Saturday, September 26, 2015

Donald Cox, 1936-2011:The beauty of the moon and the passion of the Black Panthers-By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / March 15, 2011

Click below to listen to Stanley Nelson speak about his latest documentary –The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution on the Terry Gross show Fresh Air on NPR (Sept 24, 2015)  

Click below to listen to Stanley Nelson speak about his latest documentary –The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution on the Terry Gross show Fresh Air on NPR (Sept 24, 2015)  

Donald Cox, 1936-2011:
The beauty of the moon
and the passion of the Black Panthers

By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / March 15, 2011

It was sad news that former Black Panther, Don Cox, died in France, February 19, 2011, at the age of 74, but I had to laugh at The New York Times obituary by Bruce Weber that described the Panthers as “the socialist movement founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, Calif., in 1966.” True, the Panthers were founded by Newton and Seale in 1966 in Oakland, but they were not a socialist movement, not by any stretch of the imagination.

They did for a time provide breakfast for children and they did want community control of institutions, such as police departments and schools, in black neighborhoods, but they did not advocate socialism.

They were part of the Black Nationalist movement that made allies with young, radical whites, and they also shared optimism and the political tactics of the anti-colonial upsurges that spread across the Third World in the 1960s.

I met Donald Cox -- “DC” as we called him -- and got to know him, briefly, in Algiers in 1970. I had gone to Algiers with a group of Yippies to meet Eldridge Cleaver and Timothy Leary, both of whom were wanted by U.S. authorities and were living in exile.

DC was the mellowest. DC was the coolest, and much less of a megalomaniac or egomaniac than Cleaver or Leary. In fact, he wasn’t a megalomaniac or an egomaniac at all. He didn’t want to change the world with guns or LSD and he didn’t want to run it either. Like Cleaver and Leary, he was also wanted by the FBI and considered “dangerous,” but he seemed wistful to me.

From left, Black Panthers Big Man, Don Cox, and June Hilliard at Panther national headquarters, Oakland, California, 1970. Image from gothamist.

In Algiers, he was concerned about the security of the Panthers and their Embassy because CIA agents monitored their activities. He was also a gracious host who took us -- Stew Albert, Anita Hoffman, Brian Flanagan, Jennifer Dohrn, Marty Kenner and me -- on a tour of the city, pointing out historical landmarks. He brought us one afternoon to the Place du Martyrs and explained that the French had executed suspected Algerian guerrillas here and then dumped their bodies into the harbor.

He turned to Jennifer Dohrn and asked her, “What color is that water?” She looked down. I looked down. We all did. “It’s reddish-blue,” Jennifer said. And indeed it was. It looked like the sea was awash in blood. “The Algerians say that it’s their blood that gives it that color,” DC explained. “The red blood of the guerrillas changed the color of the Mediterranean.”

At a feast at a seafood restaurant, DC was our official host and sat at the opposite head of the table from Cleaver. He ordered food for everyone -- shrimp and fish and white wine. DC was also made uneasy by two African Americans at the bar who said they were from San Francisco, and whom he suspected worked for the CIA. Sekou, one of the Panthers, spoke softly.

“I got us all covered,” he said. And indeed he did. I looked under the table and saw that he had a gun in his hand. I was confident he’d use it if need be. He had hijacked an airplane at gunpoint to get to Algiers.

DC didn’t have a gun in Algiers. I never saw him with one, either under a table or on his own person, though I did see Cleaver with an AK-47 in his lap. In 1970, DC expressed concern about living in exile. He hoped that he would not have to remain for the rest of his life outside his own native country. He missed San Francisco.

He did live in exile for the next 40 years of his life; his widow noted that before his death, exile had begun to wear on him. I’m sure it did and yet what strikes me most about DC now is his longevity. He lived longer than many of the Black Panthers, such as Huey Newton, and Eldridge Cleaver, who became a born-again Christian, a Republican, and a crack-head in the 1990s in Oakland.

DC never turned his back on his ideals, his passion for justice or his appreciation of beauty.

One night, we all looked up at the moon and admired its beauty.

“In Babylon, you can’t appreciate the moon’s beauty,” DC told us. “But here you have the time and space to dig on it.” That’s the way I’d like to remember DC, the Black Panther Field Marshal, who lived more than half his life in exile, and who learned in exile to appreciate the beauty of the moon.

[Jonah Raskin teaches at Sonoma State University and is the author of For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman.]

The Rag Blog

Posted by thorne dreyer at 9:57 AM
Labels: Algeria, American History, Black Liberation Movement, Black Panthers, Don Cox, Jonah Raskin, Leftists, Rag Bloggers, Sixties

3 Make/read comments:
b.f. said...
With regard to whether or not the BPP advocated for socialism in the 1960s and early 1970s, in his introduction to the 1970 book that he edited, "Black Panthers Speak", U.S. labor historian Philip Foner wrote that "one should add that the Black Panthers, while by no means the first blacks in the United States to oppose the capitalist system and espouse the cause of Socialism, were the first to do so as a separate organization...The Black Panthers, though favoring Socialism and coalitions with other oppressed groups, retain their separate identity as a revolutionary movement..."

And in February 1970, the Black Panther Party's national office also issued a statement to the U.S. "Guardian" radical newspaper which stated:

"The Black Panther Party stands for revolutionary solidarity with all people fighting against the forces of imperialism, capitalism, racism and fascism...

"In the words of the party's chairman, Bobby Seale, we will not fight capitalism with black capitalism; we will not fight imperialism with black imperialism; we will not fight racism with black racism. Rather we will take our stand against these evils with a solidarity derived from a proletarian internationalism born of socialist idealism..."

Mar 15, 2011 1:33:00 PM
"John MF" said...
Marx taught that control of the "means of production" was the path to power, i.e. socialism on the way to what Engels called the "withering away of the state."

Since the means of production were virtually absent in the black communities, the Panthers, and particularly DC, espoused control of the institutions of society, the means of "serving the people" with defense (police powers), access to food and shelter (welfare and community food centers), and the voice of information (the people's media).
Home-grown, locally-controlled and self-defended may equal "socialism" in the streets, and solidarity with the international movements for freedom, justice and equality, but there was nothing academic about the pragmatism of the Field Marshall and his friends.

Mar 15, 2011 11:04:00 PM
Positive Quotes said...
We will take our stand against these evils with a solidarity derived from a proletarian internationalism born of socialist idealism.

Mar 16, 2011 3:25:00 AM

One More Time Down 1950s Record Memory Lane

One More Time Down 1950s Record Memory Lane




Sam Lowell, ex-corner boy in the early 1960s when in the working-class neighborhoods of America you had best have had corner boy comrades when you hung out on date-less, girl-less, dough-less Friday and Saturday nights to have your back if trouble brewed, ex-hippie “flower child” along with his long mourned and lamented friend the late Peter Paul Markin heading out west on the hitchhike roads when the world turned upside down later in the decade, now a sedate grandfatherly lawyer filled with respectability and memories had to laugh about how much he of late had been thinking about the 1950s. The 1950s when he came of age, came of musical age, drawing away from the music on his parents’ family living room radio and their cranky old record player after they had, to insure domestic peace and tranquility if he remembered correctly, his first transistor radio down at the now long gone Radio Shack store and he could sit up in his room and dream of whatever coming of age boys dreamed about, mainly how those last year bothersome girls became this year’s interesting objects of discussion (by the way that room, shared with his two brothers also a beauty of hold up to your ear transistor radio and drown out the world of brotherly scuffings). 

More than that though, more than just thinking about the old days he had via the beauties of the Internet been purchasing several record compilations of the “best of” that period from a commercial distributor (and also keeping up to date on various versions of the songs on YouTube) and through his friend and old corner boy Frankie Riley been spilling plenty of cyber-ink on Frankie’s blog, In The Be-Bop ‘50s Night, going back to the now classic age of rock and roll. He had to laugh about that as well since he had been well known back on the corner, back holding up the wall in front of Jimmy Jack’s Diner on those date-less, girl-less, dough-less Friday and Saturday nights for proclaiming to all who would listen (mainly Frankie, Markin, Jimmy Jenkins, Jack Callahan, Kenny Hogan and Johnny “Thunder” Thornton and an occasional girl who wondered what he was talking about) that “rock and roll will never die.”

Mainly, through the archival marvels of modern technology, it had not died although it clearly no longer provided the same fuel for later generations more into hip-hop-ish music. But funny when kids, his grandkids, for example, hear (and see) Elvis, all steamy, smoldering and swiveling in something like the film clip in Jailhouse Rock, Bo Diddley proclaiming that he put the rock in rock and roll, Chuck Berry telling a candid world, a candid teenage world which after all was all that counted then, now too from what he had heard, that Mister Beethoven from the old fogy music museum had better take himself and move over because a new be-bop daddy was taking taking the reins, curl-in-hair Buddy Holly pining away for his Peggy Sue, Jerry Lee Lewis sitting, maybe standing for all Sam knew telling that same candid world that everybody had to do the high school hop bop, confidentially, Wanda Jackson proclaiming that it was party time and an endless host of one hit wonders and wanna-bes they went crazy. Yeah, just like the young Sam who could not believe his ears when he had come of age and, yeah, those same guys who formed his musical tastes back in the 1950s when he had come of age, musical age anyway. Jesus, Jesus too when he came of teenage age and all that meant of angst and alienation.

