Saturday, November 30, 2013

Free the Class-War Prisoners!-28th Annual PDC Holiday Appeal-Partisan Defense Committee

Workers Vanguard No. 1034

Free the Class-War Prisoners!-28th Annual PDC Holiday Appeal

This year marks the 28th anniversary of the Partisan Defense Committee’s program of sending stipends to class-war prisoners, those behind bars for the “crime” of standing up to the varied expressions of racist capitalist oppression. The PDC’s Holiday Appeal raises funds to send monthly stipends to 21 class-war prisoners and also provides holiday gifts for the prisoners and their families. We do this not just because it’s the right thing to do. The monthly stipends, just increased from $25 to $50, and holiday gifts are not charity. They are vital acts of class solidarity to remind the prisoners that they are not forgotten.

The Holiday Appeals are a stark contrast to the hypocritical appeals of bourgeois charities. Whether it comes from the megachurches of Southern televangelists or the urbane editors of the New York Times, the invocation of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” at this time of year is nothing more than a public relations scam to obscure the grinding exploitation of workers and the beggar-the-poor policies that are the hallmark of both major parties of American capitalism. The lump of coal in the Christmas stocking for millions of impoverished families this year is a drastic cut in their already starvation food stamp rations. Christmas turkey for many is likely to be sculpted from cans of Spam.

The prisoners generally use the funds for basic necessities, from supplementing the inadequate prison diet to buying stamps and writing materials, or to pursue literary, artistic and musical endeavors that help ameliorate the living hell of prison life. As Tom Manning of the Ohio 7 wrote to the PDC four years ago: “Just so you know, it [the stipend] goes for bags of mackerel and jars of peanut butter, to supplement my protein needs.” In a separate letter, his comrade Jaan Laaman observed: “This solidarity and support is important and necessary for us political prisoners, especially as the years and decades of our captivity grind on.... Being in captivity is certainly harsh, and this includes the sufferings of our children and families and friends. But prison walls and sentences do not and can not stop struggle.”

We look to the work of the International Labor Defense (ILD) under its first secretary, James P. Cannon (1925-28), who went on to become the founder of American Trotskyism. As the ILD did, we stand unconditionally on the side of the working people and their allies in struggle against their exploiters and oppressors. We defend, in Cannon’s words, “any member of the workers movement, regardless of his views, who suffered persecution by the capitalist courts because of his activities or his opinion” (First Ten Years of American Communism, 1962).

Initiated in 1986, the PDC stipend program revived an early tradition of the ILD. The mid 1980s were a time of waning class and social struggle but also a time when the convulsive struggles for black rights more than a decade earlier still haunted America’s capitalist rulers, who thirsted for vengeance. Among the early recipients of PDC stipends were members and supporters of the Black Panther Party (BPP), the best of a generation of black radicals who sought a revolutionary solution to black oppression—a bedrock of American capitalism.

Foremost among these was Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), former leader of the BPP in Los Angeles. Geronimo won his release in 1997 after spending 27 years behind bars for a murder the cops and FBI knew he did not commit. FBI wiretap logs, disappeared by the Feds, showed that Geronimo was 400 miles away in San Francisco at the time of the Santa Monica killing. Other victims of the government’s deadly Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) remain entombed decades later. Absent an upsurge of class and social struggle that transforms the political landscape, they will likely breathe their last breaths behind bars.

Among the dozens of past stipend recipients are Eddie McClelland, a supporter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party who was framed on charges related to the killing of three members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland, and Mordechai Vanunu, who helped expose the Israeli nuclear arsenal. At its outset, our program included five British miners imprisoned during the bitter 1984-85 coal strike. State repression of labor struggle in the U.S. added to our program, for a time, other militants railroaded to prison for defending their union against scabs in the course of strike battles: Jerry Dale Lowe of the United Mine Workers in West Virginia, Amador Betancourt of Teamsters Local 912 in California and Bob Buck of Steelworkers Local 5668 in West Virginia. (For more background on the PDC and the stipend program, see “18th Annual Holiday Appeal for Class-War Prisoners,” WV No. 814, 21 November 2003.)

The most recent additions to the stipend program include Lynne Stewart and the Tinley Park 5. Stewart is an attorney who spent four decades fighting to keep black and radical activists out of the clutches of the state, only to find herself joining them behind bars on ludicrous “support to terrorism” charges. The youthful anti-fascist fighters known as the Tinley Park 5 were thrown in prison for heroically dispersing a meeting of fascists in May 2012.

At the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, we warned that the enhanced police powers being amassed to go after immigrants from Muslim countries would also be used against the oppressed black population and the working class as a whole. That the “war on terror” takes aim at leftist opponents of this or that government policy is affirmed by the massive “anti-terror” police mobilizations and arrests that have accompanied protest outside every Democratic and Republican national convention, among other gatherings, in recent years. Other recent examples include the FBI-coordinated nationwide crackdown on “Occupy” movement encampments and the state of siege in Chicago during the 2012 NATO summit.

The witchhunt against the Tinley Park 5 coincided with and fed into the hysteria whipped up against the anti-NATO protesters, particularly anarchists and participants in Black Bloc actions. Sitting in jail awaiting trial for 18 months are three protesters set up by a police provocateur. They were arrested and charged under Illinois anti-terrorism statutes, the first time these laws were ever used. Free the anti-NATO protesters! Drop the charges!

Continuing the Legacy of Class-Struggle Defense

The PDC is a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization that champions cases and causes in the interest of the whole of the working people. This purpose is in accordance with the Marxist political views of the Spartacist League, which initiated the PDC in 1974. The PDC’s first major defense effort was the case of Mario Muñoz, the Chilean miners’ leader threatened with death in 1976 by the Argentine military junta. An international campaign of protests by unions and civil libertarians, cosponsored by the Committee to Defend Worker and Sailor Prisoners in Chile, won asylum in France for Muñoz and his family. The PDC has also initiated labor/black mobilizations against provocations by the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis from San Francisco to Atlanta to New York to Springfield, Illinois, and mobilized sections of the integrated labor movement to join these efforts.

Cannon’s ILD, which was affiliated to the early Communist Party, was our model for class-struggle defense. It fused the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) tradition of militant class-struggle, non-sectarian defense and their slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” with the internationalism of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, a revolution made not merely for the workers of Russia but for the workers and oppressed of the world. These principles were embodied in the International Organization for Aid to Fighters of the Revolution (MOPR), a defense organization formed in the Soviet Union in 1922 that was more popularly known as the International Red Aid.

The ILD was born out of discussions in 1925 between Cannon and Big Bill Haywood, who had been a leader of the Western Federation of Miners and then the IWW. The venue was Moscow, where Haywood had fled in 1921 after jumping bond while awaiting appeal of his conviction for having called a strike during wartime, an activity deemed a violation of the federal Espionage and Sedition Act. Haywood died in Moscow in 1928. Half his ashes were buried in the Kremlin, the other half in Chicago near the monument to the Haymarket martyrs, leaders of the fight for the eight-hour day who were executed in 1887.

The ILD was founded especially to take up the plight of class-war prisoners in the United States. Initially, the ILD adopted 106 prisoners for its stipend program, including California labor leaders Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, framed up for a bombing at the Preparedness Day parade in San Francisco in 1916, and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, immigrant anarchist workers executed in 1927 for a robbery/murder they did not commit. The number grew rapidly: Zeigler miners in Illinois whose fights over wages and working conditions pitted them head-on against the KKK; striking textile workers in Passaic, New Jersey. The ILD monthly, Labor Defender, educated tens of thousands of workers about the struggles of their class brothers and carried letters from prisoners describing their cases and the importance of ILD support.

