Candy Man).
I eventually really learned about the blues, the country stuff from down south which coincides with roots and folk music and the more muscular (plugged in electrically) Chicago city type blues that connects with the beginnings of rock and roll, which will be the next and final leg of this series, straight up though from occasionally getting late, late at night, usually on a Sunday for some reason, Be-Bop Benny’s Blues Hour from WXKE in Chicago but that is another story. Somebody once explained to me the science behind what happened on certain nights with the distant radio waves that showed up mostly because then their frequencies overrode closer signals. What I know for sure that it was not was the power of that dinky transistor radio with its two nothing batteries. So for a while I took those faraway receptions as a sign of the new dispensation coming to free us, of the new breeze coming through the land in our search for an earthly Eden. Praise be.
If the first exposure for many of us was through the radio, especially those a bit removed from urban areas, the thing that made most of us “folkies” of whatever duration was the discovery and appeal of the coffeehouses. According to legend (Dave Von Ronk legend anyway) in the mid to late 1950s such places were hang-outs for “beat” poets when that Kerouac/Ginsberg/Cassady flame was all the rage and folkies like him just starting out were reduced to clearing the house between shows with a couple of crowd-fleeing folk songs, or else they got the boot and the remnants of street singer life forlorn “basket” in front trying to make rent money.
But by the early 1960s the dime had turned and it was all about folk music. Hence the appeal for me of Harvard Square not all that far away, certainly close enough to get to on weekends in high school. With Club 47, the “flagship,” obviously, Café Nana, the Algiers, Café Blanco, and a number of other coffeehouses all located within a few blocks of each other in the Square there were plenty of spots which drew us in to that location. (That Cub 47, subject a few years ago to its own documentary, was the spawning grounds and the testing ground for many folk artists like Dylan, Baez, Rush, Von Schmidt, Paxton, to perform and perfect their acts before friendly appreciative audiences that would not heckle them. The Club which has had something of a continuous history now operates as a non-profit as the Club Passim in a different location in Harvard Square near the Harvard Co-Op Bookstore.)
The beauty of such places for poor boy high school students like me or lowly cash-poor college students interested in the folk scene was that for the price of a coffee, usually expresso so you could get your high a little off the extra caffeine but more importantly you could take tiny sips and make it last which you wanted to do so you could hold your spot at the table in some places, and maybe some off-hand pastry (usually a brownie or wedge of cake not always fresh but who cared as long as the coffee, like I said, usually expresso to get a high caffeine kick, was fresh since it was made by the cup from elaborate copper-plated coffeemakers from Europe or someplace like that), you could sit there for a few hours and listen to up and coming folk artists working out the kinks in their routines. Add in a second coffee unless the girl had agreed to an uncool “dutch treat,” not only uncool but you were also unlikely to get to first base especially if she had to pay her bus fare too, share the brownie or stale cake and you had a cheap date.
Occasionally there was a few dollar cover for “established” acts like Joan Baez, Tom Rush, the Clancy Brothers, permanent Square fixture Eric Von Schmidt, but mainly the performers worked for the “basket,” the passing around of the hat for the cheap date guys and others “from hunger” to show appreciation, hoping against hope to get twenty buck to cover rent and avoid starving until the next gig. Of course since the audience was low-budget high school students, college kids and starving artists that goal was sometimes a close thing and accordingly the landlord would have to be pieced off with a few bucks until times got better.
Yeah, those were “from hunger” days at the beginning of their careers for most performers as that talent “natural selection process” and the decision at some point to keep pushing on or to go back to whatever else you were trained to do kept creeping foremost in their thoughts when the folk minute faded and there was not enough work to keep body and soul alive whatever the ardent art spirit. Some of them faced that later too, some who went back to that whatever they were trained to do and then got the folk music gig itch again, guys like Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin from the Kweskin Jug Band, David Bromberg, gals like Carolyn Hester, Minnie Smith after somebody said “hey, whatever happened to….” and they meant them. That natural selection thing was weird, strange for those who had to make decisions in those days (now too) about talent and drive over the long haul. You would see some guy like Paul Jefferson a great guitar player who did lots of Woody Guthrie covers and had a local following in the Café Nana working hard or Cherry La Plante who had a ton of talent and a voice like floating clouds and had steady work in the Café Blanc fold up their tents once they hit a certain threshold, a few years working the local clubs and no better offers coming along and so they bailed out. They and those like them just did not have the talent or drive or chutzpah to keep going and so they faded. You still see Paul once in a while at “open mics” around Boston performing for much smaller crowds than in the old days and the last I heard of Cherry was that she had drifted west and was getting a few bookings in the cafes out in Oregon. But in the day it was all good, all good to hear and see as they tried to perfect their acts.
For alienated and angst-ridden youth like me (and probably half my generation if the information I have received some fifty years later stands up and does not represent some retro-fitted analysis filtered through a million sociological and psychological studies), although I am not sure I would have used those words for my feelings in those days the coffeehouse scene was the great escape from household independence struggles of which I was always, always hear me, at the short end of the stick. Probably the best way to put the matter is to say that when I read J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, over a non-stop weekend I was so engrossed in the page after page happenings, I immediately identified with Holden Caulfield whatever differences of time, place and class stood between us and when asked my opinion of him by my English teacher I made her and the whole class laugh when I said “I am Holden Caulfield”), or when I saw The Wild One at the retro-Strand Theater in downtown Carver I instinctively sided with poor boy Johnny and his “wanting habits” despite my painfully negative experiences with outlaw motorcycle guys headed by local hard boy Red Riley who hung out at Harry’s Variety Store as they ran through our section of town like the Huns of old. If I had been able to put the feelings into words and actions it would have been out of sympathy for the outcasts, misfits, and beaten down who I identified with then (not quite in the Jack Kerouac beaten down hipsters or night-dwellers who survived with a certain swagger and low hum existence sense). So yeah, the coffeehouses offered sanctuary.
