Showing posts with label red scare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label red scare. Show all posts

Friday, May 03, 2019

The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- *Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By- Pete Seeger's "Hold The Line At Peekskill"

Click on the title to link to a "YouTube' film clip of Pete Seeger performing "Which Side Are You On?". Sorry I could not find "Hold The Line" on "YouTube" but this gets the spirit of that struggle almost as well.

In this series, presented under the headline “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”, I will post some songs that I think will help us get through the “dog days” of the struggle for our communist future. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist, although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here.


Let me tell you the story of a line that was held,
And many brave men and women whose courage we know well,
How we held the line at Peekskill on that long September day!
We will hold the line forever till the people have their way.

Chorus (after each verse):
Hold the line!
Hold the line!
As we held the line at Peekskill
We will hold it everywhere.
Hold the line!
Hold the line!
We will hold the line forever
Till there's freedom ev'rywhere.

There was music, there was singing, people listened everywhere;
The people they were smiling, so happy to be there -
While on the road behind us, the fascists waited there,
Their curses could not drown out the music in the air.

The grounds were all surrounded by a band of gallant men,
Shoulder to shoulder, no fascist could get in,
The music of the people was heard for miles around,
Well guarded by the workers, their courage made us proud.

When the music was all over, we started to go home,
We did not know the trouble and the pain that was to come,
We go into our buses and drove out through the gate,
And saw the gangster police, their faces filled with hate.

Then without any warning the rocks began to come,
The cops and troopers laughed to see the damage that was done,
They ran us through a gauntlet, to their everlasting shame,
And the cowards there attacked us, damnation to their name.

All across the nation the people heard the tale,
And marveled at the concert, and knew we had not failed,
We shed our blood at Peekskill, and suffered many a pain,
But we beat back the fascists and we'll beat them back again!

Words by Lee Hays; Music by Pete Seeger (1949)
(c) 1959 (renewed) by Sanga Music Inc.

Markin comment:

Peekskill is an example of the anti-communist reaction after World War II and the start of the Cold War down at the base of American society, a harbinger of worst things to come for our forbears. Keep that in mind as we struggle now with a little breathing room.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

The Centennial Of Pete Seeger’s Birthday (1919-2014)- *Making Joyful Music- The Weavers Are In The House

Click on title to link to YouTube film clip of The Weavers performing "So Long It's Been Good To Know You".

CD Review

The Weavers Greatest Hits, The Weavers, Vanguard Records, 1986

This review has been used for other work by The Weavers, including review of the PBS production, The 25th Anniversary Reunion of The Weavers. That documentary gives greater detail to the points that I have made below and includes more on the genesis, early successes and the ultimate fates and health of the various members of the group.

Okay, let’s have a show of hands. Who first heard learned the classic Lead Belly song “Goodnight, Irene” from his rendition of the song? Who from the group under review, The Weavers? Another try. How about “If I Had A Hammer”? Or the old Underground Railroad song “Follow The Drinking Gourd”? I suspect that I would get the same answer. And that is to the good. Sure, we have heard all the songs in this collection before by various artist like Pete Seeger as an individual on “Guantanamera”, Bob Dylan on “House Of The Rising Sun” , Tennessee Ernie Ford On “Sixteen Tons” or Woody Guthrie on “This Land Is Your Land” but we HEAR this music through the four distinctive voices of The Weavers. Thus the title of this entry- Making Joyful Music.

That said, this group morphed in the 1940’s from a grouping, The Almanac Singers, led by Pete Seeger, with occasional assistance from Woody Guthrie that performed in New York City and other locales for the labor movement and other left-wing causes. The rise to eminence I believe, however, came with the addition of the lovely strong voice of Ronnie Gilbert that gives a very different feel to the music in contrast to the Almanac Singers. As a group The Weavers made their mark with a stirring, very popular rendition of the Lead Belly classic mentioned above, “Goodnight, Irene”. Then the roof fell in. Between personal differences within the group and the pressure, extreme pressure, of the 1950’s anti-communist witch hunt in America that looked for “reds under every bed” and that dragged Pete Seeger in its wake the group fell off the radar for a while (in Seeger’s case a long while). Nevertheless this basic American folk music lives on in their voices and in this recording that sounds pretty good even today.

A few other songs from this collection also deserve note. The beautifully harmonic (and wild) “Wimoweh”; a nice version of “On Top Of Old Smokey”; a well done version of the currently very apt and appropriate Yip Harburg song “Brother Can You Spare A Dime”; and, as a finale “So Long It’s Been Good To Know You”. In the folk pantheon this group has a place of honor. Listen to this CD to find out why.

Goodnight Irene

Traditional Lyrics

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams
Last saturday night I got married

Me and my love settled down
Now me and my love are parted
I'm gonna take another stroll downtown

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in the town

Sometimes I have a great notion
To jump In the river and drown

Irene goodnight, Irene good night
Good night Irene, good night Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

Ramblin' stop your gamblin'
Stop stayin' out late at night
Go home to your wife and your family
Sit down by the fireside bright

Irene goodnight, Irene good night
Good night Irene, good night Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

Irene goodnight, Irene good night
Good night Irene, good night Irene
I'll see you in my dreams

IF I HAD A HAMMER (The Hammer Song)

words and music by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

If I had a bell
I'd ring it in the morning
I'd ring it in the evening
All over this land
I'd ring out danger
I'd ring out a warning
I'd ring out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

If I had a song
I'd sing it in the morning
I'd sing it in the evening
All over this land
I'd sing out danger
I'd sing out a warning
I'd sing out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Well I've got a hammer
And I've got a bell
And I've got a song to sing
All over this land
It's the hammer of justice
It's the bell of freedom
It's the song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

Gorney, Harburg

They used to tell me
I was building a dream.
And so I followed the mob
When there was earth to plow
Or guns to bear
I was always there
Right on the job.

They used to tell me
I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead.
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad
I made it run
Made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad
Now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once I built a tower up to the sun
Brick and rivet and lime.
Once I built a tower,
Now it's done.
Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits
Gee we looked swell
Full of that yankee doodle dee dum.
Half a million boots went sloggin' through hell
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say don't you remember?
They called me Al.
It was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember?
I'm your pal.
Say buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits,
Ah, gee we looked swell
Full of that yankee doodle dee dum!
Half a million boots went sloggin' through hell
And I was the kid with the drum!

Oh, say don't you remember?
They called me Al.
It was Al all the time.
Say, don't you remember?
I'm your pal.
Buddy, can you spare a dime?

©1958, 1962 (renewed), 1986 (renewed)
TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc. (BMI)

Saturday, December 01, 2018

*"The Front" In Action- An Reenactment Of Zero Mostel's Testimony Before HUAC

Click on title to link to re-enactment of Zero Mostel's testimony before HUAC. Never forget what happened in that last red scare, that long reign of the night-takers in the Cold War night. Ever.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

When Studs Terkel Spoke Truth To Power In A Sullen World -A Tribute From NPR’s Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source”-The Last Word- Studs Terkel Tells His American Story

When Studs Terkel Spoke Truth To Power In A Sullen World -A Tribute From NPR’s Christopher Lydon’s “Open Source”

Link to Christopher Lydon's Open Source program on the late "people's  journalist" Studs Terkel 

By Si Lannon

It was probably Studs Terkel via a series of book reviews of his interviews trying to get a feel for the soul of the American from Sam Lowell that I first heard the expression “speaking truth to power.” Spoke that message to a sullen world then. Unfortunately since that time the world had not gotten less sullen. Nor has the need to speak truth to power dissipated since Studs passed from this mortal coil of a world that he did so much to give ear and eye to. The problem, the real problem is that we in America no longer produce that pied piper, that guy who will tell the tale the way it has to be told. Something about those gals and guys who waded through the Great Depression, saw firsthand in the closed South Side Chicago factories that something was desperately wrong with the way society operated and slogged through World War II and didn’t go face down in the post-war dead ass could war night spoke of grit and of a feeling that the gritty would not let you down when the deal went down. When Mister (Peabody, James Crow, Robber Baron you name it) called the bluff and you stood there naked and raw.        