Many of the imprisoned militants were IWW members. After a brief membership in the Socialist Party (SP), Cannon himself had been an IWW organizer and a writer for its press. Witnessing the anarcho-syndicalist IWW crushed by the bourgeois state while a disciplined Marxist party led a successful proletarian revolution in Russia, Cannon rejoined the SP in order to hook up with its developing pro-Bolshevik left wing. In 1919, that left wing exited the SP, with Cannon becoming a founding leader of the American Communist movement. He brought a wealth of experience in labor defense. As Cannon later recalled, “I came from the background of the old movement when the one thing that was absolutely sacred was unity on behalf of the victims of capitalist justice.”

In the year preceding the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, the ILD and sections of the International Red Aid led mass actions in their defense, including protests and strikes of tens of thousands on the eve of the executions. The SP and pro-capitalist union tops undermined the growing workers mobilization by looking to the political agencies of the class enemy, a policy accompanied by a vicious anti-Communist campaign of slander and exclusion. Cannon addressed the two conflicting policies:

“One policy is the policy of the class struggle. It puts the center of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favoring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations—organized protest on a national and international scale.... The other policy is the policy of ‘respectability,’ of the ‘soft pedal’ and of ridiculous illusions about ‘justice’ from the courts of the enemy. It relies mainly on legal proceedings. It seeks to blur the issue of the class struggle.”

— “Who Can Save Sacco and Vanzetti?” (Labor Defender, January 1927)

The principle of non-sectarian, class-struggle defense has guided our work, in particular our more than two-decade struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. As a small organization, we don’t pretend that we are able to mobilize the type of hard class struggle that not only built the unions in this country but also harnessed the social power of the working class to the defense of labor’s imprisoned soldiers in the class war. Such struggles are today a very faint memory. Nor do we want to distribute rose-colored glasses through which even the most minimal stirrings against particular atrocities by the racist capitalist rulers appear as sea changes in the political climate—a practice that is common fare for sundry proclaimed socialists.

Instead, we are dedicated to educating a new generation of fighters in the best traditions of the early Communist defense work before it was poisoned by Stalinist degeneration. As Cannon wrote for the ILD’s second annual conference: “The procession that goes in and out of the prison doors is not a new one. It is the result of an old struggle under new forms and under new conditions. All through history those who have fought against oppression have constantly been faced with the dungeons of a ruling class.” He added, “The class-conscious worker accords to the class-war prisoners a place of singular honor and esteem.” Keeping the memory of their struggles alive helps politically arm a new generation of fighters against the prison that is capitalist society. We urge WV readers to honor the prisoners by supporting the Holiday Appeal.

The 21 class-war prisoners receiving stipends from the PDC are listed below.

*   *   *

Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a well-known supporter of the MOVE organization and an award-winning journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless.” Framed up for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer, Mumia was sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. Federal and state courts have repeatedly refused to consider evidence proving Mumia’s innocence, including the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed the policeman. In 2011 the Philadelphia district attorney’s office dropped its longstanding effort to legally lynch America’s foremost class-war prisoner. Mumia remains condemned to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Leonard Peltier is an internationally renowned class-war prisoner. Peltier’s incarceration for his activism in the American Indian Movement has come to symbolize this country’s racist repression of its native peoples, the survivors of centuries of genocidal oppression. Peltier was framed up for the 1975 deaths of two FBI agents marauding in what had become a war zone on the South Dakota Pine Ridge Reservation. Although the lead government attorney has admitted, “We can’t prove who shot those agents,” and the courts have acknowledged blatant prosecutorial misconduct, the 69-year-old Peltier is not scheduled to be reconsidered for parole for another eleven years! Peltier suffers from multiple serious medical conditions and is incarcerated far from his people and family.

Eight MOVE members—Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa, Eddie Africa and Phil Africa—are in their 36th year of prison. After the 8 August 1978 siege of their Philadelphia home by over 600 heavily armed cops, they were sentenced to 30-100 years having been falsely convicted of killing a police officer who died in the cops’ own cross fire. In 1985, eleven of their MOVE family members, including five children, were massacred by Philly cops when a bomb was dropped on their living quarters. After more than three decades of unjust incarceration, these innocent prisoners are routinely turned down at parole hearings. None have been released.


Lynne Stewart is a lawyer imprisoned in 2009 for defending her client, a blind Egyptian cleric convicted for an alleged plot to blow up New York City landmarks in the early 1990s. Stewart is a well-known advocate who defended Black Panthers, radical leftists and others reviled by the capitalist state. She was originally sentenced to 28 months; a resentencing pursued by the Obama administration more than quadrupled her prison time to ten years. As she is 74 years old and suffers from Stage IV breast cancer that has spread to her lungs and back, this may well be a death sentence. Stewart qualifies for immediate compassionate release, but Obama’s Justice Department refuses to make such a motion before the resentencing judge, who has all but stated that he would grant her release!

Jaan Laaman of the Ohio 7

Jaan Laaman and Thomas Manning are the two remaining anti-imperialist activists known as the Ohio 7 still in prison, convicted for their roles in a radical group that took credit for bank “expropriations” and bombings of symbols of U.S. imperialism, such as military and corporate offices, in the late 1970s and ’80s. Before their arrests in 1984 and 1985, the Ohio 7 were targets of massive manhunts. The Ohio 7’s politics were once shared by thousands of radicals, but, like the Weathermen before them, the Ohio 7 were spurned by the “respectable” left. From a proletarian standpoint, the actions of these leftist activists against imperialism and racist injustice are not a crime. They should not have served a day in prison.

Ed Poindexter and Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa are former Black Panther supporters and leaders of the Omaha, Nebraska, National Committee to Combat Fascism. They are victims of the FBI’s deadly COINTELPRO operation, under which 38 Black Panther Party members were killed and hundreds more imprisoned on frame-up charges. Poindexter and Mondo were railroaded to prison and sentenced to life for a 1970 explosion that killed a cop, and they have now spent more than 40 years behind bars. Nebraska courts have repeatedly denied Poindexter and Mondo new trials despite the fact that a crucial piece of evidence excluded from the original trial, a 911 audio tape long suppressed by the FBI, proved that testimony of the state’s key witness was perjured.

Hugo Pinell, the last of the San Quentin 6 still in prison, has been in solitary isolation for more than four decades. He was a militant anti-racist leader of prison rights organizing along with George Jackson, his comrade and mentor, who was gunned down by prison guards in 1971. Despite numerous letters of support and no disciplinary write-ups for over 28 years, Pinell was again denied parole in 2009. Now in his late 60s, Pinell continues to serve a life sentence at the notorious torture chamber Pelican Bay SHU in California, a focal point for hunger strikes against grotesque inhuman conditions.

Jason Sutherlin, Cody Lee Sutherlin, Dylan Sutherlin, John Tucker and Alex Stuck were among some 18 anti-racist militants who, in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park in May 2012, broke up a gathering of fascists called to organize a “White Nationalist Economic Summit.” Among the vermin sent scurrying were some with links to the Stormfront Web site run by a former Ku Klux Klan grand dragon. Such fascist meetings are not merely right-wing discussion clubs but organizing centers for race-terror against black people, Jews, immigrants, gays and anyone else the white-supremacists consider subhuman. For their basic act of social sanitation, these five were sentenced by a Cook County court to prison terms of three and a half to six years on charges of “armed violence.”

Contribute now! All proceeds from the Holiday Appeals will go to the Class-War Prisoners Stipend Fund. This is not charity but an elementary act of solidarity with those imprisoned for their opposition to racist capitalism and imperialist depredations. Send your contributions to: PDC, P.O. Box 99, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013; (212) 406-4252.


Note that this image is PVT Manning's preferred photo.

Note that this image is PVT Manning’s preferred photo.

Reposted from the American Left Historyblog, dated December 1, 2010.

