Showing posts with label blue-pink great American West night. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blue-pink great American West night. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of "King OF The Beats" Jack Kerouac-On The 60th Anniversary Of Allan Ginsberg’s “Howl”*** Out In The Be-Bop Night- Fragments On Working Class Culture- Scenes From The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- The Siren Call Of The Mountain Wind Song

Markin comment:

The scene below stands (or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline .

Scene Five: The Siren Call Of The Mountain Wind Song In The Search For The Blue- Pink Great American West Night

Hey, not every aspect of the 1960s blue-pink night was a search for some kind of transcendence. Mostly it was that, and its glow has kept a few of us warm through many a desperate dark, cold night since. But sometimes it was running away from the past, from roots, or maybe better, from rooted-ness. Or just plain old running away from what lurked ahead, and ahead did not seem as good as the road, the road with all its troubles. For those who have read the previous scene, the scene where I got stuck down in a Steubenville, Ohio 1969 truck stop diner and got “lucky” finding a woman friend to share the road with, you know at the end of that episode we were heading out, or trying to head out West. For those who have not read that scene let me introduce my new lady friend, Angelica. Angelica, who, as fate would have it, was working in that diner truck stop where I got stuck and happened to think I was “nice” and after a little of this and that decided that her search for meaning in her young life entailed accompanying me on the road west. Whoa! In any case there she was walking beside me as we tried to hitch a ride from one of the rigs idling at the stop. If you want to know the details of the “how come” of our walking together just now go read that last scene, otherwise I will try to fill you in as we go along.

In the process of getting you filled in, let’s get one thing clear. When you were on the road, on the 1960s hitchhike road, and trying to get across the country the rules, the rules of the road, were a little different than the rules in workaday life. Your take on life and your, usually, transient relationships with passing strangers, male or female, got a little twisted. Not necessarily in a bad way, but twisted. I was pleased, pleased beyond belief, as least privately, to have winsome, fetching Angelica along. As I mentioned before in those hitchhike days it was always easier to get rides when you had a female companion, and one with good legs and a good shape, a shape that drivers could notice as they sped by was a plus. Maybe, thinking it was a mirage anyway, not every benny high, moony, overstretched transcontinental truck driver, running overweight anyway, would put on the airbrakes for her on the Interstate at eighty miles an hour. But those young, slower lane sedan drivers would slam on the brakes, and gladly. Ya, I know now it is not cool, nor should it be, to be using a woman as a “decoy” in that way but that was the way it was then “on the road.”

Now, if you don’t know, meaning you haven’t read the previous scenes, I, by this time, had been periodically crossing the country for some time in search of …... well, in search of something because just now, some forty years later, I am getting just a little weary of calling it the blue-pink night but this was Angelica’s whimsical maiden voyage. Angelica, was, moreover, pretty naïve about life and clueless about the road having just a few weeks earlier left home and hearth in cozy mid-country Muncie, Indiana. (Don’t tell me all about the famous Lynd sociological study of squaretown, oops, I mean, Middletown, that used that town as its sample back in the 1920s I already mentioned that before.) Therefore she was crushed beyond my comprehension, as we walked closer to the idling trucks on the other side of the diner, when I mentioned to her that the small suitcase (neatly packed) she was carrying was not a good road item compared to a nice fungible knapsack for when we had to do some walking between rides. I do not know, and I never found out, whether the look, not the nice sly, coquettish look that she greeted me with early in our “courtship” at the diner and that hooked me, but some volcanic devilish look when I mentioned that to her the fact that she was going to have to abandon that suitcase or that the “road”, the real hitchhike road meant some walking. Later, and not much later at that, she saw my point about the suitcase, but that does not erase that look from memory’s eye.

Nor was that little episode the end of out little road “adjustments.” In the few weeks that Angelica had been working long hours at the diner she served many of the truckers whose rigs were idling in the truck stop rest area we were cruising for rides. So, naturally, she tried to find out where some of those that she knew were heading. This day, they are heading mainly east, or anyway not west. Finally, she ran into one burly teamster, Eddie, who was heading down Route 7 along the Ohio River to catch Interstate 64 further down river and then across through to Lexington, Kentucky. Angelica was thrilled because, as it turned out, she had kin (her term, okay), a cousin or something, down in Prestonsburg, Kentucky whom she hadn’t seen in a while and where we could stay for a few days and take in the mountain air (her idea of rest, mine then and now, was strictly ocean breezes, thank you). I tried, tried desperately, without being obnoxious about it, to tell her that heading south was not going to get us to the West very easily. She would have none of it, and she rightly said, that we were in no rush anyway and what was wrong with a little side trip to Kentucky anyway. Well, I suppose in the college human nature course, Spat-ology 101, if there was such a course then, and they taught it, I should have had enough sense to throw in the towel. After all this was Angelica’s first, now seriously, whimsical venture out on the road. And I did, in the end, throw in the towel, except not for the reason that you think.

What Angelica didn’t know until later, and you didn’t know until now, was that I was deathly afraid of going to Kentucky. See, I had set myself up to the world as, and was in fact in my head, a Yankee, an Oceanside Yankee, if you like. I was born in Massachusetts and have the papers to prove it, but on those papers there is an important fact included. My father’s place of birth was Hazard, Kentucky probably not more than fifty to one hundred miles away from Prestonsburg. He was born down in the hills and hollows of mining country, coal mining country, made famous in song and legend. And also made infamous (to me) by Michael Harrington’s Other America which described in detail the plight of Appalachian whites, my father’s people. And also, as a result of the publicity about the situation down there, the subject in my early 1960s high school of a clothing drive to help them out. My father left the mines when World War II started, enlisted in the Marines, saw his fair share of battles in the Pacific, got stationed before discharge at a Naval Depot in Massachusetts and never looked back. And see I never wanted him to look back. That’s the way it was back then, make of it what you will. Sure, now, among other things, I can thank winsome, head-strong Angelica for making that move, but then, well, like I said I threw in the towel, but I was not happy about it. Not happy at all.

Actually the ride down Route 7 was pretty uneventful and, for somebody who did not feel comfortable looking at trees and mountains, some of the scenery was pretty breath-taking. That is until we started getting maybe twenty miles from Prestonsburg and the air changed, the scenery changed, and the feel of the social milieu changed. See we were getting in the edges of coal country, not the serious “Bloody Harlan” stuff of legend but the older, scrap heap part that had been worked over, and “worked out” long along. The coal bosses had taken the earth’s assets and left the remnants behind to foul the air and foul the place.

But, mostly, and here is where I finally understood why my father took his chances in World War II and also why he never looked back, shacks. Nothing but haphazardly placed, unpainted shacks, hard-scrabble patched roofs just barely covering them. With out-houses, out-houses can you believe that in America in the 1960s. And plenty of kids hanging out in the decidedly non-manicured front yards waiting… well, just waiting. Look, I came up in my early youth in a public housing project that had all the pathologies one has come to associate with that form of social organization. Later, in my coming of age days we lived in a tiny, very tiny, single family house but I was not prepared for this. All that I can say about my feelings at the time was that I would be more than willing to crawl on all fours to get back to my crummy old growing up homestead rather than fight the dread of this place.

Fortunately Angelica’s kin (second cousin), Annadeene, husband and two kids all at about age twenty, lived further down the road, out of town, in a trailer camp which the husband, Fred, had expanded so that it had the feel of a small country house. Most importantly it had indoor plumbing and a spare room where Angelica and I could sleep and put our stuff. Fred, as I recall, was something of a skilled mechanic (coal equipment mechanic) who worked for a firm that was indirectly connected to the Eastern Kentucky coal mines.

This Prestonsburg, as you can imagine, in the 1960s was nothing but one of a thousand such towns that I had (and have) passed through. A main street with a few essential stores, some boarded up retail space and then you are out of town. Then hardly worth, and maybe now too, putting a strip mall into. Moreover, Route 7 as it turned into Route 23 heading into Prestonsburg and then further down turned into nothing but an old country, pass at your own risk, country road about where Angelica’s cousin lived. What I am trying to get at though is that although these people were in the 20th century they were somewhat behind the curve. This is, as it probably was in my father’s time, patriotic country, country where you did your military service came home, worked, if you could find it, got married and raised a family. Just in tougher circumstances than elsewhere.

I understood that part. What I did not understand then, and am still somewhat confused about, is the insularity of the place. The wariness, serious wariness, of strangers even of strangers brought to the hills and hollows by kin. I was not well received at least first, and I still am not quite sure if I ever was, by Angelica’s kin and I suppose if I thought about it while they had heard of “hippies” (every male with beard, long hair, and jeans was suspected of belonging to that category) Prestonsburg was more like something from Merle Haggard’s Okie From Muskogee lyrics than Haight-Ashbury. Angelica kept saying that I would grow on them (like I did on her) but I knew, knew down deep that we had best get out of there. I kept pressing the issue but she refused to listen to any thoughts of our leaving until after Saturday night’s barn dance. After all Fred and Annadeene had specially invited us to go with them. We could leave Sunday morning but not before. Christ, a hillbilly hoe-down.

Probably about twenty years ago I would have felt no compulsion to go into anything but superficial detail about this barn dance. Today though I do. Otherwise this scene lacks completeness. I will say that I have, twenty years ago or now, a very clear picture of Angelica being fetching for this dance. All her feminine wiles got a workout that night. What I can’t remember is what she wore or how she wore her hair (up, I think) but the effect on me (and the other guys) was calculated to make me glad, glad as hell, that we stayed for this thing. What I can remember vividly though is that this barn dance actually took place in a barn, just a plain old ordinary barn that had been used in this area for years (according to the oldsters since back in the 1920s) for the periodic dances that filled up the year and broke the monotony of the mountain existence. The old faded red-painted barn, sturdily build to withstand the mountain winds and containing a stage for such occasions was something out of a movie, some movie that you have seen, so you have some idea of what it was like even if you have never been within a hundred miles of a barn.

