Saturday, August 10, 2019
An Encore Salute To The Untold Stories Of The Working- Class 1960s Radicals-“The Sam And Ralph Stories”- Down With The Death Penalty-For The Innocent-And The Guilty-Where Was The Ma. Committee Against The Death Penalty and Amnesty International On Judgment Day!
Greg Green, site manager Introduction
[In early 2018, shortly after I had taken over the reins as site manager at this on-line publication I “saw the light” and bowed to the wisdom of a number of older writers who balked at my idea of reaching younger and newer audiences by having them review films like Marvel/DC Comics productions, write about various video games and books that would not offend a flea unlike the flaming red books previously reviewed here centered on the now aging 1960s baby-boomer demographic which had sustained the publication through good times and bad as a hard copy and then on-line proposition. One senior writer, who shall remain nameless in case some stray millennial sees this introduction and spreads some viral social media hate campaign his way, made the very telling observation that the younger set, his term, don’t read film reviews or hard copy books as a rule and those hardy Generation of ’68 partisans who still support this publication in the transition from the old Allan Jackson leadership to mine don’t give a fuck about comics, video games or graphic novels. I stand humbled.
Not only stand humbled though but in a valiant and seemingly successful attempt to stabilize this operation decided to give an encore presentation to some of the most important series produced and edited by Allan Jackson-without Allan. That too proved to be an error when I had Frank Jackman introduce the first few sections of The Roots Is The Toots Rock And Roll series which Allan had sweated his ass over to bring out over a couple of years. Writers, and not only senior writers who had supported Allan in the vote of no confidence fight challenging his leadership after he went overboard attempting to cash in on the hoopla over the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in 1967 but also my younger writer partisans, balked at this subterfuge. One called it a travesty.
Backing off after finding Allan, not an easy task since he had fled to the safer waters of the West looking for work and had been rumored to be any place from Salt Lake City to some mountainous last hippie commune in the hills of Northern California doing anything from pimping as press agent for Mitt Romney’s U.S. Senate campaign in Utah to running a whorehouse with Madame La Rue in Frisco or shacking up with drag queen Miss Judy Garland in that same city, we brought Allan back to do the introductions to the remaining sections. That we, me and the Editorial Board established after Allan’s demise and as a guard against one-person rule, had compromised on that gesture with the last of the series being the termination of Allan’s association with the publication except possibly as an occasional writer, a stringer really, when some nostalgia event needed some attention.
That was the way things went and not too badly when we finished up the series in the early summer of 2018. But that is not the end of the Allan story. While looking through the on-line archives I noticed that Allan had also seriously edited another 1960s-related series, the Sam and Ralph Stories, a series centered on the trials and tribulations of two working-class guys who had been radicalized in different ways by the 1960s upheavals and have never lost the faith in what Allan called from Tennyson “seeking a newer world” would resurface in this wicked old world, somebody’s term.
I once again attempted to make the mistake of having someone else, in this case Josh Breslin, introduce the series (after my introduction here) but the Editorial Board bucked me even before I could set that idea in motion. I claimed, somewhat disingenuously, that Allan was probably out in Utah looking for some residual work for Mitt Romney now that he is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senator for Utah or running back to Madame La Rue, an old flame, and that high- end whorehouse or hanging with Miss Judy Garland at her successful drag queen tourist attraction cabaret. No such luck since he was up in Maine working on a book about his life as an editor. To be published in hard cop y by well-known Wheeler Press whenever he gets the proofs done. So hereafter former editor and site manager Allan will handle the introductions on this encore presentation of this excellent series. Greg Green]
Allan Jackson, editor The Sam And Ralph Stories -New General Introduction
[As my replacement Greg Green, whom I brought in from American Film Gazette originally to handle the day to day site operations while I concentrated on editing but who led a successful revolt against my regime based on the wishes of the younger writers to as they said at the time not be slaves to the 1960s upheavals a time which they only knew second or third hand, mentioned in his general introduction above some of the series I initiated were/are worth an encore presentation. The Sam and Ralph Stories are one such series and as we go along I will try to describe why this series was an important testament to an unheralded segment of the mass movements of the 1960s-the radicalized white working- class kids who certainly made up a significant component of the Vietnam War soldiery, some of who were like Sam and Ralph forever after suspicious of every governmental war cry. Who also somewhat belatedly got caught up in the second wave rock and roll revival which emerged under the general slogan of “drug, sex and rock and roll” which represented a vast sea change for attitudes about a lot of things that under ordinary circumstances would have had them merely replicating their parents’ ethos and fate.