Sam had thought again recently about going back to those various commercially-produced compilations put out by demographically savvy media companies to cull out the better songs, some which he had on the tip of his tongue almost continuously since the 1950s(the Dubs Could This Be Magic the great last chance dance song that bailed him out of being shut out of more than one dance night although his partner’s feet borne the brunt of the battle, and the Teen Queens Eddie My Love, where Eddie took advantage of the girl and she is wondering when he is coming back, a great love ‘em and leave ‘em song and the answer is still he’s never coming back, are two examples that quickly came to his mind). Others like Johnny Ace’s Pledging My Love or The Crows Oh-Gee though needed some coaxing by the compilations to remember.

But Sam, old lawyerly Sam, had finally found a sure-fire method to aid in that memory coaxing. Just go back in memory’s mind and picture scenes from teenage days and figure the songs that went with such scenes (this is not confined to 1950s aficionados anybody can imagine their youth times and play). But even using that method Sam believed that he was cheating a little, harmlessly cheating but still cheating. When he (or anybody familiar with the times) looked at the artwork on most of the better 1950s CD compilations one could not help but notice the excellent artwork that highlights various institutions illustrated back then. The infamous drive-in movies where you gathered about six people (hopefully three couples but six anyway) and paid for two the other four either on the back seat floor or in the trunk. They always played music at intermission when we gathered at the refreshment stand to grab inedible hot dogs, stale popcorn, or fizzled out sods, although who cared, especially if that three couples thing was in play, and that scene had always been associated in Sam’s mind with Frankie Lyman and the Teenager’s Why Do Fools Fall In Love.

So that is how Sam played the game. Two (or more) can play so he said he would just set the scenes and others can fill in their own musical selections. Here goes: the first stirrings of interest in the opposite sex at Doc’s Drugstore with his soda fountain AND jukebox; the drive-in restaurant with you and yours in the car, yours or father borrowed for an end of the night bout with cardboard hamburgers, ultra-greasy french fries and diluted soda; the Spring Frolic Dance (or name your seasonal dance) your hands all sweaty, trying to disappear into the wall, waiting, waiting to perdition for that last dance so that you could ask that he or she that you had been eyeing all evening to dance that slow one  all dreamy; down at the beach on day one of out of school for the summer checking out the scene between the two boat clubs where all the guys and gals who counted hung out; the night before Thanksgiving football rally where he or she said they would be, how about you; on poverty nights sitting up in your bedroom listening to edgy WMEX on your transistor radio away from prying adult eyes; another poverty night you and your boys, girls, boys and girls sitting in the family room spinning platters; that first sixth grade “petting” party (no more explanation needed right); cruising Main Street with your boys or girls looking for, well, you figure it out listening to the radio in that “boss” Chevy, hopefully; and, sitting in the balcony “watching” the double feature at the Strand Theater on Saturday afternoon when younger and at night when older. Okay, Sam has given enough cues. Fill in the dots, oops, songs and add scenes too.                      

From The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive Website- The Alba Blog

From The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive Website- The Alba





Click below to link to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archive blog page for all kinds of interesting information about that important historic grouping in the International Brigades that fought for our side, the side of the people in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39.



As everybody probably knows by now who has following this blog for a time Ralph Morris and I, Sam Eaton, met down in Washington, D.C. on May Day 1971 on the football field at then RFK Stadium while being held by the D.C. police (although Ralph was picked off by a National Guard soldier who transferred him to D.C. hands as the division of labor played out that day) for having tried to shut down the government if it did not shut down the war, that war being the Vietnam War that tore our generation, our nation asunder. I had gone down to Washington that weekend before May Day with a group of radicals from Cambridge who were part of an larger affinity group which had planned to “capture” the White House and Ralph had joined a group of anti-war Vietnam veterans who had planned to surround the Pentagon, a less exciting but more possible task.

Inevitably we had been arrested well before achieving either of our objectives along with thousands of others who were outraged by that endless war and committed to shutting it down, shutting it down some damn way so don’t smirk when you read this (“endless war,” sound familiar?). Ralph had noticed me wearing a button on my shirt indicating that I was a supporter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and had asked me if I had served in Vietnam. Having been exempted from military service by a hardship deferment due to my being the sole surviving supporter of my mother and four much younger sisters after my father had died of a massive heart attack in 1965 I rather sheepishly told Ralph the story of how my best buddy, my closest “corner boy,” Jeff Mullins, had been blown away in some God forsaken village up in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and that had spurred me who had been really indifferent to the war before to get involved as an anti-war activist a couple of years before doing civil disobedience actions leading up to the big action in D.C. in 1971. Ralph that afternoon (and late into the night since we wound up being held for three days before we figured that some side exits were unguarded and scooted out of the place) had told me his story of how he had come out of the Army after serving eighteen months with a unit up in that same Central Highlands where Jeff had been blown away and had been so angry at the government for making him and his Army buddies what he called “animals” that on discharge he had lined up with VVAW (through a fellow soldier in him in whom he had kept in touch with while stationed at Fort Devens in Massachusetts before he time was up).

After many hours of talking and getting a feel for each other we thereafter joined forces, did a number of actions later over the next couple of years until the high tide of the 1960s ebbed and faded. We have remained friends throughout, although some years sporadically,   and up until 2003 with the big invasion of Iraq would “do our duty” when some anti-war or social justice issue hit us between the eyes. Since then we have been on a steady diet of fighting the endless wars the last two American governments have immersed the country in without being any closer to the end than when we started.    

After May Day 1971, and for a while after the high tide ebbed through about 1976 I think (and Ralph thinks that is about the right time frame as well) he and I would attend various study groups run by radicals and “reds” to find out about the earlier history of the left-wing movement in America and internationally to see if we could learn any lessons that might help us in our social struggles. The whole summer of 1972 was spent in one such group when I was living in a commune in Cambridge and invited Ralph to stay with me and get involved in one of the “red collective” study groups that were sprouting up then as people despaired over the old strategies and tactics that had ground us to a standstill.

One of the big events that we studied which held us in thrall, especially since neither of us were history buffs or knew much from our high school history classes was the fierce battle between the fascists and republicans in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. Particularly the exploits of the International Brigades and the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade that fought valiantly if forlornly on the Republican side. Many a night we would ask ourselves the question of whether we would have fought, fought honorably in Spain (assuming that the Stalinists who controlled entry, controlled the “politically reliable elements” that they vetted into the Abraham Lincoln would have let us in). We hoped we would have. As Ralph and I have been fighting the good fight against the endless wars this time around (everyone will agree that over a dozen years and counting with no end in sight qualifies for such a designation) we have taken advantage of the Internet to see what other organizations and individuals have been up to. One day when I was Googling I came up upon this Abraham Lincoln Brigade website and was intrigued by its offerings. I made some comments about it and about Spain in the 1930s on the site. Here is what I had to say (I wrote this but Ralph put in his fair share of ideas so it is a two person commentary):            

This blog had gotten my attention for two reasons: those rank and filers who fought to defend democracy, fight the fascists and fight for socialism in Spain for the most part, political opponents or not, were kindred spirits; and, those with first-hand knowledge of those times over seventy years ago are dwindling down to a precious few and so we had better listen to their stories while they are around to tell it. Viva La Quince Brigada!  


I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War since I was in my twenties. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.

Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat (okay, okay working class) certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class revolutions after the Russian revolution of 1917 Spain showed the most promise of success. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky who had helped lead the successful October revolution and then led the military fight to defend the gains against the Whites arms in hands noted that the political class consciousness of the Spanish proletariat at that time was higher than that of the Russian proletariat in 1917. Yet it failed in Spain. Trotsky's writings on this period represent a provocative and thoughtful approach to an understanding of the causes of that failure. Moreover, with all proper historical proportions considered, his analysis has continuing value as the international working class struggles against the seemingly one-sided class war being waged by the international bourgeoisie today.

The Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 has been the subject of innumerable works from every possible political and military perspective possible. A fair number of such treatises, especially from those responsible for the military and political policies on the Republican side, are merely alibis for the disastrous policies that led to defeat. Trotsky's complication of articles, letters, pamphlets, etc. which were made into a volume for publication is an exception. Trotsky was actively trying to intervene in the unfolding events in order to present a program of socialist revolution that most of the active forces on the Republican side were fighting, or believed they were fighting for. Thus, Trotsky's analysis brings a breath of fresh air to the historical debate. That in the end Trotsky could not organize the necessary cadres to carry out his program or meaningfully impact the unfolding events in Spain is one of the ultimate tragedies of that revolution. Nevertheless, Trotsky had a damn good idea of what forces were acting as a roadblock to revolution. He also had a strategic conception of the road to victory. And that most definitely was not through the Popular Front.

