Saturday, August 13, 2016

In Boston -11th Annual Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Day - Sunday, August 26, 2012

In Boston -7th Annual Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Day - Sunday, August 26, 2012

Gather at the Boston Common Visitor Center (Tremont/West) at 2PM to star marching toward the North at 3PM. Then rally at 4PM the Greenway Park, Hanover St. and Cross Street in the NOrth End of Boston.

This event is dedicated to all political prisoners and victims of state repression.


Sponsored by the Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society and the I.W.W.

Endorsed by the Lantern Collective, Bread and Roses Heritage Committee, Common Struggle

For more info: info[at] or call 617-290-5614

Interview with Theodore Grippo, author of the book "With Malice
Aforethought, The Execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti"
07/24/2012 [DOCUMENTS] -

“When I was ten years old, I asked my father about Sacco and Vanzetti. I had heard their names, probably on the radio, in connection with the tenth anniversary of their executions. I still remember the look on my father’s face as he explained that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti had been sentenced to death for robbery and murder, but many believed they were innocent. My father spoke emotionally of the beautiful letters Sacco wrote to his children just before he was executed, and of Vanzetti’s kind nature and brilliant mind. I believe that my father, an Italian immigrant shoemaker, identified with Sacco, an Italian immigrant shoe trimmer. My father’s expression and tone denoted sadness marked with a fear I could not then understand. I later learned he felt threatened by the ill will many Americans displayed toward Italians as a result of that case.”

Grippo will be speaking Tuesday, August 28th at 6:00 the Boston Public Library , Central Library, Orientation Room, 700 Boylston Street and again on Wednesday, August 29th at 7:00 at the Dante Alighieri Italian Cultural Center, 41 Hampshire Street, Cambridge.

*****From The Pen Of American Communist Party Founder And Trotskyist Leader James P. Cannon

*****From The Pen Of American Communist Party Founder And Trotskyist Leader James P. Cannon

Click below to link to the “James P. Cannon Internet Archives.”
From The Pen Of Josh Breslin

Back in the early 1970s after they had worked out between themselves the rudiment of what had gone wrong with the May Day 1971 actions in Washington, D.C. Sam Eaton and Ralph Morris began some serious study of leftist literature from an earlier time, from back earlier in the century. Those May Day anti-Vietnam War actions, ill-conceived as they in the end turned out to be, centered on the proposition that if the American government would not close down the damn blood-sucking war then they, those thousands that participated in the actions, would close down the government. All Sam, Ralph and those thousands of others got for their efforts was a round-up into the bastinado. Sam had been picked off in the round-up on Pennsylvania Avenue as his group (his “affinity group” for the action) had been on their way to “capture” the White House. Ralph and his affinity group of ex-veterans and their supporters were rounded-up on Massachusetts Avenues heading toward the Pentagon (they had no plans to capture that five-sided building, at least they were unlike Sam’s group not that naïve, just surround it like had occurred in an anti-war action in 1967 which has been detailed in Norman Mailer’s prize-winning book Armies Of The Night). For a time RFK (Robert F. Kennedy) Stadium, the home of the Washington Redskins football team) had been the main holding area for those arrested and detained. The irony of being held in a stadium named after the martyred late President’s younger brother and lightening rod for almost all anti-war and “newer world” political dissent before he was assassinated in the bloody summer of 1968 and in a place where football, a sport associated in many radical minds with all that was wrong with the American system was lost on Sam and Ralph at the time and it was only later, many decades later, as they were sitting in a bar in Boston across from the JFK Federal Building on one of their periodic reunions when Ralph was in town that Sam had picked up that connection.

Sam, from Carver in Massachusetts, who had been a late convert to the anti-war movement in 1969 after his closest high school friend, Jeff Mullin, had been blown away in some jungle town in the Central Highlands was like many late converts to a cause a “true believer,” had taken part in many acts of civil disobedience at draft boards, including the one in hometown Carver, federal buildings and military bases. From an indifference, no that’s not right, from a mildly patriotic average young American citizen that you could find by the score hanging around Mom and Pop variety stores, pizza parlors, diners, and bowling alleys in the early 1960s, he had become a long-haired bearded “hippie anti-warrior.” Not too long though by the standards of “youth nation” of the day since he was running a small print shop in Carver in order to support his mother and four younger sisters after his father had passed away suddenly of a massive heart attack in 1965 which exempted him from military service. Not too short either since those “squares” were either poor bastards who got tagged by the military and had to wear their hair short an appearance which stuck out in towns like Cambridge, Ann Arbor, Berkeley and L.A. when the anti-war movement started embracing the increasingly frustrated and anti-war soldiers that  they were beginning to run across or, worse, cops before they got “hip” to the idea that guys wearing short hair, no beard, looked like they had just taken a bath, and wore plaid short-sleeved shirts and chinos might as well have a bulls-eye target on their backs surveilling the counter-cultural crowd.