Moreover the locals had gone to some effort to decorate the place, provide plenty of refreshments and use some lighting to good effect. What was missing was any booze. This was a “dry” county then (and maybe still is) but not to worry wink, wink there was plenty of “white lightning” around out in the makeshift dirt parking lot where clusters of good old boys hovered around certain cars whose owners had all you needed. Just bring your own fixings. After we had checked out the arrangements in the barn and Annadeene had introduced us to her neighbors Fred tapped me on the shoulder and “hipped” me to the liquor scene. We went outside. Fred talked quietly to one of the busy car owners and then produced a small jar for my inspection. “Hey, wait,” he said “you have to cut that stuff a little with some water if you are not used to it.” I took my jar, added some water, and took a swig. Jesus Christ, I almost fell down the stuff was so powerful. Look, I used to drink whiskey straight up in those days, or I thought I drank whiskey straight up but after one swig, one swig, my friends, I confess I was a mere teetotaler. Several minutes later we went back inside and I nursed, literally nursed, that jar for the rest of the night. But you know I got “high” off it and was in good spirits. So good that I started dancing with Angelica once the coterie of banjo players, fiddlers, guitarists and mandolin players got finished warming up. I am not much of a dancer under the best of circumstances but, according to her, I did okay that night.

Hey, you’d expect that the music was something out of the Grand Ole Opry, some Hee-Haw hoe-down stuff, some Arkansas Jamboree hokum, right? Forget that. See back in the mountains, at least in the 1960s mountains, they did not have access to much television or sheet music or other such refinements. What they played they learned from mama and papa, or some uncle who got it from god knows where. It’s all passed down from something like time immemorial and then traced back to the old county, the British Isles mainly. Oh sure there was a “square” hoe-down thing or two but what I heard that night was something out of the mountain night high-powered eerie winds as they rolled down the hills and hollows (hollers, if you are from there). Something that spoke of hard traveling first from the old country when luck ran out there, then from the east coast of America when that got too crowded and just sat down when it hit those grey-blue mountains, or maybe, although I never asked (and under the circumstances would not have dared to ask) formed their version of the blue-pink great American West night, and this is as far as they got, or cared to go.

Some of this music I knew from my folk experiences in Boston and Cambridge earlier in the 1960s when everybody, including me, was looking for the roots of folk music. Certainly I knew Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies when the band played it instrumentally. That was one of the first songs, done by gravelly-voiced Dave Van Ronk, I heard on the folk radio station that I listened to. But, see, back in those early days that stuff, for the most part, was too, well you know, too my father’s music for me to take seriously. Bob Dylan was easier to listen to for a message that “spoke” to me. But this night I thrilled to hear real pros going one-on-one to out-fiddle, out-banjo, out-mandolin, out, out-any instrument each other in some mad dash to appease the mountain nymphs, or whatever or whoever was being evoked to keep civilization away from the purity of the music. That night was as close as I got to my roots, and feeling good about those roots, and also as close as I got to Angelica. I could go on and give examples that you could go check out on YouTube and listen to but this is one of those moments you had to be there, okay.

About 12:30 or one o’clock the dance broke up, although as we headed down the rutted, jagged street we could still hear banjos and fiddles flailing away to see who really was “king of the hill.” Angelica said she was glad that we stayed, and I agreed. She also said that, yes, I was right; it was time to head west. She said it in such a way that I felt that she could have been some old time pioneer woman who once she recognized that the land was exhausted knew that the family had to pull up stakes and push on. It was just a matter of putting the bundles together and saying goodbye to the neighbors left behind. Needless to say old resource road companion Angelica, sweet, fetching Angelica put that fetchiness to good use and had us lined up for a ride from another Eddie truck driver who, if he was sober enough, was heading out with a load at 6:00 AM to Winchester just outside Lexington from where we could make better connections west. 6:00 AM, are you kidding? I am still wearing about eight pound of that white lightning, or whatever it was. Angelica merely pointed out in her winsome, fetching way that nobody forced me to drink that rotgut (her word) liquor when softer refreshments had been available inside. Touché, 6:00 AM it is.

Dog tired, smelling of a distillery, or some old time hardware store (where the white lightning ingredients probably came from) Angelica and I laid our heads down to get a few hours sleep. Gently she nuzzled up to my side (how she did it through the alcoholic haze I do not know) and gave every indication that she wanted to make love. Now we are right next door to the two unnamed sleeping children, sleeping the sleep of the just, and as she gets more aggressive we have to be, or we think we have to be, more quiet. No making the earth under the Steubenville truck stop motel cabin shake this night. And, as we talked about it on the road later, that was not what was in her mind. She just wanted to show, in a very simple way, that she appreciated that I had stayed, that I had been wise enough to figure out how long we should stay, and that, drunk or sober, I would take her feelings into account. Not a bad night’s work. And so amid some low giggles we did our exploration. Oh, here is the part that will tell you more than a little about Angelica. She also wanted to please me this night because she did not know, given the vagaries of the road, when we would be able to do it again. Practical girl.

In the groggy, misty, dark before dawn, half awake, no quarter awake night Angelica tapped me to get up. We quickly packed, she ate a little food (I could barely stand never mind do something as complicated as eat food), and we made our goodbyes, genuine this morning by all parties. As we went out the front trailer door and headed up the road to the place where Eddie had said to meet him I swear, I swear on all the dreams of whatever color that I have ever had, that the background mountains that were starting to take form out of the dark started to play, and to play like that music I heard last night from those demon fiddlers and banjo players. I asked, when we met Eddie, who was only a few minutes late, and who looked and felt (as he told me) worst that I did (except that he proudly stated that he was used to it, okay Eddie) if those musicians were still at it over at that old devil of a red barn. “No,” he said. “Where is that music coming from then?” I said. Old Eddie (backed by Angelica) said “What music?” That angel music I said. Eddie just looked bemused as he revved that old truck engine up and we hit the road west.

Several years ago I was half-listening to some music, some background eerily haunting mountain music coming from a folk radio station when I had the strangest feeling that I had heard the tune before. I puzzled over it sporadically for a few days and then went to the local library to see if they had some mountain music CDs. They did and I began on that date a feverish reaquaintance with this form of music that I have occasionally reviewed here, especially the various Carter Family combinations. I, however, never did find out the name of that song.

And in a sense it has not name. It was the music from that old mountain wind as it trailed down the hills and hollows that I heard that last night in Prestonsburg. See here is what you didn’t know as you read all this stuff, and I only half knew it back then. I had been in Kentucky before that trip down from Steubenville, Ohio with sweet Angelica. No, not the way you think. My parents, shortly after they were married and after my father got out of the service, took a trip back to his home in Hazard so his family could meet his bride, or maybe just so he could show her off. They stayed for some period of time, I am not sure exactly how long, but the long and short of it is, that I was conceived and was fussing around in my mother’s womb while they were there. So see, it was that old mountain wind calling me home, calling me to my father’s roots, calling me to my roots as I was aimlessly searching for that blue-pink great American West night. Double thanks, Angelica.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Upon The 50th Anniversary Of The Death Of "King Of The Beats" Jack Kerouac-**Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- Songs To Sit Around The Soda Fountain By- A CD Review

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of The Angels performing Cry Baby Cry.

CD Review

The Rock ‘N’ Roll Era: The ‘60s: Teen Time, Time-Life Music, 1991

Every “teenage nation” generation since they started to place teenage-hood as a distinct phase of life between childhood and young adulthood over a century ago has developed it own tribal rituals and institutions. Today’s teens seem to have cornered food courts at the mall, video arcades and the ubiquitous Internet screen connections through various look-at techno-gadgets although, frankly, I am not fully current on all their mores, customs and tribal language.

What I am familiar with, very familiar with, is the teen institutions of my generation, the generation of ’68, that came of teen age in the early 1960s. Our places of rendezvous were the corners in front of mom and pop variety stores in the days before franchise 7/11 came to dominate the quick stop one item shopping market; the every present pizza parlor with its jump jukebox where we deposited more than a few nickels, dimes and quarters; for some of the dweebs (or if you wanted to get away with a “cheap” date, but only as a last resort ) the bowling alley; the open air drive-in restaurants complete with car hops for more “expensive” dates; and, for serious business, meaning serious girl and boy watching, the soda fountain. And not, in my case, just any soda fountain but the soda fountain at the local individually-owned drug store that used the fountain to draw people (read, kids: what would we need prescription drugs for, those were for old people, we were invincible) into the store.

That last scene is what will drive this review, and for a simple reason. The cover of this CD (which is part of a huge Rock ‘n’ Roll Era set of CDs from this period) under review, The 60s; Teen Time, has an illustration of just such a classic soda fountain, complete with three whimsical teen-age frills (read girls, if you are not from my old working class neighborhood) all sipping their straws out of one, can you believe it, one paper cup while a faux Fabian-type looks on. Ah, be still my heart.

Needless to say this scene, complete with its own jukebox setup (although not every drug store had them, ours didn’t), the booths with the vinyl-covered seats and Formica top tables (with paper place settings, condiments, etc., right), the soda fountain granite (maybe faux granite) counter, complete with swivel around stools that gave the odd boy or two (read: me and my boys) a better vantage point to watch the traffic come in the store (read: girls). Said counter also complete with glassed-encased pie (or donut) cases; the various utensils for making frappes (that a New England thing, look it up), milkshakes, and cherry-flavored Cokes; a small grille for hamburgers, hot dogs and fries (or the odd boy grilled cheese sandwich with bacon); and, well a soda jerk (usually a guy) to whip up the orders. Oh, did I say girl and boy watching. Ya, I did. Still, what do you think we were all there for? The ice cream and soda? Come on. Does it really take an hour or an hour and a half to drink a Pepsi even in teen-land?

Enough said about the décor because the mere mention of the term “soda jerk” brings to mind a Frankie, Frankie from the old neighborhood story, Frankie of a thousand stories and Frankie who was the king hill skirt-chaser (read: girl), and my best friend in middle school (a.k.a. junior high) and high school. Ya, that Frankie, or rather this time Frankie’s sister. Now when we were juniors in high school we mainly held court at the local pizza parlor which in the pecking order was way above the soda fountain. That was for kids, unless, of course, things were tough at the pizza joint (meaning girl-free) and we meandered up the street to Doc’s drug store soda fountain to check out the action there.

Of course, before we graduated to the “bigs” the old soda fountain was just fine. And it did no harm, no harm at all, to strike up friendships , or at least stay on the good side of the soda jerks so you get an extra scoop of ice cream or a free refill on your Coke. Whatever. See, the soda jerk was usually the guy (and like I said before it was always guys, girls would probably be too distracted by every high energy teen guy, including dweeb-types, trying to be “cool”) connected the dots and said who was who and what was what in the local teen scene. But the thing is that the soda jerk also had some cache with the girls, I guess it must have been the uniform. Wow! Personally I wouldn’t have been caught dead wit that flap cap they wore.