The central question Trotsky addresses throughout the whole period under review here was the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the proletarian forces. That premise entailed, in short, a view that the objective conditions for the success of a socialist program for society had ripened. Nevertheless, until that time, despite several revolutionary upheavals elsewhere, the international working class had not been successful anywhere except in backward Russia. Trotsky thus argued that it was necessary to focus on the question of forging the missing element of revolutionary leadership that would assure victory or at least put up a fight to the finish.

This underlying premise was the continuation of an analysis that Trotsky developed in earnest in his struggle to fight the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution in the mid-1920's. The need to learn the lessons of the Russian Revolution and to extend that revolution internationally was thus not a merely a theoretical question for Trotsky. Spain, moreover, represented a struggle where the best of the various leftist forces were in confusion about how to move forward. Those forces could have profitably heeded Trotsky's advice. I further note that the question of the crisis of revolutionary leadership still remains to be resolved by the international working class.

Trotsky's polemics in that volume are highlighted by the article ‘The Lessons of Spain-Last Warning’, his definitive assessment of the Spanish situation in the wake of the defeat of the Barcelona uprising in May 1937. Those polemics center on the failure of the Party of Marxist Unification (hereafter, POUM) to provide revolutionary leadership. That party, partially created by cadre formerly associated with Trotsky in the Spanish Left Opposition, failed on virtually every count. Those conscious mistakes included, but were not limited to, the creation of an unprincipled bloc between the former Left Oppositionists and the former Right Oppositionists (Bukharinites) of Maurin to form the POUM an organization which almost consciously limited itself to organizing in vanguard Catalonia in 1935; political support to the Popular Front including entry into the government coalition by its leader; creation of its own small trade union federation instead of entry in the anarchist led-CNT; creation of its own militia units reflecting a hands-off attitude toward political struggle with other parties; and, fatally, an at best equivocal role in the Barcelona uprising of 1937.

Trotsky had no illusions about the roadblock to revolution of the policies carried out by the old-time Anarchist, Socialist and Communist Parties. Unfortunately the POUM did. Moreover, despite being the most honest revolutionary party in Spain it failed to keep up an intransigent struggle to push the revolution forward. The Trotsky - Andreas Nin (key leader of the POUM and former Left Oppositionist) correspondence in the Appendix makes that problem painfully clear.

The most compelling example of this failure - As a result of the failure of the Communist Party of Germany to oppose the rise of Hitler in 1933 and the subsequent decapitation and the defeat of the Austrian working class in 1934 the European workers, especially the younger workers, of the traditional Socialist Parties started to move left. Trotsky observed this situation and told his supporters to intersect that development by an entry, called the ‘French turn,’ into those parties. Nin and the Spanish Left Opposition, and later the POUM failed to do that. As a result the Socialist Party youth were recruited to the Communist Party en masse. This accretion formed the basis for its expansion as a party and the key cadre of its notorious security apparatus that would, after the Barcelona uprising, suppress the more left-wing organizations like the POUM, the left-anarchists around Durrutti and so on. For more such examples of the results of the crisis of leadership in the Spanish Revolution read this book which is available on-line at the Leon Trotsky Archives section of the Marxist Internet Archives for the year 1939.

"Viva La Quince Brigada"- The Abraham Lincoln Battalion In The Spanish Civil War (2006)


THE ODYSSEY OF THE ABRAHAM LINCOLN BRIGADE: AMERICANS IN THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR, Peter N. Carroll, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, 1994.
I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 since I was in my twenties. My first paper for a study group presentation sponsored by one of the “red collectives” that were sprouting forth in the early 1970s as disoriented and disheartened radicals and “reds” were seriously and studiously searching for ways to fight the American monster government after years of failure was on this subject. What initially perked my interest, and remains of interest, is the passionate struggle of the Spanish working class to create its own political organization of society, its leadership of the struggle against Spanish fascism and the romance surrounding the entry of the International Brigades, particularly the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the 15th Brigade, into the struggle.

Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class uprisings after the Russian revolution Spain showed the most promise of success. Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky noted in one of his writings on Spain that the Spanish proletariat at the start of its revolutionary period had a higher political consciousness than the Russian proletariat in 1917. That calls into question the strategies put forth by the parties of the Popular Front, including the Spanish Communist Party- defeat Franco first, and then make the social transformation of society. Mr. Carroll’s book while not directly addressing that issue nevertheless demonstrates through the story of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion how the foreign policy of the Soviet Union and through it the policy of the Communist International in calling for international brigades to fight in Spain aided in the defeat of that promising revolution.

Mr. Carroll chronicles anecdotally how individual militants were recruited, transported, fought and died as ‘premature anti-fascists’ in that struggle. No militant today, or ever, can deny the heroic qualities of the volunteers and their commitment to defeat fascism- the number one issue for militants of that generation-despite the fatal policy of the various party leaderships. Such individuals were desperately needed then, as now, if revolutionary struggle is to succeed. However, to truly honor their sacrifice we must learn the lessons of that defeat through mistaken strategy as we fight today. Interestingly, as chronicled here, and elsewhere in the memoirs of some veterans, many of the surviving militants of that struggle continued to believe that it was necessary to defeat Franco first, and then fight for socialism. This was most dramatically evoked by the Lincolns' negative response to the Barcelona uprising of 1937-the last time a flat out fight for leadership of the revolution could have galvanized the demoralized workers and peasants for a desperate struggle against Franco.

Probably the most important part of Mr. Carroll’s book is tracing the trials and tribulations of the volunteers after their withdrawal from Spain in late 1938. Their organization-the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade- was constantly harassed and monitored by the United States government for many years as a Communist “front” group. Individuals also faced prosecution and discrimination for their past association with the Brigades. He also traces the aging and death of that cadre. In short, this book is a labor of love for the subjects of his treatment. Whatever else this writer certainly does not disagree with that purpose. If you want to read about what a heroic part of the vanguard of the international working class looked like in the 1930’s, look here. Viva la Quince Brigada!!

*Playwright's Corner- From The Pen Of Jean Genet-"The Blacks"

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the French playwright Jean Genet's play, "The Blacks".

Click below to listen to Stanley Nelson speak about his latest documentary –The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution on the Terry Gross show Fresh Air on NPR (Sept 24, 2015)  

Book Review

The Blacks, Jean Genet, 1959

Recently, in reviewing the text for the play “The Maids” by French writer and playwright, Jean Genet, I write the following first two paragraphs that apply to an appreciation of the play under review , The Blacks”, as well:

“There was a time when I would read anything the playwright Jean Genet wrote, especially his plays. The reason? Well, for one thing, the political thing that has been the core of my existence since I was a kid, his relationship to the Black Panthers when they were being systematically lionized by the international white left as the “real” revolutionaries and systematically liquidated by the American state police apparatus that was hell-bend on putting every young black man with a black beret behind bars, or better, as with Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and long list of others, dead. Genet, as his autobiographical “Our Lady Of The Flowers” details came from deep within a white, French version of that same lumpen “street” milieu from which the Panthers were recruiting. Thus, kindred spirits.

That kindred “street” smart relationship, of course, was like catnip for a kid like me who came from that same American societal intersection, the place where the white lumpen thug elements meet the working poor. I knew the American prototype of Jean Genet, up close and personal, except, perhaps, for his own well-publicized homosexuality and that of others among the dock-side toughs that he hung around with. So I was ready for a literary man who was no stranger to life’s seamy side. His play “The Maids” was the first one I grabbed (and I believe the first of his plays that I saw performed).”

As I have mentioned elsewhere once I “discover” a writer I tend to read through everything else that he or she has written to see if there is anymore gold in store. That is the case here. In a race-driven and obsessed society like America, notwithstanding a current black president, the question of the relationship, for good or evil but mainly evil, between blacks and whites necessarily has to dominate the central societal drama. Many black writers, including James Baldwin or Richard Wright, have been very sensitive to that need to blacks to “wear” a mask around whites. That a French writer, immersed in white waterfront and prison lumpen culture could capture that same idea in a sharply symbolic (read the direction instructions) play is another matter.

This play, unlike “The Maid”, reaches way down to a place where most play-goings, black and white, do not want to go. And that tells the tale here. I will wonder out loud how today’s audience, spoon-fed on the notion of a “post-racial” society, would react. More simply put, this is the difference between Malcolm X’s racial truth and Martin Luther King’s. Enough said.

Note: If you look at the above linked “Wikipedia” entry for “The Blacks” you will realize that the first performances of this play was a very important part of the acting careers of many black performers, including James Earl Jones. I have seen this play but without the star-studded cast of the original performances.