As I said I will describe that transformation in future segment introductions but today since it is my “dime” I want to once again clear up some misapprehensions about what has gone on over the past year or so in the interest of informing the readership, as Greg Green has staked his standing at this publication on doing to insure his own survival, about what goes on behind the scenes in the publishing business. This would not have been necessary after the big flap when Greg tried an “end around” something that I and every other editor worth her or his salt have tried as well and have somebody else, here commentator and my old high school friend Frank Jackman, act as general introducer of The Roots Is The Toots rock and roll coming of age series that I believe is one of the best productions I have ever worked on. That got writers, young and old, with me or against me, led by Sam Lowell, another of my old high school friends, who had been the decisive vote against me in the “vote of no confidence” which ended my regime up in arms. I have forgiven Sam, and others, as I knew full well from the time I entered into the business that at best it was a cutthroat survival of the fittest racket. (Not only have I forgiven Sam but I am in his corner in his recent struggles with young up and coming by-line writer Sarah Lemoyne who is being guided through the shoals by another old high school friend Seth Garth as she attempts to make her way up the film critic food chain, probably the most vicious segment of the business where a thousand knives wait the unwary from so-called fellow reviewers.) The upshot of that controversy was that Greg had to back off and let me finish the introducing the series for which after all I had been present at the creation.
That would have been the end of it but once we successfully, and thankfully by Greg who gave me not only kudos around the water cooler but a nice honorarium, concluded that series encore in the early summer of 2018 he found another way to cut me. Going through the archives of this publication to try to stabilize the readership after doing some “holy goof” stuff like having serious writers, young and old, reviewing films based on comic book characters, the latest in video games and graphic novels with no success forgetting the cardinal rule of the post-Internet world that the younger set get their information from other sources than old line academic- driven websites and don’t read beyond their techie tools Greg found another series, the one highlighted here, that intrigued him for an encore presentation. This is where Greg proved only too human since he once again attempted an “end around,” by having Josh Breslin, another old friend whom I meet in the Summer of Love, 1967 out in San Francisco, introduce the series citing my unavailability as the reason although paying attention to the fact that I had sweated bullets over that one as well.
This time though the Editorial Board, now headed by Sam Lowell, intervened even before Greg could approach Josh for the assignment. This Ed Board was instituted after my departure to insure the operation would not descend, Sam’s word actually, into the so-called autocratic one-person rule that had been the norm under my regime. They told Greg to call me back in on the encore project or to forget it. I would not have put up with such a suggestion from an overriding Ed Board and would have willingly bowed out if anybody had tried to undermine me that way. I can understand fully Greg’s desire to cast me to the deeps, have done with me as in my time I did as well knowing others in the food chain would see this as their opportunity to move up.
That part I had no problem with, told Greg exactly that. What bothered me was the continuing “urban legend” about what I had done, where I had gone after that decisive vote of no confidence. Greg continued, may continue today, to fuel the rumors that not only after my initial demise but after finishing up the Roots Is The Toots series I had gone back out West to Utah of all places to work for the Mormons, or to Frisco to hook up with my old flame Madame La Rue running that high-end whorehouse I had staked her to in the old days, or was running around with another old high school pal, Miss Judy Garland, aka Timmy Riley the high priestess of the drag queen set out in that same town whom I also helped stake to his high-end tourist attraction cabaret. All nonsense, I was working on my memoir up in Maine, up in Olde Saco where Josh grew up and which I fell in love with when he first showed me his hometown and its ocean views.
