Saturday, May 09, 2009

*An Encore, The "Jelly Roll Baker" Is In The House- The Blues Of Lonnie Johnson

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Film Clip Of Lonnie Johnson Doing "Blackbird Blues".


Ballads and Blues, Lonnie Johnson and Elmer Snowden, Vanguard Records, 1960

Okay, Okay those of you who have been keeping tabs know that I have spend much of the last year, when not doing political commentary or book or movie reviews, reviewing many of the old time blues artists that were the passion of my youth (and still are). So this writer, who thought he had heard virtually all the key blues men and women of the old days, got his comeuppance recently when the name of Lonnie Johnson and his version of the classic double-entendre "Jelly Roll Baker" came up. To name drop just a little, the occasion was a local reunion of Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin of the old Jim Kweskin Jug Band from the 1960’s (that also included Geoff’s ex-wife and great performer in her own right, Maria Muldaur). They did a stirring rendition of the song and attributed it to the performer under review here. After scratching my head I ran out to get some more of Brother Lonnie’s work and I am here to tell you- get this CD because if you have any interest at all in the blues you will not be disappointed.

Why this particular album to start out with? Well, it features Lonnie Johnson and long time friend Elmer Snowden together for the first time although early on (back in the 1920’s) they had worked together on some blues and jazz albums. That is, perhaps, why this work is interesting as an example of that closeness between the jazz and blues idioms before those musical forms parted ways sometime in the late 1940’s. As others have mentioned Johnson, the father of single-note six-string soloing, is in a strangely haunting voice on this selection of blues, ballads, and jazz, crooning the double-entendre "Jelly Roll Baker" and the heartache-laden "Back Water Blues". I cannot add much to that description except you cannot go wrong by giving Haunted House, the first cut, a listen. That sets the mood. Finally, let me say WOW!

"Why Should I Grieve After You're Gone (1927)"

After you're gone, I'm left all alone.
Just feeling blue, all depending on you.
Not even the telephone, it don't ring anymore.
Not even the sun that shines, don't shine in my door anymore.
Since youâ've been gone away, many a million miles away.
I will give you a million smiles a day, to keep your blues away.

As the sun go down, and the wrong news, no play.
As the time goes lower and lower and lower, there's only you.
While I'm feeling blue, just feeling blue.
I would be happy today, but it all depends on you.

As the sun go down, and sinks behind the trees.
And just before it falls, I will answer to your calls.
When you're a million, million miles away, I will give you a million smiles a day.
That's because I love you, and wants to keep your blues away.

"Big Leg Woman"

Yes, I've got me a big legged woman, that solid rocks my soul
Yes, I've got me a big legged woman, that solid rocks my soul
And every time she turns the lights down low, Jack that's when I give up all my gold
She's so fine, she's so mellow, the rest I can't explain
Yes, she's so fine, she's so mellow, rest I can't explain
Way my baby stacked up, it's enough to drive the average cat insane
Yes, she's got great big legs, so pleasin' on the eye
Yes, she's got those great big legs, so pleasin' on the eye
And the preacher walked by, turned around and looked, Jack and hollered "My, my, my!"
She's got those big brown eyes, yes and she's somethin' really fine
Yes, she's got those big brown eyes, Jack she's somethin' really fine
And the best part about it, Jack she's mine, all mine!

"Cat You Been Messin' Around"

Now look here woman, you done lost your mind,
this is not my child, you bring me a better line
'Cause there's something wrong, woman don't start that lies there's something wrong
I never had such mix-ups in my family, since I was born
First it's loop-footin', and its head is long
And it's been half nuts ever since you brought it back home
So there's something wrong, I mean there's something wrong
Oh, take it back where you got it, woman 'cause depression is on
Now his eyes is blue, and his hair's brown
You know darn well you've been messin' around
So take that lie off of me, I mean take that lie off of me
Woman you had a twelve-month vacation, so don't put that lie on me
Now his head is nappy, and his feets is long, his eyes is crossed, and his sight is gone
You know there's something wrong, yes, woman there's something wrong
I never had nothing like that in my family, woman since I was born
Now I said it wasn't my child and you argued me down,
now my eyes ain't blue and my hair ain't brown
Woman you've been messin' around, yes,woman you've been messin' around
So woman get out of my face, or I take my fist and knock you down

"Low Down St. Louis Blues"