Ralph, from Troy, New York, had been working in his father’s electrical shop which had major orders from General Electric the big employer in the area when he got his draft notice and had decided to enlist in order to avoid being an 11B, an infantryman, a grunt, “cannon fodder,” although he would not have known to call it that at the time, that would come later. He had expected to go into something which he knew something about in the electrical field at least that is what the recruiting sergeant in Albany had “promised” him. But in the year 1967 (and 1968 too since he had extended his tour six months to get out of the service a little early) what the military needed in Vietnam whatever else they might have needed was “cannon fodder,” guys to go out into the bushes and kill commies. Simple as that. And that was what Ralph Morris, a mildly patriotic average young American citizen, no that is not right, a very patriotic average young American citizen that you could also find by the score hanging around Mom and Pop variety stores, pizza parlors, diners, and bowling alleys in the early 1960s, did. But see he got “religion” up there in Pleiku, up there in the bush and so when he had been discharged from the Army in late 1969 he was in a rage against the machine. Sure he had gone back to the grind of his father’s electrical shop but he was out of place just then, out of sorts, needed to find an outlet for his anger at what he had done, what had happened to buddies very close to him, what buddies had done, and how the military had made them animals, nothing less. (Ralph after his father retired would take over the electric shop business on his own in 1991 and would thereafter give it to his son to take over after he retired in 2011.)

One day he had gone to Albany on a job for his father and while on State Street he had seen a group of guys in mismatched military garb marching in the streets without talking, silent which was amazing in itself from what he had previously seen of such marches and just carrying a big sign-Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) and nobody stopped them, no cops, nobody, nobody yelled “commie” either or a lot of other macho stuff that he and his hang out guys used to do in Troy when some peaceniks held peace vigils in the square. The civilian on-lookers held their tongues that day although Ralph knew that the whole area still retained a lot of residual pro-war feeling just because America was fighting somewhere for something. He parked his father’s truck and walked over to the march just to watch at first. Some guy in a tattered Marine mismatched uniform wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers in the march called out to the crowd for anybody who had served in Vietnam, served in the military to join them shouting out their military affiliation as they did so. Ralph almost automatically blurred out-“First Air Cav” and walked right into the street. There were other First Air Cav guys there that day so he was among kindred. So yeah, Ralph did a lot of actions with VVAW and with “civilian” collectives who were planning more dramatic actions. Ralph always would say later that if it hadn’t been for getting “religion” on the war issue and doing all those political actions then he would have gone crazy, would have wound up like a lot of guys he would see later at the VA, see out in the cardboard box for a home streets, and would not until this day have supported in any way he could, although lately not physically since his knee replacement, those who had the audacity to march for the “good old cause.”                          

That is the back story of a relationship has lasted until this day, an unlikely relationship in normal times and places but in that cauldron of the early 1970s when the young, even the not so very young, were trying to make heads or tails out of what was happening in a world they did not crate, and were not asked about there were plenty of such stories, although most did not outlast that search for the newer world when the high tide of the 1960s ebbed in the mid-1970s. Ralph had noticed while milling around the football field waiting for something to happen, waiting to be released, Sam had a VVAW button on his shirt and since he did not recognize Sam from any previous VVAW action had asked if he was a member of the organization and where. Sam told him the story of his friend Jeff Mullin and of his change of heart about the war, and about doing something about ending the damn thing. That got them talking, talking well into the first night of their captivity when they found they had many things in common coming from deeply entrenched working-class cultures. (You already know about Troy. Carver is something like the cranberry bog capital of the world even today although the large producers dominate the market unlike when Sam was a kid and the small Finnish growers dominated the market and town life. The town moreover has turned into something of a bedroom community for the high-tech industry that dots U.S. 495.) After a couple of days in the bastinado Sam and Ralph hunger, thirsty, needing a shower after suffering through the Washington humidity heard that people were finding ways of getting out to the streets through some side exits. They decided to surreptiously attempt an “escape” which proved successful and they immediately headed through a bunch of letter, number and state streets on the Washington city grid toward Connecticut Avenue heading toward Silver Springs trying to hitchhike out of the city. A couple of days later having obtained a ride through from Trenton, New Jersey to Providence, Rhode Island they headed to Sam’s mother’s place in Carver. Ralph stayed there a few days before heading back home to Troy. They had agreed that they would keep in contact and try to figure out what the hell went wrong in Washington that week. After making some connections through some radicals he knew in Cambridge to live in a commune Sam asked Ralph to come stay with him for the summer and try to figure out that gnarly problem. Ralph did, although his father was furious since he needed his help on a big GE contract for the Defense Department but Ralph was having none of that.    