If the reader can bear the weight of this final reckoning let me clear the air on all three subjects on the so-called Western trail. Before that though I admit, admit freely that despite all the money I have made, editing, doing a million pieces under various aliases and monikers, ballooning up 3000 word articles to 10,000 and having the publishers fully pay despite the need for editing for the latter in the days before the Guild when you worked by the word, accepting articles which I clearly knew were just ripped of the AP feed and sending them along as gold I had no dough, none when I was dethroned. Reason, perfectly sane reason, although maybe not, three ex-wives with alimony blues and a parcel of kids, a brood if you like who were in thrall to the college tuition vultures.
Tapped out in the East for a lot of reasons I did head west the first time looking for work. Landed in Utah when I ran out of dough, and did, DID, try to get a job on the Salt Lake Star and would have had it too except two things somebody there, some friend of Mitt Romney, heard I was looking for work and nixed the whole thing once they read the articles I had written mocking Mitt and his white underwear world as Massachusetts governor and 2012 presidential candidate. So it was with bitter irony when I heard that Greg had retailed the preposterous idea that I would now seek a job shilling for dear white undie Mitt as press agent in his run for the open Utah United States Senate seat. Here is where everybody should gasp though at the whole Utah fantasy-these Mormons stick close together, probably ingrained in them from Joseph Smith days, and don’t hire goddam atheists and radicals, don’t hire outside the religion if they can help it. You probably had to have slept with one of Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s wives to even get one foot in the door. Done.
The helping Madame La Rue, real name of no interest or need to mention, running her high-end exclusive whorehouse out in Half Moon Bay at least had some credence since I had staked her to some dough to get started after the downfall of the 1960s sent her back to her real world, the world of a high class hooker who was slumming with “hippies” for a while when it looked like our dreams were going to be deterred in in the ebbtide. We had been hot and heavy lovers, although never married except on some hazed drug-fogged concert night when I think Josh Breslin “married” us and sent us on a “honeymoon” with a fistful of cocaine. Down on dough I hit her up for some which she gave gladly, said it was interest on the “loan: she never repaid and let me stay at her place for a while until I had to move on. Done
The whole drag queen idea tells me that whoever started this damn lie knew nothing about my growing up days and had either seen me in The Totem, Timmy Riley’s aka Miss Judy Garland’s drinking with a few drag queen who worked and drew the wrong conclusions or was out to slander and libel me for some other nefarious reason. See Miss Judy Garland is the very successful drag queen and gay man Timmy Riley from the old neighborhood who fled to Frisco when he could no longer hide his sexual identity and preferences. To our great shock since Timmy had been the out-front gay-basher of our crowd, our working-class corner boy gay-bashing crowd. I had lent, after getting religion rather late on the LGBTQ question, Timmy the money to buy his first drag queen cabaret on Bay Street and Timmy was kind enough to stake me to some money and a roof before I decided I had to head back East. Done.
But enough about me. This is about two other working- class guys, Sam Eaton and Ralph Morris, met along life’s road one from Carver about fifty miles away from where Seth, Sam, Timmy and a bunch of other guys grew up and learned the “normal” working-class ethos-and broke, tentatively at times, from that same straitjacket and from Troy, New York. Funny Troy, Carver, North Adamsville, and Josh’s old mill town Olde Saco all down-in-the-mouth working class towns still produced in exceptional times a clot of guys who got caught up in the turmoil of their times-and lived to tell the tale. I am proud to introduce this encore presentation and will have plenty more to say about Sam and Ralph in future segments.]