So one night we are dried up (read: no girls) at the pizza parlor and decided, as usual, to meander up the street to Doc’s. We had heard earlier in the day that Doc had a new jerk on and we wanted to check him out anyway. As we entered who do we see but Frankie’s sister, Lorrie, Frankie’s fourteen year old sister, talking up a storm, all dewy-eyed, over this new jerk, who must have been about eighteen. And this “cradle-robber” had his arm around, or kind of around, Lorrie. Old Frankie saw red, no double red, if not more.

See, Frankie was a guy who had more girls lined up that he could ever meet and be able to keep himself in one piece, although he has only one serious frail (read: girl again okay) that kept his interest over time (Joanne that I told you about before when I was doing a Roy "The Boy" Orbison review). So Frankie was no stranger to the old male double standard of the age, especially in regard to his sister. Not that he was really protective of her as much as he was insulted (so he told me later) by some new “jerk” trying to make moves to become king of the hill by “courting: Frankie’s sister.

And Frankie, old wiry, slender, quick-fisted Frankie was tough. Tougher than he looked. So naturally new boy “jerk” takes umbrage (nice word, right?) when Frankie starts to move “sis” away with him. Well the long and short of it was that Frankie and “jerk” started to beef a little but it is all over quickly and here is why. Frankie took an ice cream cone, a triple scoop, triple-flavored ice cream cone no less, that was sitting in a cup in front of a girl customer ( a cute girl who I wound up checking out seriously later) and bops, no be-bops, no be-bop bops one soda jerk, new or not, with it. Now if you have ever seen an eighteen year old guy, in uniform, with hat on, I don’t care if it is only a soda jerk’s uniform wearing about three kinds of ice cream on that uniform you know, you have to know that this guy’s persona non grata with the girls and “cool” guys in town forevermore.

Or so you would think. Frankie went out of town for a few days to do something on family business (not related)after this incident and one night near the edge of town as I was walking with that young girl customer whose ice cream Frankie scooped (I bought her another one, thank god I had a little cash on me, and that is why I was walking with her then, thank you) when I saw one Lorrie sitting, sitting like the Queen of Sheba, in Mr. Soda Jerk’s 1959 boss cherry red Chevy listening to Cry Baby Cry by The Angels as “mood” music on the background car radio that I could faintly hear. Just don’t tell Frankie, okay.

And that is what drove the girls in those days to the kind of music presented in this compilation. Most of it was strictly from some Teen Romance notion of what girls, girls who bought records in vast quantities to while away their giggling girlish listening hours, though would sell. This stuff was definitely not classic rock like Elvis when he was young and hungry. Or Jerry Lee, Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley. No way. What this, mainly, was now that we were high strung teens very aware of what sex was, if not always what to do about it, that previously mentioned mood music. And while one would not be caught dead dancing to this stuff at a dance, even a school dance, out on the beach, in the car, or wherever boys and girls went to “be alone” this was the background music.

That said the ones that, as I recall in the mist of time, that set the “mood” best were, of course (ask my ice cream girl) Cry Baby Cry by the Angels; Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs: Clarence Henry’s classic make-up song, You Always Hurt The One You Love; and, Trouble In Paradise by The Crests.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

For Ti Jean Kerouac On The 50th Anniversary Of His Death And The “Assistant King Of The Beats” Allan Ginsberg-Hard Rain’s A Going To Fall With Kudos To Bob Dylan “King Of The Folkies" In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)-Out In The Be-Bop Night- Scenes From The Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night- Westward Ho!

For Ti Jean Kerouac On The 50th Anniversary Of His Death And The “Assistant King Of The Beats” Allan Ginsberg-Hard Rain’s A Going To Fall With Kudos To Bob Dylan “King Of The Folkies"

By Lance Lawrence

[In the interest of today’s endless pursue of transparency which in many cases covers up the real deal with a few fake pieces of fluff I admit that I knew Jack Kerouac’s daughter, Janet always called me and those I knew Jan now late daughter (she died in 1996)  whom he never really recognized as his despite the absolute likeness and later testing for whatever cramped reason and which took its toll on her with like her father an early death, met out in Todo el Mundo south of Big Sur off the famous Pacific Coast Highway. We, a group of us from the Boston area who had been told by some guys from North Adamsville, about forty miles south of Boston who we met through Pete Markin* who I went to Boston University with before he dropped out in the Summer of Love, 1967 about Todo and how it was a cooler place down the road from Big Sur which had become inundated with holy goofs and tourists and a rip off. That s is still true today although the rip-off part is submerged since it in no longer a hippie Garden of Eden except among those who were so stoned that couldn’t find their ways out of the hills above the ocean and have wound up staying there as models for what the 1960s were all about (and what I remember hearing a few parents tell their children to avoid at all costs-oh, to be very young-then)

We had been staying at a cabin owned by the writer Steven Levin (mostly novels and essays for publications like City Lights and Blue Dial Press and regional literary journals) when one Saturday night we held a party and in walked Jan then maybe seventeen or eighteen, nice and who wanted to be a writer like her dad. The hook for me to meet her was the Boston-Lowell connection (one of the few times being from Boston did me any good). We became friendly the few days she stayed at the cabin (at my request) and I saw her a few times later. I was having my own troubles just then and as the world knows now she had a basketful from that crass rejection by her father and frustrations at not being taken seriously as a writer always following in her father’s two-million-word shadows. Funny it did not take any DNA testing for me to see that she was pure Kerouac in features and frankly from what I read of his style that too.    

I also knew Allan Ginsburg in his om-ish days when we fired up more than one blunt (marijuana cigarette for those who are clueless or use another term for the stick) to see what we could see out in the National Mall where he would do his sleek Buddha Zen mad monk thing and later Greenwich Village night where he did serious readings to the Village literary set. I was just a little too young to have appreciated his Howl which along with the elegant Kaddish (for his troubled late mother) fully since the former in particular was something like the Beat anthem to Kerouac’s On The Road bible. He had kind of moved on from beat and was moving on from hippie a bit as well and it would not be until later when the dust settled that he would go back to the later 1940s and early 1950s to explain to a candid audience including me over grass and some wine what it was all about, what drove the startlingly images and weird noises of that former poem. (Which I have read and re-read several times as well as through the beauty of YouTube has him reading forming background while I am working on the computer. 

This piece first appeared in Poetry Today shortly after Allan Ginsburg’s Father Death death without accordion and caused a great deal of confusion among the readers, a younger group according to the demographics provided to me by the advertising department when I was trying to figure out where the thing got lost in the fog, why these younger folk missed some terms I took for granted with which every reader was at least vaguely familiar. Some readers thought because I mentioned the word “cat” I was paying homage to T.S. Eliot generally recognized in pre-Beat times as the ultimate modernist poet. Meaning for Eliot aficionados the stuff that Broadway used to make a hit musical out of although it would have been better if they, either the confused young or the Broadway producers had counted their lives in coffee spoons. That cat reference of mine actually referred to “hep cats” as in a slang expression from the 1940s and 1950s before Beat went into high gear not a cat, the family pet.

Some readers, and I really was scratching my head over this one since this was published in a poetry magazine for aficionados and not for some dinky survey freshman college English class, that because I mentioned the word “homosexual” and some jargon associated with that sexual orientation when everybody was “in the closet” except maybe Allan Ginsburg and his Peter although they were in friendlier Frisco mainly thought I was referring W.H. Auden. There had been some coded words for the sexual acts associated with homosexually then, and maybe in some older sets still in use  Jesus, Auden, a great poet no question if not a brave one slinking off to America when things got too hot in his beloved England in September 1939 and a self-confessed homosexual in the days when that was dangerous to declare in late Victorian public morality England especially after what happened to Oscar Wilde when they pulled down the hammer was hardly the only homosexual possibility. That despite his game of claiming every good-looking guy for what he called the “Homintern.” Frankly I didn’t personally think anybody even read Auden anymore once the Beats be-bopped.

There were a few others who were presented as candidates as the person I was championing. James Lawson because some of his exploits were similar to the ones I described but those events were hardly rare in the burned over 1950s down in the mud of society. Jack Weir because of some West Coast references. Jeffery Stein, the poet of the new age shtetl because of the dope. All wrong. That poet had a name an honored name Allan Ginsburg who howled in the night at the oddness and injustice of the world after saying Kaddish to his mother’s memory and not be confused with this bag of bones rough crowd who refused to learn from the silly bastard. This piece was, is for ALLAN GINSBURG who wrote for Carl Solomon in his hours of sorrow just before he went under the knife in some stone- cold crazy asylum and I now for him when he went under the ground. Lance Lawrence]

*(We have, those of us who knew Markin back in the 1960s when he hung around the Cambridge coffeehouses with his cheap date girlfriends (he was a scholarship boy who had no money, came from some slack family house so coffeehouses, the ones with no admission charges and cheap coffee to maintain a seat), have often wondered whether Markin and Kerouac would have gotten along if they had been of the same generation. That generation born in the 1920s, his parents’ generation if not lifestyle. From Markin’s end would Jack have been the searched for father he had never known. From Jack’s end whether the two-million question Markin would have clashed or meshed with the two-million- word Kerouac. I know as early as in the 1980s when I was dating an English Literature graduate student from Cornell that Jack was in bad odor as a literary figure to emulate and subsequently anybody who wanted to be “school of Kerouac found hard sledding getting published. This is probably worthy of a separate monogram in this 50th anniversary year of the passing of Kerouac ) 


I have seen the best poet of the generation before mine declare that he had seen that the best minds of his generation had turned to mush, turned out in the barren wilderness from which no one returned except for quick stays in safe haven mental asylums. Saw the same Negro streets he saw around Blue Hill Avenue and Dudley Street blank and wasted in the sweated fetid humid Thunderbird-lushed night (and every hobo, vagrant, escapee, drifter and grafter yelling out in unison “what is the word-Thunderbird-what is the price forty twice” and ready to jackroll some senior citizen lady for the price-ready to commit mayhem at Park Street subway stations for their “boy,” to be tamped by girl but I will be discrete since the Feds might raid the place sometime looking for the ghost of Trigger Burke who eluded them for a very long time. Thought that those angel-headed hipsters, those hep cats hanging around Times, Lafayette, Dupont, Harvard squares crying in pools of blood coming out of the wolves-stained sewers around the black corner would never stop bleating for their liquor, stop until they got popular and headed for the sallow lights of Harvard Square where they hustled young college students, young impressionable college students whose parents had had their best minds, those hallowed students, wasted in the turbid streets of south Long Island (not the West Egg of Gatsby’s dream of conquering everything in sight like any other poor-boy arriviste with too much money and not enough imagination and not East Egg of the fervid elites but anytown, Levitttown of those who would escape to Boston or Wisconsin to face the angel of death up front and say no go, pass, under luminous moons which light up sparks and say to that candid world which could have given a fuck hard times please come again no more.