Markin comment:

I like to think of myself as a fervent supporter of the Partisan Defense Committee, an organization committed to social and political defense cases and causes in the interests of the international working class. And an organization committed, at this time of the year, to raising funds to support the class-war prisoners’ stipend program through the annual Holiday Appeal drive. Unfortunately having to raise these funds in support of political prisoners for many years now, too many years, as the American and international capitalist class and their hangers-on have declared relentless war, recently a very one-sided war, against those who would cry out against the monster. Attempting to silence voices from zealous lawyers, articulate death row prisoners, anti-fascist street fighters to black liberation fighters who ended up on the wrong side of a cop and state vendetta and anti-imperialist fighters who took Che’s admonition to wage battle inside the “belly of the beast” seriously. Others, other militant fighters as well, too numerous to mention here but remembered.

Normally I do not need any prompting in the matter. This year, however, in light of the addition of Attorney Lynne Stewart* (yes, I know, she has been disbarred but that does not make her less of a people’s attorney in my eyes) to the stipend program, I read the 25th Anniversary Appeal article in Workers Vanguard No. 969 where I was startled to note how many of the names, organizations, and political philosophies mentioned there hark back to my own radical coming of age, and the need for class-struggle defense of all our political prisoners in the late 1960s (although I may not have used that exact term at the time).

That recognition included names like black liberation fighter George Jackson, present class-war prisoner Hugo Pinell’s San Quentin Six comrade; the Black Panthersin their better days, the days when the American state really was out to kill or detain every last supporter, and in the days when we needed, desperately needed, to fight for their defense in places from Oakland to New Haven, as represented by two of the Omaha Three (Poindexter and wa Langa), in their better days; the struggle, the fierce struggle, against the death penalty as represented in Mumia’s case today; the Ohio 7 and the Weather Underground who, rightly or wrongly, were committed to building a second front against American imperialism, and who most of the left, the respectable left, abandoned; and, of course, Leonard Peltier and the Native American struggles from Pine Ridge to the Southwest. It has been a long time and victories few. I could go on but you get the point.

That point also includes the hard fact that we have paid a high price, a very high price, for not winning back in the late 1960s and early 1970s when we last had this capitalist imperialist society on the ropes. Maybe it was political immaturity, maybe it was cranky theory, maybe it was elitism, hell, maybe it was just old-fashioned hubris but we let them off the hook. And have had to fight forty years of rear-guard “culture wars” since just to keep from falling further behind.

And the class-war prisoners, our class-war prisoners, have had to face their “justice” and their prisons. Many, too many for most of that time. That lesson should be etched in the memory of every pro-working class militant today. And this, as well, as a quick glance at the news these days should make every liberation fighter realize; the difference between being on one side of that prison wall and the other is a very close thing when the bourgeois decides to pull the hammer down. The support of class-war prisoners is thus not charity, as International Labor Defense founder James P. Cannon noted back in the 1920s, but a duty of those fighters outside the walls. Today I do my duty, and gladly. I urge others to do the same now at the holidays and throughout the year. The class-war prisoners must not stand alone.

***Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By-Bob Dylan's When The Ship Comes In 

Peter Paul Markin comment December 2013:

A while back, maybe a few years ago, I started a series presented under the headline Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By where I posted some songs that I thought would get us through the “dog days” of the struggle for our socialist future. Posted at a time when it was touch and go whether there would be some kind of uprising against the economic royalists (chastised under the popular sobriquet “the one-percent”) who had just dealt the world a blow to the head through their economic machinations. Subsequently while there were momentary uprisings the response from the American and world working classes has if anything entrenched those interest. So as the dog days continue I have resumed the series. I do not vouch for the political thrust of the songs selected; for the most part they are done by pacifists, social democrats, hell, even just plain old ordinary democrats. And, occasionally, a communist, although hard communist musicians have historically been scarce on the ground. Thus, here we have a regular "popular front" on the music scene. While this kind of formation would mean political death for any serious revolutionary upheaval and would not be acceptable for our political prospects, it will suffice for our purposes here. Markin.



From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin

My old friend from the summer of love 1967 days, Peter Paul Markin, always used to make a point of answering, or rather arguing with anybody who tried to tell him back in the day that “music was the revolution.”  Meaning, of course that contrary to the proponents (including many mutual friends who acted out on that idea and got burned by the flame) that eight or ten Give Peace A Chance, Kumbaya, Woodstock songs would not do the trick, would not change this nasty, brutish, old short-life world into the garden, into some pre-lapsian Eden. Meaning that the gathering of youth nation unto itself out in places like Woodstock, Golden Gate Park, Monterrey, hell, the Boston Common, or even once word trickled down, Olde Saco Park, would not feed on itself and grow to such a critical mass that the enemies of good, kindness, and leave us alone would sulk off somewhere, defeated or at least defanged.

Many a night, many a dope-blistered night before some seawall ocean front Pacific Coast campfire I would listen to Markin blast forth against that stuff, against that silliness. As for me, I was too into the moment, too into finding weed, hemp, mary jane and some fetching women to share it with to get caught up in some nebulous ideological struggle. It was only later, after the music died, after rock and roll turned in on itself, turned into some exotic fad of the exiles on Main Street that I began to think through the implications of what Markin, and the guys on the other side, were arguing about.

Now it makes perfect sense that music or any mere cultural expression would be unable to carry enough weight to turn us back to the garden. Although I guess that I would err on the side of the angels and at least wish they could have carried the day against the monsters of the American imperium we confronted back in the day.                 

Thinking about what a big deal was made of such arguments recently (arguments carried deep into the night, deep in smoke dream nights, and sometimes as the blue –pink dawn came rising to smite our dreams) I thought back to my own musical appreciations. In my jaded youth I developed an ear for roots music, whether I was conscious of that fact or not. Perhaps it initially started as a reaction to my parents’ music, the music that got them through the Great Depression of the1930s and later waiting for other shoe to drop (either in Normandy or at home waiting in Olde Saco), and that became a habit, a wafting through the radio of my childhood home habit. You know who I mean Frank (Sinatra for the heathens), Harry James, the Andrews Sisters, Peggy Lee, Doris Day and the like. Or, maybe, and this is something that I have come closer to believing was the catalyst, my father’s very real roots in the Saturday night mountain barn dance, fiddles blazing, music of his growing up poor down in Appalachia.   

The origin of that roots music first centered on the blues, country and city with the likes of Son House , Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James, then early rock and roll, you know the rockabillies and R&B crowd, Elvis, Jerry Lee, Chuck, Roy, Big Joe and Ike, and later, with the folk revival of the early 1960’s, folk music, especially the protest to high heaven sort, Bob Dylan, Dave Von Ronk, Joan Baez, etc. As I said I have often wondered about the source of this interest.

I am, and have always been a city boy, and an Eastern city boy at that. Meaning rootless or not meaningfully or consciously rooted in any of the niches mentioned above. Nevertheless, over time I have come to appreciate many more forms of roots music than in my youth. Cajun, Tex-Mex, old time dust bowl ballads a la Woody Guthrie, cowboy stuff with the likes of Bob Wills and Milton Brown, Carter Family-etched mountain music (paying final conscious tribute to the mountain DNA in my bone) and so on.

And all those genres are easily classified as roots music but I recall one time driving Markin crazy, driving him to closet me with the “music is the revolution” heads when I mentioned in passing that the Doors, then in their high holy mantra shamanic phase epitomized roots music. That hurt, a momentary hurt then, but thinking about it more recently Markin was totally off base in his remarks.

The Doors are roots music? Well, yes, in the sense that one of the branches of rock and roll derived from early rhythm and blues and in the special case of Jim Morrison, leader of the Doors, the attempt to musically explore the shamanic elements in the Western American Native- American culture that drove the beat of many of his trance-like songs like The End. More than one rock critic, professional rock critic, has argued that on their good nights when the dope and booze were flowing, Morrison was in high trance, and they were fired up the Doors were the best rock and roll band ever created. Those critics will get no argument here, and it is not a far stretch to classify their efforts as in the great American roots tradition.  I argued then and will argue here almost fifty years later when that original statement of mine was more prophetic the Doors put together all the stuff rock critics in one hundred years will be dusting off when they want to examine what it was like when men (and women, think Bonnie Raitt, Wanda Jackson, et. al) played rock and roll for keeps.

