Saturday, January 25, 2020

At The Dawn Of The Modern Age-William Manchester’s “A World Lit Only By Fire”-A Book Review

At The Dawn Of The Modern Age-William Manchester’s “A World Lit Only By Fire”-A Book Review 

Book Review

By Leslie Dumont

A World Lit Only By Fire, William Manchester, 

When I was in elementary school, fifth grade I think, we studied the Middle Ages, what then was called the Dark Ages. I was thinking about that phrase when I was called upon by Greg Green to review a book about that time, the time when not much seemed to be happening in the world, the Western European world anyway, and the time immediately after the break-through times of the Renaissance in William Manchester’s general history of the period A World Lit Only By Fire. Thinking how historical charactizations give way to later interpretations although after reading this book I still believe what were called the Dark Ages, an age dominated by feudal relations on the land and more importantly the champ-down of the Catholic Church which truly was universal, Western European universal, a major landowner in its own right, and which kept tight reins on this overall static society.      

The biggest idea that I took away from this reading was how very different those societies were organized and what must have animated the minds of even the best of them. Writers like Dante whose Divine Comedy is a major literary masterpiece of the time must have such a different set of assumptions about the world than ours that it is hard to see how we can relate to the times and his thoughts except as benchmarks toward the “progress” of history going forward. A world where the vast bulk of the population lived “short, nasty brutish lives” as the old time philosopher Hobbes would comment later, lived in the village or town and did not venture further. A world where darkness was a time of fear and disquiet. A world at the top levels of society, the levels we know about since they left written records in Latin and in the vernacular against the fates of the unlettered and illiterate where intrigue, sabotage, murder and mayhem were the order of the day just like today but without the public relations flaks to filter out the real deal and the fluff.

The most interesting part of the book deals with that point around 1400 give or take a few decades when things started to burst through the logjam of the old world order. Of course the Renaissance which we know mainly through the incredible artistic revival of the times, above all Leonardo, and the literature too also included some very sharp political controversies between the secular and religious authorities, essentially the beginning of the end of the massive Catholic Church centered in Rome and led by a long succession of Popes, Anti-Popes, Co-Popes and the like. Machiavelli a big name from the time had it down pretty well about where things were headed and how princes could get there. Although the bulk of the art was still drawing from the Old Testament tales of and seemingly endless number of painting concerning the death of Jesus Christ a small nudge toward more secular themes was growing which would flower when the Dutch and Flemish ruled the trade routes.

Probably with the liberating efforts, the new thinking, the new emphasis on the vernacular, the opening up of the world of ideas after the dead end of Scholasticism took a tumble the Renaissance influence led to the big controversy of the times between a corrupt Catholic Church and the zeal for reform led by Martin Luther in the early 1500s. There had been scattered reformers and reform movements before that time but they mainly had been finished off at the stake. There was a new breeze blowing not against religion but against the old religious practices, that breeze including plenty of wars to see who would win the hearts of the peoples. A very important time and Manchester spent a good deal of time highlighting Luther’s efforts.     

Of course this is also a time when at least a small segment of society was ready to break out of Europe, explore the world and this really was breakthrough in the age of discovery. I am not sure I agree with Manchester’s spending so much time on Magellan as the epitome of the spirit of the times but no question this period of trade, commerce, new inventions and such is that edge of the modern world whose ideas and trends have still not been fully played out even today.

A good read with plenty of gossipy stuff about people like the Borgias, the corrupt Popes and their progeny, and the place of the extraordinary artists from these times. From Botticelli’s Venus to all the good works Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo. (Although perhaps reflecting the times he wrote the book in nothing about the possible homosexuality of guys like Leonardo and Michelangelo so how things have changed in the last few decades on that score.)           

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Billie’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame-With Bill Haley And The Comet’s Rock Around The Clock In Mind

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Billie’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame-With Bill Haley And The Comet’s Rock Around The Clock In Mind

Rock Around The Clock
recorded by Bill Haley
written by Jimmy DeKnight and Max Freedman 

One two three o'clock four o'clock rock

Five six seven o'clock eight o'clock rock

Nine ten eleven o'clock twelve o'clock rock
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight

Put your glad rags on and join me hon
We'll have fun when the clock strikes one
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock rock rock 'til broad daylight
            D7                               G
We're gonna rock gonna rock around the clock tonight

When the clock strikes two three and four
If the band slows down we'll yell for more
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock rock rock 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock gonna rock around the clock tonight

When the chimes ring five six and seven
We'll be right in seventh heaven
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock rock rock 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock gonna rock around the clock tonight

When it's eight nine ten eleven too
I'll be going strong and so will you
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock rock rock 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock gonna rock around the clock tonight

When the clock strikes twelve we'll cool off then
Start a rocking round the clock again
We're gonna rock around the clock tonight
We're gonna rock rock rock 'til broad daylight
We're gonna rock gonna rock around the clock tonight

I, seemingly, had endlessly gone back to my early musical roots in reviewing a commercially- produced classic rock series over the past few years. And while time and ear have eroded the sparkle of some of the lesser tunes it still seems obvious that those years, say 1955-58, really did form the musical jail break-out for my generation, the generation of ’68, who had just started to tune into music.

And we, we small time punk in the old-fashioned sense of that word, we hardly wet behind the ears elementary school kids, and that is all we were for those who are now claiming otherwise, listened our ears off. Those were strange times indeed in that be-bop 1950s night when stuff happened, kids’ stuff, but still stuff like a friend of mine, not Billie who I will talk about later, who claimed, with a straight face to the girls, that he was Elvis’ long lost son. Did the girls do the math on that one? Or, maybe, they like us more brazen boys were hoping, hoping and praying, that it was true despite the numbers, so they too could be washed by that flamed-out night.

Well, this I know, boy and girl alike tuned in on our transistor radios (small battery- operated radios that we could put in our pockets, and hide from snooping parental ears at will) to listen to music that from about day one, at least in my household was not considered “refined” enough for young, young pious you’ll never get to heaven listening to that devil music and you had better say about eight zillion Hail Marys to get right Catholic, ears. Yeah right, Ma, like Patti Page or Bob Crosby and The Bobcats (not Bing, not the Bing of Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? anyway) were supposed to satisfy our jail break cravings.

In many ways 1956 was the key year, at least to my recollection. And here is why. Elvis may have been burning up the stages, making all the teenage girls down South sweat, making slightly older women sweat and throw undergarments too, and every guy over about eight years old start growing sideburns before then but that was the year that I actually saw him on television and started be-bopping off his records. Whoa. And the same with Bill Haley and the Comets, even though in the rock pantheon they were old, almost has-been guys, by then. And Chuck Berry. And for the purposes of this particular flash back, James Brown, ah, sweet, please, please, please James Brown (and the Flames, of course) with that different black, black as the night, beat that my mother (and others too) would not even let in the house, and maybe not even in our whole white working- class neighborhood. But remember that transistor radio and remember when rock rocked.

Of course all of this remembrance is just so much lead up to a Billie story. You know Billie, Billie from “the projects” hills. William James Bradley to be exact. I told you about him once when I was reviewing a 30th anniversary of rock film concert segment by Bo Diddley. I told the story of how he, and we, learned first-hand down at the base, the nasty face of white racism in this society. No even music, and maybe particularly not even music, was exempted then from that dead of night racial divide, North or South if you really want to know. Yes, that Billie, who also happened to be my best friend, or maybe almost best friend we never did get it straight, in elementary school. Billie was crazy for the music, crazy to impress the tender young girls that he was very aware of, much more aware of than I was and earlier, with his knowledge, his love, and his respect for the music (which is where the innocent Bo Diddley imitation thing just mentioned came from although that story was later than the story I want to tell you now).