So in the summer of 1971 Sam and Ralph began to read that old time literature, although Ralph admitted he was not much of a reader and some of the stuff was way over his head, Sam’s too. Mostly they read socialist and communist literature, a little of the old IWW (Wobblie) stuff since they both were enthrall to the exploits of the likes of Big Bill Haywood out West which seemed to dominate the politics of that earlier time. They had even for a time joined a loose study group sponsored by one of the myriad “red collectives” that had sprung up like weeds in the Cambridge area. Both thought it ironic at the time, and others who were questioning the direction the “movement” was heading in stated the same thing when they were in the study groups, that before that time in the heyday of their anti-war activity everybody dismissed the old white guys (a term not in common use then like now) like Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and their progeny as irrelevant. Now everybody was glued to the books.

It was from that time that Sam and Ralph got a better appreciation of a lot of the events, places, and personalities from the old time radicals. Events like the start of May Day in 1886 as an international working class holiday which they had been clueless about despite the   May Day actions, the Russian Revolutions, the Paris Commune, the Chinese Revolutions, August 1914 as a watershed against war, the Communist International, those aforementioned radicals Marx, Lenin, Trostky, adding in Mao, Che, Fidel, Ho whose names were on everybody’s tongue (and on posters in every bedroom) even if the reason for that was not known. Most surprising of all were the American radicals like Haywood, Browder, Cannon, Foster, and others who nobody then, or almost nobody cared to know about at all.

As they learned more information about past American movements Sam, the more interested writer of such pieces began to write appreciation of past events, places and personalities. His first effort was to write something about the commemoration of the 3 Ls (Lenin, Luxemburg, and Liebknecht) started by the Communist International back in the 1920s in January 1972, the first two names that he knew from a history class in junior college and the third not at all. After that he wrote various pieces like the one below about the labor party question in the United States (leftist have always posed their positions as questions; the women question, the black question, the party question, the Russian question and so on so Sam decided to stick with the old time usage.) Here is what he had to say then which he had recently freshly updated. Sam told Ralph after he had read and asked if he was still a “true believer” said a lot of piece he would still stand by today:      

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****I Hear The Voice Of My Arky Angel-Once Again-With Angel Iris Dement In Mind

*****I Hear The Voice Of My Arky Angel-Once Again-With Angel Iris Dement In Mind

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman  


(c) 1992 Songs of Iris/Forerunner Music, Inc. ASCAP

Sweet forgiveness, that's what you give to me

when you hold me close and you say "That's all over"

You don't go looking back,

you don't hold the cards to stack,

you mean what you say.

Sweet forgiveness, you help me see

I'm not near as bad as I sometimes appear to be

When you hold me close and say

"That's all over, and I still love you"

There's no way that I could make up for those angry words I said

Sometimes it gets to hurting and the pain goes to my head

Sweet forgiveness, dear God above

I say we all deserve a taste of this kind of love

Someone who'll hold our hand,

and whisper "I understand, and I still love you"