So where does Jim Morrison fit in an icon of the 1960s if he was not some new age latter day cultural Lenin/Trotsky. Jim was part of the trinity – Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix who lived fast, lived way too fast, and died young. The slogan of the day (or hour) - Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. And we liked that idea however you wanted to mix it up. Then.

Their deaths were part of the price we felt we had to pay if we were going to be free. And be creative. Even the most political among us, including Markin in his higher moments, felt those cultural winds blowing across the continent and counted those who espoused this alternative vision as part of the chosen. The righteous headed to the “promise land.” Unfortunately those who believed that we could have a far-reaching positive cultural change via music or “dropping out” without a huge societal political change proved to be wrong long ago. But, these were still our people.

Know this as well if you are keeping score. Whatever excesses were committed by the generation of ’68, and there were many, were mainly made out of ignorance and foolishness. Our opponents, exemplified by one Richard Milhous Nixon, President of the United States and common criminal, spent every day of their lives as a matter of conscious, deliberate policy raining hell down on the peoples of the world, the minorities in this country, and anyone else who got in their way. Forty plus years of “cultural wars” in revenge by his protégés, hangers-on and their descendants has been a heavy price to pay for our youthful errors. And Markin will surely endorse this sentiment. Enough.
Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin’
Like the stillness in the wind
’Fore the hurricane begins
The hour when the ship comes in

Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they’ll be smiling
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand
The hour that the ship comes in

And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean

A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in

Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin’
And the ship’s wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in

Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharoah’s tribe
They’ll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered

Read more:
***The Roots Is The Toots- The Music That Got Them Through The Great Depression And World War II-Bing Crosby I’ll Be Seeing You

… yes, they had had their minute, their lovely minute, their minute in time, in the time of her time, a time when frankly she thought that she would never find love, not find it anywhere. He had come into the café all brash, all beautiful, all beautiful not handsome, a fistful of decorations on his dress uniform that told her, told any citizen, that he had seen hard battle, done his duty, seemingly more, done it honorably, and had survived without boast. But there he was for all the world to see, for her to see as she brought him a glass of water and a menu. He said he was ready to order even before she had put the menu down, the house special, please, ma’am. She said Delores, not ma’am and something in the way she said it gave him some courage to ask more about her as she waited on him. He kind of lingered until he asked her if she would accompany him around town, make his time before leaving go easier. She hesitated, almost said no, and then when a certain hurt look came over him she switched and said to herself why not.         

And he didn’t make a false move all three days they were together. He took her to a show, they had some dinner, and walked for what seemed like hours talking about this and that along the Charles River, almost up to Harvard University and then back toward the Back Bay. Then the moment of truth, would she stay with him that night at the Park Plaza. By then she knew in advance that she would say yes, and so she did. They made love, got up, walked around the town, downtown, took a subway ride to Harvard Square, and came back and made love again. And so they spent their three days, her lovely three days, and when she saw him off at the South Station trains they kissed, shook hands, and parted. That was the nature of the times in the time of her time. And for a time, a long time thereafter she would sometimes walk that Charles River route from the first night and get a little wistful…        



Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:

Whether we liked it or not, whether we even knew what it meant to our parents or not, or frankly, during that hellish growing up absurd teenager time in the 1950s trying to figure out our places, if any, in the cold war red scare world, if there was to be a world, and that was a close thing at times,  or whether we cared, music was as dear a thing to them as to us, their sons and daughters, who were in the throes of finding our own very different musical identities. As well, whether we knew it or not, knew what sacred place the music of the late 1930s and 1940s, swing, be-bop swing, be-bop flat-out, show tunes, you know jitter-bug stuff, and the like held in their youthful hearts that was the music, their getting through the tough times music, that went wafting through the house on the radio, on record player, or for some the television, of many of those of us who constitute the now graying fading generation of ‘68. And some of us will pass to the beyond clueless as to what our forebears were attuned to when they came of age in a world, a very darkly-etched world, which they too had not created, and had no say in creating.

Yes they were crazy for the swing and sway of bespectacled Benny Goodman blowing that clarinet like some angel- herald letting the world know,  if it did know already, that it did not mean a thing, could not possibly matter in the universe, if you did not swing, with and without Miss (Ms.) Peggy Lee, better with, better with, swaying slightly lips moistened, swirling every guy in the place on Why Don’t You Do Right vowing he would do just that for a smile and a chance at those slightly swaying hips. Mr. Harry James with or without the orchestra , better with, blowing Gabriel’s horn, knocking down walls, maybe Jericho, maybe just some Starlight Ballroom in Kansas City blasting the joint with his You Made Me Love You to the top of the charts. Elegant Duke Ellington with or without Mr. Johnny Hodges blowing that sexy sax out into the ocean air night in some Frisco club, blowing out to the Japan seas, on Taking The ‘A’ Train. Tommy Dorsey all banded up if there is such a word making eyes misty with I’ll Never Smile Again.  Jimmy Dorsey too with his own aggregation wailing Tangerine that had every high school girl throwing dreamy nickels and dimes into the jukebox, with or without fanfare, Glenn Miller, with or without those damn glasses, taking that Sentimental Journey before his too soon last journey. Miss (Ms.) Billie Holiday, Lady Day, with or without the blues, personal blues, strung out blues too, singing everybody else’s blues away with that throaty thing she had, that meaningful pause, yeah, Lady Sings The Blues. Miss Lena Horne with or without stormy weather making grown men cry (women too) when she reached that high note fretting about her long gone man, Jesus.  Miss (Ms.) Margaret Whiting going for that Old Black Magic. Mr. Vaughn Monroe with or without goalposts. Mr. Billy Eckstine, too. Mr. Frank Sinatra doing a million songs fronting for the Dorseys and anybody who wanted to rise in that swinging world, with or without a horde of bobbysoxers breaking down his doors, putting everybody else to shame (and later too). The Inkspots, always with that spoken refrain catch that nobody seemed to tire of, doing teary I’ll Get By or If I Didn’tCare. The Mills Brothers with or without those paper dolls. The Andrews Sisters with or without rum in their Coca-Cola, The Dewdrops with or without whatever they were doing with or without. Mr. Cole Porter, with or without the boys, writing the bejesus out of  Tin Pan Alley and Broadway tunes. Mr. Irving Berlin with or without the flag, ditto Mr. Porter. And Mr. George Gershwin with or without his brother, creating Summertime and a thousand other catchy tunes. Yeah, their survival music.  

We the generation of ’68, baby-boomers, decidedly not what Tom Brokaw dubbed rightly or wrongly “ the greatest generation,”  decidedly not your parents’  or grandparents’ (please, please do not say great-grandparents’ even if it is true) generation could not bear to hear that music, could not bear to think anybody in the whole universe would think that stuff was cool. Those of us who came of age, biological, political and social age kicking, screaming and full of the post-war new age teenage angst and alienation in the time of Jack Kennedy’s Camelot were ready for a jail-break, a jail-break on all fronts and that included from “their song” stuff. Their staid Eisenhower red scare cold war stuff (he their organizer of victory, their gentile father Ike), hell, we knew that the world was scary, knew it every time we were forced to go down into some dank school basement and squat down, heads down too, hoping to high heaven that the Russkies had not decided to go crazy and set off “the bomb,” many bombs. And every righteous teenager had a nightmare that they were trapped in some fashionable family bunker and those loving parents had thoughtfully brought their records down into the abyss to soothe their savage beasts for the duration. Please, please, please if we must die then at least let’s go out to Jerry Lee’s High School Confidential.  