But see we were “projects kids,” and that meant, and meant seriously, no dough kids. No dough to make one look, a little anyway, like one of the hot male teen rock stars such as Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis. Now this “projects” idea started out okay, I guess, the idea being that returning veterans from World War II, at least some vets like my father, needed a leg up in order to provide for their families. And low-rent public housing was the answer. Even if that answer was four-family unit apartment buildings really fit for one family, one growing three boy family anyway, and no space, no space at all for private, quiet dreams. Of course by 1955, ‘56 during the “golden age” of working- class getting ahead (or at least to many it must seem so now) there was a certain separation between those who had moved on to the great suburban ranch house dream land and those who were seemingly fated to end up as “the projects” fixtures, and who developed along the way a very identifiable projects ethos, a dog-eat-dog ethos if you want to know the truth. It ain’t pretty down at the base, down at the place where the thugs, drifters, grifters, and midnight sifters feed off the rough-edged working poor.

That didn’t stop Billie, or me for that matter, from having our like everybody else dreams, quiet spaced or not. In fact, Billie had during his long time there probably developed the finest honed-edge of “projects” ethos of anyone I knew, but that came later. For now, for the rock minute I want to speak of, Billie was distractedly, no beyond distraction as you will see, trying to make his big break through as a rock performer. See Billie knew, probably knew in his soul, but anyway from some fan magazine that he was forever reading that old Elvis and Jerry Lee (and many of the rockers of the day, black and white alike) were dirt poor just like us. Rough dirt poor too. Farm land, country, rural, shack, white trash, dirt poor which we with our “high style” city ways could barely comprehend.

And there was Elvis, for one, up in big lights. With all the cars, and not junkie old fin-tailed Plymouths or chromed Fords but Cadillacs, and half the girls in the world, and all of them “hot” (although we did not use that word then), or so it seemed. Billie was hooked and hooked hard on that rock star performer fantasy. It consumed his young passions. And for what purpose? If you answered to impress the girls, “the projects” girls right in front of him, hey, now you are starting to get it. And this is what this little story is about.

This was late 1956, maybe early 1957, anyway it’s winter, a cold hard winter in the projects, meaning all extra dough was needed for heat, or some serious stuff like that. But see here old Billie and I (as his assistant, or manager, it was never clear which but I was to be riding his star, no question) had no time for cold, for snow or for the no dough to get those things because what was inflaming our minds was that a teen caravan was coming to town in a few weeks. No, not to the projects, Christ no, but downtown at the high school auditorium. And what this teen caravan thing was (even though we were not officially teens and would not be so for a while) was a talent show, a big time talent show, like a junior American Bandstand television show, looking for guys and girls who could be the next teen heartthrobs. There were a lot of them in those days, those kinds of backwater talent shows and maybe now too.

This news is where two Billie things came into play so you get an idea of the kind of guy he was back then. First, one night, one dark, snowy night Billie had the bright idea than he and I should go around town and take down all the teen caravan announcement advertisements from the telephone poles and other spots where they were posted. We did, and I need say no more on the matter. Oh, except that a couple of days later, and for a week or so after that, there was a big full-page ad in the local newspaper and ads on the local radio. That’s one Billie thing and the other, well, let me back up.
When Billie got wind of the contest he went into one of his rants, a don’t mess with Billie or his idea of the moment rant and usually it was better if you didn’t, and that rant was directed first to no one else but his mother. He needed dough to get an outfit worthy of a “prince of rock” so that he could stand out for the judges. Moreover the song he was going to do was Bill Haley and The Comet’s Rock Around The Clock. I will say he knew that song cold, and the way I could tell was that at school one day he sang it and the girls went crazy. And some of the guys too. Hell, girls started following old Billie around. He was in heaven (honest, I on the other hand, was indifferent to them, or their charms just then). So the thought that he might win the contest was driving him mad (that same energy would be used later with less purpose but that story is for another day)

Hell, denim jeans, sneakers, and some old hand-down ragamuffin shirt from an older brother ain’t going to get anyone noticed, except maybe to be laughed at. Now, like I said, we were no dough projects boys. And in 1956 that meant serious problems, serious problems even without a damn cold winter. See, like I said before the projects were for those who were on the down escalator in the golden age of post-World War II affluence. In short, as much as he begged, bothered and bewildered his mother there was no dough, no dough at all for the kind of sparkly suit (or at least jacket) that Billie was desperate for. Hell, he even badgered his dad, old Billie, Senior, and if you badgered old Billie then you had better be ready for some hard knocks and learn how to pick yourself up off the ground, sometimes more than once. Except this time, this time something hit Old Billie, something more than that bottle of booze or six, hard stinky-smelling booze, that he used to keep his courage and television-watching up. He told Mrs. Billie (real name, Iris) that he would spring for the cloth if she would make the suit. Whoopee! We are saved and even Billie, my Billie, had a kind word for his father on this one.

I won’t bore you with the details of Mrs. Billie’s (there you have me calling her that, I always called her Mrs. Bradley, or ma’am) efforts on behalf of Billie’s career. Of course the material for the suit came from the Bargain Center located downtown near the bus terminal. You don’t know the Bargain Center? Sure you do, except it had a different name where you lived maybe and it has names like Wal-Mart and K-Mart, etc. now. Haven’t you been paying attention? Where do you think the material came from? Brooks Brothers? Please. Now this Bargain Center was the early low- rent place where I, and about half the project kids got their first day of school and Easter outfits (the mandatory twice yearly periods for new outfits in those days). You know the white shirts with odd-colored pin-stripes, a size or two too large, the black chinos with cuffs, christ with cuffs like some hayseed, and other items that nobody wanted someplace else and got a second life at the “Bargie.” At least you didn’t have to worry about hand-me-downs because most of the time the stuff didn’t wear that long.

I will say that Mrs. B. did pretty good with what she had to work with and that when the coat was ready it looked good, even if it was done only an hour before the show. Christ, Billie almost flipped me out with his ranting that day. And I had seen some bad scenes before. In any case it was ready. Billie went to change clothes upstairs and when he came down everybody, even me, hell, even Old Billie was ooh-ing and ah-ing. Now Billie, to be truthful, didn’t look anything like Bill Haley. I think he actually looked more like Jerry Lee. Kind of thin and wiry, lanky maybe, with brown hair and blue eyes and a pretty good chin and face. I would say now a face that girls would go for; although I am not sure they would all swoon over him, except maybe the giggly ones.

So off we go on the never on time bus, a bus worthy of its own stories, to downtown and the auditorium, even my mother and father who thought Billie was the cat’s meow when I brought him around. Billie’s father, Old Billie of the small dreams, took a pass on going. He had a Friday night boxing match that he couldn’t miss and the couch beckoned (an argument could be made that Old Billie was a man before his time in the couch potato department). However all is forgiven him this night for his big idea, and his savior dough. We got to the school auditorium okay and Billie left us for stardom as we got in our rooting section seats. A few minutes later Billie ran up to us to tell us that he was fifth on the list so don’t go anywhere, like out for a cigarette or something.

We sat through the first four acts, a couple of guys doing Elvis stuff (so-so) and a couple of girls (or rather trios of girls) who did some serious be-bop stuff and had great harmonies. Billie, I sensed, was going to have his work cut out for him this night. Finally Billie came out, prompted the four-piece backup band to his song, and he started for the mike. He started out pretty good, in good voice and a couple of nice juke moves, but then about half way through; as he was wiggling and swiggling through his Rock Around The Clock all of a sudden one of the arms of his jacket fell off and landed in the front row. Billie didn’t miss a beat. This guy was a showman. Then the other jacket arm fell off and also went into the first row. Except this time a couple of swoony girls, girls from our school were tussling, seriously tussling, each other for it. See, they thought it was part of Billie’s act. And what they didn’t know as Billie finished up was that Mrs. Billie (I will be kind to her and not call her what Billie called her) in her rush to finish up didn’t sew the arms onto the body of the jacket securely so they were just held together by some temporary stitches.

