Saturday, February 07, 2015

“The Next Girl Who Throws Sand In My Face Is…” –With Johnny Silver’s Sad Be-Bop 1960s Beach Blanket Saga In Mind.

A YouTube film clip of the Falcons performing You're So Fine.

No question that Jimmy Callahan and his corner boy comrades, including Sam Lowell, of the old Frankie Riley-led Salducci’s Pizza Parlor hang-out “up the Downs” (no further explanation is necessary for any old corner boy who knew pizza parlors were exceptionally good places to hang your knee against a wall waiting, well just waiting for whatever might come up for any others it was nearly impossible to be a corner boy if you did not have a corner and that should be enough on this matter) from the day high school got out for the summer in the early 1960s drew a bee-line straight to the old-time Adamsville Beach of blessed memory. One day recently Jimmy had been thinking back to those times, back a half century at least, as he walked along the beach at Big Sur and had been telling his girlfriend, Miranda, that his love affair with the sea started almost from the day he was born near that beach, a beach that still held his sway although he had seen, and was seeing right there with her better beaches since then. (As far as that girlfriend designation goes with Miranda Jimmy always wondered what the heck do you call somebody whom you are not married to but are intimate with who is along with you pushing the wrong side of sixty, so Jimmy’s simple girlfriend it is until somebody comes up with something better that “significant other,” what the hell does that mean, “consort,” like he/they were royalty or something or “partner,” like you were ready for incorporation rather than romance.)

The old Adamsville beach with its marshlands anchoring each end, its stone-laden sands uncomfortable to sit on, its rendezvous teen meet-up yacht clubs, its well-sat upon seawalls, and its thousand and one night stories of late night trysts in fugitive automobiles and while on skimpy beach blankets, its smoldering fried clams at the Clam Shack fit for a king or queen, its Howard Johnson’s many-flavored ice creams still held memories wherever he was in later life.

Although from what Red Rowley, an old corner boy comrade, had told Jimmy a while back when they had touched base for a minute in Sweeney’s Funeral Parlor over in landlocked Clintondale a couple of towns away after the death of a Jimmy family member the old beach had seen serious erosion, serious stinks and serious decay of the already in their day ancient seawalls and no longer held the fancy of the young who back in the day wanted to go parking there at night to “watch the submarine races.” (For the clueless that is an old local custom gag because looking for midnight submarines off shore was not what was going on in the back seat of some Wally’s car.) Also the beach no longer served as a coming of age spot for winter-weary guys watching winter-weary well-tanned girls in skimpy bikinis between the yacht clubs hot spot for such activity. In fact Red said that last time he checked on a hot July summer’s day at high noon nobody, young or old, was in that sacred spot.   

Red Rowley who was the youngest boy in the Rowley household and who had been afraid of girls, not closet gay or gay afraid, but just afraid of girls and their ways had like a lot of Irish guys who took their stern religious upbringing too seriously never married and had stayed in town the whole time, stayed in the same house, and once his mother’s health declined after his father died never thought to leave. So Red could, as an old fixture like the street lights, see what changes had occurred around town. And he would ask young people, some of who were interested in talking to him, what they were up to, what they knew about the old time customs of the high school and of the town.

Hell, Red said, the young guys in the neighborhood didn’t know what he was talking about when he mentioned “watching the submarine races,” that old code word for getting in the back seat of an automobile (or if car-less and desperate on a skimpy beach blanket against that stony sand) with a girl and seeing what was what, coming up for air to check for any midnight submarine sightings. One guy even asked how one could see a submarine at night if one was in the neighborhood of the beach. Jesus. Also they, and here Red meant both sexes, had no idea on this good green earth that those now old tumble-down yacht clubs in dire need of serious paint jobs after the slamming of the seas and the furious winds had done their work had been the site of many a daytime planning for the night heat sessions. Were clueless that guys would ogle girls there, thought it kind of, what did one of them, one of the girls, call it, yeah, sexist. Jesus doubled.   

Red, by the way, was one of those ancient Irish Catholic corner boys who had stayed in town to help mother in order to have clean socks and regular six o’clock suppers without the bother of matrimony but also like Jimmy, hell, like Sam Lowell and every guy who breathed their first breaths off an off-hand sea breeze, also stayed to be near the ocean too. But Red had mainly watched the town change from an old way station for the Irish and Italians to the South Shore upward mobile digs further south to a “stay put” moving from the big city immigrant community which he was not particularly happy about since he could not speak any of the new languages (frankly in high school he had serious trouble with the English language) or understand the cultural differences when they, the collective mix of immigrants none from European homelands, did not bend at the knees in homage on Saint Patrick’s Day. But Red’s trouble with the new world of America (not really so new since these shores since the sixteen hundreds had seen wave after wave of immigrants just back then they had been from Europe, or had been Africa branded), or the real condition of Adamsville Beach was not what had exercised Jimmy on that trip to Big Sur with Miranda but about the old beach days, the now fantastic beach days.

Jimmy had chuckled to himself when he told Miranda- “Did we go to said beach to be “one” with our homeland, the sea? You know to connect with old King Neptune, our father, the father that we did not know, who would work his mysterious furies in good times and bad. Or to connect as one with denizens of the deep, fishes, whales, plankton, stuff like that. No.” Then he went down the litany of other possible motives just as a little good-humored exercise. “Did we go to admire the boats and other things floating by? The fleet of small sailboats that dotted the horizon in the seemingly never-ending tacking to the wind or the fewer big boats, big ocean-worthy boats that took their passenger far out to sea, maybe to search for whales or other sea creatures? No.” “Did we go to get a little breeze across our sun-burned and battered bodies on a hot and sultry August summer day?” Jimmy, a blushed red lobster in short sunlight who was sensitive about that red skin business declared a loud “No,” although Red, Frankie, Peter, and Josh, his other comrade corner boys less sensitive to the sun would have answered, well, maybe a little.