Fellow Chicagoan writer Nelson Algren (he of The Man With The Golden Arm and Walk On The Wild Side) put the kind of gals and guys Studs looked around for in gritty urban sinkhole lyrical form but Studs is the guy who found the gritty unwashed masses to sing of. (It is not surprising that when Algren went into decline, wrote less lucid prose Stud grabbed him by the lapels and did a big time boost on one of his endless radio talks to let a candid world know that they missing a guy who know how to give voice to the voiceless, the people with small voices who are still getting the raw end of the deal, getting fucked over if you really want to nitty-gritty truth to power). So check this show out to see what it was like when writers and journalists went down in the mud to get to the spine of society.     

Click On Title To Link To Studs Terkel’s Web Page.


Touch and Go, Studs Terkel, The New Press, New York, 2007

I have been running through the oral histories collected by the recently departed Studs Terkel, the premier interviewer of his age. As is my habit when I latch onto a writer I want to delve into I tend to read whatever items comes into my hands as soon as I get them rather than systematically or chronologically. Thus, I have just gotten my hands on a copy of Terkel’s “Touch and Go”, a memoir of sorts but more properly a series of connected vignettes (with a little off-hand celebrity name dropping along the way), that goes a long way to filling in some blanks in the life story of one Louis “Studs” Terkel (including information on that the nickname “Studs” - from the 1930’s Chicago-based trilogy “Studs Lonigan” by James T. Farrell, another author who will be reviewed here in the future). For those unfamiliar with Terkel’s work this little book acts as glue to understanding a long life committed to social justice, giving “voice” to ordinary people and expanding our knowledge of various musical traditions like jazz, folk music and the blues. Nice work, right?

And what of that life? The more famous second half of it is fairly well-known in Studs role as the ubiquitous interviewer and oral historian. That part is extensively covered through the materials in his various books such as “Working” and the “The Good War” and others that I have or will review elsewhere in this space and therefore will not spend much time on here. The less familiar first half of his life forms a fairly well-trodden exemplar of a life story from the early part of the 20th century but which today’s readers are nevertheless probably totally unaware of. Naturally enough, for an early 20th century American story, it begins with immigration of Studs parents to America, New York City as the first port of call, from the Jewish ghettos of Eastern Europe. Then, later, the also familiar internal migration that landed them in Chicago in search of more promising prospects and, ultimately assimilation by Studs (and his two brothers) into the life of the heartland, including the old traditions of hard work, hard striving and hard inquisitiveness.

Studs, like many of the members of his generation, was formed, permanently it would seen, by the hardships and cruelties of the Great Depression that, as exemplified by his oral histories of the times, are his special contributions to the history of that period. I do not believe that those of us from later generations can get a full sense of that history without Studs’ work as companion pieces to the academic histories. That was a time, as a glance at today’s’ current dire economic and social events may be foreshadowing, where one was forced to get by one’s wits, cleverness and sheer “guts”.

After a stint at law school Studs did odd jobs around the theater trying catch on a performer. But not just any theater and not just any performer. This is the period of the Theater Guild and of the WPA which gave cultural workers or those who aspired to such a chance. In short, an engaged and leftist political theater. Needless to say Studs got caught up with the international politics of the period. The struggle against fascism as a “pre-mature” anti-fascist, the fight to save the Spanish Republic and at home the struggle to aid those who were decimated by the Depression. Name a progressive social cause, he was there.

For his efforts, then and later, Studs had some success in his career as a performer first in the ubiquitous field of radio that formed the mass consciousness of the so-called “greatest generation” as a disc jockey and interviewer of various musical figures like Billie Holiday on his shows, the Wax Museum and the Eclectic Disc Jockey. Later, after truncated service in the Air Force in World II, Studs got in on the ground floor of the television with the local Chicago success of Studs’ Place.

Then the roof caved in as the ‘’red scare’ hit home and hit home hard. This was not a good period for those “pre-mature” anti-fascists like Studs mentioned in the last paragraph. In any case Studs survived by “doing the best he could” and by one means or another got hooked onto his career as an interviewer that one really should get a taste of first hand by reading one of the dozen or so books of his dedicated to that art form.

I have not mentioned thus far much about the specifics of Studs’ politics. I believe that he was formed, and ultimately was stuck in, that ‘progressive’ (and capitalism-saving) politics that came to life with President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and was given highest expression by former FDR Vice-President Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party run for the presidency in 1948. A perusal of Studs later works, including comments in this memoir only confirm my impression that his worldview, formed in the 1930’s, remained about the same to the end.

That, however, is not why Studs has an honored place in the halls of the allies of the working class. His commitment to the “good fight” throughout a long life was commendable. We are always in need of those are willing to sign something, to speak to some pressing social issue and who do not squawk about it. No movement can survive without those kinds of publicists. The real tribune to Studs, however, will come when those myriad working class people that he interviewed- those downtrodden Chicago people, those poor white mountain people, those poor black migrants from the South get the society they desire and NEED. Kudos, Brother Terkel.

Studs At His Craft

The Spectator, Studs Terkel, The New Press, New York, 1999

As is my wont, I have been running through the oral histories of the mainly average citizens of America collected by the recently departed Studs Terkel, the premier interviewer of his age. When I latch onto a writer I want to delve into I tend to read whatever comes into my hands as I get it rather than systematically or chronologically. Thus, I have just gotten my hands on a copy of Terkel’s “The Spectator”, a professional actor’s memoir of sorts, that goes a long way to filling in some blanks in the life story of one Louis “Studs” Terkel (including information that the nickname “Studs” is from the Chicago trilogy “Studs Lonigan” by James T. Farrell, another author who will be reviewed here later). For those unfamiliar with Terkel’s work other than his seemingly endless capacity to interview one and all this little book acts as glue to understanding a life-long commitment to his craft as an actor, his appreciation of those who gave memorable performances, his fantastical recall of such moments in the theater and on film and his creating of a wider audience appreciation for various musically traditions like jazz, folk music and the blues. Nice work.

Studs, like many of the members of his generation, was formed by the hardships and cruelties of the Great Depression that I believe in his oral histories are his special contribution to insights into that period and that is reflected here. That was a time, as today’s’ current economic and social events seem to replicating, where one was forced to get by on wits, cleverness and sheer “guts”. Studs himself did odd jobs around the theater trying catch on a performer. But not just any theater and not just any performer. This is the period of the Theater Guild and of WPA which gave cultural workers or those who aspired to such a chance. These early efforts formed the lifelong interest that he has in the theater, playwrights, directors and the tricks of the trade in order to make the audience “believe” in the performance. I found, personally, his probing and informed interviews with Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams , two of my own favorite playwrights, the most interesting part of a book filled with all kind of interesting tidbits.

For his efforts, then and later, Studs had some success in his career as a performer first in the ubiquitous radio that formed many a consciousness of the so-called ‘greatest generation” as a disc jockey and interviewer of various musical figures like Billie Holiday on his shows, the Wax Museum and the Eclectic Disc Jockey. It is the combination of the radio as a format and the in-depth interview that sets Studs apart. Today we have no comprehension of how important these little extended interviews are as a contribution to the history of our modern culture. Will the ubiquitous mass media sound bites of the 21st century or even the unfiltered presentations on “YouTube”, or its successors, tell future generations what that culture was all about? I don’t even want to hazard a guess. But for now, savor, and I do mean savor, Studs going one-on-one with the above-mentioned Miller and Williams or songwriter Yip Harburg, come-back actor James Cagney, culture critics Harold Clurman and Kenneth Tynan and many, many more actors, actresses, playwrights, impresarios, directors and other cultural gadflies. Kudos and adieu Studs.