We were moreover, some of us any way and I like to think the best of us, driven by some makeshift dream, ready to cross our own swords with the night-takers of our time, and who, in the words of Camelot brother Bobby, sweet ruthless Bobby of more than one shed tear, quoting from Alfred Lord Tennyson, were “seeking a new world.” Those who took up the call to action heralded by the new dispensation and slogged through that decade whether it was in the civil rights/black liberation struggle, the anti-Vietnam War struggle or the struggle to find one’s own identity in the counter-culture swirl before the hammer came down were kindred. To the disapproval, anger, and fury of more than one parent who had gladly slept through the Eisenhower times. And that hammer came down quickly as the decade ended and the high white note that we searched for, desperately searched for, drifted out into the ebbing tide. Gone. But enough about us this series is about our immediate forbears (but please, please not great grandparents) their uphill struggles to make their vision of the their newer world, their struggles to  satisfy their hunger a little, to stop that gnawing want, and the music that in their youth  they dreamed by on cold winter nights and hot summer days.

This is emphatically the music, the get by the tough times in the cities, on the farms, out in the wide spaces, of the hard born generation that survived the dust bowl all farms blown away when the winds gathered like some ancient locust curse to cleanse the earth and leave, leave nothing except silt and coughs. All land worthless no crops could stand the beating, the bankers fearful that the croppers would just leave taking whatever was left and the dusted crowd heading west with whatever was movable. They drifted west, west as far as California if the old buggy held up and they had enough gas in the tank, not knowing what some old time professor, from Harvard I think, knew about the frontier that it had been swallowed up, been staked out long ago and too bad. Not knowing as well what some old time Okie balladeer knew that if you did not have the dough California was just another Okie/Arkie bust.

Survived empty bowls, empty plates, wondering where the next meal would come from, many times, too many times from some Sally soup-line, some praise the lord before thy shall eat soup-line. Survived that serious hunger want that deprives a man, a woman, of dignity scratching for roots like some porcine beast in some back alley lot, too weak to go on but too weak to stop as well. Survived, if not west, then no sugar bowl city street urchin corner boy hard times of the 1930s Great Depression, always with that vagrant foot up against some brick-laid wall, killing time, killing some dreams,  sleeping under soot-lined railroad trestles, on splintered park benches newspapers for a pillow’s rest (one eye open for swarming festering jack-rollers and club-wielding sadistic cops), and hard bench bus stations (ditto jack-rollers and cops).  Survive the time of the madness just then beating the tom-toms of war and degradation coming from a hungry want-infested Europe filled with venom, those drums heralding the time of the night-takers casting a shadow over the darkened world, portending the plainsong of the time of the long knives, outlawing dreams for the duration.

Building up a pretty list of those wants on cold nights , name them, food, shelter, sex, two- bits in the pocket, name those hungers, success, dignity, not having to struggle against the want night. Building that phantom list while among tree-lined Hudson River “hobo jungle” riverside fires stoked by fugitives, brethren, the fellahin of the world, upstream from the clogged city, upstream from clogged city prying eyes and prickly cops, cities clogged with broken dreams, or worse of late no dreams, and not enough food to go around, not enough work either and that ate at him, her more that the food hungers. Down in dusty arroyos, parched, no water, no agua aqui senor, lo siento, as they, the bracero brethren, passed the water jug between them and pointed him west, west you cannot stay here gringo, no way. Under forsaken silver-plated bridges, steel beams to rest a weary head, rolled blanket for his pillow, trying to keep the winds at bay.  Survived god knows how by taking the nearest freight west, some smoke and dreams freight, sleeping on some straw-scratched floor, plugging ears with napkins to drown out the rattling rails and deep sleep snores. Taking Southern Pacific, Union Pacific, B&O, Illinois Central, Penn Central, Empire State, Boston and Maine, or one of a million trunk lines to go out, and young as he was, desperate as he was, penniless as he was, search for, well, search for…

Searching for something that was not triple- decker bodies, three to a room sharing some scraggly blanket, an old worn out pillow for rest, the faint smell of oatmeal, twenty days in a row oatmeal, oatmeal with.., being cooked in the next room meaning no Pa work, meaning one jump, maybe not even that, ahead of the sullen dreaded bastard rent- collector (the landlords do not dare come in person so they hire the task out), meaning the sheriff, his damn auction, and the streets are closing in. (What did the Sheriff care that all meager life-times possessions were street-ward bound he was paid by the item tossed.) Bodies, brothers and sisters, enough to lose count, piled high, cold-water flat high, that damn cold water splash signifying how low things have gotten, not even hot water for the weekly bath, with a common commode for the whole floor and brown-stained sink.

Later moving down the scale, down to the lower depths as some Russian writer called them in a book of that name, a rooming house room for the same number of bodies, smudged prison-paned window looking out onto the air- shaft, dark, dark with despair, no air but some fetid foul breeze from the basement furnace, the very, very faint odor of oatmeal, thinned out even further, who knows how many days in a row, from Ma’s make-shift hot plate on its last legs.  Hell, call it what it was a flop house stinking of perspiration and low-shelf whiskeys and wines. Stinking of winos and riffraff in the hallways howling at the moon all night and jack-rollers preying on whoever was witless enough to walk into his lair. All around shadows, moonlight shadows, moonless night shadows the times when the midnight sifters plied their trade and snuck in, snuck in these damn one room hells looking for anything, anything to pawn, anything to feed that junk habit that had them in its grip. Ma, yelling at the kids, jesus, at the kids, milling around the room, that why didn’t they, the jack-rollers, the midnight sifters, the junkies, and the twisted sister street tricks (whores she called them when the kids got older and knew what that word meant) go uptown and bother the Mayfair swells who had dough and leave respectable people alone.        

Others had it worse, tumbled down shack, window pane-less some wax paper taped to hold off the winds and rains coming from the north, tarpaper siding leaving exposed wood to rot and provide homes for fugitive termites and vermin, roof tiles falling leaving poorly patched spots where the spring rains would wash through, wash through to the six buckets which were placed beneath the patches to hold off collapse, a lean-to ready to fall to the first wind, the first red wind, an ill wind, a land wind the old sailors, old tars called it and maybe they were right, coming out of the mountains and swooping down the hills and hollows, ready to fall to the first downpour rain, washed away. Cold water flat, flop house room, tumbled-down shack, leave them behind, get out on the open road, blow the stinks off, get that bindle stick together, a cup, a plate, spoon, a comb just in case you are in a town, some matches, keep dry matches, a pouch of Bull Durham and papers, maybe some change all wrapped in a handkerchief, the worldly possessions of the fellahin, the fugitive, the hobo, the tramp and the bum, grab that slow moving freight before she picks up steam, watch out for the “bulls” and search for the great promised American night that had been tattered by world events, and greed.

Survived the Hoovervilles, the world come down to the great cardboard siding, tin can cartons, discarded boxes, found in some orphan street, dilapidated, to serve as buffer against the hard winter winds, the spring rains and that damn relentless summer heat. Tin can roof thundering sounds at every light rain, slap-dash jerry-built camp explosions along rivers. Mighty rivers like the Missouri and Mississippi and no account ones, trickle down ones, like the Elko and the Dearborn that no longer gushed ramparts. Survived down in hard rock- infested ravines filled with brambles, snakes, gnarly insects ready to do battle once some fugitive arm or leg was exposed. Survived under railroad trestles, the clanking freight trains above, what did Shakespeare call it, yes, murdering sleep, and murdering dreams too. No wonder some guy, some hobo philosopher-king, and don’t laugh there were such fellows, along with broken-down stockbrokers, wreaked high financiers, ex-movie moguls, unemployed cabbies, unemployable union organizers, out-of-work workers of all types, families attached, and habitual malingerers trying to weather another day without working, said that life, his life anyway, and maybe their lives, were nothing but train smoke and wishful thinking. Hell, he didn’t know the half of it, didn’t know that life could get much coarser out on the great Wilderness Road. 

