Thursday, May 18, 2017

“To Be Young Was Very Heaven”-With The 50th Anniversary Of The “Summer Of Love, 1967” In Mind-Alex James' Story

“To Be Young Was Very Heaven”-With The 50th Anniversary Of The “Summer Of Love, 1967” In Mind-Alex James' Story  

Revised Introduction by Zack James

[I was about a decade or so too young to have been washed, washed clean to hear guys like Peter Paul Markin, more on him below, tell the tale, by the huge counter-cultural explosion that burst upon the land (and by extension and a million youth culture ties internationally before the bubble burst) in the mid to late 1960s and maybe extending a few year into the 1970s depending on whose ebb tide event you adhere to. (Markin’s for very personal reasons having to do with participating in the events on May Day 1971 when the most radical forces tried to stop the Vietnam War by shutting down the government and got kicked in the teeth for their efforts. Doctor Gonzo, the late writer Hunter Thompson who was knee-deep in the experiences called it 1968 around the Democratic Party convention disaster in Chicago. I, reviewing the material published on the subject mostly and on the very fringe of what was what back then would argue for 1969 between Altamont and the Days of Rage everything looked bleak then and after.)

Over the next fifty years that explosion has been inspected, selected, dissected, inflected, infected and detected by every social science academic who had the stamina to hold up under the pressure and even by politicians, mostly to put the curse of “bad example” and “never again” on the outlier experimentation that went on in those days. Plenty has been written about the sea-change in mores among the young attributed to the breakdown of the Cold War red scare freeze, the righteous black civil rights struggles rights early in the decade and the forsaken huge anti-Vietnam War movement later. Part of the mix too and my oldest brother Alex, one of Markin’s fellow corner boys from the old neighborhood is a prime example, was just as reaction like in many generations coming of age, just the tweaking of the older generations inured to change by the Cold War red scare psychosis they bought into. The event being celebrated or at least reflected on in this series under the headline “To Be Very Young-With The Summer of Love 1967 In Mind” now turned fifty was by many accounts a pivotal point in that explosion especially among the kids from out in the hinterlands, like Markin an Alex, away from elite colleges and anything goes urban centers.   The kids, who as later analysis would show, were caught up one way or another in the Vietnam War, were scheduled to fight the damn thing, the young men anyway, and were beginning, late beginning, to break hard from the well-established norms from whence they came in reaction to that dread.

This series came about because my already mentioned oldest brother, Alex James, had in the spring of 2017 taken a trip to San Francisco on business and noticed on a passing Muni bus that the famed deYoung Museum located in the heart of Golden Gate Park, a central location for the activities of the Summer of Love as it exploded on the scene in that town, was holding an exhibition about that whole experience. That jarred many a half forgotten memory in Alex’s head. Alex and his “corner boys” back in the day from the old Acre neighborhood in North Adamsville, a suburb of Boston where we all came of age, had gotten their immersion into counter-cultural activities by going to San Francisco in the wake of that summer of 1967 to “see what it was all about.”

When Alex got back from his business trip he gathered the few “corner boys” still standing, Frankie Riley, the acknowledged leader of the corner boys, Jimmy Jenkins, Si Lannon, Jack Callahan, Bart Webber, Ralph Kelly, and Josh Breslin (not an actual North Adamsville corner boy but a corner boy nevertheless from Olde Sacco up in Maine whom the tribe “adopted” as one of their own) at Jimmy’s Grille in North Adamsville, their still favorite drinking hole as they call it, to tell what he had seen in Frisco town and to reminisce. From that first “discussion” they decided to “commission” me as the writer for a small book of reflections by the group to be attached alongside a number of sketches I had done previously based on their experiences in the old neighborhood and in the world related to those times. So I interviewed the crew, wrote or rather compiled the notes used in the sketches below but believe this task was mostly my doing the physical writing and getting the hell out of the way once they got going. This slender book is dedicated to the memory of the guy who got them all on the road west-Peter Paul Markin whom I don’t have to mention more about here for he, his still present “ghost” will be amply discussed below. Zack James]              

To the memory of the late Peter Paul Markin on the occasion of the 50th anniversary year of the Summer of Love, San Francisco, 1967

[Although this small tribute book is dedicated to the memory of Peter Paul Markin from the corner boys days of the old Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville and will have contributions from all the surviving member of that tribe there are other corner boys who have passed away, a couple early on in that bloody hell called Vietnam, Ricky Russo and Ralph Morse, RIP brothers, you did good in a bad war, Allan Jackson, Allan Stein, “Bugger” Shea and Markin’s old comrade, Billy Bradley. You guys RIP too.]          