Thursday, October 26, 2017





I have always been intrigued by the American Communist Party’s ability up until the period of the “red scare” of the late 1940’s and the 1950’s to draw in and recruit a relatively large number of free-lance intellectuals and cultural workers. The apparent inability of the party to keep them is a separate question. However, if one was to draw up a Who’s Who of those members of the American intelligentsia who passed through the party’s orbit during the first half of the 20th century one would find numbers far greater than would be indicated by the party’s actual influence in American politics. The Red Scare obliterated that connection between the intellectuals and the working class and that connection has never been put back together in any radical form up to the present day. Left-wing political life in particular and political life in general has suffered as a result. Here’s the story, in their own voices, of a cross-section of those who got crushed by the juggernaut-and it ain’t pretty.

At the time of publication the book under review Mr. Fariello simply believed that he was unearthing a period in American history, the Red Scare of the late 1940’s and 1959’s, that had either been conveniently forgotten, dismissed as an important but episodic blemish on American democracy or had been reduced to the ‘ sound bite’ ravings of one man-Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. Reading this book in the midst of the post 9/11 anti- Islamic, anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner frenzy in America made me realize that the author had rendered much more than a historical narrative of a particularly disturbing period. He has presented, in the form of interviews of the participants on both sides of the issue, a collectively compelling story that parallels the anxieties and fears of contemporary America. Despite differences of time, place and target it is hard to argue against the proposition that there is something endemic in the American experience that exhibits both a xenophobic and cruel streak that the rest of the world has come to fear. Make no mistake- it can and did happen here and it can happen again.

The author, painstakingly and systematically, interviewed whomever of the survivors of the red scare of the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, which in effect was the modern day American version of the Spanish Inquisition, he could round up. This compilation is a grim reminder of effective liquidation of the left-wing of the American working class and its allies in late 1940’s and the 1950’s. What clearly comes through after reading the interviews on both sides of the issue is that after the end of the World War II there was a serious class war going on not only in the Cold War internationally but also domestically in America – and the working class and its allies took a terrible beating. Why?

One can at least understand the motives of those who cleared out of the left–wing movement in order to duck away when the heat came down. One can even understand, while at the same time condemning, those who sold out their friends and relatives under the relentless governmental pressure. One can further understand the actions of the various Roy Cohn-types looking to make a name for himself or herself or just plain make cash over the bodies of their political opponents. This wicked old world has created plenty of those types who appear when THEIR opportunity calls. What is not understandable is the great mass of people who were not directly affected and who volunteered information to the government, who shunned former friends, who formed vigilante squads to root out their friends and neighbors. Their numbers were legion. As that generation, my parents’ generation, the ones who survived the Depression and fought World War II, dies out much ink has been spilled declaring that generation the ‘greatest generation’. No, a thousand times no. That generation sold its heritage out for a mess of pottage. For the most part, if they were not actively involved in the destruction of democratic rights when some people actually tried to use them, they looked away while the nefarious deeds were being done. And for what? To make the world safe for capitalism and capitalists? Read this book to find out what happened to their victims.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

In Honor Of The Late Rocker Chuck Berry Who Helped Make It All Possible-*Coming Of Age, Period- '50s Style-An Encore

In Honor Of The Late Rocker Chuck Berry Who Helped Make It All Possible-*Coming Of Age, Period- '50s Style-An Encore

In Honor Of The Late Rocker Chuck Berry Who Helped Make It All Possible-Coming Of Age, Period- '50s Style-An Encore

CD Review

Oldies But Goodies, Volume One, Original Sound Record Co., 1986

I have been doing a series of commentaries elsewhere on another site on my coming of political age in the early 1960s, but here when I am writing about musical influences I am just speaking of my coming of age, period, which was not necessarily the same thing. No question that those of us who came of age in the 1950s are truly children of rock and roll. We were there, whether we appreciated it or not at the time, when the first, sputtering, musical moves away from ballady Broadway show tunes and rhymey Tin Pan Alley pieces hit the radio airwaves. (If you do not know what a radio is then ask your parents or, ouch, grandparents, please.) And, most importantly, we were there when the music moved away from any and all music that your parents might have approved of, or maybe, even liked, or, hopefully, at least left you alone to play in peace up in your room when rock and roll hit post- World War II America teenagers like, well, like an atomic bomb.

Not all of the material put forth was good, nor was all of it destined to be playable fifty or sixty years later on some “greatest hits” compilation but some of songs had enough chordal energy, lyrical sense, and sheer danceability to make any Jack or Jill jump then, or now. And, here is the good part, especially for painfully shy guys like me, or those who, like me as well, had two left feet on the dance floor. You didn’t need to dance toe to toe, close to close, with that certain she (or he for shes). Just be alive…uh, hip to the music. Otherwise you might become the dreaded wallflower. But that fear, the fear of fears that haunted many a teenage dream then, is a story for another day. Let’s just leave it at this for now. Ah, to be very, very young then was very heaven.

So what still sounds good on this CD compilation to a current AARPer and, and perhaps some of his fellows who comprise the demographic that such a 1950s compilation “speak” to. This volume is, more than some of the other volumes in this series (fifteen in all), loaded up with classics. Of course, Earth Angel, the 50s seemed to be a time for “angel’ laments from the classic Teen Angel on, the theme being irrevocable lost and learning about such heartbreak at an early age. Eddie My Love, a tale of longing from the female side that I nevertheless even today still find myself singing in the shower. And, on that same line Confidential the lyrics and theme hit a chord. Naturally, in a period of classic rock numbers, Chuck Berry’s Maybellene (or, virtually any other of about twenty of his songs from that period).

But what about the now inevitable end of the night high school dance song (or maybe even middle school) that seems to be included in each CD compilation? The song that you, maybe, waited around all night for just to prove that you were not a wallflower, and more importantly, had the moxie to , mumbly-voice, parched-throated, sweaty-handed, asked a girl to dance (women can relate their own experiences, probably similar). Here the classic Paul Anka hit, Put Your Head On My Shoulder fills the bill. Hey, I didn’t even like the song, or the singer, but she said yes and this was what you waited for so don’t be so choosey. And, yes, I know, this is one of the slow ones that you had to dance close on. And just hope, hope to high heaven that you didn’t destroy your partner’s shoes and feet. Well, one learns a few social skills in this world for no other reason that to “impress” that certain she (or he for shes) mentioned above. I did, didn’t you?


THE FONTANE SISTERS lyrics - Eddie My Love

Eddie my love, I love you so-o
How I've waited for you you'll never know-o
Please Eddie, don't make me wait too long

Eddie please write me one li-ine
Tell me your love is still only mi-ine
Please Eddie, don't make me wait too long

You left me last September
To return to me before long
But all I do is cry myself to sleep
Eddie since you've been gone

Eddie my love where can you be-ee
I pray the angels find you for me-ee
Please Eddie, don't make me wait too long

Please Eddie, don't make me wait too long

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

* The Saga Of A Great Filmmaker And Unrepetant "Snitch" -The Unlamented Elia Kazan

Click on title to link to "Boston Sunday Globe", July 26, 2009, article by Ty Burr about the famous (or rather, from these quarters, infamous) Hollywood filmmaker and "snitch"(they go together)Elia Kazan.

Markin comment:

Hey, I've watch almost every film that Mr. Burr lists here made that was directed by Elia Kazan. (Who can forget Tennessee William's "Streetcar Named Desire" or the seemingly autobiographical "On The Waterfront" He was a great filmmaker, for the most part. On that part there is no disagreement. What I have trouble with is that he "snitched" on his fellow Communist Party members in Hollywood during the post World War II red scare.