I love my St. Louis women, but their ways I really can't stand
I love my St. Louis women, but their ways I really can't stand
They always bettin' some woman, how she can take her man
My woman dips snuff
, and she drinks a good old homemade corn
My woman dips her snuff, and she drinks a good old homemade corn
She get as drunk as she can be, then she fight for the whole night long
And I got another gal, live down on Deep Morgan Street
And I got another gal, she lives down on Deep Morgan Street
If she don't kill a man every day, all I can do is to keep 'r off of me
She drinks her homemade corn whiskey, blackjack and a razor's her friend
She drinks her homemade corn whiskey, a blackjack and a razor's her friend
And she loves to kill a man, just like the devil loves sin
Boys I got another gal, she lives down on Walnut Street
Boys I got another gal, she lives down on Walnut Street
My other gal is so bad, the cops is scared to walk the beat
She can make a blackjack talk and a razor fairly moan
She can make a blackjack talk and a razor fairly moan
From the way that gal kill up men, the graveyard ain't got much more room

"Dont Drive Me From Your Door"

Just look how it's rainin', my feet's on the ground
Just look how it's rainin', and my poor feet's on the ground
For the woman I've made happy, well she's after every man in town

Friends please open your door, and don't drive me away
Please open your door, and don't drive me away
The rent man has put me outdoors, and I've got no place to stay

Let me stay here tonight, it's ice all on the ground
Let me stay here tonight, it's ice all over the ground
Cause I'm motherless and I'm fatherless, and please don't turn me down

When I had plenty money, I had friends all over town
When I had plenty of money, I had friends all over town
But just as soon as I got outdoors, none of my friends could be found

After mother and father's gone, a dollar's your right-hand friend
After mother and father's gone, dollar's your right-hand friend
Then after your last dollar's gone, you're like a road that has no end

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, lord where will I go
I'm beggin' you my friend, don't drive me from your door
I cannot sleep on the ground, there's nothing but ice and snow

Jelly Roll Baker

She said, 'Mr. Jellyroll Baker
Let me be your slave
When Gabriel blows his trumpet

Then I'll rise from my grave

For some-a your jellyro-oll
Yes, I love a good jellyroll'
It is good for the sick
Yes, and it's good for the old'

I was sentenced for murder
In the 1st degree
*The judge's wife called up and says
'Let that man go free'

He's a jellyroll baker
He's got the best jellyroll in town
He's the only man can bake jellyroll
With his damper down

Once in a hospital
Shot all full-a holes
The nurse left the man dyin'
An says he's got to get her jellyroll

His good old jell-e-e-y
She says, 'I love my good jellyroll'
She says, 'I ruther let him lose his life
Than to miss my good jellyroll'

Lady asked me who learnt me
How to bake good jellyroll?
I says, 'It's nobody, Miss
'It's just a gift from my soul'
To bake good jellyro-oll
Mmm-mmm, that good ol' jellyroll

She says, 'I love your jellyroll
It do's me good deep down in my soul
She says, 'Can I put in a order
For two weeks ahead?
I'd ruther have your jelly-roll
Than my home-cooked bread'

I love your jell-e-e-y
I love your good jellyroll
It's just like Maxwell House Coffee
It's good, deep down in my soul.

*The "Jelly Roll Baker" Is In The House- The Blues Of Lonnie Johnson

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Film Clip Of Lonnie Johnson Doing "Got The Blues For Murder Only".


Steppin’ The Blues, Lonnie Johnson, Columbia Records, 1990.

Parts of the following have been used in a review of Lonnie Johnson Blues and Ballads CD (hereafter B&B).

Okay, Okay those of you who have been keeping tabs know that I have spend much of the last year, when not doing political commentary or book or movie reviews, reviewing many of the old time blues artists that were the passion of my youth (and still are). So this writer, who thought he had heard virtually all the key blues men and women of the old days, got his comeuppance a while back when the name of Lonnie Johnson and his version of the classic double-entendre song “Jelly Roll Baker” came up. To name drop just a little, the occasion was a local reunion of Geoff Muldaur and Jim Kweskin of the old Jim Kweskin Jug Band from the 1960’s (that also included Geoff’s ex-wife and great performer in her own right, Maria Muldaur). They did a stirring rendition of the song and attributed it to the performer under review here. After scratching my head I ran out to get some more of Brother Lonnie’s work and as noted above I have fulsomely praised his B&B CD in this space.