Well, needless to say Billie didn’t win (one of those girl trios did, and rightly so, although I didn’t tell Billie that). But next day, and many next days after that, Billie had more girls hanging off his arms than he could shake a stick at. And you know maybe Billie was on to something after all because I started to notice those used-to-been scrawny, spindly-legged, pigeon-toed giggling girls, their new found bumps and curves, and their previously unremarkable winsome girlish charms, especially when Billie would give me his “castoffs.” So his losing was for the best. My “for the best.”

The Other Thin Man-Ginger Rogers And William Powell’s “Star Of Midnight” (1935)-A Film Review

The Other Thin Man-Ginger Rogers And William Powell’s “Star Of Midnight” (1935)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

[Although Sam is formally retired he has expressed a desire to help out when we have several films to review and not enough hands to do the tasks. He has graciously taken time away from his hot pursuit of why one very famous California ex-public cop turned private eye named Lew Archer, yes, that Lew Archer who solved the very important Galton, Turner and Hallman cases, that last one a real twister where the wife turned out to be the serial murderer never made the P.I. Hall of Fame despite a very promising start. He is following so far successfully the trail of sexual impotence as a key factor. That sex business, flirting with danger by messing with some hot maybe not so innocent femme on the way to closing down the case at least for old time P.I.s part of the package if you wanted to move up the food chain. Good luck. Since Sam is very familiar with PIs in general and with The Thin Man series in particular which as here had starred William Powell as the suave Nick Charles (and Myrna Loy as Nora) who did have the qualities to make the Hall he was the natural choice to cover this film. Thanks, Sam-Greg Green]

Star of Midnight, starring Ginger Rogers, William Powell, 1935 

One of the problems a few actors have had is to be type-cast into a certain cinematic persona. That was generally the case with William Powell, the male lead in the film under review, Star of Midnight where he plays a smart, sophisticated urban (New York City of course) man about town very similar to the role that he played in The Thin Man the year before this film was released (and would go on to star with Myrna Loy in six sequels, ouch) except here he is a high-priced lawyer, Dal, and not an ex-cop private dick Nick Charles. 

The play is the same though although the romantic interest is Donna a young smitten, smitten by Dal, played by Ginger Rogers who is not his boon companion as Myra Loy as Nora Charles was. Here a friend of Dal’s is looking for him to find his missing paramour who blew Chic town (okay, Chicago) a year before without leaving a forwarding address. (Forget it buddy, rule number one is when they don’t leave a forwarding address that means they don’t want to be found, move on, and that isn’t even high-priced legal advice.)  The plot thickens when the three of them attend a play and nobody but a masked girlfriend is on the stage. The guy yells out Alice. Bad move though since she is on the lam from somebody trying to silence her after she witnessed a murder in, ah, Chicago. Somebody has reason to silence her to cover up his own dastardly deeds so he let out that he was looking for Alice too. Don’t worry even though Dal was accused of killing a source killed in his own apartment he was left by the coppers to figure the whole thing out. And you know just like Nick (and Nora) he does. By the way Dal won’t be lonesome anymore. Donna snagged him. The killer: well grab the film and check it out. It could have been one of several people as usual.      

The Old Man’s Old Sea- In Honor Of Our Homeland, The Ocean-With Phil Phillips’ Sea of Love In Mind And One Million Sea-etched Thoughts From Misty Memory

The Old Man’s Old Sea- In Honor Of Our Homeland, The Ocean-With Phil Phillips’ Sea of Love In Mind And One Million Sea-etched Thoughts From Misty Memory  

By Sam Lowell

This is the third installment (the first dated January 13, 2018, the second dated January 19, 2018) set as an introduction to the history of the American Left History blog. Initially I believed that this would be a several part series and now it looks like with this third section about the ups and downs of the on-line version of ALH over the past fifteen years and a concluding section on the fierce internal struggle that brought the original leader of all of this material down, brought in a new regime with my help and whatever direction the new leadership is heading it will now be four parts. I am, as pointed out before one of the few people, more importantly one of the few writers who has taken part in almost all of the key junctures in this forty something year history  including the latest flare-up which has brought about a new regime, again partially with my help, so I am well-placed to tell the tale. As part of the “truce” arranged with current site manager Greg Green I will tell the story and will elicit comments from a couple of other Editorial Board members. The first installment dealt with the genesis of this blog with predecessors going back to the late 1960s when a number of the older writers still standing came on board, many through long friendships with the previous site manager going back to high school days, including myself. The second dealt with the dog days of the hard copy version of this blog and the greying of its staff. Today I will deal with the transfer to the on-line version and some preliminary observations about how the just completed internal struggle came to such a fiery conclusion and explain how I became a member of the opposition.          

Maybe it is best to go back a little, go back to what we who started back with the predecessor to this publication Progressive Nation, a publication which has veered very sharply toward the Democratic Party since we sold it many years ago and which is now heading on-line as well for many of the same reasons we took ALH in that direction, were trying to achieve with our work. Almost all of us initially had come out of some aspect of the radical politics of the 1960s either through having gone through the military during the Vietnam War period or having been deeply affected enough by it to go round the radical bend. Moreover the core, almost totally male, although we had many women stringers who would eventually goes elsewhere when the women’s liberation movement seemed better suited to their talents and politics. While we males formally accepted a lot of the tenets of that movement in the day to day reality this was a “guy” place, still is, although with the addition of Leslie Dumont, who was around for part of the old days, and the expected arrival of more women writers, including my long-time companion Laura Perkins on a more steady basis, hopefully that will change.
See we had come from “from hunger” backgrounds like the few guys whom Allan Jackson and I had grown up with who came over to the left with us (not all the old neighborhood guys did, not many really). So many of us toyed with, no, more than toyed with Karl Marx’s idea of the working class taking power and making the world a better place for poor folk like the stories of most of us growing up, That infatuation too drifted away a bit although there is still a very working class-oriented atmosphere here even when most of us through cunning or guile left our working class origins behind.         

But back then we were gung-ho to change the world and thought it would happen until the mid-1970s at the latest told us that the tide had ebbed, that we had once again been thwarted in our efforts, as the late Peter Paul Markin used to say before the drugs got the better of him “turn the world upside down.” But we still had a “holy remnant” idea even though most of us had moved away from day to day radical politics and while not necessarily going whole hog back to bourgeois society started families (that plural meaning not only one family but the first of several in most cases including my own three failed marriages and parcel of kids, mostly good kids). What we had become aware of during that whole radical- Marxist-ebb tide movement was that we were woefully ignorant of the subtext of history in America and worldwide. The stuff we had to painfully pick up from places like the late Boston University professor Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and reading Phillip and Eric Foner’s books on slavery, 19th radicalism, and the intense labor struggles of those days. Our idea then, and still is although we had gotten away from it a bit of late to my regret, was to provide a space to look at a lot of the history, politics, culture through the prism of our own experiences. To do some educational good waiting for the next time that people rise up to “turn the world upside down.” That was our idea anyway and everybody still around today including the exiled Allan Jackson will formally agree that those ideas are still good currency.        

Except, a big except, two interconnected things happened, or one didn’t happen. First the push to turn the world upside down, or the American part, has not surfaced as yet after a forty plus year hiatus and secondly the original core got old, got old and in a few cases passed to the shades or fell off the wagon. Got old and maybe as aging people do start to dwell on the halcyon days of their youth and deny the current reality a bit. I don’t if there is a strong physiological explanation for some of that but it certainly when looking at the archives of ALH became apparent to me a couple of years ago that were trending water over the 1960s hump. Neglecting not only post-1960s events of historical and social importance but falling down on our educational task of being a source for long ago important milestone events, movements, intellectual currents.

I should step back a shade here and point out that it was not a straight line withdrawal but the trend was there. We all got caught up in the promise when a goodly portion of the world, especially the youth came storming out of the gates before the Iraq War of 2003 which is still with us today one way or another and started protesting like we hadn’t seen since our youths. But that proved ephemeral, proved to be a blip. When we realized that was the case maybe in 2006, 2007 a certain dark atmosphere began to descend and really kick-started the rush back to 1960s memories, Including Allan who in his own way encouraged that perspective.       