For others (and me too on occasion) those establishments also provided a very cheap way to deal with the date issue, as long as you picked dates who shared your folk interests. That pick was important because more than once I took a promising date to the Joy Street Coffeehouse up on Boston’s Beacon Hill where I knew the night manager and could get in for free who was looking for something speedier like maybe a guy with a car, preferably a ’57 Chevy or something with plenty of chrome, and that was the end of that promise.For those who shared my interest like I said before for the price of two coffees(which were maybe fifty cents each, something like that, but don’t take that as gospel), maybe a shared pastry and a couple of bucks in the “basket” to show you appreciated the efforts, got you those hours of entertainment. But mainly the reason to go to the Square or Joy Street early on was to hear the music that as my first interest blossomed I could not find on the radio, except that Dick Summer show on Sunday night for a couple of hours. Later it got better with more radio shows, some television play when the thing got big enough that even the networks caught on with bogus clean-cutHootenanny-type shows, and as more folkies got record contracts because then you could start grabbing records at places like Sandy’s in between Harvard and Central Squares.
Of course sometimes if you did not have dough, or if you had no date, and yet you still had those home front civil wars to contend with and that you needed to retreat from you could still wind up in the Square. Many a late weekend night, sneaking out of the house through a convenient back door which protected me from sight, parents sight, I would grab the then all-night Redline subway to the Square and at that stop (that was the end of the line then) take the stairs to the street two steps at a time and bingo have the famous (or infamous) all-night Hayes-Bickford in front of me. There as long as you were not rowdy like the winos, hoboes, and con men you could sit at a table and watch the mix and match crowds come and go. Nobody bothered you, certainly not the hired help who were hiding away someplace at those hours, and since it was cafeteria-style passing your tray down a line filled with steam-saturated stuff and incredibly weak coffee that tasted like dishwater must taste, you did not have to fend off waitresses. (I remember the first time I went in by myself I sat, by design, at a table that somebody had vacated with the dinnerware still not cleared away and with the coffee mug half full and claimed the cup to keep in front of me. When the busboy, some high school kid like me, came to clear the table he “hipped me” to the fact that nobody gave a rat’s ass if you bought anything just don’t act up and draw attention to yourself. Good advice, brother, good advice.)
Some nights you might be there when some guy or gal was, in a low voice, singing their latest creation, working up their act in any case to a small coterie of people in front of them. That was the real import of the place, you were there on the inside where the new breeze that everybody in the Square was expecting took off and you hoped you would get caught up in the fervor too. Nice.
As I mentioned in the rock and roll series, which really was the music of our biological coming of age time, folk was the music of our social and political coming of age time. A fair amount of that sentiment got passed along to us during our folk minute as we sought out different explanations for the events of the day, reacted against the grain of what was conventional knowledge. Some of us will pass to the beyond clueless as to why we were attuned to this music when we came of age in a world, a very darkly-etched world, which we too like most of our parents had not created, and had no say in creating. That clueless in the past about the draw included a guy, me, a coalminer’s son who got as caught up in the music of his time as any New York City Village Jack or Jill or Chi Old Town frat or frail. My father in his time, wisely or not considering what ill-fate befell him later, had busted out of the tumbled down tarpaper shacks down in some Appalachia hills and hollows, headed north, followed the northern star, his own version, and never looked back and neither did his son.
Those of us who came of age, biological, political, and social age kicking, screaming and full of the post-war new age teenage angst and alienation in the time of Jack Kennedy’s Camelot were ready for a jail-break, a jail-break on all fronts and that included from the commercial Tin Pan Alley song stuff. The staid Eisenhower red scare cold war stuff (he our parents’ organizer of victory, their gentile father Ike). Hell, we knew that the world was scary, knew it every time we were forced to go down into some dank school basement and squat down, heads down too, hoping to high heaven that the Russkies had not decided to go crazy and set off “the bomb,” many bombs. And every righteous teenager had restless night’s sleep, a nightmare that, he or she, was trapped in some fashionable family fall-out shelter bunker and those loving parents had thoughtfully brought their records down into the abyss to soothe their savage beasts for the duration. Yelling in that troubled sleep please, please, please if we must die then at least let’s go out to Jerry Lee’s High School Confidential. And as we matured Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind.
We were moreover, some of us anyway, and I like to think the best of us, driven by some makeshift dreams, ready to cross our own swords with the night-takers of our time, and who, in the words of Camelot brother Bobby, sweet ruthless Bobby of more than one shed tear in this quarter, quoting from Alfred Lord Tennyson, were “seeking a newer world.” Those who took up the call to action heralded by the new dispensation and slogged through the 60s decade whether it was in the civil rights/black liberation struggle, the anti-Vietnam War struggle or the struggle to find one’s own identity in the counter-culture swirl before the hammer came down were kindred. And that hammer came down quickly as the decade ended and the high white note that we searched for, desperately searched for, drifted out into the ebbing tide. Gone.
These following sketches and as with the previous two series that is all they are, and all they pretend to be, link up the music of the generation of ‘68s social and political coming of age time gleaned from old time personal remembrances, the remembrances of old time folkies recently met and of those met long ago in the Club 47, Café Lena, Club Paradise, Café North Beach night.
The truth of each sketch is in the vague mood that they invoke rather than any fidelity to hard and fast fact. They are all based on actual stories, more or less prettified and sanitized to avoid any problems with lose of reputation of any of the characters portrayed and any problems with some lingering statute of limitations. That truth, however, especially in the hands of old-time corner boys like me and the other guys who passed through the corner at Jack Slack’s bowling alleys must always be treated like a pet rattlesnake. Very carefully.