Although this CD has merit musically and certainly has historical worth as a comparison of young Lonnie Johnson in the 1920’s to the later B&B Lonnie this is one time when aging seems to have created a better body of work. A comparison of “I’m Nuts About That Gal” (really an early version of his classic “Jelly Roll Baker”) and the “Jelly Roll Baker” of the B&B make my point succinctly. That said, the noted Johnson guitar work is highlighted on “Guitar Blues”, the novelty sassy song in two parts “Toothache Blues” and “Deep Blue Sea Blues”. That is why you want this album.

Friday, May 08, 2009

*The Zen Of Golf And The Struggle For Socialism

Click On Title To Link To United States Golf Association web site. That is the golf part. The Zen and Socialism part you are on your own.


Has old Markin finally gone off the deep end? Golf, Zen and socialism under the same headline. What gives? What gives is this. It is spring time in New England when a man’s thoughts (or at least this man’s thoughts) turn to the need to get to the great outdoor. To commune with nature. To smell the roses. In short, to get to the local public golf course and tempt fate and incur the ire of the golf gods. For those of a certain age though this thought may seem to place me in the category of “counter-revolutionary” Trotskyites that I have, more than once in my life, been accused of being. Why?

Back in the days, in the late 1960’s, “when to be young was very heaven” those of us who considered ourselves either politically or culturally radical would probably have heartily endorsed the slogan “burn down the country clubs”. And we would not have been too far off then, or now. The late Wobblie folk singer/songwriter Utah Phillips has spun more than one on-target line about the usual denizens of such haunts. Golf and its earliest manifestations in a conservative country club ethos were the stuff of bourgeois life, leisure and status and begged to be made fun of. The novelist John O’Hara made a literary career in the mid-20th century writing of the foibles and follies of the mainly conservative and status conscious American country club set, most notably in “Appointment In Samarra” That book is still a good read to get the feel of being trapped in that world. More recently and vividly the Ponzi artist supreme, Bernard Madoff, worked his financial ‘magic’ among a more contemporary section of that set down in Palm Beach, Florida.

All the above points are very true. As far as they go in our hatred of the ethos of the country club set. There is another aspect, however, that ‘corrects’ our youthful misunderstanding of the aims of socialism, our capacity to fight for it and our staying power in that struggle. I do not know if it was the old, somewhat dour, picture of what a Bolshevik existence was to be like that colored our perceptions, handed down by the old time Stalinists (except, of course, the conduct of the privileged bureaucrats). Or if it was the pressure to seem to be “at one” with the workers by scorning various bourgeois lifestyle traditions but somewhere along the line the sense of the need for more opportunities for rest and relaxation rather than less got thrown by the wayside. To the contrary the idea of socialism, at least any socialism worth fighting for and asking others to fight for as well, is to increase socially useful productive capacity, redistribute goods more equitably and thus allow for greater free time for creative activities. Or just hit golf balls, if one so desires.

Although, admittedly, we are far away from that socialist goal today those who fight under the banner of socialism need to keep some balance in their lives in order to stay with the struggle. Thus, a certified revolutionary leader like Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx’ life long co-thinker, liked to fox hunt while in his British exile. While I fully support Oscar Wilde’s comment about the ‘virtues’ of that endeavor that was Engels’ “thing”. The Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky, after Vladimir Lenin the best and most well-known Bolshevik, liked to hunt, fish and later in life collect cacti. None of those hobbies are particularly associated with strictly proletarian social interests. In short, other than some patently illegal or outrageous activity, one’s personal forms of relaxation are no one’s concern. That, moreover, is probably the secret to the staying power of these great revolutionaries mentioned above. They were in it for the long haul and balanced their personal lives accordingly.

But why golf rather than, let us say, bowling or stamp collecting? Well, go back to that first paragraph about communing with nature. Most golf courses located near urban centers offer interesting natural sites like woods, ponds and sand that one can become very familiar with if one’s golf ball goes astray. Moreover, nobody should object to getting a little walking in and to get out in the sunshine and away from the damn computer for a bit. But here is the Zen part. For this average golfer there is nothing like hitting a golf shot from about 150 yards away and having it land on the green (the target area for the shot for those who do not know the game). That is what now passes for “very heaven”. And then make the putt (put it in the hole). Nirvana.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Down with the Reactionary Anti-Porn Crusade!

Click on the headline to link to a Website featuring the paintings, nude and non-nude of the great artist, Titian. Close your eyes if you are offended by the nudes. Okay.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1985 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.