The hard fact was that as we collectively turned sixty-ish we started losing writers to the grim reaper, writers like Ricky Rizzo, Dean Morrison, Lenny Long, and a bunch of stringers who had been a little older than us and had a perspective from the 1950s, especially on the classic age of rock and roll which we of the 1960s generation grew up on at the edges. Lost a few more to tiredness and retirement. All understandable but also death to what we were trying to accomplish in that silver-aged youth. It wasn’t that we had retired from the political struggle. As I and others have written about, notably Ralph Morse, we took our political perspectives back to the streets, through vehicle of Veterans Peace Action which kept us hopping and still does. The problem again is that organization was at its core made up of Vietnam War era veterans and not the younger kids, young women and men, who fought the Iraq and Afghanistan war. Those kids dealt with whatever anti-war feeling they had in a different way-not on the streets like we were very familiar with, had down to a science. So the same problems crept up sliding back to the nostalgic 1960s .        

In about 2010, maybe early 2011 we had an important meeting of those still standing, almost all old white guys which more and more reflected what was being written about. Like I said, and Allan really does bear the brunt of criticism on this, we had been very poor on bringing women in as the case of Leslie Dumont brought out graphically when she and I were talking that issue out as part of this piece. She had been our Josh Breslin’s companion and was a hell of a writer, better than most of us who were untrained, and perhaps untrainable when it got right down to it. Josh begged Allan to bring Leslie on board but no he kept her as a stringer like he had many other women who came and went until she left and eventually got that coveted by-line at New York Today.

The same was true of Josie Davis and Laura Perkins and both of them had been Allan’s companions when they were stringers. (Although Laura and I had known each other for many years then it was not until much later that we became companions after she left to teach at a local college and then became an executive at a high tech company before retiring a few years ago.) Again both could, and did, write circles around us looking again at the old Progressive Nation archives. Here is the sad part beyond that trio I can’t think of any other female stringers who stayed long enough for me to remember.

If we were bad on the reality of women writers we were even worse on black writers, or as the term latter more inclusively gained currency writers of color. That despite Allan personally having been involved in the 1960s black civil rights movement down South (much to our growing up neighborhood displeasure at the time which we have both written about elsewhere). Allan, and I will admit that I had a little of the same perspective for a while, never really broke from the quasi-black nationalist idea that black writers should write for black audiences and white writers for white audiences. Meeting who knows when to beat down the beast. That issue came up again a couple of years ago when the Black Lives Matter movement took off and we had a chance to grab DeShaun Lewis and Allan nixed the idea (as did DeShaun’s literary agent). Other than that forlorn attempt the only two black writers of note in the long forty year history I am detailing were Preston Thomas and Harold Bonner. Both of them were from our days on the Captain Crunch bus when we were travelling up and down the California coast which I have also written about extensively elsewhere in this space.                   

Sorry to go off on a little tangent but those two examples are specific cases of the need to bring in new blood in. And we did, although not without a little resistance from Allan and a couple of the older writers who felt threatened by the idea of new blood coming in almost certainly with professional training and writing circles around them. I will discuss that more in the concluding section when I run through the internal struggle from last year, from 2017. That is how we got Zack James, our friend Alex’s youngest brother who recently did such a great job on editing our remembrances of Peter Paul Markin and the magical ride he took us on for a time in the 1960s. Of course Allan might have considered that catch as a double-edged sword since Zack was and is one of the “Young Turks” who rode Allan out of town on a rail. Same with Lance Lawrence, Brad Fox, Jr. and Lenny Griffin to name just the leaders. 

Alan brought these younger writers, by the way none of them as young as twenty-something Kenny Jacobs brought in by Greg Green, but younger than the hoary old mass we were until the new blood arrived, but didn’t really know what to do with them. Or did know what to do with them but that was not the way to go as I knew telling him for maybe the past two years when I saw what was brewing. First off to appease the older writers, including me, Allan out of nowhere, and contrary to every 1960s instinct we still possessed, gave all the older writers the title of “Senior” whatever department they were writing for like my title was Senior Film Critic although I wrote other stuff for other departments. Secondly and this would rear its head in the open last year finally he would assign the younger writers what would be called in the internal dispute “the leavings” of what the older writers didn’t want or worse have to do a rehash of the older writers’ subject from a younger perspective whether they knew or cared about the subject or not. He let the older writers write whatever they wanted without question even if it retreaded fifty million times 1960s stuff, maybe especially if it was that kind of piece. The younger writers from early on had to wage a “civil war” to get clearance for any independent project. The smell of rebellion was in the air although I was by no means on top of it from the beginning.

[I will put this as an aside since it reflects my personal fall a couple of years ago and I am still not sure how much it affected my “treason” of siding with the “Young Turks” when the deal went down, when it was time to vote up or down on Allan’s demise on this site. A couple of years ago I started seriously questioning Allan about the direction of the blog and of the uses he was putting the younger writers too which was making our perspective even narrower than in previous years. That is about the time he started making noises about my “retirement,” about how maybe we needed a new face, new faces, at the film critic desk. 

What I didn’t know was that he was in touch with his, our, old friend Sandy Salmon over at American Film Gazette who told Allan he was looking to finish his career out on less stressful note than the day after day film reviews.  (Greg Green who also had come over from the Gazette amazed us one night when he mentioned that publication had produced over 40, 000 reviews.) That led, not without a smidgen of relief, to my being “pushed up the ladder” in Allan’s famous around the water cooler words, to “film critic emeritus” and Sandy taking over the day to day operations. Allan also bringing in Alden Riley as an associate film critic since he planned an expansion of the number of films reviewed that was a condition that Sandy insisted on when coming over. Things were okay, I won’t say great, for a while but I noticed that I was first not getting many assignments and then was getting turned down for ideas that I had for pieces. So when I mentioned earlier that Allan knew he had been “purged.” I knew he had been purged since I know from whence I speak have been “purged” myself just like in the old day cutthroat politics we grew up on.]          

More later.
"Sea Of Love" was written by Philip Baptiste, George Khoury.
Do you remember when we met?
That's the day I knew you were my pet
I wanna tell you how much I love you

Come with me, my love, to the sea
The sea of love
I wanna tell you just how much I love you
Come with me to the sea of love

Do you remember when we met?
Oh, that's the day I knew you were my pet
I wanna tell you, oh, how much I love you

Come with me to the sea of love
Come with me, my love, to the sea
The sea of love
I wanna tell you just how much I love you
I wanna tell you, oh, how much I love you


It is dawn, or maybe just those few minutes before the dawn, those dark light minutes when the sun’s battle for the day is set. The waves splash, today not so innocently, today not so tepidly like the past several days when the she sea sounds did not mercifully drown out traffics, construction hammers, or beach tractor clean-ups but swirling out from some hidden sea swells beyond the horizon against the defenseless waiting sand, sand beaten down since time immemorial. Or as long as anyone has been watching that feat, that seemingly endless feat.

This beach, this northern clime beach, the far end of Saco, Maine beach, is this day filled with empty clam shells from some timeless previous sea swirlings waiting sandification (is that right?), abandoned and mislaid lobster traps (and one up in lobster country had better know the difference, know the livelihood difference between the two conditions , just in case some irate craggy boat captain, aged liked the seas, decides to reclaim one over your head), occasional oil slicks spilled from the trawlers (and hopefully only small working  residues and not some monster slick by some tiny horizon tanker heading to oil depot ports further up the coast), working trawlers nearby, the flotsam and jetsam streamed here of a thousand ships, cargoes, careless throwaways and conscious, very conscious dumpings, like the sea was just another land-fill wanting filling.

Today though I am ready, ready for the hundredth hundredth time to walk the walk, the ocean walk that has defined more parts of me than heaven will ever know. As I button up my yellow slicker against the April winds that come here more often than not, and can come out of the blue against the Bay of Fundy confusions, one minute eighty degrees the next thirty five, I see, see faintly in the distance, a figure, a fellow traveler taking his, her or its (don’t laugh I have seen horses, unridden horses, trotting these beaches, although no sea monsters), maybe also hundredth hundredth walking along the ocean sidewalk, and maybe, just maybe, for the same reason.