Still the overall mood should more than make up for the lies thrown at you, especially on the issue of sex, or rather the question of the ages on that issue, who did or did not do what to whom on any given occasion. Those lies filled the steamy nights and frozen days then, and that was about par for the course, wasn’t it. But enough of that for this series is about our uphill struggles to make our vision of the our newer world, our struggles tosatisfy our hunger a little, to stop that gnawing want, and the music that in our youthwe dreamed by on cold winter nights and hot summer days.
Stop Continuing To Let The Military
Sneak Into The High Schools-Down With JROTC And Military Recruiter Access
Frank Jackman comment:
One of the great struggles on college
campuses during the height of the struggle against the Vietnam War back in the
1960s aside from trying to close down that war outright was the effort to get
the various ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps, I think that is right way to
say it) programs off campus. In a number of important campuses that effort was
successful, although there has been back-sliding going on since the Vietnam War
ended and like any successful anti-war or progressive action short of changing
the way governments we could support do business is subject to constant
attention or the bastards will sneak something in the back door.
To the extent that reintroduction of
ROTC on college campuses has been thwarted, a very good anti-war action indeed
which had made it just a smidgen harder to run ram shot over the world, that
back door approach has been a two-pronged attack by the military branches to
get their quota of recruits for their all-volunteer military services in the
high schools. First to make very enticing offers to cash-strapped public school
systems in order to introduce ROTC, junior version, particularly but not
exclusively, urban high schools (for example almost all public high schools in
Boston have some ROTC service branch in their buildings with instructors
partially funded by the Defense Department and with union membership right and
conditions a situation which should be opposed by teachers’ union members).
Secondly, thwarted at the college level
for officer corps trainees they have just gone to younger and more impressible
youth, since they have gained almost unlimited widespread access to high school
student populations for their high pressure salesmen military recruiters to do
their nasty work. Not only do the recruiters who are graded on quota system and
are under pressure produce X number of recruits or they could wind doing sentry
guard duty in Kabul or Bagdad get that access where they have sold many young
potential military personnel many false bills of goods but in many spots
anti-war veterans and other who would provide a different perspective have been
banned or otherwise harassed in their efforts.
Thus the tasks of the day-JROTC out of
the high schools-military recruiters out as well! Let anti-war ex-soldiers,
sailors, Marines and airpersons have their say.
Stop Continuing To Let The Military Sneak Into The High Schools-Down With JROTC And Military Recruiter Access
Frank Jackman comment:
One of the great struggles on college campuses during the height of the struggle against the Vietnam War back in the 1960s aside from trying to close down that war outright was the effort to get the various ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps, I think that is right way to say it) programs off campus. In a number of important campuses that effort was successful, although there has been back-sliding going on since the Vietnam War ended and like any successful anti-war or progressive action short of changing the way governments we could support do business is subject to constant attention or the bastards will sneak something in the back door.
To the extent that reintroduction of ROTC on college campuses has been thwarted, a very good anti-war action indeed which had made it just a smidgen harder to run ram shot over the world, that back door approach has been a two-pronged attack by the military branches to get their quota of recruits for their all-volunteer military services in the high schools. First to make very enticing offers to cash-strapped public school systems in order to introduce ROTC, junior version, particularly but not exclusively, urban high schools (for example almost all public high schools in Boston have some ROTC service branch in their buildings with instructors partially funded by the Defense Department and with union membership right and conditions a situation which should be opposed by teachers’ union members).
Secondly, thwarted at the college level for officer corps trainees they have just gone to younger and more impressible youth, since they have gained almost unlimited widespread access to high school student populations for their high pressure salesmen military recruiters to do their nasty work. Not only do the recruiters who are graded on quota system and are under pressure produce X number of recruits or they could wind doing sentry guard duty in Kabul or Bagdad get that access where they have sold many young potential military personnel many false bills of goods but in many spots anti-war veterans and other who would provide a different perspective have been banned or otherwise harassed in their efforts.
Thus the tasks of the day-JROTC out of the high schools-military recruiters out as well! Let anti-war ex-soldiers, sailors, Marines and airpersons have their say.
5th Maine Peace Walk-Stop
the War$ on Mother Earth-Indian Island (Penobscot Nation)
to Kittery October 11-26
For immediate Release
Contact:Bruce Gagnon (207) 443-9502
Peace and environmental activists from Maine and beyond will walk through large portions of our state from October 11-26 in order to bring the issues of endless war, environmental degradation, and climate change to the public’s attention.The walk will begin on Indian Island (with a supper and ceremony hosted by the Penobscot Nation) and end in Kittery.
“We come together out of our deep concern about the many different wars being waged on Mother Earth, ranging from over-fishing, deforestation, and human-caused extinctions, to climate disruption and endless war,” said Russell Wray of Citizens Opposing Active Sonar Threats (COAST) in Hancock.
According to walk co-organizer Connie Jenkins from Orono, “Close to home we support the Penobscot Nation’s struggle for Justice for the River, opposition to the East/West Corridor, and conversion of war production to alternative energy at Maine shipyards.We know from past experience of walking through rural and urban Maine that many people will be reached with our messages. We hope this spiritual act of walking and sharing conversation and food will help people in our state feel less isolated and despairing about the future.”
The peace walk begins on Indian Island October 11 and will pass through Dexter, Pittsfield, Unity, Waterville, Augusta, Norway, Lewiston, Brunswick, Bath, Freeport, Portland, Saco, Kennebunk, York Beach, and Kittery.The walk will average about 12 walking miles per day. (Some driving will be necessary between some of these communities.) In the evenings walkers will be fed at local churches and will often stay in local homes.)