Saw hipsters cadging wine drinks from sullen co-eds staying out too late in the Harvard Square night who turned out to be slumming from some plebian colleges across the river maybe good Irish girls from frail Catholic parishes with rosaries in their fair-skinned hands and a novena book between their knees who nevertheless has Protestant lusts in their pallid hearts but unrequited (here’s how-they would arrive at the Café Lana with ten bucks and their virginity and leave with both and some guy with dreams of salty sucking blowjobs walking out the backdoor and doing the whack job behind the dumpster –a waste of precious fluids and according to Norman Mailer world-historic fucks which would product the best minds of the next generation all dribbled away). Maybe tasty Jewish girls from the shtetl in not East or West Egg who flocked to the other side of the river and gave Irish guys who previously had dribbled their spunk behind dumpsters after losing out to ten bucks and virginity in tack tickey-tack Catholic girls who refused to give that head that would have brought some of the best minds some freaking relief (better not say fucking relief because that would be oxymoronic). Maybe some sullen fair-skinned and blonded Protestant girls who spouted something about one god and no trinities, no god and no trinities and just feel good stuff. All three varieties and yes there were more but who knew of Quakers, Mennonites, lusty Amish girls run away from home, Tantic card-wheelers, and fresh- faced red light district sluts who at least played the game straight-played the cash nexus for pure pleasure and maybe to even up some scores. All-Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, yeah, Quakers (fakirs, fakers and Shakers included), the sluts, Mennonites and yes those lusty red-faced Amish runaways all coming together after midnight far from the negro streets but not far from the all night hustlers and dime store hipsters with their cigar store rings and cheap Irish whiskeys bought on the installment plan who converged around the Hayes-Bickford just a seven league jump from the old end of the line dead of night Redline subway stop in order to keep the angel of death at arms’ length. There to listen until dawn to homosexuality- affixed hungry for the keyhole blast or the running sperm fakir poets and slamming singsters fresh out of cheapjack coffeehouses where three chords and two- line rhymes got you all the action you wanted although maybe a little light on the breadbasket sent around to show that you were appreciated. Yeah, now that I think about the matter more closely hard times please come again no more.                    

Saw the angel of death make her appearance one night at the Café Lana and then backstopped the Club Nana to fetch one young thing who warbled like heaven’s own angel. Some Norman Mailer white hipster turned her on to a little sister and then some boy and she no longer warbled but did sweet candy cane tricks for high-end businessmen with homely wives or fruitless ones who had given up that sort of “thing” after the third junior had been born and who were ready to make her his mistress if she would just stop singing kumbaya after every fuck like she was still a freaking warbler, a freaking virgin or something instead of “used” goods or maybe good for schoolboys whose older brothers took them to her for their first fling at going around the world, welcome to the brotherhood or maybe some old fart who just wanted to relive his dreams before the booze, the three wives and parcel of kids did him in and then the hustler sent her back to the Club Nana to “score” from the club owner who was connected with Nick the dream doper man, the Christ who would get him- and her well –on those mean angel-abandoned death watch streets but who knew that one night at the Hayes (everybody called it just that after they had been there one night), one after midnight night where they had that first cup of weak-kneed coffee replenished to keep a place in the scoreboarded night where hari-kara poets dreamed toke dreams and some Mister dreamed of fresh-faced singer girls looking for kicks. So please, please, hard times come again no more.              

I have seen frosted lemon trees jammed against the ferrous night, the night of silly foolish childhood dreams and misunderstanding about the world, the world that that poet spoke of in a teenage dream of indefinite duration about who was to have who was to have not once those minds were de-melted and made hip  to the tragedies of life, the close call with the mental house that awaits us all.

In Honor Of Jean Bon Kerouac On The 60th Anniversary Of “On The Road” (1957)

By Book Critic Zack James

To be honest I know about On The Road Jack Kerouac’s epic tale of his generation’s search for something, maybe the truth, maybe just for kicks, for stuff, important stuff that had happened down in the base of society where nobody in authority was looking or some such happening strictly second-hand. His generation’s search looking for a name, found what he, or someone associated with him, maybe the bandit poet Gregory Corso, king of the mean New York streets, mean, very mean indeed in a junkie-hang-out world around Times Square when that place was up to its neck in flea-bit hotels, all-night Joe and Nemo’s and the trail of the “fixer” man on every corner, con men coming out your ass too, called the “beat” generation. (Yes,  I know that the actual term “beat” was first used by Kerouac writer friend John Clemmon Holmes in an article in some arcane journal but the “feel” had to have come from a less academic source so I will crown the bandit prince Corso as genesis)
Beat, beat of the jazzed up drum line backing some sax player searching for the high white note, what somebody told me, maybe my oldest brother Alex who was washed clean in the Summer of Love, 1967 but must have known the edges of Jack’s time since he was in high school when real beat exploded on the scene in Jack-filled 1957, they called “blowing to the China seas” out in West Coast jazz and blues circles, that high white note he heard achieved one skinny night by famed sax man Sonny Johns, dead beat, run out on money, women, life, leaving, and this is important no forwarding address for the desolate repo man to hang onto, dread beat, nine to five, 24/7/365 that you will get caught back up in the spire wind up like your freaking staid, stay at home parents, beaten down, ground down like dust puffed away just for being, hell, let’s just call it being, beatified beat like saintly and all Jack’s kid stuff high holy Catholic incense and a story goes with it about a young man caught up in a dream, like there were not ten thousand other religions in the world to feast on- you can take your pick of the meanings, beat time meanings. Hell, join the club they all did, the guys, and it was mostly guys who hung out on the poet princely mean streets of New York, Chi town, Mecca beckoning North Beach in Frisco town cadging twenty-five cents a night flea-bag sleeps (and the fleas were real no time for metaphor down in the bowels where the cowboy junkies drowse in endless sleeps, raggedy winos toothless suck dry the dregs and hipster con men prey on whoever floats down), half stirred left on corner diners’ coffees and groundling cigarette stubs when the Bull Durham ran out).

I was too young to have had anything but a vague passing reference to the thing, to that “beat” thing since I was probably just pulling out of diapers then, maybe a shade bit older but not much. I got my fill, my brim fill later through my oldest brother Alex. Alex, and his crowd, more about that in a minute, but even he was only washed clean by the “beat” experiment at a very low level, mostly through reading the book (need I say the book was On The Road) and having his mandatory two years of living on the road around the time of the Summer of Love, 1967 an event whose 50th anniversary is being commemorated this year as well and so very appropriate to mention since there were a million threads, fibers, connections between “beat” and “hippie” despite dour grandpa Jack’s attempts to trash those connection when the acolytes and bandit hangers-on  came calling looking for the “word.” So even Alex and his crowd were really too young to have been washed by the beat wave that crashed the continent toward the end of the 1950s on the wings of Allan Ginsburg’s Howl and Jack’s travel book of a different kind (not found on the AAA, Traveler’s Aid, Youth Hostel brochure circuit if you please although Jack and the crowd, my brother and his crowd later would use such services when up against it in let’s say a place like Winnemucca in the Nevadas or Neola in the heartlands).
Literary stuff for sure but the kind of stuff that moves generations, or I like to think the best parts of those cohorts. These were the creation documents the latter of which would drive Alex west before he finally settled down to his career life as a high-road lawyer (and to my sorrow and anger never looked back which has caused more riffs and bad words than I want to yell about here).             

Of course anytime you talk about books and poetry and then add my brother’s Alex name into the mix that automatically brings up memories of another name, the name of the late Peter Paul Markin. Markin, for whom Alex and the rest of the North Adamsville corner boys, Frankie, Jack, Jimmy, Si, Josh (he a separate story from up in Olde Saco, Maine and so only an honorary corner boy after hitching up with the Scribe out on a Russian Hill dope-filled park), Bart, and a few others still alive recently had me put together a tribute book for in connection with that Summer of Love, 1967, their birthright event, just mentioned.  Markin was the vanguard guy, the volunteer odd-ball unkempt mad monk seeker, what did Jack call his generation’s such, oh yeah, holy goofs,   who got several of them off their asses and out to the West Coast to see what there was to see. To see some stuff that Markin had been speaking of for a number of years before 1967 (and which nobody in the crowd paid any attention to, or dismissed out of hand, what they called “could give a rat’s ass” about in the local jargon which I also inherited in those cold, hungry bleak 1950s cultural days in America) and which can be indirectly attributed to the activities of Jack, Allen Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, that aforementioned bandit poet who ran wild on the mean streets among the hustlers, conmen and whores of the major towns of the continent, William Burroughs, the Harvard-trained junkie  and a bunch of other guys who took a very different route for our parents who were of the same generation as them but of a very different world.

But it was above all Jack’s book, Jack’s travel adventure book which had caused a big splash in 1957(after an incredible publishing travail since the story line actually related to events in the late 1940s and which would cause Jack no end of trauma when the kids showed up at his door looking to hitch a ride on the motherlode star, and had ripple effects into the early 1960s and even now certain “hip” kids acknowledge the power of attraction that book had for their own developments, especially that living simple, fast and hard part). Made the young, some of them anyway, like I say I think the best part, have to spend some time thinking through the path of life ahead by hitting the vagrant dusty sweaty road. Maybe not hitchhiking, maybe not going high speed high through the ocean, plains, mountain, desert night but staying unsettled for a while anyway.    