(c) 1992 Songs of Iris/Forerunner Music, Inc. ASCAP

There'll be laughter even after you're gone

I'll find reasons to face that empty dawn

'cause I've memorized each line in your face

and not even death can ever erase the story they tell to me

I'll miss you, oh how I'll miss you

I'll dream of you and I'll cry a million tears

but the sorrow will pass and the one thing that will last

is the love that you've given to me

There'll be laughter even after you're gone

I'll find reason and I'll face that empty dawn

'cause I've memorized each line in your face

and not even death could ever erase the story they tell to me

Every once in a while I have to tussle, go one on one with the angels, or a single angel is maybe a better way to put it. No, not the heavenly ones or the ones who burden your shoulders when you have a troubled heart but every once in a while I need a shot of my Arky angel, Iris Dement. Now while I don’t want to get into a dissertation about the thing, you know, that old medieval Thomist argument about how many angels can fit on the end of a needle. Or, Jesus,  or get into playing sides in the struggle between pliant wimpy god-like angels and defiant hellion devil-like angels in the battles in the heavens over who would rule the universe that the great revolutionary English poet from the time of the 17th century  English revolution of blessed memory, you know old Jehovah fearing Oliver Cromwell time, John Milton, when he got seriously exercised over that notion in Paradise Lost.  However  I do believe we our faced, vocally faced with someone who could go mano y mano with whoever wants to enter into the lists against her.

Yes, and I know too that that “angel,” earthly material five feet plus of flesh and bone angel thing has been played out much too much in the world music scene, the popular music scene, you know rock and roll in the old days and now mainly hip-hop. You could hardly live a 1950s childhood extending into a 1960 coming of age teenage-hood  without being bombarded by every kind of angel every time you put your quarter in the jukebox especially if the other hand attached to that quarter, as it usually was had been your everlovin’ dreamy date who just had to hear you compare her to the Earth Angel of the then currently popular song.

On a more sober note when some poor by the midnight telephone (now cellphone, okay, Smartphone) girl was beside herself when her Johnny did not call at nine like he said he would and she wanted to deny reality, a reality pointed out to her by her best friend one Monday morning before school talkfest that her Johnny Angel just couldn’t keep one girl happy but had to play the field (including an almost successful run at that best girlfriend). Going to the distaff side (nice old-fashioned word, right) some Honky-Tonk Angel who was lured into the night life, who went back to the wild side of life where the wine and liquor flowed and she was just waiting there to be anybody’s darling who would eventually be done in by her own her own hubris, Hank’s morbid angel of death that seemed to hover over his every move until the big crash out, until the lights flickered out.

There’s my favorite, no question, though showing just how recklessly secular the angel angle could spin on a platter, no question, Teen Angel. And this will put paid to the notion that the teens in those days were any smarter in going about the business of being a teenager than today’s crop. Let me give few details and if you don’t believe me then just go God Google the lyrics and be done with it. Some, I don’t know how else to say it although I will give advanced apologies to the rest of women-kind, some maybe sixteen year old bimbo of unknown intelligence but you decide for yourselves once you hear the story line  and of unknown looks whose boyfriend’s car got stuck on a railroad track one Friday date night after a full course of heavy breathing, you can figure the doing what part, down at the local beach, the boyfriend got her out safely and yet she went running back, running back to get his two-bit class ring, a ring that he had probably given to half the girls in school before her, and did not come out alive. Of course the guy was broken up about it, probably personally wrote the words to the song for the guy who sang the song for all I know but let’s leave it at this since I don’t like to speak unkindly of the dead, even the reckless dead, RIP, sister, RIP.

So that's off my chest.  No, that fleet of angle-tipped songs are strictly from nowhere, I will take my sensible Arky angel, take her with a little sinning on the side if you can believe there is any autobiographical edge to some of the songs she sings, take her with a little forlorn lilt in her voice, take her since she has seen the seedy side of life. Seen “from hunger” days and heart hurts. Yeah, that is how I like my angels. Alive as hell and well.                 

Every once in a while when I am blue, not a Billie Holiday blue, the blues down in the depths when you have to just hear her, flower in hair, maybe junked up, maybe clean, hell, it did not matter, when she hit her stride, and she “spoke” you out of your miseries, but maybe just a passing blue I needed to hear a voice that if there was an angel heaven voice Iris would be the one I would want to hear.    

I first heard Iris DeMent doing a cover of a folksinger-songwriter Greg Brown’s tribute to Jimmy Rodgers, the old time Texas yodeler discovered around same time as the original Carter Family in the late 1920s out in some Podunk town in Tennessee when the new-fangled radio and the upstart small independent record companies were desperate for roots music to feed their various clienteles whatever soap, flour, detergent, deodorant their hungry advertisers had to sell, on his tribute album, Driftless. I then looked for her solo albums and for the most part was blown away by the power of Iris’ voice, her piano accompaniment and her lyrics (which are contained in the liner notes of her various albums, read them, please). It is hard to type her style. Is it folk? Is it Country Pop? Is it semi-torch songstress? Well, whatever it maybe that Arky angel is a listening treat, especially if you are in a sentimental mood.