Jimmy said that he soon tired of those non-reasons, this little badger game, and got to the heart of the matter, laughed to himself as he thought and then mentioned to Miranda-“Come on now we are talking about sixteen, maybe seventeen, year old guys. They, every self-respecting corner boy who could put towel and trunks together, which meant everybody except Johnny Kelly who had to work during the day in the summer to help support his mother and fatherless younger brothers and sisters , were there, of course, because there were shapely teeny-weeny bikini-clad girls [young women, okay, let’s not get technical about that pre-woman’s liberation time] sunning themselves like peacocks for all the world, all the male teenage North Adamsville world, the only world that mattered to guys and gals alike, to see. Had been sunning themselves in such a manner since bikinis and less replaced those old-time bathing suits that were slightly less cumbersome that the street clothes you saw in your old grandmother’s scrapbook. And guys had been hormonally-charged looking at them that long as well.”

“Here is the catch thought,” Jimmy continued. “They, and they could be anywhere from about junior high to the first couple of years in college although they tended to separate themselves out by age bracket were sunning themselves and otherwise looking very desirable and, well, fetching, in not just any old spot wherever they could place a blanket but strictly, as tradition dictated, tradition seemingly going back before memory, between the North Adamsville and Adamsville Yacht Clubs. So, naturally, every testosterone-driven teenage lad who owned a bathing suit, and some who didn’t, were hanging off the floating dock right in front of said yacht clubs showing off, well, showing off their prowess to the flower of North Adamsville maidenhood.” And said show-offs included, Jimmy, of course, Frankie Riley (when he was not working early mornings at the old A&P Supermarket and did not show until later in the afternoon), his faithful scribe, Pete Markin (who seemingly wrote down for posterity every word Frankie uttered and some that he did not, and others including the, then anyway, “runt of the litter,” Johnny Silver. And Sam Lowell too.

It is Johnny’s sad beach blanket bingo tale that Jimmy had suddenly thought about when he had driven pass the old beach one day to confirm Red’s recent beach judgment mentioned at the funeral parlor and wanted to relate to Miranda as the over the top waves pummeled the scarred rock faces in the secluded reaches of Big Sur to give her an idea of what the sea meant to a lot of guys he knew. If, in the Jimmy telling, it all sounds kind of familiar, too familiar even to old time non-corner boys, to those who do not live near the oceans of the world, to the younger set who may have a different view of life than what carried the day back then, it is because, with the exception of the musical selections, it is. This is how it all started though:

“The next girl who throws sand in my face is going get it,” yelled Johnny Silver to no one in particular as he came back to the Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boy summer beach front acreage just in front of the seawall facing, squarely facing, the midpoint between the North Adamsville and Adamsville Yacht Clubs. “For the clueless,” and Jimmy assumed Miranda was in that vast company so he took pains to spell it out, “the corner boy world in North Adamsville, hell, maybe every corner boy world everywhere meant that you had certain “turf” issues in your life not all of them settled with fists, although an issue like some alien corner boy looking the wrong way at one of the Salducci girls could only be resolved that way.” But mostly it was a matter of traditions, traditional spots which the “unwritten law” held for certain groups and the spot between the boat clubs was theirs, and had been the “property” of successive generations of Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boys since at least the end of World War II when Frankie Riley’s father and his corner boys, some very tough boys transplanted from South Boston to work in the shipyards and some restless guys who had like Frankie’s father served in the war but were not ready to settle down “claimed” the spot.”       

Johnny, after having his say, fumed at no one in particular as the sounds of Elvis Presley’s Loving You came over Frankie Riley’s transistor radio and had wafted down to the sea, almost like a siren call to teenage love. Then one of those “no one in particulars,” Pete Markin replied, “What did you expect, Johnny? That Katy Larkin is too tall, too pretty and just flat-out too foxy for a runt like you. I am surprised you are still in one piece. And I would mention, as well, that her brother, ‘Jimmy Jukes,’ does not like guys, especially runt guys with no muscles bothering his sister.” Johnny came back quickly with the usual, “Hey, I am not that small and I am growing, growing fast so Jimmy Jukes can eat my… ” But Johnny halted just in time as one Jimmy Jukes, James Allen Larkin, halfback hero of many a North Adamsville fall football game running opponent defensive players raggedy in his wake, came perilously close to Johnny and then veered off like Johnny was nothing, nada, nunca, nothing. And after Jimmy Jukes was safely out of sight, and Frankie flipped the volume dial on his radio louder as the Falcons’ You’re So Fine came on heralding Frankie’s attempt by osmosis to lure a certain Betty Ann McCarthy, another standard brand fox in the teenage girl be-bop night, his way Johnny poured out the details of his sad saga.

Seems that Katy Larkin was in one of Johnny’s classes, biology he said, and one day, one late spring day Katy, out of the blue, asked him what he thought about Buddy Holly who had passed away in crash several years before, well before he reached his potential as the new king of the be-bop rock night. Johnny answered that Buddy was “boss,” especially his Everyday, and that got them talking, but only talking, almost every day until the end of school. Of course, Johnny, runt Johnny, didn’t have the nerve, not nearly enough nerve to ask a serious fox like Katy out, big brother or not, before school let out for the summer. Not until that very day when he got up the nerve to go over to her blanket, a blanket that also had Sara Bigelow and Tammy Kelly on board, and as a starter asked Katy if she liked Elvis’ That’s When The Heartache Begins.