The walkers will hold a protest at Bath Iron Works on October 20 at 3:00 pm and conclude on October 26 with a protest at the naval submarine yard in Kittery.Both protests will call for the conversion of the Maine shipyards to alternative energy production such as public rail systems, solar power, wind turbines and tidal power systems.Studies at UMASS-Amherst Economics Department reveal that building needed alternative energy rather than military production would create more jobs.See the study at http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/published_study/PERI_military_spending_2011.pdf
Buddhist monks and nuns from the Nipponzan Myohoji order will lead the non-violent peace walk.Their order does peace walks all over the world.
Maine Walk for Peace is sponsored by:Penobscot Nation; Smedley D. Butler Brigade Veterans For Peace (Boston area); Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space; Maine Veterans For Peace; Citizens Opposing Active Sonar Threats (COAST); Veterans For Peace (National); Peninsula Peace and Justice; Maine Natural Guard; Greater Brunswick PeaceWorks; Maine War Tax Resistance Resource Center; Veterans For Peace, Jim Harney Chapter 003; Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine; Alliance for the Common Good; Grandmothers Against the East/West Corridor; Resources for Organizing and Social Change (ROSC); Pax Christi Maine; Friends of the Piscataquis Valley; Concord Massachusetts Peace Vigil; Peace Action Maine; ESTIA Maine; Stop the East-West Corridor (STEWC); Maine Green Independent Party; Mission Board of State Street Church (Portland); Reversing Falls Sanctuary; Peace to All Beings; Waldo County Peace & Justice
The daily schedule and entire walk route can be found at Maine Veterans For Peace http://vfpmaine.org/
Dear Jefferson, Although nuclear weapon stockpiles have been reduced since the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex are back with new plans. They have launched a new campaign to build new generations of nuclear submarines, bombers, missiles, bomb designs, and production facilities -- all together, a "modernized" nuclear weapons capability that will cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years. And unfortunately, President Obama has bought into these plans. This, at a time when we are facing a climate emergency, when jobs are exported as the middle class is being hollowed out, when schools and housing are more unequal than ever. Could $1 Trillion do anything to help those problems? Pope Frances has called nuclear weapons immoral. Scientists tell us they would cause a humanitarian disaster if they were ever used again. Security experts say that the planned upgrades would make us less safe, for many reasons. It's time to say NO! Join Massachusetts Peace Action as we launch our new campaign to stop the $1 Trillion nuclear escalation and move the money to address the real needs of our people. We will discuss the campaign plan from every angle. SPACE IS LIMITED -- so please sign up to attend!
Stop the $1 Trillion Nuclear Weapons Escalation: Campaign Launch
Saturday, September 24, 1-5 pm
First Church in Cambridge, 11 Garden St, Hastings Room
• Introduction to the tasks of the Meeting – Cole Harrison, Executive Director, Massachusetts Peace Action
• Overview of Campaign: No to $Trillion Dollar Nuclear Weapons Upgrade – Jonathan King, chair, Nuclear Disarmament Working Group and Professor, MIT
1st Panel: Underlying issues
• Fundamental Immorality of Nuclear Weapons - Elaine Scarry, Professor, Harvard University
• Unacceptable Economic Costs of Nuclear Weapons upgrades - Peter Casey, Defense Contracts Expert
• Decrease in security - Gary Goldstein, Professor, Tufts University
*****The Roots Is The Toots-With Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven In Mind
A YouTube clip to give some flavor to this subject.
Over the past several years I have been running an occasional series in this space of songs, mainly political protest songs, you know The Internationale (reflecting the necessarily international brother and sisterhood of the downtrodden and oppressed to get out from under the thumb of the now globalized economic royalists who run the show to their small benefit), Union Maid (reflecting the deep-seeded need to organize the unorganized and reorganize the previously organized sections of the labor movement in America), Which Side Are You On (reflecting, well, that is easy enough to figure out without further explanation, which side are you when the deal goes down), Viva La Quince Brigada (reflecting that at certain times and certain places we must take up arms like in the 1930s Spanish Civil War against the night-takers before they get out of their shells and wreak havoc on the world), Universal Soldier (reflecting the short-fall in the ability of humankind to step forward without going off the deep end of killing each other for no known reason, none good anyway), and such under the title Songs To While The Class Struggle By. And those songs have provided our movement with that combination entertainment/political message that is an art form that we use to draw the interested around us. Even though today those interested in struggling may be counted rather than among the countless that we need to take on the beasts and the class struggle to be “whiled away” is rather one-sidedly going against us at present. The bosses are using every means from firing militants to targeting and setting union organizing drives up for failure by every means possible to employing their paid propagandists to complain when the masses are not happy with having their plight groveled in their faces like they should be and are ready to do something about it while the rich, well, while away in luxury and comfort.
Not all life however is political, or rather not all music lends itself to some kind of explicit political meaning but yet spoke to, let’s say, the poor sharecropper or planation worker on Mister’s land at the juke joint on Saturday listening to the country blues, unplugged, kids in the early 1950s at the jukebox listening to high be-bop swing heralding a new breeze to break out of the tired music of their parents, other kids listening, maybe at that same jukebox later in the decade now worn with play and coins listening to some guys from some Memphis record company rocking and rolling (okay, okay not just some record company but Sam Phillip’s Sun Records and not just some guys from the cornfields but Warren Smith, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis), or adults spending some dough to hear the latest from Tin Pan Alley (some Cole Porter, Irvin Berlin, Gershwin Brothers summertime and the living is easy tune)or some enchanted evening Broadway musical. And so they too while away to the various aspects of the American songbook and that rich tradition is which in honored here.