Today, hundredth, hundredth walk or not, I am in a remembering mood, a high dudgeon remembering mood that always gets triggered by proximity, fifty mile proximity if the truth be known, to the ocean. I have just finished up a piece of work that reminded me of seas, sea-sides, sea walks, sea rocks, ocean-side carnival amusement parks placed as if to mock the intrinsic interest that one would have in the sea, our homeland the sea, and I need to sort this out, also for that now familiar ten-thousandth time. But I best begin at the beginning, or try to, so I will be finished in that hour or so that it will take me to walk this walk, this rambling ocean walk, and I will pass that solitary walker coming the other way and be obliged under some law of the sea to break my train of thought and remark on the nature of the day, the nature of the ocean, and the joys of ocean-ness brought forth by old King Neptune to that passing stranger.

Ah, memory, jesus, just the names, Taffrail Road, Yardarm Lane, Captain's Walk, Quarterdeck Road, Sextant Circle, and the Snug Harbor Elementary School tell a story all on their own. Yes, those names, those seemingly misplaced, misbegotten names and places from the old housing project down in Adamsville, down in my old hometown, and where I came of age, sea-worthy age as well, surely evoke imagines of the sea, of long ago sailing ships, mast-strewn ships, and of desperate, high stakes battles fought off shrouded, mist-covered coasts by those hearty enough to seek fame and fortune. And agile enough to keep it. Almost from my first wobbly, halting baby steps down at “the projects” I have been physically drawn to the sea, a seductive, foam-flecked siren call that has never left me.

Needless to say, ever since I was a toddler my imagination, my sense of imagery, my sense of the nature of the world has been driven by the sea as well. Not so much of pirates and prizes, although those drove my youth a bit but of the power of nature, for good or evil. And on those long ago days, just like now, I dressed against the impending inclement weather with my mustard yellow rain slicker(French’s mustard color not Guiden’s, okay) complete with Gloucester fisherman’s rain floppy rain hat of the same color and rubber boots, black, knee-length boots that go squish, squish and have done so since before time immemorial.

Of course, anybody with any sense knows that anyone who had even a passing attachment to a place like Adamsville, tucked in a bay, an Atlantic bay, had to have an almost instinctual love of the sea; and, a fear of its furies when old Mother Nature turns her back on us. Yes, the endless sea, our homeland the sea, the mother we never knew, the sea... But, enough of those imaginings. If being determines consciousness, and if you love the ocean, then it does not hurt to have been brought up in Adamsville with its ready access to the bay and water on three sides. That said, the focal point for any experience with the ocean in Adamsville centered, naturally, around its longest stretch of beach, Adamsville Central Beach. Puny by Saco beach far-as-the-eye-can-see standards, and Saco puny by Carlsbad (California Carlsbad) farther-than-the-eye-can-see standards but a place to learn the ropes of how to deal with the sea, with its pitfalls, its mysteries, it lure, and its lore.

For many of us of a certain age brought forth by the sea, including this writer, one cannot discuss Adamsville Central Beach properly without reference to such spots such as Howard Johnson's famous landmark ice cream stand (now a woe-begotten clam shack of no repute). For those who are clueless as to what I speak of, or have only heard about it in mythological terms from older relatives, or worst, have written it off as just another ice cream joint you can only dream of such heavens although someone, not me, not me today as I remembrance with a broad stroke and have no time for pretty descriptions, for literary flourishes, should really do themselves proud and write the history, yah, the child’s view history of that establishment. And make the theme, make the theme if you will, the bond between New England love of ice cream and of the sea (yes, it is true, other parts of the country, other ocean parts of the country as well, are, well, nonplussed by the ice cream idea, and it shows in their product).
Know this for now though: many a hot, muggy, sultry, sweaty summer evening was spent in line impatiently, and perhaps, on occasion, beyond impatience, waiting for one of those 27 (or was it 28?) flavors to cool off with. In those days the prize went to cherry vanilla in a sugar cone (backup: frozen pudding). I will not bore the reader with superlative terms and “they don’t make them like they used to”, especially for those who only know “Ho Jo’s” from the later, pale imitation franchise days out on some forsaken turnpike highway, but at that moment I was in very heaven.
Nor can one forget those stumbling, fumbling, fierce childish efforts, bare-footed against all motherly caution against the dreaded jellyfish (or motherly cautions against everything, everything even the slightest bit harmful in this dangerous old world), pail and shovel in hand, to dig for seemingly non-existent clams down toward the South Adamsville end of the beach at the, in those days, just slightly oil-slicked, sulfuric low tide (the days before dinosaur lament fossils fuels exploded the oceans). Or the smell of charcoal-flavored hot dogs on those occasional family barbecues (when one in a series of old jalopies, Nash Ramblers come to mind and disappear, that my father drove worked well enough to get us there) at the then just recently constructed old Treasure Island (now named after some fallen Marine) that were some of the too few times when my family acted like a family. Or, more vivid, the memory of roasted, really burnt, sticky marshmallows sticking to the roof of my mouth (and maybe still ancient wound stuck there).

But those thoughts and smells are not the only ones that interest me today. No trip down memory lane would be complete without at least a passing reference to high school Adamsville Central Beach. The sea brings out many emotions: humankind's struggle against nature ( a fitful and uneven struggle at best as a few over the top wave crashes have demonstrated to keep us on our toes, and humble), some Zen notions of oneness with the universe (and if not Zen then Kali, Misha or some Zoroastrian flaming fire god mad monk), the calming effect of the thundering waves (rule: speak no louder than the angriest wave in its presence, children under twelve excepted), thoughts of mortality (endless seas bring that notion to the fore and not just ancient wounds and sorrows), and so on. But it also brings out the primordial longings for companionship. And no one longs for companionship more than teenagers. So the draw of the ocean is not just in its cosmic appeal but hormonal, as well. Mind you, however, we, you and I, just in case a stray naive child of about eight is around, are not discussing the nighttime Adamsville Beach, the time of "parking" and the "submarine races.” Our thoughts are now pure as the driven snow. We will confine ourselves to the day time beach.
Virtually from the day we got out of school for the summer vacation I headed for the beach. And not just any section of that beach but the section directly between the John Adams and John Quincy Adams Yacht Clubs (yes, it was that kind of city touting ancient wise men long gone and not missed, not missed after the obligatory sixth grade crypt visit in the Center, not missed, hell, not even on the radar for heady 1960s teenagers. Now, I ask you, was situating myself in that spot done so that I could watch all the fine boats at anchor? Or was this the best swimming location on the beach? Hell no, this is where we heard (and here I include my old running pal and classmate, Frankie, Francis Xavier Riley, the king of the North Adamsville corner boy night around Salducci’s Pizza Parlor of blessed memory and nothing but a flame-throwing lady-killer, uh, when his honey, Joanne Doyle was summering elsewhere) all the "babes" were. We were, apparently, under the influence of Beach Blanket Bingo or some such teenage beach film. (For those who are again clueless this was a grade B ‘boy meets girl’ saga the plot behind a thousand Hollywood films, except they exploded into song on the beach as well.)

Well, for those who expected a movie-like happy ending to this section of the remembrance piece, you know, where I meet a youthful "Ms. Right" to the strains of the song Sea of Love, forget it. (That is the original Sea of Love, by the way, not the one used in the movie of the same name sung by Tom Waits at the end, and a cover that you should listen to on YouTube.) I will keep the gory details short, though. As fate would have it there may have been "babes" aplenty down there but not for this lad. I don't know about you but I was just too socially awkward (read, tongue-tied) to get up the nerve to talk to girls (female readers substitute boys here). And on reflection, if the truth were to be known, I would not have known what to do about such a situation in any case. No job, no money and, most importantly, no car for a date to watch one of those legendary "submarine races" that we, you and I, have agreed that we will not discuss here. But we can hardly fault the sea for that, right?