Katy answered quickly and rather curtly (although Johnny did not pick up on that signal) that it was “dreamy the way Elvis sang it, but sad when you think about all the trouble guys bring when they mess with another boy’s girl.” Then Johnny’s big moment came and he blurted out, “Do you want to go to the Surf Dance Hall with me Saturday night? Crazy Lazy is the DJ and the Rockin’ Ramrods are playing?” And as the reader knows, or should be presumed to know, Johnny’s answer was a face full of sand. And that sad, sad beach saga is the end of another teen angst moment. So to the strains coming from Tammy’s radio of Robert and Johnny’s We Belong Together we will move along.

Well, not quite. It also seems that Katy Larkin, tall (too tall for Johnny, really), shapely (no question of “really” about that), and don’t forget foxy Katy Larkin had had a “crush” since they had first started talking in class on one John Raymond Silver if you can believe that. She was miffed, apparently more than somewhat, that Johnny had not asked her out before school got out for the summer. That “more than somewhat” entailed throwing sand in Johnny’s face when he did get up the nerve to ask. And nothing else happened between them for the rest of the summer, except Johnny always seemed kind of miserable when he leaned up against the wall in front of Salducci’s to confer with his corner boys about life being kind of crazy. But get this- on the first day of school, while Johnny was turning his radio off and putting it in his locker just before school started, after having just listened to the Platters One In a Million for the umpteenth time, Katy Larkin “cornered” (Johnny’s term) Johnny and said in a clear, if excited voice, “I’m sorry about that day at the beach last summer.” And then in the teenage girl imperative, hell maybe all women imperative, “You are taking me to the Fall All-Class Mixer and I will not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

Well, what is a guy to do when that teenage girl imperative, hell, maybe all women imperative voice commands. After that Johnny started to re-evaluate his attitude toward beach sand and thought maybe, after all, it was just a girl being playful. In any case, Johnny had grown quite a bit that summer and it turned out that Katy Larkin was not too tall, not too tall at all, for Johnny Silver to take to the mixer, or anywhere else she decided she wanted to go. “

Here is what Jimmy told Miranda that Big Sur day to put a philosophical twist on the whole episode fifty years later.  After stopping his car toward the middle of Adamsville Beach, the place between the two yacht clubs where he and the Salducci corner boys hung out, the two clubs whose appearance that day spoke to a need of paint and other fixing up, the place that had stirred his memoires that day Jimmy Callahan thought Red had it all wrong, all wrong indeed, it had nothing to do with the condition of the clubs, the beach, the sand, the waves or the boats. Mr. John Raymond Silver and Ms. Katy Silver (nee Larkin), now of Naples, Florida, are proof of that statement.    
Searching For The American Songbook - In The Time Of The 1960s Folk Minute-With The Joy Street Coffeehouse In Mind-Introduction



Sketches From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


I recently completed the second leg of this series, sketches from the time of my coming of age classic rock and roll from about the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, a series which is intended to go through different stages of the American songbook as it has evolved since the 19th century, especially music that could be listened to by the general population through radio, record player, television, and more recently the fantastic number of ways to listen to it all from computers to iPods. This series was not intended to be placed in any chronological order so the first leg dealt, and I think naturally given the way my musical interests got formed, with the music of my parents’ generation, that being the parents of the generation of ’68, those who struggled through the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s. This leg is centered on the music of the folk minute that captured a segment of my generation of ’68 as it came of social and political age in the early 1960s. A time when some of us felt a fresh breeze was coming through the land and we tired of the Fabians, the various Bobbys (Vee, Darin, Rydell, etc.), the various incarnations of Sandra Dee, Leslie Gore, Brenda Lee, etc. wanted a new sound, or as it turned out a flowing back to the roots music, blues, some jazz, mountain music, Tex-Mex, Western swing, Child ballads and the “new wave” protest sound that connected our new breeze political understandings with our musical interests. The folk music minute was for me, and now just me, thus something of a branching off for a while from rock in its doldrums since a lot of what we were striving for was to make a small musical break-out from the music that we came of chronological age to unlike the big break-out that rock and roll represented from the music that was wafting through many of our parents’ houses in the early 1950s.

I have been grabbing a lot of anecdotal remarks from some old-time folkies to aid in this leg, those folkies who are still alive and kicking and still interested in talking about that minute. For those not in the know folk music is alive and well in little enclaves throughout the country mainly in New England but in other outposts as well. Those enclaves and outposts are places where some old “hippies,” “folkies,” communalists, went after the big splash 1960s counter-cultural explosion ebbed about 1971 (that is my signpost for the ebb, others have earlier and later dates and events which seemed decisive but all agree by the mid-1970s that wave had tepidly limped to shore). Places like Saratoga, New York, Big Sur, Joshua Tree, Taos, Eugene, Boise, Butte, Boulder, as well as the traditional Village, Harvard Square haunts of memory. They survive, all of them, through the support of a dwindling number in once a month Universalist-Unitarian church basement coffeehouses, school activity rooms booked for the occasional night, small restaurants and bars sponsoring “open mics” on off-nights to draw a little bigger crowd, and probably plenty of other small ad hoc venues where there are enough people with guitars, mandos, harmonicas, and what have you to while away an evening.             

There seems to be a consensus among my anecdotal sources  that their first encounter with folk music back then, other than in the junior high school music class where you would get a quick checkerboard of various types of music and maybe hear This Land Is Your Land in passing, was through the radio. A few that I had run into back then, fewer now, including a couple of girlfriends picked up the music via their parents’ record collections although that was rare and usually meant that the parents had been some kind of progressives back in the 1930s and 1940s when Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Pete Seeger and others lit up the leftist firmament in places like wide-open New York City.) That radio by the way would be the transistor radio usually purchased at now faded Radio Shack that was attached to all our youthful ears placed there away from prying parents and somehow if you were near an urban area you might once you tired of the “bubble gum” music on the local rock station flip the dial and get lucky some late night, usually Sunday and find an errant station playing such fare.