Ralph Morris comment:
You know when I was a kid I had all the traditional working-class attitudes toward crime and criminals. At least in the sense that those who committed grievous crimes should pay the full penalty that society can deliver to such conduct. In short in the interest of retribution the state should be able to put to death those who go far off the norms of society. Now it wasn’t that I had such a sophisticated view of the matter or had it all worked out. You know picking the retribution argument out of the several reasons that the death penalty should be an option as against say its deterrent effect, the cost to society of keeping the prisoner alive through the arduous appeals process, or to bring closure to the victims of the heinous crimes committed.
Probably a lot of my attitude came from listening at the family dinner table to my father spewing forth about how criminals, demented and crazed criminals like rapist Caryl Chessman who a bunch of do-gooders in California were trying to save, should face their maker rather quickly, maybe something like summary execution according to his view. My father for days was happy when they put that “rat” Chessman (his word) down. A little probably had to do too with the guys who I hung around with at Van Patten’s Drugstore in my old working-class neighborhood in the Tappan Street section of Troy, New York where I grew up. Those guys driven by what they saw at the movies or learned from their own family dinner tables would also go out of the way to say those “dirty rats” should sizzle. I know when the film adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood came out when we watched the end we said “yes!” when that trap-door sent the pair to their maker.
Here is the funny thing though, funny since I grew up a Catholic on both sides of the family and the Catholic position on the death penalty has always been in the interest of the sanctity of life to oppose that measure. Frankly, I did not really know that was the position of our church (my then church since seriously lapsed for many reasons, not all of them religious differences) until I was about fourteen and my maternal grandmother, Anna Kelly, who had been influenced by the Dorothy Day-led Catholic Worker movement of the 1930s told me so one time when I asked about the church’s attitude while staying at her house during a school vacation. That knowledge made me think, not then so much because I was still under the influence of my father and my high school corner boys but later when I had a serious sea-change in a lot of my attitudes. Then it kind of naturally followed.
Of course for me, a child of the 1960s and thus of lots of sea-changes brought about in lots of different ways, it had been my tour of duty in the United States Army in the Central Highlands in Vietnam where I, and a lot of my Army buddies, did things that it is hard to speak of even now to people who never bothered mine or theirs. More importantly during my eighteen months of duty (the normal tour was twelve months but I had extended my tour not so much because I was gung-ho as I wanted to finish my three year enlistment early which they offered to do for the extension and get the hell out) I became more and more disgusted with what was going on, going on in what even then seemed a senseless war. Truth though some of that sense was developed later once I got out and could think through things a little, take stock of what was going on in the world then.
A couple of key events that pushed me around, make me think a little differently about life. One day in early 1970 I was delivering a special motor from my father’s high-precision electrical shop where I worked for a while after I got out of the service to a customer on Vanderbilt Street near Russell Sage College in Albany and saw a ragtag group of ex-veterans in consciously mismatched uniforms walking almost silently down the street carrying individual signs and a big banner in the lead calling for “Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal from Vietnam” and signed by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). It was impressive as the passers-by stood in, I think, stunned into silence since here were guys who knew what it was all about saying get the hell out, pronto. One of the lead ex-soldiers shouted out for any veterans to join them. Like a lemming to the sea I did so, did march that day with my new-found “band of brothers.”
I would do more marches, rallies, sit-ins with the VVAW in Albany and down in New York City when they needed bodies but the big turnaround event was May Day 1971 when we planned to symbolically shut down the Pentagon, our former bosses, as part of a larger action of thousands of people working under the slogan-“if the government does not shut down the war, we will shut down the government.” For our efforts that day all we got was tear-gassed, billy-clubbed and sent to the bastinado holding area at the RFK football stadium. That is where I met my longtime friend and political associate Sam Eaton who had come down from Boston with a group of red and radicals from Cambridge whose task was to “capture” the White House. Like I said we met at RFK stadium as a result of our collective efforts.