This series which could include some modern protest songs as well like Pete Seeger’s Where Have All The Flowers Gone or Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind, is centered on roots music as it has come down the ages and formed the core of the American songbook. You will find the odd, the eccentric, the forebears of later musical trends, and the just plain amusing here. Listen up.
And as if you needed more motivation to listen up to Mister Chuck Berry and his 1950s youth anthem run through this sketch:
The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman
Sam Lowell thought it was funny how things worked out in such contrary fashion in this wicked old world, not his expression that “wicked old world” for he preferred of late the more elastic and ironic “sad old world” reflecting since we are in a reflecting mood the swift passage of time and of times not coming back but that of his old time North Adamsville corner boy Peter Markin, Markin, who seemingly was possessed by the demon fight in his brain against the night-takers whatever their guise and who will be more fully introduced in a moment. (Markin aka Peter Paul Markin although nobody ever called him that except his mother, as one would expect although he hated to be teased by every kid from elementary school on including girls, girls who liked him too as a result, and his first ill-advised wife, a scion of the Mayfair swells who tried, unsuccessfully, to impress her leafy suburban parents with the familiar waspy triple names inherited from the long ago Brahmin forbear stowaways on the good ship Mayflower.)
Neither of those expressions referred to above date back to their youth since neither Sam nor Markin back then, back in their 1960s youth, would have used such old-fashioned religious-drenched expressions to express their take on the world since as with all youth, or at least youth who expected to “turn the world upside down” (an expression that they both did use in very different contexts) they would have withheld such judgments or were too busy doing that “turning upside down” business and they had no time for adjectives to express their worldly concerns. No, that expression, that understanding about the wickedness of the world had been picked up by Sam from Markin when they had reconnected a number of years previously after they had not seen each other for decades to express the uphill battles of those who had expected humankind to exhibit the better angels of their nature on a more regular basis. Some might call this a nostalgic glancing back, especially by Markin since he had more at stake in a favorable result, on a world that did not turn upside down or did so in a way very different from those hazy days.
The funny part (or ironic if you prefer) was that Sam had been in his youth the least political, the least culture-oriented, the least musically-oriented of those corner boys like Markin, Jack Dawson, Jimmy Jenkins and “max daddy” leader Fritz Fallon, that “max daddy” another expression coined by Markin so although he has not even been properly introduced we know plenty about his place in the corner boy life, his place as “flak,” for Fritz’s operation although Fritz always called him “the Scribe” when he wanted something written up about his latest exploits and needed to play on Markin’s vanity, Markin with his finger-tip two thousand arcane facts stored in that brain ready to be fired at a moment’s notice for his leader. His leader who kept the coins flowing into the jukebox at Phil’s House of Pizza (don’t ask how that “coins flowing” got going since Fritz like most of the corner boys came “from hunger” but just take on faith that they got there. That shop had been located down a couple of blocks from the choppy ocean waters of Adamsville Beach (and still is although under totally different management from the arch-Italian Rizzo family that ran the place for several generation to some immigrant Albanians named Hoxha).
That made it among other things a natural hang-out place for wayward but harmless poor teenage corner boys. The serious “townie” professional corner boys, the rumblers, tumblers, drifters, grifters and midnight sifters hung around Harry’s Variety with leader Red Riley over on Sagamore far from beaches, daytime beaches although rumors had been of more than one nighttime orgy with “nice” girls looking for kicks with rough boys down among the briny rocks. Fritz and the boys would not have gone within three blocks of that place. Maybe more from fear, legitimate fear as Fritz’s older brother, Timmy, a serious tough guy himself, could testify to the one time he tried to wait outside Harry’s for some reason, a friend stopping to buy a soda on a hot summer day Fritz said, and got chain-whipped by Red for his indiscretion. Moreover Phil’s provided a beautiful vantage point for scanning the horizon for those wayward girls who also kept their coins flowing into Phil’s jukebox (or a stray “nice” girl passing by after Red and his corner boys threw her over).
Sam had recently thought about that funny story that Markin had told the crowd once on a hot night in the summer of 1965 when nobody had any money and were just holding up the wall at Phil’s about Johnny Callahan, the flashy and unstoppable halfback from the high school team (and a guy even Red respected having made plenty of money off of “sports” who bet with him on Johnny’s prowess on any given Saturday although Johnny once confessed that he too, rightly, avoided Harry’s after what had happened to Timmy). See Johnny was pretty poor in those days even by the median working poor standard of the old neighborhoods (although now, courtesy of his incessant radio and television advertising which continues to make everyone within fifty miles of North Adamsville who knew Johnny back in the day aware of his new profession, he is a prosperous Toyota car dealer down across from the mall in Hull about twenty miles from North Adamsville, the town where their mutual friend Josh Breslin soon to be introduced came from). Johnny, a real music maniac who would do his football weight-lifting exercises to Jerry Lee’s Great Balls of Fire, Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula and stuff like that to get him hyped up, had this routine in order to get to hear songs that he was dying to hear, stuff he would hear late at night coming from a rock station out of Detroit and which would show up a few weeks later on Phil’s jukebox just waiting for Johnny and the kids to fill the coffers, with the girls who had some dough, enough dough anyway to put coins into that jukebox.