That actually was my experience one night, one Sunday night in the winter of 1962 (month and date lost in the fog of memory) when I was just flipping the dial and came upon the voice of a guy, an old pappy guy I assumed, singing a strange song in a gravelly voice which intrigued me because that was not a rock song or rock voice. The format of the show as I soon figured out as I continued to listen that night was that the DJ would, unlike the rock stations which played one song and then interrupted the flow with at least one commercial, played several songs so I did not find out who the singer as until a few songs later. The song was identified by the DJ as the old classic mountain tune “discovered” by Cecil Sharpe in 1916 Come All You Fair And Tender Ladies, the singer Dave Von Ronk, the station WBZ in Boston, the DJ Dick Summer. I was hooked. That program also played country blues stuff, stuff that folk aficionados had discovered down south and which would lead to the “re-discovery” of the likes of Son House, Bukka White, Skip James, and Mississippi John Hurt. I eventually really learned about the blues, which will be the next leg of this series, straight up though from occasionally getting late, late at night, usually Sunday for some reason, Be-Bop Benny’s Blues Hour from WXKE in Chicago but that is another story. (Somebody once explained to me the science behind what happened on certain nights with the distant radio waves that showed up mostly because then their frequencies overrode closer signals. What I know for sure that it was not was the power of that dinky transistor radio with its two nothing batteries. So for a while it took it as a sign of the new dispensation coming to free us. Praise be.          

If the first exposure for many of us was through the radio, especially those a bit removed from urban areas, the thing that made most of us “folkies” of whatever duration was the discovery and appeal of the coffeehouses. According to legend (Dave Von Ronk legend anyway) in the 1950s such places were hang-outs for “beat” poets when that Kerouac/Ginsberg/Cassady flame was all the rage and folkies were reduced to clearing the house between shows but in the early 1960s the dime turned and it was all about folk music. Hence the appeal for me of Harvard Square. With Club 47, the “flagship,” obviously, Café Nana, the Algiers, Café Blanco, and a number of other coffeehouses all located within a few blocks of each other in the Square there were plenty of spots which drew us in to that location.

The beauty of such places for high school or college students interested in the folk scene was that for the price of coffee and maybe some off-hand pastry (usually a brownie or wedge of cake not always fresh but who cared as long as the coffee, usually expresso to get a high caffeine kick, which was fresh since it was made by the cup from elaborate copper-plated coffeemakers from Europe or someplace like that, you could sit there for a few hours and listen to up and coming folk artists working out the kinks in their routines. Occasionally there was a few dollar cover for “established acts like Joan Baez, Tom Rush, the Clancy Brothers, permanent Square fixture Eric Von Schmidt, but mainly they worked for the “basket,” hoping against hope to get twenty buck to cover rent and avoid starving until the next gig. Of course since the audience was low budget high school students, college kids and starving artists that goal was sometimes a close thing and the landlord would have to be pieced off with a few bucks until times got better. Yeah, those were “from hunger” days at the beginning for most performers (and for some of them later too).

For alienated and angst-ridden youth like me, although I am not sure I would have used those words for my feeling in those days or if I did it was out of sympathy for the outcasts, misfits, and beaten down who I identified with then, the coffeehouses also offered sanctuary to get away from the home-front battles for independence but that too is a story for another day. For others (and me too on occasion) those establishments also provided a very cheap way to deal with the date issue, as long as you picked dates who shared your folk interests. That pick was important because more than once I took a promising date to the Joy Street in Back Bay and that was the end of that promise.  For those that shared my interest for the price of two coffees(which were maybe fifty cents each, something like that, but don’t take that as gospel), maybe a shared pastry and a couple of bucks in the “basket” to show you appreciated the efforts, got you those hours of entertainment. But mainly the reason to go to the Square was to hear the music that as my first interest blossomed I could not find on the radio, except that Dick Summer show on Sunday night for a couple of hours. Later it got better with more shows, some television play when the thing got big enough that even the networks caught on with bogus clean-cut  Hootenanny-type shows, and because you could start grabbing records at places like Sandy’s in between Harvard and Central Squares.                

Of course sometimes if you did not have dough, if you had no date, and yet you still had those home front civil wars to contend and needed a retreat you could still wind up in the Square. Many a weekend night Iate, sneaking out of the house through a convenient back door, I would grab the then all-night Redline subway to the Square and at the stop (that was the end of the line then) take the stairs to the street two steps at a time and bingo have the famous (or infamous) all-night Hayes-Bickford in front of me. There as long as you were not rowdy like the winos, hoboes, and con men you could sit at a table and watch the mix and match crowds come and go. Nobody bothered you, certainly not the hired help who were hiding away someplace at those hours and since it was cafeteria-style passing your tray down a line filled steamed  stuff and incredibly weak coffee that tasted like dishwater must taste, you did not have to fend off waitresses. (I remember the first time I went in by myself I sat, by design, at a table that somebody had vacated with the dinnerware still not cleared away and with the coffee mug half full and claimed the cup to keep in front of me. When the busboy, some high school kid like me, came to clear the table he “hipped me” to the fact that nobody gave a rat’s ass if you bought anything just don’t act up and draw attention to yourself. Good advice, brother.)

Some nights you might be there when some guy or gal was, in a low voice, singing their latest creation, working up their act in any case to a small coterie of people in front of them. That was the real import of the place, you were there on the inside where the new breeze that everybody in the Square was expecting took off and you hoped you would get caught up in the fervor too. Nice.         