No alibis, please. Many others went to prison, lost jobs and faced other forms of harassment rather than give up their friends. Whole generations of disillusioned Stalinists (and other types of leftists), sad to say, have walked away from communist politics for a whole variety of reasons, including disgust. But they did not "drop the dime" as they left-they just walked away and went on with their lives. There is a very special spot reserved in communist "hell" waiting for Mr.Kazan. And that is as it should be. Never forgive, never forget- Elia Kazan "snitch".

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Out In The Be-Bop 1950s Cold War Night- Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Is On The Case- “Kiss Me Deadly”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for Kiss Me Deadly.

DVD Review

Kiss Me Deadly, Ralph Meeker, Cloris Leachman, directed by Robert Aldrich, 1955

Sure I‘m a film noir buff. And sure I like my film detectives that way as well, Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, Phillip Marlowe and so on. Normally Mickey Spillane and his 1950s-style detective, Mike Hammer, would no hit my radar though. Believe me I did, however, spent many a misbegotten hour reading Spillane’s detective stories, maybe as much for cover art work that ran to provocative bosomy, half-clothed femme fatale dames in distress as for the insipid story line that ran heavily to Mike’s anti-communist warrior pose ready to smash heads at the drop of a hat, and grab an off-hand kiss from every dame he ran into along the way. Aside for the question of that scurrilous (now scurrilous, maybe) cover art that is better left for another day my tastes in detectives were more to the “highbrow” Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet and their more knight-errant-worthy story lines, and a little more reserve in the fist department, although for a damsel in distress they were ready to duke it out with anyone, and gladly.

That said, now along comes this classic 1950s film noir Mike Hammer story line and I was hooked, well, maybe not hooked so much as intrigued by it. Moreover, director Richard Aldrich seems to have had a flair for the noir film, from those black and white filmed shots of streets scenes in the seamy Los Angeles be-bop night (and day too, come to think of it), to an incredible be-bop jazz bar scene, complete with “torch” singer where after the lost of a friend Mike gets plastered (drunk), to the endless line-up of high end “golden age of the automobile” cars on display. Of course there is the normal bevy (maybe two bevies, I didn’t count) of alluring, mysterious women just waiting to fall into Mike’s arms when he comes within fifty paces of them, and he is, as usual, ready to put on his white knight uniform when he senses that something in evil in the world, and he most definitely is willing to thumb his nose as the governmental authorities who are always just a step, or seven, behind the flow of the action. But most of that is all in a day’s work for a noir detective. What makes this one stick out is the doom’s day plot.

Of course, the 1950s was not only about the rise of the “beats” and of teen alienation and angst-driven rock and roll but the heart of the international Cold War, a scary time no question, where if things had taken a half-twist a different way. Well, who knows, but it was not going to be pretty. And part of that Cold War, a central part, was the presence of the “bomb”, and for those who are too young to remember that was nothing but the atomic and hydrogen bombs that could, at any non-be-bop minute, blow the planet away.

And it is that threat that underlines old Mickey Spillane’s tale. See, with that kind of threat, but also the power potential , private parties, evil private parties could think of all kinds of nasty ways to wreak havoc on the world. If only they could get just a little of that bomb power. And that lust, that seemingly eternal lust, for power by certain of our fellows is where we are heading. See, someone privy to the atomic secrets (no, not the heroic Rosenburgs, this guy was in it for the dough) had a little pot of the stuff ready for the highest bidder. And the highest bidder, so to speak, also happens to be a guy with plenty of dough to buy a ton of modern art (and a fondness for classic quotes). I knew there was something funny about those modern art collecting guys. Didn’t you?

And all it takes to spoil that nefarious plan is one Mike Hammer. Now, and here is the beauty of the Spillane method, this is not for governmental agents to handle, as one would think in trusting 1950s America, although they are hot on the trail but one threadworn detective. Threadworn? Yes, threadworm. See Mike is nothing but a low-rent, dirt-peddling divorce work detective (in the days when such dirt was necessary to get that desperate divorce), working this racket with his girl Friday (and lure), Velda. But see maybe Mike just fell on hard times and needed some dough (although his car, office set-up, digs… and fetching Velda belie that). But once Mike gets on the case, and only when he knows in his gut that something is wrong and he has that feeling here, then they are no limits. He faces off the mob (naturally, if there is something evil to broker they are in on it), half-mad women (one that he picked up on the hitchhike road, kind of, and her roommate) and that relentless modern art collector before he is through. I could go on but, really, this is one you have to see. And add to your list of film noir be-bop nights.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Films to While Away The Class Struggle By-Dalton Trumbo's Anti-War Classic- "Johnny Got His Gun"

Click on the headline to link to a "Youtube" film clip from the film "Johnny Got His Gun" based on Dalton Trumbo's classic anti-war novel of the same title.

Clip From Trailer for Trumbo (2015)- the story of the black-listed writer who wrote the classic Johnny Got His Gun.



Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some films that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. In the future I expect to do the same for books under a similar heading.-Markin

DVD Review

Johnny Got His Gun, Donald Sutherland, Timothy Bottoms, Jason Robards, directed by Dalton Trumbo, 1971

The first two paragraphs are taken from a review of Dalton Trumbo’s novelistic treatment of the film under review. The points made there apply in general to the film:

“The subject of war has had all sorts of novelistic treatments, the most successful usually treading lightly on the war action itself and delving into the personal choices and consequences of the characters as their central aim. In that odd sense the most compelling novelistic treatments are either pro-war (for some seemingly rational reason like defending one’s country, coming to the aid of a smaller, weaker country, etc.) or neutral to the more physical and psychological dimensions of the situation. A flat out, anti-war (or, to use a more vague term, pacifistic) treatment is usually not successful either because it has a “preaching to the choir” quality or strikes some false chord. That is not the case with Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun”.

Although this novel was written under the sign of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in the late 1930s, reflected in Communist International and American Communist Party political line as one of intense opposition to Western war preparations it brings more home truths than merely another piece of ‘communistic’ propaganda and it would be incorrect even for staunch anti-Stalinists to dismiss it out of hand. Joe, the main character here, maimed beyond belief and repair, is every mother’s son, every American mother’s son. His interior monologue, as he remembers his past, his lost youth, his desires and the useless way he was used in the last days of World War I is almost unique in the way the story unfolds. It certainly is not for the faint-hearted, or the weak-minded. As steps are now being taken to up the ante in Afghanistan, another one of those wars to ‘defend’ democracy, or whatever the reason of the day is, this thing should be required reading for every mother, and every mother’s son and daughter who seeks to put him or herself in war’s way.”

The film pretty faithfully follows Trumbo’s, or at least the spirit of Trumbo’s, main point. Of course it helps that he directed the piece. Off a reading, or rather re-reading of the novel I thought that it would be hard to sustain a film based on the lack of “action” in the story line. That is dealt with two ways-flash backs by Joe to sunnier times and by “dream” sequences featuring the likes of Donald Sunderland giving his droll interpretation of Trumbo’s message. This is not an easy film to get through; certainly not for those who like their entertainments light, but the pathos of the scenes as Joe tries to make sense of his “new” world is cause for reflection. That said, could one find a better actor than Timothy Bottoms to play the role of Joe, the fresh-faced “dough boy” filled with illusions, filled with thoughts of invincibility, but also filled with dreams and sorrows as he goes off to war. Kudos here. And thanks, brother Trumbo.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

*The Stuff Of Dreams- Dashiell Hammet's "The Maltese Falcon"

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for American detective fiction writer Dashiell Hammett.

Book Review

The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammet, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1930

Dashiell Hammett, along with Raymond Chandler, reinvented the detective genre in the 1930's and 1940's. They moved the genre away from the amateurish and simple parlor detectives that had previously dominated the genre to hard-boiled action characters who knew what was what and didn't mind taking a beating to get the bad guys. And along the way they produced some very memorable literary characters as well. Nick and Nora Charles, Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe are well known exemplars of the action detective.