Down with the Reactionary Anti-Porn Crusade!
Granddaughters of Carry Nation in Bed with Jerry Falwell

Reprinted from Young Spartacus No. 123, December 1984/January 1985

MADISON— Formerly a hotbed of campus protest, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's "radical" reputation has given way in large part to smug, "me generation" liberalism. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), scabs on the anti-Vietnam War movement, carry a lot of weight in city and county government. With prudery that suits Madison's Protestant environs, "alternative" lifestylism has been institutionalized. You will live a wholesome life. Some manifestations are just plain silly: Madison was declared a "nuclear-free zone" and sandwiches come with beansprouts whether you order them or not. Some are absolutely infuriating: liquor stores close, at 9:00 p.m. and you can't buy cigarettes anywhere on the huge UW campus.

The latest target for moral uplift of the community is pornography—Penthouse and Playboy have been pulled from the Student Union newsstand on the dubious grounds of "low circulation." DSAer Kathleen Nichols, a Dane County supervisor, is proposing legislation modeled on Andrea Dworkin's Minneapolis ordinance to make pornography a civil rights violation. Material in which "people" are "reduced to body parts," "presented in postures of sexual submission" or "presented as whores by nature" would be outlawed (Badger-Herald, 8 November 1984)! Under this law, you can't consent to buy, sell, photograph or pose for pornographic pictures. As the Badger-Herald commented, "Groups normally in solidarity, such as pseudo-feminists and homosexuals, are at odds. Groups normally in opposition, such as pseudo-feminists and the local fundamentalist ministers, support the ordinance." Talk about obscene!

We print below a slightly edited version of the Spartacus Youth League statement submitted to the Madison Isthmus and UW Daily Cardinal. It appeared in a shortened version in the Isthmus (16 November 1984) while the Cardinal has refused to publish it.

Contrary to prevailing liberal opinion, Madison is part of Reagan's USA, albeit with a twist. Witness the New Right's drive to "clean up America." It's going strong in Madison. There's legislation to ban dirty pictures. On 19 October 1984, demonstrators picketed at a State Street porno store; someone stenciled "Burn Me Down" on the wall—and they mean it. Rampaging fundamentalists? Nope. This particular anti-sex crusade is led by Madison's "alternative" to the Army of God— the "radical" feminists.
Finding Robin Morgan in bed with Jerry Falwell may surprise some who thought feminism had something to do with women's liberation. After all, the '60s feminists posed as right-on revolutionaries. They rejected "male-defined" sex roles, denounced "family values" as scams to keep women isolated, dependent, condemned to domestic servitude. They worried about racism and poor people. But the feminists never opposed the oppressive capitalist system itself: their "program" consists of escapist lifestylism, "consciousness raising," "women's" vegetarian co-ops. That's why the feminist "movement" didn't move. It remained confined to rarefied microcosms like Madison, lily-white and middle-class.

What's left of the "movement" no longer even worries about real human oppression. While the feminists are busy trying to stamp out fishnet stockings and high heels, genuine assaults on women's rights go unanswered. Legalized abortion is seriously threatened; abortion clinics get firebombed, their patients harassed, but you don't hear a peep from the feminists. Then there's the case of Patricia Ridge—a single, black, working mother. Last year her five-year-old son was shot pointblank in her bedroom in a Los Angeles-area housing project by a white cop. The cop got off, but a grand jury tried to charge her with everything from child neglect to Murder Two. The Marxist Spartacist League came to her defense. But the organized feminists did nothing. For them, "women's oppression" equals nude photos: they're blind to real class and race oppression facing working-class and black women.

This "Take Back the Night" crusade is a slice of middle America at its worst—about as progressive as forbidding sex education. It dovetails with the current incitement of every backward, sexist, racist, jingoistic prejudice of American society in preparation for war against the USSR. The Democrats and Republicans have been humming "Onward Christian Soldiers" since Cold War II began under born-again Jimmy Carter; with Reagan the crusade has reached new lows. They both want a "prepared" society with social relations straight out of "Leave It To Beaver." No "extramarital" sex, no porn, no abortion, no gays.

The feminists even share Cold War/Moral Majority terminology (e.g., "Porn is the new terrorism"). And there's a certain ideological congruence. The feminists basically buy the Moral Majority's "me Tarzan, you Jane" view of human sexuality: women are gentle nurturers, children are "innocent" and asexual, while men are sexual aggressors. That's what "Pornography is the theory, rape is the practice" boils down to: men are barely controlled rapists—all it takes is a little leg to set 'em off. In that case, why stop with censoring Penthouse? According to Annie Laurie Gaylor, editor of the Feminist Connection, Rubens and Titian can go too: they painted women ravished by swans! (Perhaps when Gaylor leaves the Connection, she can get a job at the Elvehjem Museum chiseling the genitals off classical statues.)