But visions of nearly one-half century ago hardly exhaust the lure of the sea. And, speaking of visions, that fellow sea-seeker I mentioned a while ago, coming from the other end of the beach is starting to take shape, it is a he, I can tell by the walk, by the sea walk that men put on when they are alone with their thoughts, although beyond that he is too far away for me to determine age, class (this is a very democratic beach, in most spots, with few vulgar and almost universally disregarded no-trespassing-private property-keep out-beware-of-dogs-police-take-notice signs on some Mayfair swell properties), or physical description, as the suppressed light from the cloudy morning day gets a little brighter
Funny, some people I have known, including some I grew up with, grew up with breathing ocean air embedded in their inner beings and who started with a love of the sea much as I did, moved to Kansas, Omaha, Peoria, Winnemucca or some such place, some such distinctly non-ocean place and never looked back. Christ, as is well known by one and all who know me I get very nervous even now when, as a city boy, I go to the country and do not have the feel of city lights to comfort me. Not as well- known is the fact, the hard fact that I get nervous, very nervous, when I am not within driving distance of some ocean, say that fifty miles mentioned above. So keep, please keep, your Kansas, your Omaha, your Peoria, and your damned Winnemucca (and that desolate bus station bench I slept on one night after giving up on the hitchhike road for the evening trying to head out of town to no avail, trying to head ocean west, and let me be, be in places like Bar Harbor, Maine, Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, Sanibel Island, Florida, Carlsbad, California (hell no, not the New Mexico one ), Mendocino, ditto California, Seattle, Washington just to name a few places on this continent, and there are many others, and on other continents, or the edges of other continents, as well. And stories, plenty of stories, which I don’t have time to tell you now except for one that will stand in as an exemplar for what I mean. By the way that form, that mannish form, coming toward me is looking more like a young man by the speed of his walk, and he too seems to have on a the favored sea dog yellow rain jacket.

January 1970 visions of Angelica, Angelica of the homeland sea.

I waved good-bye to Angelica, once again, as she drove off from the ocean front campsite that we had been camping out on, the Leo Carrillo State Park near Point Magoo about fifty miles or so north of Los Angeles. She will now drive the road back in her green Ford Hertz unlimited mileage, mid-size rental (paid for, as she explained one night, by her parents whose golden age of the automobile-frenzied minds counted it as a strike against me, a very big strike, that when I had “kidnapped” their daughter on the 1969 blue-pink summer road west down in Steubenville, Ohio I didn’t even have a car). She planned (on my advice) to drive back mostly on the ocean-abutted, white-capped waves smashing against jagged ancient shore rocks, Pacific Coast Highway down through Malibu and Santa Monica to take one last look at the Pacific Ocean as the final point on her first look ocean trip, on the way to LAX to take a flight back to school days Muncie, Indiana.
She will also be driving back to the airport and getting on that miserable plane east knowing as I do since we talked about it incessantly during her stay, that some right things, or at least some maybe right things, like our being together last summer heading free west and for these two January weeks in front of the sea, our homeland the sea, before her classes started again, got caught up in the curious web of the human drama. For no understandable reason. Hey, you already knew this if you have ever had even that one teeny-weeny, tiny, minuscule love affair that just had no place to go, or no time to take root, or just got caught out there in the blue-pink night. Yah, you know that story. But let me take some minutes to tell you this one. If it seems very familiar and you “know” the plot line well then just move on. 
To get you up to speed after Angelica and I had been on the heartland hitchhike road (and places like Moline, Neola, and Omaha are nothing but the heartland, good or bad), she, well, she just got tired of it, tired of the lacks, tired of the uncertainties of the road. Hell hell-on-wheels, I was getting tired of it myself except I was a man on a mission. The nature of that mission is contained in the words “search for the blue-pink great American West night” so the particulars of that mission need not detain us here. So in Neola, Iowa, Neola, Iowa of all places aided by “fairy grandmother” Aunt Betty, who ran the local diner where Angelica worked to help make us some dough to move on, and her own sense of dreams she called it quits back in September. Aunt Betty drove us to Omaha where Angelica took the bus back east, Indiana east from Nebraska, to hometown Muncie and I hit Interstate 80 West headed first to Denver before the snows, or so I hoped.

Honestly, although we exchanged addresses and telephone numbers where messages could be left, or where we could speak to each other (her parents’ house not being one of them), and made big plans to reunite in California in January during her school break, I didn’t really think that once we were off the road together that those plans would pan out.

Now I may not remember all my reasoning at the time this far removed, the now of my telling this story many years later, but I had had enough relationships with women to sense this one was good, very good, while it lasted but it could not survive the parting.

Not one of those overused “absence makes the heart grow fonder” things you hear about. And, truth to tell, because I thought that was the way things would play out, I started getting focused back on Boston Joyel more than a little as I walked a lot, stood at the shoulder of the hitchhike road a lot, and fitfully got my rides on the road west.

But see this is where you think you have something figured out just so and then it goes awry. Angelica called, left messages, sent letters, even a telegram, to Denver (to the commune where, Jack and Mattie, my traveling companions on the final leg west whom I had met earlier in the spring on a different trip down to D.C., were staying). She sent more communications in early December saying that she was still coming to Los Angeles as well where we three stayed with a few artistic friends of Jack and Mattie’s. Cinema-crazed artistic friends, including one budding film director who, moreover, had great dope connections right into the heart of Mexico. This is where they would stay while I planned to push the hitchhike road north heading to San Francisco.
I once, in running through one of the scenes in this hitchhike road show, oh yah, it was the Neola scene, mentioned that in Angelica what you saw was what you got, what she said was what she meant, and both those were good things indeed. And so if I had thought about it a minute of course she was coming to California in January and staying with me for her two week break, and maybe longer. So when January came she contacted me though John and Mattie, who like I said were now staying with this very interesting experimental film-maker, David, in the Hollywood hills and canyons. I started back south to L.A. in order to meet her at the airport. From there I had it planned that we would go to Point Magoo and camp out like in the “old days” at an ocean front state park. 

Needless to say when I greeted her at LAX we both were all smiles, I was in more than all smiles mode, because I had been “stag” for a while and she was, well, fetching as always, or almost always. Here though is where I noticed that the road really is not for everyone. In Neola, and later getting on the bus back home in Omaha, poor Angelica looked pretty haggard but at the airport, well like I said, she was fetching.

And, guess what, she brought her sleeping bag that we had gotten for her in a Lexington, Kentucky Army-Navy Store when we first seriously started on the road west. The first thing she said about it was, referring to a little in-joke between us, “it fits two, in a pinch.” Be still my heart. So we gathered up her stuff, did the airport exit stuff (easier in those days) and picked up the outside shuttle to the Hertz car rental terminal. We were jabbering away like crazy, but best of all, we were like, a little, those first days last summer back in that old-time Steubenville truck stop diner and cabin when I first met her.

Of course, part of the trip for her, part of what she went as far as she could with me on the hitchhike road for, was to get to California and see what it was all about, and what the ocean was all about since she was a heartland girl who had never seen the ocean before. When we got to Point Magoo she flipped out, she flipped out mostly at the idea that we would stay, could stay right on the beach in front of the ocean. And just like a kid, just like I did when I was kid and saw the ocean, when she saw the Pacific, she jumped right in. Hell, she was so excited she almost got caught in a small riptide. I had to go drag her out. I won’t say we had fun every minute of those weeks acting out our ocean nomad existence, but most minutes, and I could see that she felt the same way.
Naturally, as time drifted away toward her return flight date we talked more and more about what the future, if any, held in store for us. She was adamant about not going back on the road, she was adamant as well that she wanted to finish school and make something of herself. I had no serious defense against that practical wisdom. And, truthfully, I wasn’t, toward the end of her stay, pushing the issue, partially because even I could see that it made sense but also, we had had a “flare-up” over the Boston Joyel question (I am being polite here).