By Alex James

Let’s get this whole, I will put it in capitals just like the sociologists of the event and whoever puts anything about it on YouTube, Summer of Love.1967 thing straight. This whole turning away for a while by most of us corner boys from the Acre from the “square” nine to five, little white picket fence with kids and dogs thing was totally and solely the work of one Peter Paul Markin. Markin whom our acknowledged leader Frankie Riley dubbed the “Scribe” and I will call him that hereafter was the first one of us to get a whiff of the fresh breeze as he called it of something new and different coming down the road. Excuse my language but while the rest of us on those strange and sometimes oddly eventful Friday and Saturday were worrying about getting enough dough together for a date, or if without a date getting one, or if with a date getting some action from the chick, getting laid, “doing the do” as we called it the Scribe was like some fucking prophet proclaiming the new day coming. And seriously all through high school we could have given a fuck about what he was talking about.       

Don’t get me wrong the Scribe was a good guy to have a round most days and while no way he could lead the guys, even now the idea is totally preposterous, he, aside from that “new day coming” bullshit was a straight up guy. Was the guy we looked to, including Frankie, to tell us what was going on right then. That “right then” was whatever scheme he had figured out, okay, what con or midnight sneak job he had figured out, legal or illegal mostly the latter, for us to get money to have a shot at those dates and a shot at “doing the do.” Moreover since behind that larcenous, grand larcenous if there is such a term little head of his he was a conduit to the girls. See he was the “sensitive” guy, the guy who liked poetry and literature which we could have given a fuck about but which a lot of girls at school and around town were into and they would flock around him and tell him stuff-like who they liked or didn’t like. Liked and didn’t like among the corner boys especially and he would pitch or not pitch for us. The funny part like with the larcenous schemes which no way would he execute but left to Frankie’s fiendish organizing Markin never had dates with those girls, none in town either. He would run over to Harvard Square find some “folkie” chick he called them and some of them were foxes, were bowled over by his knowledge of folk music and by his prophecy that some new breeze was coming that girls like that went crazy for at the time.              

That is all stuff though while we were in high school mostly although Markin’s Harvard Square rendezvous thing continued after we graduated from old North Adamsville High in 1965. Of course like any group in high school once everybody graduated (a couple of our guys didn’t until 1966 for some reason not germane here) they went to a degree in their own directions mostly to work, a few like Frankie and the Scribe to college. But we would gather, whoever was around, several times a year for the next couple of years to keep in touch and to “keep the flame” as the Scribe called it lit. Things just went along for most of us like they had for our parents, start working, work your way up some ladder, or get started anyway, get more steady in the girl department (although no guy I knew, corner boy or not, passed on a stray encounter whether they were seriously “going steady’, engaged or married for that matter), began that uphill climb toward marriage, kids, pets and the picket fence.

All of us except the late Ricky Russo who had volunteered right out of high school and would become an Airborne Ranger in Vietnam before being blown away in some stinking village in the Central Highlands were scared as hell of the draft which lingered over our heads (a couple of other corner boys beside Ricky would volunteer when the sense they were to be called up and another guy, Allan Jackson, “volunteered” through the justice system after being caught stealing six cars out of the local car dealership lot one drunken night by having the option of five years in the can or go into the Army thrown at him)      

Then in the early spring of 1967 the Scribe shocked all of us by telling us that he was quitting college, quitting Boston University to go “find himself” out West, out in California, out in San Francisco although that destination came later. Remember this is a working class kid whose folks had no dough for college, none not with five boys to raise, who got a scholarship and some other financial deal to go giving that all up  to “find himself.” We all knew a girl, a wild Irish girl, Mary Shea, had gotten into his head and had gone West already but to give up that scholarship and to face the draft straight up with the loss of his student exemption was crazy and we told him so. He just said to us the “new day” was here and he did not want to miss the opportunity. He would take his chances with the draft. A fateful, a very fateful, decision which would eventually lead to his downfall.              

