This space is dedicated to the proposition that we need to know the history of the struggles on the left and of earlier progressive movements here and world-wide. If we can learn from the mistakes made in the past (as well as what went right) we can move forward in the future to create a more just and equitable society. We will be reviewing books, CDs, and movies we believe everyone needs to read, hear and look at as well as making commentary from time to time. Greg Green, site manager
Monday, March 03, 2014
***The Roots Is The Toots-The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-Out In The Adventure Car Hop Night-Elvis –One Night Of Sin
Sunrise: Elvis Presley, Elvis Presley, 2 CD set, BMG Records. 1989
“I hate Elvis, I love Elvis,” I can still hear the echo of my old “the projects” boy, William James Bradley, also known as Billie, Billie from the hills, a mad demon of a kid and my best friend down in the elementary school. We grew apart after a while, and I will tell you why in a minute, but for a long time, a long kid time long, Billie, Billie of a hundred dreams, Billie of fifty (at least) screw-ups made me laugh and made my day when things were tough, like they almost always were, at my beat down broke down family house.
You know fifty some years later Billie was right. We hated Elvis, especially at that time when all the girls, the young girls got weak-kneed over him and he made the older girls (and women, some mothers even) sweat and left no room for ordinary mortal boys, “the projects boys” most of all, on their “dream” card. And most especially, hard as we tried, for brown-haired, tow-headed, blue-eyed ten, eleven and twelve year old boys who didn’t know how to dance, or sneer. We both got pissed off at my brother because, he looked very much like Elvis and although he had no manners, and no time for girls, they were all following him. Christ there really is no justice in this wicked old world.
And we loved Elvis for giving us, at least as far as we knew then, our own music, our own "jump' and our own jail-break from the tired old stuff we heard on the radio and television but did not ‘”speak” to us. And for the songs that he left behind. Not the goofy, Tin Pan Alley or somewhere like that, inspired “happy” music that went along with his mostly maligned, and rightly so, films but the stuff from the Sun Records days, the stuff from when he was from hunger. That, as we also from hunger, was like a siren call to break-out and then we caught his act on television and that was that. I probably walk “funny”, knees and hips out of whack, today from trying way back then to pour a third-rate imitation of his moves into my body to impress the girls.
But enough of Elvis’ place in the pre-teen and teen rock pantheon this is after all about Billie, and Elvis’ twisted spell on the poor boy. Now you know Billie, or you should, from another story, a story about Bo Diddley and how Billie wanted to, as a change of pace break from the Elvis rut create his own “style.” Well, in hard, hard post-World War II Northern white "the projects" racial animosity poor unknowing Billie got blasted away by one of the older, more knowing boys about wanted to emulate a n----r for his troubles.
That sent Billie, Billie from the hills, back to Elvis pronto. See, Billie was desperate to impress the girls way before I was aware of them, or their charms. Half, on some days, three-quarters of our conversations (I won’t say monologues because I did get a word in edgewise every once in a while when Billie got on one of his rants) revolved around doing this or that, something legal something not, to impress the girls. And that is where the “hate” part mentioned above comes in. Billie believed, and he may still believe it today, that if only he could approximate Elvis’s looks, look, stance, and substance that all the girls would be flocking to him.
Needless to say, such an endeavor required, requires money, dough, kale, cash, moola whatever you want to call it. And what twelve year old project boys (that’s the age time of this story, about late 1957, early 1958) didn’t have, and didn’t have in abundance was any of that do-re-mi. And no way to get it from missing parents, messed up parents, or just flat out poor parents. Billie’s and mine were the later, poor as church mice. No that‘s not right because church mice (in the way that I am using it, and as we used it back then to signify the respectable poor who “touted” their Catholic pious poorness as a badge of honor in this weaselly old world) would not do, would not think about, would not even breathe the same air of what we were about to embark on. A life of crime, kid stuff crime but I'll leave that to the readers judgment.
See, on one of Billie’s rants he got the idea in his head, and, maybe, it got planted there by something that he read about Elvis (Christ, he read more about that guy that he did about anybody else once he became an acolyte), that if he had a bunch of rings on all his fingers the girls would give him a tumble (a tumble in those days being a hard kiss on the lips for about twelve seconds or “copping” a little feel, and if I have to explain that last in more detail you had better just move on). But see, also Billie’s idea is that if he has all those rings, especially for a projects boy then it will make his story that has set to tell easier. And that story is none other than he wrote to Elvis (possible) and spoke man to man about his situation (improbable) and Elvis, Elvis the king, Elvis from nowhere Mississippi like we were from the nowhere projects, Elvis bleeding heart, had sent him these rings to give him a start in life (outrageously impossible.) Christ, I don’t believe old Billie came up with that story even now when I am a million years world-weary.
But first you need the rings and as the late honorable bank robber, Willie Sutton, said about robbing banks-that’s where the money is-old Billie, blessed, beatified Billie, figured out, and figured out all by himself, that if you want to be a ring stealer that you better go to the jewelry store because that is where the rings are. Now the reader, and rightly so, now, might ask where was his best buddy during this time and why was he not offering wise counsel about the pitfalls of crime and the virtues of honesty and incorruptibility. Well, when Billie got off on his rant you just waited to see what played out but the real reason was, hell, maybe I could get a ring for my ring-less fingers and be on my way to impress the girls too. I think they call it, or could call it, aiding and abetting.
But enough of that superficial moralizing. Let’s get to the jewelry store, the best one in the downtown of the working class town we were appendaged to (literally so because it was located on a one road in and out peninsula). We walked a couple of miles to get there, plotting all the way. Bingo the Acme Jewelry Store(or some name like that) jumped up at us. Billie’s was as nervous as a colt and I was not far behind, although on this caper I am just the “stooge”, if that. I’m to wait outside to see if John Law comes by. Okay, Billie, good luck. And strangely enough his luck is good that day, and many days after, although those days after were not ring days. That day though his haul was five rings. Five shaky rings, shaky hands Billie, as we walked, then started running, away from the down town area. When we got close to home we stopped near the beach where we lived to see up close what the rings looked like. Billie yelled, “Damn.” And why did he yell that word. Well, apparently in his terror (his word to me) at getting caught he just grabbed what was at hand. And what was at hand were five women’s rings. Now, how are you going to impress girls, ten, eleven or twelve year old girls, even if as naïve as us, and maybe more so, that Elvis is you bosom buddy and you are practically his only life-line adviser with five women’s rings? Damn, damn is right.