Keep Space for Peace Week October 3-10, 2015

Keep Space for Peace Week October 3-10, 2015
Keep Space for Peace Week
October 3-10, 2015

International Week of Protest to

Stop the Militarization of Space

Stop Drones Surveillance & Killing

No Missile Defense

No to NATO
End Corporate Domination of Foreign/Military Policy
Convert the Military Industrial Complex
Deal with climate change and global poverty

List in formation

  • Bath Iron Works, Maine (Oct 3) Vigil across from administration building on Washington Street (Navy Aegis destroyers outfitted with “missile defense” systems built at BIW) 11:30-12:30 am   Smilin’ Trees Disarmament Farm (207) 763-4062
  • USAF Croughton, England (Oct 3) National March & Rally at U.S. satellite communication and intelligence base. (Space communications, drones, bomber guidance, missile defence and command & control functions.)  12.00 midday to 3:30 pm. Special guest Robb Johnson. Evening peace concert after rally at Friends Meeting House in Oxford at 7:00 pm.  Oxfordshire Peace Campaign,  
  • Maine Walk for Peace: Pentagon’s Impact on the Oceans (Oct 9-24) Join us in shedding light on the Militarization of the Seas as the US Navy (outfitted with missile defense and space-directed missiles) ramps up their global operations to encircle Russia & China. We will explore environment impacts of Navy on the oceans.  Walk from Ellsworth to Portsmouth.  See flyer at
  • Kemijärvi, Finland (Oct 3) Peace defenders will hold a street protest against drone testing and war training area where NATO is feared to be preparing for war with Russia. 
  • King of Prussia, Pennsylvania (Oct 10) Noon, Demonstration and kite flying in front of Lockheed Martin (L-M) at intersection of Mall & Goddard Boulevards.   L-M is making a killing in drone war and surveillance technology, building the remote-controlled unmanned planes and satellites that direct the drones and launch their deadly Hellfire missiles which L-M also builds. For more info Brandywine Peace Community, (610) 544-1818  or 
  • Kolkata, India (Oct 11) Public Meeting at Kolkata organised by Mrs. Arundhoti Roy Chouddhury ( Global Network board member J. Narayana Rao to speak.
  • Nagpur, India (Oct 3) Mass Rally at Motibalgh jointly by S.E.C. Rly Pensioners Assn and Pragatisjheel Railway Mahila Samaj. Coordinator J. Saraswati.
  • Tucson, Arizona (Oct 6) Vigil at Raytheon Missile Systems. Join the Raytheon Peacemakers as we demonstrate against war and those who profit from it.  Survival demands better ideas, not better weapons.  Hermans Road entrance. (3rd traffic light south of Valencia on Nogales Highway, the extension of South 6th Avenue). Park off Nogales Highway, between railroad tracks and highway.  Signs provided, or bring your own!  More info: 520-323-8697.
·    Vandenberg AFB, California (Oct 7) Vigil in solidarity with "Keep Space for Peace Week" at the main gate of space warfare base from 3:45pm to 4:45pm. For info, contact Dennis Apel at (805) 878-2614.
-        Keep Space for Peace Week is co-sponsored by the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom
·        Download our full-size space week poster at:
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 443-9502  (blog)

The Struggle Continues-No Justice, No Peace-Black Lives Matter-All Out In NYC-October 24

The Struggle Continues-No Justice, No Peace-Black Lives Matter-All Out In NYC-October 24  

Frank Jackman comment:

Usually when I post something from some other source, mostly articles and other materials that may be of interest to the radical public that I am trying to address I place the words “ A View From The Left” in the headline and let the subject of the material speak for itself, or the let the writer speak for him or herself without further comment whether I agree with the gist of what is said or not. After all I can write my own piece if some pressing issue is at hand. Occasionally, and the sentiments expressed in this leaflet is one of them, I can stand in solidarity with the remarks made. I do so here.     

Present At The Creation-Who Put The Rock In Rock And Roll Roll-Jerry Lee Lewis’ High School Confidential (1958)

Present At The Creation-Who Put The Rock In Rock And Roll Roll-Jerry Lee Lewis’ High School Confidential (1958)

From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Deep in the dark red scare Cold War night, still brewing then even after Uncle Joe fell down in his Red Square drunken stupor one night and never came back, so yeah still brewing after he kissed off in his vast red earth, still brewing as a child remembered in dark back of school dreams about Soviet nightmares under Uncle Joe wondering how the kids got through it, and still brewing too when Miss Winot in her pristine glory told each and every one of her fourth grade charges, us, that come that Russkie madness, come the Apocalypse, come the big bad ass mega-bombs (of course being pristine and proper she did not dig down to such terms as “big bad ass” but let’s face it that is what she meant) that each and every one of her charges shall come that thundering god-awful air raid siren call duck, quickly and quietly, under his or her desk and then place his or his hands, also quickly and quietly, one over the other on the top of his or her head, a small breeze was coming to the land.

Maybe nobody saw it coming although the more I think about the matter somebody, some bodies knew something, not those supposedly in the know about such times, those who are supposed to catch the breezes before they move beyond their power to curtain them. Take guys like my older brother Franklin and his friends, Benny and Jimmy, who were playing some be-bop stuff up in his room. (Ma refused to let him play his songs on the family record player down center stage in the living room or flip the dial on the kitchen radio away from her tunes of the roaring 1940s, her and my father’s coming of age time, so up his room like some mad monk doing who knows what because I was busy worrying about riding bicycles or something). Here’s the real tip-off though he and his boys would go out Friday nights to Jack Slack’s bowling alleys not to bowl, although that was the cover story to questioning mothers, but to hang around Freddie O’Toole’s car complete with turned on amped up radio (station unknown then but later found to be WMEX) and dance, dance with girls, get it, to stuff like Ike Turner’s Rocket 88 (a great song tribute to a great automobile which nobody in our neighborhood could come close to affording so reduced to cheapjack Fords and Plymouths), and guys who even today I don’t know the names of despite YouTube archival vaults giving everybody with every kind of musical inclination a blast to the past ticket. Or, how about the times we, the family would go up to Boston for some Catholic thing in the South End at Holy Cross Cathedral and smack across from the church was the later famous Red Hat Club where guys were blasting away at pianos, on guitars and on big ass sexy saxes and it was not the big band sound my folks listened to or cool, cool be-bop jazz either but music from jump street, etched in the back of my brain because remember I’m still fussing over bikes and stuff like that. Or how about every time we went down Massachusetts Avenue in Boston as the sun went down, the “Negro” part before Huntington Avenue (an area that Malcolm X knew well a decade before) and we stopped at the ten billion lights and all you would hear is this bouncing beat coming from taverns, from the old time townhouse apartments and black guys dressed “to the nines,” all flash dancing on the streets with dressed “to the nines” good-looking black girls. Memory bank.            

So some guys knew, gals too don’t forget after all they had to dig the beat, dig the guys who dug the beat, the beat of  out of some Africa breeze mixed with forbidden sweated Southern lusts if the thing was going to work out. And it wasn’t all dead-ass “white negro” hipsters either eulogized by Norman Mailer (or maybe mocked you never knew with him but he sensed something was in the breeze even if he was tied more closely to an earlier sensibility) or break-out “beats” tired of the cool cold jazz that was turning in on itself, getting too technical and losing the search for the high white note or lumpens of all descriptions who whiled away the nights searching their radio dials for something that they while away the nights searching their radio dials for something that they could swing to while reefer high or codeine low. If you, via hail YouTube, look at the Jacks and Jills dancing they mostly look like very proper well-dressed middle class kids who are trying to break out of the cookie-cutter existence they found themselves but they still looked   pretty well-fed and well-heeled so yeah, some guys and gals and it wasn’t always who you might suspect that got hip, got that back-beat and those piano riffs etched into their brains.

Maybe though the guys in the White House were too busy worrying about what Uncle Joe’s progeny were doing out in the missile silos of Minsk, maybe the professional television talkers on Meet The Press wanted to discuss the latest turn in national and international politics for a candid world to hear and missed what was happening out in the cookie-cutter neighborhoods, and maybe the academic sociologists and professional criminologists were too wrapped up in figuring out why Marlon Brando was sulking in his corner boy kingdom (and wreaking havoc on a fearful small town world when he and the boys broke out), why  Johnny Spain had that “shiv” ready to do murder and mayhem to the next midnight passer-by, and why well-groomed and fed James Dean was brooding in the “golden age” land of plenty but the breeze was coming.

(And you could add in the same brother Franklin who as I was worrying about bikes, the two pedal two kind getting “from hunger” to get a Brando bike, a varoom bike, so this girl, Wendy, from school, would take his bait, a girl that my mother fretted was from the wrong side of town, her way of saying a tramp but she was smart as hell once I found out about her a few years later after she, they had left town on some big ass Norton but that is after the creation so I will let it go for now.)               

And then it came, came to us in our turn, came like some Kansas whirlwind, came like the ocean churning up the big waves crashing to a defenseless shoreline, came if the truth be known like the “second coming” long predicted and the brethren, us,  were waiting, waiting like we had been waiting all our short spell lives. Came in a funny form, or rather ironically funny forms, as it turned out.

Came one time, came big as 1954 turned to 1955 and a guy, get this, dressed not in sackcloth or hair-shirt but in a sport’s jacket, a Robert Hall sport’s jacket from the off the rack look of it when he and the boys were “from hunger,” playing for coffee and crullers before on the low life circuit, a little on the heavy side with a little boy’s regular curl in his hair and blasted the whole blessed world to smithereens. Blasted every living breathing teenager, boy or girl, out of his or her lethargy, got the blood flowing. The guy Bill Haley, goddam an old lounge lizard band guy who decided to move the beat forward from cool ass be-bop jazz and sweet romance popular music and make everybody, every kid jump, yeah Big Bill Haley and his Comets, the song Rock Around The Clock.         