Tossed, hither and yon, cold- water flats, flop-houses, tarpaper shacks, then the great outdoors, what did that guy call it, that writer guy, I forget his name, called it probably from his cozy fireplaced study, fully nourished from the look of his pipe-smoking face on the back jacket of his latest pot-boiler, oh yeah, the romance of the road. Tossed around about six million different ways, name each one instead of counting sheep at night, murdered sleep. But it all came down to this, to the rivers, ravines, trestled-bridges, when the banks, yeah, the banks, the usual suspects, and rightly so from all the evidence, robbed people of their shacks, their cottages, their farm houses, their smokeless back forty dreams, and left them with nothing but the romance of the road. Even that smug pipe-filled writer, Jesus, what was his name, should pause to wonder. Yah, those bastards robbed them, picked them clean, as an old-time balladeer, a free-wheeling, song-writing red, a commie, hell, nothing but a Russkie-loving home-grown Bolshevik in the days when in some quarters, say, Frisco town, Akron, Minneapolis, blessed shut-down Flint, lion Detroit, hog-butcher to the world Chi town, smelter to the world Pittsburgh, sailing under that banner was a badge of honor, or just another fist in the struggle, welcome brother, welcome sister, we need all the hands, no, all the clenched fists we can get, said at the time not with a gun but with a fountain pen, but still robbed them. Cleaned them out, to get lost on that Wilderness Road, that trail of one thousand tears leading west.

Survived the soup kitchens hungers, the gnawing can’t wait in the endless waiting line for scraps, dreaming of some by-gone steak or dish of ice cream, and always that hunger, not the stomach hunger although that was ever present, but the hunger that hurts a man, hurts his pride, hurts a woman’s too, hurts when he, they have to stick their hands out, stick them out and not know why. Not know why a year before the sun was shining, they had dreams of living in that little house, a cottage really, ending their patterned days there, and now had shutter dreams of living in that cold-water flat, the flop-house room, the tar-paper shack forever turning their mouths to ashes. Not knowing why Bill up the street, Jack down the road, Leroy across the way was working, worrying but working, while his two hands were idle, and a million human things still needed to be fixed, to be built, to be created. And she cried a tear on those hands to see how his ignorance of what made the world go round ate at him, ate at his beautiful heart.  

Planning the fruitless day, fruitless since he was born to work, took pride in work, had worked since twelve to help a struggling family even in good times,  planning around dark hour Sally breakfasts don’t be late, six to nine, but with sermon and song attached, mission stuff in heat-soaked rooms, men smelling of unwashed men, and drink (quick drink, an eye-opener they called it in the shelter,    before entry and hence a strong smell of cheap rotgut). Planning around city hall hand-out lunches eaten on park benches or lawns, peanut butter sandwiches, slapped slap-dash together with a pint box of milk and an apple, maybe. Worse, worse by far the nightly Saint Vincent DePaul suppers, soup, bread, some canned vegetable, something they called meat but was in dispute, lukewarm coffee. Such a feast had only, only if you could prove you were truly destitute with a letter from some churchman, a Catholic churchman, like Protestants, Jews, Seventh-Day Adventist, Quakers, Shakers, Devil-worshippers, Jainists, Buddhists, Moslems, and every other kind of fellahin religionists were not hungry just then, and, in addition to the religious test, under some terrible penalty, you had to say that you had searched for work that day. A hard dollar, hard dollar indeed.

Jesus, out of work for another day, another in a long line of days, long line of Sally, City Hall, Saint Vincent DePaul hand-out days,   with three hungry growing kids to feed, boys, wouldn’t you know it,   kids, boys, who, what did they call what kids did then, oh yeah, eat them out of house and home. A wife, a precious wife, sickly, sickly from boys too close together, sickly from her own delicate frame,  sick unto death of the not having, not having for the boys, their boys, he thought. Making, she making, sick or not, their meager savings, their dole hand -out, their occasional relative money gift, stretch beyond endurance with the weekly bill envelopes always shorting some irate collector. Damn, little work waiting for anybody that day, that day when all hell broke loose and the economy tanked again, stocks tumbled, again, and guys were jumping out high buildings left and right, guys were trying to scrape every dime they could gather in order to not go under and face the high building windows, guys were getting tossed out of work, other guys who were thinking about buying guns and taking what they could take, and take it fast at least that is what it said in the Boston Globe he found on the ground and read while he waited once again in the damn soup line (ditto the reportage in  The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Examiner if anybody was asking). They, the newspapers, said that there was too much around, too many cars, houses, too much wheat, cotton, oil, too many record-players, whatever, Jesus, too much, too many, and he with nothing for those kids, those eat them out of house and home boys, nothing and he was too proud just then to ask for some damn letter to give to those Vincent DePaul hard-hearts. 

And that day not him, not him yet, not him with a sickly wife worrying unto death over bill envelopes, not him with three hungry boys conceived too closely together, not him who was without steady work and glad get what he got when he got it and could shake off the damn charity soup-lines for a time, could thumb his nose at those Vincent DePaul hard-hearts, but others. Others who read more that the Boston Globe (and the dittos)  and who were dreaming of that full head of steam day to come, the day to even things up a little for a mess that they had not made, in places like big auto Flint eyeing those lines and thinking how to shut them down from the inside, out in waterfront Frisco town thinking that in order to make the water bosses cry that they might have to shut the whole place down, out in rubber Akron thinking of maybe even bringing the unemployed, guys like him to stop the scabbing, guys, steel-sweated guys out in hog butcher to the world prairie Chicago thinking of one big union, hell, even in boondock small trucker Minneapolis thinking of bringing in the wives, sisters, and sweethearts, the whole sweated, misbegotten fellahin world for one big push,

Yeah, they dreamed a lot, in places like bayside Frisco town,  mid-America Akron, trucker Minneapolis, Chi town name your industry, clanky Flint and motor city Detroit, places like Harlan, Birmingham, Los Angeles too, seemed like half the whole fellahin  was dreaming then, and some guys and gals, some stand-up guys and gals were scheming too, talking it up, were not going quietly into the rubbish can of history, dreaming of that day when the score would get evened, evened a little, and a man (and where I say man I say woman too, women who like they used to say in China hold up half the sky), could hold his head up a little, could at least bring bread, maybe some fruits and vegetables, to those three hungry growing kids, those boys who were eating him out of house and home, who didn’t understand the finer point of world economics, just hunger. Stomach hunger not that hunger that gnawed at him, there would be time enough for that for them. Until then, until he decides to not go quietly into the rubbish can of history though, he is left shifting the scroungings of the trash piles of the urban glut, the discard of the haves, the have- nots throw nothing away. On other horizons, Omaha, Grand Junction, Topeka, Davenport, Neola, Muskogee,  places where the corn and wheat grow tall, taller than a man, the brethren curse the rural fallow fields, curse the jack-robber banks, and curse the weather, but curse most of all having to pack up and head, head anywhere, but the here, and search, search like that brother on that urban glut pile for a way to curb  that gnawing  hungry that cried out in the night-want, want that is all. 

Survived too the look, the look of those, the what did FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the young, or forgetful) call them, oh yeah, the economic royalists, today’s 1%, the rack-renters, the coupon-clippers, the guys, as one of their number from an earlier generation, the openly cutthroat robber barons of unblessed memory, said, who hired one half of the working class to fight the other. Survived the look, if they could have seen that controlled furious look like the maids and manservants who attended to their toilet saw it, especially after a hard night at the club, or soiree. Saw the look of those who in their fortified towers, their Xanadus, their Dearborns, their Lake Shore Drives, their Beacon Hills, their Upper East Sides, their Nob Hills, and a few other spots, tittered that not everybody was built to survive to be the fittest. That crowd, and let’s name names, a few anyway, Ford, General Motors, Firestone, U.S. Steel, the Vanderbilts, The Spragues, the Alexanders, the Morgans, The Goldmans, the Harrimans and their agents (always agents, always a nest full of agents, always a layer to shield them from life’s blows) fought tooth and nail against the little guy trying to break bread. Fought that brother, that little guy, that guy we know was scrounging the refuge piles, out there pounding the mean streets too proud to ask for a letter, Jesus, a letter for some leftover food, before he got “religion” about what was what in the land of “milk and honey.” 