Like I said above Alex was out on the road two years and other guys, other corner boys for whatever else you wanted to call them that was their niche back in those days and were recognized as such in the town not always to their benefit, from a few months to a few years. Markin started first back in the spring of 1967 but was interrupted by his fateful induction into the Army and service, if you can call it that, in Vietnam and then several more years upon his return before his untimely and semi-tragic end down some dusty Jack-strewn road in Mexico cocaine deal blues. With maybe this difference from today’s young who are seeking alternative roads away from what is frankly bourgeois society and was when Jack wrote although nobody except commies and pinkos called it that for fear of being tarred with those brushes. Alex, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Jack Callahan and the rest, Markin included, were strictly “from hunger” working class kids who when they hung around Tonio Pizza Parlor were as likely to be thinking up ways to grab money fast any way they could or of getting into some   hot chick’s pants any way they could as anything else. Down at the base of society when you don’t have enough of life’s goods or have to struggle too much to get even that little bit “from hunger” takes a big toll on your life. I can testify to that part because Alex was not the only one in the James family to go toe to toe with the law back then when the coppers were just waiting for corner boy capers to explode nay Friday or Saturday night, it was a close thing for all us boys as it had been with Jack when all is said and done. But back then dough and sex after all was what was what for corner boys, maybe now too although you don’t see many guys hanging on forlorn Friday night corners anymore.

What made this tribe different, the Tonio Pizza Parlor corner boys, was mad monk Markin. Markin called by Frankie Riley “Scribe” from the time he came to North Adamsville from across town in junior high school and that stuck all through high school. The name stuck because although Markin was as larcenous and lovesick as the rest of them he was also crazy for books and poetry. Christ according to Alex, Markin was the guy who planned most of the “midnight creeps” they called then. Although nobody in their right minds would have the inept Markin actually execute the plan. That was for smooth as silk Frankie now also like Alex a high-road lawyer to lead. That operational sense was why Frankie was the leader then (and maybe why he was a locally famous lawyer later who you definitely did not want to be on the other side against him). Markin was also the guy who all the girls for some strange reason would confide in and thus was the source of intelligence about who was who in the social pecking order, in other words, who was available, sexually or otherwise. That sexually much more important than otherwise. See Markin always had about ten billion facts running around his head in case anybody, boy or girl, asked him about anything so he was ready to do battle, for or against take your pick.

The books and the poetry is where Jack Kerouac and On The Road come into the corner boy life of the Tonio’s Pizza Parlor life. Markin was something like an antennae for anything that seemed like it might help create a jailbreak, help them get out from under. Later he would be the guy who introduced some of the guys to folk music when that was a big thing. (Alex never bought into that genre, still doesn’t, despite Markin’s desperate pleas for him to check it out. Hated whinny Bob Dylan above all else.) Others too like Kerouac’s friend Allen Ginsburg and his wooly homo poem Howl from 1956 which Markin would read sections out loud from on lowdown dough-less, girl-less Friday nights. And drive the strictly hetero guys crazy when he insisted that they read the poem, read what he called a new breeze was coming down the road. They could, using that term from the times again, have given a rat’s ass about some fucking homo faggot poem from some whacko Jewish guy who belonged in a mental hospital. (That is a direct quote from Frankie Riley at the time via my brother Alex’s memory bank.)

Markin flipped out when he found out that Kerouac had grown up in Lowell, a working class town very much like North Adamsville, and that he had broken out of the mold that had been set for him and gave the world some grand literature and something to spark the imagination of guys down at the base of society like his crowd with little chance of grabbing the brass ring. So Markin force-marched the crowd to read the book, especially putting pressure on my brother who was his closest friend then. Alex read it, read it several times and left the dog- eared copy around which I picked up one day when I was having one of my high school summertime blues. Read it through without stopping almost like Jack wrote the final version of the thing on a damn newspaper scroll in about three weeks. So it was through the Scribe via Alex that I got the Kerouac bug. And now on the 60th anniversary I am passing on the bug to you.           

Frank Jackman comment:

The scene below stands (or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline .

Scene Six: Westward Ho! In The Search For The Blue- Pink Great American West Night

As I stepped down onto the yellow-sunned, farm-fresh soil from the farm-fresh cab of the farm-fresh truck that had deposited Angelica and I out into the waving-fielded, farm-fresh Neola, Iowa September day I quickly flashed back to stepping down from Colonel Eddie’s truck cab in Winchester, Kentucky that had started this whole segment of the trip westward.  Christ that seemed like an eternity ago although it had been only a few summer heated, summer sweat-soaked heated weeks. Life on the road had it own tempos but this one, for reasons that I will discuss later, had run out of tempo and we were living on pure fumes just then.       

While I am thinking about Winchester, Kentucky I might as well tell you what had happened since then to get us here to yellowed-sunned, waving-fielded, farm-fresh country and that will go a long way to explaining our need, our desperate need, for a jump start. Needless to say if you read the last scene, the scene where fair Angelica and me are kicking our heels up at a barn dance (and kicking those same heels after as well) in greater Prestonsburg, Kentucky and me about four sheets to the wind, no five or six sheets to the wind from the local , well-aged (about six minutes) “white lightning” then you know that we, thanks to Angelica, got promised a ride from Prestonsburg to Winchester which is just outside of Lexington, Kentucky.

Our chauffer, our Angelica-smitten chauffer, for the occasion turned out to be one ancient hard-driving (as we quickly found out), hard-drinking (as I knew from his condition as we met up with him), ghost of a truck-driving Colonel Eddie.  (The colonel part is made-up, made up by him, all these Kentucky guys from the lowliest pig farmer on up call themselves that, or did back then. I think for about two bucks you could get yourself an “official” certificate designating you as such. If old Eddie had been a “real” colonel then that would go a long way to explaining the South’s righteous lost back in Civil War days). And despite this awful build-up of the guy, and a little off-hand character assassination above, he actually got us there, to Winchester that is, in one piece. Colonel Eddie was one the last of the good old boys, for sure.

What that one piece, by the way, looked like after traveling more back roads in the Commonwealth of Kentucky that seemed humanly possible in order to us get there is another story. See that is where the “white lighting” (rotgut, according to a somewhat miffed Angelica) had something like seven lives. Every time I thought I was feeling better, just a tiny it better like maybe I would actually survive the day, we would hit a double-reverse triple somersault hairpin turn followed by a triple-reverse double somersault hairpin turn that made me wish that, if there was any mercy in this flea-bitten old world, we would just go over the top down into some heavenly embankment and be done with it. But, as I said, we got there, and although we were pinching pennies a little, my condition was terminal and we needed, as a matter of simple primitive medical wisdom, to stay at one of those cheapjack motels that dot the back roads of this world to rest up for future battles, for future tilts at the westward windmills.

No, I am not going to descript this cheapjack motel, this back road, and what did or did not happen there, for the simple reason that I don’t really remember much about what it looked like it, or what happened there. Except this, this is etched in my brain and I can feel the cool- handed, cool-toweled sensation even as I am writing. Angelica, miffed or not, had taken a towel, wrapped some ice from the ubiquitous, usually whiskey fixings-friendly motel ice machine in it, and placed it on my forehead and held her hand on the compress for a while until I fell asleep. Of such kindnesses long-lasting civilizations should be created.   

But enough of medical reports and folk wisdom medicines, sweet gestured or not. We were on the road west now, the blue-pink road west and for the first time since Angelica and I had met really on our own. Winchester, Kentucky heading to Lexington on our way west. Next morning, next already hot, steamy, sulky July Monday morning, having had a decent night’s recovery, and a thimbleful of food in my stomach to be on the safe side, we are off. Tonight we will sleep in no “bourgeois” roadside motel, ice cubes included free of charge or not, but out in the great outdoors, out in the promised great American night, and save our dwindling cash for stormier times. Thumb out, Angelica thumb out here, and we are indeed off. A half hour later after being picked up by a wayward sedan, driven by a nondescript but kindly driver, we are on the road to Lexington. And arrive we do without fanfare, or flourish.  

This is really what is important about Lexington though. See, like I told you and I know I told Angelica before, that suitcase that she had packed up for Steubenville in her Muncie break-out days was fine to live out of  for Steubenville motel cabin existences but no good on the hitchhike road, of whatever color.  I didn’t tell you this before because Angelica had been such a trouper, especially with that ice-encrusted towel, but she had complained like hell about the damn dangling suitcase every time we had to push on in a hurry. Truth be told I had carried the thing more than she had, invalided as I was.  So when we hit Lexington we hit the first Army-Navy store we could find to get her one of those fungible mountaineer backpacks.

Army-Navy store? Ya, Army-Navy store. Don’t snicker about so, well, about so yesterday, okay? Out on the hitchhike road you needed sturdy stuff, whatever it was you needed, because stuff got pretty banged around and your “faux” hitchhike road designer goods would  last about seven miles (or about as long as the owner of such goods would  be on the road before hailing a cab to the nearest airport). And as much as we hated the notion of deadly military weapons and anything military in those days we, we of youth nation, were strangely drawn to that fashion look, and the indestructible nature of their “camping” equipment. Besides the stuff was cheap, remember it was bought as World War II surplus mainly, hell, maybe World War I, but cheap.  

Naturally, as events kept unfolding Angelica was showing more and more her origins as a Midwestern flower, and although a total stranger to such a place was thrilled (and mystified) by this place, including the odd , musty smell that goes with such stores. I will quote her, “Wow, does all this stuff really work?” So you can see by that simple statement that, every once in a while, she will throw out her Indiana naïve to confuse me. In any case, soon enough she will know whether it works or not. Of course she took forever to decide on which of two types of olive green backpacks “fit” her. Christ, women (oops, sorry). After that we made other purchases in order to set up “housekeeping”. Like. Well, like a small very portable army pup tent, complete with staves, to shelter us from storms and summer bugs. And a couple of canteens, small useful three-prong knives, a shovel, and mess kits.

I, as I write this, still smile over the fact that Angelica talked for days about how whoever invented such a useful thing as a mess kit was a genius, a pure genius.  So you see again what I meant about that Muncie thing. Best of all to her sheer unmitigated delight we purchased a warm, cozy, snuggly army surplus sleeping bag (hey, the best kind okay, you can’t have soldiers freezing their buns off in Alaska, Korea, Northern China or wherever). And also delighted, blushingly delighted, when I, off-handedly, whispered in her ear about how many people could fit inside the thing, in a pinch.  And, finally, a green (naturally) army blanket, for emergencies, real emergencies, not those in a pinch kind.