But it was more than that; the flat out, hungry truth was that I really didn’t know how to deal with a Midwestern what you see is what you get woman like Angelica. I was more used to virtuous Irish Catholic girls who drove me crazy as a kid getting me all twisted up about religion, about nice girls, and about duplicity when I found out what the real score was with this type of young girl/ woman later. I was also, and Joyel was the epitome of this type, totally in sync (well, as much as a man can be) with the Harvard Square folksy, intellectual, abstract idealist, let’s-look-at-everything-from-twenty-two different angles, what is the meaning of human relationships 24/7 kind of woman. And fatally attracted to them (and still am). This Angelica look at things only a couple of ways, let’s work things out easy-like, heavens, let’s not analyze everything to the nth degree flipped me out. Angelica was a breath of fresh air and, maybe, maybe, about ten years later, and two divorces later to boot, I would have had that enough sense god gave geese to hold onto her with both hands, tightly, very tightly. But I was in my blue-pink search phase and not to be detoured.

Of course all this hard work of trying to understand where we stood put a little crack in our reason for being together in the first place. The search for, search for something. Maybe, for her, it was just that life minute at the ocean and then on to regular life minutes out in the thickets of the white picket fences. She never said it then in so many words but that seemed to be the aim. And to be truthful, although I was only just barely thinking about it at the time, as the social turmoil of the times got weird, diffuse, and began to evaporate things started to lose steam. As we were, seemingly, endlessly taking our one-sided beatings as those in charge started a counter-offensive ( a counter-offensive still going on) people, good people, but people made of human clay nevertheless got tired of the this and that existence, even Joyel. Joyel of Harvard Square folksy, intellectual, abstract idealist, let’s-look-at-everything-from-twenty-two different angles, what is the meaning of relationships 24/7 was also weary and wary of what was next and where she fit into “square” society. Christ, enough of that, we know, or knew, that song too well.

A couple of days before Angelica was to leave, and on a day when the sun seemed especially bright, especially bright for then smog-filled Los Angeles January, and warm, not resident warm but Boston and Muncie warm, sat like two seals sunning ourselves in the glow of mother ocean she nudged me and asked me if I had a joint. Now Angelica liked a little vino now and then but I can’t recall her ever doing a joint (grass, marijuana, herb, ganja, whatever you call it in your neck of the woods). So this is new. The problem, although not a big one in ocean-side state park 1970 Southern California, was that I was not “holding.” No problem though, a few spots down the beach was an old well-traveled, kind of beat-up Volkswagen van that I knew, knew just as sure as I was standing on that white sand beach, was “holding.” I went over, asked around, and “bingo” two nice big joints came traveling with me back to our campsite. Oh, daddy, daddy out in the be-bop blue-pink night thank you brother van man. For just a minute, just that 1970 California minute, the righteous did inherit the earth.

Back at our camp site Angelica awaited the outcome of my quest, although she also wanted to wait until later, until the day’s sun started going down a bit more to go into that smoked-filled good night. When that later came Angelica was scared/ thrilled, as she tried to smoke the one I lit up for her and started coughing like crazy, but that was nothing then. Everybody, at least everybody I knew, went through that same baptism. But Jesus, did we get mellow, that stuff, as was most stuff then, was primo, not your ragweed bull stuff that ran the rounds later. And why should it have not been so as we were so close to the then sane Mexican border of those days to get the good stuff.

But all of this build-up over this dope scene is so much filler, filler in those days when if you didn’t at least take a pipe full (inhale or not, like it or not) you were a square “squared.” What the stuff did for Angelica, and through Angelica to me, got her to open up a little. No, not about family, or old boyfriends, or her this and that problems. No, but kind of deep, kind of deep somewhere that she maybe didn’t know existed. Deep as I had ever heard her before. She talked about her fate, the fate of the fates, about what was going on in the world, no, not politics; she was organically incapable of that. Mystics stuff, getting in touch with the sea homeland stuff, earth mother stuff too in a way. Dope-edged stuff sure but when she compared the splashing foam-flecked waves to some cosmic force that I forget how she put it (remember I was dope-addled as well) then for just that moment, just that moment when the old red-balled sun started to dip to the horizon on one of those fairly rare days when it met the ocean I swear that Angelica knew, knew in her heart, knew in her soul even, what the blue-pink American West dream stuff I had bombarded her with was all about. That was our moment, and we both knew it. 

So when leaving came a couple of days later and we both knew, I think, as we packed up her things, including that well-used sleeping bag, we had come to a parting of the roads. As I put her stuff in the rental car she sweetly blurted out something I was also thinking, “I’ll always remember that night we made the earth under the cabin in Steubenville shake.” And I thought I bet she will, although she forgot the part about the making the roof of the cabin move too. And so there I was, waving as she drove off to her Angelica dreams. And I never saw her again.


But enough of ancient thoughts, of ancient sea thoughts, and ancient sea loves because just now I see that previously distant figure is none other than a young boy, a young boy of maybe six or seven, not older I am sure. About fifty yards away he stops, as boys and girls will when confronted with the endless treasures of the sea, and is intently looking at some sea object although I cannot make it out from this distance. What I can make out, make out very plainly, is that he is wearing a mustard yellow rain slicker (French’s mustard color not Guiden’s) complete with a Gloucester fisherman’s floppy rain hat of the same color and knee-deep rubber boots, black, of course. As we approach each other I notice that he has that determined sea walk that I have carried with me since childhood. I look at him intensely, he looks at me intensely, and we nod as we pass each other. No words, no remarks on the nature of the day, the nature of the ocean, and the joys of ocean-ness brought forth by old King Neptune need be spoken between us. The nod, the ocean swell, and the ocean sound as the waves crashed almost to the sand beneath our feet, spoke for us. The torch had been passed.

Strangers On A Train- New Style-Timing Is Everything- Ethan Hawke And Julie Delpy’s Before Sunrise (1995)-Before Sunset (2004)-Before Midnight (2013)-Film Review

Strangers On A Train- New Style-Timing Is Everything- Ethan Hawke And Julie Delpy’s Before Sunrise (1995)-Before Sunset (2004)-Before Midnight (2013)-Film Review 

DVD Review

By Alden Riley

Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013), starring Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawkes, directed by master filmmaker of the long story line Richard Linklater

Finally I get an assignment that at least has some relevance to me this trifecta-trilogy under the banner of Before Midnight, Sunrise, Sunset it does not matter which goes first although Sunrise in 1995 when the star-crossed saga begins and set the stage for the sequels it is all the same story of mostly thwarted love between the same two characters and the same two actors, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke playing those characters. I will get to the relatively simple, if any human relationships which depend on time ever are simple but let me relate what has been going on to make me make the initial sentence to this piece.

This reprieve after a slew of turkeys blowing smoke over the remains of the sexploitation of the James Bond 007 series under either the Sean Connery regime or the Pierce Brosnan regime where Sandy Salmon and I had to stage a mock “fight” over who was more Bond-ish of the two contestants. Leslie Dumont who now is writing in this space after a long absence would call it the “good old boys” covering up for the bam-bam and eye candy of those mercilessly misanthropic films. Which both Sandy Salmon and I were lambasted for mercilessly by name-and maybe rightly. Then there was that unspeakable craziness around new site manager Greg Green’s ill-begotten attempts to be relevant to the younger crowd by digging down in the mud and going crazy over popcorn-drenched and soda-addled kids with a bunch of reviews on puffed up super-heroes like Batman, Superman, Ironman, Wonder Women and that clot of mutants. I barely made that assignment out alive. Made me wish for the days not so long ago when I was force-fed into an assignment, a documentary about Janis Joplin whom I had never heard of, and which at least did not leave me brain-dead although I still don’t know what the big deal was about her and her admittedly too short live. (That was before Greg’s time, a time when the previous site manager went crazy over his, and half the writers here, youthful excesses in commemorating the Summer of Love, 1967, and I, clueless made the mistake of publicly saying I didn’t know who Janis Joplin was and drew a biopic assignment over Sandy’s head from that guy. That event thereafter started the whole process of regime chance which we are just starting to stabilize now-not without blips like super-secret agents and mutant super-heroes.   