Naturally when I find some talent that “speaks” to me I grab everything they sing, write, paint, or act I can find. In Iris’ case there is not a lot of recorded work, with the recent addition of Sing The Delta just four albums although she had done many back-ups or harmonies with other artists most notably John Prine. Still what has been recorded blew me away (and will blow you away), especially as an old Vietnam War era veteran her There is a Wall in Washington about the guys who found themselves on the Vietnam Memorial without asking for the privilege or knowing what the hell they were fighting for in that hellish war, probably one of the best anti-war songs you will ever hear. That memorial containing names very close to me, to my heart and I shed a tear each time I even go near the memorial when I am in D.C. It is fairly easy to write a Give Peace a Chance or Where Have All the Flowers Gone? sings-song type of anti-war song. It is another to capture the pathos of what happened to too many families when we were unable to stop that war.

The streets of my old-time growing up neighborhood are filled with memories of guys I knew, guys who didn’t make it back, guys who couldn’t adjust coming back to the “real world” and wound up in flop houses, half-way houses, and along railroad “jungle” camps and also strangely enough these days given my own experiences guys who could not get over their not going into the service, in retrospect, to experience the decisive event of our generation, the generation of ‘68.

Other songs that have drawn my attention like When My Morning Comes hit home with all the baggage working class kids have about their inferiority when they screw up in this world. Walking Home Alone evokes all the humor, bathos, pathos and sheer exhilaration of saying one was able to survive, and not badly, after growing up poor, Arky poor amid the riches of America. (That may be the “connection” as I grew up through my father coal country Hazard, Kentucky poor.)  

Frankly, and I admit this publicly in this space, I love Ms. Iris Dement. Not personally, of course, but through her voice, her lyrics and her musical presence. This “confession” may seem rather startling coming from a guy who in this space is as likely to go on and on about Bolsheviks, ‘Che’, Leon Trotsky, high communist theory and the like. Especially, as well given Iris’ seemingly simple quasi- religious themes and commitment to paying homage to her rural background in song. All such discrepancies though go out the window here. Why?

Well, for one, this old radical got a lump in his throat the first time he heard her voice. Okay, that happens sometimes-once- but why did he have the same reaction on the fifth and twelfth hearings? Explain that. I can easily enough. If, on the very, very remotest chance, there is a heaven then I know one of the choir members. Enough said. By the way give a listen to Out Of The Fire and Mornin’ Glory. Then you too will be in love with Ms. Iris Dement.

Iris, here is my proposal, once again. (I have made the offer in other spaces reviewing her work more seriously.) If you get tired of fishing up in the U.P., or wherever, with Mr. Greg Brown, get bored with his endless twaddle about old Iowa farms and buxom aunts, about the trials and tribulations of Billy from the hills, or going on and on about Grandma's fruit cellar just whistle. Better yet just yodel like you did on Jimmie Rodgers Going Home on that Driftless CD. Okay.

******The Young Women With Long-Ironed Hair- With Joan Baez, Mimi Farina, And Judy Collins In Mind

******The Young Women With Long-Ironed Hair- With Joan Baez, Mimi Farina, And Judy Collins In Mind

The Young Women With Long-Ironed Hair- With Joan Baez, Mimi Farina, And Judy Collins In Mind

Laura Perkins was talking to her daughter, Emily Andrews one afternoon in April when she went to visit her and the grandkids up in Londonderry that is in New Hampshire, after returning from Florida, down Naples way. Laura had spent the winter there, a pilgrimage she had been doing the past five years or so since she, New England born and bred had tired, wearily tired of the winters provided by that section of the country and joined the “snow bird” trek south. Been doing more of the winter since she retired as a computer whizz free-lance consultant a couple of years ago. Emily the first born girl from the first of her three marriages who now had a couple of kids of her own although she has retained as is the “new style,” post-‘60s new style anyway, of women retaining their maiden name, or went hyphenated, kept Andrews in the bargain although Laura had given that name up minute one after the divorce which was messy and still a source of hatred when Emily’s father’s name is mentioned and thereafter kept her maiden name through the subsequent two marriages and divorces. During the conversation Laura commented to Emily, having not seen her for a while, on how long and straight she was keeping her hair these days which reminded her of the old days back in the romantic early 1960s when she used to hang around the Village in New York at the coffeehouses and folk clubs listening to lots of women folksingers like Carolyn Hester, Jean Redpath, Thelma Gordon, Joan Baez, Sissy Dubois and a bunch of others whose names she could just then not remember but whose hair was done in the same style including her own hair then.