After completing those purchases we stepped just outside the store door to a nearby bench, placed there probably for just such purposes, and ceremoniously transferred her stuff from the suitcase to the backpack. Here is the kicker though, which may tell about human nature or maybe not. I just kind of threw everything into my knapsack and hoped for the best. Hope, for example, that a pair of socks, matched, showed up when needed. Angelica, as I noticed back in the Steubenville pack-up, neat of suitcase also took pains (and would do so throughout the trip) to keep her stuff organized just like in the suitcase. I wonder if we had decided that plastic bags were absolutely the best for travel gear whether she would have done the same. Probably. In any case, Angelica’s yesterday Angelica miffs had turned around and she was beaming, at me, at her new existence, at the whole wide world for all I know. I liked it, I told her so, and we are off to a campground just outside of town that the Army-Navy store owner told me about to “camp out” in the great dark American night. Hell, even I was excited. Still I noticed, just a glimmer of a notice, that she turned back wistfully for just a second to take one last look at the suitcase that we left on that bench for someone else in need.

Every once in awhile, just as things are going right and this old world seems full of bright-eyed possibilities, things get twisted around. Let me tell you about it and see what you think. As we were walking, Angelica proudly practically hip-hop walking with her new backpack bouncing up and down with each step, decided she needed to discuss something, one of our little “adjustments” talks.  Apparently the miffed Angelica of yesterday was not so much miffed at my condition as that when we went to sign in at that cheapjack motel I wrote down my real name and her real name indicating that we weren’t married, or at least not related. Some primordial sense of modesty, no, I know, just Muncie conventionality, made her feel ashamed.

Christ Angelica, there is not one cheapjack (or five star, for that matter) motel, hotel, inn,        
Youth hostel, ashram, whatever in the whole world that in the year 1969 cares who you sign in as. I could have put down Queen Elizabeth and Richard Nixon (although that combination might have raised my eyebrow) and they would have been nonplussed, as long as the coin of the realm, cash, was in hand. I didn’t put quotation marks around the above sentences but I think I could have because that, in my mind’s eye, is probably exactly what I said to her. Her plea, and here I will quote, “I feel ashamed and like a tramp (exact word) and couldn’t we just say we were married when we signed into places?” Apparently the time I was going to spend with this woman was going to be filled with throwing in towels because that is just what I did, I agree to this proposition. Why? Well, in those days I, frankly, didn’t have an opinion, at least a strong opinion, about married or not married and to keep peace I conceded the point. Now would be a different story. But, hell, let’s get to the camp and the great American night.   

There are camp sites and there are camp sites. Today you can belly up to some sites with your seven ton, overloaded monster “trailer” home and put in plug or two and act just like you never left Cicero,  Albany, or whatever your port of origin. Or you can go back up into the hills, some forlorn shaggy hills, mainly some Western hills these days, carrying in with you whatever you are going to bring on your back, and be not that far removed from those old pioneers who feared every dangerous animal, dangerous man, dangerous natural condition step of the western way, and carried on nevertheless. The real westward ho crowd. That day though Angelica and I found ourselves at a plain old-timey campsite which we could see from the road in was dotted with various tents, some small trailers sitting in the beds of pick-up trucks, some free-form trailers pulled by trucks and a couple of psychedelically multi-colored converted school buses. The last had been popping up on the road ever since people started hearing about Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters and their mad eastward escapades a few years earlier. Not a monster trailer in the house, a good sign. I can see a little river as well. Best of all there a small supermarket right across the street. Yes, this portends to be a great American night, and maybe nights.        

After I passed the test at the camp office we went to our site, a cozy little site for a tent not too far from the river. What test? Come on now, pay attention, you know the test. Did I or did I not sign us in as Mr. and Mrs. (no Ms. then). Well, I am still sitting here writing this thing so of course I did. Angelica was beaming, beaming like an old married lady (at nineteen, jesus) but, maybe, just maybe because her “hubby” played it straight with her. (I never did get all the details, and she never put them all out there for me, but back in staid old homey Muncie some guys definitely did her wrong, tramp-treating wrong). Of course unlike the “bourgeois” upper class dwellers here in their little campers we were primitives (a word I have actually seen used to designate some campsites) and had to set up camp from scratch. Hell, we had more fun trying to set that damn Army-Navy tent and setting up for dinner on our little fireplace. There are not many times in life when just a couple of goofy, simple things provided so much entertainment. We napped then feasted. 

As it got dark though I heard some music, the Stones, I think coming from one of the multi-colored painted, converted buses down the dirt lane. Nothing loud, but also something that said “youth nation” among the families of three and four that seemed to dominate the camp. We moseyed (like it?) on down and as we got closer I knew we had found kindred spirits, at least I thought we had. Angelica said, “What’s that strange smell?” Of course it was nothing but grass (marijuana, herb, ganja, whatever your term), and from the smell high-grade stuff. I thereafter proceeded to tell Angelica the “skinny”. She seemed a little non-plussed by the news but, however, confessed that she had never smoked or done any other drugs. And from the tone of that response seemingly did not want to.

Those were good and simple days to be young, especially on a road situation like this. Perfect strangers, unknown to one another, except by a telltale beard, or longhair, or long dresses or some slightly off-key sign, immediately embraced and as a welcome “gift” passed you a joint (or whatever drug of choice was available that day) and you passed whatever you had. We had some store-bought wine. I knew, knew from hard Arizona and Connecticut experiences, as well as the lore of the road, that carrying drugs was not “cool.” Many a road comrade spent many a night in some godforsaken cooler for making that mistake when the grim-reaper, usually small town, cops needed to boost their arrest records. Thus, for me it was nice to have a chance to get “high.” (inhaling even) although Angelica passed and was happy getting a little silly on the wine. We spent a nice night hanging out, listening to the Stones and the Doors, and a couple of other things that I don’t remember. I do remember, as we went back to our own site to turn in, that Angelica said she finally “got” what her parents, her neighbors, her minister, her schoolteachers, and some of her former boyfriends were afraid of. The feared great boxed-in break-out. She started to go on about it, but I gave her a knowing “preaching to the choir” smile and she stopped.  

We wound up staying for few days, got to know most of the twelve or fifteen people connected with the buses (two at two adjoining sites, actually) and found out that they were on “vacation” from a little farm house that they all lived in communally, including some primitive farming and weaving to keep body and soul together, just outside of Springfield, Illinois. They were leaving Saturday morning and we were welcome to join them and stay at the farm for a while. We talked it over and it seemed right, especially for Angelica, as we could by-pass sweet home Indiana that she wanted avoid at all costs, so we left with them. That Saturday morning Angelica with great tenderness, and by herself, struck our camp (“our home” she called it by the end) as we prepared for the next leg of our journey. Ah, pioneer woman. 

You know some towns you can say that you have been in but that is misleading. You might have passed through them, you might have been caught having to sleep on some forsaken bench in some lonely bus stop there, or stretched a watery cup of joe in some lonelier diner against some cold , rainy night wait, or, in flusher times,  just hopped on a plane out of the place. So, yes you can tick that town off on your map as you move along in the world but you don’t know the town, no way. That is my recollection of Springfield. Oh sure I knew it was Lincoln’s home area, I knew it was the capital of the state of Illinois, I knew that people in that area were not Mayor Daly’s (the first one) people and that there was plenty of farmland there. But Springfield on this trip (or ever) was just that dot on the map because once we passed through it and we got to the farm a few days and joints after leaving Lexington that was it. We spent some quiet, well maybe no so quiet when the music went decibel high, but youth quiet time on the farm, did a little work for our keep, Angelica got a little more sun that she thought was good for her, and we relaxed before pushing on. Westward ho, ever westward ho in the blue-pink great American West night.  

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- Happy Birthday Woody Guthrie The Father We Never Knew-For Rosalie Sorrels- Those Oldies But Goodies- Folk Branch- Tell Me Utah Phillips Have You Seen “Starlight On The Rails?”

If I Could Be The Rain I Would Be Rosalie Sorrels-The Legendary Folksinger-Songwriter Has Her Last Go-Round At 83

By Music Critic Bart Webber

Back the day, back in the emerging folk minute of the 1960s that guys like Sam Lowell, Si Lannon, Josh Breslin, the late Peter Paul Markin and others were deeply immersed in all roads seemed to lead to Harvard Square with the big names, some small too which one time I made the subject of a series, or rather two series entitled respectively Not Bob Dylan and Not Joan Baez about those who for whatever reason did not make the show over the long haul, passing through the Club 47 Mecca and later the Café Nana and Club Blue, the Village down in NYC, North Beach out in San Francisco, and maybe Old Town in Chicago. Those are the places where names like Baez, Dylan, Paxton, Ochs, Collins and a whole crew of younger folksingers, some who made it like Tom Rush and Joni Mitchell and others like Eric Saint Jean and Minnie Murphy who didn’t, like  who all sat at the feet of guys like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger got their first taste of the fresh breeze of the folk minute, that expression courtesy of the late Markin, who was among the first around to sample the breeze.

(I should tell you here in parentheses so you will keep it to yourselves that the former three mentioned above never got over that folk minute since they will still tell a tale or two about the times, about how Dave Van Ronk came in all drunk one night at the Café Nana and still blew everybody away, about catching Paxton changing out of his Army uniform when he was stationed down at Fort Dix  right before a performance at the Gaslight, about walking down the street Cambridge with Tom Rush just after he put out No Regrets/Rockport Sunday, and about affairs with certain up and coming female folkies like the previously mentioned Minnie Murphy at the Club Nana when that was the spot of spots. Strictly aficionado stuff if you dare go anywhere within ten miles of the subject with any of them -I will take my chances here because this notice, this passing of legendary Rosalie Sorrels a decade after her dear friend Utah Phillips is important.)

Those urban locales were certainly the high white note spots but there was another important strand that hovered around Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, up around Skidmore and some of the other upstate colleges. That was Caffe Lena’s, run by the late Lena Spenser, a true folk legend and a folkie character in her own right, where some of those names played previously mentioned but also where some upstarts from the West got a chance to play the small crowds who gathered at that famed (and still existing) coffeehouse. Upstarts like the late Bruce “Utah” Phillips (although he could call several places home Utah was key to what he would sing about and rounded out his personality). And out of Idaho one Rosalie Sorrels who just joined her long-time friend Utah in that last go-round at the age of 83.