Then there's the touchy question of First Amendment rights. With the exception of the rabid crackpot Andrea Dworkin, most feminists try to squeak past it by making a snooty differentiation between pornography and "erotica." It works like this. "Erotica" is printed on expensive paper with "tasteful" hand-drawn illustrations; "pornography" goes for $2.50, with tacky overexposed photos. As the saying goes, "perversion" is what you aren't into.

As Marxists, the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth League oppose all attempts at puritanical censorship, whether launched by outright reactionaries or feminist ayatollahs. You can't legislate sexuality. We defend the right of consenting individuals in any combination of age, race, sex, in any number, to engage in the sexual activity of their choice—or look at the photos of their choice—without state intervention.

Pornography is not violence: it's fantasy. Rape is a form of violent criminal assault. Among other things, we advocate the repeal of gun control laws: women should have the right to carry arms and use them in self-defense. To argue that "porn is rape" or, like Robin Morgan, that any sex not initiated by a woman is rape, is—aside from being pretty damned presumptuous— to trivialize and confuse the issue. Capitalist society— its forced poverty, rigid family structure, hypocritical straitjacket morality—breeds the poisonous frustrations that explode in violence. The liberation of women requires getting rid of the repressive constraints imposed on women by the nuclear family, thus creating the possibility of new relationships based on social equality—free from compulsion and stultifying "moral" restrictions. In short, women's liberation requires socialist revolution.

While the feminist anti-porn crusaders rely on candlelight vigils, their Reaganite allies have access to systematic state repression and vigilante terror. And Reagan has launched a full-scale attack on democratic rights. Political opposition becomes "terrorism." Cop/ media hysteria about child abuse at daycare centers carries the message that the only safe place for kids is locked up at home with a non-working mom. If your sexual preference doesn't suit Jerry Falwell, you could be locked up for life.

That's no idle threat. The campaign for "decency" has been viciously anti-gay from the start. Vanessa Williams lost her crown not least because those photos were of lesbian sex. Boston-area photographer George Jacobs got 20 years for the "crime" of having consensual sex with his 14-year-old roommate. Jacobs was tested to determine if he was a "sexually dangerous person" and could have been put away in a mental hospital permanently. The cops and press went wild over NAMBLA (North American Man-Boy Love Association), an organization for the defense of civil rights of "men and boys involved in consensual sexual and other relationships with each other." NAMBLA members were beaten, framed and sent to psychiatric institutions. And that's nothing compared with the Justice Department's plan to research "behavior modification, chemical treatments, physiological stud¬ies of those suspected of psychosexual dysfunction—as evidenced by...their divorces or homosexuality" (Village Voice, 7 August 1984)!

The reactionary nature of anti-porn legislation masquerading as protection of "civil rights" is spelled out in a new law pending in Suffolk County, New York. The bill is identical to Dworkin's Minneapolis anti-porn law, minus feminist verbiage. It's sponsored by groups like the National Federation for Decency (an actual organization!) explicitly to "wipe out sodomy" and, according-to one supporter, "pornography [that] could cause social decay leading to a possible communist takeover"!

It's not like the feminists can't smell this anti-gay stench; far from it. Kathleen Nichols, lesbian activist member of the "Democratic" Socialists of America, is the Dane County supervisor behind the Madison censorship. This bigot told OUT! magazine that if the ordinance closes adult bookstores where gay men meet, all the better to stop AIDS because "that kind of anonymous sexual congress has resulted in 5500 cases of AIDS" (OUT!, September 1984). For this anti-democratic liberal, male gay sex is a health hazard. This is vile anti-gay bigotry. Do lesbians active in the anti-porn movement believe that once they outlaw everyone else's sexual practices, their own will be protected? They're on mighty thin ice. Check out Khomeini's Iran: no porn there—and they stone homosexuals to death.

Pornography reflects, and only reflects, some human behavior. In this violent, irrational society, those reflections sometimes aren't pretty: but you can't change society by changing its images on a screen. "Positive images" won't materially advance the cause of women's equality any more than those movies with Sidney Poitier as the black neurosurgeon changed the harsh reality of racist oppression. Socialist revolution alone can create the economic basis to replace the nuclear family and liberate women. We don't pretend to know what human relations in socialist society will be like. But we assume that, liberated from the artificial constraints currently imposed on human expression, sexuality under socialism will be more free, more open, more tolerant, more rich and more diverse. May the day come soon.

Carla Norris
for the Spartacus Youth League