Came a little more hep cat too, came all duck walk and sex moves, feet moving faster than Robert Hall-clad Bill could ever do, came out of Saint Loo, came out with a crazy beat. Came out in suit and tie all swagger. Came out with a big baby girl guitar that twisted up the chords something fierce and declared to the candid world, us, that Maybelline was his woman. But get this, because what did we know of “color” back then when we lived in an all-white Irish Catholic neighborhoods and since we heard what we heard of rock and rock mostly on the radio we were shocked when we found out the first time that he was a “Negro” to use the parlance of the times, a black man making us go to “jump street.” And we bought into it, bought into the beat, and joined him in saying Mister Beethoven you and your brethren best move over.   


Came sometimes in slo-mo, hey remember this rock and roll was an ice-breaker with a beat you didn’t  have to dance close to with your partner and get all tied up in knots forgetting when to twirl, when to whirl, when to do a split but kind of free form for the guys (or gals but mainly guys) with two left feet like me could survive, maybe not survive the big one if the Russkies decided to go over the top with the bomb, but that school dance and for your free-form efforts maybe that she your eyeballs were getting sore over would consent to the last chance  last dance that you waited around for in case she was so impressed she might want to go with you some place later. But before that “some place later” you had to negotiate and the only way to do was to bust up a slow one, a dreamy one to get her in the mood and hence people have been singing songs from time immemorial to get people in the mood, this time Earth Angel would do the trick. Do the trick as long as you navigated those toes of hers, left her with two feet and standing. Dance slow, very slow brother.   

Came sometimes in very slo-mo if you could believe my older brother Franklin and the stories that he would tell us younger guys, not in 1955 remember we were worried about two-wheel bikes then but later when we came of age and were salaciously curious about the girl scene, what made them tick, about how he scored with this or that girl, put the moves on this way or that on some other one and some girl’s panties came tumbling down as if by magic. Although I should have been a little suspicion of Franklin’s big sky talk because when my time came the problem of garter belts and girdles would make that quick panties coming down a little suspect, no, very suspect when I had a hard enough and cumbersome enough time unhooking some silly training bra. Jesus.

But here is the big truth, the skinny. See Franklin was not, most guys were not including me, very honest about sex and about sexual conquests when guys got together on the corners at Jack Slack’s or Doc’s Drugstore or in the guy’s gym locker room or in the school’s boys’ lav Monday morning. No guy wanted to seem to be “light on his feet” one of the kinder expressions we used for gay guys in the days when “fag-baiting” was something of a rite of passage so guys would lie like hell about this or that score. Later when you would find yourself doing the very same thing you would find that about sixty to seventy percent, maybe more, of what guys said about conquests was b.s.

In any case one time Franklin was hot after this girl, Betsy Sanders, who even when I wasn’t that into girls (before I came of age, not that “light on my feet” if that is what you are thinking) was “hot,” definitely pretty and smart and just plain nice. She had a reputation, according to Franklin, of being an “ice queen,” no go, but he said that only made him want to go after her more. One high school dance night, maybe the Spring Frolic of 1955, Franklin went stag, although stag with six or seven other guys, as did a lot of guys because that kind of dance was set up by the school to have everybody mix and mingle unlike the prom let’s say which was strictly couples or stay home and wait by the midnight phone for some lost Janey or Jack. Of course Betsy was there, with a few of whatever they call a cohort of single girls, looking at hot as hell, all flouncy full length dress and some smell to drive a man wild, jasmine Franklin thought.

These school dance things like I said were held occasionally by the school to keep an eye on what was happening to their charges with this rock and roll craze beginning to stir up concerns (the churches also held them for the same reason). Basically a “containment” policy of “if you can’t fight them, keep two eyes on each and every one of them” copied I presume from the Cold War foreign policy wonks like George Kennan who ran the anti-Soviet establishment in Washington. So the thing was chaperoned unto death, had some frilly crèche paper decorations to spice up the woe begotten gym which didn’t really work, some refreshments to cool out the tranced dancers periodically, and a lame DJ, a young goof teacher recruited because he could “relate” to the kids who “spun” the platters (records for the unknowing) on a dinky turntable with an equally woeful sound system. None of that meant a thing because all that mattered was that there were boys and girls there, maybe somebody for you and music, music to dance to. Yeah.        

Now as Franklin weaved his story it seems that the usually reserved Betsy was in high form (according to Franklin she looked like maybe she had had a couple of drinks before the dance not unheard of but usually that was guys but we will let that pass), dancing to every fast dance with lots of guys, not hanging with any one in particular, getting more and more into the dancing as the night went on. Franklin approached her after intermission to dance Bill Haley’s latest big one, Rock Around The Clock, the one that everybody went to the Strand Theater up the Square to see that really lame movie about J.D.s, Blackboard Jungle, just to see him and the Comets blast away and she accepted. Danced very provocatively from what Franklin said, gave moves only the “fast” girls, the known school tramps threw into the mix and that was that until the end of the night when last chance last dance time came.   

This last chance last dance as I know from personal experience is a very dicey thing, especially if you have been eying a girl all night and she says “no”-end of evening. See this was a slow one so you could maybe make a last minute pitch or negotiate what was what after the dance. Franklin said he went up to Betsy and asked her for that dance when Mister Miles, that lame DJ I told you about already, announced that the Moonglows’ Sincerely a song he really liked. Here’s her answer-“Yes.” And so they danced and while dancing she allegedly wondered out loud why he had not asked her to dance other dances that night, she expected him to do since she had heard through the super-reliable “grapevine” that he was interested in her. Bingo. The rest of the dance consisted of negotiations about her getting her cloak, about giving the guys and gals they respectively came with the heave-ho and heading toward old Adamsville Beach in Franklin’s Hudson, really our father’s car borrowed for the evening. Down there while he did not go into all the juicy details about what they did, or didn’t do, she let him have his way with her (that “panties came tumbling down” business). Of course that kind of stuff happened all the time with good boys and girls, and bad but when Franklin asked Betsy what stirred her up she said the music and dancing got her going, made her all loose and everything she couldn’t explain it all but she got all warm. Enough, okay.     

Enough except what always bothered me about what parents, the authorities, hell, even older guys on the street, thought about rock and roll as the devil’s music came to mind. Some communist plot to “brainwash” the youth of America and make them Kremlin stooges was hard to figure when a girl like Betsy, an All-American girl if there ever was one, who later in life ran for Congress, unsuccessfully, as a Republican, got all warm when the drums started rolling the intro and the guitars built up that back-beat. Hard to make sense of the idea that maybe the Moonglows should have been brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee of the times or something for singing a doo wop classic like Sincerely, a last chance last dance song. Yeah, that has always bothered me.   

Came in very, very slo-mo for some guys, guys like me who even with big brothers to guide the way were after all is said and done rather clumsy picking up the first few tips (well “half guide the way” since a lot of what Franklin said about the ease of girl conquests was so much hot air, same with other guys but worse, worse than the hot air was the bad, plain wrong information about sex, sexual activity, which he, they had learned like everybody else from the streets, certainly not out of up-tight “asexual” parents who were not telling us anything, nor the churches and definitely not at school although some teachers would allude to stuff but you had to be pretty slick to pick it up. All this information, misinformation really, was far more dangerous that just plain ignorance as Franklin, and I, almost learned the hard way, very closely indeed).

Who knows when you get that first inkling, you know the exact date, when those last year’s girls who were nothing but sticks (that was our dividing line then, “sticks” and “shapes”) and bothered you endlessly when you were just trying to ride your bike or something, maybe reading a book in school turned into being well kind of interesting and had something to say after all. It wasn’t necessarily coming of age time, puberty, but close when all the confusion started, all the little social graces began to count. So, yeah, in fifth grade, toward the end of the year, I was smitten, smitten by Theresa Wallace, my first flamed out flame. So Theresa and rock and roll kind of go hand in hand in my mind since around that time I also started getting that rock beat in my head that Franklin kept telling me that would come at some point.

Naturally with no social graces to speak of the whole heart-throbbing thing with Theresa was a source of endless confusion. Of course as probably is true of half the guys and gals in the world I kept my feelings to myself, would moon, pine, twist, turn, and whatever else a smitten person does without quite knowing what to do about the feelings. Except to kind of be surly toward her in class, and, and, endlessly walk by her house at all hours, all kid hours, in the hopes that I might see her and she might wave, or something. Yeah, no social graces. Then one day the logjam broke, she spoke to me, asked me if I wanted to go to her birthday party the next week. Yes. Although the abruptness going from nowhere to being invited to her house kind of startled me (later I had heard that Slim Jackson, a friend of mine, whom I casually mentioned to that Theresa seemed nice told some girl that fact and it eventually got through the super-speed teen grapevine that I “liked” her).