Hammett and Chandler also speak to a different, more macho if you will, but also a more world-wary and world-weary style of detection than today’s hyper-extended and techno-detail-oriented detectives who rely on computers and gadgetry more than guts. Still, with few exceptions, it is hard now to find a better proto-type for the kind of detective that writers of detective fiction wished they had, in their long, smoke-filled, whiskey-soaked, staring at that blank white page, writer nights (and we will not even speak of the days), dreamed up than Sam Spade. Nor a better, sparse, functional language-filled story line than old Dashiell Hammett thought up.

A little summary of the plot line is in order. It’s the bird, stupid. Get it. Except this is a gem of bird, a stuff of dreams, stuff of wild, exotic, face the gates of hell for, bird that has more than one crew of thieves, well-groomed, well-spoken thieves, and in their way polite unless a crippled newsy or two get in their way, but thieves nevertheless looking to get their hands on the damn thing, and wealth, Great Depression get out from under wealth. Hey, anytime get out from under wealth. In any case you need a scorecard to sort out who, and who is not, on the level at any particular time, except maybe the kid hired gunsel who keeps shadowing old brother Spade.

Naturally, in a noir detective story, and Hammett is nothing if not a noir writer from word one, there has to be a femme fatale dame with a checkered, if vaguely sketched past, and a dubious present, a very dubious present. But she, Brigid O’ Shaughnessy, in this one, has that look, you know that look, that women’s look, that look that will set the boys walking, no racing, to run into walls, to take more than their fair of hits on the head, to go full tilt at those damn windmills, gladly. Enter ever so jaded Sam Spade (and partner, Miles Archer, but he is just in it for the sappy dupe-guy dressing). Sam has all the characteristics that mark a noir detective-tough, resourceful, undaunted, and incorruptible with a sense of honor to friend and foe alike that sets him apart from earlier detectives. And still he, been around the block many times and more, Sam Spade, is smitten when the femme fatale goes into her, well, femme fatale, act. Go figure. But those other traits will be hard-hearted Ms.Femme Fatale’s undoing in the end, as her version of the stuff of dreams goes awry. There, I have set up the mood for you. But this is one you should read and savor so I will leave it at that. If you want a well-thought out story that is also well-written from a member of the second echelon of the American literary pantheon, this one is for you.

Note: It is not altogether clear to me what Hammet’s political sympathies (or rather more to the point, organization connections) were in the period of his great detection-writing period, the early 1930s, although one can speculate they were at least progressive. I should note for those who are only familiar with the detective novels and crime short stories that Hammet was a make-no-bones-about-it supporter of the Communist Party during the hard, don’t turn that eye from your neighbor, see reds under every bed, your mommie is a commie turn her in, prison house, American night of the red scare, Cold War, post World War II period (and earlier as well, during the Popular Front all the way with FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), Joe Stalin, our father can do no wrong, Moscow Trials liquidate the Old Bolsheviks, the makers of the revolution, time but this post-war period is what concerns me here).

This was period when anything to the left of Herbert Hoover, including probably red tablecloths on restaurant tables, was suspect. This is also the period of the unlamented Joe McCarthy, the equally unlamented Richard Nixon, the deep, fatal, anti-communist purges in the labor unions from which we still suffer today (and anti-red purges in many other political and cultural institutions as well), and of the time of “the naming of names.” The high watermark time of the “fink” and of the “blacklist.” I have vilified, rightly so, no, righteously so, the likes of movie director Elia Kazan (Viva Zapata, On The Waterfront) for their “stool pigeon” scab actions before the "committees".

Kazan was, unfortunately, not alone in that dark, witch-hunt, keep your eyes down, keep walking straight ahead with blinkers on, tell them what they want to know although they already know it, night. I have also heaped tons of well-deserved praise on the heroic Rosenbergs, Julius and Ethel, for holding their ground under intense pressure and under penalty of paying the ultimate price, their lives, for their steadfastness. For defending the Soviet Union, not in our Trotskyist way, but in their own honorable way, and didn’t complain about it when they were called on it, unjustly, by the American imperial state.

Dashiell Hammett was called, tooth brush in hand, before the “red scare” committees and just said no. Hats off. Now there is no need to get mushy about it, and one should not forget that in the end Hammett’s Stalinist politics (and vilification of leftist political opponents like our Trotskyist forbears) made us not less political opponents, but isn’t there something in old Hammett’s actions, that sense of “tilting to the windmills,” that leads right back to Sam Spade. Yes, I thought you would think so.

*Writer’s Corner- Dashiell Hammett’s "Women In The Dark"

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for American detective novelist Dashiell Hammett.

Book Review

Woman In The Dark, Dashiell Hammett, Introduction by Robert B. Parker, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1988

Dashiell Hammett, along with Raymond Chandler, reinvented the detective genre in the 1930's and 1940's. They moved the genre away from the amateurish and simple parlor detectives that had previously dominated the genre to hard-boiled action characters who knew what was what and didn't mind taking a beating to get the bad guys. And along the way they produced some very memorable literary characters as well. Nick Charles, Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe are well known exemplars of the action detective. However, on the way to creating these literary works of art Hammett did journeyman's work at the detective genre in various pulp detective magazines and in serial form in popular magazines. The latter is how the short novel under review, Woman In The Dark, began its life.

The late Robert B. Parker, a very fine detective story writer in his own right, noted in the introduction to this work that this plot line, and its twists and turns, represented a very strong example of Hammett’s sense of the randomness of human existence. But also the drive for some regularity, some place to hang one’s hat, as well. Even down at the edges of society, the places where no one really wants to be, the place of kept women, cons, and ex-cons and of those who have the resources to make such dwellers their playthings. The plot line centers on a hardened, take no bull, been around the block, femme fatale, certainly not your typical damsel in distress, who is fed up with the antics of the rich guy who “rescued” her, for a time, the antics of the rich guy who doesn’t like to take no for an answer, especially when he has bought and paid for the merchandise (the femme fatale in this case), and a hard-nosed, hard-luck ex-con (a non-detective for once, if you can believe that) who simply will not go back to prison but who is not adverse to a little romance. And is willing to give, and take, a hard punch, if necessary.

Naturally, as is almost always the case with Hammett, the story line is driven, Hemingway-style, by sparse, functional language. However, for my money, there is just not enough of it to grip the imagination. Other than as an example, arguably a failed example, of Hammett trying to put steamy love interest and hard-boiled guys together on short notice, this novelistic effort could have stayed back in the pulp archives. Or waited to be anthologized, as it was, in the Dashiell Hammett volumes of the Library Of America series. For the real Hammett read The Thin Man or The Maltese Falcon, those two efforts, my friends, are why Hammett is in the American literary pantheon.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Blowing In The Wind - With Bob Dylan In Mind

Blowing In The Wind - With Bob Dylan In Mind

Scene: Girls’ Lounge, North Clintondale High School, Monday morning before school, late September, 1962. Additional information for those who know not of girls lounges, for whatever reason. The North Clintondale High School girls’ lounge was reserved strictly for junior and senior girls, no sophomore girls and, most decidedly, no freshmen girls need come within twenty feet of the place for any reason, particularly by accident, under penalty of tumult. It was placed there for the “elect” to use before school, during lunch, after school, and during the day if the need arise for bathroom breaks, but that last was well down on the prerogatives list since any girl can use any other “lav” in the school. No queen, no lioness ever guarded her territory as fiercely as the junior and senior girls of any year, not just 1962, guarded the aura of their lounge. Needless to say the place was strictly off-limits to boys, although there had been talk, if talk it was, about some girls thinking, or maybe better, wishing, that boys could enter, after school enter. That possibility was in any case much more likely than entry by those sophomore and freshman girls, lost or not.

Now the reasoning behind this special girls’ lounge, at least according to Clintondale public school authority wisdom established so far back no one remembered who started it, although a good guess was sometime in the Jazz Age, the time of the “lost generation,” was that junior and senior girls needed some space to attend to their toilet and to adjust to the other rigors of the girl school day and, apparently, that fact was not true for the younger girls. So for that “as far back as can be remembered” junior and senior girls have been using the lounge for their physical, spiritual, demonic, and other intrigue needs.