Back to the future now though, hopefully. These three films are really a departure since they start on a wicked premise. The two parties meet in Vienna on a train and before you know after hours of intense, witty and arch conversation they are bedded, well, not bedded but rolling in the grass before parting their separate ways. A one night stand when all was said and done with no regrets, a least not enough that they were not so sexually-frenzied that they “forgot” to get each other telephone numbers if not addresses. Frankly I was embarrassed, I blushed when that happened.  Even a holy goof of a high school student would know that was stupid and unheard of. Yeah, a strictly high school sophomore mistake, and maybe really a middle school mistake, which would put you on the dungheap of the school social pecking order.     

Story over, done. Well not quite since they just so happen to meet in New York City nine years later. Not by accident but because the guy had written a thinly-veiled account of their one night of love, one night of sin, shades of Elvis but even he had a hotter version of one night of sin which is the star this one should go under and she meets him at a book signing. They have had separate married lives and he a kid so this one day is fraught with all kinds of missed opportunities.

But there is hope. That wife of his is a bitch and so in the end they will be able to unite. The saga ends with them united but in a “normal” straight-laced “modern marriage” living together with two kids like everybody else in the world. Maybe they are happy, maybe not but throughout all three efforts they try to make all kinds of existential, witty, arch intellectual conversation which saves the story-line which at least has the virtue of making things interesting. The third part of the trilogy maybe did not have to be made but Linklatter (and Hawkes and Deply who co-write) liked to grab the long view. Well worth seeing, seeing in order so you want to view the next one, and the next one even if that last one didn’t have to be made.    

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Latest From The Partisan Defense Committee-The Cause That Passes Through The Prison Walls-With The Old International Labor Defense in Mind

The Latest From The Partisan Defense Committee-The Cause That Passes Through The Prison Walls-With The Old International Labor Defense in Mind   

Link to Partisan Defense Committee

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Sam Eaton had to laugh when he heard the news, the news live and in person on cable news by the current Attorney-General of the United States (no names needed since this is the position of every one of those guys, and now gals when primed by curious reporters who if they have done their homework already know the answer) that there are “no political prisoners in the United States prison systems, certainly not the federal systems and as far as is known not in the states either.” And on some level, not on the level of candid truth but some level lower than that, the A-G in question (and all previous A-Gs) is right since every prisoner, every political prisoner is behind bars for some “crime” against society’s norms. Take the case of Chelsea Manning (known until her thirty-five year sentencing to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas for multiple conviction against military and federal law as Bradley Manning thereafter as Chelsea in case there is any confusion about who we are talking about) which was the case the A-G in question was referring to in that newspeak commentary. Private Manning, is the heroic Army soldier who blew the whistle to Wiki-leaks on the atrocities committed by the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan and the duplicity of the Hillary Clinton-run State Department even before Benghazi. The charges against Chelsea  were “crimes,” you know “stealing” government files and “committing” acts of espionage but her motivation had nothing to do with crime, at least crimes that working people and leftists need worry about. Her leaks were a breath of fresh air in counter-point to the “slam-dunk’ mentality that has pervaded both the Bush II and Obama administrations. But Chelsea is nevertheless a political prisoner with a capital “P.”        

Sam had to laugh again about the nefarious and spurious doing of the American justice machine (thoughts on that “machine” bringing to Sam’s mind the words of sardonic comic Lenny Bruce, a man not unfamiliar with that system and in his own way a political prisoner as well about how “in the hall of justice the only justice is in the halls-nicely said, Brother, nicely said) when a few nights after this newscast he was sitting in Jack’s, the long-time radical hang-out bar in Harvard Square which he frequented, talking to Ralph Morris who had come to town on one of his periodic visits from his home in Troy, New York about what he had heard that other night. And this was not mere idle talk between that pair because the whole Easton-Morris friendship had its start when they were political prisoners of a sort back on May Day 1971 when they had met on the floor of RFK Stadium in Washington for the “crime” of disorderly conduct and creating a public nuisance when they and thousands of others tried to shut down the American government if it did not shut down the Vietnam War which they were desperately for their own reasons trying to stop. So, yes, they were “criminals,” maybe just petty criminals by the standards of the charges but no way in hell had they hitchhiked from Cambridge and Albany, New York respectively (and wherever else those thousands came from and how they got there) to “walk in the streets” of D.C. for the hell of it, to litter the boulevards with leaflets let, to thumb their noses at the government, or the like. Sam and Ralph that day had been political prisoners with a small “P” nevertheless. (They would later do some actions in solidarity with the Black Panthers, with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, and with the African National Congress in South Africa which would “win” them their capital “Ps.”)      

All of this old-timey bar talk had a purpose though (they by the way were no strangers to strong drink as part of their political camaraderie from early on in their working-class lives but now they drank high-shelf stuff delivered by Jimmy the bartender rather than that rotgut low-shelf, no-shelf Thunderbird wine and Southern Comfort which got them through their no dough youths). Or rather two purposes. First, Ralph had come to town to join Sam in the annual Sacco and Vanzetti commemoration in honor of the two anarchist political prisoners who had been railroaded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to their executions on August 23, 1927. Troy and most other places in the nation and the world paid have paid no particular attention to such events but in Boston the scene of the crimes against the two immigrant anarchists there had been a generally on-going commemoration since the 1920s, although not always on in the streets like the past several years. Over their long and hard fought battles around prisoners’ rights which formed a majority of the work they had done over the years, in good times and bad, Sam and Ralph made sure that they attended this commemoration.

The second event that brought Ralph to town was a conference to be held in Boston to see about reviving the old International Labor Defense (ILD), the 1920s Communist International (CI)-initiated political prisoner defense organization which coincidentally had cut its teeth when founded in 1925 on the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Under the circumstances over the past quarter of a century plus for the international working class not so much reviving it exactly as in the old days since the organization had gone out of business in 1946 a few years after Joe Stalin over in Russia had liquidated the Communist International as part of some Soviet foreign policy sop to his allies in World War II (the CI had pretty much gone out of the business of directing international revolution well before than anyway) but reviving the spirit that drove it in its best days around the Sacco and Vanzetti case, the Angelo Herndon case, a bunch of other lesser well known labor cases like that of Tom Mooney and assorted IWWers (Industrial Workers of the World, Wobblies) and most famously the Scottsboro Boys case in the 1930s.

In those days as Sam had mentioned while talking to Ralph at Jack’s since he had been looking up information about the old ILD, what it did and how it was organized (and how much the old American Communist Party/CI controlled the operation in its sunnier days) the ILD had had no problem living up to the idea of a non-sectarian labor defense organization that took on the tough cases, the political cases and tried to garner union and progressive support in America and internationally through the CI to free the class-war prisoners behind the walls. Sam and Ralph had been involved in many cases of political prisoners on the seemingly endlessly dwindling left, especially black liberation fighters and labor organizers but those operations usually concerned a specific political prisoner (like the Manning case) or were run as campaigns by particular organizations which tended to “protect” their turf, protect their unique relationship with their poster child political prisoner.

While both Sam and Ralph had been snake-bitten a few times when somebody called a conference only to find out that the operation was being built to “protect turf” or using the campaign as an organizational recruiting tool (Sam mentioned that someone should tell such organizations and individuals with ideas like that to give pause since the recruitment rate, or better the retention rate of such projects after a while is abysmal) they liked the call for this one which included a bunch of small leftist organizations and some independent labor organizers and unions. Whether absent an international organization with the resources of the old CI a new ILD could catch fire is problematic. There in any case with the downward pressure of social flare-ups likely in the near future certainly is a need for such an organization. Ralph made Sam laugh as they finished their last high-shelf whisky that night by saying –“Hell there aren’t any political prisoners, I have it on the authority of the U.S. A-G.” But just in case those A-Gs were being less than candid they agreed that they would show up bright and early for the meeting the next morning.