And so the party was be held in the family room down in the basement of her house (which in the specific case of her house also served as the air raid shelter with signs, supplies, and defense materials which made me realize that I would rather take my chances above ground when I saw that included in the supplies were a record player and records of Patti Page, Frank Sinatra, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller and the crowd, yeah, I would definitely take my chances above ground with that scenario) and was to be unchaperoned meaning no adults would be in the room (although present, very present upstairs). I don’t know about now, about the customs of the young in these matters now, but then these pre-teen parties were called “petting parties” where somehow the first fresh bout of serious kisses were to be bestowed, or at least the first few innocent kisses. I was scared, scared two ways first that I would not be able to do the “deed” and secondly that if I was close to a girl how my grooming fit in, how I smelled and looked, something like that before we all got wise to mouthwash, deodorant and hair oil.

See it wasn’t only in sex matters that my parents were deficient but grooming and health matters as well what with five growing boys and nothing going my mother just didn’t give us the word. I know one guy at school said I smelled funny one day. And I probably did although I don’t know the why of it, maybe not washing under my underarms or something. So one of the things that Franklin was straight on was hygiene which he got from a friend of his when he was my age who had told him that he smelled and hipped him to what guys had to do to keep from being rogues. He clued me in on showering (really just an attached hose to the bathtub in our house), a little deodorant (nobody told me I smelled after that), a little Listerine (although the first time I used it I almost threw up since I used about half a bottle) and Wild Root Crème Oil for my always cowlick-driven unruly hair. I was off, thanks that one time Franklin (there would be other later times when I lent him money, cars, and other stuff that I never got back when I would curse his name, still do)                  

If you think that party of Theresa’s was some big Mayfair swell debutante affair well you know right now you are wrong but it was okay. About a dozen or fifteen kids, a couple more girls than boys but that was alright then (maybe now too), all dressed up and clean smelling presided over by Theresa who had a pretty dress on and who when she greeted me (and everybody else so don’t make a big deal out of it) smelled like I don’t know what, not perfume I don’t think but some exotic bath soap. Nice. The party itself was the standard music, guys and girls dancing (sometimes two girls dancing together but never guys remember that ‘light on your feet” jab), a little nice food, party food, kid party food, finger food and of course the cake, the birthday cake and Happy Birthday song. What was different, at least for me were these two little remembrances as this. Every few records when people were not dancing the lights would go out. That was the cue, although at first I was clueless, for everybody to grab somebody of the opposite sex to give a kiss to, an innocent kiss okay. Some girl, and I still am not sure who but it was not Theresa of the exotic bath soap smells, gave me my first official opposite sex boy-girl kiss. I bridled a little at first since I didn’t realize that was what was going on but it was okay, yeah, okay. So that was one thing. The other was toward the end of the party Theresa came up to me and a little coquettishly (although I didn’t know such a word or what it meant then) asked me to save the last dance for her. No problem. And the last dance, well you know what it was if you have paid attention to the title of this piece The Platters’ Only You. Only You and the lights went out during the song and Theresa planted a long kiss on my chaste lips, yeah, nice. We were an “item” for a while, maybe a month a long time as such things went then and then a new guy came into town, some tow-headed kid that all the girls went crazy over and I was reduced to sitting by the lonely midnight phone waiting in vain for some call to come my way.

Came in, well how should I put it, in awkward ways, ways around the way the world whirled, the American world in that cold, cold war night where lots of things were hidden from view. Things like race, class gender that are upfront and talked about in a usually rational manner today. Here’s what I mean as race, maybe class too, intersects with rock and roll, with who put the rock in rock and roll. And that is not a rhetorical question, or not only a rhetorical question because sixty years out it is still relevant as least in an historical perspective. We found out the hard way, or my best friend, Steve Malloy, in elementary school down in the Carver projects where we grew up at least until we came of age found out the hard way. And I learned my lesson from him. 

See when that rock beat got into our heads, got in like my older brother Franklin said in one of the few times he was absolutely right about something, something important, it came in our heads listening to the radio, car, family living room (although not much in my family since Ma forbade it and I, we, would only play the radio, WMEX, of course when she and Pa were out), later, have mercy on our private up-in-our-rooms transistor radios so what we heard was what we knew about. The sounds all had a classic beat, at least the serious rock beat one, whoever was singing played to. I don’t know that we were all that curious about what the singers looked like at that point, except maybe Elvis who we did know what he looked like from seeing him on the Ed Sullivan Show (a variety acts show popular on Sunday nights then). I don’t think so, it was really the music that moved our souls.       

In any case lots of guys, guys who could sing, not me, guys like Steve Malloy were always crooning away, always trying to sing like one, or more of the voices that we heard on the radio. Steve was particularly interested in those imitations because he really did have a great voice and if you closed your eyes you could almost heard the similarities. He was also like the rest of us in the projects, from hunger. He, once he got the Elvis rags-to-riches story down (and lots of girls too), was driven by the idea that he would be the next big thing in rock, or if not the next big thing then soon.

And that idea was not as fantastic as it sounded because in those days a lot of record companies and radio stations were sponsoring rock talent shows like they did back in the 1920s when they were looking for new talent to fill the airwaves. So one night WJDA, the local rock station (at least they played one show for four hours in the afternoon with DJ Tommy Swirl spinning the platters), staged a talent show up in the center of town looking for the next best thing that maybe they could latch onto, or at least expand their listening audience to the young in order to sell soda, soap, and sundries. So Steve was pumped, thought this would be the first break-through minute for him. But what to sing, whose style to project. He, even I knew this, that there would for guy singers be a ton of Elvis-imitators, and since he didn’t particular like Elvis at that moment since he had lost a girl to a guy who that girl said looked all dreamy like Elvis he decided on Bo Diddley who was all the craze with his song Bo Diddley that had this great beat to it.

So the night of the talent show Steve and maybe twenty other guys and maybe fifteen girls of all ages, all young ages, showed up to perform with a few obviously looking like Elvis imitators what with the long sideburns and slick backed hair in his style.  Steve told me as we walked in that he felt pretty good about his chances and that he was glad he chose Bo to separate himself out. Steve was about number eight on the list and so we fidgeted through the first seven acts, a few pretty good but most awful. Then it was Steve’s turn, Steve dressed in his best (and only) sport’s jacket looking like any teenage kid from Carver in those days, and he started to sing Bo’s song. About half way through though, Jack Kelly, an older guy from the projects, who was known as nothing but a hoodlum yelled out “Hey the kid is trying to sing a n----r jungle voodoo song.” That broke the whole mood, Steve barely finished.              

Needless to say Steve did not win (and probably would not have as three sisters stole the show with some Connie Francis cover) but after that he “got back in line” doing Elvis stuff since he knew Elvis was white. But his heart was no longer in it, and a while later his voice changed and he lost whatever rock energy he had. But he, we learned the hard way about the vagaries of race, learned the very hard way how important the black sound that even Elvis was stealing from was to what put the rock in rock and roll.    



Came in different flavors too, had different root as we would call it now all messed together to give a different beat. You had the rhythm and blues which drove a lot of the early stuff you know the Ike Turner Rocket 88 stuff, Big Joe Turner swinging and swaying that big ass of his to beat the band on Shake, Rattle and Roll, had guys like Jimmy Preston way back in the late 1940s putting in a bid to go into history as the “first rock and roll” song although you can see stuff going all the way back, going back to certain riffs (not whole songs I would say) in the 1920s with Furry Lewis, Lonnie Johnson guys like that who latter guys, Elvis (think Tomorrow Night, That’s When Your Heartache Begins) especially would cover with their own twists and step up the beat for the whole song.

Or take something like Rockabilly which a whole lot of good old boys, white boys okay, from places like Tennessee and Mississippi from hunger farm boys and small town kids would speed up some Les Paul riffs throw a few Saturday night barroom brawl Sunday morning confess all to Preacher Jack and get the girls to come around, come close if they looked good and has some sassy ass licks in and some Rock and Roll Ruby was born. So those big time sounds mixed and mended together to give a great new sound.

But get this, there were other sounds that mixed and matched, Bo Diddley of slurred memory mentioned above down in my growing up town with a definite Afro-Carib thing that bounced a little showing some other possibilities. Cajun too. Down in sweat filled Lafayette and Lake Charles where another of my high school friends, corner boys really, Rene Dubois, was born, where he learned to say pretty things like Jolie Blon in blasphemous crooked French and the girls down there, the cheris’ he called them went wild over him. (Not so in old Carver where his father had been transferred to as an oilrig guy when Nantucket Sound was being fished for oil exploration and Rene was taken for a redneck, a good old boy from the sticks, this in a town where half the population one way or the other was connected to the cranberry bog for which it was known, boggers for crying out loud and rednecks there were as thick as thieves). But Rene was not just into the Cajun stuff because his father, since he had spent a great deal of time fishing for oil in the Gulf of Mexico would take Rene with him when he went to New Orleans. Would take him to the joints down in Frenchtown, down on the avenue.