Johnny would go up all flirty to some young thing (a Fritz expression coped from Jerry Lee and not an invention of Markin as he would later try to claim to some “young thing” that he was trying to “score”) or depending on whatever intelligent he had on the girl, maybe she had just had a fight with her boyfriend or had broken up with him so Johnny would be all sympathy, maybe she was just down in the dumps for no articulable reason like every teen goes through every chance they get, whatever it took. Johnny, by the way, would have gotten that intelligence via Markin who whatever else anybody had to say about him, good or bad, was wired into, no, made himself consciously privy to, all kinds of boy-girl information almost like he had a hook into that Monday morning before school girls’ locker room talkfest (everybody already knew that he was hooked into the boys’ Monday morning version and had started more rumors and other unsavory deeds than any ten other guys).
Now here is what Johnny “knew” about almost every girl if they had the quarter which allowed them to play three selections. He would let them pick that first one on their own, maybe something to express interest in his flirtation, maybe her name, say Donna, was also being used as the title of a latest hit, or if broken up some boy sorrow thing. Brenda Lee’s I Want To Be Wanted, stuff like that. The second one he would “suggest” something everybody wanted to listen to no matter what but which was starting to get old. Maybe an Elvis, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee thing still on the jukebox playlist but getting wearisome. Then he would go in for the kill and “suggest” they play this new platter, you know, something like Martha and the Vandelas Dancing in the Streets or Roy’s Blue Bayou both of which he had heard on the midnight radio airwaves out of Detroit one night and were just getting play on the jukeboxes. And bingo before you know it she was playing the thing again, and again. Beautiful. And Johnny said that sometimes he would wind up with a date, especially if he had just scored about three touchdowns for the school, a date that is in the days before he and Kitty Kelly became an “item.” An item, although it is not germane to the story, who still is Johnny’s girl, wife, known as Mrs. Toyota now.
But enough of this downstream stuff Sam thought. The hell with Johnny and his cheapjack tricks (although not to those three beautiful touchdowns days, okay) this thing gnawing at him was about old age angst and not the corner boy glory days at Phil’s, although it was about old time corners boys and their current doings, some of them anyway. So yeah he had other things he wanted to think about (and besides he had already, with a good trade-in gotten his latest car from Mr. Toyota so enough there), to tell a candid world about how over the past few years the country, the world, the universe had been going to hell in a hand-basket. In the old days, like he kept going back to he was not the least bit interested in anything in the big world outside of sports, and girls, of course. And endlessly working on plans to own his own business, a print shop, before he was twenty-five. Well, he did get that small business, although not until thirty and had prospered when he made connections to do printing for several big high-tech companies, notably IBM when they began outsourcing their work. He had prospered, had married (twice, and divorced twice), had the requisite tolerated children and adored grandchildren, and in his old age a woman companion to ease his time.
But there had been for a long time, through those failed marriages, through that business success something gnawing at him, something that Sam felt he had missed out on, or felt he had do something about. Then a few years ago when it was getting time for a high school class reunion he had Googled “North Adamsville Class of 1966” and came upon a class website for that year, his year, that had been set up by the reunion committee, and decided to join the site to keep up with what was going on, keep up with developments there (he would wind up not going to that reunion as he had planned to although that too is not germane to the story here except as one more thing that gnawed at him because in the end he could not face going home, believed in the end after a painful episode, a feud with a female fellow classmate that left bitter ashes in his mouth, hers too from what he had heard later, what Thomas Wolfe said in the title of one of his novels, you can’t go home again.
After he had registered on the site giving a brief resume of his interests and what he had been up to these past forty years or so years Sam looked at the class list, the entire list of class members alive and deceased (a rose beside their name signifying their passing, some seventy or so maddening to his sad old world view) of who had joined and found the names of Peter Paul Markin and Jimmy Jenkins among those who had done so. (Sam had to laugh, listed as Peter Paul Markin since everybody was listed by their full names, revenge from the grave by his poor mother, and that leafy suburban first wife who tried to give him Mayflower credentials, he thought.) Jack Dawson had passed away a few years before, a broken man, broken after his son who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan had committed suicide, according to Markin, as had their corner boy leader, Fritz Fallon, homeless after going through a couple of fortunes, his own and a third wife’s.
Through the mechanism established on the site which allowed each class member who joined to have a private e-mail slot Sam contacted both men and the three of them started a rather vigorous on-line chat line for several weeks going through the alphabet of their experiences, good and bad, the time for sugar-coating was over unlike in their youth when all three would lie like crazy, especially about sex and with whom in order to keep their place in the pecking order, and in order to keep up with Fritz whom lied more than all three of them combined. Markin knew that, knew Fritz’s lying about his scorecard with under the satin sheets women, knew it better than anybody else but to keep his place as “scribe” in that crazy quill pecking order went along with such silly teenage stuff, stuff that in his other pursuits he would have laughed at but that is what made being a teenager back then, now too, from what Sam saw of his grandchildren’s trials and tribulation.
After a while, once the e-mail questions had worked their course, all three men met in Boston at the Sunnyvale Grille, a place where Markin had begun to hang out in after he had moved back to Boston from the West Coast (read “hang out”: did his daytime drinking) over by the waterfront, and spent a few hours discussing not so much old times per se but what was going on in the world now, and how the world had changed some much in the meantime. And since Markin, the political maniac of the tribe, was involved in the conversations maybe do something about it at least that is what Sam had hoped since he knew that is where he thought he needed to head in order to cut into that gnawing feeling plaguing him. Sam was elated, and unlike in his youth he did not shut his ears down, when those two guys would talk politics, about the arts or about music. He had not listened back then since he was so strictly into girls and sports, not always in that order (which caused many problems later including one of the grounds for his one of his divorces, not the sports but the girls).