A land where they, the swells, hah, the Mayfair swells of the novels, wreaked havoc on that farmer out in the dust bowl now travelling some road, some road west knowing that the East was barred up, egging him on to some hot dusty bracero labor field picking, maybe “hire” him on as a scab against those uppity city boys. Yes, they fought every guy trying to get out from under that cardboard, tar paper, windowless soup kitchen world along with a hell of a lot of comrades, yes, comrades, not Russkie comrades although reds were thick in those battles, took their lumps in Frisco, Flint, Akron and Minneapolis, hell, any place where a righteous people were rising, kindred in the struggle to put that survival of the fittest noise on the back-burner of human history. To stand up and  take collective action to put things right, hell, made the bosses cry bloody murder when they shut down their factories, shut them down cold until some puny penny justice was eked out. Just so they could lift their fellahin heads a little out of the mire of human existence. And maybe just maybe make that poor unknowingly mean-street walking city brother, the one with the three growing boys eating him out of house and home, scrounging on the urban refuge piles, fretting away his time worrying about the next meal, the next roof, thinking maybe he should take that scab job being offered although every instinct said no, and that sweated farm boy with a parcel of kids heading forlornly west ready to grab even bracero work to keep the wolves at bay although his every instinct said no as well, think twice about helping those Mayfair swells.      

Survived all the hell that betook many in those days but took time out too, maybe not our hero wandering refuge piles in defense of his three boys, but time out if young perhaps. As if such things were embedded in some secret teen coda, some teen coda at least since teen became a separate object of study, more likely befuddlement. To stretch those legs, to flash those legs, to sway those hips. To in a word flash the new moves, the new swing moves, learned from the Saturday afternoon matinee movies or from some visiting cousin from New York hip to the latest scene. Not, I repeat, not the ones learned at sixth grade Miss Prissy’s Saturday dance classes, those proper foxtrots and waltzes like you were going to be invited to some cotillion, but the ones that every mother, every girl mother warned her Susie against, to a new sound coming out of the mist, coming to take the sting out of the want years nights, and the brewing nights of the long knives. And maybe take Janie out into some dark starry night but we will leave that to your imagination and Janie’s mother’s sweats. Coming out of New York, always New York then, Minton’s, Jimmy’s, some other uptown clubs,  Chicago, Chicago of the big horns and that stream, that black stream heading north, following the northern star, again, for jobs and to get the hell away from one Mister James Crow, from Detroit, with blessed Detroit Slim and automobile sounds, and Kansas City, the Missouri K.C. okay, the Bird land hatchery, the Prez’s big sexy sax blow home. Jesus, no wonder that madman Hitler banned it, banned, what did he call it, oh yeah, degenerate music, banned it along with dreams. Heil swing!

The sound of blessed swing, all big horns, big reeds, big, well big band, replacing the dour Brother, Can You Spare a Dime and its brethren , no, banishing such thoughts, casting them out with soup lines (and that awful Friday Saint Vincent DePaul fish stew that even Jesus would have turned down in favor of bread, wine and a listen to Benny’s Buddha Swings) casting that kind of hunger out for a moment, a magical realistic moment, casting out ill-fitting, out of fashion, threadbare (nice, huh) second-hand clothes (passed down from out- the- door  hobo brothers and sisters tramping this good green earth looking for their place, or at least a job of work and money in their newer threadbare [still nice] clothes), and casting aside from hunger looks, that gaunt look of those who have their wanting habits on and no way to do a thing about it.  Banished, except maybe for that tired weary urban pile refuge scroungers just then thinking that for the sake of the three boys he might just have to kneel down and grab some churchman’s letter, yeah things were still that tough. Banished with that exception because after all was said and done it did not mean a thing, could not possibly place you anywhere else but in squareville (my term, not theirs), if you did not have that swing. To be as one with jitter-buggery if there was (is) such a word (together, not buggery by itself, not in those days, not in the public vocabulary anyway). And swing as it lost steam with all the boys, all the swing boys, all oversea boys and the home- fire girls tired of dancing two girl dancing, a fade echo of the cool age be-bop that was a-borning, making everybody reach for that high white note floating out of Minton’s, Big Bill’s, Jimmie’s, hell, even Olde Saco’s Starlight Ballroom before it breezed out in the ocean air night, crashed into the tepid sea. Yeah.       

Survived, as if there was no time to breathe in new fresh airs, new be-bop tunes, new dance moves, to slog from want hungers to the time of the gun in World War II.  A time when the night-takers, those dark forces, those who craved the revenge night of the long knives for some supposed ill, took giant steps in Europe and Asia trying to make that same little guy, Brit, Frenchie, Chinaman, Filipino, God’s American, and half the races and nationalities on this good green earth cry uncle. Even our heroic urban pile dweller with his three boys underfoot now was eager to show what he was made of, was ready to forsake that sickly wife and those beastly kids, to put a couple of things right if they would just make sure the kids were fed. No go, too old, too tired from a decade of hungers. Yeah those night-takers were ready to make the little guy buckle under, take it, take their stuff without a squawk. It took a bit, took a little shock, to get those war juices flowing, to get whole populations to forget about the blood-letting that had gone on before when the flower of Europe, when the older brothers and fathers the generation before, had taken their numbers when they were called and died like dogs in gas-filled trenches, along barbed wire fences, behind random artillery shell, and half the known diseases of the earth.

And so after Pearl, after that other shoe dropped on a candid world,  a now candid world that could no longer afford to look the other way, could not afford to do like they had done in Spain and let the “premature anti-fascists” hang in the wind, could not afford to keep heads firmly in the sand, Johnnie, Jimmie, Paulie, Jesus, even Paulie, Benny too, all the guys from the old neighborhood, the corner boys, the guys who hung out at Jeb’s Pool Hall, Nick’s Variety, Jake’s Diner, The Regent Theater, the guys who hung around the Rexall Drugstore too, hands in their pockets, one knee to the wall just like those who came before and like those who would come after in the alienated teen night of the 1950s, the wild boys, the boys who then would be rebels without a cause, guys trying to rub nickels together to play some jitter-buggery thing, guys who had it tough growing up hard in those bad Depression days, took their numbers and fell in line.

Guys too from the wheat fields, Kansas, Iowa, you know places where they grow wheat, guys fresh from some Saturday night dance, some country square thing, all shy and with calloused hands, eyeing, eyeing to perdition some virginal Betty or Sue, guys from the coal slags, deep down in hill country, down in the hollows away from public notice, some rumble down shack to rest their heads, full of backwoods home liquor, blackened fingernails, never ever fully clean once the coal got on them, Saturday night front porch fiddlings wound up carrying a M-1 on the shoulder in Europe or the Pacific. Leaving all those Susies, Lauras, Betties, and dark-haired Rebeccas too waiting at home hoping to high heaven that some wayward gun had not carried off sweetheart Johnnie, Jimmy, Paulie, or young Benny.  Jesus not young Benny. Not the runt of the corner boy litter, not our Benny. Not carried off that sweet farm fresh boy with the sly grin, not carried off that coal-dust young man with those jet-black eyes, and fingers.  

Survived the endless lines of boys heading off East and West, heading off to right some wrongs, at least that is what the guys in charge said, put a big dent in the style of the night-takers, the guys who wanted to cut up the world into two to three pieces, and that was that, cutting the little guy, making the little guys like it, making them take it or else. Some of those little guys, after Pearl for sure, could hardly wait to get to the recruiting office, hardly wait to go mano y mano with the night-takers and their illicit dreams, went gladly from the farms, the factories and the mines, many to never look back, never to farm, to run a production line, or to dig from the earth but make new lives, or lay down their heads in some god forsaken piece of dirt, or some watery abyss. Others, well, others were hanging back waiting to be drafted by their friends and neighbors at the local draft board, hanging back just a little to think things over, to see if maybe they could be better used on the home front, scared okay (as if the quick-step volunteers were not afraid, or should have been) but who gave a good accounting of themselves when their number came up. Still others head over heels they were exempt, 4-F, bad feet, you see. Somebody had to keep the home fires, keeping the womenfolk happy.