Now the physical set- up of the place, by 1962 anyway, was that of a rather run-down throne-ante room. Remember as well this was situated in a public school so erase any thoughts of some elegant woman’s lounge in some fancy downtown Clintondale hotel, some Ritz-ish place. Within that huge multi-windowed space there were several well-used, sagging, faded couches, a few ratty single chairs, some mirrors in need of some repair and a good cleaning and a few wastepaper baskets of various sizes. Attached to this room was a smaller room, the bathroom itself with stalls, sinks, mirrors, etc the same as found in any rest room in any public building in the country. The “charm” of the place was thus in its exclusivity not its appearance.

Come Monday morning, any school day Monday morning, the ones that count, and the place was sure to be jam-packed with every girl with a story to tell, re-tell, or discount as the case may be. Also needless to say, and it took no modern sociologist, no sociologist of youth culture, post-World War II youth culture, to figure it out in even such a elitist democratic lounge there was certain pecking order, or more aptly cliques. The most vocal one, although the smallest, was composed of the “bad” girls, mainly working class, or lower, mostly Irish and Italian, cigarette-smoking, blowing the smoke out the window this September day as the weather was still good enough to have open windows. As if the nervous, quick-puff stale smells of the cigarettes were not permanently etched on the stained walls already, taking no bloodhound to figure out the No Smoking rule was being violated, violated daily. Oh yes, and those “bad” girls just then were chewing gum, chewing Wrigley’s double-mint gum, although that ubiquitous habit was not confined to bad girls, as if that act would take the smell of the cigarette away from their breathes. One girl, Anna, a usually dour pretty girl, was animatedly talking, without a seeming hint of embarrassment or concern that others would hear about how her new boyfriend, a biker from Adamsville who to hear her tell it was an A- Number One stud, and she “did it” on the Adamsville beach (she put it more graphically, much more graphically, but the reader can figure that out). And her listeners, previously somewhat sullen, perked up as she went into the details, and they started, Monday morning or not, to get a certain glean in their eyes thinking about the response when they told their own boyfriends about this one.

Less vocal, but certainly not more careful in their weekend doings talk, were the, for lack of a better term, the pom-pom girls, the school social leaders, the ones who planned the school dances and such, and put the events together in order to, no, not show their superior organizing skills, but to lure boys, the jock and social boys, into their own Adamsville beach traps. And not, like Anna and her biker, on any smelly, sandy, clamshell-filled, stone-wretched beach, blanket-less for christ sakes. Leave that for the “bad” girls. They, to a girl, were comfortably snuggled up, according to their whispered stories, in the back seat of a boss ’57 Chevy or other prestige car, with their honeys and putting it more gingerly than Anna (and less graphically) “doing it.”

And, lastly, was the group around Peggy Kelley, not that she was the leader of this group for it had no leader, or any particular organized form either, but because when we get out of the smoke-filled, sex talk-filled, hot-air Monday morning before school North Clintondale junior and senior girls’ lounge we will be following her around. This group, almost all Irish girls, Irish Catholic girls if that additional description is needed, of varying respectabilities, was actually there to attend to their toilet and prepare for the rigors of the girl school day. Oh yes, after all what is the point of being in this exclusive, if democratic, lounge anyway, they too were talking in very, very, very quiet tones discussing their weekend doings, their mainly sexless weekend doings, although at least one, Dora, was speaking just a bit too cryptically, and with just a little too much of a glean in her eyes to pass churchly muster.

And what of Peggy? Well Peggy had her story to tell, if she decided to tell it which she had no intention of doing that day. She was bothered, with an unfocused bother, but no question a bother about other aspects of her life, about what she was going to, about her place in the world to than to speak of sex. It was not that Peggy didn’t like sex, or rather more truthfully, the idea of sex, or maybe better put on her less confused days, the idea of the idea of sex. Just this past weekend, Saturday night, although it was a book sealed with seven seals that she was determined not to speak of, girls’ lounge or not, she had let Pete Rizzo “feel her up,” put his hands on her breast. No, not skin on skin, jesus no, but through her buttoned-up blouse. And she liked it. And moreover, she thought that night, that tossing and turning night, “when she was ready” she was would be no prude about it. When she was ready, and that is why she insisted that the idea of the idea of sex was something that would fall into place. When she was ready.

But as she listened to the other Irish girls and their half-lies about their weekends, or drifted off into her own thoughts sex, good idea or not, was not high on her list of activities just now. Certainly not with Pete. Pete was a boy that she had met when she was walking at “the meadows,” For those not familiar with the Clintondale meadows this was a well-manicured and preserved former pasture area that the town fathers had designated as park, replete with picnic tables, outdoor barbecue pits, a small playground area and a small restroom. The idea was to preserve a little of old-time farm country Clintondale in the face of all the building going on in town. But for Peggy the best part was that on any given day no one was using the space, preferring the more gaudy, raucous and, well, fun-filled Gloversville Amusement Park, a couple of towns over. And
so she could roam there freely, and that seemed be Pete’s idea, as well one day. And that meeting really set up what was bothering Peggy these days.

Pete was a freshman at the small local Gloversville College. Although it was small and had been, according to Pete, one of those colleges founded by religious dissidents, Protestant religious dissidents from the mainstream Protestantism of their day, it was well-regarded academically (also courtesy of Pete). And that was Pete’s attraction, his ideas and how he expressed them. They fit right in with what Peggy had been bothered by for a while. Things that could not be spoken of in girls’ lounge, or maybe even thought of there. Things like what to do about the black civil rights struggle that was burning up the television every night. (Pete was “heading south” next summer he said.) Things like were we going to last until next week if the Russians came at us, or we went after the Russians.

Also things like why was she worried every day about her appearance and why she, like an addiction, always, always, made her way to the girls’ lounge to “make her face” as part of the rigors of the girl school day. And that whole sex thing that was coming, and she was glad of it, just not with Pete, Pete who after all was just too serious, too much like those commissars over in Russia, although she liked the way he placed his hands on her. And she was still thinking hard on these subjects as she excused herself from the group as she put the final touches of lipstick on. Just then the bell rang for first period, and she was off into the girl day.

Scene: Boys’ “Lav,” Second Floor, Clintondale High School, Monday morning before school, September, 1962. (Not necessarily the same Monday morning as the scene above but some Monday after the first Monday, Labor Day, in September. In any case even if it was the same Monday as the one above that coincidence does not drive this story, other more ethereal factors do.) Additional information for those who know not of boys’ lavs, for whatever reason. The Clintondale High School boys’ rest rooms, unlike the girls’ lounge mentioned above at North, or where a similar rule applied to the girls’ lounge at Clintondale, was open to any boy in need of its facilities, even lowly, pimply freshmen as long as they could take the gaffe. Apparently Clintondale high school boys, unlike the upperclassmen girls needed no special consideration for their grooming needs in order to face the schoolboy day.

Well, strictly speaking that statement about a truly democratic boys’ lav universe was not true. The first floor boys’ lav down by the woodworking shop was most strictly off limits, and had been as far back as anyone could remember, maybe Neanderthal times, to any but biker boys, badass corner boys, guys with big chips on their shoulders and the wherewithal to keep them there , and assorted other toughs. No geeks, dweebs, nerds, guys in plaid shirts and loafers with or without pennies inserted in them, or wannabe toughs, wannabe toughs who did not have that wherewithal to maintain that chip status need apply. And none did, none at least since legendary corner boy king (Benny’s Variety version), “Slash” Larkin, threw some misdirected freshman through a work-working shop window for his mistake. Ever since every boy in the school, every non-biker, non-corner boy, or non-tough had not gone within fifty yards of that lav, even if they took shop classes in the area. And a “comic” aspect of every year’s freshman orientation was a guided finger to point out which lav not to use, and that window where that freshman learned the error of his ways. No king, no lion ever guarded his territory as fiercely as the “bad” boys did. Except, maybe, those junior and senior Clintondale girls of any year, and not just 1962, as they guarded their lounge lair.