In any case the Scribe dropped out put a knapsack or two together, maybe that second thing was a bedroll and headed West, hitchhiking like some Jack Kerouac On The Road character, bum we called it. The Scribe in high school had made us all read the book, or parts of it, or he would read parts of it to us but mostly we could have given a fuck about hitchhiking and old timer adventurers and 1940s passe cars although Dean Moriarty the king of the road seemed cool to me. We all wanted cars, fast cars, and not sticking our thumbs out on some desolate road waiting for some desperate pervert to pick us up. (The Scribe’s cross-country hitchhike run would be the first of many that he, and all the rest of us who headed west in his wake, would take before the ebb tide set in and you just couldn’t depend on that mode of transportation to get you across town never mind across country.) So the Scribe was in Frisco town when the whole thing exploded, when drugs became a serious part of youth nation life, when the music got amped up and the chains that held previous society, or the youth part anyway or maybe I had better say part of the youth part since most young people as it turned out went about their square lives being square (it would take the rest of us, or most of the rest of us, a while, a few years anyway to get back in harness), when consensual sex became a lovely experience rather than just hormonal hunger (although that came into it too) and other ways of organizing your life were explored (not all for the better but mostly if you could keep the pyschos and crazies at bay).        

The Scribe hitchhiked back to the Acre in late summer on a mission. Get his square, hanging around mopping, nowhere corner boys to pack up and head west on another run. I was between jobs, between girls and bored enough to jump when the Scribe called the tune. (The dope he brought back for us, we “liquor heads” to try helped once the initial fear and hassle of drugs and the old junkie stigma evaporated in a haze). Frankie would also go out on that trip although I think his first trip out like Josh’s was on the stinking five or six day Greyhound bus out (that experience would get both men on the hitchhike road thereafter after dealing with that craziness). And everything was in late 1967 for the most part as advertised. I went back and forth for the next couple of years but mostly staying out there after we hooked up with mad man savior helmsman Captain Crunch and his magical mystery tour bus but I think Josh will deal with that episode so I will end here. 
End here except to say I believe we all were, maybe still are grateful that the Scribe put us on the road, had given us a few years of breaking out, jail breaking out of our doomed Acre existences. Everybody who went out after the Scribe survived for a long while except Ralph Morse who died in the swampy stinking Mekong Delta and of course Ricky Russo who never got a chance to go West with us before his death. And except sad to say the Scribe whose decision back in the spring of 1967 to “find himself”’ would several years later wind up costing him his precious life in a dirty dusty backroad down in Sonora, Mexico with two slugs in his head after what apparently was a busted drug deal since we never got conclusive information about exactly what had happened before we were warned off by the Federales down there.

Fateful since the Scribe was eventually drafted in late 1968 and having then no serious reason not to accept induction did so and wound up in Vietnam which changed him in many ways that he could not have imagined back in 1967. He like a lot of guys who were in what they called ‘Nam had trouble adjusting to the “ real” world coming back and he drifted into this and that writing assignment out in the West Coast for a while, did the remarkable “Brothers Under The Bridge” series about guys, veterans, like him living out there in their alternative community under the bridges, along the railroad tracks and aside the arroyos for the East Bay Eye, long defunct, had a wife for a while and was living with our old adopted corner boy Josh Breslin when he got seriously into a cocaine addiction. Began “running” product back and forth to Mexico at a time when cocaine was becoming the drug of choice and the beginning of the serious cartels. The last Josh knew the Scribe was down south of the border doing a run or trying to put a deal together. Something went wrong on one end or the other and the Scribe now rests in a potter’s field down in Sonora and still missed, crazy missed as we used to call it when we hadn’t seen somebody we loved for a while. Well he is still crazy missed by this guy. Thanks for the fresh breeze Scribe, thanks.           

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