All, all except that last crew, the dodgers found in every war,  who got to sit a home with Susie, Laura, Betty and even odd-ball Rebecca were constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, for their ships to sail or their planes to fly. Hanging in some old time corner boy drugstore, Doc’s, Rexall, name your drugstore name, just like when they were kids (a mere few weeks before), talking the talk like they used to do to kill time, maybe sitting two by two (two uniforms, two girls if anybody was asking) at the soda fountain playing that newly installed jukebox until the nickels ran out. Listened to funny banana boat songs, rum and coca cola songs, siting under the apple tree songs, songs to forget about the work abroad, and just some flat-out jitter-bugging stuff, frothy stuff in order to get a minute’s reprieve from thoughts of the journey ahead.

Listened too to dreamy, sentimental songs, Always, I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire, Sentimental Journey, songs that spoke of true love, their true love that would out last the ages, would carrying them through that life together if they could ever keep those damn night-takers at bay, songs about faraway places, We’ll Meet Again, Til Then, songs that spoke of future sorrows, future partings, future returnings (always implying though that maybe there would be no return), future sacrifices, future morale-builders, songs about keeping lamp- lights burning, songs to give meeting to that personal sacrifice, to keep the womenfolk, to keep her from fretting her life away waiting for that dreaded other drop, songs about making a better world out of the fire and brimstone sacrifice before them.

Songs to make the best out of the situation about Johnnie, Jimmie and the gang actually returning, returning whole, and putting a big dent in their dreams, that small white house with the white picket fence (maybe needing a little painting, maybe they could do that together), kids, maybe a new car once in a while you know the stuff that keeps average joes alive in sullen foxholes, sea-sick troop transports, freezing cargo planes, keeps them good and alive. Hell, songs, White Cliffs Of Dover songs, about maybe the damn wars would be over sooner rather than later. Listened, drawing closer, getting all, uh, moony-eyed, and as old Doc, or some woe-begotten soda jerk, some high school kid, wet behind the ears, with that white paper service cap at some obscure angle and now smudged white jacket implying that he was in the service too, told them to leave he was closing up they held out for one last tune. Then, well-fortified with swoony feelings they made for the beach, if near a beach, the pond, if near a pond, the back forty, if near the back forty, the hills, you know, or whatever passed for a lovers’ lane in their locale and with the echo of those songs as background, well, do I have draw you a map, what do you think they did, why do you think they call us baby-boomers.              

The music, this survival music, Harry James, Benny, the Dorsey boys, Bing, Frank, the Mills Brothers, the Inkspots, and on and on wafted (nice word, huh) through the air coming from a large console radio, the prized possession centered in the small square living room of my growing up house amid the squalor of falling roof tiles, a broken window or two patched up with cardboard and tape, a front door that would not shut, rooms with second-hand sofas, mattresses, chairs, desks, tables, mildewy towels, corroded sinks, barely serviceable bathtubs, and  woe-begotten stuffed pillows smelling of mothballs. My broken down, needs a new roof, random shingles on the ground as proof, cracked windows stuffed with paper and held with masking tape in need of panes, no proof needed, overgrown lawn in need of cutting of a shack (there is literally no other way to describe it, then or in its current condition) of a too small, much too small for four growing boys and two parents, house. The no room to breathe, no space but shared space, the from hunger look of all the denizens, the stink of my father’s war wounds that would not heal, the stink of too many people in too small a house, excuse me shack. The noise, damn the noise from the nearby railroad, putting paid to wrong side of the tracks-dom worst of all. Jesus.      
That wrong side of the tracks shack of a house surrounded by other houses, shack houses, too small to fit big Irish Catholic- sized families with stony-eyed dreams. Small dreams of Johnny or Jimmy getting on the force (cops, okay), and Lorrie and Pamela getting those secure City Hall jobs in the steno pool until some bright prospect came by and threw a ring at them but in the meantime shack life, and small faded dreams. Funny, no, ironic but these tumbled-down shacks which seemingly would fall with a first serious wind represented in some frankly weird form (but what knew I of such unnamed weirdness then I just cried out in some fit of angst, cried out against that railroad noise, and that sour smell of sweat) the great good desire of those warriors, and almost to a man they had served, and their war brides who had waited, had fretted while waiting, to latch onto a piece of golden age America.

And take their struggle survival music from Doc’s jukebox, from the Starlight Ballroom, from WDJA, with them as if to validate their sweet memory dreams, their youthful innocence before the guys got caught up, caught up close and personal, the ugliness of war, the things they would not speak of unto the grave, and the gals not asking, not asking for all the money in the world but sensing that he, they, had changed, had lost some youthful thing. That radio, that priceless radio console taking pride of place, as if a lifesaver, literally, tuned to local station WDJA in North Adamsville, the memory station for those World War II warriors and their war brides, those who made it back. Some wizard radio station manager knowing his, probably his in those days, demographics, spinned those 1940s platters exclusively, as well as aimed the ubiquitous advertisement at that crowd. Cars, sofas, beds, shaving gear, soap, department store sales, all the basics for the growing families spawned (nice, huh) by those warriors and brides.

My harried mother, harried like all the neighborhood large brood mothers, harried by the bleak wanting prospects of the day with four growing boys and not enough, nor enough food, not enough, well, just not enough and leave it at that. Maybe bewildered is a better expression for her plight, for her wartime young marriage adventure not wanting to be left with only a memory of my father if things went wrong in the Pacific. As so she took to turning the radio on to start her day, hoping that Paper Dolls, I’ll Get By, or dreamy Tangerine would chase her immediate sorrows away. Yea, a quick boost of their songs was called for, their spring youth meeting at some USO dance songs before he shipped out. Those songs   embedded deep in memory, wistful young memory, or so it seemed as she hummed away the day, used the music as background on her appointed household rounds. And whether she won or lost the day’s bout with not enough, with some ill-winded message from some bill due, seemingly always some four boy hurt, some bad father work news, the list of her daily sorrows and trepidations could have stretched to infinity she perked up, swayed even to those tunes.
That stuff, that mother dream stuff, that piano/drum-driven stuff with some torch-singer, Peggy Lee, Helen Morgan, Margaret Whiting, maybe even a sneak Billie thrown in bleeding all over the floor drove me crazy then  Some she bleeding with the pain of  her thwarted loves, her man hurts, her wanderings in search of something in this funny old world, her waitings, waiting for the good times, waiting in line for the rations, waiting, waiting alone mind you, for her man to come home, come home whole from some place whose name she could not pronounce, they should have called it the waiting generation, just flat-out drove me crazy then. Mush stuff at a time when I was craving the big break-out rock and roll sounds I kept hearing every time I went and played the jukebox at Doc’s Drugstore over on Walker Street down near the beach (not the old torn down Doc’s of their generation over on Billings Road if that is what you are thinking). As far as I know Doc (the son of their Doc), knowing his demographics as well as that radio executive at WDJA, did not, I repeat, did not, stock that stuff that, uh, mush for his rock-crazed after school soda fountain crowd, probably stocked nothing, mercifully before about 1955. Funny thing though while I am still a child of rock and roll this so-called mushy stuff sounds pretty good to these ears now long after my parents and those who performed this music have passed on. Go figure. 

I’ll Be Seeing You Lyrics


Writer(s): kahal/fain/kahal/fain

Ill be seeing you;
In all the old, familiar places;
That this heart of mine embraces;
All day through.

In that small cafe;
The park across the way;
The childrens carousel;
The chestnut tree;
The wishing well.

Ill be seeing you;
In every lovely, summers day;
And everything that's bright and gay;
Ill always think of you that way;
Ill find you in the morning sun;
And when the night is new;
Ill be looking at the moon;
But I'll be seeing you.