Laura looked wistfully away just then touching her own now much shortened hair and colored a gentle brown with highlights, how much and for how long only her hairdresser knew and she, the well-tipped hair-dresser, was sworn to a secret Omerta oath even the CIA and Mafia could admire in the interest of not giving into age too much, especially once the computer whizz kids started showing up younger and younger either looking for work or as competitors. Meanwhile Emily explained how she came to let her hair grow longer and straighter (and her own efforts to keep it straighter) against all good reason what with two kids, a part-time accounting job and six thousand other young motherhood things demanded of her that would dictate that one needed a hair-do that one could just run a comb through, run through quickly.       

“Ma, you know how when you get all misty-eyed for your lost youth as you call it you are always talking about the old folk days, about the days in the Village and later in Harvard Square after you moved up here to go to graduate school at BU, minus Dad’s part in that time which I know you don’t like to talk about for obvious reasons. You also know, and we damn made it plain enough although you two never took it seriously, back when we were kids all of us, Melinda and Peter too, hated the very sound of folk music, stuff that sounded like something out of the Middle Ages and would run to our rooms when you guys played the stuff in you constant nostalgia moments. [That Middle Ages heritage, some of it, at least the rudiments, actually was on the mark if you look at the genesis of say half of the Child ballads which a folk enthusiast by that name in the 1850s over on Brattle Street in Cambridge collected, a number of ballads which ironically got picked up by the likes of Joan Baez in the late 1950s and played at the coffeehouses like the Club 47 and Café Nana just down from that Brahmin haven street. Or if you look to the more modern musicologists like the Seegers and Lomaxes who went down South, down Appalachia way, looking for roots music you will find some forbears brought over from the old country, the British Isles, that can be traced back to those times without doing injury to the truth.]

“Well one day I was in Whole Foods and I hear this song over their PA system or whatever they call it, you know those CDs they play to get you through the hard-ass shopping you need to do to keep the renegade kids from starvation’s door. The song seemed slightly familiar, folkie familiar, so I asked at the customer service desk who was singing the song and its name which I couldn’t quite remember. Of course the young clerk knew from nothing but a grey-haired guy, an old Cambridge radical type, a professor-type now that I think about what he looked like probably teaching English Lit, a guy you see in droves when you are in Harvard Square these days doddering along looking down at the ground like they have been doing for fifty years, standing in the same line as me, probably to return something that he bought by mistake and his wife probably ran his ass ragged until he returned the damn thing and got what she wanted, said it was Judy Collins doing Both Sides Now.  

That information from the professor, and that tune stuck in my head, got me thinking about checking out the song on YouTube which I did after I got home, unpacked the groceries, unpacked the kids and gave them their lunches. The version I caught was one of her on a Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest series from the 1960s in black and white that was on television back then which I am sure you and Dad knew about and she had this great looking long straight hair. I was envious. Then I kind of got the bug, wanted to check out some other folkie women whose names I know by heart, thank you, and noticed that Joan Baez in one clip taken at the Newport Folk Festival along with Bob Dylan singing With God On Our Side, God-awful if you remember me saying that every time you put it on the record-player, had even longer and straighter hair than Judy Collins.

“There she was all young, beautiful and dark-skinned Spanish exotic, something out of a Cervantes dream with that great hair. So I let mine grow and unlike what I heard Joan Baez, and about six zillion other young women did, including I think you, to keep it straight using an iron I went to Delores over at Flip Cuts in the mall and she does this thing to it every couple of months. And no I don’t want you to give me your folk albums, as valuable as they are, and as likely as I am to get them as family heirlooms when as you say you pass to the great beyond, please, to complete the picture because the stuff still sounds like it was from the Middle Ages although Dylan sounded better then than I remember, better than that croaking voice he has now that I heard you play one time on your car radio when we were heading up to Maine with you to go to Kittery to get the kids some back to school clothes.”        