As I mentioned in the rock and roll series, which really was the music of our coming of age time, folk was the music of our social and political coming of age time. A fair amount of that sentiment got passed along to us during our folk minute as we sought out different explanations for the events of the day, reacted against the grain of what was conventional knowledge. Some of us will pass to the beyond clueless as to why we were attuned to this music when we came of age in a world, a very darkly-etched world, which we too like most of our parents had not created, and had no say in creating. That clueless in the past included a guy, me, a coalminer’s son who got as caught up in the music of his time as any New York City Jack or Jill or Chi town frat or frail and whose father had busted out of the tumbled down tarpaper shacks down in some Appalachia hills and hollows, headed north, followed the northern star, his own version, and never looked back and neither did his son.

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 the commercial Tin Pan Alley song stuff. The staid Eisenhower red scare cold war stuff (he our parents’ 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, he or she, was 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. Yelling in that troubled sleep please, please, please if we must die then at least let’s go out to Jerry Lee’s High School Confidential. And as we matured Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind.    

We were moreover, some of us anyway, and I like to think the best of us, driven by some makeshift dreams, 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 in this quarter, quoting from Alfred Lord Tennyson, were “seeking a newer world.” Those who took up the call to action heralded by the new dispensation and slogged through the 60s 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. 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.

These following sketches and as with the previous two series that is all they are, and all they pretend to be, link up the music of the generation of ‘68s social and political coming of age time gleaned from old time personal remembrances, the remembrances of old time folkies recently met and of those met long ago in the Club 47s, Café Lenas, Club Paradise, Café North Beach night.

The truth of each sketch is in the vague mood that they invoke rather than any fidelity to hard and fast fact. They are all based on actual stories, more or less prettified and sanitized to avoid any problems with lose of reputation of any of the characters portrayed and any problems with some lingering statute of limitations. That truth, however, especially in the hands of old-time corner boys like me and the other guys who passed through the corner at Jack Slack’s bolwing alleys must always be treated like a pet rattlesnake. Very carefully.

Still the overall mood should more than make up for the lies thrown at you, especially on the issue of sex, or rather the question of the ages on that issue, who did or did not do what to whom on any given occasion. The lies filled the steamy nights and frozen days, and that was about par for the course, wasn’t it. But enough of that for this series is about our uphill struggles to make our vision of the our newer world, our struggles to  satisfy our hunger a little, to stop that gnawing want, and the music that in our youth  we dreamed by on cold winter nights and hot summer days.  

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“…we are going to continue to stand up for what is right. Fear not, we’ve come too far to turn back… we are not afraid and we shall overcome.” — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Between the astonishingly powerful film “Selma” in theaters this month, and the celebrations taking place across the U.S. today, Dr. King’s legacy is all around us.  And his message is as relevant today as it was fifty years ago: The arc of the moral universe may indeed bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend of its own accord.  It takes the creative, untiring action of countless ordinary people to bring about lasting social change.  And so it is that we launch our call for action for farm labor justice again this spring, with a unique Parade and Concert for Fair Food this March 21st!
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From The Pen Of American Communist Party Founder And Trotskyist Leader James P. Cannon

Click below to link to the “James P. Cannon Internet Archives.”

Markin comment on founding member James P. Cannon and the early American Communist Party taken from a book review, James P. Cannon and the Early American Communist Party, on the “American Left History” blog:

If you are interested in the history of the American Left or are a militant trying to understand some of the past mistakes of our history and want to know some of the problems that confronted the early American Communist Party and some of the key personalities, including James Cannon, who formed that party this book is for you.

At the beginning of the 21st century after the demise of the Soviet Union and the apparent ‘death of communism’ it may seem fantastic and utopian to today’s militants that early in the 20th century many anarchist, socialist, syndicalist and other working class militants of this country coalesced to form an American Communist Party. For the most part, these militants honestly did so in order to organize an American socialist revolution patterned on and influenced by the Russian October Revolution of 1917. James P. Cannon represents one of the important individuals and faction leaders in that effort and was in the thick of the battle as a central leader of the Party in this period. Whatever his political mistakes at the time, or later, one could certainly use such a militant leader today. His mistakes were the mistakes of a man looking for a revolutionary path.

For those not familiar with this period a helpful introduction by the editors gives an analysis of the important fights which occurred inside the party. That overview highlights some of the now more obscure personalities (a helpful biographical glossary is provided), where they stood on the issues and insights into the significance of the crucial early fights in the party.

These include questions which are still relevant today; a legal vs. an underground party; the proper attitude toward parliamentary politics; support to third- party bourgeois candidates;trade union policy; class-war prisoner defense as well as how to rein in the intense internal struggle of the various factions for organizational control of the party. This makes it somewhat easier for those not well-versed in the intricacies of the political disputes which wracked the early American party to understand how these questions tended to pull it in on itself. In many ways, given the undisputed rise of American imperialism in the immediate aftermath of World War I, this is a story of the ‘dog days’ of the party. Unfortunately, that rise combined with the international ramifications of the internal disputes in the Russian Communist Party and in the Communist International shipwrecked the party as a revolutionary party toward the end of this period.

In the introduction the editors motivate the purpose for the publication of the book by stating the Cannon was the finest Communist leader that America had ever produced. This an intriguing question. The editors trace their political lineage back to Cannon’s leadership of the early Communist Party and later after his expulsion to the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party so their perspective is obvious. What does the documentation provided here show? I would argue that the period under study represented Cannon’s apprenticeship. Although the hothouse politics of the early party clarified some of the issues of revolutionary strategy for him I believe that it was not until he linked up with Trotsky in the late 1920’s that he became the kind of leader who could lead a revolution. Of course, since Cannon never got a serious opportunity to lead revolutionary struggles in America this is mainly reduced to speculation on my part. Later books written by him make the case better. One thing is sure- in his prime he had the instincts to want to lead a revolution.