Yeah, came barreling like seven demons out there in the West, not the West Coast west that is a different proposition. The West I am talking about is where what the novelist Thomas Wolfe called the place where the states were square and you had better be as well if you didn’t want to starve or be found in some empty arroyo un-mourned and unloved. A tough life when the original pioneers drifted westward from Eastern nowhere looking for that pot of gold or at least some fresh air and a new start away from crowded cities and sweet breathe vices. A tough life worthy of song and homage. Tough going too for guys like Joe Hill who tried to organize the working people against the sweated robber barons of his day (they are still with us as we are all now very painfully and maybe more vicious than their in your face forbear). Struggles, fierce down at the bone struggles also worthy of song and homage. Tough too when your people landed in rugged beautiful two-hearted river Idaho, tried to make a go of it in Boise, maybe stopped short in Helena but you get the drift. A different place and a different type of subject matter for your themes than lost loves and longings.  

Rosalie Sorrels could write those songs as well, as well as anybody but she was as interested in the social struggles of her time (one of the links that united her with Utah) and gave no quarter when she turned the screw on a lyric. The last time I saw Rosalie perform in person was back in 2002 when she performed at the majestic Saunders Theater at Harvard University out in Cambridge America at what was billed as her last go-round, her hanging up her shoes from the dusty travel road. (That theater complex contained within the Memorial Hall dedicated to the memory of the gallants from the college who laid down their heads in that great civil war that sundered the country. The Harvards did themselves proud at collectively laying down their heads at seemingly every key battle that I am aware of when I look up at the names and places. A deep pride runs through me at those moments)

Rosalie Sorrels as one would expect on such an occasion was on fire that night except the then recent death of another folk legend, Dave Von Ronk, who was supposed to be on the bill (and who was replaced by David Bromberg who did a great job banging out the blues unto the heavens) cast a pall over the proceedings. I will always remember the crystal clarity and irony of her cover of her classic Old Devil Time that night -yeah, give me one more chance, one more breathe. But I will always think of If I Could Be The Rain and thoughts of washing herself down to the sea whenever I hear her name. RIP Rosalie Sorrels 

(Bruce Phillips)

I can hear the whistle blowing
High and lonesome as can be
Outside the rain is softly falling
Tonight its falling just for me

Looking back along the road I've traveled
The miles can tell a million tales
Each year is like some rolling freight train
And cold as starlight on the rails

I think about a wife and family
My home and all the things it means
The black smoke trailing out behind me
Is like a string of broken dreams

A man who lives out on the highway
Is like a clock that can't tell time
A man who spends his life just rambling
Is like a song without a rhyme

Copyright Strike Music
@train @lonesome

“Hey, Boston Blarney, lend me a dollar so I can go into Gallup and get some Bull Durham and, and, a little something for the head,” yelled out San Antonio Slim over the din of the seemingly endless line of Southern Pacific freight trains running by just then, no more than a hundred yards from the arroyo “jungle” camp that Boston Blarney had stumbled into coming off the hitchhike highway, the Interstate 40 hitchhike highway, a few days before. Pretending that he could no hear over the din Boston Blarney feigned ignorance of the request and went about washing up the last of the dishes, really just tin pans to pile the food on, metal soup cans for washing it down, and “stolen” plastic utensils to put that food to mouth, stolen for those enthralled by the lore of the road, from the local McDonald’s hamburger joint. Like that corporation was going to put out an all points bulletin for the thieves, although maybe they would if they knew it was headed to the confines of the local hobo (bum, tramp, someone told him once of the hierarchical distinctions but they seemed to be distinctions without a difference when he heard them) jungle.

That washing up chore fell to Boston Blarney as the “new boy” in camp and before he had even gotten his bedroll off his sorely-tried back coming off that hard dust Interstate 40 hitchhike road, it was made abundantly clear by the lord of the manor, the mayor of the jungle, Juke Duke, that he was more than welcome to stay for a while, more than welcome to share a portion of the unnameable stew (unnameable, if for no other reason than there were so many unknown ingredients in the mix that to name it would require an act of congress, a regular hobo confab, to do so, so nameless it is), and more than welcome to spread his bedroll under the conforms of the jungle night sky but that he was now, officially, to hold the honorific; chief bottle washer.

So Boston Blarney washes away, and stacks, haphazardly stacks as befits the ramshackle nature of the place, the makeshift dinnerware in a cardboard box to await the next meal as a now slightly perturbed Slim comes closer, along with his bindle buddy, Bender Ben, to repeat the request in that same loud voice, although the last Southern Pacific train is a mere echo in the distance darkening Western night and a regular voiced-request would have been enough, enough for Boston Blarney. This though is the minute that Boston Blarney has been dreading ever since he got into camp, the touch for dough minute. Now see Boston Blarney, hell, William Bradley, Billy Bradley to his friends, on the road, and off. That Boston Blarney thing was put on him by Joe-Boy Jim the first night in camp when Joe-Boy, who was from Maine, from Maine about a million years ago from the look of him, noticed Billy’s Boston accent and his map of Ireland looks and, as is the simple course of things in the jungle that name is now Billy’s forever moniker to the moniker-obsessed residents of the Gallup, New Mexico, ya, that's one of those square states out in the West, jungle, although don’t go looking for a postal code for it, the camp may not be there by the time you figure that out.

Now here are the Boston Blarney facts of life, jungled-up facts of life is that no way is he going to be able to beg off that requested dollar with some lame excuse about being broke, broke broke.(I will use this moniker throughout just in case anybody, anybody Billy does not want to have know his whereabouts, is looking for him. In any case that moniker is better, much better, than the Silly Willy nickname that he carried with him through most of his public school career put on his by some now nameless girl when rhyming simon nicknames where all the rage back in seventh grade.) See everybody knows that San Antonio Slim, who belies his moniker by being about five feet, six inches tall and by weighing in at about two hundred and sixty, maybe, two-seventy so he either must have gotten that name a long time ago, or there is some other story behind its origins, has no dough, no way to get dough, and no way to be holding out on anyone for dough for the simple reason that he has not left the camp in a month so he is a brother in need. Boston Blarney is another case though, even if he is just off the hitchhike highway road, his clothes still look kind of fresh, his looks look kind of fresh (being young and not having dipped deeply in the alcohol bins, for one thing) and so no one, not Slim anyway, is going to buy a broke, broke story.

The problem, the problem Boston Blarney already knows is going to be a problem is that if he gives Slim the dollar straight up every other ‘bo, bum, tramp, and maybe even some self-respecting citizens are going to put the touch on him. He learned, learned the hard way that it does not take long to be broke, broke on the road by freely giving dough to every roadster Tom, Dick, and Harry you run into. “Here, all I have is fifty cents, until my ship comes in,” says Boston Blarney and Slim, along with his “enforcer”, Bender Ben, seem pleased to get that, like that is how much they probably figured they could get anyway. Blarney also knows that he was not the first stop in the touch game otherwise old hard-hand veteran Slim would have bitten harder.

Well, that’s over, for now Blarney says to himself softly out loud, a habit of the single file hitchhike road time when one begins to talk, softly or loudly, to oneself to while away the long side of the road hours when you are stuck between exits in places like Omaha or Davenport on the long trek west. And just as softly to himself he starts to recount where his has been, where he hasn’t been, and the whys of each situation as he unrolls his bedroll to face another night out in the brisk, brisk even for a New England hearty and hale regular brisk boy, great west star-less October night. First things first though, no way would he have hit the road this time, this time after a couple of years off the road, if THAT man, that evil man, that devil deal-making man, one Richard Milhous Nixon, common criminal, had not just vacated, a couple of months back, the Presidency of the United States and had still been in office. After that event, after that hell-raising many months of hubris though, it seemed safe, safe as anything could be in these weird times, to get on with your life. Still, every once in a while, when he was in a city or town, big or small, large enough to have sidewalk newspaper vending machines he would check, no, double check to see if the monster had, perhaps, “risen” again. But Blarney’ luck had held since he took off from Boston in late August on his latest trip west in search of ...

Suddenly, he yelled out, no cried out, “Joyel.” Who was he kidding. Sure getting rid of “Tricky Dick” was part of it, but the pure truth was woman trouble like he didn’t know that from the minute he stepped on to the truck depot at the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike at Cambridge and hailed down his first truck. And you knew it too, if you knew Billy Bradley. And if it wasn’t woman trouble, it could have been, would have been, should have been, use the imperative is always woman trouble, unless it was just Billy hubris. Nah, it was woman trouble, chapter and verse. Chapter twenty-seven, verse one, always verse one. And that verse one for Joyel, lately, had been when are we going to settle down from this nomadic existence. And that Joyel drumbeat was getting more insistent since things like the end of the intense American involvement in Vietnam, the demise of one common criminal Richard Milhous Nixon, and the ebbing, yes, face it, the ebbing of the energy for that newer world everybody around them was starting to feel and had decided to scurry back to graduate school, to parents’ home, or to marriage just like in the old days, parent old days.

Blarney needed to think it through, or if not think it through then to at least see if he still had the hitchhike road in him. The plan was to get west (always west, always west, America west) to the Pacific Ocean and see if that old magic wanderlust still held him in its thrall. So with old time hitchhike bedroll washed, basics wrapped within, some dollars (fewer that old Slim would have suspected, if he had suspected much) in his pocket, some longing for Joyel in his heart, honestly, and some longing that he could no speak of, not right that minute anyway, he wandered to that Cambridge destiny point. His plan with the late start, late hitchhike start anyway, was to head to Chicago (a many times run, almost a no thought post-rookie run at one point) then head south fast from there to avoid the erratic rockymountainhigh early winter blast and white-out blocked-in problems. Once south he wanted to pick up Interstate 40 somewhere in Texas or New Mexico and then, basically because it mostly parallels that route “ride the rails,” the Southern Pacific rails into Los Angeles from wherever he could pick up a freight. Although he never previously had much luck with this blessed, folkloric, mystical, old-timey, Wobblie (Industrial Workers of the World, IWW) method of travel a couple of guys, gypsy davey kind of guys, not Wobblie guys, told him about it and that drove part of his manic west desire this time.