One time and this is where the spread of rock among the youth really started to take off, get people, young people of course on jump street Rene’s father took him to Lenny’s down by Jackson Square. Lenny’s was great because it had an open air front so Rene could sit out in the café chairs for hours. One late afternoon when it was starting to get dark so it was winter time but there is, or was no such thing as winter in funky, sweaty, steamy New Orleans a guy, a fat guy, maybe not fat but definitely heavy set came to the small stage over by the bar and sat down at the piano. Started playing some very fast boogie-woogie that got people dancing, played a lot of left-hand variations very smoothly creating a rock-like beat, a beat he thought had a Cajun flavor too. But get this, get this straight from me because I checked it out after Rene had told different guys the story about six different ways. When the fat man, the man named Jack Reed, who would go on on later to take the stage name, Fats Domino, played a song, Ain’t That A Shame this foxy girl, smooth dark skin, mulatto, high yellas they call them down there maybe seventeen, eighteen came over and asked him to dance. Of course he did, and of course he told the story that they got along, she invited him to her place up on Bourbon Street a few blocks away and “took him to paradise.”

I don’t think the story held up from what I was able to gather (for one Fats name was not Jack Reed and depending on when he said he had been there Lenny’s would not have been open)   by the time he changed it about sixteen times. But if it did happen then thanks Fats, thanks for the big ass piano addition to rock, our homeland rock and roll. And sorry about how Katrina took all your archives down the river.                  

Came in funny ways too. You know, like I said about my boyhood friend Steve Malloy and his wake-up call trying to imitate Bo Diddley, guys, young guys like us, me, were always trying to imitate whoever we saw or heard about, even though my voice then was too reedy and I had no basic sense of rhythm (which hurt later when I discovered the blues, straight blues and tried to play them on guitar to no avail, sounded like some third rate white bread boy from nowhere). 

Still as little invested as I was in success as a way to get out of the projects, get out of cheap street, Steve wasn’t the only one who tried to cover somebody’s song, tried for the brass ring, or maybe more correctly get an in with the girls who seemed a lot more interesting than before the rock storm blew in (maybe the wiggle and gyrations evoked some primitive sexual tom-tom but that is too much speculation some sixty years out. I tried too, a little, in the period before Steve’s fatal stab at fame mentioned above. Like I said in those days some radio station, locally WJDA no question, some record company, some independent company like Ducca or the Chestnut labels, were sponsoring talent shows to see if they could latch onto the need big thing coming down the rock pipeline.

In my case though it was the town fathers who were sponsoring the talent show, for their own nefarious reasons as I found out later when I got the political bug and such details interested me. See those harried town fathers (and it was mosyly male then) were as concerned as the guys in the White House, as J. Edgar Hoover over in FBI, that rock and roll was getting out of hand and that it softened up America against the hard-boiled red menace, or worse, made their own kids, made their own daughters susceptible to the “s-x” word and so they sponsored weekly dances, usually on Saturday nights at the town hall auditorium to, like the schools and churches, keep an eye or three on the doings of the young. One of the town fathers came up with the idea of the talent show as a way to draw crowds to the dances and keep the kids occupied during intermission. Furthermore, the draw to entry for money hungry “from hunger” kids who probably never had seen so much dough at one time was a prize of fifty dollars and, more importantly, especially to guys like Steve but the idea filtered down to the rest of us, that you would get to sing a few songs as the feature at the next dance, or an upcoming one. So a lot of kids, me, signed up for the thing and put out our stuff for prizes and glory.

For some reason that year I had been waylaid when I heard Miss La Verne Baker doing her Tweddle Dee, a tune that was a big hit for her in 1955 but which I had only hear later as I picked the rock bug properly. That song in her version had been very jumped up and also was great to dance to. More to the point that I had in my head constantly during that time. Plus, get this for teen insight, I figured that since I was covering a female singer on a song that really either sex could sing (later I heard both Big Walter Sidney and Manny Gold do great versions of the song with a little slower tempo) I would get some points for novelty.

The night of the dance/talent show I am talking about I was ready after several hours of practice and some coaching by Steve (who really did have a great native music sense and if thing had turned out better, if he had played his musical hand out instead of getting into that crime time scene he might have blossomed into something). I wanted to look good too for my big first show and in those days that meant wearing a sports jacket and shirt and tie. I was okay on the shirt and tie since that is what I wore to Mass each Sunday morning but our family being poor as church mice, maybe poorer, I didn’t have a sports jacket since we had with five boys a tradition of brother hand-me-downs and I was not big enough then to fix into any older brother’s jacket without looking like a hobo. I moaned and groaned to Ma, and after she said “no” I even moaned and groaned to Pa and you didn’t moan and groan to him unless it was a big deal.               

He said, which was true, that we did not have money for a sports coat for a one night gig, or maybe for any reason, I forget, but he would spring for material at the cheap-jack Bargain Center, the local Wal-Mart of its day, if my mother would make one. Now my mother was no seamstress but she agreed to do so and that Saturday night I had a presentable sports jacket on although I couldn’t say much for the beige color. I had tried it on as she was working  on the material and earlier that night and the fit seemed okay.  

I was number six on the list and so like all performers I was sitting there fretting during the first set of DJ record shuffling waiting impatiently for the intermission to arrive to strut my stuff. I felt pretty good even though I knew that Steve, who was on at number two, would do much better that me, which he did doing a nice version of a song that I forget what it was, some ballad, maybe Love Me Tender. Then in my turn I got up, went to the make-shift stage and started to sing and the crowd when they realized what the song was started chapping along. Then the other shoe fell off. This is what I found out later when I asked my mother about the jacket. She had gotten busy doing some family things and so only quickly sewed the sleeves to the body of the jacket figuring that would be good enough. Like I said before the jacket looked and felt good enough to me so there was no reason to say anything or ask any questions about it. That night though about half way through my act as I was making some motions, some odd-ball gyrations, responding to the crowd’s clapping one of the sleeves came off, then a few minutes later the other came off. They flew right into the crowd, mostly to the girls in front. The place went wild. They all figured that this stunt was part of the act. Well I finished, barely, and was finished. A girl singing some Fontaine Sisters’ song, maybe Sincerely I was so fluttered I just kind of head my head down to avoid dealing with reality, won, Steve second and my career was over. Over because of what happened that night which I had no desire to repeat but over also because like Steve not too long after my voice changed and it was not a good change for singing even if it did sound more manly.

Get this though, at school the next week, Monday  the girls, including one of the girls who caught one of the sleeves, were all around me, thinking my act had been cool, and for a time I was basking in that glory. Ah, wasn’t that a time.        

Came in baffling ways too if you were trying to figure out the love game, the odd way in which the game switched up with frequent chances for seemingly unknown reasons when teenagers fell in and out of love, or one party might, for reasons that were never explained, or maybe couldn’t be explained but which left gaping holes in hearts nevertheless  (other stuff baffled us too but really until later events like dealing with the military draft and whether to go in or not, a not unique question for the youth, the young guys, of my generation, whether or not to marry that gal who stole your heart and later whether or not to divorce when stealing hearts was not enough and other rough choices dealing with the intricacies of the boy-girl thing seemed to take up an extraordinary amount of time). Trying to figure out the lyrics anyway, how they could serve as cautionary tales of sorts since we took the narrative as part of the action.

At least some songs did, songs like Leader of the Pack which even for kids who knew nothing about motorcycles, couldn’t ride one if they tried, were afraid of the bandit road, avoided the Hell’s Angels types with their big hogs down at the beach come sunset Saturday night, bad boys and all instinctively sided with the brother of the song (and her too, she would be left behind when the Leader went over the edge) when everybody knew that the reason the pair broke up was because the freaking parents were so class conscious about staying above the riffraff that squeezed the life out of that relationship. I know I always hoped she would run off with the next leader after her man took the fall. How about He’s So Fine, where the girl narrator is tripping all over herself to figure out how she is going to take some guy into her life, a shy guy (or at least that is his public persona, a good ruse which was not a bad girl-catcher from what guys, and gals, have told me since it made the guy seem like the sensitive type and maybe would not paw all over the girl the first night), a guy who other gals are looking at so that the race is on. The most beautiful part though that she is not only not going to give up on the guy but will do anything he asks, up to and including abdicating her throne if he asked (and if she was a queen to be able to do such an act). Yeah, young love.     

Now that you have the idea take the case of Eddie, My Love which always intrigued, always made a guy like me who hung around more than one midnight phone hoping against hope for a call to sooth my savage soul, done by a number of different groups but the best seemed to me to be the Teen Queens to grab the pathos of the situation.

Here’s the gist of the story line, hardly the first time such action has happened in the love game. This Eddie of the title, obviously a fly-by-night kind of guy, has flown the coop, had gone off somewhere to take care of some business of unknown quality. Something about getting a job, a good job in another state so he can support his dear widowed mother in her hours of dotage need. At least that is what he told the narrator, his unnamed love interest (we could call her Betty or Sue or Maryanne but no need really since this one is an eternal question). Of course, young and somewhat innocent, she believed each and every word he said about coming back to her in a short time. But that short time has turned into a long time and she still hasn’t wised up to the hard fact that Eddie is gone. Long gone and on to the next conquest. And it wasn’t because he did not have dime to make a call on a public telephone or didn’t have three cents for a stamp to mail a letter. He took what he could from her, which was everything she, or any girl, had to give and went off into the night. She though had it bad, had let her Eddie get under her skin and so she was pining away and in the normal course of events, teen drama events, has thoughts of suicide or just dying of a broken heart, take your choice.