As an addition to the historical record of this period this book is a very good companion to the two-volume set by Theodore Draper - The Roots of American Communism and Soviet Russia and American Communism- the definitive study on the early history of the American Communist Party. It is also a useful companion to Cannon’s own The First Ten Years of American Communism. I would add that this is something of a labor of love on the part of the editors. This book was published at a time when the demise of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was in full swing and anything related to Communist studies was deeply discounted. Nevertheless, for better or worse, the American Communist Party (and its offshoots) needs to be studied as an ultimately flawed example of a party that failed in its mission to create a radical version of society in America. Now is the time to study this history.



If you are interested in the history of the American Left or are a militant trying to understand some of the past lessons of our history concerning the socialist response to various social and labor questions this book is for you. This book is part of a continuing series of the writings of James P. Cannon that was published by the organization he founded, the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1970’s. Look in this space for other related reviews of this series of documents on and by an important American Communist.

In the introduction the editors motivate the purpose for the publication of the book by stating the Cannon was the finest Communist leader that America had ever produced. This an intriguing question. The editors trace their political lineage back to Cannon’s leadership of the early Communist Party and later after his expulsion to the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party so their perspective is obvious. What does the documentation provided here show? This certainly is the period of Cannon’s political maturation, especially after his long collaboration working with Trotsky. The period under discussion- from the 1920’s when he was a leader of the American Communist Party to the red-baiting years after World War II- started with his leadership of the fight against the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and then later against those who no longer wanted to defend the gains of the Russian Revolution despite the Stalinist degeneration of that revolution. Cannon won his spurs in those fights and in his struggle to orient those organizations toward a revolutionary path. One thing is sure- in his prime which includes this period- Cannon had the instincts to want to lead a revolution and had the evident capacity to do so. That he never had an opportunity to lead a revolution is his personal tragedy and ours as well.

I note here that among socialists, particularly the non-Stalinist socialists of those days, there was controversy on what to do and, more importantly, what forces socialists should support. If you want to find a more profound response initiated by revolutionary socialists to the social and labor problems of those days than is evident in today’s leftist responses to such issues Cannon’s writings here will assist you. I draw your attention to the early part of the book when Cannon led the Communist-initiated International Labor Defense (ILD), most famously around the fight to save the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti here in Massachusetts. That campaign put the Communist Party on the map for many workers and others unfamiliar with the party’s work. For my perspective the early class-war prisoner defense work was exemplary.

The issue of class-war prisoners is one that is close to my heart. I support the work of the Partisan Defense Committee, Box 99 Canal Street Station, New York, N.Y 10013, an organization which traces its roots and policy to Cannon’s ILD. That policy is based on an old labor slogan- ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ therefore I would like to write a few words here on Cannon’s conception of the nature of the work. As noted above, Cannon (along with Max Shachtman and Martin Abern and Cannon’s long time companion Rose Karsner who would later be expelled from American Communist Party for Trotskyism with him and who helped him form what would eventually become the Socialist Workers Party) was assigned by the party in 1925 to set up the American section of the International Red Aid known here as the International Labor Defense.

It is important to note here that Cannon’s selection as leader of the ILD was insisted on by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) because of his pre-war association with that organization and with the prodding of “Big Bill’ Haywood, the famous labor organizer exiled in Moscow. Since many of the militants still languishing in prison were anarchists or syndicalists the selection of Cannon was important. The ILD’s most famous early case was that of the heroic anarchist workers, Sacco and Vanzetti. The lessons learned in that campaign show the way forward in class-war prisoner defense.

I believe that it was Trotsky who noted that, except in the immediate pre-revolutionary and revolutionary periods, the tasks of militants revolve around the struggle to win democratic and other partial demands. The case of class-war legal defense falls in that category with the added impetus of getting the prisoners back into the class struggle as quickly as possible. The task then is to get them out of prison by mass action for their release. Without going into the details of the Sacco and Vanzetti case the two workers had been awaiting execution for a number of years and had been languishing in jail. As is the nature of death penalty cases various appeals on various grounds were tried and failed and they were then in imminent danger of execution.

Other forces outside the labor movement were also interested in the Sacco and Vanzetti case based on obtaining clemency, reduction of their sentences to life imprisonment or a new trial. The ILD’s position was to try to win their release by mass action- demonstrations, strikes and other forms of mass mobilization. This strategy obviously also included, in a subordinate position, any legal strategies that might be helpful to win their freedom. In this effort the stated goal of the organization was to organize non-sectarian class defense but also not to rely on the legal system alone portraying it as a simple miscarriage of justice. The organization publicized the case worldwide, held conferences, demonstrations and strikes on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti. Although the campaign was not successful and the pair were executed in 1927 it stands as a model for class war prisoner defense. Needless to say, the names Sacco and Vanzetti continue to be honored to this day wherever militants fight against this system.

I also suggest a close look at Cannon’s articles in the early 1950’s. Some of them are solely of historical interest around the effects of the red purges on the organized labor movement at the start of the Cold War. Others, however, around health insurance, labor standards, the role of the media and the separation of church and state read as if they were written in 2014 That’s a sorry statement to have to make any way one looks at it.

(UNAC) Website- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops, Mercenaries, Contractors, Etc. From Afghanistan! -Hands Off Syria! No New War In Iraq- Stop The Bombings-Stop The Arms Shipments To The Kurds And Shia-Stay Out Of The Civil War! No Intervention In Ukraine! Defend The Palestinians! No U.S. Aid To Israel! No One Penny, Not One Person For Obama’s War Machine!

Click below for link to the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) website for more information about various anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist actions around the country.

Markin comment: 
A while back, maybe last year as things seemed to be winding down in the Middle East, or at least the American presence was scheduled to decrease in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, and before  Ukraine, Syria, Gaza and a number of other flash points erupted I mentioned that every once in a while it is necessary, if for no other reason than to proclaim from the public square that we are alive, and fighting, to show “the colors,” our anti-war colors. I also mentioned at the time that while endless marches are not going to end any war the imperialists decide to provoke the street opposition to the war in what appeared then to be the fading American presence in Afghanistan or whatever else the Obama/Kerry cabal has lined up for the military to do in the Middle East, Ukraine or the China seas as well as protests against other imperialist adventures had been under the radar of late.