The most important result from that disastrous episode was that we both spent the next several years until we both saw the 1960s high promise alternate vision ebbing joining various study groups (and studying on our own) run by various kinds of socialists, un-joined some as well and wound up generally working with whatever ad hoc groups had need of bodies for whatever they were protesting. It was during this period, which was also a period in which there was turmoil around the use of the death penalty and its uneven application by each state which caused a moratorium to be called on executions for several years, that I readjusted my views on the death penalty to jibe with the changes in my other views (and this is also the period where I changed my view on abortion from anti to pro-choice, that position partially induced by a personal situation at the time). My father was furious but Grandmother Kelly just smiled a knowing smile.
Over the next few decades although we would not put the frenzied 24/7 energy into political activism that we did in the early 1970s as we pursued our careers and began raising families we would response to any calls from social activist groups who needed bodies. Then the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2002 made us both abandon our “armed truce” (Sam’s term) with the American government and have continued to be active, although with a greater sense now that we had to hope younger activists would show up to take over the main struggles. So we have done our fair share of anti-war vigils, rallies, marches, especially after I joined Veterans for Peace (VFP), progeny of the old VVAW (and Sam who was military exempt during Vietnam as the sole support of his mother and four younger sisters after his father had died suddenly of a massive heart attack in 1965 became a non-veteran associate member). Did some work around the Occupy movement in 2011 too.
Around the death penalty though over the years we probably had not done much except donate to various anti-death penalty organizations in New York and Massachusetts when the pro-death penalty forces reared their heads after some particularly egregious crime stirred up the issue again. That is until we got involved in the last stages of trying to save the life of Troy Davis down in Georgia in 2011. We failed there after the United States Supreme Court turned down a last minute appeal. And until now in Massachusetts where Sam had commandeered me to stand with him around the Boston Marathon bomber case, the case of the surviving Tsarnaev, in Federal District Court.
Sam and I both recognized this as a tough one given the horrendous actions of the brother bombers consciously killing and gravely maiming many people who were among the crowd at the finish line on the afternoon of Patriot’s Day 2013. Sam admitted, since he knew a few people in the running community who had been affected that day, that he had taken something of a “dive” on showing up at the Moakley Courthouse in Boston to oppose the death penalty the federal prosecutors were asking for without question, and without any plea deal for life without parole. In Troy the matter riled up many people for a while but it did not have the same intensity that it still had for Boston where the wounds ran deep.
Nobody would be on the side of the angels on this one. But here is where little quirky things done by individuals kind of make you stand up and take notice. One VFP-er, Joe K., whom I knew vaguely from his coming down to New York City for some solidarity actions, had taken it upon himself to show up at the courthouse every day the trial was in session from jury selection until the forgone guilty verdict conclusion. He had received a certain amount of attention for carrying a simple homemade sign each day stating “Down with the Death Penalty.” Sam who works with the Boston VFP chapter, the Smedley Butler Brigade, received a message on their website sent by Joe that bodies were needed at the courthouse for the critical sentencing stage since the guilt issue had been essentially conceded by the defense team. In federal court the jury makes the recommendation on sentence in capital cases (murder, one) and thus had the options of execution by lethal injection, the preferred federal method, or life without parole. The “hook” was that if one jury voted against the death penalty on even one count the sentence would automatically be life without parole. The problem though was that the jury had been “death-qualified” meaning, in practice that no totally anti-death penalty advocate could have served on the jury and the prosecutors would have been sharpening their knives to exclude any even mild opponents, or people with open minds on the subject. Joe’s idea, the right one, was to have a presence each day of anti-death penalty people showing up and to show the world that death was not the answer. And if nothing else to get that message across to the milling around press corps in front of the building.
Sam and I worked to get the word out, worked all the lists we had accumulated over the years of social and progressive groups to come stand with us. Not many did most days, a few to a couple of dozen or so but we got the word out, got the word that people were willing to stand-up and say no to death by the state in even the most egregious cases. One guy had a sign saying- “we do not grant the state the right to kill the innocent-or the guilty.” Those who wrote the accompanying article from a left-wing newspaper that was handed out one day at an anti-war Iraq and Syria war rally would appreciate such sentiments.