(Amazing the number of songs from that time which put everything, every boy-girl thing on the razor’s edge like that, my choice for the top on that one is Endless Sleep where after some silly spat, although I know, I know all those disagreements from where to go bowling Friday night to talk about “doing the do” had instant urgency, the girl, in the old days I would have said bimbo and would not have been far off the mark but in today’s more refined atmosphere just girl, ran down to the sea and jumped into the swirling fierce waves letting old King Neptune take her wherever he chances to go. Calling lover boy to come join her. Jesus. And the guy, a bimbo of the male persuasion, goes into after her to save her. Double Jesus.)       

Now this selection of the Teen Queen song was not random on my part because, and this may have been one of the reasons that the song was popular, popular among those young teen-agers, mainly girls who tended to buy these kinds of record (and most records), because while the story line might be specific to that poor gal and her Eddie the saga hardly was unique, a guy going off into the night after he has had his way is the stuff of drama and novels since the love game began, since Adam and Eve, maybe before. See my corner boy Frankie Riley had a sister, Emily, a nice girl from what I could see when I saw her around or went over to Frankie’s house, pretty in a little girl sort of way but quiet too quiet for me who turned out to like kind of neurotic talkative girls and not the silent types) that had an Eddie story and while she finally got over it from what Frankie said it was a close call about whether she would go over the top or not, you know go down to the very nearby sea at Adamsville Beach to be specific. Frankie, after he coaxed the story out of her when she was mopping around for weeks and he noticed that no guys had not been around the house for a while, looked high and low for the guy but never found his whereabouts, and I’ll bet six, two, and even that today Frankie would still give the guy a beating for what he had done if he ever surfaced around Carver where Frankie still lives and practices law.       

I don’t know all the details since Frankie never got the whole story although he figured out the “take advantage” part pretty quickly once he knew the score (having been just slightly more honorable about things with girls than the Eddie guy). Seems Emily had a boyfriend, a local guy, Kenny Jenkins, Jimmy Jenkin’s, who I knew from the corners a little, a young second cousin or something who I knew from the corners a little, she had met in school and had been going with for about a year, most of junior and senior year.  A good guy according to Jimmy. I don’t know if marriage was in the picture or anything like that, although in those days guys and gals going steady for that long usually wound up married in the job-marriage-kids cycle from that town at that time.

In any case Kenny was “from hunger” just like the rest of us from that part of town and so had no car and they would walk to the movies, the drive-in restaurant at the edge of town (definitely not “cool” since you went to that spot not for the cardboard hamburgers, flat soda and greasy French fries, awful food, really, but to be seen, seen in some “boss” car if possible but not walking into the parking area. That was for “losers.”

One late spring night they were sitting on the picnic benches that walkers were reduced to in order to eat their meals a guy, a guy on a motorcycle, not a Harley but an Indian, a real fast bike, no question, a guy named Lance Harding Frankie found out later, who was known to be something of a lady-killer and a good looking guy even if he was nothing but motorcycle bad news came up to Emily and Kenny and asked Emily if she wanted a ride. And without saying a word to Kenny she just got on the back of Lance’s bike and was off into the night. (There is some dispute about whether he actually asked the question or just looked in Emily’s direction and gave a nod but  either way it should have told Kenny something was wrong in their relationship, Emily was looking for the next best thing to come along and she was just killing time with him.)           

After that Emily was out all summer with Lance doing whatever they were doing and Kenny was from nowhere, a loser. Since you know the theme of Eddie, My Love and the aftermath of Emily’s affair you know Lance blew town one day and that was that. Well not quite that was that since not only was Emily pining away all fall but she was also in the “family way” to use an expression from that time and had to go see “Aunt Betty” out in Kansas, the expression used when a girl left school to have her baby. Yeah, the love game was baffling back then, now too come to think of it.

Came in like a fresh new breeze from out of nowhere. Kind of crept up on us kids, those who were born at the end of World War II as a result of fathers and mothers wanting to get on with their lives, their version of the natural social progression lives marriage complete with kids after the hardships and delays of war. Crept up on us like one time when I was turning the dial on the family radio in the kitchen in the ratty “projects” apartment we lived in, ratty because of the social stigma of projects-hood not because of their condition because they were brand new created as “temporary” housing, we stayed a decade plus, for returning G.I. up against it in a tight housing market, Tony Bennet and Frank Sinatra stuff my mother listened to on the Bill Martin Show on the local radio station then catering to our parents’ music which was on all afternoon. I kept turning the dial until I stopped at this song about midstream that had a good beat, sounded different, and talked about going to the hop, you know dances that all the kids were crazy for as a way to meet the opposite sex if they were old enough to have developed that interest. It turned out the station was WMEX out of Boston which would become over the several years the key radio station that we listened to for the latest rock songs. That was the first afternoon that I heard rock on the radio. Of course the song was Danny and the Juniors now classic classic At The Hop that was for a couple of years a staple at, well, the hops we would attend looking for those aforementioned members of the opposite sex. But that was the beginning.

Crept up on us too wherever we went like at the movies. I already mentioned that Bill Haley thing presenting his Rock Around The Clock as the lead-in to The Blackboard Jungle a nothing film about a bunch of juvenile delinquents and a teacher’s inevitable attempt to tame them which was a set piece in the post-war 1950s where parents were in a frenzy to figure out why their kids were sullen and would not communicate. The story line on that was that the teacher took his beating, took it hard and bounced back with maybe a glimmer of hope that one of the kids would make the turn. Sappy stuff, really, for a kid like me who grew up in the J.D. den of iniquity, the projects, where they were hanging off the rafters there were so many, knowing that most of those guys would wind up some very bad place, wind up in county or state doing nickels and dimes for armed robberies or the like, for starters. So sappy stuff.  

Crept up to in another movie which actually deepened my feel for rock and roll and me a lifetime Jerry Lee Lewis last man standing devotion (and today he probably is of the male rockers of that generation). The movie, High School Confidential, was nothing but a sleeper. You know another one of those J.D. cautionary tale things that the 1950s were known for but this time about the dangers of drugs, of reefer madness, reefer madness which inevitably would lead to harsher drugs like cousin cocaine, sister morphine and boy H, heroin. The cops sent a young guy in, a young cop who looked about thirty but who seemed to have no trouble being seen as a teenager into a troubled suburban high school to crack down on the emerging menacing drug cartel who wants to get the kids “hooked” early to form lifetime habits. Naturally the cop busts the “fixer man” and the town and the movie go back to sleep.      

What was not going back to sleep though was the intro with Jerry Lee set up with his piano and back-up guys on the back of a flatbed truck cruising down the road toward the local high school blaring away doing his classic classic High School Confidential with all his mad man moves, flaming hair going every which way, making all kinds of gyrations with his hands, and rocking the joint. Maybe he, contrary to the theme of the film had a “joint” going in he was so manic. Yeah, those were the days when men (and women, think Wanda Jackson and others) played rock and roll for keeps. And we kept those tunes in our heads for the same reasons. If you don’t believe just Google the song on YouTube and that version should come up number one.       

Despite all these great hits that came our way that first big rock and roll year when it kind of came out from the underground here is the funny thing, funny since we were present at the creation, present in spite of every command uttered by Miss Winot against it, declaring the music worse than that Russkie threat if you believed her (a few kids, girls mainly, did whether to suck up to her since she would take their entreaties although boys were strictly “no go” and I know having spent many a missed sunny afternoon doing some silly “punishment” for her). We were just too young to deeply imbibe the full measure of what we were hearing. See this music, music we started calling rock and roll once somebody gave it a name (super DJ impresario Alan Freed as we found out later after we had already become “children of rock and roll”) was meant, was blessedly meant to be danced to which meant in that boy-girl age we who didn’t even like the opposite sex as things stood then were just hanging by our thumbs.

Yeah, was meant to be danced to at “petting parties” in dank family room basements by barely teenage boys and girls. Was meant to be danced to at teenage dance clubs where everybody was getting caught up on learning the newest dance moves and the latest “cool” outfits to go along with that new freedom. Was meant to serve as a backdrop at Doc’s Drugstore’s soda fountain where Doc had installed a jukebox complete with all the latest tunes as boys and girls shared a Coke sipping slowly with two straws hanging out in one frosted glass. Was meant to be listened to by corner boys at Jack Slack’s bowling alley where Jack eventually had set up a small dance floor so kids could dance while waiting for lanes to open (otherwise everybody would be still dancing out in front of O’Toole’s “boss” car complete with amped-up radio not to Jack’s profit). Was meant to be listened to as the sun went down in the west at the local drive-in while the hamburgers and fries were cooking and everybody was waiting for darkness to fall so the real night could begin, the night of dancing in dark corner and exploring the mysteries of the universe, or at least of Miss Sarah Brown.  Was even meant to be listened to on fugitive transistor radios in the that secluded off-limits to adults and little kids (us) where teens, boys and girls, mixed and matched in the drive-in movie night (and would stutter some nonsense to questioning parents who wanted to know the plot of the movies, what movies, Ma).              

Yeah, we were just a little too young even if we can legitimately claim to have been present at the creation. But we will catch up, catch up with a vengeance.