This is probably the place for Sam to introduce Peter Paul Markin although he had already given an earful (and what goes for Markin goes to a lesser extent for Jimmy who tended to follow in Pete’s wake on the issues back then, and still does). Markin as Sam already noted provided that noteworthy, national security agency-worthy service, that “intelligence” he provided all the guys (and not just his corner boys, although they had first dibs) about girls, who was “taken,” a very important factor if some frail (a Fritz term from watching too many 1940s gangster and detective movies and reading Dashiell Hammett too closely, especially The Maltese Falcon),was involved with some bruiser football player, some college joe who belonged to a fraternity and the brothers were sworn to avenge any brother’s indignities, or worse, worse of all, if she was involved with some outlaw biker who hung out in Adamsville and who if he hadn’t his monthly quota of college boy wannabes red meat hanging out at Phil’s would not think twice about chain-whipping you just for the fuck of it (“for the fuck of it” a term Jimmy constantly used so it was not always Markin or Fritz who led the verbal life around the corner), who was “unapproachable,” probably more important than that social blunder of ‘hitting on” a taken woman since that snub by Miss Perfect-Turned-Up-Nose would make the rounds of that now legendary seminar, Monday morning before school girls’ locker room (and eventually work its way through Markin to the boys’ Monday morning version ruining whatever social standing the guy had spent since junior high trying to perfect in order to avoid the fatal nerd-dweeb-wallflower-square name your term).
Strangely Markin had made a serious mistake with Melinda Loring who blasted her freeze deep on him and he survived to tell the tale, or at least that is what he had the boys believe. Make of this what you will though he never after that Melinda Loring sting had a high school girlfriend from North Adamsville High, who, well, liked to “do the do” as they called it back then, that last part not always correct since everybody, girls and boys alike, were lying like crazy about whether they were “doing the do” or not, including Markin.
But beyond, well beyond, that schoolboy silliness Markin was made of sterner stuff (although Sam would not have bothered to use such a positive attribute about Markin back then) was super-political, super into art and what he called culture, you know going to poetry readings at coffeehouses, going over to Cambridge to watch foreign films with subtitles and themes that he would try to talk about and even Jimmy would turn his head, especially those French films by Jean Renoir, and super into music, fortunately he was not crazy for classical music (unlike some nerds in school then who were in the band and after practice you would hear Beethoven or somebody wafting through the halls after they had finished their sport’s practice)but serious about what is now called classic rock and roll and then in turn, the blues, and folk music (Sam still shuttered at that hillbilly stuff Markin tried to interest him in when he thought about it). That was how Markin had first met Josh Breslin, still a friend, whom he introduced to Sam at one of their meetings over at the Sunnyvale Grille.
Josh told the gathering that Markin had met him after high school, after he had graduated from Hull High (the same town where Johnny Callahan was burning up the Toyota sales records for New England) down at the Surf Ballroom. (Sam had his own memories of the place, some good, some bad including one affair that almost wound up in marriage.) Apparently Josh and Peter had had their wanting habits on the same girl at one Friday night dance when the great local cover band, the Rockin’ Ramrods held sway there, and had been successively her boyfriend for short periods both to be dumped for some stockbroker from New York. But their friendship remained and they had gone west together, gone on that Jack Kerouac On The Road trail for a number of years when they were trying their own version of turning the world upside down on. Josh also dabbled (his word) in the turning upside down politics of the time.
And that was the remarkable thing about Markin, not so much later in the 1960s in cahoots with Josh because half of youth nation, half the generation of ’68 was knee-deep in some movement, but in staid old North Adamsville High days, days when to just be conventionally political, wanting to run for office or something, was seen as kind of strange. See Peter was into the civil rights movement, nuclear disarmament, and social justice stuff that everybody thought he was crazy to be into, everybody from Ma to Fritz (and a few anonymous midnight phone-callers yelling n----r-lover and commie into the Markin home phone). He had actually gone into Boston when he was a freshman and joined the picket-line in front of Woolworths’ protesting the fact that they would not let black people eat in their lunchrooms down south (and maybe Markin would say when he mentioned what he was up to Woolworth’s, or North Adamsville residents, were not that happy to have blacks in their northern lunchrooms either ), had joined a bunch of Quakers and little old ladies in tennis sneakers (a term then in use for airhead blue-haired lady do-gooders with nothing but time on their hands) calling on the government to stop building atomic bombs (not popular in the red scare Cold War “we were fighting against the Russians” North Adamsville, or most other American places either), running over to the art museum to check out the exhibits (including some funny stories about him and Jimmy busting up the place looking at the old Pharaoh times slave building Pyramids stuff uncovered by some Harvard guys way back), and going to coffeehouses in Harvard Square and listening to hokey folk music that was a drag. (Sam’s take on that subject then, and now.) So Markin was a walking contradiction, although that was probably not as strange now as it seemed back then when every new thing was looked at with suspicion and when kids like Peter were twisted in the wind between being corner boys and trying to figure out what that new wind was that was blowing though the land, when Sam and the other corner boys, except Jimmy and sometimes Jack would try to talk him out of stuff that would only upset everybody in town.
But here is the beauty, beauty for Sam now that he was all ears about what Peter had to say, he had kept at it, had kept the faith, while everybody else from their generation, or almost everybody, who protested war, protested around the social issues, had hung around coffeehouses and who had listened to folk music had long before given it up. Markin had, after his Army time, spent a lot of time working with GIs around the war issues, protested the incessantly aggressive American foreign policy dipped internally into wars and coups at the drop of a hat and frequented off-beat coffeehouses set up in the basements of churches in order to hear the dwindling number of folk artists around. He had gotten and kept his “religion,” kept the faith in a sullen world. And like in the old days a new generation (added to that older North Adamsville generation which still, from the class website e-mail traffic had not gotten that much less hostile to what Markin had to say about this “wicked old world,” you already know the genesis of that term, right, was ready to curse him out, ready to curse the darkness against his small voice).