Laura laughed a little at that remark as Emily went out the door to do some inevitable pressing shopping. After dutifully playing with Nick and Nana for a couple of hours while Emily went to get some chores done at the mall sans the kids who really are a drag on those kinds of tasks and after having stayed for supper when Sean got home from work she headed to her own home down in Cambridge (a condo really shared with her partner, Sam Lowell, whom she knew in college, lost track of and then reunited with after many years and three husbands at a college class reunion).

When she got home Sam, making her chuckle about what Emily said about that guy in the line at Whole Foods looked like and tarring Sam with that same brush, working on some paper of his, something about once again saving the world from the endless wars of the American government (other governments too but since as he said, quoting “Che” Guevara, always Che, about living in the heart of the beast the American government), the climate, nuclear disarmament, social inequality at home and in the world, or the plight of forgotten political prisoners, which was his holy mantra these days now that he was semi-retired from his law practice was waiting, waiting to hear the latest Nick and Nana stories instead she told him Emily’s story. Then they started talking about those old days in the 1960s when both she and he (he in Harvard Square having grown up in Carver about thirty miles south of Boston and her in the hotbed Village growing up in Manhattan and later at NYU where they went to school as undergraduates) imbibed in that now historic folk minute which promised, along with a few other things, to change the world a bit.

Laura, as Sam was talking, walked to a closet and brought out a black and white photograph from some folk festival in 1963 which featured Joan Baez, whom the clueless media always looking for a single hook to hang an idea on dubbed her the “queen of folk (and Dylan the king),” her sister Mimi Farina, who had married Richard Farina, the folk-singer/song-writer most poignantly Birmingham Sunday later killed in a motorcycle crash and Judy Collins on stage at the same time. All three competing with each other for the long straight hair championship. Here’s part of what was said about the picture that night, here’s how Laura put it:    

“Funny how trends get started, how one person, or a few start something and it seems like the whole world follows, or the part of the world that hears about the new dispensation anyway, the part you want to connect with. Remember Sam how we all called folk the “new dispensation” for our generation which had begun back in the late 1950s, early 1960s, slightly before our times when we caught up with it in college in 1964. So maybe it started in reaction to the trend when older guys started to lock-step in gray flannel suits. That funny Mad Men, retro-cool today look, which is okay if you pay attention to who was watching the show. In the days before Jack and Bobby Kennedy put the whammy on that fashion and broke many a haberdasher’s heart topped off by not wearing a soft felt hat like Uncle Ike and the older guys.”

“Funny too it would be deep into the 1960s before open-necks and colors other than white for shirts could be worked in but by then a lot of us were strictly denims and flannel shirts or some such non-suit or dress combination. Remember even earlier when the hula-hoop fad went crazy when one kid goofing off threw a hard plastic circle thing around his or her waist and every kid from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon had to have one, to be tossed aside in some dank corner of the garage after a few weeks when everybody got into yo-yos or Davey Crockett coonskin caps. Or maybe, and this might be closer to the herd instinct truth, it was after Elvis exploded onto the scene and every guy from twelve to two hundred in the world had to, whether they looked right with it or not, wear their sideburns just a little longer, even if they were kind of wispy and girls laughed at you for trying to out-king the “king” who they were waiting for not you. I know I did with Jasper James King who tried like hell to imitate Elvis and I just stepped on his toes all dance when he asked me to dance with him on It’s Alright, Mama.”  

“But maybe it was, and this is a truth which we can testify to when some girls, probably college girls like me, now called young women but then still girls no matter how old except mothers or grandmothers, having seen Joan Baez on the cover of Time (or perhaps her sister Mimi on some Mimi and Richard Farina folk album cover)got out the ironing board at home or in her dorm and tried to iron their own hair whatever condition it was in, curly, twisty, or flippy like mine, whatever  don’t hold me to all the different hairstyles to long and straight strands. Surely as strong as the folk minute was just then say 1962, 63, 64, they did not see the photo of Joan on some grainy Arise and Sing folk magazine cover, the folk scene was too young and small back in the early days to cause such a sea-change.”