Of course as the headlines have screamed out the young bomber, Tsarnaev, has been formally sentenced to death by the judge in the case and our efforts thus far have gone for nought. Here is what I want to know though, a question which formed the “hook” headline to this piece. Why were the natural organizations (beside VFP which has a long history of opposition to the death penalty as well) to lead the public vigil against the death penalty in Massachusetts-the Committee Against The Death Penalty (who have the martyred Sacco and Vanzetti as their logo) and the local branch of Amnesty International absent from the front of the Moakley Federal Courthouse. They were repeatedly asked to join the vigil and their answers were not forthcoming. Rumor, which you can contact them to verify or not, has it that the case “was too hot to handle.” Yeah, do ask them about that one.
Speak To Me Of Mendocino-With The McGarrigle Sisters Song On The Same Theme In Mind
By Zack James
Sid Lester had often wondered whether Lena, Lena of the Caffe Lena, the small coffeehouse that weaned many folksingers in the days when such activity was on deck, in the time of the now fabled early 1960s folk minute, now too but she the grey eminence had long gone to the shades and so that is not her bother had ever gotten to the Mendocino of her dreams and the song that the McGarrigle Sisters had reportedly written for her when she dreamed the dream of West Coast dreams. This was no mere academic question since Sid was asking it not only to himself but to his lovely companion, Mona Lord, who was accompanying him just that moment on the Pacific Coast Highway about fifty miles from that very spot, from the Mendocino of his dreams if not hers (but probably about three hours away given the hairpin turns that he increasingly hated to take along some very treacherous stretches of that beautiful view highway having almost gone down an un-guard-railed embankment to the ocean around Big Sur a few years back).
It was not like Sid had not been to the dreamland before, having made the trip up from the fetid seas of Frisco town (fetid in comparison to the Mendocino white-washed breakers eroding the sheer rock at a greater rate than he would have expected) a number of times mostly with his old time now long gone to “find herself” Laura, Laura Perkins whom he had talked into going up those several times based on nothing more than that he liked the song. Liked too that she, Laura liked it as well and would cover the song anytime she could find somebody to do a duo with her at “open mics” and features depending on how she was feeling. Mona having heard the song exactly once (she didn’t like the fact that Laura had liked the song and had been to Mendocino before she had and so would not listen when Sid tried to play it on his car CD player as they got closer to the place). Moreover she was reserving judgment on the relationship between the song and the place.
And that last point, the point for Sid anyway, was exactly how the song and the place connected. Was the real source of his wonder about old Lena back in the tired old East. Did she long like he had to be done with Eastern pressures and pitfalls. To stop worrying about where the money would come from for rent, to pay the utilities, hell to pay the performers and stop them from having to play for the foolish “basket” like when they had just started out on some forlorn street in Cambridge , Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Old Town or the Village. Stop all of that and head West, head to South Bend for a minute, head over the Rockies and suck in the breezes of the new land, of the new dispensation. Yeah, he bet though that she never got to the West, never could leave her cats, never could get that café out of her system, would probably fret even if she only went out for a week or so.
As they, Sid and his new Mona, approached the outskirts of Mendocino he wondered, seriously wondered whether Mona would ask him someday to speak of Mendocino, to let the place get under her skin. Yeah, speak of Mendocino.
Artists’ Corner-Frank Stella And The Abstract Expressionist Movement
Thad Lyons comment: I was crazy for abstract art when I was a kid and that genre was fresh with guys like Jackson Pollack breaking through the last vestiges of representational art which dominated Western art for a few precious centuries. Then that movement kind of turned on itself, or maybe better, ran out of steam once one could not tell a piece of art work from the walls which surrounded the picture. Frank Stella put himself front and center of some new energies when he took that basically sound abstract art push away from representational art and brought back form, forms geometric and curvilinear to tell his stories in paint. Not all of it worked, some of it left the viewer bewildered but some of it pushed art forward when things looked tough.