One night when Peter and Sam were alone at the Sunnyvale Grille, maybe both had had a few too many high-shelf scotches (each now able to afford such liquor unlike in the old days when they both in their respective poverties, drank low-shelf Johnny Walker whiskey with a beer chaser when they had the dough, if not some cheapjack wine), Peter told Sam the story of how he had wanted to go to Alabama in high school, go to Selma, but his mother threatened to disown him if he did, threatened to disown him not for his desire to go but because she would not have been able to hold her head up in public if he had, and so although it ate at him not to go, go when his girlfriend, Helen Jackson, who lived in Gloversville, did go, he “took a dive” (Markin’s words).
Told Sam as well a redemptive story too about his anti-war fight in the Army when he refused to go to Vietnam and wound up in an Army stockade for a couple of years altogether. (Sam thought that was a high price to pay for redemption but it may have been the Scotch at work.) Told a number of stories about working with various veterans’ groups, throwing medals over Supreme Court barricades, chainings to the White House fence, sitting down in hostile honked traffic streets, blocking freeways complete with those same hostile honkings, a million walks for this and that, and some plain old ordinary handing out leaflets, working the polls and button-holing reluctant politicians to vote against the endless war budgets (this last the hardest task, harder than all the jailings, honkings, marches put together and seemingly the most fruitless).
Told too stories about the small coffeehouse places seeing retread folkies who had gone on to other things and then in a fit of anguish, or hubris, decided to go back on the trail. Told of many things that night not in feast of pride but to let Sam know that sometimes it was easier to act than to let that gnawing win the day. Told Sam that he too always had the “gnaw,” probably always would in this wicked old world. Sam was delighted by the whole talk, even if Markin was on his soapbox.
That night too Peter mentioned in passing that he contributed to a number of blogs, a couple of political ones, including an anti-war veterans’ group, a couple of old time left-wing cultural sites and a folk music-oriented one. Sam confessed to Markin that although he had heard the word blog he did not know what a blog was. Peter told him that one of the virtues of the Internet was that it provided space (cyberspace, a term Sam had heard of and knew what it meant) for the average citizen to speak his or her mind via setting up a website or a blog. Blogs were simply a way to put your opinions and comments out there just like newspaper Op/Ed writers or news reporters and commentators although among professional reporters the average blog and blog writers were seen as too filled with opinions and sometimes rather loose with the facts. Peter said he was perfectly willing to allow the so-called “objective” reporters state the facts but he would be damned if the blog system was not a great way to get together with others interested in your areas of interest, yeah, stuff that interested you and that other like-minded spirits might respond to. Yeah that was worth the effort.
The actual process of blog creation (as opposed to the more complex website-creation which still takes a fair amount of expertise to create) had been made fairly simple over time, just follow a few simple prompts and you are in business. Also over time what was possible to do has been updated for ease, for example linking other platforms to your site and be able to present multi-media works lashing up say your blog with YouTube or downloading photographs to add something to your presentation. Peter one afternoon after Sam had asked about his blog links showed him the most political one that he belonged to, one he had recently begun to share space with Josh Breslin, Frank Jackman and a couple of other guys that he had known since the 1960s on and who were familiar with the various social, political and cultural trends that floated out from that period.
Sam was amazed at the various topics that those guys tackled, stuff that he vaguely remembered hearing about but which kind of passed him by as he had delved into the struggle to build his printing shop after high school and the marriage, first marriage, house, kids and dog bites. He told Markin that as he scrolled through the site he got dizzy looking at the various titles from reviews of old time black and white movies that he remembered watching at the old Strand second run theater uptown, poetry from the “beat” generation, various political pieces on current stuff like the Middle East, the fight against war, political prisoners most of whom he had never heard of except the ones who had been Black Panthers or guys like that who were on the news after they were killed or carted off to jail, all kinds of reviews of rock and roll complete with the songs via YouTube, too many reviews of folk music that he never really cared for, books that he knew Peter read like crazy but that Sam could not remember the titles of. The guys really had put a lot of stuff together, even stuff from other sites and announcements for every conceivable left-wing oriented event in Boston or the East Coast. He decided that he would become a Follower which was nothing sinister like some cult but just that you would receive notice when something was put on the blog.
Markin had also encouraged him to write some pieces about what interested him, maybe start out about the old days in North Adamsville since all the guys mined that vein for sketches (that is what Peter liked to call most of the material on site since they were usually too short to be considered short stories but too long to be human interest snapshots). Sam said he would think about the matter, think about it seriously once he read the caption below which was on a sidebar of the blog homepage:
“This space is noted for politics mainly, and mainly the desperate political fight against various social, economic and moral injustices and wrongs in this wicked old world, although the place where politics and cultural expression, especially post-World War II be-bop cultural expression, has drawn some of our interest over the past several years. The most telling example of that interest is in the field of popular music, centrally the blues, city and country, good woman on your mind, hardworking, hard drinking blues and folk music, mainly urban, mainly protest to high heaven against the world’s injustices smite the dragon down, folk music. Of late though the old time 1950s kid, primordial, big bang, jail-break rock and roll music that set us off from earlier generations has drawn our attention. Mostly by reviewing oldies CDs but here, and occasionally hereafter under this headline, specifically songs that some future archaeologists might dig up as prime examples of how we primitives lived ,and what we listened to back in the day.”
Sam could relate to that, had something to say about some of those songs. Josh Breslin laughed when he heard that Sam was interested in doing old time rock and roll sketches. He then added, “If we can only get him to move off his butt and come out and do some street politics with us we would be getting somewhere.” Peter just replied, “one step at a time.” Yeah, that’s the ticket.