That left the boys’ rooms on the second floor, the third floor, the one as you entered the gymnasium, and the one outside of the cafeteria for every other boy’s use. A description, a short description, of these lavs is in order. One description fits all will suffice; a small room, with stalls, sinks, mirrors, etc the same as found in any rest room in any public building in the country. Additionally, naturally, several somewhat grimy, stained (from the “misses”) urinals. What draws our attention to the second floor boys’ room this day are two facts. First, this rest room is in the back of the floor away from snooping teachers’ eyes, ears and noses and has been known, again for an indeterminate time, as the place where guys could cadge a smoke, a few quick puffs anyway, on a cigarette and blow the smoke out the back window, rain or shine, cold or hot weather. So any guy of any class who needed his fix found his way there. And secondly, today, as he had done almost every Monday before school since freshman year John Prescott and friends have held forth there to speak solemnly of the weekend’s doing, or not doings. To speak of sex, non-sex, and more often than seemed possible, of the girl who got away, damn it.

Of course, egalitarian democratic or not, even such drab places as schoolboy rest rooms have their pecking orders, and the second floor back tended to eliminate non-smoking underclassmen, non-smokers in general, serious intellectual types, non-jocks, non-social butterflies, and non-plaid shirt and loafer boys. And Johnny Prescott, if nothing else was the epitome of the plaid shirt and loafer crowd. And just like at that up-scale North Clintondale girls’ lounge come Monday morning, any school day Monday morning, the ones that count, and the place was sure to be jam-packed with every plaid-shirted, penny-loafered boy with a story to tell, re-tell, or discount as the case may be. Also needless to say, and it took no modern sociologist, no sociologist of youth culture, post-World War II youth culture, to figure it out in even such a smoky democratic setting there was a certain standardized routine-ness to these Monday mornings. And that routine-ness, the very fact of it, is why on John Prescott draws our attention this day.

And if Johnny was the king of his clique for no other reason than he was smart, but not too smart, not intellectual smart, or showing it any way, that he was first to wear plaid and loafers and not be laughed at, and he had no trouble dating girls, many notched girls, which was the real sign of distinction in second floor lav, he was a troubled plaid-ist.
No, not big troubled, but, no question, troubled. Troubled about this sex thing, and about having to have the notches to prove it, whether, to keep up appearances, you had to lie about it or not when you struck out as happened to Johnny more times than he let on (and as he found out later happened to more guys more often than not). Troubled about political stuff like what was going on down in the South with those black kids taking an awful beating every day as he saw on television every freaking night. And right next store in Adamsville where some kids, admittedly some intellectual goof kids, were picketing Woolworth’s every Saturday to let black people, not in Adamsville because there were no blacks in Adamsville, or Clintondale for that matter, but down in Georgia, eat a cheese sandwich in peace at a lunch counter and he thought he should do something about that too, except those intellectual goofs might goof on him.

And big, big issues like whether we were going to live out our lives as anything but mutants on this planet what with the Russian threatening us everywhere with big bombs, and big communist one-size-fits- all ideas. Worst, though were the dizzying thoughts of his place in the sun and how big it would be. Worst, right now worst though was to finish this third morning cigarette and tell his girl, his third new girl in two months, Julie James, that he needed some time this weekend to just go off by himself, “the meadows” maybe, and think about the stuff he had on his mind.
Scene: Clintondale Meadows, late September 1962. The features of the place already described above, including its underutilization. Enter Johnny Prescott from the north, plaid shirt, brow loafers, no pennies on this pair, black un-cuffed chinos, and against the winds of late September this year his Clintondale High white and blue sports jacket won for his athletic prowess in sophomore year. Theodore White’s The Making Of A President-1960 in hand. Enter from the south Peggy Kelly radiant in her cashmere sweater, her just so full skirt, and her black patent leather shoes with her additional against the chill winds red and black North Clintondale varsity club supporter sweater. James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain in hand. Johnny spied Peggy first, makes an initial approach as he did to most every girl every chance he got, but notices, notices at a time when such things were important in Clintondale teen high school live the telltale red and black sweater, and immediately backs off. Peggy noticing Johnny’s reaction puts her head down. A chance encounter goes for not.
That is not the end of the story though. Johnny and Peggy will “meet” again, by chance, in the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City in 1964 as they, along with other recent high school graduates, “head south.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

***"Red" Writer's Corner- Howard Fast -The Way They Were- An American Communist Party Cadre's Story Of The 1950s Red Scare

Click on title to link to the "Guardian" (U.K.) literary/political obituary of writer Howard Fast by Eric Homberger.



I have always been intrigued by the American Communist Party’s ability up until the period of the “red scare” of the late 1940’s and the 1950’s to draw to itself and recruit a relatively large number of free-lance intellectuals and cultural workers. Whether the party could keep them once recruited and how effective they were are separate questions. Nevertheless, if one draws up a Who’s Who of those members of the American intelligentsia who passed through the party’s orbit during the first half of the 20th century one would find numbers far greater than would be indicated by the party’s actual influence in American politics. The novelist Howard Fast in his memoir of his decade long membership in the American Communist Party is highly representative of that trend. Or, at least of the those in that trend who could rationally explain their experience in the Party without either foaming at the mouth or running to the nearest government law enforcement agency.

The tale Mr. Fast has to tell about his trek to the party is informative and, except for the utterly extreme poverty of his childhood and the early loss of his mother, not atypical of the urban children of immigrants in general and New York Jewish youth in particular who came of age between World War I and II and joined the party. The key events that drove many into the party’s orbit were the Depression, the rise of Nazism in Europe and the hope that Soviet Union could provide a model for a socialist future. Those events also drove many youth into the Social Democratic and Trotskyist movements during this period as well.

What is interesting to me about Mr. Fast’s story is that he joined the party at the tail end of the Communist Party’s Popular Front period (excepts a short hiatus for the support of Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939-41, oops). That period was exemplified by Party Chairman Earl Browder’s declaration that “Communism is 20th century Americanism” and Mr. Fast and those recruited during the period really believed that this was the road to socialism. In short, the belief that some form of parliamentary road to socialism was possible. Unfortunately for them, Browder and those recruits including Mr. Fast got caught between the hammer of the American ruling class’s Cold War strategy and the Soviet’s “left” turn to seeming anti-capitalist militancy in the immediate post-World War II period that for a long time effectively ended the harmonious relationships provided during the Popular Front period.

Mr. Fast is somewhat exceptional in that rather than quietly leaving the party, selling out to the government or selling out his friends to the government as many did during the “red scare” he dug in his heels, stuck it out and did his duty. That is to his credit. The curious thing about this honorable position is that from what this reviewer was able to read between the lines of his book Mr. Fast seems instinctively much closer to a Social Democratic or pacifist view of the world than a Communist view of the world during this period. But such are the vagaries of the human personality.

As Mr. Fast unfolds his story he has many reminiscences to relate concerning the background to events such as the confusion in the party during the last part of World War II about the nature of the post-war period, the “red scare” as seen down at the local level by those who lacked adequate resources to defend themselves, the ominous beginnings of the Cold War, the start of the Korean War, and the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as "atomic spies". Some of the information presented here I knew previously but much is new and interesting. One should be glad that an old ex-Stalinist decided to write about his experiences. Maybe future generations can learn from those mistakes made by the American Stalinists but at the same time also take courage from the courage of such political opponents as Mr. Fast who stood up to government repression while others, too many others, ducked. Read on.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today the Bill of Rights is 220 years old - and faces a Congressional DEATH SENTENCE-Down With National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)!