Over the summer there had been a small uptick in street protest over the Zionist massacre in Gaza (a situation now in “cease-fire” mode but who knows how long that will last) and the threat of yet a third American war in Iraq with the increasing bombing campaign and escalating troop levels now expanded to Syria. Although not nearly enough. As I mentioned at that earlier time it is time, way beyond time, for anti-warriors, even his liberal backers, to get back where we belong on the streets in the struggle against Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama’s seemingly endless wars. And his surreptitious “drone strategy” to "sanitize" war when he is not very publicly busy revving up the bombers and fighter jets in Iraq, Syria and wherever else he feels needs the soft touch of American “shock and awe, part two.”

The UNAC for a while now, particularly since the collapse of the mass peace movement that hit the streets for a few minutes before the second Iraq war in 2003, appears to be the umbrella clearing house these days for many anti-war, anti-drone, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist actions. Not all the demands of this coalition are ones that I would raise, or support but the key ones of late are enough to take to the streets. More than enough to whet the appetite of even the most jaded anti-warrior.

And as we hit the fall anti-war trail:

As Obama, His House And Senate Allies, His “Coalition Of The Willing”    Beat The War Drums-Again- Stop The Escalations-No New U.S. War In Iraq- No Intervention In Syria! Immediate Withdrawal Of All U.S. Troops And Mercenaries!  Stop The U.S. And Allied Bombings! –Stop The Arms Shipments …

Frank Jackman comment:

As the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, U.S. President Barack Obama, abetted by the usual suspects in the House and Senate as well as internationally, orders more air bombing strikes in the north and in Syria,  sends more “advisers” to “protect” American outposts in Iraq, and sends arms shipments to the Kurds, supplies arms to the moderate Syrian opposition if it can be found to give weapons to, guys who served in the American military during the Vietnam War and who, like me, belatedly, got “religion” on the war issue as a kneejerk way to resolve the conflicts in this wicked old world might very well be excused for disbelief when the White House keeps pounding out the propaganda that these actions are limited when all signs point to the slippery slope of escalation. And all the time saying the familiar (Vietnam era familiar updated for the present)-“we seek no wider war”-meaning no American combat troops. Well if you start bombing places back to the Stone Age, cannot rely on the Iraqi troops who have already shown what they are made of and cannot rely on a now non-existent “Syrian Free Army” which you are willing to get whatever they want and will still come up short what do you think the next step will be? Now not every event in history gets exactly repeated but given the recent United States Government’s history in Iraq those old time vets might be on to something. In any case dust off the old banners, placards, and buttons and get your voices in shape- just in case. No New War In Iraq –Stop The Bombings- No Intervention In Syria! 
Here is something to think about:  

Workers and the oppressed have no interest in a victory by one combatant or the other in the reactionary Sunni-Shi’ite civil war. However, the international working class definitely has a side in opposing imperialist intervention in Iraq and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops and mercenaries. It is U.S. imperialism that constitutes the greatest danger to the world’s working people and downtrodden. 
Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S./Allied Troops, Mercenaries, Contractors, Etc. From Afghanistan! Hands Off Syria! No New War In Iraq- Stop The Bombings-Stop The Arms Shipments To The Kurds And Shia-Stay Out Of The Civil War! No Intervention In Ukraine! Defend The Palestinians! No U.S. Aid To Israel! Not One Penny, Not One Person For Obama’s War Machine! | 781-285-8622 | BostonUNAC(S)
As The 100th Anniversary Of The First Year Of World War I (Remember The War To End All Wars) Continues ... Some Remembrances-Writers’ Corner  

In say 1912, 1913, hell, even the beginning of 1914, the first few months anyway, before the war clouds got a full head of steam in the summer they all profusely professed their unmitigated horror at the thought of war, thought of the old way of doing business in the world. Yes the artists of every school but the Cubist/Fauvists/Futurists and  Surrealists or those who would come to speak for those movements, those who saw the disjointedness of modern industrial society and put the pieces to paint, sculptors who put twisted pieces of metal juxtaposed to each other saw that building a mighty machine from which you had to run created many problems; writers of serious history books proving that, according to their Whiggish theory of progress,  humankind had moved beyond war as an instrument of policy and the diplomats and high and mighty would put the brakes on in time, not realizing that they were all squabbling cousins; writers of serious and not so serious novels drenched in platitudes and hidden gabezo love affairs put paid to that notion in their sweet nothing words that man and woman had too much to do, too much sex to harness to denigrate themselves by crying the warrior’s cry and by having half-virgin, neat trick, maidens strewing flowers on the bloodlust streets; musicians whose muse spoke of delicate tempos and sweet muted violin concertos, not the stress and strife of the tattoos of war marches with their tinny conceits; and poets, ah, those constricted poets who bleed the moon of its amber swearing, swearing on a stack of seven sealed bibles, that they would go to the hells before touching the hair of another man. They all professed loudly (and those few who did not profess, could not profess because they were happily getting their blood rising, kept their own consul until the summer), that come the war drums they would resist the siren call, would stick to their Whiggish, Futurist, Constructionist, Cubist worlds and blast the war-makers to hell in quotes, words, chords, clanged metal, and pretty pastels. They would stay the course.  
And then the war drums intensified, the people, their clients, patrons and buyers, cried out their lusts and they, they made of ordinary human clay as it turned out, poets, beautiful English poets (we will speak of American poets when they slip into war footing in 1917)like Wilfred Owens before he got religion, e.e. cummings madly driving his safety ambulance, beautiful Rupert Brookes wondering which way to go but finally joining the mob in some fated oceans, sturdy Robert Graves all blown to hell and back surviving but just surviving, French , German, Russian, Italian poets tooo all aflutter; artists, reeking of blooded fields, the battle of the Somme Muirhead Bone's nothing but a huge killing field that still speaks of small boned men, drawings, etchings that no subtle camera could make beautiful, that famous one by Picasso, another by Singer Sargent about the death trenches, about the gas, and human blindness for all to see; sculptors, chiseling monuments to the national brave even before the blood was dried before the last tear had been shed, huge memorials to the unnamed, maybe un-nameable dead dragged from some muddied trench half blown away; writers, serious and not, wrote beautiful Hemingway stuff about the scariness of war, about valor, about romance on the fly, among those women. camp-followers who have been around  since men have left their homes to slaughter and maim, lots of writers speaking, after the fact about the vein-less leaders and what were they thinking, and, please, please do not forgot those Whiggish writers who once the smoke had cleared had once again put in a word about the endless line of human progress, musicians, sad, mystical, driven by national blood lusts to the high tattoo, went to the trenches to die deathless deaths in their thousands for, well, for humankind, of course, their always fate  ….    