As he eased himself down inside his homemade bedroll ready for the night, ready in case tomorrow is the day west, the day west that every jungle camp grapevine keeps yakking about until you get tired of hearing about it and are just happy to wait in non-knowledge, but ready, he started thinking things out like he always did before the sleep of the just knocked him out. Yes sir, chuckling, just waiting for the ride the rails west day that he had been waiting the past several days and which the jungle denizens, with their years of arcane intricate knowledge, useful travel knowledge said “could be any day now,” caught him reminiscing about the past few weeks and, truth to tell, started to see, see a little where Joyel was coming from, the point that she was incessantly trying to make about there now being a sea-change in the way they (meaning him and her, as well as humanity in general) had to look at things if they were to survive. But, see if she had only, only not screamed about it in those twenty-seven different ways she had of analyzing everything, he might have listened, listened a little. Because whatever else she might have, or have not been, sweet old Joyel, was a lightening rod for every trend, every social and political trend that had come down the left-wing path over the past decade or so.

Having grown up in New York City she had imbibed the folk protest music movement early in the Village, had been out front in the civil rights and anti-war struggle early, very early (long before Billy had). She had gone “street” left when others were still willing to half-way (or more) with LBJ, or later, all the way with Bobby Kennedy (as Billy had). So if she was sounding some kind of retreat then it was not just that she was tired (although that might be part of it) but that she “sensed” an “evil” wind of hard times and apathy were ahead. She was signaling, and this is where they had their screaming matches, that the retreat was the prelude to recognition that we had been defeated, no mauled, as she put in one such match.

So, as Billy steadily got drowsier from having taken too many rays in the long hard sun day and was now fading nicely under the cooling western night he started connecting the dots, or at least some dots, as he thought about the hitchhike road of the past several weeks. He, worst, started to see omens where before he just took them as the luck of the road, the tough hitchhike roads. Like how hard it was to get that first ride out of Boston, Cambridge really, at the entrance to the Massachusetts Turnpike down by the Charles River where many trucks, many cross-country traveling trucks begin their journey from a huge depot after being loaded up from some railroad siding and a couple of years ago all you had to do was ask where the trucker was heading, whether he wanted company, and if yes you were off. Otherwise on to the next truck, and success. Now, on his very first speak to, the trucker told him, told him in no uncertain terms, that while he could sure use the “hippie” boy‘s company (made him think of his own son) on the road to Chicago the company (and, as Billy found out later, really the insurance company) had made it plain, adamantly plain that no “passengers” were allowed in the vehicle under penalty of immediate firing. And with that hefty mortgage, two kids in college, and a wife who liked to spent money that settled the issue. But good luck hippie boy, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

He finally got his ride, to Cleveland, but from there to Chicago it was nothing but short, suspicious rides by odd-ball guys, including one whose intent was sexual and who when rebuffed left Billy off in Podunk, Indiana, late at night and with no prospects of being seen by truck or car traffic until daybreak. Oh ya, and one guy, one serious guy, wanted to know if anybody had told him, told sweet-souled Billy Bradley, that he looked a lot like Charles Manson (and in fact there was a little resemblance as he himself noticed later after taking a well-deserved, and needed, bath, although about half the guys in America, and who knows maybe the world in those days, looked a little like Charles Manson, except for those eyes, those evil eyes that spoke of some singularity of purpose, not good).

And thinking about that guy’s comment, a good guy actually, who knew a lot about the old time “beats” (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and had met mad man saint Gregory Corso in New York City), and for old times sake had picked Billy up got Billy thinking about a strange event back in Cambridge about a year before. Although he and Joyel had lived together, off and on, for several years there were periods, one of those chapter twenty-seven, verse one periods when they needed to get away from each other for one reason or another. That had been one of those times. So, as was the usual routine, he looked in the Real Paper for some kind of opening in a communal setting (in short, cheap rent, divided chores, and plenty of partying, or whatever, especially that whatever part). One ad he noticed, one Cambridge-based ad looked very interesting. He called the number, spoke to one person who handed him off to the woman who was handling the roommate situation and after a description of the situation, of the house, and of the people then residing there was told, told nonchalantly, to send his resume for their inspection. Resume, Cambridge, a commune, a resume. Christ! He went crazy at first, but then realized that it was after all Cambridge and you never know about some of those types. He quickly found a very convivial communal situation, a non-resume-seeking communal situation thank you, in down and out Brighton just across the river from hallowed Cambridge but at more than one of those whatever parties that came with this commune he never failed to tell this story, and get gales of laughter in response.

But that was then. And here is where connecting the dots and omens came together. On the road, as in politics, you make a lot of quick friends who give you numbers, telephones numbers, address numbers, whatever numbers, in case you are stuck, or need something, etc. A smart hitchhiker will keep those numbers safely and securely on him for an emergency, or just for a lark. One night Billy got stuck, stuck bad in Moline and called up a number, a number for a commune, he had been given, given just a few weeks before by a road friend, a young guy who gave his name as Injun Joe whom he had traveled with for a couple of days. He called the number, told of his plight and received the following answer- “What’s Injun Joe’s last name, where did you meet him, where do know him from?” Not thinking anything of it Billy said he didn’t know Injun Joe’s last name and described the circumstances that he met Injun Joe under. No sale, no soap, no-go came the reply. Apparently, according to the voice over the telephone, they knew Injun Joe, liked him, but the commune had been “ripped” off recently by “guests” and so unless you had been vetted by the FBI, or some other governmental agency, no dice. That voice did tell Billy to try the Salvation Army or Traveler’s Aid. Thanks, brother. Ya, so Joyel was not totally off the wall, not totally at all.

And then in that micro-second before sound sleep set in Billy went on the counter-offensive. What about those few good days in Austin when a girl he met, an ordinary cheer-leader, two fingers raised Longhorn Texas girl, who was looking to break-out of that debutante Texas thing, let him crash on her floor (that is the way Billy wants that little story told anyway). Or when that Volkswagen bus, that blessed Volkswagen bus stopped for him just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in, as Thomas Wolfe called them, one of the square western states that he now still finds himself imprisoned in, and it was like old times until they got to Red Rock where they wanted to camp for a while (hell, they were probably still there but he needed to move on, move on ocean west).

But Red Rock was more than old time hippie community, including passing the dope freely. Red Rock was where he met Running Bear Smith, who claimed to be a full Apache but who knows(and where did the Smith part come in). Now Running Bear was full of mystery, full of old-time stories about the pride of the dog soldiers, about his ancestors, about the fight against the ravages and greed of the white man. And about the shamanic ceremonial that he learned from his grandfather (his father had been killed, killed in some undisclosed manner when he was very young, about three), about dancing with the spirits of by-gone days, and dancing he added, or Billy added, under the influence of communion wafer peyote buttons. Several days ago, or rather nights, just a few days before he encamped in this broken down jungle Running Bear and he had “walked with the ‘Thunder Gods,’” as Running Bear described it. Billy described it somewhat differently, after the buttons took effect and Running Bear stoked the camp fire with additional wood to make a great blazing flame that jumped off the wall of the cavern adjacent to where they were camping out. The shadows of the flames made “pictures” on the cavern walls, pictures that told a story, told Billy a story that one man could fight off many demons, could count later on many friends coming to his aid, and that the demons could be vanquished. Was that the flame story or the buttons, or Billy’s retort to Joyel? All he knew was that Running Bear’s “magic” was too strong for him and he began “smelling” the ocean some several hundred miles away. Time to leave, time to get to Gallup down the road, and the hobo jungle wait for the ride on the rails.

Just then, just as he was closing accounts on the past several weeks by remembering his reactions on entering this ill-disposed jungle that was in no way like the friendly, brotherly, sisterly Volkswagen encampment at Red Rock old-time stew ball “Wyoming Coyote” yelled, yelled almost in his ear, although Billy knew that he was not yelling at him personally, but that the Southern Pacific was coming through at 4:00AM. The Southern Pacific going clear through to Los Angeles. Billy’s heart pounded. Here he was on the last leg of his journey west, he would be in L.A. by tomorrow night, or early the next morning at the latest. But the heart-pounding was also caused by fear, fear of that run to catch that moving freight train boxcar just right or else maybe fall by the wayside.

This was no abstract fear, some childhood mother-said-no fear, but real enough. On the way down from Chicago, after being enthralled by the gypsy davies talk of “riding the rails” he had decide that he needed to try it out first in order to make sure that he could do it, do it right when a train was moving. Sure he had caught a few trains before but that was always in the yards, with the trains stationary, and anyway as a child of the automobile age, unlike most of the denizens of the jungle he was more comfortable on the hitchhike road than the railroad. So, as practice, he had tried to catch an Illinois Central out of Decatur about a half-mile out just as the train started to pick up steam but before it got under full steam and was not catchable. He ran for it, almost didn’t make it, and cursed, cursed like hell those coffin nails that he smoked, and swore to give them up. So he was afraid, righteously afraid, as he fell asleep.

At 3:30AM someone jolted Billy out of his sleep. He woke with a start fearing someone was trying to rob him, or worst, much worst in a grimy jungle camp trying to sexually assault him, some toothless, piss-panted old drunken geezer catch up in some memory fog. Damn, it was only San Antonio Slim shaking him to wake him up for the Southern Pacific coming, just in case it came a little early, although according to the jungle lore it came on time, with maybe a minute or so off either way. Billy asked for a cigarette and Slim rolled him a choice Bull Durham so smartly that Billy blinked before he realized what Slim had produced. He lit up, inhaled the harsh cigarette smoke deeply, and started to put his gear quickly in order, and give himself a little toilet as well. Suddenly Slim yelled out get ready, apparently he could hear the trains coming down the tracks from several miles away. Nice skill.

The few men (maybe seven or eight) who were heading west that night (not, by the way, Slim he was waiting on a Phoenix local, or something like that maybe, thought Billy, a Valhalla local) started jogging toward the tracks, the tracks no more than one hundred yards from the jungle. The moon, hidden for most of the night under cloud cover, made an appearance as the sound of the trains clicking on the steel track got louder. Billy stopped for a second, pulled something from his back pocket, a small weather-beaten picture of Joyel and him taken in Malibu a few years before in sunnier days, and pressed it into his left hand. He could now see the long-lined train silhouetted against the moonlit desert sands. He started running a little more quickly as the train approached and as he looked for an open boxcar. He found one, grabbed on to its side for all he was worth with one hand then the other and yanked himself onto the floor rolling over a couple of times as he did so. Once he settled in he again unclasped his left hand and looked, looked intensely and at length, at the now crumbled and weather-beaten picture focusing on Joyel’s image. And had Joyel thoughts, hard-headed Joyel thoughts in his head “riding the rails” on the way to the city of angels.