Markin comment:

Many times I place items in this space that I do not agree with, or fully agree with. This is a case in point. The inclusion of the Bill Of Rights to the American Consitution is an important event in humankind's progress. No question. No question either that the founding fathers "forgot" to put them in the original document (1789, so note the difference in anniversary dates) and were put in as a result of tremendous plebeian pressure. Today this National Defense Authorization Defense Act (NDAA) threatens us all, and I mean all. That part is not in question by me. What is in question is whether a little phone call to President Obama is in order. Mass protest, building mass protest, and fighting this thing tooth and nail as we will have to do in the end seems more appropriate. But I will not haggle today. Let's just fight this thing.
Today the Biff of Rights is 220 years old - and faces a Congressional

Today, Congress is expected to pass the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)of 2012. It makes the whole world a battlefield, possibly forever. It authorizes the military detention of civilians anywhere in the world, including American citizens here at home, who could be held indefinitely as 'suspects' without charges or trial. The NDAA would gut the Bill of Rights, which guarantees due process and access to the courts.

December 15 is Bill of Rights Day - make it the day you stand up for our fundamental freedoms!

Call the White House at 202 456 III.
Urge President Obama to protect the Bill of Rights and VETO
the NDAA!
Co-sponsored by: ACLU of Massachusetts,American Friends Service Committee - New England, Amnesty International, Boston United National Antiwar Coali¬tion, Come Home Amercia - Boston chapter, Community Change, ISBCC/Muslim American Society- Boston Chapter, Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, Massachusetts Peace Action, National Lawyers Guild - Massachusetts chapter, the National Police Accountability Project, Occupy Boston Action for Peace Working Group, United for Justice with Peace

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Out In The 1950s Crime Noir Night- If Your Mommie Is A Commie, Turn Her In- “Pick Up On South Street- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the crime noir ,  Pick Up On South Street

DVD Review

Pick Up South Street, starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Richard Kiley, 20th Century-Fox, 1953

I have previously in this space seemingly beaten to death the idea that not all crime noirs are created equal. Here I am again giving a thumbs down to this one based on that elusive standard. And here‘s why. While most of crime noirs , those that have good or bad femme fatales to muddy up the waters or not, have crime, the solving of crime, and the message that crime does not pay built into their plot lines. The film under review here, Pick Up On South Street, however tries to combine crime with a political message, a 1950s Cold War “red scare” political message-don’t mess with the reds or you’ll be dead. Courtesy of one J. Edgar Hoover, and about a million other unnamed, unmourned anti-communists. Moreover, given the year of the film, 1953, it seems to have been specially created to kick dirt on the names of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were being executed for their efforts on behalf of the Soviet Union. But argument over that possible link is for another time.

Here’s the plot line to give you an idea of how the two themes mesh (or don’t mesh) in this film. A woman, Candy (played by Jean Peters), while riding a New York subway has her wallet pick-pocketed by one low-life grafter, Skip (played by Richard Widmark). Not big deal in New York City, except that the wallet contained, unknown to Ms. Candy, secret microfilmed documents headed overseas (to Uncle Joe, okay ) through (nefarious, of course) agents working here. Skip is not privy to what he has unleashed until Candy is ordered by one of the agents, someone who has “befriended” her, Joey (played by Richard Kiley), to get the damn thing back. Hence she finally winds up on South Street where in a run-down fishing shack Widmark hangs his hat. Through guile, sexual advance, and anything else she can think of she tries to get the microfilm taking more than her fair share of beatings in the process. No dice, for a while. Of course to tie the red scare theme together agents, and you know what agents, are on the case looking out for the national interest. So the "win" is in the bag.Overall pretty thin gruel, right?

Right, except for Richard Widmark’s self-dramatizing flare as Skip, and his duplicity. See once Skip does become privy to what he has he is ready to sell to the highest bidder, and it takes hell and high water, including some cooing by Ms.Peters to get him on the right side of the angels. And this is where the whole thing falls down a little. No self-respecting criminal (or certified lumpenproletarian to use Marx’s term) is really going to go through hoops out of some patriotic fervor when he has gold right in front of him. Widmark and the cooing been-around-the-block Ms.Peters going off the deep-end for some patriotic reasons just stretches the imagination a little too far. But then you have to reach back to the old stand-by rationale of crime noir-crime, crime crime, or political crime, doesn’t pay to learn the lesson put forth here. Got it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rick’s Flying Saucer Rock Moment- The Rock ‘n’ Rock Era; Weird, Wild & Wacky

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of the Royal Teens performing their classic, Short, Shorts.

CD Review

The Rock ‘n’Roll Era: Weird, Wild & Wacky, various artists, Time-Life Music, 1991

He was glad, glad as hell that angel thing, that guardian angel thing, was over and done with. You know that Sunday school thing they beat you over head with about how your guardian angel was there to keep you on the straight and narrow, or else. Yes, Rick Roberts certainly was glad that was over although now that he thought about it it just kind of passed out of sight as he got older and other things filled his mind. Things like his June ("June Bug" was his pet name for her but he had better not hear you call her that, especially one Freddie Jackson, or else). Yes, Rick was now large, strong enough, and smart enough strong, not to have to worry about some needlepoint guardian angel looking out for him. Although truth to tell he was worried, a little anyway, about this Cold War Russian bear thing coming over here to take his brain away, or maybe put the big heat on him, the A-bomb heat and creating alien things from outer space to haunt his dreams. But only a little.

What was exercising Rick these days was his June (you know her pet name but don’t say it, please) and causing him no end of sleepless nights was that thing about Freddie Jackson, June’s old flame. At least according to his sister, Celia, a reliable source of North Adamsville High gossip, and not afraid to spread it when it pleased her, was that Freddie was taking his peeks at June, and she was peeking back. So, lately, in order to pass those sleepless nights Rick had begun to sit up in his bedroom at night with his transistor radio on, the one that he had forced his parents to buy him, batteries included, for last Christmas, rather than the practical ties they had intended to foist on him. And what Rick listened as the hour turned to midnight was The Crazy Lazy Midnight Madness Show on WMEX, the local be-bop, no stop, all rock radio station the that got the sleepless, the half-awake, the lame and the lazy through the 1950s Cold War night, and into the dawn.

Now this Crazy Lazy Show fare was strictly for night owls, stuff that would not appeal to daytime rockers, you know, those listening to guys like Elvis, Carl, Bo, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee, or just stuff that appealed to Lazy’s off-center, off-beat funny bone. One night, one really restless night, as Rick was revving up the transistor around midnight
he heard Buchanan and Goodman’s silly The Flying Saucer, parts one and two back to back no less, so you see Crazy was serious about presenting goofy stuff. That was followed by Sheb Wooley’s devouring the Purple People Eater, and then, for a change of pace The Royal Teens be-bop Short, Shorts and that got his to thinking about how good June looked in them, and then back to zaniness when Bobby Picketts flattened Monster Mash and, as he got a little drowsy, The Detergents waved over Leader of the Laundromat.

That last one got to him, got to him good, because, believe it or not the song had sentimental value to him. See he met June at the North Adamsville All-Wash Laundromat one day. His mother’s washing machine had broken down and she needed to bring the Roberts laundry to the All-Wash and Rick drove her over. During that time June had passed by, he had said hi, they had talked and then more seriously talked, and that was that. Freddie Jackson was after that dust, a memory, nothing to June.

All this thinking really got Rick tired this night and as the last chords of Laundromat echoed in his head he fell into a deep sleep. Around four o’clock in the morning though he was awoken with a start, with the high pitched whining sound coming from some where outside his window. Next thing he knew a huge disc-like object was hovering over most of Adamsville, and stayed there for maybe a minute before departing just as quickly as it appeared. Rick took this for a sign, a sign that he and June would hang together. And a sign that Freddie Jackson probably should have taken a trip on that flying saucer while he could, or else.