Johnny Got His Gun
4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  19,003 ratings  ·  1,256 reviews
This was no ordinary war. This was a war to make the world safe for democracy. And if democracy was made safe, then nothing else mattered--not the millions of dead bodies, nor the thousands of ruined lives...This is no ordinary novel. This is a novel that never takes the easy way out: it is shocking, violent, terrifying, horrible, uncompromising, brutal, remorseless and gr ...more
The Stuff Of Dreams, Part Two-Humphrey Bogart’s Across The Pacific

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


Across The Pacific, starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor,  Sydney Greenstreet, directed by John Huston, 1942  


What’s all this stuff, part two no less, about dreams in the title of this review of Humphrey Bogart’s Across The Pacific. Well, haven’t we seen this crew before, I mean, Bogart, Mary Astor, and Sydney Greenstreet in the film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (and John Huston directing). A film where Bogie as classic hard-boiled private detective Sam Spade has to ruffle a few of  Ms. Astor’s feathers after figuring out that she had left a long  trail of men who helped her behind. Had to break her of that habit of leaving those men face down in some gulley all shot to hell while she was looking for the stuff of dreams, that damn jeweled falcon that had everybody wiggy.

Last I heard once the full body count was in they were getting ready to put her pretty little face in a noose out in California. Yeah, Sam had plenty of sleepless winter nights over that one, including some second-guessing his decision to lower the hammer on her, but he figured better that than looking over his shoulder every time he left a room waiting for an off-hand slug. Oh and Mr. Greenstreet as the Fat Man ( he was built for these nefarious high-end  con man/spy roles by build and by voice) looking for that same pot of gold and not fussy about how he got it, or over whose dead body he had to get it. There was treachery enough for a lifetime in that one in order to get to that stuff of dreams. 

That was then and now we have in this film a different version of the stuff of dreams, here the dream of empire, of world domination by the Japanese with the aid of one Anglo partisan, Doctor Lorenz (the role Greenstreet played I told you he was built for such parts) who is working hard to put together a plan to weaken American defenses in the Panama Canal Zone for what would appear to the inevitable future Japanese invasion (according to some notes the site of this bombing in the film was originally Pearl Harbor but note the date of the film and you will see why that was quickly changed). Naturally on the American side, the Bogie side, all efforts must be made to stop this in its tracks. Here is how it was done:                          

Captain Rick Leland (Bogie’s role) was cashiered out of the American Army on corruption charges. He had been a career officer and strangely cannot find a job, a military job, in a world either at war or about to be and so he heads west, west to the Pacific (although the Pacific never actually comes into play in the plot), and maybe unknown there can find work he is fitted for. So he takes a Japanese freighter heading that way from Halifax after being rejected by the Canadians due to his reputation (Jesus, the Canadians rejected him, what the hell was going on they needed whoever they could get). On the tub he meets the fetching Alberta (Ms. Astor’s role) and they play the cat and mouse romance game, innocent romance by today’s standards. He also meets the good Doctor who moves might and main to enlist Rick who has convinced the good Doctor that he is basically a soldier of fortune, in his plans, plans that are unspecified but mean nothing but trouble.     

Of course Rick’s whole story is phooey as he is working as an American agent trying to block any Japanese moves that may be afoot. And there are plenty. It seems in a film where everybody is knee deep in treachery and intrigue that most of the crew and others on the freighter are part of this big plan to blow up the Panama Canal Locks which were a big deal then, maybe now too. What the good Doctor and his agents had been doing was sending machinery to an outlying planation in Panama where they were painfully and on a tedious but tenacious long-term basis constructing an airplane to deliver a torpedo to do the nasty deed. This action had the approval of the emperor so much so that one of his princely sons was to do the act, was to pilot that jerry-bilt plane. The prince when the deal went sour turned out  to have been on the freighter all the time as a servant to Lorenz. Here is the kicker though Alberta turned out to be, beside flirtatious, the daughter of the plantation owner whose land had been used to do the construction. Naturally in a patriotic film like this no Japanese are going to be successful against Rick’s determination to stop the nefarious act. So much for that little exercise in the stuff of dreams, empire size. And of course he does and, off-handedly, wins Alberta as well.

As Rick and Alberta go off into the sunset I have this nagging feeling that I liked it much better when Bogie and Ms. Astor were adversaries, when Sam Spade had to decide whether he wanted to live with newspaper around his bed at all times just in case Bridget got fidgety, rooty-toot-toot fidgety, or turn her over to the coppers. Liked it better too, much better, when Mr. Greenstreet was in the stuff of dreams business strictly for himself.