 Sam piped up and after giving the photograph a closer look said, “Looking at that photograph you just pulled out of the closet now, culled I think from a calendar put out by the New England Folk Archive Society, made me think back to the time when I believe that I would not go out with a girl (young woman, okay) if she did not have the appropriate “hair,” in other words no bee-hive or flip thing that was the high school rage among the not folk set, actually the rage among the social butterfly, cheerleader, motorcycle mama cliques. Which may now explain why I had so few dates in high school and none from Carver High. But no question you could almost smell the singed hair at times, and every guy I knew liked the style, liked the style if they liked Joan Baez, maybe had some dreamy sexual desire thing about hopping in the hay, and that was that.”                   

“My old friend Bart Webber, a guy I met out in San Francisco  when I went out West with my old friend  Josh Breslin in our hitchhike days with whom if you remember I re-connected with via the “magic” of the Internet a few years ago, told me a funny story when we met at the Sunnyville Grille in Boston one time about our friend Julie Peters who shared our love of folk music back then (and later too as we joined a few others in the folk aficionado world after the heyday of the folk minute got lost in the storm of the British Beatles/Stones  invasion).”

“He had first met her in Harvard Square one night at the Café Blanc when the place had their weekly folk night (before every night was folk night when Eric Von Schmidt put the place on the map by writing Joshua Gone Barbados which he sang and which Tom Rush went big with) and they had a coffee together. That night she had her hair kind of, oh he didn’t know what they called it but he thought something like beehive or flip or something which highlighted and enhanced her long face. Bart thought she looked fine. Bart, like myself, was not then hip to the long straight hair thing and so he kind of let it pass without any comment.”

“Then one night a few weeks later after they had had a couple of dates she startled him when he picked her up at her dorm at Boston University to go over the Club Blue in the Square to see Dave Van Ronk hold forth in his folk historian gravelly-voiced way. She met him at the door with the mandatory straight hair although it was not much longer than when he first met her which he said frankly made her face even longer. When Bart asked her why the change Julie declared that she could not possibly go to Harvard Square looking like somebody from some suburban high school not after seeing her idol Joan Baez (and later Judy Collins too) with that great long hair which seemed very exotic, very Spanish.”

“Of course he compounded his troubles by making the serious mistake of asking if she had her hair done at the beauty parlor or something and she looked at him with burning hate eyes since no self-respecting folkie college girl would go to such a place where her mother would go. So she joined the crowd, Bart got used to it and after a while she did begin to look like a folkie girl, and started wearing the inevitable peasant blouses instead of those cashmere sweaters or starched Catholic school shirt things she used to wear.”     

“By the way Laura let’s be clear on that Julie thing with Bart back in the early 1960s since his Emma goes crazy every time anybody, me, you, Bart, Frankie Riley, Jack Callahan mentions any girl that Bart might have even looked at in those days. Yeah, even after almost forty years of marriage so keep this between us. She and Bart went “Dutch treat” to see Dave Van Ronk at the Club Blue. They were thus by definition not on a heavy date, neither had been intrigued by the other enough to be more than very good friends after the first few dates but folk music was their bond. Just friends despite persistent Julie BU dorm roommate rumors what with Bart hanging around all the time listening to her albums on the record player they had never been lovers.

“Many years later she mentioned that Club Blue night to me since I had gone with them with my date, Joyell Danforth, as we waited to see Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie with us to see if I remembered Van Ronk’s performance and while I thought I remembered I was not sure.

I asked Julie, “Was that the night he played that haunting version of Fair and Tender Ladies with Eric Von Schmidt backing him up on the banjo?” Julie had replied yes and that she too had never forgotten that song and how the house which usually had a certain amount of chatter going on even when someone was performing had been dead silent once he started singing.”

As for the long-ironed haired women in the photograph their work in that folk minute and later speaks for itself. Joan Baez worked the Bob Dylan anointed “king and queen” of the folkies routine for a while for the time the folk minute lasted. Mimi (now passed on) teamed up with her husband, Richard Farina, who as mentioned before was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash in the mid-1960s, to write and sing some of the most haunting ballads of those new folk times (think Pack Up Your Sorrows). Julie Collins, now coiffured like that mother Julie was beauty parlor running away from and that is okay, still produces beautiful sounds on her concert tours. But everyone should remember, every woman from that time anyway, should remember that burnt hair, and other sorrows, and know exactly who to blame. Yeah, we have the photo as proof.